Monday, October 26, 2009

Benedict's Crozier: Staff or Spear? REVISED

Recent actions by Pope Benedict raise the question for me -- is his papal crozier primarily a staff for the prodding of sheep, or a trident for the spearing of fish? He certainly is leaning in a strongly tridentine direction these days. [ed. note: The Council of Trent was the harsh anti-protestant response of the Roman Catholic Church, and the form of the mass which was established at Trent is called the 'Tridentine Mass.']

Indeed, it appears to be exactly the kind of left-handed spear toss that this pope has been practicing for decades, at least since his time as Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church (yes, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which until 1965 had the name, 'Holy Office of the Inquisition.') Of course, this spear has three points, and only the first strikes at Rowan Williams. The second tine jabs at all Anglicans who cherish the reforms that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries, including our restoration of early catholic models of authority in which the bishops of the church were collegial brethren, and the other orders of the church had a degree of shared authority in their representation at church councils. ('Conciliarism') And the third barb cuts back upon at those in the Roman Catholic Church who actually appreciated the movements developed at the Second Vatican Council, and have lamented the backward-movement of the Roman Catholic Church's leadership under the influence of then Inquisitor, now Pope Benedict.

This is the same Pope, who just two years ago on his own initiative (motu proprio) issued a decree allowing the Latin Mass to be used by any priest who wants to do so, following a minimum of criteria. The purported motivation behind the decision was the pope's desire to reconcile with those traditionalist Roman Catholics who did not approve of the changes to the liturgy and theology of the church coming about in Vatican II. This was the same purported motivation behind the pope's decision earlier this year to restore to communion to several extremely conservative Roman bishops -- including Richard Williamson. Williamson, for those who don't remember, has actively denied the Holocaust. These chaps had originally been excommunicated for their involvement with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of Pius X, a rabid critic of Vatican II and its changes in Roman Catholicism. Lefebvre was also, by the way, a supporter of the Nazi-friendly Vichy government, and the fascist regimes of Franco and Pinochet.

The pope's decision to allow the Tridentine mass and the reinstatement of the leading figures of anti-Vatican II Roman Catholicism back into the fold may also be seen to be theologically and ecclesiologically connected to his decision to receive disgruntled Anglican clergy and laity into the Roman Catholic Church via the creation of personal ordinariates. The connection consists of Benedict's long-held antipathy for the conciliar/collegial vision of authority pointed to by Vatican II -- and his long-held preference for the supremacy of papal authority. Benedict is the chief architect of the re-emphasis of central papal authority.

The debate between Cardinal Kasper and then Cardinal Ratzinger over the relationship between local and universal church -- between local bishop and pope -- which occurred some ten years ago -- has clearly been decided in the election of Ratzinger to the throne. He is simply enforcing his top-down, centralized model of imperial authority for the papacy that Kasper and Vatican II opposed. Father Hans Kung, the famous Swiss Roman Catholic theologian and professor who openly repudiated papal infallibility in 1971, and was stripped of his authority to teach doctrine by the Vatican in 1979, writes in the Guardian (UK):
Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions.
The relationship between the authority of the papacy to the authority of the bishop's of local churches shared by Pope Benedict XVI is as follows: The Fullness of Church Authority reside in the Pope; the province/archdiocese/diocese is under the authority of the Pope; the province/archdiocese/diocese's own particulars are far less important than the universals of the whole church; therefore the Pope should tell the local churches what and how to do; their input is of minimal importance.

Of course all of this goes quite against what Anglicanism is essentially all about -- which is to say collegiality, subsidiarity, and conciliarism. In this model, the authority of Jesus Christ resides in all the members of His Body, but each order within the body is called to different ministries -- some with a greater degree of oversight than others, but none with supreme authority. Conciliarism holds that church councils (sometimes called conventions, synods, or even vestries in a sense) share the authority of God by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when we meet together as representative leaders of the Body of Christ. Roman church imperialism says, no, the authority of God in Christ has been given to the pope.

