Monday, June 14, 2010

Baptism (Been Busy)

We recently baptized a second daughter in Daytona, Sophia. This picture captures the scene just a few minutes before the procession back to the baptismal font, near the old entrance to the church building.
On the left is my older daughter, adjusting her younger sister's baptismal gown; we're up near the front of the nave, missing a bit of the sermon. They are, in fact, both dressed up for Baptism--my older daughter having some sense of the rite as a re-affirmation. My wife, Susan, is to my right, and a young friend of my older daughter looks on, rather intently curious--this whole deal is not a part of her liturgy where she goes to worship. Further down in the pew, a young fellow whose mother--not visible in this pic--worships at another Episcopal parish sits with a friend of his, who is turning around to say something in hushed tones to his mother, seated behind him. Interestingly, entirely of their own accord, some members of our party refrained from participating in Communion--even some who were baptized. One of these was my oldest daughter, not yet confirmed. But another, old enough and perfectly knowledgeable, was--as best I can tell--carrying out a kind of "conscientious objection".
A couple points here: (1) two children is alot of fascinating work, and we wish we had gotten started earlier, in our twenties, when three or so would have--who knows?--seemed more reasonable. The thirties are fine, mind you, but we are on the verge of "Slow down, junior!", and we would have happily brushed aside much of what we considered precious in grad school if we knew then what we know now. Word to the wise. (2) Communion can be really quite significant for a wide variety of people with different practices of faith, to the point where they feel compelled to take private, and earnestly heartfelt, stands on the practice without discussing or debating them. I wonder how common that kind of reticence is. I would love to have a clearer sense for how the experience of the Baptismal liturgy proper, up at the font, impacted their decisions on Communion, if the experience had a significant impact (I think it most definitely did, but it is difficult to say just what).

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Communion Without Baptism....

Assorted minority positions end up finding a voice here: for the ordination of "actively" homosexual bishops, for the blessing of same-sex unions, for the use of natural law theory on the ecclesial "left" (a topic to be pursued here, I hope, in the near future), and for Communion without Baptism. It's not that I like controversy; I would like to think I am open to being refuted. But, strongly suspecting that actual refutation is neither sufficient nor necessary for moving one off a position, I conduct my discussions of these positions from behind the aegis of epistemic humility. However strong an argument I may think I have, I maintain a second order commitment to the possibility of my being wrong. Whether I, or anyone else, moves off a position as a result of argument might be interesting, but is of secondary importance for the most part. Who knows? Something, somehow, may come from pursuing the controversy over Communion without Baptism (CWOB), even if the whole matter has come to feel rather stale.

OK, so where were we? I wrote this piece on CWOB not that long ago, which still seems right to me. In its defense, I address some critical comments made when I posted it.

Rick Allen said "I think the problem is that you infer, from a permitted hope that all may be saved, that we must therefore abandon all efforts directed toward the end of saving." The argument would only call for being permitted not to use, or have used, Baptism on the occasion of Communion toward the end of saving, which is quite a bit weaker than what Allen is worried about.

Paul Gorings wondered if [A4] was supposed to support the contentious [A3](2); I think so. We should hope that God saves everyone, and that is one way of pushing CWOB: the Church can act on that hope by treating even the unbaptized as if they were full members of the body of Christ--now, even when they actually are not in the mere present. I mention in passing that the Eucharist participates in the Eschaton; that is important because it implies that we may act on the hope that the person unbaptized now is not merely unbaptized now, but is now baptized in virtue of his presently participating in the Eschaton. In the Eucharist, the participant's (present) existence is not bounded by what is merely present. Or: presence is not limited in the Eucharist to what you can sense here and now. But you already knew that?

JOHN 2007 said that anything--e.g. "murder", "adultery"--could be put in for "CWOB" in [A1](1), with the result that if my argument were sound, anything goes. He rightly presumes that would go too far--waaaay too far. But wait. Communion is the kind of thing the Lord does at the Eschaton. Granted, we do not know what heaven or teh New Jerusalem, et al, will be like in concrete terms, but Scripture uses feasting to fill in the blank. The Eucharist is like a bit of the eschatological feast here and now. Murder and adultery are not the kinds of activities that we are invited to engage in at the Eschaton, at least in the New Jerusalem. So there is a bar for what can go in for "CWOB" in [A1](1): if it is not the sort of thing that the Lord permits at the Eschaton, forget it.

