Thursday, December 05, 2013

Etymological Episcopalian Eschatology?

The word "set" is rather unique in the English language as any glance at its dictionary definition will prove. Then, of course, there is the word "cleave" which is rather fun because it is its own antonym. Words, like everything else, have their creation and mutation. Their job is to communicate ideas, to transfer that picture in one mind to the blank canvass in another mind. Without agreeing the rules of communication, there can be no certainty that the picture painted in one mind is a faithful copy of the picture that is communicated.

Mathematics is indeed a fine example of communicating ideas reliably. The definitions are made, the rules of inference and mathematical grammar are stated and then the picture painting can begin. Thus everyone can agree that if we all agree on what + means and what 1,2,3 and 4 are, we can be sure that 2+2=4. A change of the way that + works or in what 1,2,3 or 4 are will certainly change the result, but if we know what something is, we can reproduce it quite clearly. Mathematics is a study in certainty.

However, Mathematics is not a study in physical reality, but rather a study of abstraction. Neither is it a source of theological certainty or capable of proving that actual entities exist. Philosophically speaking, numbers do have a perfectly real existence but certainly not a physical existence. You can't have two apples then take away the apples leaving the "two" behind.

Words are fascinating things in their own right. Etymology allows for beautiful discussion into meaning. Great literature possesses dimensions that describe human life on planes that have yet to be explored fully. Poetry can say more about our emotions than the actual words used can describe. Ours is a life spent not only trying to make sense of things but also communicating that sense to others. We try to share our very selves completely with others. The tragedy is that we necessariy fail.

I am very proud to say that I am an Anglican Catholic. I have tried to give some meaning to the term, but at every stage the words "Anglican" and "Catholic" are contested mainly from historical viewpoints. "Ah! You're not Anglican because you don't hold to the XXXIX articles!" "Ah! You're not Catholic because you don't believe that the Holy Father is infallible." "Ah! You're not even Christian, because you claim to be Catholic." Ink is spilled daily by someone telling someone else what they are not.

The ACC is often criticised because it tries to make things as clear as they can be. We say what we understand to be the case and invite others to converse with us and explore the situation. Of course, other groups do exactly the same thing. They have their own dictionary, their own history and search for God. This is natural. We can accept the dictionary and accept the understanding of Christian doctrine, and thus find ourselves as part of the group, or we can reject the dictionary and understanding and find ourselves outside the group. The failure to agree is essentially the failure to be identical.

Over the years, I seem to have been haemorrhaging identity. What I thought I was, I have either grown out of, moved on, never actually been, or couldn't possibly have been. Yet I understand myself to be a human being standing at the cliff-edge of the present and falling headlong into the future still not knowing who I am or what I am to be. "Change and decay in all around I see." All is in a state of flux, but then all has ever been in a state of flux until it calcifies into the past. Yet this calcified past crumbles the further back it goes. History becomes myth and even legend the further back we go and the further from objective scruitiny. Holes appear in the fossil record and the nature of Evolution can be doubted.

However, myth produces etiology - "Just-so" stories. Every culture has its myth a story of Creation to explain why things are as they are, why the elephant has its trunk, why the giraffe its neck. Of course, these are less stories of fact but fables produced to explain something fundamental about life. There are many folk who regard the opening chapters of Genesis as factual history, and who is to say that they are certainly and definitely wrong? There are also many Christians who regard these opening chapters as etiology, statements as to why things are the way they are. Things exist because God gave them being. Man does not have the perfect existence with God because his freedom of choice leads Him away from the transcendent and towards the emptiness of his belly. There are more to myths than just stories, more than just lack of absolute facts.

The same is true for all Christians, especially Catholics. Is the Apostolic Succession an undeniable fact? What about the existence of the Undivided Church of the Councils? Was the Reformation in England an historical accident or a reclamation of the truth from a corrupt medieval Church? People continue to argue over these in order to prove their own identity or to deny the identity of others. The Church produced Seven Oecumenical Councils whether it was actually undivided or not. At the Reformation, there were definitely those who regarded themselves as Catholic or Protestant, or even both. Perhaps the factual history does not actually matter in the small details. After all, if the Lord Jesus Christ is truly worshipped, neighbours loved, the Creeds affirmed, the Holy Gospel preached, the Apostolic Succession intact and the Sacraments distributed in the tradition as laid out by the centuries, then the actual origin of Anglicanism ceases to a central bone of contention. Our etiology says more about our identity than our lack of certainty about history can.

As far as I can say about myself, and that is far too little that I can be certain of, is that I am a Christian, that I am a Catholic and that I express that Catholicism through the English usage (Missals and prayerbook of 1549). I say, from the tenuous grasp I have of my own thoughts and with the hubris that I actually know something concrete, that this makes me an Anglican Catholic. Further, this puts me in line with a whole part of God's Church. I find myself welcomed with open arms by people who tell me that I am what I believe myself to be, because they believe themselves to be the same. The name may be irrelevant historically, but it is perfectly relevant and perfectly meaningful when we describe our understanding of our identity and how that relates to our preaching of Christ Crucified, Christ Risen and Christ the Saviour.

Our identity lies not in who we were, nor in who we are but in who God wills us to be and, if we continue in His Will in service and obedience to Him and the gernerous service and love of all men, that is where we will be. Our true identity as Christians is eschatological, our present identity merely an approximation. Until then, I will walk as humbly as I can (and my hubris often prevents me) as an Anglican Catholic thanking God for the spiritual direction that this body gives me as I walk into Infinity and in the hope that this little part of God's Church will thrive in His Life.

1 comment:

Auriel Ragmon said...

Thank you Father!

I'm sending parts of your post to others who will probably understand.

James Morgan
Olympia, WA