Indeed, the best thing about the recent actions from the Vatican is that it reminds me how glad I am that the English Church experienced the Reformation in the 1500s, and that bad old Henry VIII may have done us a favor.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Looking Ahead

I am of course very much an Episcopalian, and this is without question my home in Christ. No fear that I will be swimming the Tiber, now or ever. But, the recent news of our own denominational membership decline is far more troubling to me than any news about the Vatican offering a very small and uncomfortable looking door for former Anglicans.

Our church is in decline, and so are the other large churches we are in communion with in cultural contexts similar to our own. Consider, the ELCA has some 4.5 million members, with an average Sunday attendance of about a third of that -- some 1.5 million -- but those numbers are of course down significantly in the past decade. Same with the Church of Sweden -- which claims some 6.75 million members -- but with just under 300,000 attending church services weekly -- that's about 3%. The Church of England claims some 20 million members, but average Sunday attendance is under a million -- or about 5%. The Anglican Church of Canada has some 650,000 members or so, and about 200-300,000 attend weekly. We have just over 2 million members, and just under 800,000 attend services weekly.

While I agree with Diana Butler Bass' contention that the decline story is not merely because these churches are largely 'progressive' and inclusive of modernity in their vision and practice. It is not just that. My own parish has grown significantly, and so have many other parishes which are equally vibrant in their focus on Jesus Christ, the traditional essentials of the catholic faith, the sacraments, prayers, missions, Christian education, youth work, newcomer development and inclusion, outreach, and fellowship.

But something's clearly going wrong -- if we were given the kind of bill of health by our doctors that our own annual membership statistics indicate, we'd be on meds, exercise, diet-change, etc.

Again, I agree with Diana Butler Bass - churches that are intentional about the Christian practices and message I mention above -- are much more likely to thrive. So why can't we turn this mess around?

I suggest a few things. First, the particular reticence to preach Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended must be put to rest. We must focus on this message with passion, excitement, and interest in sharing it with folks. Second, we have too many ministries that are not thriving -- they need to be consolidated. Third, we must be actively looking for energetic and faithful people who are flexible and able to do something daring in leadership. Fourth, we must consolidate our seminaries, and then require that aspirants go to one of them.

Perhaps most of all, we need to believe that God wants us to grow both spiritually and numerically. Inclusion is our mission -- including people into the kingdom of God specifically -- and that means fishing for people -- not waiting for them to perhaps show up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swimming the Tiber Anyone?

Today's paper has a front page story about big news in the area of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The Vatican has dramatically and suddenly announced a new provision which will permit Anglican laity (and clergy) to form church entities within Roman Catholicism that are independent of the regular chain of oversight but still ultimately under the oversight of the pope. In other words, in addition to the regular diocesan arrangement of the Roman Catholic Church in which archbishops oversee bishops who oversee parishes which are seen by priests -- there will exist an additional type of arrangement in which former Anglican clergy have oversight of units peopled by former Anglicans. These "personal ordinariates" -- as they are called in the mystifying jargon of catholic Christianity (which we Anglicans also share) -- will follow certain Anglican liturgical traditions and customs.

How will this look on the ground? Very likely in the United Kingdom -- let's say in London -- there will be a bishop who was once a cleric in the Church of England who now oversees a cluster of missions/parishes/chaplaincies led each by clerics who were once in the Church of England, and they will be largely peopled by laity who were once in the Church of England. They will all ultimately be considered Roman Catholic now, and the leadership will of course be reporting up to the Vatican hierarchy.

Interestingly, all of the clergy who leave the Church of England for this new Anglican Rite (or whatever it will be called) will have to be reordained. Since Pope Leo XIII declared in 1896 that Anglican holy orders are "utterly null and completely void" -- in the eyes of Rome we don't have valid deacons, priests or bishops anyway. Moreover, those former Anglican clergy who are married, will be able to become Roman Catholic priests -- but -- they will never be allowed to be bishops while married.

