The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Reading, and a Bleg

As we celebrate the Incarnation, may I offer up a suggestion for anyone looking for some very Anglican reading for this time of the year: Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation, edited by Charles Gore, represents a doctrinal survey by a second and more liberal generation of Anglo-Catholics of the meaning of the Incarnation for modern (well, late Victorian) theology.

How to tempt you...

From Ruth Kenyon's "The Social Aspect of the Catholic Revival", in Northern Catholicism; Centenary Studies in the Oxford and Parallel Movements, ed. by N. P. Williams and Charles Harris. London, SPCK, 1933.

We have here . . . to consider another aspect of the work of the third generation of the Revival, that associated with what might well be called the second Oxford Movement, the famous Lux Mundi group. It was this group which succeeded in doing that which the Tractarians has failed to do, viz. the relating of the Church's claim for the primacy of the spiritual to the new circumstances of a democratic age. Lux Mundi was in fact the foundation of a new apologetic in which Catholic thought no longer stood on the defensive against the thought of the age, but incorporated it and made it a vehicle for its own doctrine. The guiding principle was found in the Johannine doctrine of he Incarnate Logos, the Word entering to redeem the world of which He was already the Creator -- a world which included the historically-developing social order . . . Newman and Manning [had] sought to revive and give practical effect to some such idea of the world and of man. But on the whole the theology of the Movement had remained within the old Evangelical circle of thought -- the soul, sin, and redemption. To this it had added the thought of the Church as the sphere, the sacraments as the means, of Redemption, but still only the redemption of the soul, not the redemption in the full sense of man, nor the redemption of the world. Lux Mundi looked back behind redemption to creation. Evolution was accepted as the work of the Logos through whom all things were made. It followed, among other things, that man's historical development, including that of the present age, is part of the creative movement of the Word, and therefore manifests His Light. Democracy, which characterises the present era, can thus be seen as interpreting the worth of personality and the brotherhood of men. Socialism, again viewed as an existing tendency, illuminates the idea of authority in so far as this involves a rightful claim of the whole upon the part. But only the Incarnation, the fact, that is, of the Word personally become flesh to fulfill and redeem the world order which He had originally created, but which had fallen away from Him, is adequate, together with its extension in the Church and the sacraments, to interpret and validate the life of the individual and of society . . .

Gore's claim was primarily upon the Church and upon the Christian qua Christian. His earnest endeavor was to recall the Church to the idea of Christianity as being "first of all 'The Way' -- a social life to be lived." If the Church would only live this life, revive the distinctness of her saviour, let her light shine, she would be representing Christ in the world by the method of Christ Himself. She should be the visible symbol and sacrament of the life of man as the Creator meant it to be lived. So far as Gore contemplated a relationship of the Church to the world other than that of enlightening it by shining, it was in the prophetic office of the Church as interpreting to the world that which at bottom the world knows to be good, because in posse the world is Christian.
Let me add another distinction. In one sense, the Tractarians were limited by their passionate hatred of the reforming Whig movement, and their tendency to resist all that was new precisely because it was new. As Newman writes "my battle was with liberalism," although he immediately qualifies the statement by adding "by liberalism I meant the anti-dogmatic principle and its developments." Still for Newman, the charms of authority even before he "went to Rome" were considerable. As I have previously noted, his view that as a priest he should live as "simply the servant and instrument of my Bishop" based on the latter's being "set over me by the Divine Hand" (id. at 52) is indicative of his tendency to dogmatize hierarchy and institutionalism to the point where conservatism equates with the Christian faith.

With Gore and his colleagues, we are in a different, more expansive mode--a realm where the Church has numinous value but does not devolve into the oppressive institutionalism of newman, and where increasing knowledge is not feared but welcomed.

Now, to the bleg. I have been asked to select the next book for a study group. We've done two books by Borg, W.R. Inge's Christian Mysticism and Bryant's The Heart in Pilgrimage. For our next book, I'm torn between:

*Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich (continuing our mysticism theme, and adding a woman's voice to an exclusively male (to date) list);

*Where God Happens, Rowan Williams on the Desert Fathers; or

*Common Prayer on Common Ground, Alan Jones on the Great Unpleasantness.

