June 30, 2010

Thought for 06.30.10

Comprehension in diversity, not unity in uniformity, is the more secure road towards even approximating truth: thus a fellowship of autonomous churches is more likely to possess the truth distributed among them, than a monolithic world-church with a unified doctrine to possess the truth entire, as all can and likely do err in some particulars.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Update: see also the wise words from Barchester in the next post.


John B. Chilton said...

Ah, the competition of ideas.

And the notion of distributed knowledge best explicated by Frederick von Hayek.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, John. It seems to me that life itself offers a good testimony to the values of diversity as opposed to monocultures. I am not sure the Anglican Communion should head towards the ecclesiastical equivalent of the potato famine.

R said...

Ah, the wisdom of Hooker still speaks to our day!

"Two things there are which greatly trouble these later times: one that the Church of Rome cannot, another that Geneva will not erre."

(Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity vol. 1, pg. 91).

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Richard, Too true! Hooker really did say it all, but timely truths still need be told!

Grandmère Mimi said...

When you think about it, by Rowan's logic the whole of the Anglican Communion should, once again, place itself under the authority of the pope. If there is no such entity as an autonomous national church, as the English Church claimed to be, why the separation from Rome in the first place?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Exactly, Mimi. This is the fatal flaw in all who press for "uni[formi]ty." What's stopping them? Particularly annoying are those English Anglo-Papalist anti women bishop types whining about being "dispossessed" --- they admire in Rome everything except the Roman teaching on their own orders being invalid, null, and void.

I'll take variety-in-communion over uni[formi]ty any day. There is really little point in abandoning the errors of Anglicanism only to embrace those of Rome ;-)

Fr. J said...

I am, perhaps, placing too much weight on what is obviously meant to be a soundbyte and not an argument, but it should be pointed out that what you're offering up here is a naked assertion. Leaving aside for the moment weasel words like "monolithic," it seems that what you're saying is that truth can only be known by those who are entirely self-reliant and share neither common faith nor common methods of articulating and understanding faith. Following this logic to its end, there is really no reason for a Communion at all, let alone any sort of Christian Church as the implications are that such a body would be instantly devoid of the distributed truth held by Druids, Zoroastrians, Scientologists, atheists, and Satanists, to name just a few.

Erika Baker said...

are the annoying Anglican anti-women bishop types not a good occasion to demonstrate that we can live with diversity and the fellowship of slightly autonomous parishes within a church?

It sometimes strikes me that we like to evoke diversity when we're fighting for our minority rights, but we suddenly oppose it vehemently when it means granting an opposing minority in another sphere rights.

Is the difference merely that we support the one but not the other?

Christopher said...

Stephen Sykes gave us a most felicitous term, challengeability, which he understood as an necessary and important part of Anglican ethos regarding governance and truth.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fr. J. You raise a couple of interesting points, but you definitely misunderstand me on one: self-reliance is exactly what I am not suggesting, but rather interdependency in the knowledge that none of us possesses the whole truth. I suggest you revisit and review some of the Vatican II documents, (also take a look at Gaudium et spes in relation to atheists), that allow a certain degree of "truthiness" (to use M. Colbert's technical term) to other religious traditions. Of course, from Rome's infallible and "possessing all truth" perspective, this was a kind of charitable acknowledgment, not a confession of any want or lack on Rome's part. V.II. was, of course an anomalous period of expansion in a "monolithic" institution (hardly a "weasel word" for an entity claiming to be built on a single rock?). I actually believe the church can learn from non-believers, and indeed becomes stronger in engagement with them. I am quite capable of saying that I think they err, in most respects, while the church is mostly right (I believe the church can and has erred, as the Articles affirm). And is "weasel word" a weasel word?

Erika, the problem with FiF and its allied groups in England is that they want a kind of internal isolation from, rather than participation in the larger church. "Slightly" autonomous seems to be what is proposed they be granted, but for many of them it is not autonomous enough. It is they who do not wish to be in fellowship. Like the Puritans, they want not toleration but control.

Christopher, good term, though I prefer the old Hookerian term: mutability.

Erika Baker said...

They don't actually WANT isolation, they would like to participate as fully as possible in the CoE and in the Anglican Communion. It just so happens that the one thing they really really struggle with can only be accommodated through relative isolation.
That does not necessarily make it wrong for us to give it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Erika, this is drifting a bit off-topic, though the point is important, and may help with a distinction between truth-claims and practical issues of church government.

The genius of Anglican comprehensiveness was in being able to honor different ways of viewing things, such as the nature of the presence of Christ in the eucharist, by including both views in the liturgy. It is more difficult when one is dealing with a matter of practice as basic as the episcopate, and long-standing models of leadership and governance, especially in an established church. So while people were (and still are) free to have differing opinions about the eucharist, and receive together in spite of those different views, here you have a difference of opinion about the episcopate which some in good conscience simply cannot abide. They are unwilling to accept a merely pastoral response, such as has worked effectively in the US, but rather want complete separation of powers, and ultimately a separate episcopate of their own. So yes, the one thing that is a problem for them leads not to comprehension but separation. And many of them are rejecting what already seems to others to be a very generous toleration of a dissident point of view. How far does it bend before it breaks? I re4call Lincoln's maxim about the US not being able to abide half-slave and half-free. It is when matters become practical that the rubber hits the road. They then move from questions of conscience to structures of government.

This issue raises all sorts of questions that are not my concern here, though they are good questions: at what point is the Church of England no longer a single church? How significant is the episcopate in this definition of the nature of the church?