Does this mean that Church of England cathedrals, parishes or dioceses will all of sudden possibly become Roman Catholic again (after more than five centuries of independence)? Almost certainly not. The Church of England is still the established church of the realm, and it will still be around. Does this mean that a great many Anglicans in Britain will become Roman Catholic in this way? I rather doubt it. Lay people have always been free to switch churches and those that have long wanted to be Roman Catholic probably have already made the switch. On the other hand, those clergy who feel they must leave the Church of England because of its inclusion of women into ordained ministry, and its debate over the inclusion of gay clergy and couples, may be end up going this route. Indeed, for those Anglican clergy who cannot abide women or openly gay persons as colleagues, this may be the best choice for them. That is, of course, unless they are primarily evangelical in theology.

Yes, the old split in Anglicanism -- long before struggles of egalitarianism emerged in the past century -- has always been between evangelical/protestant-minded folks and catholic-minded folks. Those Anglicans who identify very much in terms of catholic history, theology and practice, won't have a huge problem switching to a Vatican-based church. Those Anglicans who identify very much with protestant history, theology and practice -- they would have a huge problem. Indeed, until fairly recently, evangelical Anglicans have been as anti-Roman Catholic as anybody -- and virulently so in the past century.

To be sure, most of the Anglicans who have the biggest difficulty with women's ordination and the inclusion of gay persons are not 'Anglo-Catholics' but Anglican evangelicals. This group latter group dominates the various breakaway movements we have seen in recent years, especially in the United States and Canada. As one leader of this movement is quoted as saying in today's News and Observer, Martyn Minns, "there was a Reformation."

So what will this look like on the ground in the United States? Probably not much. I have friends who have already left the Episcopal Church and become Roman Catholics -- one has already returned! Either way, this development won't have much impact on such decisions. As well, there is already a substantial alternative to the Episcopal Church for those more protestant-minded folks who have problems with the ordination of women or the inclusion of openly gay people into the church and its leadership. In Raleigh alone, there are some five different churches with the word Anglican in the name. One meets downtown near Peace street and Glenwood, and another meets on Dixie Trail, near to us. As far as I can tell, these two - All Saints and St. George's -- tend to be a bit more catholic-minded in their liturgy and practice. Another, Holy Trinity Anglican, meets at St. David's School. This congregation as best I can tell has both a fairly mainstream Book of Common Prayer type worship service, as well as a more contemporary one. It's clergy leadership have always been rooted in the Anglican evangelical tradition. Another still, Church of the Apostles, meets in a new facility not far from North Hills, and is primarily rooted in the contemporary evangelical tradition. Yet another, Holy Cross, meets in a property formerly owned by the Episcopal Church on Millbrook Road near Crabtree - I believe they too are rooted in a more contemporary evangelical tradition of worship and theology.

I have friends and family who are Roman Catholic (including my father, stepmother, and two aunts who are nuns) -- and I have always assumed the posture that despite our differences of history and practice and some theology -- we are all disciples of the One Christ Jesus. I have the same exact posture towards my friends in the different variations on Anglicanism which have emerged recently.

What does this mean historically? Hard to say. My first impression is negative. I think that the Pope is doing something, both in terms of its timing, immediacy and surprise-factor, which doesn't seem quite gracious. Most interpreters in England seem to see it as a shot across the bow, a parking of tanks in the lawn, or a plain-faced insult to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the process of ecumenical relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Despite the Archbishop's own statement downplaying any sense of insult yesterday, I'm not sure I believe it. Certainly, it doesn't change that much -- all of these Anglican clergy will still have to be ordained again -- as if for the first time -- by a Roman Catholic hierarchy which does not recognize the validity of the ordination they have already had in the Church of England. To many of us clergy, who see ordination as a parallel to the vows people take in marriage, this is quite an insult. To tell me I am not a valid ordained priest of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church -- in the apostolic succession through the past two millenia -- would be the same as to say my marriage wasn't valid either. As well, if formerly Anglican laity and clergy are to operate in small ecclesiastical peculiars -- with their own liturgical customs and practices, and not as part of the wider Roman Catholic diocese in their given region -- one can imagine a tendency toward isolation within the wider church.

Only time will tell what all this means -- and I will be interested to follow it. But, it certainly doesn't worry me too much.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pope Creates Anglican Doorway

For those who wish to swim the Tiber, Benedict has made the swim a little less difficult.