JimB refers to the canon: it's cut and dried, especially in Central Florida, I might add. True, but two things: (1)the argument only implies a permission to CWOB, not an obligation. A celebrant might well do no wrong in refusing Communion to the unbaptized. (2)In some cases, disobedience might be called for. Personally, I think alot depends on context here--the individual at the rail in a given congregation, within the history of that congregations worship practice. For instance, CWOB might well be wrong in a congrgation that neglects the importance of Baptism, but permissible in a congregation that stresses the importance of Baptism. It may even be the importance of Baptism is such that CWOB should never be practiced outside canonical disobedience--the stakes being that grave all the time. I.e. "Are you prepared to be disciplined for administering communion to this unbaptixed person? If you are not, then you should not administer it."

To Father Haller, I would insist on the eschatological element in Communion. One need not speak a syllable of predestination if one sees the Sacrament as implying participation in the Eschaton; of course, I am rather robust about that, seeing it as involving a "real presence" of sorts. But I think such realism about the eschatological element has traditional and modern theological support, and need not be regarded as a piece of exotic, foreign metaphysics from who knows where.

I thank everyone for taking time to reply. These were all good comments, in my opinion, and trying to respond has been helpful to me.

Then there is the more lengthy reply of Father Olsen, which has also been very helpful. We have gone back and forth a few times on this topic, and I am not sure how much light may come from hashing it out again--full disclosure. You should also read this piece by Father Olsen, which he refers to in his post; it may be where the meat is.

Father Olsen notes "Frankly I’m not clear how this is different from his earlier attempt"--and he is right. It does not differ that much in the formal part, because I am convinced the formal part has not been refuted. I may be at fault in that conviction, and would deeply appreciate someone--even Father Olsen himself--pointing out the flaw.

Granted, he does say

The fundamental flaw remains the same. The Scotist has found himself a practice that he thinks has some merit. So he goes and tries to find a theology that will support it. Is this really the way we proceed?

But, as several of his commenters noted at his site, that is exactly how the Church has proceeded in the past in a number of cases. Practice has quite often come before theology. That cannot be the "fundamental flaw". Indeed, if nothing better can be found, it seems to me the case against CWOB is in very deep trouble indeed.

Anyhow, Churchmouse at his post provides some reasoning against CWOB that I would like to respond to. Churchmouse says

"How can someone believe they are receiving the Presence of Christ Jesus without understanding who He is..." The bar there is too high to do the work intended. Children confirmed cannot in many cases distinguish Nestorianism from Chalcedonian christology, for instance. But if that sort of thing is not meant, then the seemingly required sense can be conveyed in seconds.

"There is a reason young people and converts are baptised and generally catechised...if you don’t understand what Christianity is about, why receive the Sacrament?" Understanding what Christianity is about does not require Baptism or being catechized. The bar there is pretty low, nota. And the odd intellectualism & individuallism.

"Holy Communion is not an all-inclusive meal. We are there not for ourselves but to receive the Sacrament of Our Lord...." The first sentence is dead on; someone opposing my argument would have to say something like what that first sentence says, I think: not all are included in Holy Communion. Now, I would point out that given the eschatological element of the Eucharist, that implies not all will be included among the saved, that some are damned, definitely. That may be true, but I would insist that we are not obligated to believe that, and may act on a contrary hope. Anyhow, Churchmouse hit the main issue here.

"Why are so many of us so willing to overturn hundreds of years of Church teaching to accommodate a few people who come as guests or enquirers?" This, I believe, is a bad point all around. Those few might be precious to the Lord, so much so that he would overturn all sorts of things, even tradition, to recover those errant sheep. It may suit the Lord to let the scales fall from our eyes only now, so that we see in earnest the need to repent an odious element of our practice.

I am not trying to be hard on Churchmouse here; the comments Churchmouse left are important and deserve note at least because--I suspect--many who oppose CWOB do so for some such reasons. Nevertheless, those reasons do not seem decisive.

