2/19/2008

Wow, and I thought Kant was a trip!

Over at StandFirm they take no prisioners. Matt Kennedy is slicing and dicing his way through the eighteenth century and on into post modern era or whatever we want to call the front edge of modernity. His essay was triggered by the delight some of us on the progressive side of the great divide took in a comment from Kant about covenants. You can read the comment HERE. I made some remarks on that HERE.

Here is what he had to say about the Episcopal Church:

"...the root of our current controversy over sexuality does not lie in the sexuality debate itself but in a wholesale contemporary departure from Christianity on the part of the Episcopal Church. This departure is pelagian in its rejection of the fall, marcionite in its exaltation of anthropologically derived “moral” criteria over and against divine revelation, and Gnostic in its embrace of new “truths” revealed only to a tiny sect of the spiritually elite."

All together now:
"Pelagian in its rejection of the fall,
marcionite in its exaltation of anthropologically derived moral criteria over against divine revelation,
Gnostic in its embrace of new truths revealed only in a tiny sect of the spiritually elite."

It sucks the air right out of the room. Yes?

Not quite. So MK then moves in for the kill:

"The rather ironic widespread receptivity of contemporary Episcopalian leaders to apparently “unalterable” 18th century principles reveals an antiquated confidence in human nature and a remarkably secular suspicion of divine revelation."

Well, not flattering myself to be a "contemporary Episcopalian leader" I was at least referenced by virtue of his hypertexting my blog as one of the various revisionist blogs. So in the end I am identified with an "antiquated confidence in human nature and a remarkably secular suspicion of divine revelation." My mother would be proud.

Well MK got it wrong. I thought the quote first lifted up by Episcopal Cafe was useful in that Kant correctly points to one of the problems of covenants as opposed, say, to constitutions or compacts or contracts, where there are built in ways to revise and correct the content. Covenants are "all or nothing" sorts of things. They are predisposed to silence any further enlightenment. I liked what Kant said, no doubt about it. But Kennedy has gone on to charge the Episcopal Church and those who are leaders in it with a nice variety of heresies with this little bit of amusement as the basis for his remarks.

Kennedy is also a bit snotty about the good guy's ownership of The Fall. Somehow he thinks that enlightenment folk have to put it aside entirely. The Fall stands on its own and those of us across the divide are not unaware of its force, and yet "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" is, in relation to the Fall, redemptive and also enlightening.

The charge of being "marcionite" is wonderfully arcane and almost worth the price of admission. MK supposes that any enlightenment attitude toward the determination of morals requires the denial of divine revelation.

What a crock. What it requires is a willingness to see in the struggles of human communities a vehicle for divine revelation as well as a basis for social contract. Divine revelation finds its way into our hearts and into the world by the most ordinary of means: words preached, laws written, customs lived out, and on and on. It is true that many progressives and many enlightenment attitudes dismiss divine revelation and for good reason. The immoral things done in the name of religion and the divine revelation to religionists would curl the hair, just as would those done in the name of modern "enlightened" governments. But it is entirely possible to live with both enlightenment and revelation, else the words of John would have no effect. The Light comes by divine revelation, but it comes also as that which enlightens.


Sometimes we don't see the hand, we only see that the light went on.

And, then there is of course the charge of Gnosticism: that somehow any of us who think that there is a phenomenology at work in the making of a new world, or a progressive one, or one in which the Fall is not all there is, are "a tiny sect of the spiritually elite." There are all sorts of spiritual elites and they are mostly small and small minded. No doubt some enlightenment progressives are to be numbered among them. But not all, by a long shot.

Newly known truths come not by secret knowledge but by the kind of experimental knowing that is open to any and all who are willing to seek such truth.

MK is quite right to say that things are not getting better and better and all that. Cronological snobbery is just that. He is pretty much wrong about the modernest world view, which he describes and sets up as a straw man.

Perhaps MK's strangest comment is his rant that "In our present Anglican crisis, we’ve simply applied biology to rationalize perversity. " There it is: He is opposed to enlightement thinking and biology because they rationalize. Well they don't. Regular paid up people rationalize. With any luck the biologist and the enlightenment rationalist don't rationalize, they reason.

But of course what he hates is "perversity." There is nothing I can do about that. Perversity is a judgement call, of course, and the circle gets mighty small when reason gets thrown out. There are crosses waiting for all of us, and they will mostly read perversity.

