Posted by Christopher Johnson | Thursday, January 27th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 88 Comments
Each year, St. Paul’s College, a Roman Catholic institution for Paulist seminarians in Washington, DC, hosts what it calls the Hecker Lecture. This year’s speaker was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Organization, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. And I cannot remember the last time I read any sort of message about anything at all that fell completely apart in the very first sentence:
We are the respective heirs of different strands of western Christianity.
No “we’re” not. “We” were all one big happy family until the 1500’s when “we” Anglicans decided to go it alone.
I will not begin with the Reformation, but with a much earlier, indigenous Christianity in the British Isles.
And herrrrrrrrre we go.
Roman soldiers appear to have taken the Christian tradition with them when they were posted to the frontiers of the Roman Empire – at least by the second century.
An alternative theory suggests that British Christianity was kept alive in Middle Earth by hobbits and that Frodo is Elvish for Jesus. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it; if the Presiding Bishop can live in a fantasy world, so can I, consarnit.
That tradition remained when the Roman Empire receded, but the faith continued to grow and develop in its new context.
Sort of makes one wonder why the western Church sent all those missionaries to the British Isles. Why did Columba leave Ireland and set up Iona? And just what was he telling the Picts anyway?
If we would look for a modern parallel, we might point to the development of the Three Self Movement in China, with roots in the various colonial plantings of Christianity in the 16th to 19th centuries.
Awkward analogy, that, insofar as, whatever its origins, Three Self was at one time shot through with Communists who didn’t believe all this supernatural crap, becoming, in effect, a sort of Episcopal Organization backed by fiercely-atheist state coercion.
Gregory sent Augustine to 6th century Britain, and challenged him at least in part to bless the best of local tradition in recognition that God had already been at work there.
I believe that would be Pope Gregory and does the fact that Pope Gregory sent Augustine to Britain suggest anything to you, Kate?
Paul himself sets the example in his great speech on Mars Hill.
Um..what? Last time I read that speech, Paul was not blessing “the best of local tradition in recognition that God had already been at work there.” He was addressing pagans and he was telling those pagans that their “local tradition” was, well, wrong. Has anybody in the Episcopal Organization ever read Acts?
The tradition planted in the British Isles did grow and develop in ways that diverged from the Mediterranean tradition – as did the tradition planted in Gaul and other parts of the ancient world.
Except that these didn’t consider themselves seperate and autonomous “traditions” but as parts of a whole that was still working out its theology and liturgical practices.
Without entering a lengthy reprise of Christian history
Which we all greatly appreciate since you’ve pretty much botched it so far.
the next major point of difficulty or stress between one indigenizing faith and another comes in the 7th century at the Synod of Whitby. Originally called to fix the date of Easter, it’s the point at which the Roman desire for uniformity began to impact the diversity in Celtic lands.
Except that Oswiu, the king who convened it, was a Saxon and his decision doesn’t seem to have overly troubled much of anyone until the legend of an independent, free and happy “Celtic church” needed to be invented.
It’s important to spend some time looking at our history, because many people erroneously believe that the big conflict came at the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Because it did.
The differences between Roman and Anglican Christianity have certainly solidified since then, but the roots are much older.
No they’re not. See hobbit theory above.
I certainly recognize that formal statements from the Roman Communion deny the validity of some other Christian responses to this challenge
The fact that you consider yourself a bishop, for example.
A bright line has been drawn by the Roman magisterium about what sorts of Christian companionship are permissible and which are not, particularly around sacramental fellowship.
It’s called doctrine, Presiding Bishop. Look into it some time.
Yet even in that context there is the possibility of sharing baptismal fellowship, for we both recognize the validity of Trinitarian baptism.
Even if it’s a reality to you and professional jargon to us.
One of the surprising developments in Anglican theology in recent decades has been a recovery of a theology of vocation and mission rooted in baptism, rather than primarily in sacramental priesthood.
That’s why we gave Robbie a pointy hat. Get a little water sprinkled on you and as far as we’re concerned, you’re golden.
It reflects an understanding of the early church that each disciple is called into Christ-like living and transformative participation in the coming reign of God.
No we don’t really mean it, thanks for asking. Ever had to listen to Louie Crew whine? Sucks big time, let me tell you.
It’s not revolutionary in that sense, but radical, in returning to our Christian roots.
Because the early church just WUVVVVVED consecrating unrepentant sinners DIS MUCH!!
I’m going to expand on that, but I want to touch on what I said about an Orthodox sense of sacramentality before we move on. One of the charisms of Orthodoxy is the sense that God is active in far more than we recognize, that rather than two or seven sacraments, there are dozens or hundreds and even more than we can count or know.
Anybody else creeped out by the Presiding Bishop feigning respect for Orthodox Christianity? I know I am.
There is an obvious and necessary tension between seeing only God as ultimately holy and being willing to look for holy fingerprints on all that God has created. At the same time, once we note that God has shared God’s own being with us in human flesh in the Incarnation, it is perhaps easier to begin to see that God’s presence may be encountered in the hills and forests, or Leviathan, whom God made for sport (Ps 104:26).
Jesus called Him Father, Kate. Just sayin’.
There is also a patristic root to this sacramental understanding, particularly in the theologizing of Athanasius and Irenaeus, and the doctrine of theosis or divinization to which it gave rise. Perhaps the best shorthand summary is, “God became human in order that we might become divine.”
If you’re a Mormon. You a Mormon, Kate?
for the patchwork that is Anglicanism takes all those various threads and at least theoretically encourages them to find life of different colors and textures in the soil of different nations and peoples.
