Saturday, November 20, 2010

Conversion and Criticism

It seems to me that conversion or secession or however one refers to moving between ecclesial bodies has a very nasty side effect.

There are several correspondents from all over the blogosphere and in the press (particularly one very nasty evangelical convert to the RCC who is very clearly anti-Anglican) who turn on their former jurisdictions with a ferocity that is at best uncharitable and at worst Hellish. The reason is quite obvious.

One decides to leave a jurisdiction on the grounds of a divergence of one's personal belief from the prevailing understanding. In order to justify one's decision to oneself in a time ofr great emotional turbulence, upheaval and confusion, some folk seem to find it easy to demonise their former home accentuating the faults and playing down the strengths - this does not make for good critical decision-making and leads to a lack of charity.

Of course, if one leaves one's jurisdiction because of the heresy of that jusridiction it is correct to say why, but that doesn't mean that every member or every clergyman (whether they subscribe to the heresy or not) or every piece of headed notepaper in that jursdiction is suddenly affected with spiritual leprosy.

Personally, I do not trust the rantings of folk who, having converted, appoint themselves the arbiters of orthodoxy and do so in a manner which turns fallen human beings into the minions of Old Nick. Those who readily bring in the name of the prince of this world to describe their fellow are playing into his hands by doing precisely what he wants them to do - hate.

Intellectual Pride on the Beach

From Sermon 18: Ignorance of Evil

We know two things of the Angels—that they cry Holy, Holy, Holy, and that they do God's bidding. Worship and service make up their blessedness; and such is our blessedness in proportion as we approach them. But all exercises of mind which lead us to reflect upon and ascertain our state; to know what worship is, and why we worship; what service is, and why we serve; what our feelings imply, and what our words mean, tend to divert our minds from the one thing needful, unless we are practised and expert in using them. All proofs of religion, evidences, proofs of particular doctrines, scripture proofs, and the like,—these certainly furnish scope for the exercise of great and admirable powers of mind, and it would be fanatical to disparage or disown them; but it requires a mind rooted and grounded in love not to be dissipated by them. As for truly religious minds, they, when so engaged, instead of mere disputing, are sure to turn inquiry into meditation, exhortation into worship, and argument into teaching.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, volume 8

I shouldn't have much to add to this, mainly because the blessed cardinal shows up in me the very thing which he demonstrates to be unhelpful to faith. However, it does make me think of the way that things are.

The Anglican world is, it is fair to say, in turmoil. We have proposed ordinariates, societies, and covenants all designed to make situations very clear. The same texts are being scrutinised and used to argue for and against movements which are labelled "Traditional" or "Liberal" or "Catholic" or "Orthodox" or "Heretical". There seem to be many using the phrase "In Christ... there is no male or female" to argue for the ordained ministry of women who are missing the context and point of St Paul's discourse. Likewise there are those that use Leviticus xxii to advocate Christian hatred against homosexuals forgetting that there is no such thing as Christian hatred of another human being, only the hatred of the substance of evil. Notice that in both of these cases these is an unhealthy focus on one particular part of scripture. Rather than seeing these as part of an integrated whole, there seems to be a desire to slice and dice the word of God, to see Holy Scripture only in a historical context, or only as mystical, only as allegorical, or only as moral.

In truth, by spending too much time in focus, we stilt the Gospel. As Augustine of Dacia writes:

Lettera gesta docet,
quid credas allegoria,
moralis quid agas,

quo tendas anagogia.

The Letter teaches what's been done,
Allegory what you should believe,
Morality what you should do,
Anagogy where your life is heading.

There are probably other ways of approaching scripture, but to have all these four senses in one's mind as we read Scripture is no bad thing, as long as we read it humbly and understand that, on our own, we simply do not have the acumen to understand the Word of God. It is only in the context of the Church as a whole and her local expression in our lives, that we understand the word of God.

Here we are in this seething mass of argument, confusion, conversion and barricading. The Church is in a mess, but then it comprises of human beings, so it's quite obvious that it should be so. The blogosphere is full of self-proclaimed prophets putting forward their own divisive definitions of what it means to be Christian, or Catholic, or Protestant or Anglican, et c, and it does no good.

At the heart of any Christian theological study should be the love and respect of the other, no matter how different they are from us. St Peter, St Paul and St John remind us that we cannot walk in the same direction with those who are determined to go their own way through life and walk by their own interpretations, but we can at least keep open the possibility that in some aspects they are quite right.

It is like driving on the motorway. We could close the black-tinted side windows of our car so as to blot out the sight of those who disagree with us, who indeed may be truly heretical, and just drive straight on. Of course we will get to the Great Destination but, because we closed the window, have we missed out on those whom we thought to be travelling the wrong way, but have been driving parallel with us all the way? Have we allowed ourselves to be blinded to those travelling in the wrong direction but beating on the windows to be set free and perhaps join our caravan? Have we closed ourselves off to the possibility that with mutual consideration and gentle understanding of the other, we have helped tow someone floundering on the hard-shoulder?

I do not believe in the doctrine of taint, primarily because it leads inevitably to more and more schism. Of course, there is already a walking-apart happening in the CofE which is going to get more pronounced. This is fine, this is walking apart, a form of excommunication - so be it. However, what must not happen is for the tears and wounds that will arise from this walking apart to fester and produce the bitterness that seems endemic to the Continuum (particularly in the U.S., though ECUSA seems to be the main agent of that bitterness). We wave a tearful good-bye to our colleagues as they swim for the Ordinariates and we pray that they succeed for if so, then we have firm friends who understand each other and can at least attempt to pull two divergent ecclesial bodies together. Likewise, we pray for the Society of SS Hilda and Wilfrid that they may indeed keep the drive going to fight for a catholic identity in the CofE. But the windows must be kept open, contacts must be made stronger.

Of course, this is all up in the realms of theory and doctrine. What about at the parish level? The upheaval is bound to affect those who hear their Sunday Mass regularly and wonder about all the hoo-ha in the news. The intellectually proud are in deep danger of losing their parish if their theology does not involve the pastoral side, the day-by-day breaking of bread as well as the solemn Breaking of Bread.

And you may ask, am I Ordinariate, or am I SWASH? Well as Alan Bennet says, "Might as well ask a man dying of thirst in the desert about whether he prefers Evian or Perrier." Of course he was talking about his sexuality, I am talking about the isolation that has resulted from these schisms. In many respects I have lost my parish, and one may say that this is due to my intellectual pride. Perhaps I ought to concede that point.