5/03/2008

Two Essays in Anglican Blogland

I count myself fortunate to have friends from various banks of the great divide and look forward to what they write. Some write often, as I do... to often by some accounts. Others less frequently. I look forward particularly to what these less frequent blogger friends have to say.

Simon Mein, who writes on his blog SimonSurmises very infrequently, has pulled off another fascinating feast for thought.  Dan and I and many others may wander off into grump-land but Simon has landed on the other shore. He writes as an elder who discovers again and again with refreshing insistence that radical commentary is a lively and ongoing tradition in Anglican though. His essay, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus,  is well worth the read. The introduction is a reminder that we still have preacher/teachers that believe that a twenty-five minute sermon is woefully short.  I have heard Simon preach and I must say he pulls it off. 

Simon introduces the claim that "outside the Church there is no salvation" and puts that in a context that sets the tone for the sermon that follows.  The whole thing is well worth the read.

Then there is Dan Martins, over at Confessions of a Carioca.  He published Friday an entry titled, Diachronic Koinonia," that I recommend for two reasons: (i) it is very well written and (ii) it fulfills one of the cardinal rules of curmudgeon - hood, namely the comment that things are going to hell in a hand basket. (See, I can use the word 'hell' in a reasonably preacher like fashion.)  His version of the curmudgeon gripe in this essay is this: "This is the practice of diachronic koinonia. Until recent years, one could make a plausible case that such practice was in the DNA of the Episcopal Church. Lately, not so much. We are, in fact, rapidly mutating." 

What I like about the essay is that Dan rightly points out a continuing issue for all of us - that we need to remember that we are part of a koinonia, fellowship, that includes past and future as well as present members. 

I found Dan's examples of "mutating" unconvincing, although I believe there is plenty of mutating going on across the spectrum.  His examples were these: "Bonnie Anderson's assertions (in her message to the House of Deputies this past week) that there is a theology behind TEC's polity, and that such polity is the vehicle for Divine revelation are among the signs of the ongoing mutation. The Presiding Bishop's Pentecost message that speaks not of the Holy Spirit, but simply of "Holy Spirit" is another. " 

Bonnie Anderson, the President of the House of Deputies, said this, which is as close to her saying there is a theology behind TEC's polity etc as I can find in her letter: "The input of the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church is especially important as the Anglican Communion considers the development of a covenant. In the Episcopal Church the belief that God speaks uniquely through bishops, laity, priests and deacons, enables our participatory structure and allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment. The joint work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is the institutional expression of this belief."  

It is unclear to me just how this is a mutation of what we have heretofore believed. It is not a new idea that the people of the Church - all "orders" - have a unique role as a vehicle for revelation and insight as God speaks in and through them.  And it is not a new idea that "the joint work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is the institutional expression of this belief."  Granted, it is the institutional expression for this church, and granted there are other communities of Christians not part of the Episcopal Church. But we believe that we are informed not solely by one or the other "order" within the body, but by the whole body.  I fail to see strange or new things mutating here.

The Presiding Bishop did indeed use the phrase, "Holy Spirit" without the article three times, and closed with a reference to "the Spirit."  Dan may be on to something here. Perhaps the Presiding Bishop has been listening to Pentecostals who understand Holy Spirit to be sometimes "the" Holy Spirit, an outside agency, an sometimes speak of be a "Holy Spirit people" with that same spirit residing in us and exciting us and making us new. But I don't find her use of "Holy Spirit" in any way a denial of the objectivity of "The Holy Spirit." Rather I find it an interesting way of suggesting that we can be filled with Holy Spirit and set on fire for the Gospel of Salvation.  This is an interesting use of language here to suggest a way of internalizing the Holy Spirit. It is not, I would suggest, a "mutating" of the faith received.

Dan Martins article is to be recommended not because of the grump at the end, but because of the reminder at the beginning, a reminder written with clarity and grace.

I am grateful to both Dan and Simon. They give a better tone to writings in Anglican Blog-Land than we often find, and what they say is provoking.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post, Mark. I found Simon Mein's post and sermon (addressing John 14.6) very thoughful and thought-provoking. I knew Simon briefly several thousand years ago, when I was a novice at West Park and he was visiting us from Kelham (leading our retreat, I think). I always appreciate what he has to say and have occasionally quoted him (with attribution).

