October 27, 2007

The Child is Father of the Man


or, some things never seem to change...

After my mother's death, my youngest sister Mary Beth gathered together, and sorted and bundled, all of the various bits and pieces of paper my mother had saved over the years. On a recent visit, my sister presented me with my "packet" -- which was really quite astounding as it contained many things I'd long forgotten, but which my mother had tucked away.

Among these items were two "progress reports" from my kindergarten classes at P.S. 236, in Baltimore, Maryland. I read the teacher's comments with some amusement, and share them here as a remarkable indication of how little some things can change. I invite others who may be blessed to have such documents to do the same -- or at least to look at them for an amused few minutes.

The January report reads:

Toby brings new information to our group and makes helpful suggestions concerning our work. He is gradually learning to respect the efforts of those who are not as capable or as quick to comprehend as he is. Occasionally he has ridiculed work not as good as his own and we are discouraging this.

Things were under more control by June, perhaps helped by a change of venue:

Toby seems to have adjusted well to his new classroom. He takes an active and enthusiastic part in our activities. Toby needs to learn to use a quiet voice during work periods, in consideration of the other children who are working.

Toby has a good background of information which he has shared with us to add much to our activities. He is well liked by his classmates and gets along nicely with them.

So, that's the early documentary evidence, from certified employees of the Baltimore Department of Education. To echo Robert Burns, I'm glad these "gifties" turned up, to allow me to see myself as others saw me half a century ago. Thanks Mom, and thank Mary Beth -- and thanks Mrs. Carroll and Mrs. Ackrill.

Tobias Haller BSG

October 26, 2007

Still Orthodox after all these years

Take the Eucharistic Theology Quiz. Thanks to Jared.






Eucharistic theology
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Orthodox

You are Orthodox, worshiping the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.


Orthodox


81%

Catholic


81%

Luther


44%

Calvin


44%

Zwingli


25%

Unitarian


0%


October 25, 2007

Defender of Faith

Archbishop Williams has delivered an interesting address in which he takes on one of the leading atheist spokespersons of our day, Richard Dawkins. I commend the whole essay to you. (Hat tip to Episcopal Café.)

I've often felt, reading Dawkins, that as Rowan suggests (via Prince Mishkin) Dawkins is arguing against someone else's ideas, ideas that haven't been in the mainstream of Christianity for hundreds of years, and certainly not my idea of God or the nature of God.

It strikes me that it would be like me criticizing a contemporary physician for the absurdity of believing in humours or disease caused by the Evil Eye, or taking on an astrophysicist for believing in astrology.

What Dawkins fails (it seems) to recognize is that just as the physical sciences have advanced over the last two or three centuries, so has the Queen of Sciences -- theology. And rather than addressing the conclusions of the best of today's theologians, Dawkins is attacking what might at best be called "unpopular religion."

Ultimately, Dawkin's attack is upon a "straw God" that many contemporary Christians don't believe in. Contemporary theology -- and the best of classical theology -- does not simply equate God with a kind of meddlesome super-being. God is more (pace Anselm) than merely the Best Conceivable Thing, but is beyond and behind all "thingness" as the ground and source of all things. As, to be fair, I think Rowan's predecessor Anselm would agree. (After all, being the source of all things is better than being just a thing among other things; so as I can conceive that this quality is one that should well go on the list of ontological goodies, it makes good sense as a character of God's being. Though as St Basil [Fawlty] might whisper, "Don't mention Gaunilo's Island. I did once but I think I got away with it.")

See what Rowan has to say. This is the sort of thing he is really good at.

Tobias Haller BSG

October 23, 2007

Of Course We Could Have Been In New York


Yesterday was a holiday of sorts, a gathering of disparate bloggers, most of whom had never met each other outside the virtual pub of Mad Priest of Newcastle Jonathan's Of Course I Could Be Wrong. I neglected to bring my camera, and so have in the best blogger tradition swiped this picture from Allie.

It was a wonderful time, and I hope we can do it again. You can read more about it at Father Jake's World-Stopping Emporium. I've taken advantage of his links to add some of the folks for whom I didn't have links on my blogroll. What a joy to make these connections more actual as well as virtual!

States of Things

Archbishop Rowan has clarified the intent of his earlier note to Bishop Howe, and this clarification is to some extent helpful, as it corroborates my suspicion that the Howe communication was a nonce letter and not intended as a formal policy statement. Still, it is disturbing to note even in this communication a persistent subtle diminishment of the “national church.”

It isn’t really a matter of “units” as such. Talk of “basic units” gets a bit odd, as we could say the basic unit of a church is a brick, but no one worships in a brick! So while I acknowledge the Ignatian notion that the sacramental fullness of the church can be found in the liturgy with all orders of ministry present — a notion celebrated by Bishop Zizioulas — yet when it comes to polity the province is the smallest church entity that can exercise all of the functions of a church — including the creation of new bishops.

So the Archbishop has clarified that what he was getting at is that priests must relate to the wider church through their diocese. What he doesn’t mention is the similar fact that bishops (and dioceses) no less relate to the communion through their province. There is an organic unity here that works on up through the various levels, about which I will speak more below. For the nonce, though, let me note that in support of the Archbishop’s view concerning priests, the defining canonical point for the licensing of foreign clergy both in TEC and the CofE is not merely that they are validly ordained and related to some bishop or other, but that they are a “member of a church in communion” with the receiving church. Yes, their membership is through a diocese (hence the need for a letter dimissory), but it is the connection of that diocese with a church — which is to say, a national, provincial, or particular church — with which the receiving church is in communion that makes the ultimate difference in their being licensed or not. Dioceses simply do not stand alone, apart from the national or provincial church, and they derive much of their competence to function from participation in the larger body.

Of course, bishops as individuals may well relate directly to Canterbury when he invites them to Lambeth — but even this invitation hinges to a large extent upon their being bishops of a church that is a member of the Anglican Communion. This importance of the national church is what appears to be missing, or downplayed, in Archbishop Rowan’s thinking.