According to the Associated Press,
"Pope Benedict XVI has created a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church, responding to the disillusionment of some Anglicans over the ordination of women and the election of openly gay bishops.

The new provision will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while maintaining their Anglican identity and many of their liturgical traditions...The new church structure, called Personal Ordinariates, will be units of faithful within the local Catholic Church headed by former Anglican prelates ... Those Anglicans who have approached the Holy See have made clear their desire for full, visible unity in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. ... The new canonical provision allows married Anglican priests to become ordained Catholic priests — much the same way that Eastern rite priests who are in communion with Rome are allowed to be married.

The announcement was kept under wraps until the last moment: The Vatican only announced Levada's briefing Monday night, and Levada only flew back to Rome after finalizing the details at midnight."

Roman Catholic/Church of England

This statement comes today:

Joint Statement by The Archbishop of Westminster and The Archbishop of Canterbury

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Today's announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church.

Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.

The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. It will now be up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution.

The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) agreements make clear the path we will follow together.

With God's grace and prayer we are determined that our on-going mutual commitment and consultation on these and other matters should continue to be strengthened. Locally, in the spirit of IARCCUM, we look forward to building on the pattern of shared meetings between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England's House of Bishops with a focus on our common mission. Joint days of reflection and prayer were begun in Leeds in 2006 and continued in Lambeth in 2008, and further meetings are in preparation. This close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.

+ Vincent + Rowan

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fleming Rutledge on Karen Armstrong

From Generous Orthodoxy:

Stop Karen Armstrong!

by Fleming Rutledge

Something really has to be done about Karen Armstrong. I am too busy to do it, but I wish someone else would. She is much more an enemy of faith than is "Hitchkins" (Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins). Here she is on the front page of the Weekend Journal (a section of the Saturday/ Sunday section of the Wall Street Journal, September 12-13) facing off against Dawkins. Two entire pages are given over to this: MAN vs. GOD, the headline says (at least the WSJ continues to go its politically incorrect "exclusive-language" way). The huge illustration shows Michelangelo's God over against Darwin (oh, no, not again...). What has happened to the WSJ? is this Rupert Murdoch at work? the WSJ editorials are hyper-right-wing and not to my taste, but for a long time the paper has been, in certain respects, a friend to the apostolic faith. What has happened?

Dawkins, like Freud, is less a threat to biblical faith than Armstrong, who like Jung embraces a generic, spiritualized, anthropocentric approach to God (exactly what Freud identified in The Future of an Illusion). Dawkins is quite right in ending his article the following way (I am condensing):

The modern theologian is scornful of scientific arguments for God's existence [rightly so--this was always off-track]. We are not so naive as to be hung up on God's actual existence. [Here Dawkins accurately nails a lot of today's "liberal" theology.] "It doesn't matter," Dawkins' theological liberal continues, "whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me."

Dawkins then continues, speaking in his own voice, "If that's what paddles your canoe, you'll be paddling up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in objective reality...Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that 'existence' is too vulgar a concept to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right."

Karl Barth, of whom Karen Armstrong is blissfully ignorant, said that he found atheists to be more bracing conversation partners than "religious" people. Certainly we can welcome this last observation of Dawkins, although the rest of his article shows his usual, annoying refusal to see that many serious Christians (Pope John Paul II was a notable example) hold Darwin and orthodox Christian faith simultaneously.

Karen Armstrong and others like her are "religious" without a clue as to the Subject of theology. If she really understands the Church Fathers at any level, one seeks evidence in vain. If she has ever heard of the Reformation she does not indicate it. If she has ever had any serious dialogue with any major Protestant theologian her writing does not show it. If she has ever heard of the doctrine of revelation she shows no sign of it. She is a walking, talking, writing exhibit for Freud's basic thesis: God is what we have made up out of our own wishes and needs.

Who can mount a powerful defense against this sort of thing? Marilynne Robinson, for one, knows better-- but her voice is soft. We need thunder and lightning.

Friday, October 9, 2009

You Believe in What?!!

By Eric Von Salzen

I don’t read the New York Times anymore. (That once great newspaper was always dull, but it used to be the place to go for reliable, in-depth reporting of national and international news. Now it’s just dull.) So it was only by chance that I saw the Times article a few days ago about Francis S. Collins, MD, the director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins is controversial because, you see, Dr. Collins believes in God.