The meat of Father Olsen's case may rest with his Daily Episcopalian piece on salvation, which has much interest apart from the controversy around CWOB. Go have a look.

I suspect there is something in that piece which he might want to work up at greater length, but I am almost sure that I will get it wrong if I try to work it out into an explicit argument. One major point I agree with wholeheartedly: "Being a Christian is about participating in new life, in divine life, in sharing the very life of God" and not about getting somewhere in the sky after one dies. He says we receive that life in Baptism: "a life hid with Christ in God." This looks like a conditional:

if one lives the new, divine life, then one has been Baptized,

in which case if one has not been baptized, if follows one lacks the essential life of God.

That does get right to the heart of the matter, I think. For Father Olsen, there are two kinds of life (I am guessing here to some extent): biological life, which is subject to decay and death, and divine life, in which we come to participate as Christians. That may be absolutely correct, for all I know, and it is just the sort of premise that he could work into a case against CWOB.

However, I disagree with the premise, though it comes with a pedigree. There are a number of ways in which to mark the disagreement--I am thinking of theologians who deny a secular as opposed to sacred sphere, or who deny the reality of a natural as opposed to supernatural realm. I think one could work up a response on that basis.

But I would like to take a slightly different approach, following the argument I gave in my earlier post. On that argument, the Church is permitted to hope all are saved--that is, that in the end at least all will live the divine life. Inasmuch as the Eucharist has an eschatological element, that implies in the Eucharist the Church is permitted to view the unbaptized as living the divine life, in virtue of the possibility that they may live it at the end. Why? They are not bounded in the rite by how they are in the merely here-and-now. Receiving Christ in his Real Presence, they participate in the Eschaton just as those already baptized. In effect, at least here if anywhere the sacred/secular, natural/supernatural distinctions break down or are shown to be spurious.

One could reply in a number of ways, adopting an anti-realism about the eschatological element or denying the unbaptized could possibly receive Christ in his Real Presence. But those moves each bear a cost. Exactly here, it seems to me, we as a Church are in a very dangerous place, we are standing on Holy ground. Adopting an even worse reply as a way of denying CWOB seems to me so dangerous that it might be better to let the whole thing drop. But then there are those whom I know and cannot forget, and life, even divine life, would not be the same if they could not be brought across the Jordan, even if they were not (yet!) part of the household.

Williams/ Schori

It seems to me that Naughton's take on the latest Anglican dust-up is right:

reflecting on Rowan Williams’ letter wasn’t a worthwhile use of my time; writing it was not a worthwhile use of his....

Who has not, at long last, wearied of these pathetic spectacles? is worthwhile even now to recall there are some, Anglican or not, in Nigeria, Uganda and elsewhere who are gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual; how we--TEC--respond to Williams, and how we play out the close of this match with the See of Canterbury may well have consequences for them. It is one thing not to be straight in the UK, Canada, or the US, and--it seems--quite another in Nigeria, Uganda, et al.

Williams, it seems to me, will never turn his back on the Global South contingent, regardless of its leadership. He is something of a liberation theologian whose primary loyalty, in theological terms, is to the people of the Global South: marginalized, exploited, crucified. I wager he would like to have TEC demonstrate the same kind of loyalty, a loyalty willing to tolerate extremely costly sacrifice in the name of solidarity with the poor.

He does not seem to consider what has been publicly remarked upon quite often, that his version of solidarity with the poor of the Global South cannot help but marginalize those in the Global South who do not have the requisite degree of straightness. It is not so much a matter of relatively wealthy Americans bearing the brunt of Williams' unity agenda--bad enough, but in Williams' eyes, it seems to me, justified. It is more a matter of his having to scapegoat the GLBT people of the GS, who labor under a compounded oppression.

Pursuing unity--or whatever it is the ABC intends--by scapegoating is contrary to the way of the Cross. TEC should not play into that effort, whatever the stated end. But we have to be very careful; the clean break that could be easy for us to contemplate might well betray our GLBT comrades in the Global South. We should take our stand explicitly with them, come what may--and that may mean enduring humiliations from Williams et al. We should not care; taking a stand with them would be worth it. The Cross calls for no less.