    I disagree with much of what Don Martins writes (on his blog and on the HoB/D list) but always respect his honesty and thoughtfulness. But I must confess I find his fussing at +Katharine for her use of the anarticular (!) phrase "Holy Spirit." Well, granted that in English we most commonly refer to "the Holy Spirit," we might remember that in Latin (the language in which the West did scripture and theology for over a millenium) there are no articles, either definite or indefinite. Further, in the Greek New Testament the use of "pneuma hagion" without article(s) is common. (I did a cursory search, and quickly found several instances.) I think Dan is simply off base on this one. He is attributing to +Katharine an implication that simply isn't there.

    Bill

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  2. For whatever it's worth, in commenting on John 20:19-29, no less a scholar than Fr. Raymond Brown wrote in his notes on the passage "Receive a Holy Spirit": 'Although our translation preserves the fact that there is no definite article in the Greek, we would point out that the article is missing in other biblical texts that clearly refer to the Holy Spirit in the full NT understanding of that term.' -- e.g., Acts 2:4
    Harry+

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  3. I don't know the Presiding Bishop's intent, but leaving off the article tends to make "Holy Spirit" sound like a subjective experience rather than a personal being. One can appreciate that "pneuma hagion" appears on occasion without the definite article, but I don't believe "pneuma" has the same precise connotations as "spirit" (as one would expect when moving from Greek into English). Other than that, I thought her homily was quite good -- and I'm as theologically conservative as they come. But is this tendency to continually throw in something theologically controversial something she learned from Berkeley? It won't serve her well as Presiding Bishop.

    I thought Dan pegged Anderson correctly, frankly. She seems to imply that the revelation of God is whatever we together decide it is. It doesn't sound to me like the Apostles and Fathers are given a vote in that process. I'm not sure even God has a vote in that process.

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  4. It seems to me that no matter what Fr. Martins says that I can agree with , there is always, as my sainted mother would say, a 'but' at the end. His constant petty nitpicking(I guess that's redundant) with what the PB says is getting on my last nerve. It would seem to me he would have more valuable things to do with his time.

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  5. I do not visit Dan Martin's place often, just as I do not regularly "read" the posts at Titus19, VirtueonLine or Stand Firm. I find most of what is posted toxic to my soul. I rarely find anything agreeable at Dan's place even when directed there by others.

    (BTW, Fr. Mark, you merited your own post at Stand Firm this last week, with some caustic comments from Don Armstrong of Colorado.)

    There just seem to be folks in the world who would always be unhappy or find fault with someone or something because they are incapable of anything else. Dan & Company fall in this category for me. As my Abuelita used to say, "He would complain if you hung him with a new rope!"

    From the little of +Katharine's writings I have seen, in addition to drawing on her experience as an academic, as a scientist in general and an oceanographer in particular, she also appears to have studied Christianity's roots. As Father Mein mentioned, a sect that grew out of Judaism.

    What I immediately felt in her Pentecost letter was what I have felt with sermons from current day Rabbis. She is using Holy Spirit as a personal name, and not as a title or description.

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  6. Look, the Roman Catholics think their polity is divinely mandated, so why shouldn't we? Either it is or it isn't, or in both cases it's just what we think works, no? Frankly, I think a theology that says the whole church has wisdom is just as biblical as one that says "only bishops have wisdom, and only one of them has infallible wisdom." On the contrary, I think the former is more biblical, now I come to think about it...

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  7. rb wrote, "She seems to imply that the revelation of God is whatever we together decide it is. It doesn't sound to me like the Apostles and Fathers are given a vote in that process. I'm not sure even God has a vote in that process."

    So how do you assume that we all agreed* on what the Apostles and Fathers said ? It didn't fall down from the heavens on stone tablets - we (the Church) discerned it corporately (as a body).

    There is literally no difference on that level between the church councils of antiquity and what we're doing now.

    *Note: it's also plain that all of God's Church still doesn't interpret what the Apostles and Fathers said in the same way, either. Which drives yet another nail in the coffin of your argument ;)

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  8. Sorry; I don't buy this. I think it's far more honest to reject scripture and tradition than to say we can interpret it to say anything we want it to say -- and they aren't as opaque as you pretend. And yes, there is a difference. The church councils of antiquity hardly represented a small fraction of the church from one particular culture. You confuse The Episcopal Church with the Church.

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