Matt Kennedy says, "What might be shocking to some, though it shouldn’t be, is that men and women presuming the mantle of Christian leadership would so wholly reject both the unalterable nature of scriptural revelation and the need for such unalterable truth given our fallen natures." Well, there you have it. MK believes that he has presented an argument that shows clearly that terrible ol' Episcopalian leader types "wholly reject both the unalterable nature of scriptural revelation and the need of such unalterable truth given our fallen natures."

Perhaps Matt Kennedy would do well to take up some other line of work. Revelation is not his strong suit, nor apparently is finding it in scripture. He's got our fallen nature down about right, but then don't we all.

Meanwhile perhaps he might lighten up a bit. Gnostic, Marionite, Pelagian? Come on. If the concern is perversity just say it. Say, the leadership of the Episcopal Church is perverse. Whack away.

And, having said it, be prepared to deal with a variation on the familiar text: "...as you have charged the least of these, you have charged me."





24 comments:

  1. Newly know truths come not by secret knowledge but by the kind of experimental knowing that is open to any and all who are willing to seek such truth.

    Mark,
    Did you mean "experiential knowing"? Or do I not get the meaning of that sentence? Also... "Newly knowN..."

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  2. So you spiritually elite types keep secrets? What must the rest of us do to get access to these new truths?

    Out with it; vee haf vays t'mak you talk!

    My reading of Kant was a long time ago. I've always credited him for opening my eyes to the difference between subjective and objective truth; what I know is my perception of the tree, not the tree as it really is. That's Kant, right?

    That seems to be part of the problem; subjective beings claiming to "know" objective truth, communicated in squiggly lines on a page, no less.

    Don't get too wound up over MK. My impression is that he's the type who would argue over the menu for lunch, if you gave him the opening.

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  3. dr.primrose20/2/08 1:10 AM

    Matt apparently has a calling to stand by himself in the temple and pray, "God, I thank you that I am not like other bloggers." It's a tough job but somebody has to do it, I guess.

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  4. None of this changes the fact that Matt is a Donatist.

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  5. David...thanks for the N. Corrected. Meanwhile, I used "experimental knowing" on purpose. What I mean is the sort of knowledge comes from putting ideas, theories, hypotheses, etc to the test. Suppose the statement correct and see what the consequences are. Suppose the statement false and see what the consequences are. Check out the realities of one or the other by experiment.

    Experimental knowledge also involves taking narratives in which "of course" this or that statement is true or false less seriously then actual practice.

    Anyway that's how it seemed at midnight.

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  6. Mary Clara20/2/08 7:51 AM

    So Matt Kennedy believes the leadership of TEC to be 'pelagian', 'marcionite' and 'gnostic'. I expect that in the catalogue of heresies one or more categories (yes, Donatist for sure) could be found that would encompass Matt's own point of view; however, perhaps more to the point, the technical term for a mind unable to distinguish between the current theological consensus in TEC and any of the hoary heresies he accuses us of is 'ignorant'. He simply doesn't know what he is talking about.

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  7. malcolm....I am sure you have read this:
    http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=1+Corinthians+5%3A11

    ....and, I guess you would think St Paul was a "donatist".


    Not sure where you get the idea that it is "Christian" to accept all and every sin...especially in ordained people......you certainly do not get support in the words of the Lord or his apostles.

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  8. i'm afraid that for philosophers there is no grand history of distinguishing covenant from contract from compact. or rather, there is a grand tradition, but there is no agreement on what the difference is.

    rather, they are just words to hang different kinds of agreements on.

    it wouldn't even be right to say that philosophers disagree about the meaning of these words. for those political philosophers who use different words here (and many just treat them as synonyms), they simply seem to pick one word for one concept, and another for another, and give a stipulative definition, and move on.

    that's all Kant is doing. the problem he raises is not a problem for "covenants" as opposed to "contracts" or "compacts." rather, the point is that he objects to any unalterable agreement about beliefs.

    and this in turn is because Kant believes that reason, if honestly and rightly used, is well-nigh infallible; Kant believes that human being can receive Truth through intellectual work; Kant believes that all morality and ethics consist in deference to the dictates of reason.

    And in all these things, I think Christians should find Kant sadly mistaken. I have found the Truth in a person, not in my own cogitations.