And that’s why Robinson and Glasspool have pointy hats, bitches.
We share a common belief in the reign of God, in the sacramental presence of God in the earthly realm,
and in the necessity of human participation in God’s mission.
Okay. I’m the creator of everything that exists. As far as I know, and, well, I know everything, human beings can’t create universes. So explain to me why I need “human participation” to fulfill my “mission.”
The why question is more deeply rooted in an eschatological vision of a healed creation, whose healing has been advanced in novel and unique ways in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of God Incarnate.
Good of you to acknowledge that, Presiding Bishop. But since Kate’s not able to leave well enough alone…
The tension around this question in Christian history has frequently been rooted in the location of that eschatological vision – is it this-worldly or other-worldly?
Guess where the Presiding Bishop is going?
The Gnostic error is to push all of it into the spiritual realm, denigrating God’s good creation, yet even if we don’t go that far, there have been a variety of Christian or quasi-Christian strands that have attempted to insist that this-worldly salvation, healing, or wholeness (same root for all!) is not all that important.
Insofar as one’s temporary and the other’s permanent, I’m thinking that maybe…
Jesus’ own ministry gives the lie to that deferral of healing into an afterlife.
Does it now? So that whole Cross business was only a little first-century political theater? Jesus died the most agonizing death it is possible to imagine in order to hype his “own ministry?”
His work was profoundly incarnate, feeding the physical hunger of people around him, healing them in body, mind, and soul, as well as teaching about the false lords of this earth and God’s desire for justice and peace in a healed and beloved community.
Let’s move to the question of who should be concerned with this labor, ministry, or co-creative action. Who are the partners in God’s mission? It’s God’s mission, after all, not ours, or the church’s.
Then why do you keep prattling on about the necessity of human participation in God’s mission?
If God is acknowledged as the creator of all that is, I’m going to insist that God has been at work in contexts and cultures beyond the outwardly Christian ones.
Of course you are.
If we take seriously God’s omnipresence and omnipotence, we have to be willing to see the divine action in unexpected places. Vatican II was able to say that there is salvation beyond the church.
I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting that Vatican II asserted that there was salvation in other bodies that called upon the name of the LORD and not in religions that deny Him or don’t recognize the need for His coming at all.
We commonly acknowledge the saintly behavior of those who do not know or profess Christ. My point is that when we see a parallel vision of the goal of creation – that great eschatological dream – being enacted by non-Christians, I think it’s our missionary duty to seek out those partners. It might even be acknowledged as that mysterious sin against the Holy Spirit to deny that reality.
That’s a bit of a reach, Presiding Bishop, since nobody denies it. If I have a work to be accomplished while I still live–the eradication of the scourge of abortion, say–I don’t particularly care whether my coworkers in this task are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Shintoists, Zoroastrians or profess no religion at all. I’m funny that way.
God is going to use whatever means necessary or possible to lure us into partnership toward that healed creation. It is a truly catholic duty – and joy – to discover God’s ongoing creative work in those we haven’t yet recognized as brothers or sisters in Christ.
Apples and oranges, Presiding Bishop. While anyone lives, he or she is deserving of our respect, our help and our love, whether they acknowledge Jesus as Lord or not. But they are not our “brothers or sisters in Christ” until they acknowledge who Christ is and why He came to Earth. Not before.
Entering a missional context with that kind of urgency is expected of us over and over: two were in a field, one was taken and one was left. A man found a pearl in a field, sold all that he had in order to possess it. A woman swept her house repeatedly in order to find a lost coin. It’s an attitude that’s not always easy in wealthier, privileged, or powerful contexts, yet it’s at the root of what it is to know oneself as creature rather than creator.
Mix them metaphors, Mrs. Schori. You go, girl!
So, what does the contextual have to do with how we engage God’s mission as catholics?
Which I ain’t one of.
At the least it insists that a common vision informs the work in which we partner – that dream of a beloved community, that understanding of the reign of God, the city set on a hill, the light to the nations. Something about our work has to engage the universal, whether it’s caring for the least of these in feeding the hungry, delivering prisoners, or building a society where the powerful are not advantaged at the cost of the weak.
How does that Cross thing figure in here?
To be quite particular, participation in God’s mission is likely going to mean that we look for partners in other faith traditions and Christian communities, as well as groups outside the formal religious world.
Once again. Nobody’s disputing that, Presiding Bishop. It’s when we start bottom-lining everything that we run into problems.
Creative solutions to resource challenges might define the experience of the Hebrew people wandering in the desert. We are supposed to think in ways beyond our immediate prejudice about what is possible or even proper. Certainly God’s preferential option for the poor
God is no respecter of persons, Presiding Bishop. Rich or poor.
is an expression of that – need is meant to be served first, and God is willing to use younger sons, women, foreigners, and even the evil of this world in the service of salvation.
True enough. But that doesn’t excuse us from proclaiming what we know. And it also doesn’t mean that the Cross is an option for men to take or leave at their discretion.
In the last few years The Episcopal Church has been deeply invested in the Millennium Development Goals as a proximate image of the Reign of God.
Peace and blessings be upon them.
I’ve seen highly particular examples in this very city, as Episcopalians and Romans have badgered various administrations and Congress to attend to the poor and to make peace in the wider world.
Romans, Kate? Really? What, you can’t spell papists? At this point, Mrs. Schori continues on for several tedious paragraphs about the usual leftist issues and talking points so I think I’ll shut it down right here.