The Fractal Church

We are at a point where the integrity of Anglicanism as a specific form of polity is in danger. I put this in the framework of the equilibrium of systems: the “equilibrium point” of Anglicanism (as opposed to that in other systems of church government) has been, from the at least the time of recognized ecclesiastical independence of Scotland and the US, to reside at the provincial level. We have never had a higher governing body to oversee the relationships of the various provinces. Anglicanism’s global identity has been that of a communion, a fellowship of autonomous provincial churches — neither a “world church” like the Roman Catholic Church, nor a federation like the Reformed Churches.

At the levels of polity below the international, Anglicanism (at least in the US and England, as well as a number of other provinces) has a fractal quality. Fractal structures, for those not familiar with them, are structures that replicate certain features at various scales. This gives them a certain organic robustness and resiliency. The Episcopal Church has such a structure — from parish to diocese to province — which has not yet been effectively mirrored to the communion level. That is, at every level we Episcopalians have governance by clergy and laity together — but then the interprovincial level gives us things like Lambeth and the Primates. Now, this is in part because — while The Episcopal Church has preserved lay involvement, inherited from England, at all levels (in part via Bishop White’s familiarity with the US Congress), and the Church of England continued its lay involvement (originally through the Crown, then King-in-Parliament, and later in the Synod) — not all of the other provinces in the Anglican Communion share in this particular aspect at either local, diocesan, or provincial levels. Generally speaking, the churches of the Communion that related most directly to England or the US (as opposed to churches arising out of the ventures of missionary societies) tended to preserve this kind of involvement by the whole People of God.

And that is, I firmly believe, part of the problem for many of those provinces in understanding how either The Episcopal Church and the Church of England function. Churches in which bishops are elected only by other bishops, or in which the Archbishop has ultimate veto power, will not well fit into a larger entity at a level of scale resembling that in the provinces in which the laity and clergy are more intimately involved in provincial government.

Rather, these churches are accustomed to their own more clericalized fractal hierarchy: the parish priest who sits in the diocesan house of clergy; the diocesan bishop who sits in the house of bishops; the primate who sits in the Primates meeting — it all seems very logical, but it leaves out that intrinsic element so vital to Anglicanism in its founding expression: the involvement of the whole People of God in the government of the church.

I think we are in definite need of some form of an Anglican Congress, involving laity and clergy as well as bishops, at the level of the Communion. Though the ACC is a move in that direction, it has been subsumed by the pressure towards the episcopate in Lambeth and the Primates.

A fractal structure may help to restore some of our equilibrium: the balance we have enjoyed over the last two centuries or so is being pressured by various forces. This is, I think, the fundamental “tear in the fabric” that results when provinces have a different internal structure that is not replicated at the higher level: it is not just that some provinces have done things not all provinces approve of, but that we arrive at these decisions in very different ways, and yet have no overarching superstructure to govern the resulting tension — we are merely pulled back and forth in the quest either for more elasticity or more rigidity.

A properly fractal solution would be to work for an Anglican Congress — not more power to Lambeth or the Primates. The authority of such a Congress would have to be decided, of course, and agreed to by all — if, indeed we decide we need that level of governance. It might be good to begin by exploring the variations in polity in and between the member churches. A common agreed upon code of canon law might also be helpful, though it might equally be decided to take more of a live-and-let-live approach as far as internal affairs go.

Speaking practically, though, I would suggest that an Anglican Congress might be something a bit larger than the present ACC, with perhaps three persons in each order representing each province. My hope would be that this would be a body for discussion and implementation of broader global concerns, not primarily the place to hash out disagreements between the provinces — which I really do think are best handled ad hoc between the disagreeing parties, even to the extent of impaired communion. (I don’t think all problems have to be solved in the short run; some will take care of themselves in time.) So I see the primary utility of such a Congress as a more effective means at communication and mission organization. In fact, I think Anglican Mission Congress should be the proper name.

The dangers of final decisions

Ultimately, we may be dealing with a case of Schrodinger’s Church: we have been able to maintain our state of being neither congregational nor curial as a communion, but if we force the question, we may find that we will collapse into one form or the other — and Anglicanism’s experiment will be over. That, I think, would be a great loss to the Body of Christ.

Tobias Haller BSG


October 22, 2007

Strange Advice

What a very strange letter from Archbishop Williams to Bishop Howe.

The diocese and diocesan bishop come before the "abstract" provincial or national church? Really?

Then where do these independent concrete entities come from? Whence these supremely autonomous bishops? If you need three bishops from the surrounding dioceses of the province in order for an individual diocese to consecrate a bishop, plus the consent of the Metropolitan --- doesn't that give the lie to the autonomy of a diocese? Aren't bishops "of" the church since they come "from" the church? Isn't the diocese simply one organ in the body of the Province? Speaking of which, if the province is just an abstraction, I wonder why we need Primates. Or why we should be so keen in listening to them.

The letter seems to describe an odd sort of fibrillation at the heart of the church, whereby the orderly connection of authority in an organic process arises from parishes (which must remain in union with their bishop) but then skips a beat at the middle stage of the Province and jumps right to a novel view of the Anglican Communion as a collection of dioceses in personal communion with Canterbury. I say this is novel because the only individual dioceses that at present fit into that model are the odd extra-provincial few like Bermuda and the Iberian churches. And they are odd precisely because they aren't Provinces, or parts of Provinces.

What has become of the reality of "this realm of England" and the basis of the independence of the national church from a global one, in the creation of the Church "of England"? Why should England matter, so that if the Diocese of London wanted to remain Papist, why should it not? What of the principle of subsidiarity and mutual interdependence? What of the Anglican Consultative Council, made up of representatives of the provinces, not the dioceses? What of the due deference to "superior synods" -- and at present the highest synods in Anglicanism are provincial, not diocesan?

I thought the Archbishop was interested in preserving the Anglican Communion rather than balkanizing it. I thought he was trying to get away from the church as a loose confederation or federation (with emphasis on "diocesan" rights playing the role of "states" rights in this ecclesiastical setting). I thought he was interested in the provincial structure of our communion, as it has been described up until know as a fellowship of churches, not a collection of dioceses -- and moreover that was the reason such trust was placed in the Primates rather than trying to hold a bulkier "Anglican Congress" -- a general synod of all the orders of all the dioceses.