Comments, advice and snide remarks eagerly solicited.

And joyous, belated Christmas wishes to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Know the Feeling

(Almost like me on a morning when I set the alarm to do Morning Prayer...)

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The PB on the Wa Po; Decision in Virginia

Interviewed by Sally Quinn, harvested from here.


My own, very brief observation on the lower court decision in Virginia awarding the property to the parish is that the statute, which was passed almost a half century before the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment applies to the states as well as the federal government, was clearly constitutional under that pre-14th Amendment order, but equally clearly does not stand scrutiny under Jones v. Wolf, which stated that "the Amendment requires that civil courts defer to the resolution of issues of religious doctrine or polity by the highest court of a hierarchical church organization." The Court did state that "the First Amendment does not dictate that a State must follow a particular method of resolving church property disputes," but made clear that the civil courts could not (1) require a particular form of polity of a church; or (2) override a church's own doctrinal and polity determinations without violating the First Amendment. I think, that by imposing a congregational property preference, the Virginia statute is in conflict with Jones, especially with this statement by the High Court:
If, in fact, Georgia has adopted a presumptive rule of majority representation, defeasible upon a showing that the identity of the local church is to be determined by some other means, we think this would be consistent with both the neutral principles analysis and the First Amendment. Majority rule is generally employed in the governance of religious societies. See Bouldin v. Alexander, 15 Wall. 131 (1872). Furthermore, the majority faction generally can be identified without resolving any question of religious doctrine or polity. Certainly there was no dispute in the present case about the identity of the duly enrolled members of the Vineville church when the dispute arose, or about the fact that a quorum was present, or about the final vote. Most importantly, any rule of majority representation can always be overcome, under the neutral principles approach, either by providing, in the corporate charter or the constitution of the general church, that the identity of the local church is to be established in some other way, or by providing that the church property is held in trust for the general church and those who remain loyal to it. Indeed, the State may adopt any method of overcoming the majoritarian presumption, so long as the use of that method does not impair free exercise rights or entangle the civil courts in matters of religious controversy.
Here, the saving factor that allowed a "majority vote presumption" approach, the rebuttal of the presumption through an amendment to the constitution of the general church--has been invalidated by the court, following the statute, and thwarting the polity of TEC.

Is this a guarantee on appeal? Of course not; the Court could revise Jones, or even scrap it. But I believe that decades of settled expectations of the parties, and allowing churches the maximum autonomy is a sound, workable interpretation of the Constitution, and would replace it with radical indeterminancy and the prospect, unsavory to both, of entangling church and state.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Memoriam, Avery Dulles

My alma mater Fordham University is in mourning this week; Cardinal Avery Dulles, who was the first American theologian to be raised to the College of Cardinals died at Fordham's infirmary for Jesuits last Friday.

Cardinal Dulles was a conservative--he resisted the Catholic Church's efforts to enact a a national policy barring from ministerial duties any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor, Cardinal Dulles said the policy ignored priests’ rights of due process:

"In their effort to protect children, to restore public confidence in the church as an institution and to protect the church from liability suits, the bishops opted for an extreme response,” he said. He noted that the policy imposed a “one-size-fits-all” punishment, even if an offense was decades old and had not been repeated. “Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield.
His conservatism was theological, too; again from the obituary:
In “The Reshaping of Catholicism” (Harper & Row, 1988), he wrote that the Vatican Council had acknowledged the possibility that the church could fall into serious error and might require reform, that the laity had a right to an active role and that the church needed to respect regional and local differences. But he also emphasized that “a measure of conservatism is inseparable from authentic Christianity.”
This equation of conservatism with authentic Christianity would be, I think, shocking to the Jesus that Dulles described so movingly in his scholarly writings. His own Establishment background, and the increasingly conservative ethos of the Roman Church, reinforced this tendency, perhaps.

And yet--Dulles did write so movingly of Jesus, and, in true Jesuit fashion, managed to celebrate life even under affliction:
Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
One need not share the Cardinal's views to honor a superb intellect, and a life fully lived, and lived ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

Over at Stand Firm, Fr. Matt Kennedy has posted the cross-motion his Church of the Good Shepherd has filed in opposition to the motion for summary judgment the Diocese has made for title to the CGS's property under the Dennis Canon. It is, quite frankly, a bizzare court filing, seeking judgment as a matter of law on the property ownership question on the novel theory that the Court should find that the Dennis Canon does not exist.