    The Englightment wasn't very enlightened, and we would do well not to treat Kant as some kind of substitute for Paul.

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  9. "He simply doesn't know what he is talking about."

    And, he clearly enjoys the sound of his own voice as it echos through the minds of his bitter "excluding" little following at The Church the "wished it could"...but can't.

    Leonardo Ricardo

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  10. And yet Kennedy and so many cling to that ' "unalterable" 18th century truth' that the single important understanding of Scripture is the literal - something not known among the early Fathers. "Unalterable," I mean, "when it suits our purpose."

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  11. John-Julian, OJN20/2/08 10:35 AM

    Not perhaps surprisingly, I keep finding myself reminded of Dame Julian of Norwich and her words:

    "When other men's sins come to mind, the soul that wishes to be in repose shall flee from that as from the pain of hell, searching in God for remedy for help against it, for the beholding of other men's sins makes, as it were, a thick mist before the eye of the soul, and we cannot for the time see the fairness of God (unless we can behold another's sins with contrition with him, with compassion on him, and with holy desire to God for him, for without this it troubles and tempts and hinders the soul that beholds those sins)."

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  12. I would love to from malcolm+ and mary clara explain how Matt Kennedy is a Donatist.

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  13. Matt Kennedy left the Episcopal church some time ago but it appears he has been unable to completely 'let go'. Seems to me he should be on about doing positive things in whatever his capacity is in his new church. Hanging around bashing the Episcopal church isn't productive and can't be conducive to his good mental health.

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  14. Anonymous (don't you have a name?) wrote:

    Not sure where you get the idea that it is "Christian" to accept all and every sin...especially in ordained people......you certainly do not get support in the words of the Lord or his apostles.

    Exactly where in the Canons, resolutions of General Convention, statements of the Presiding Bishop, or any other official or even quasi-official statement does it say that the Episcopal Church accepts "all and every sin"?

    This dead horse has been beaten so much that it borders on the absurd--we all know that this refers to homosexuality and instantly broadens it to include "all and every sin." I believe that sins such as stealing, murder, adultery, idolatry, etc... are still recognized as sins in the Episcopal Church.

    What many quite quickly forget was that at General Convention 2000 resolution D039 was adopted which said, among other things, that "we expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God." This is hardly license for rampant sin, much less promiscuity!

    So, let us have no more of the tired old statement that the Episcopal Church is a beehive of sin and debauchery. I don't know what church you go to, Anonymous, but that statement hardly characterizes the church I know and love. On the other hand, let he who is without sin cast the first stone...

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  15. Fr. Mark,

    You've made only one mistake, as I have made myself on a number of occasions: you wasted your time responding to Matt Kennedy.

    Somewhere around the thirteenth time Matt Kennedy called me a 'heretic' for exploring how faithful Christians might include gay couples into the common life of the Church -- I realized I needn't continue speaking to, with, about, around or near him.

    You've done well - and I enjoy your intelligent demolition of his insipid and pathetic attempts at theology -- but why bother?

    It would be interesting to see, if you ever have time, what you think about the many obvious ways that neo-puritans and quasi-fundamentalist evangelicals embody many of the marks of the early heresies: donatism of course, but also the kind of 'we know best how to interpret Scripture' kind of gnosis.

    Greg Jones

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  16. Regarding Donatism:

    I have been reading and rereading Pelikan’s five volume The Christian Tradition for years now. I find I am often returning to volume one – The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). I offer the following digest of a bit I’m now reading – and make a comparison to our situation with the Lambeth boycotting contingent. Matt Kennedy very much agrees with the Lambeth boycott.

    Petilian the Donatist said, “By doing violence to that which is holy you cut asunder the bond of unity.” According to this argument, the Donatists believed that those clergy who had apostasized under pagan persecution should continue to be shunned by the rest of the Church. They had forfeited their orders by their sin of apostasy, and they had ceased to be truly ‘catholic.’ The Donatists were the original puritans, one might say, in that they believed they were the only true Catholics, the only true church of Christ, and those in communion with Rome (and those who had been broken under Roman pressure into handing over Bibles, etc.), were but members of “the synagogue of Satan”. (Pelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, p. 309.)

    According to the Donatists, as Pelikan writes, “only that church was a true church in which the ‘communion of the saints’ was a communion of genuine, perfect saints. And the only church that met this qualificaiton was the Donatist community; it alone had true unity, for it alone had true holiness.” (Ibid.) It was for this reason the Donatists believed it was necessary to separate themselves from the rest of the church.