Of course, it is always possible he didn't mean this letter to go beyond the immediate application he had in mind: as an effort to keep individual parishes from wandering from their Floridian bishop; thus echoing the language of Ignatius of Antioch. But if that was his intent, he could simply have used the language of the Panel of Reference regarding the union of parishes with Canterbury only through the diocese, and the importance of dioceses only (with those few extra-provincial exceptions) being recognized through their Province, in accord with the English canonical principle that Canterbury and York determine what "churches" (not "dioceses") are in Communion with the Church of England. This comes as literally the last word in the English canonical supplement: "Rule 54(5) of the Church Representation Rules provides that 'if any question arises whether a Church is in communion with the Church of England, it shall be conclusively determined for the purposes of these rules by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York'."

Tobias Haller BSG

October 19, 2007

So, okay. Last Chance to vote....

My site was nominated for Best Religion Blog!

Click on the Bloggers Choice logo above to register and/or vote!

As of my last look, I was at 32, which puts me nowhere near such august folk as the Mad Priest and Fr. Jake. So humor me, if you've not already cast your ballot...

6. Clash of Symbols

A section of the continuing reflection on sexuality begun with Where the Division Lies.

In this essay I will examine an additional feature of marriage: its use as a metaphor or symbol for the relationship between Christ and the Church (or between God and Israel). This will include a reflection on the nature of symbolism, the extent to which reliance on such symbols can be helpful as well as misleading, what it is about marriage that serves as a symbol of these relationships, and whether that quality can be applied to same-sex relationships as well.

The ambivalent nature of symbols

Much has been said and written over the years about the nature of symbols, and their relationship to what they symbolize. Part of this discussion involves sacramental theology. It is fair to say that all sacraments are symbols, but not all symbols are sacraments. Beginning with the broader category, I accept the standard definition of a symbol as something that stands for something else. Symbols (in order to function as such) have some likeness or relationship to what they symbolize, and/or some common context which allows them to be understood as signifying something other than themselves. Thus, a king and his royal authority can be symbolized by a crown, a crest, or a throne — though none of these would be effective as symbols in a society that had neither kings, crowns, crests or thrones. The degree of relatedness between a symbol and its object — for example, between a king and his headgear — can be quite remote as long as the culture understands the connection between them. But outside of the culture in which a symbol makes symbolic sense, it may be unrecognizable, or require explanation — and thus be ineffective as a symbol.

Moreover, one symbol may have a different or even contrary meaning in another culture, and other cultures may have different symbols to represent the same object. One need not go as far afield as the Cargo Cults or the mysterious soda-bottle of The Gods Must Be Crazy to find examples of ambivalent symbolism. It is well known that hand gestures (as a form of active symbol) are just as variable as language — and a gesture that is acceptable or innocuous in one society can be obscene or offensive in another. Symbols are as often conventional (not “natural”) as they are ambiguous (not “clear.’)

A sacrament, for the purpose of this discussion, is a symbol that does more than effect a mental recognition in the observer, but actually effects a real change. Even here the “natural likeness” is not essential for a sacrament to do its work — wine is visually more like blood than bread is like flesh, yet both serve in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Yet in some cultures bread is an unheard of novelty rather than a daily staff of life, and wine may similarly be an exotic substance. And as one ecclesiastical wag once put it even in his Western context, “I have no difficulty in believing that the eucharistic host is the Body of Christ - but I do have difficulty recognizing it as bread.”

Picking up the royal imagery above, and recalling all of the fuss and bother concerning its misplacement in The Prince and the Pauper, the Great Seal of England in a real sense embodied a kind of sacrament — the real present power of the monarch in an efficacious manner — yet the Pauper used it to crack walnuts! The crucial note here is that even with a sacrament, its sacramental nature must be discerned. Even so-called “natural” symbols can be misunderstood apart from a cultural context, through which they are invested with efficacious power.

It is not my concern here to debate the question of whether marriage is or is not one of seven sacraments (as in the Roman Catholic teaching), but rather to reflect on the function of the marital relationship as a symbol for the relationship between Christ and the Church, or in the Hebrew Scriptures, between God and Israel. I think at the very least we can recognize that unlike the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist, a marriage does not effect the real presence of the relationship between Christ and the Church; rather the grace of marriage (if we are to take it as sacramental) concerns the love and fidelity of the couple, which is analogous to or metaphorical of the love of Christ for the Church. This is, in short, a poetic symbol.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that symbols — even sacramental ones — have clearly defined limits. Even in the undoubted sacraments, we do not believe that all bread and wine is holy because Christ instituted that some bread and wine should be the means to experience his anamnesis. I raise this as a preventative to any suggestion of idolatry, in which the symbol comes to supplant what it symbolizes. Idolatry, as someone once said, is treating things like God and God like a thing. I would also suggest that idolatry can consist in treating things about people as if they were divine, and treating the truly divine image of God in humanity as if it were merely a thing. In the present context, it is possible both to make too much of marriage, and too little.

Marriage as ambivalent symbol

Several biblical authors use marriage as a symbol for the relationship between God and Israel, and Christ and the Church. But, as with many of the issues surrounding sexuality, the picture is far more complex than mere equivalence. Not only is marriage only one of many symbols for this relationship, but the marriage symbolism itself is ambivalent, capable of standing for both good and bad relationships between God and God’s people.

There are many earthly phenomena — and Jesus assures us (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35) that marriage is an earthly phenomenon! — that the biblical authors use (in addition to marriage) to represent the relationship between God and Israel or Christ and the Church: monarch and people, tree and branches, father and children, shepherd and sheep, master and slaves, head and body, cornerstone and building. These symbols all depend on the cultural understanding of those to whom they speak. As noted in an earlier portion of this series of essays, the Letter to the Ephesians collects and intertwines a number of these symbols, in addition to marriage. As Paul himself recognizes, his blending of these symbols gets a bit confusing, as he spins out the various cultural themes of leadership and authority, the relationship of one to many, the nature of organic or bodily union, and love and care.