Yes, that's right. Fr. Kenendy's attorney is arguing that the procedures by which the House of Deputies received and acted upon the resolutions that became the Dennis Canon, as well as the House of Bishops, and the manner of its recordation in the Church's archives are not adequate under "principles of statutory interpretation and the common law of parliamentary procedure." (Cross-Motion at p.6). Therefore, d'ye see, the Dennis Canon is invalid. The source for these arguments? Roberts' Rules of Order. Oh, and a legal hornbook on the subject of how state legislatures enact legislation, which is then asserted to "govern" how one applies neutral principles of law to determine a property dispute's outcome.

CGS demands a far-ranging administrative review of the procedure and polity of TEC--a judicial strict scrutiny absent any legal warrant for doing so, and one that belies the concession that TEC's canons contain "only the most cursory instructions as to the generation of documents by the secretaries and registrars of the General Convention." (Cross Motion at 7). CGS, admitting there is no formal process by which resolutions are "enrolled" then goes on to claim that the Journal of the 1979 Convention does not clearly track the progress by which the Canon was passed, and as he memorably phrases it, "the Dennis Canon is nowhere to be found!" (Id. at 12). Or, rather, since the text does appear in full in at least one place as the CGS admits, the Journal leaves open the possibility that the text was amended, rejected, or in some manner vitiated. The fact that it then subsequently appeared in the official text of the Canons and has continued to do so for just about 30 years, specifically admitted by CGS (Id. at 9, para. 28) does not, in CGS's view, vitiate the argument.

This argument is, frankly, deeply silly. Not a single New York State case, or indeed a case from any other jurisdiction, is cited in support for the notion that a denomination is required to follow legislative procedure equivalent to that of a state legislature. The only New York case cited by CGS are First Presbyterian Church v United Presbyterian Church and Episcopal Diocese of Rochester v. Harnish, ___ N.Y.3d ___ (October 23, 2008). Harnish, in particular is relevant, here, one would think, as it held:
The remaining factor for consideration under neutral principles, however, requires that we look to "the constitution of the general church concerning the ownership and control of church property." It is this factor that we find dispositive. We conclude that the Dennis Canons clearly establish an express trust in favor of the Rochester Diocese and the National Church (see Jones, 443 US at 606), and that All Saints agreed to abide by this express trust either upon incorporation in 1927 or upon recognition as a parish in spiritual union with the Rochester Diocese in 1947. We therefore need not consider the existence of an implied trust. In agreeing to abide by all "canonical or legal enactments," it is unlikely that the parties intended that the local parish could reserve a veto over every future change in the canons. We find it significant, moreover, that All Saints never objected to the applicability or attempted to remove itself from the reach of the Dennis Canons in the more than twenty years since the National Church adopted the express trust provision (cf., First Presbyterian, 62 NY2d at 125).
Now, CGS would distinguih Harnish on the ground that in that case the passage of the Dennis Canons was not disputed as a matter of fact. True enough. But here what is disputed is not the adoption of the Canons, but rather the validity of the process by which it was adopted and recorded, based on alleged defects in the archival evidence. There is no claim, for example, that TEC has not held itself out as having such a canon since the date of passage. The case from which the whole "neutral principles of law" approach stems, Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979) explains the requirements of the First Amendment:
It is also clear, however, that "the First Amendment severely circumscribes the role that civil courts may play in resolving church property disputes." Id., at 449. Most importantly, the First Amendment prohibits civil courts from resolving church property disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice. Serbian Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 710 (1976); Maryland & Va. Churches v. Sharpsburg Church, 396 U.S. 367, 368 (1970); Presbyterian Church I, 393 U.S., at 449 . As a corollary to this commandment, the Amendment requires that civil courts defer to the resolution of issues of religious doctrine or polity by the highest court of a hierarchical church organization. Serbian Orthodox Diocese, 426 U.S., at 724 -725; cf. Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 733-734 (1872).
In explaining the application of neutral principles, the Court emphasized that "the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form."