My sense is that the church must decide some issues for clarity's sake, which some may not be able to accept. If they cannot, they are free to join a church that does teach as they do -- hence my appeal for a diversity of churches rather than a monolithic church with which all must agree or be damned.

Erika Baker said...

women's ordination is not a practical issue to these people but a theological one, just as important as the presence of Christ in the liturgy.

I suppose what you're really saying is that it's alright for churches in a communion to have comprehension in diversity, not unity in uniformity, but that we cannot apply the same principle to dissenting views within a single church, however traditional and theologically grounded the dissenting theology may be.

I just don't quite see whether that isn't an arbitrary line, as even within a church the majority may not possess the truth entire, as all can and likely do err in some particulars.

Will say - I applaud the sentiment, but I can see that it's oh so difficult to apply in practice.

Tim said...

as all can and likely do err

At that point I became certain this was spoken by a true Anglican.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

What I'm saying is that it becomes a practical issue when people demand they have their own special bishop rather than the bishop of the diocese -- whom they cannot accept as a bishop (or even a priest) because she is a woman. It is the practical implementation of that dissent that creates difficulties. My question is, at what point is is still "a single church" if there are two sets of bishops, two sets of clergy who are acceptable only in certain parishes and not in others (because of who ordained them). I don't mean to sound clericalist, but this difference of opinion is about the clergy, so that can't be helped. And the recognition of ministry and the interchangability of ministers are fundamental in how one determines the "boundaries" of a church and the nature of "communion" it raises the same question -- is this really a single church with two points of view, or two churches sharing some commonality out of convenience? I don't think the line is so much arbitrary as practical -- it is the practicality that creates divisions in this case.

Of course, as an established church, the completely separate subdivision could be established for those opposed to WO -- it just seems to me, as a practical matter, to call the notion of "communion" or "church" into question, and seems more a marriage of convenience. From my perspective it would be like forming a political party that says it wants to have its own president rather than the one elected. A government could be structured along those lines, I suppose... but would prove unworkable if every dissenting group required its own leadership.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Tim. I suppose I'm trying to reflect that old position about "In essential things unity; in doubtful things liberty; in all things charity." Classical Anglicanism has very few "essential things" in its set of beliefs, but as Huntington said, "we do yet hold to them." This should be a sufficient answer to Fr. J's snark about Satanism, etc. I very much doubt there is much truth at all in that territory. But when it comes to the various Christian churches, I think it wise to think in humility that there may be something each can learn from all.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Tobias:

As a RC priest, I obviously don't hold to the truth of the assertion. But to put some meat into this discussion, why don't we avoid contentious moral issues and choose a theological commonality: the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. This has a central place in the theology and liturgy of both the RCC and the Anglican Communion. That being said, who is more likely to believe it in a way congruent with the Cappodocian Fathers? The Presiding Bishop of TEC or the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops? Bishop Spong or our own whacked out liberal Thomas Gumbleton? Is there any US Catholic seminary, no matter how liberal, that would teach the Creed in as loose a fashion as most of the Episcopalian seminaries seem to do? In my entire life I have never met a Catholic priest or seminarian who has openly denied any tenet of the Creed, but I am pleasantly surprised to encounter a TEC priest who does the same. Can this simply be written off as a local peculiarity of TEC in northern California?

In the area of dogmatic theology, even our worst examples generally pale to their Episcopalian equivalents. If the rest of the Anglican Communion (assuming for the moment that they have a proper understanding of the Creed) has no ability to correct a wayward province other than opening up affiliates like AMiA, CANA, etc., what is the spiritual value of the autonomy?

God bless,

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Greetings Fr. Michael. I think you are relying on anecdotal evidence here -- perhaps skewed by geography, tho' I can't be sure. I actually trust the orthodoxy of our Primate over the US C of CBs. (the venerable Raymond Brown once expounded on the theological weaknesses of the Roman hierarchy...) But let us leave that to one side, as I think we need to distinguish between the opinions of individuals vs. the teaching of the Church.

There are certainly enough gaffes in the historical record of both Roman and Anglican official teaching to raise more than one eyebrow. However, at this point in time I am happy to say that the Episcopal Church officially has not departed from Nicene orthodoxy, even if some individuals cross their fingers when they say the creeds.

BTW, I, of course, am free to make such statements about church teaching straying to error, while you are constrained at least as far as your own side goes. See the succeeding post from Trollope for further testimony to this difficulty or convenience, as the case may be.

Grandmère Mimi said...

FrMichael, you may be surprised at the number of progressives (for lack of a better word) in the Episcopal Church who are quite orthodox in their beliefs as stated in the Creeds. I say the Creeds and mean the words with no fingers crossed and no hesitation.

JCF said...

In my entire life I have never met a Catholic priest or seminarian who has openly denied any tenet of the Creed, but I am pleasantly surprised to encounter a TEC priest who does the same. Can this simply be written off as a local peculiarity of TEC in northern California?

I think it can be written off to your prejudicial POV, seeing what you want to see, hearing what you want to hear, FrMichael.

JCF, now back in TEC IN Northern California---which formed me in the orthodox, catholic Faith*, Thank God!

* That of the the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, as opposed to the Popoid innovations. Now that I'm home to NorCal, maybe our paths will cross, FrMichael? [Though likely there will, sadly, be a police line between us (of the sort they use to keep counter-demonstrators apart). I'll be the especially queer-looking one, praying for your conversion to Christ Jesus...well, and my conversion, also.)