Thus the Scripture does not single out marriage as a unique symbol for the divine/human relationship — and one can carry the analogy or symbol too far — as some have suggested Paul does — as if women should literally treat their husbands as if they were God. Nor should one carry away from this symbolic usage the notion that because marriage is a symbol for the divine/human interaction it is therefore in itself divine — it remains, according to Jesus, a terrestrial phenomenon. (Luke 20:34-35) So to confuse the symbol with what it symbolizes is a category error. More than a few theologians have of late wandered off in a direction more suggestive of pagan notions of hieros gamos than is warranted by strictly orthodox theology. This includes suggestions that the relationship of a male and female somehow more perfectly embody the imago dei than either does individually. This is very shaky theological ground upon which to tread, as I noted in an earlier section of this series, for it undercuts the doctrine of the Incarnation. Much as I may disagree with him on other points (especially when under the undue influence of Aristotelian science), this is a matter on which I am concur with Aquinas. (ST I.Q93.6d)

It is also important to point out that in addition to the multiplicity of symbols for the relationship between God and people, Scripture uses all sorts of marriages as analogies for equally various divine/human interactions. While Paul uses the marital relationship to reflect the love and care of a husband for his wife (“as his own body”) in Ephesians, there are less positive images to be found elsewhere.

Perhaps most importantly, the prophetic literature uses polygamy as an image for the relationship of the one God with many worshipers, or many peoples. Thus God is portrayed as a Middle Eastern “Lord” (Ba’al — the Hebrew root for marriage is related to this word for “Lord,” explicitly contrasted at Hosea 2:18 with “my man.”). As such a Lord, God is portrayed as having more than one wife in Jeremiah 3 and Ezekiel 23. These relationships, as well as Hosea’s relationship with Gomer and the (possibly other) woman of Hosea 3, reflect the failure of God’s people in the failures of these various sexual relationships. So close is the affinity (in the Hebrew mind) of idolatry with harlotry that it is on occasion difficult to tell when the text intends literal harlotry rather than figurative. (The most frequent use of the root for harlot in the Old Testament is as symbolic of or in connection with idolatry.) We ought also to note that the putative author of the Song of Solomon was notorious for the range of his sexual interests — yet that did not prevent the Rabbis and medieval churchmen from spiritualizing the account into a rhapsody for the devoted soul’s love for God. The male in this analogy is free (as he was under Jewish law) to have multiple female partners, but each woman is to be singularly devoted to her husband. In the medieval Christian adaptations of this text, it was not found at all strange for men to cast themselves as “The Bride” of Christ.

The use of this symbol

The question is: Given that heterosexual relationships can be used as such multivalent symbols, positive or negative, single and plural, and even with a degree of sexual ambiguity, can faithful, monogamous, life-long same-sex relationships also serve in symbolic capacity — towards good? I will explore the negative imagery in later reflections on Leviticus and Romans, but will note here that the same linkage between idolatry and harlotry is made there between idolatry and some specific forms of same-sexuality. But what might a faithful, loving same-sex relationship (as opposed to the cultic activity described in Leviticus or the orgiastic in Romans) stand for as a symbol — not in the cultures of those times, but in our own?

It is clear that the prevailing biblical symbol for heterosexual relationships is intimately (!) connected with the assumption of male “headship” — thus the related analogies with master and slave, head and body, and so forth, assume a cultural notion of male authority, likened to the authority of Christ over the church. So powerful is this imagery that men become “feminine” in relation to God — as C.S. Lewis noted in his emendation to the conclusion of Goethe’s Faust.

But what of Christ — who voluntarily (and temporarily) assumes the position of a subordinate — not only in the great kenosis of the Incarnation, but in the symbolic act of the Maundy footwashing — while remaining Lord and God? When Jesus assumes the position of a servant to wash his disciples’ feet, he is also assuming the position of the woman who washed his feet with her tears. It is no accident that Jesus uses this powerful acted symbol to show his disciples the danger of assuming the position of authority over rather than assuming the position of service to. (It is perhaps ironic that in the Roman Catholic Church only men are to take part in the Maundy ritual as either foot-washers or as those whose feet are washed. How much more powerful a symbol it would be if a bishop were to wash the feet of women?)

Jesus is secure in his knowledge of himself, yet is free to set aside the role of authority to assume the role of a slave, a role played elsewhere in the passion narrative by a woman. As is obvious, in a same-sex relationship there are no stereotypical sex roles for the partners. They are, like Jesus, free to take upon themselves, in a dynamic interchange, various opportunities to love and to serve. This flexibility is no doubt one of the reasons same-sexuality is seen as a threat to entrenched systems of automatic deferral to culturally established hierarchies. Like Christianity itself, same-sexuality “turns the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) by challenging the “natural” roles assigned by culture. Same-sex couples are thus capable of being truly natural symbols for the mutuality of equals, free from the traditional roles assigned by the culture to men and women. Whether the culture sees this as a threat or a promise will depend upon what they value.

Further, as procreation is not an end for same-sex relationships, the relationship itself become the locus for its intrinsic goodness: that is, it is not dependent on the production of a result extrinsic to the relationship itself. Thus the partners do not serve as means to an end, but as ends in themselves — all being done for the good of the other, in mutual submission and love. Thus same-sex unions can be symbols of mutual dedication to the beloved, rather than as utilities geared towards some other goal or end. In this sense, same-sex unions function analogously with celibacy as signs of an eschatological end to “how things have always been” — upsetting the old dichotomies of “slave or free, male and female.”

Nothing in this is to suggest that all same-sex couples are successful in this kind of mutuality, or that a mixed-sex couple is not equally capable of it (when they are willing, like Christ, to set aside the presumptive roles granted by culture). My purpose here has been to show that, as with marriage, it is the quality of the relationship, not its mere existence, that serves as a symbol.

