The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Sign of the Times

So the New York Times has an article about the American branch of the Roman Catholic Ordinariate for disaffected Episcopalians. As the Times summarizes, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is
the equivalent of a nationwide diocese in the United States that former Episcopal priests and congregations can enter together as intact groups, the Vatican announced Sunday. Converts who join the new entity will be full-fledged Catholics, expected to show allegiance to the pope and oppose contraception and abortion. But they will be allowed to preserve revered verses from the Book of Common Prayer. And, in what one Catholic leader called “an act of generosity,” priests who are married will be exempted from the Catholic requirement of celibacy, though they may not become bishop.
My initial reaction was one of dislike; I think that the Episcopal Church, with its welcoming Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative, represents a more viable, and theologically satisfying, model of mainline Christianity than what Susan Howatch called "the authoritarian monolith of Rome." (Not to bash Catholicism, which has given much to me personally; I'm speaking about ecclesiology here). Anything that detracts from model that is unwelcome to me, and ecumenicism based on submission is not, in my opinion, a healthy model.

I think it's profoundly regrettable that some conservatives are leaving the Episcopal Church, because there is a conservative wisdom which we would do well to retain to counterbalance liberalism. And yet, I do firmly believe that the recognition of women's ministry, and that of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is necessary as well as just. Ironically, in so many other areas theologically fairly conservative--I really do believe in the creeds, I do believe the historicity of the overwhelming majority of the gospel accounts. I'm no John Shelby Spong, or even JAT Robinson--though I have learned from reading both. I find this schism, which is what it is, deplorable, but perhaps it is inevitable. One can only hope that we--those who stay and those who depart--can handle it with the maximum of charity and the minimum of rancor.

God bless the church catholic, and help us to heal our divisions.


Malc said...

Fundamentally, I've come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is structurally antithetical to Christianity as I understand it. The fatal problem is the utterly unsupportable notion of papal infallibility, and everything that flows from there.

Papal infallibility is unsupportable because it contradicts the humanity inherent in the gospel accounts of Christ's life (or rather, death). If Christ evidently believed "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34), and yet Christ was mistaken (i.e. God had not forsaken him), then we are unavoidably drawn to the conclusion that humans, without exception even for god-made-flesh, are fallible.

So if Christ was fallible, how does the vicar-on-earth get a pass on infallibility? And let's not forget that the gospel of Mark was probably actually written by the first Pope, so we're not dealing with that sort of ambiguity.

You'll note I'm not suggesting that the Pope cannot be right and indeed divinely guided, merely that neither he nor any other human (including Christ-made-man) can claim that they cannot be wrong.

And this is proven by the accepted "wisdom" of Rome; the Inquisition, for instance, is now not seen as guide the great idea that it seemed at the time. Which Popes were right, the ones endorsing the horrors, or the ones asking for the horrors to be forgiven? They can't have it both ways.

Ergo we know the Pope is fallible. If he were not, he would not be human, and anyway he gets to be Pope by the actions of individuals who know claims to be infallible; that inevitably results in the possibility that the individual elected Pope may have certain venal tendencies, including (but limited) to the possibility of lying!

At the end of the day, the Catholic Church has preserved the fiction politic underlying the concept of the divine right of kings. As Mandy Rice-Davies famously noted, they would say that, wouldn't they! Quite why anyone who values democracy would tolerate that kind of arrogant nonsense is a question for Catholics everywhere...

Getting back to your point, while I agree that a conservative constituency provides a useful stabilizing influence on any group, I submit that any group that effectively abhors Christ's teachings on tolerance has no place in a Christian Church, and as a result they are not a constituency.

Let me close with a thought: 2000 years ago, there was a group known of their obsession with man-made rules, especially those defining alleged purity. We are told in all the synoptic gospels that Christ is underwhelmed by this group...

So why do we defer so much to these modern-day Pharisees?


Malc said...

[ One day I'll learn to accurately proof-read: "guide the great idea" should have been "quite the great idea"... ]

Anglocat said...

Great comments, Malc, and glad to have you here.

Yes, I agree that too many in the Anglican Communion do bend over backwards to appease the extreme right (take a bow Rowan Cantaur!). And I don't for a minute want us ti do that. But the non-extremists, some of whom can be quite good even where they disagree with us (there's one in particular I'm thinking about at my church) who may not be inclusive in theology but are in their hearts. We can work with them.

Happy new year, mate!