No requirement that Roberts' Rules be applied, or the tenets of a 1940 handbook on statutes. Indeed, a respect for Church polity is required as a corollary to the required free exercise of religion, with only "minimal" steps be taken by the church in formalizing arrangements which are only required to be "embodied in some legally cognizable form." In other words, not only does Harnish forestall the argument CGS makes, the very depth of analysis CGS seeks from the court contradicts the lodestone of "neutral principles" jurisprudence. If you doubt this--ask how Fr. Kennedy would like a court doing this level of review of CANA at TEC's request?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Discerning A Diaconal Call

So, a series of discussions with friends and in the official discernment process have led me to consider whether I should put myself forward as a candidate for the diaconate, as my instinct has been trending, or, instead, as a candidate for the priesthood.

Now, the notion of me entering Holy Orders as all is a shocker to many who have known me only superficially, but my closer friends react more by nodding and saying "hmmm..." which I take to denote mild astonishment coupled with a sort of "yes, I can see it, now that you mention it" reaction. A surprising number of people have urged me to aspire to the priesthood, saying that they see my intellectual gifts not used to best effect as a deacon, and that I would love seminary (I'm sure that last part's true!). These objections came mainly from academics, priests, and candidates for the priesthood--people for whom I have great respect and affection, and whose opinions I value.

And yet--

I can't help but feel that these objections don't quite fit where I am, and the call I feel. The pragmatics certainly fit the diaconate: My life has fallen out in such a way that I could commit the hours needed to be a deacon, combine my work with my ministry, and have the two interrelate. It's very doable. The priesthood, by contrast, would require me to withdraw from all I've done until now, and start fresh. I'd have to find scholarships or stipends, and can't see myself taking on new loans.

And yet, if I felt that was the next right step, I'd do it. With some trepidation, but I would. I'd at least go into the committee with the priestly vocation as the focus, and let that conversation unfold. But somehow, it doesn't seem quite right.

Not just because I know several deacons who are tremendous sources of inspiration (although I do), and not because I would model my ministry on theirs (not quite; I have different life experience and skill sets and could not do what they do--admire them though I do). No, I was groping for a way of articulating the tug to the diaconate and failed to do so well, until I happened on Nora Gallagher's book, Practicing Resurrection. (i had bought it some months ago when Gallagher did a reading at my church). Gallagher's own struggle to discern whether she was called to priestly ordination or to a lay vocation is the subject of that book, and led me to some reflection. Some passages of hers that helped me get a better handle on my own call:
The priesthood had become a "profession," like the law or medecine, and was subject to the same corruption. "The more we advocate the professional image the greater the gap between our theology and our implied intentions in ministry," wrote [Urban] Holmes. . . Or, to take it a step further, professionalizing corrupts a call because it changes it from being for the benefit of others to accruing benefits for the self.

You begin with a simple need. . . and then it becomes a way to have power, to keep others out, and it ends up separating everyone, even the leaders themselves, from the vitality of the community.


The problem also comes, I think, not just from those who are on top. We are taught to revere the king, or the president, or the analyst or the priest in a way that makes us natural followers, wanting to be led. Our own natural impetus to know, to strive toward, to lead is diminished by our need to have someowne to follow.
Practicing Resurrection at 158-159.

Now,, I don't identify with all of this--although I do think some priests fall into what we can call the power trap--the desire to feed one's own insecurity with what Susan Howatch once called "the most delectable food" for an ego in the grip of any kind of arrogance--power. Far more, though, are separated from their parishoners, and from their neighbors generally speaking, by their calling. The expectation of the priest that he or she perform the role of shaman leads to a setting apart that is virtually impossible to avoid. As Gallagher exlains further:
If I was ordained [a priest], I might lose track of the needs of laypeople, because needs arise from experience....Separation from laypeople was key to the priesthood, at least as it was presently practiced....As a writer, I had guarded my marginality, knowing that with margins come freedom and perspective. The freedom to see what others are afraid to see, the freedom to write what others have a stake in not admitting.
Practicing Resurrection at 158-159.