We find the locus of that symbol in the moral purpose of sexuality, which resides in mutual joy and respect, and the enhancement of society both between the couple and in the larger world. This is an enactment of the human moral mandate towards love and fidelity, mirroring the love and fidelity of God; and this is a moral value of which same-sex couples are capable. Procreation, on the other hand, does not have any moral value in and of itself, though it can be accompanied by the moral values I have just elucidated. But in itself it is a biological process, not unique to human beings. Procreation alone — divorced from its moral context as part of a loving human relationship — does not symbolize anything of moral value.

Thus the symbol we have before us — the union of a loving couple regardless of whether they are fertile or not — is consistent with the Gospel, with its mandate to love one’s neighbor as oneself. As this mandate can be applied to marriage (Eph 5:28) so too it can be applied to faithful, monogamous, life-long same-sex unions. Such unions can be symbolic forces for the upbuilding of society based upon this divine mandate. It is to that upbuilding that I will turn in the next section of this series of essays, as I examine the final traditional “good” of marriage.

Tobias Haller BSG


The series continues with 7. Remedial Reading.

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.

October 16, 2007

Tested with Fire

a sermon for the feast of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, first delivered by Tobias Haller BSG at the Convent of Saint Helena at Vails Gate New York on October 16, 2004

The Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.+

It is never a pleasant thing to hear about Christians persecuting other Christians: How dissonant and jarring to hear of such behavior by disciples of Christ: followers of the one who gave himself as a ransom for the many, whose end was engineered in large part by those so sure in their religious certitude they were willing to see him done to death.

And church history ever since has been replete with such continued internecine struggles. Those with the power to do so have marginalized, exiled, persecuted — and at the most extreme, executed — those they saw as heretics or sinners, traitors to the cause of Christ, even though they too bore his name.

I will not dwell on recent events in the Anglican Communion — if we dare still call it either Anglican or a Communion — except to note that those who expect a final solution to all our disagreements with next week’s Windsor Report will, I think, be sadly disappointed. Those who see the Episcopal Church as a cancer to be surgically excised will be content with nothing less. Intolerance will not be satisfied with compromise now, as it never has been, by its very nature. And history shows us that the will so to impose one’s vision on others, leads inevitably to division or the scaffold.

Which is where it led the trio of churchmen we commemorate today. Now, none of these were tolerant men — they were as bound to the rightness of their views as were those who condemned them. Cranmer (though he wavered), Latimer and Ridley were no shrinking violets. They were as fierce in their opposition to the Papists when they were in the ascendency as were the Papists when Mary regained the throne.

Which only adds more sorrow to the tragedy. For whoever was right or wrong in their theology — and how many of the questions so hotly debated in those days, and capable of bringing one to the stake, are of much importance either in the light of history or of the Gospel? — surely it was the Church that suffered in this. This was no watering with the blood of martyrs, witnessing to the faith in and of Christ. No, this was theological intransigence armed with the power of the state.

And isn’t that why and how Christ himself died? As he told the disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The tragedy is that “they” were true believers too. The pious and righteous religious leaders thought they had cause to bring Jesus to trial, but they were wrong — as religious leaders so often seem to be.

The lesson in all of this is that tolerance itself may be the ultimate touchstone of religious truth: and the willingness to persecute or kill others because their religious belief differs from one’s own may be the surest sign of error. For hatred is not the sign of God’s presence. Above all, to see and yet reject the signs of grace in those with whom one disagrees is to reject the source of that grace.

So what are we to do when we ourselves are faced with such opposition? As I said, in the events we commemorate today (perhaps as a timely reminder) hands were bloody on all sides. No amount of flame could cleanse the hands of either those who died or those who lived in those troubled times — all were partners in the dance of death. Those who selected the readings for this day no doubt would like to see the eventual survival of the Church in England over against Rome as a sign of divine favor — or at least a kind of felix culpa — that though the building was burnt (and in this case even the builders), still vindication came. Yet surely the eventual emergence of Anglicanism owes more to Mary’s death and Elizabeth’s succession and Hooker’s genius at comprehension than to Hugh, Nicholas and Thomas having been objectively right, or having witnessed boldly at the stake. In the long run weariness at bloodshed played a greater part in this eventual settlement than any who perished in the strife leading up to it would care to admit.

For ultimately, pace Saint Paul, it isn’t the building that matters, how well or from what it is built, but the foundation alone. And the foundation for any Christian’s building must be Christ. No building will survive — that is the truth. I don’t care how soundly we think we’ve built our fortress of security and truth, or what we’ve made it of — gold, stone or straw. It is not through our works that we will be justified. The gold melts, the straw burns, and the stone is smashed by the hammer. Any builders’ reward, when all buildings fall and burn, will not be based on having built, or how one built, or from what one built, but only where one built. As the poet said, “For none can guess its grace, till he become the place wherein the Holy Spirit makes her dwelling.”

And the Holy Spirit, the love divine, beloved, does not build fortresses to start with, nor does she build on the shifting and unstable sand of human perceptions of truth. Love does not seek its own way, does not punish or exile or kill those who reject it. Love keeps on loving, loving and forgiving even when nailed to the cross. Love is the opposite of hate, hate which must not only have its own way, but demand its way of others, hating and destroying those who will not yield to its tyranny.

Love does not build fortresses for truth — which cannot contain the truth in any case, finite as they are in the light of the surpassing and infinite Truth of God. No, love builds accessibly and openly, long since knowing our disabilities and infirmities, love builds an open avenue for all to follow. And though the door be narrow when we reach it, yet all can enter as we graciously say to each other, “No, please, after you.”

I hope and trust that Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley find equal rest with Wolsey, Pole and More, that the Tudor half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth have made their peace — the peace which passes understanding — and that when the present fires of controversy are long past that threaten the tottering edifice of our Anglican Communion — which we would be most foolish to mistake for the kingdom of God — that the foundation, cleared and level, will be prepared for the new Jerusalem to be built, in which all of us will, not through our possession of the truth, but through the Truth’s possession of us, through the grace and love of God, be pleased to dwell forever.+


October 8, 2007

5. True Union (3)

Pairs and Mates — Two are better than one

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? — Ecclesiastes 4:9-11

In this section of my reflection I will turn to two questions: Are men and women actually complementary on a physical basis? (we have already seen that they are not complementary on a human or moral basis) and Is complementarity a necessary component of a committed sexual relationship?

