Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Church versus Society: pre-Constantinian idols?

In thinking about the plight of the CofE, the question arises about the relationship that the Church should have with Society in general. At the time when the English Church was wresting itself away from the jurisdiction of the Holy Father, it seems that Church and Society were virtually synonymous, and that the Church of England was supposed to be the moral lung of Society.

History tells a different story. The rise of Constantine effectively raised the possibility of Christianity being the Imperial religion following three centuries of persecution and marginalisation. There is a good historical precedent for Christianity not to be identical with Society, but rather an actor on Society's stage. Society is now regarded as being necessarily secular in order to provide a harmonious arena in which people of all faiths and none can function together. It was not always so and, indeed, Christian was seen in the third century as inimical to the "secular" age in which indigenous gods and cults were brought together in some form of syncretist literal pantheon in which everyone could perform the necessary societal customs of sacrificing to the right god but perhaps referring to that god by a socially acceptable name, especially if that god happened to be the Roman Emperor. Christians refused to recognise this because we have always believed that there is One God and that these other "gods" are nothing but empty anthropomorphisms of elements of Creation. We cannot, and will not, sacrifice to idols, even today.

Do we sacrifice to idols in today's society?

It does seem that we're going back to the pre-Constantinian idea of Church. When I joined the ACC six years ago, I attended Mass in the Dartford Mission of St Mary and St Eanswythe. It is little more than an upper room and attended by as few as two people, much the same number of congregation as the parish that I have left. The last supper was held in an upper room, so there is precedent for that as well. Yet, for me, that Mission represents something quite incredible and I remember those first breaths that I took as, for the first time for years, I opened my mouth to say the Liturgy that I had been prohibited from saying.

Why had I been so prohibited? Simply because that the State Church in my area did not feel that it could offer a Mass of such an older form on the grounds that it did not reach out to people in Society. The words of centuries were not being translated so much as being simplified at the cost of the true and deeper meaning so that more people might be persuaded to come through the door. It was necessary for the CofE to react to the changes in Society in order to continue serving that Society.

Much of the controversies in which the CofE has become embroiled are the result of injustices in Society. As an Anglican Catholic, I can understand how, in trying to address issues of injustice to women, the Church can be tempted to change doctrine. Likewise, in trying to deal with the injustice done to homosexuals and an institutionalised loneliness, it's clear how the Church is tempted to consider redefining marriage. Yet, what we have forgotten is that these problems did not arise in the Church, but arose from Society.

Often the Church has the issue of slavery thrown up when it is called to think about issues of social controversy. The charge is that the Church supported the whole idea of slavery. This is not true. For starters, one of my patrons St Anselm opposed the British Slave Trade for "in 1102, at a church council in St. Peter's church, Westminster, he obtained the passage of a resolution against the practice of selling men like cattle." ("Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.). In the Eighth Century, the wife of King Clovis II, St Bathilde actively campaigned against slavery.  Pope Paul III pronounced against slavery in 1537. Again, it is capitulation to Society that has found Churchmen associated with the slave trade, not in its doctrine.

The idols offered by Society now are found in its ideologies and political theories, especially the Critical Theory of Marx, and they are worshipped very literally by giving them a worth that they do not deserve. 

Let me be clear, there are many good things about the ideologies that are around today, but they can only be good when they are taken in accordance with what is truly good, i.e. God. Feminism has raised the issue that women have been relegated to a second class citizen status, they have been paid less, they have not been allowed to participate fully in society. It, quite rightly, has fought for the equality of women and men under law, and seeks to ensure that they have as much respect and recognition for what they do as their male counterparts. Yet to take Feminism too far raises issues of false equality - that of the complete interchangability of male and female or, in a more radical form, the dominance of women over men. This over-extension cannot true. Men and women are different. The driving force behind Feminism must not be an idolised goal, but the love of neighbour that comes from following Christ. This is where the Church parts company with secularity: no -ism can displace the Doctrine that the Church has received. Yet, where the Church parts company with a  popular "-ism", we hear the cry of "DISCRIMINATION!"

The Church has rightly been accused of discrimination in the past along with Society in this relegation and invalidation of the female sex, but in putting these injustices right, the Church cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. That's how the problems of the Reformation started and look at the result of that! 

We sacrifice to the idol of a Societal Ism when we change our Doctrine to suit that Ism. We say "Oh Jesus must have held our Ism" and then perform acts of eisegesis in order to support our view that Our Blessed Lord held our philosophical viewpoint.

Now that the Church is back to its pre-Constantinian position with Society placing demands on our philosophical understanding of what is, it is all the more important that we recognise our part as dissenters from the rule of the Secular. We do indeed need to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's - there's no point in being anti-social for the sake of it. However, everything we do, every action we perform must bear witness to Society that we are ruled not by its demands for everybody living peacefully together, but by a complete devotion to the Triune God who bids us seek to live peacefully with each other in a deeper, purer and more charitable sense. When Church and Society differ, we must stand up and refuse to sacrifice to idols, but to do so without forgetting the Divine Mandate and making our sacrifices to Him alone.

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