I undertand what Gallagher means about the power trap, and the utility of being a creature of the margins. Yet, like Gallagher, I find that "to continue life as a layperson felt, now, to be incomplete." The deeper my involvement with study and worship, the more I feel drawn in, and that I need to integrate service, to the church and to the world, with my professional skills and academic researches. And, in the present time of conflict, I feel the tug of one other element of the call to ordination, as identified by Christopher Bryant in The Heart in Pilgrimage (1980) at 89:
Anyone who seriously decides to make the following of Christ, the walking in the Spirit, the journey to the land of wholeness, the major aim of his life may well feel impelled to commit himself in a special sense, both to burn his bridges and to bear signal witness to the priority of God, the presence of Christ and the power of the Kingdom.
As to the power trap, and the burden of separateness, the deacon's order by design helps him or herto largely dodge that bullet. A deacon remains in the world by profession, and the stress and duties of worldly obligations and meeting others in mufti on a daily basis--all these militate against exclusion from the vitality of the community, and protect against the mana of their office and the resultant, rather terrible separateness.

The diaconate, on the other hand, is "a full and equal order" (a point well and often made by Ormonde Plater), but it is different. As Gallagher puts it:
Deacons are meant to go out from the church to the poor or the marginal--originally they were sent out to bring the Eucharist and food and clothing to widows and orphans--and to bring back to the church news of those on the margins. They are supposed to remind the larger church of its duty to those who are silenced and powerless,and to bring to them the comforts of the church and the shelter of its influence and power.
Practicing Resurrection at 185.

Deacons are inhabitants of the margins, then, both by the nature of their ministry and by the fact that almost all deacons are non-stipendiary, and are required to maintain careers outside of the church as well as within. Ideally, those careers can be integrated and support each other, rather than becoming a source of tension and division. But, at the end of the day, a deacon, like a writer, is limited in power but freed to be frank, freed to concentrate on the concrete, and called to teach as well as to model the servanthood of Christ. That focus on the margins, living in the world as a worker among workers, as well as at the intersection of the church and those she serves, provides great opportunity to provide a grounded Christian servant-leadership.

And that is where I feel called to be, insofar as I have come to understand that call.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sect Appeal

It's official; a rival "province" (quotes to denote the fact that we don't know of what it's a province) has been set up within North America, hoping to displace the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Self-styled "archbishop" Robert Duncan calls these "Reformation times," and states that "in Reformation times things aren’t neat and clean. In Reformation times, new structures are emerging."

How...very nice. I admit, this schismatic movement tries my charity to its utmost. That's not because the departees feel called to leave; I can, with great reluctance, understand that. (Not that I can agree with it; it seems odd that members of a tradition with its roots in a divorce and with divorced bishops among them, despite the words of Jesus quoted in Matthew are drawing the line at words of St. Paul whose applicability is far less clear. But I digress...). It's their refusal to coexist. I value the conservatives in my church, and hope they value me. We argue, we disagree, we play the Hegelian thesis and antithesis--and when the Spirit is with us, we reach a synthesis we neither expected. Being out of communion, squabbling over property and power, makes that impossible.

And, for traditionalists, they seem pretty cavalier about the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. From Martyn Minns:
It’s desirable that he get behind this. It’s something that would bring a little more coherence to the life of the Communion. But if he doesn’t, so be it.

One of the questions a number of the primates are asking is why do we still need to be operating under the rules of an English charity, which is what the Anglican Consultative Council does. Why is England still considered the center of the universe?
It's not of course. But it is the center of Anglicanism, as the name may suggest to the observant.

Mr. Duncan says that a General Assembly will be held at the Episcopal Cathedral in Fort Worth Texas this summer. Of course, this assumes that the property remains in his dubious possession by then.

The passions these prelates have ignited may be enough to destroy the delicate balance of Anglicanism--a balance of Catholic, Broad Church and Low Church, Liberal and Conservative, traditionalist and modernist. Like Samson, those passions may pull down the temple around them. But what will be left of a nuanced, diverse community of faith in which all are welcome who hold to the core of Christ's message? Must we really all become hard-line conservatives to be good Christians? Is not this new "province" merely an updated version of the old saw that the Episcopal Church is the Republican Party at prayer--made over for the era of Sarah Palin?