Vive la difference

In the previous section I demonstrated that there is no difference between men and women in their both being fully human. This is not, as some might think, so obvious when one looks to a tradition that had no difficulty following Aristotle in referring to women as “defective males.” (De Gener. Anim., II.3) Aquinas applies this to individual women:

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power in the male semen tends to the production of a perfect likeness according to the male sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active power, or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes... (ST I.Q92.1)

It is true Aquinas allows that in the collective women were not defective, but were rather “part of nature’s intention directed to the work of generation” — which he believes to have been the sole purpose for the generation of woman qua woman. As he says earlier in this same article:

It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a helper to man; not, indeed as a helper in other works, as some say, since a man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation.

At this point some might be moved to raise the question, why should we pay any attention to a moral theology based in large part on the defective science of Aristotle, enshrined in the Church’s teaching through the absurd speculations of Aquinas? It is a very good question — since if people cannot be trusted in earthly things how are they to be trusted in heavenly things? And if their moral vision is bound and confused by defective biology, why should anyone trust their theology? (John 3:12)

The reason I bring this up is the remarkable persistence such baseless notions seem to have. Even with advances in science, and a better understanding of the actual nature of human reproduction (which, contrary to Aristotle and Aquinas has nothing to do with moist south winds!) there still persists in many circles a kind of archaic folk sexuality functioning alongside scientific knowledge, and often displacing it when moral questions are brought to the fore.

To put it bluntly: Men and women are only complementary in the archaic view of an ancient world innocent of the rudiments of biological science, or at the sophomoric level of tab and slot.

The creation account in Genesis 2, in its suggestion of partial complementarity (woman being derived from man and restored to him), is a part of that archaic world view. We should no more feel bound fully to embrace a literal view of Genesis 2 on human biology than we do Genesis 1 on cosmology. To over-literalize either creation account, is to fall into the disciples’ error in thinking Jesus’ warning about the “leaven of the Pharisees” was in reference to bread; or Nicodemus thinking that to be born again he would have to enter his mother’s womb. The inability to understand mythic or figurative language as myth or figure, or to accept the fact that even in divinely inspired Scripture God’s message is conditioned and limited by human fallibility creates a huge obstacle to coming to a true understanding of the moral principles involved — and risks making the faith even more irrelevant to the world as it is bound up with notions that are demonstrably false.

We need constantly to be reminded, it seems, that the female of the human species was not created from a man’s rib. Or from a moist south wind. Reading poetry as prose is as bad as bad science, and the pre-scientific world was restrained by boundaries to the understanding of reality itself — boundaries we are no longer forced to observe; indeed we would be very foolish to observe them.

The ancient world did not know much about sexuality beyond the crude mechanics of “the way of a man with a woman.” They knew almost nothing of the actual reproductive function. The prevailing view was that the male seed (zara‘, sperma, semen) was planted in the receptive female where it took root and grew; but the seed itself was the source of the person that would be born. It was commonly believed that human semen contained miniature human beings. This erroneous concept held sway until modern times in some places, in spite of advances in microscopy, which in its early days falsely attested to sightings of miniature animals and people in the corresponding sperm! This view is reflected in Hebrews 7:9-10: “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”

Some observant naturalists of the ancient world, noting that the menstrual flow ceased once pregnancy became obvious, believed that the embryo was compacted from the menstrual blood rather like cheese curdled by rennet. This view is reflected in Wisdom of Solomon 7:2. These are just two examples of the profoundly limited archaic view of sexuality.

So, given that much of the understanding of sexuality from biblical, patristic and scholastic times was based on errors of fact — and hence must call into question some of the conclusions reached — what might a better understanding of human sexuality lead us to?

Not complementary but mutual

First of all, let me acknowledge one thing about which Aquinas is correct even if he phrases it infelicitously. Procreation is one of the reasons for the existence of the sexes as sexes. I cannot join Aquinas in proclaiming it to be the sole reason for the sexes; nor can the general principle be held as binding on particular cases, as I laid out in my earlier essay on procreation. There I demonstrated that sex and procreation are not necessarily bound up with each other — that they are, on the contrary, actually separable both by purpose and by nature. Aquinas, of course, did not know this — he was unaware, for example, of the naturally infertile period during menses — or failed to take what he did know seriously, and apparently did not read any significance into menopause, of which he was surely aware. (Gen 18:11) This ignorance in itself raises serious questions about the bulk of his conclusions, and subsequent moral theology following his line of thinking on matters sexual.

But with our better understanding of human reproduction, we can affirm that even in procreation the process is not complementary, but mutual — the man is not “completed” by the woman, nor the woman by the man, but rather each contributes an identical number of chromosomes — one from each set of pairs they possess, so that a half-set of chromosomes from each can pair up with their mates in the fertilized ovum. Thus men and women are different, but not by any means complementary — male and female do not contribute to or complete each other, but mutually contribute to the generation of the new human being. The only place complementarity enters into the picture iswithin each chromosome, in the DNA molecules themselves — but this has to do with truly complementary base pairs, not with male and female, as it is true even in species that do not reproduce sexually.

Still, in spite of this fact, people will fixate on the crude schoolboy level of tabs and slots, as if this represented the true locus of sexuality — or indeed as if these were the only tabs and slots with which the human anatomy is provided.

What, after all, are the “sexual organs”? Surely the external genitalia — the only parts of the sexual paraphernalia even remotely “complementary” in that crude sense of tab and slot — are not the source of sexuality. One might well say that the brain is a sexual organ; and when one looks beyond the clearly sexual gonads, themselves part of a larger complex of organs, one sees that between men and women there is remarkable congruence rather than complementarity, even when the function of a corresponding organ is no longer essential to procreation. The male breast or the female glans and prostate (clitoris and Skene’s glands) have functions as much geared towards the erogenous as the procreative.