As the Times explains, “many scientists view [Collins’] outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.”

Collins is a scientist, the former head of the Human Genome Project, and a Christian. His 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, does just what its subtitle claims. It’s a fine book for intelligent Christians and open-minded skeptics.

The Times says that in this book Collins “preaches about his belief” in God. “Preaches”. Do you get the sense that that word – “preaches” – is meant to be just a tiny bit pejorative, that it’s somehow unseemly for a scientist to “preach”? Maybe I’m overly sensitive. I would say that Dr. Collins “discusses” his faith in the book. But that’s just me.

One of the scientists quoted by the Times, physicist Robert L. Park , says that Dr. Collins’ description of an event that started him on his faith journey “is enough to cause concern”. Here’s what Dr. Collins said about this event in his book.

When he was a third year medical student and was working in a hospital with sick and dying patients, Collins was struck by the fact that in many cases the patients’ faith “provided them with a strong reassurance of ultimate peace, be it in this world or the next, despite terrible suffering . . . .” He goes on:

My most awkward moment came when an older woman, suffering from severe untreatable angina, asked me what I believed. It was a fair question; we had discussed many other important issues of life and death, and she had shared her own strong Christian beliefs with me. I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words, “I’m not sure.” Her obvious surprise brought into sharp relief a predicament that I had been running away from for nearly all of my twenty-six years: I had never really seriously considered the evidence for and against belief.

So young Collins started reading about religion, and before long he came upon C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. You can guess the rest.

What does the scientist Dr. Park say about this event, which causes him “concern” about Dr. Collins? He says that Collins, as a man with a medical degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry should have realized that “the moment was nothing but a hormonal rush” and should not have given it “a higher meaning”. Please re-read what Dr. Collins said about this experience. Did he say that his face flushing (that must be the “hormonal rush” Park talks about) was a message from God or in any other way was freighted with “higher meaning”? No, really he doesn’t. In this part of Collins’ story, he’s moved by the faith of some of his patients to begin reading about Christianity. Is that really evidence of mild dementia?

(I’d bet Dr. Park never even read what Dr. Collins wrote, except that Dr. Park is an eminent scientist and would never reach a conclusion without considering the data.)

The rest of the times article portrays Dr. Collins on the defensive, claiming that he has no “religious agenda” for NIH, and that he supports therapeutic cloning. He promised not to let faith interfere with scientific judgment. “I’m a scientist”, Dr. Collins says, “I have a lab”; also, “I drive a Harley”. He played guitar with Joe Perry of Aerosmith. He went on the Colbert Report. When Stephen Colbert asked him to take off his glasses and shake out his hair “to make science sexy and cool”, Dr. Collins did so.

What is wrong with this picture? Is believing in God so freakish that you have to drive a Harley and play the guitar to prove that you’re normal?

Around 80% of Americans believe in God, perhaps 1-2% are atheists or agnostics. Who’s out of step? Who needs to justify himself?

That’s a rhetorical question. No one in a just society should have to justify his/her faith or lack of it. No one should have to drive a motorcycle and play a guitar in order to get away with being a Christian.

I can't play the guitar. And I drive a Volvo.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Red Mass

When I saw this photo of my former law partner John Roberts standing beside the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, DC, three questions occurred to me.

First, how come lawyers don't get to wear those fancy robes? In England at least the barristers wear wigs. Here, the Chief Justice of the United States wears a plain old suit. Bah.

Second, should we be concerned, as some people apparently are, that justices of our highest court annually attend a Roman Catholic religious service specially intended for lawyers and judges? Should we, indeed, be concerned that the Supreme Court, although diverse in judicial philosophies, in gender, and in race, is dominated by one religious denomination?

Third, should the religious makeup of the Supreme Court make loyalist Episcopalians comfortable or uncomfortable when looking forward to an eventual judicial resolution of the property disputes and related issues that have arisen out of the current schisms within our church?

I have no answers to these questions. I invite comments.

By Eric Von Salzen