    Augustine argues against this of course arguing that the holiness of the church, and therefore its unity as well, depends not on individual righteousness, or even the righteousness of the priest or bishop administering the sacraments, but upon the holiness of Christ Himself to Whom belongs the sacraments and Who alone confers grace through them. As Augustine says, “the genuineness and holiness of the sacrament [does not depend upon] what the recipient of the sacrament believes and with what faith he is imbued.” Pelikan paraphrases the teaching as this, “perfection as a moral condition was not constitutive of the church, but was derivative from its ground in the grace of God.”

    As such, according to Augustine, the unity of the Church is not to be seen as the resulting fellowship of the righteous, but rather as the “immediate and necessary corollary of grace.” (Ibid, 311.) Pelikan explains therefore that “the one sin that threatened the church was not the adultery or even the private apostasy of a bishop, but schism.” (Ibid.)

    Wonderfully, Augustine turns the charge of apostasy around upon the Donatists. He argues that their sin against the grace of God, and its manifestation on earth in the form of Christ’s eucharistic community of the baptized, marks the Donatist as the true ‘traitor’ – the true heir of Judas – by betraying the unity of the church. (Ibid, 312.)

    In this light, one find it hard not to hear plainly obvious Donatist echoes in these words of the five Anglican primates explaining why they will not be leading delegations to Lambeth:

    ... the Lambeth Conference is not a two hour seminar discussing a contentious issue. It is three weeks in which we bishops and our wives are called to share together our lives, our prayer, our bible study, our meals, our worship and the Lord's Supper, to be a family together. ...[Some] of us have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church since February 2005, - a period of about three years. The reason is that TEC took an action to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003 contrary to the resolution of the Lambeth Conference, an action of which they have not repented. The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth, contrary to the statement of the Windsor Report (para 134) that members of the Episcopal Church should "consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion".

    ... [To attend] is an assault on our consciences and our hearts.

    I’m certainly not the first to be reminded of the Donatists, in light of what the Lambeth boycotters have been up to these past few years. But, after reading this section from Pelikan – whom I love – it’s hard to get away from this comparison.

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  17. It always surprises me how someone as apparently intelligent as Matt Kennedy doesn't see what a small and circumscribed world he inhabits -- all the while thinking he is in the mainstream of Christian Tradition from Apostolic times. His over-reliance on the Fall as a central dogma leaves much of the Eastern Orthodox theological world-(and God-)view to one side. He also doesn't appear to appreciate just how much his view of Scripture is conditioned by reactions to the Enlightenment, positions that were shrunken from the wonderful freedom with which the Fathers actually engaged with the sacred text.

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  18. Thanks, Fr. Jones, for saving me the trouble of having to reply to Ruth and to Anonymous 8:24.

    Heck, even a "conservative" apologist like Ruth Gledhill has referenced their drift towards heresy - although she drew the link to the Melitian schism rather than the Donatist heresy.

    http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2008/02/my-my-my-meliti.html

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  19. marcionite in its exaltation of anthropologically derived “moral” criteria over and against divine revelation

    First of all, that's NOT the heresy of marcionism (which was to posit that the OT's god was a different, lesser being than the God-in-Christ of the NT).

    More importantly, how the heck can MK argue that he, I, and EVERYBODY ELSE don't rely on "anthropologically derived 'moral' criteria"?

    This "The Bible said it and I believe it!" claim is a crock.

    How did he know to trust the Bible? What made him decide to give his life over to one "Jesus Christ", as opposed to the countless other "Absolute Truths" (absolute in the minds of their adherents!) which might have clamored for his loyalty?

    No, it is MK's very faculty for discerning "moral criteria", "anthropologically derived" (that is, within MK's *too* unique brainpan), which put him on the road to GAFCON-land.

    [As far as "divine revelation" goes, Matt just found those portions/interpretations of Scripture which conveniently agree w/ his worldview. Whether, on balance, he gets it right---as opposed to us TEC heretics!---only God can judge.]

    Lord have mercy!