There comes a time, as Saint Paul said, to “put aside childish things.” We are still not perfect in our understanding of human sexuality, but surely we do know things now that place some of the beliefs of the ancient world and the later church into the same realm as tales of the stork or the cabbage patch. Until we set aside some of the fables of the past, we will not be able effectively to address the concerns of the present.

In his likeness

Every beast loveth his like, and every man loveth his neighbor. All flesh consorteth according to kind, and a man will cleave to his like. Ecclus. 13:15-16

However, I still think much can be learned even from our sacred source material, as long as it is read as sacred text rather than as literal history or science. So I would like to return to Genesis for a moment to address another common assertion of the heterosexualist agenda: that the “difference” between men and women is crucial to the licitness of sexual love.

Although Genesis 1 (with its emphasis on procreation) partakes of the archaic and crudely anatomical distinction of the sexes (the words for male and female meaning roughly “memorable” and “has a hole in it”) Genesis 2 moves towards a more unified view of man and woman (ish and ishah). Even though this represents a folk etymology (and a folk biology) the emphasis is not on the distinction of the sexes but on the likeness of the man and the woman. It is their similarity, not their difference, that is important. One might well observe that Genesis 1 emphasizes the likeness of the couple to God, Genesis 2 the likeness of the couple to each other.

As I have noted in previous sections of this reflection, God’s “intention” in Genesis 2 seems to be at least as much based on Adam’s needs as on God’s “plan.” God’s intent, in Genesis 2, is to address Adam’s solitary condition; and God only chooses to create woman after the animals prove to be unsatisfactory companions. It is human companionship that Adam requires — the help of one like himself.

You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’ (Tobit 8:6)

In short, the man and the woman form a pair; they are mates; and it is clear that both of these words apply to two things like each other as much as to two things unlike each other. And in Genesis 2, the emphasis is on the likeness. In this sense, far from being complementary, the man and the woman are like the two blades of a pair of scissors — that work together because they are like each other.

Most importantly, the relationship they form is mutual, like joining with like — much as one joins right hand with right hand in the sociable interaction between two people, and in the marriage rite itself — the same hand, not the opposite one — in a pledge of mutual joy, in which the mutuality is as important as the joy. Their mutual union does not imply the literal disappearance of the two persons here any more than it does in the love of neighbor. (It is perhaps instructive to compare the similarity of the advice in Ephesians 5:33 and Romans 13:9.) The mutual union is the beginning, not the end, of a life-long relationship.

So it seems clear that not only is there no true complementarity between the sexes, but that the relationship of the sexes is not based solely on the differences that do exist, but at least as much upon the similarities.

Further considerations

In the following sections of this reflection I will take up the remaining “ends” or “goods” of marriage — the reflective (or symbolic) and the preventative (“as a remedy for fornication.”) I will also address the question of whether a same-sex couple can experience the mutual joy in unity enjoyed by mixed-sex couples.

It will be noticed that I have “backed into” this discussion from the point of view of marriage, rather than beginning (as is the usual course) with the alleged prohibitions on same-sexuality. I promise I will address those concerns at last, but my initial intent has been to challenge the presuppositions surrounding sexuality itself before engaging with the rather better-traveled paths of the seemingly endless discussion.

Tobias Haller BSG


The discussion continues with 6. Clash of Symbols.

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.

October 5, 2007

4. True Union (2)

In the previous section of this continuing reflection, I examined the biblical concept of “one flesh” using the biblical text itself in an effort to unpack the meaning of this phrase. From that effort, I conclude that fleshly unity is not to be seen as good in and of itself, but only within the context of a loving relationship, including union of heart and mind as well as of flesh.

As few (I hope) doubt that persons of the same sex can enjoy unity of heart and mind in companionship with each other, the question remains as to whether a same-sex couple can experience a form of bodily union. Some of those opposed to any recognition of same-sex relationships argue against this possibility, largely on the grounds of what they usually refer to as the “complementarity of the sexes.” I now turn to begin to examine this assertion.

Complementarity defined

As I noted in my critique of Some Issues in Human Sexuality, the definition of complementary and complementarity often shifts in the course of these discussion. In normal English usage, however, “complementary” applied to two things means that one makes up what is lacking in the other, or that both together make up what is lacking in each. In mathematics we say that a 60-degree angle is complementary to a 30-degree angle, because together they make up a right angle.

There are, from my perspective, two faults with applying this concept to human beings and their relationships. First, it requires that the individual human being be seen as lacking something — as essentially incomplete or defective; secondly, it implies an essential difference between men and women, whereby only a man and a woman can compensate for what the other is lacking, or (as I think is more commonly held) one of them (the man) makes up for what the other (the woman) lacks.

As in Adam

It is sometimes asserted that one is not a complete human being unless coupled.
But human beings are not complementary in this sense; and to assert so is a defective anthropology and a misreading of Genesis. It also flies in the face of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

Philosophy ratifies the concept of the dignity of the human person in acknowledging that an individual human being is a complete human being. Individual human beings may suffer from loneliness, however, and human society provides a number of compensations for that human need. But loneliness is an emotional state, not a defect of personhood or humanity, or the lack of an essential attribute of the human person. Solitude, and the loneliness to which it gives rise, are situational and circumstantial, not essential.

This does not mean that solitude is not a real problem for human beings. The second creation account in Genesis 2 assures of that Adam’s solitude was the only thing “not good” in creation. The intent of Genesis 2 is to tell us why it is that “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife” — a recognition that this is a primary way in which human beings overcome the pang of solitude. But if marriage were the only way to counter solitude, then celibacy would have to be ruled out as an approved state of life.

As I pointed out earlier in this series of reflections, such was a predominant view in rabbinic Judaism, in which celibacy was held to be gravely defective, not only because it failed to implement the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, but because an unmarried man is“incomplete.” It is thus fair to acknowledge that this passage presents us with the only text that might be conceived to speak of “complementarity” of the sexes. Rabbinic tradition holds that Adam’s incompleteness is only healed by marriage, based on Eve being created by a partial removal from Adam.

There are, I think, a few points to challenge that point of view, even within rabbinic Judaism, and also the degree to which we should receive this interpretation of the Genesis 2 account. First of all, this view shares some features with Aristophanes’ account of the origin of the sexes and sexual desire — although Aristophanes includes the origin of homosexual desire as well — in Plato’s Symposium. It is important to note that this “completion” of the man by the woman is not understood, even in rabbinic Judaism, along the lines of Aristophanes, or the Taoist concepts of yin and yang — it is not about a synthesis of opposites, nor even simply the restoration of something previously divided — for Adam and Eve remain themselves even after they have joined. Above all, it cannot be understood as a marker of an essential, as opposed to a situational, defect in the human person.

For along with this reading of Genesis 2, there are other rabbinic interpretations. The Rabbis used Genesis 2 as the source for the full and complete dignity of the individual human being, “A single man was created in the world to teach ... that whoever saves a single life it is as if he saved the entire world. ” (mSanhedrin 4:5)

A return to the original text is also helpful: God created Adam as a solitary gardener, and first tried to assuage his loneliness by making animal companions for him. Only after Adam rejected the animals did God take something from him later to restore it in“built up” form as the Woman he could receive as flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, as someone like him (as opposed to the animals, who were unlike him). This is not about complementarity, or the union of opposites, but of similarity or identity. Eve is a human being; as a later church synod (Douzy, 860) would say, Eva ipse est Adam. Eve is herself Adam.

Finally, we have to note that the church later corrected a narrow reading of Genesis 1 as well, where the rabbinic interpretation required procreation in order to give due honor to celibacy. “The single state” — an “estate” like matrimony, is honorable, though having no more ontological significance than marriage has. As Aquinas pointed out (contrary to the Rabbis), the commandment to be fruitful and multiply was addressed to the whole species, not to individuals (Summa Theologica II.2.Q152.2).

Moreover, the Church affirmed that the New Adam, Jesus Christ, is also fully and completely human, and that this full humanity derives entirely from the Virgin Mary. She could not bestow upon him that which she did not possess, so it is clear on this basis that maleness or femaleness is merely accidental to human nature, and not essential to it. The doctrine of the Incarnation makes clear that the humanum is complete in the individual person. Human nature is something each human possesses. There is no “complementarity” at the level of human nature.

In addition, human society (even apart from sexuality) does not necessitate complementarity. To assert its necessity not only effectively denies the possibility of same-sex partnerships, but of periods of chastity between married couples, the goodness of friendship, and the fellowship of celibate partnership in community evinced in the cenobitic life.

Thus I am forced to reject the notion that individual human beings are only completed or constituted into human or social reality by sexual relationship with a person of the opposite sex, and to reject interpretations of Genesis 2 along those lines.

This brings me to the second assertion, that there is some complementarity of male and female which renders such pairs uniquely capable of pairing. In the next section of this reflection I will respond to two questions: Are men and women actually complementary on a physical basis? (we have already seen that they are not complementary on a human or social basis) and Is complementarity a necessary component of a committed sexual relationship?

Tobias Haller BSG


Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.

October 4, 2007

A Robe and a Crown



I just saw today the article on the death of Allan Rohan Crite on September 6. I first became acquainted with his work when I inherited the library of Fr. Chiron Forsyth, the long-time rector of Church of the Crucifixion in Harlem, and in his retirement a member of my parish.

Among the many wonderful books in his library was a volume called Three Spirituals from Earth to Heaven, consisting of three famous spirituals, realized line for line, and sometimes word for word, in spectacular full page black and white drawings, rich with Afro-American and Anglo-Catholic imagery. I still find paging through this book brings me to tears for its sheer beauty. If no one has done it, I would love (his estate permitting) to see a video version, in the "Ken Burns" style of rostrum editing of still pictures, accompanied by performances from one of our great African-American choirs.



In any case, I want to share the final three panels from "Nobody Knows the Trouble I see." Please click on them to see them closer to full size.

I firmly trust that Allan will receive his robe and his crown, and hope one day to rejoice with him in that glorious place. Hallelujah!



Tobias Haller BSG

October 2, 2007

Truth and Lies

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite comments on the lies that stand for truth in some circles, spurred on by the recent claim by Ahmadinejad that "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country." He probably did not mean that Iranian homosexuals do not exist -- though the Iranian state is doing its level best to see that they don't: rather he was pointing out the difference between his country and the US and the West, where such problematical people are tolerated or even encouraged.

His statement got me thinking, and Thistlethwaite's article sped me on. Homosexuality, when perceived as a problem, is always "someone else's 'problem.'" It is never just the way things are, a homegrown reality. It is the cultural equivalent of "Well, he didn't get it from my side of the family." In East Africa it is blamed on the Arabs. The Arabs in turn call it "the English disease." Margaret Cho's mom assures us "No Gay in Korea!" Iran is similarly pristine along those lines, or will be once the state has its way.

I hope no one needs to be reminded of the words reported to have been said by a bishop's spouse at Lambeth 1998, "We have no homosexuals in Africa," and the extraordinary explanation for their absence. I can remember, even from my innocent youth in the early 60s, the look of amazement on Merv Griffin's face when Clive Barnes gravely intoned, "There are no homosexuals in the theatre." (At the time, all I knew about this mysterious sect was what I had learned from a story in Life magazine, and seemed to be connected with New York City and fisherman's knit sweaters.) Why lie?

And why so many lies? We are treated to so many distortions; lies to ourselves and lies to others. Fabricated "evidence" and biased "surveys" to prove that what isn't so is so. Big lies, and little lies, social lies and personal lies. More than a tissue of lies -- a whole structure of falsehood. And what does this gain anyone?

For we are assured that the truth has its ways of setting us free. We appear to have forgotten the motto of the Anglican Communion, neatly printed in Greek around the Compass Rose: The Truth Shall Make You Free. Instead of truth and the tough confrontation of reality, we are counseled to restraint and withdrawal -- restraint which is a form of falsehood, and withdrawal the servility that fears to tell the truth. The Church seems to be adept at designing fashionable strait-jackets. Such gear is more appropriate to Bedlam than the Church.

Tobias Haller BSG