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  20. Sharon Smith21/2/08 9:49 AM

    malcolm and tom, you talk of donatists....to justify the ordination of people who do not meet the clear standards set out by St Paul for leaders in the church.....you are trying to create a smokescreen but the fact remains that TEC was asked by ALL the Primates of the AC (including Griswold!) not to "tear the fabric of the Communion" but it went ahead with its actions, directly contradicting Lambeth 1.10 ....... now you want all to forget that, even though TEC has not repented, and instead you want to play, "I spy a Donatist!"

    This simply does not work.

    When Kenya announces its bishops are not going to sip tea with the unrepentant consecrators of VGR in Lambeth, it will not be long before the ABC does an about turn to make sure Lambeth is not attended by a large no of bishops who represent maybe 20-30% of the Anglicans in the world while GAFCON has the bishops of 60-70% of the world's Anglicans.....crying "Donatist" achieves nothing. Showing that TEC will up hold agreed positions would be much more worthwhile.

    And to uphold agreements does not mean saying, "Yes, yep..yeah" and then feelling free to do the direct opposite (just in case anybody thinks there was great integrity in Griswold agreeing with all the Primates i n 03 or Schori agreeing with all in Tanzania....

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  21. Sharon, the very fact that your "conservative" heroes have decided to run away is a clear and unequivocal indication that they realize they've lost. They have overplayed their hand so badly that they have even alienated their natural allies like Wright, Dawani et al - real conservatives as opposed to rage-a-holic schismatics.

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  22. (Dan)
    As an amateur when it comes to Church history, I may be off base, but I always understood the Donatist position to have been that those duly ordained clergy and bishops who had fallen into error (heresey) but REPENTED and thereafter returned to the catholic faith were incapable of effectively administering the sacraments -- that something more was required. Reasserters who seek evidence of repentance from those who have fallen into serious error therefor are missing one of the elements that defined Donatists. Is that wrong and if not, why do some persist in such silly name calling?

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  23. Dan, your amateur status is assured. Donatism is the affirmation that a person's moral status (whether repenting or not) invalidates their sacramental actions. As to the likeness of some of the current crowd with the ancient Donatists, here is a bit from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:

    "Theologically the Donatists were rigorists, holding that the Church of the saints must remain "holy"... and that sacraments conferred by traditores were invalid.... The Donatists... went so far as to assert that all those who communicated with traditores were infected, and that, since the Church is one and holy, the Donatists alone formed the Church."

    I do not think you would have to search far or long to find language similar to that advanced by the Donatists coming from the AAC concerning the Episcopal Church.

    But there is more explict Donatism out there, too. I have no objection (though I disagree) with those who say (for example) that Gene Robinsoon should not be a bishop. But those (such as Drexel Gomez and Peter Jensen who have claimed that he is not a bishop have indeed crossed over into a contemporary form of Donatism.

    Shortly after his consecration, Gomez and Jensen made these statements concerning Bishop Robinson:

    Gomez: Although the form of Canon Robinson's consecration was canonical since he was appointed according to the constitution of the Episcopal Church (USA) and consecrated by three bishops with the consent of the Metropolitan, there must have been a defect of intention since those consecrating could not have been acting with the reasonable expectation that they were consecrating someone who could act as a bishop of the Catholic Church. It follows that the consecration should be regarded as invalid and that the see of New Hampshire should be regarded as vacant.

    Jensen: I can put it most vividly by saying the consecration that took place yesterday is simply not recognised. The Church in America, or some, may call him a bishop. Those who think differently are not going to treat or think of him as a bishop because they say he doesn't have the qualifications to be a bishop. That's an extraordinary position for the Anglican community to find itself.

    These appear to me to meet the definition of Donatism rather well. There are a few modern twists such as "intention" (a medieval concept in sacramental theology) and "recognition" (a modern canonical question irrelevant in the Conciliar age since bishops weren't allowed to travel!).

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  24. I read Stand Firm every day. It is the first, and so far, only blog I've found that even begins to make clear the nature of the struggle that is destroying the Episcopal Church in terms that the average layperson can understand.

    The official TEC websites are silent on the subject. The mass media are only interested in the scandals. The blogs of revisionists continue the kind of talk that is easily found in almost any big-city Episcopal parish.

    I would be willing to bet that no one in my family, cradle Episcopalians all, has any real insight into the struggles of the TEC and the Anglican Communion. Why? Because in the average parish, it's business as usual.

    SF is the place where people are talking about what happens at elections; what is happening with conservative dioceses, and where we stand in terms of attendance and pledge figures.

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