Friar John's Ruminations

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Part Two: Old Sermons and Cooties

(A continuation from here)

I am aware that many of you are saying, “But that’s not what this is about!” We all “know” what the issue is. One of the problems though is that precipitous actions and reactions often have unforeseen and unintended after affects. That and my deeply suspicious nature when it comes to the motivations of many involved lead me to push upon this. I also lift up these little points to try and show that many of the cheerleaders for this dog and pony show called “the Windsor Process” may be inviting in more than they wanted.

Moving past the Melodramatic Transition let me get to the nut of this. The Covenant came about in the same manner as the Lambeth Conferences. To be exact, one Province has a Bishop that has caused people in other Provinces heartburn. Rather than Bishop Colenso going native, as it where, in Natal and acting as if the Africans he was teaching might have something to say or could even think, we have Bishop V. Gene Robinson of Vermont. The dirty little secret that most people don’t like to mention in the oh-so polite salons of Anglicanism is that the vaunted and much respected, venerable, almost sacrosanct Lambeth Conference was born of confusion over a Bishop who not only followed the prodding’s of his African students as to the mathematical probabilities of a literal reading of the Exodus, but who sided with them against the racism of the Colonial government of Natal and South Africa. A cursory glance at the newspapers of the day will show that the conference was called not only to deal with the doctrinal issues, but with the effrontery he presented to the Victorian worlds’ views of race. I drag this up to point out that we are not going about trying to save some institution that sprang Athena like from the brow of Christ. Rather, lying at the heart of one of the Instruments of Unity is a history of colonial and intellectual superiority. Anglicans may talk a good game about the radical historicity of the Faith, but we suffer from the collective Western amnesia, which makes things hard to keep in perspective. Remember folks what it is we are really talking about. We shouldn’t dissolve into paroxysms of despair, we should realize that crisis and distrust are a part of the process it seems and that it serves as the ground from which we grow a new thing, with Gods help. This was born over controversy about a Bishop, it seems that we will grow in a new direction because of controversy. Controversy in our ecclesial DNA, even more than some other branches of the Faith. It might even be fruitful to remember that the Nicene Creed came about out of controversy and dispute. So everybody take yourselves a good deep breath, pour yourself a cup of tea, or a glass of gin, or maybe even some fruit of the barley and we’ll move on.

Steaming past this digression into historical minutia, lets bring this back into the current we were in. The Articles of Religion, also called the XXXIX (that is 39 for those of you who lack the proper Classical Education to figure out that’s not a certification in the Motion Picture rating system) Articles, simply the Articles or “those things we read when the Sermon goes on to long” is my point of departure for a critique of the Anglican Covenant. Now in my last posting I gave a few examples as to why singing onto them is, at this point, tricky. I’ve got one more, before we get to the snapper of this issue.

XXXV, which I mention for almost recreational purposes at this point, is on pages 874 and 875 of the BCP (PECUSA, 1979).  The Second book of Homilies is a collection of sermons meant to help summarize the Christian Faith. They also were designed to fix the problem that +Richard Whatley would sum up almost two centuries later: “Anglican preaching aims at nothing and, generally, hits.”  These are almost precious little gems of rhetorical soporifics and “eat your peas” moralizing that suited a Queen who held preaching in low esteem. They come complete with footnotes that refer to the Greek text of the Bible and do make for fascinating reading, if you’re into that sort of thing. Being some one who is masochistic dedicated enough to wade into this stream of Tudor wisdom, I’ll try and give you the run down. These are not sermons to be set aside lightly. Or even tossed aside with great force. Rather they need to be evaluated carefully. And this careful evaluation needs to be done before we all blithely sign right up to abide by them. I also dare any clergy who read this to get up on a Sunday and read one of these to their congregation. Double points if you do number six. (The Homilies, unlike the Articles themselves, are allowed to be referred to in word form or Arabic numerals.) 

All of this has been simple ephemera, a mist of sarcasm in the face of them main event, as it were, to the inclusion the XXXIX Articles into the Covenant. The problem lies in the text of the Articles and the intent of the Covenant. They lie in open opposition to one another, and no amount of casuistry can make them agree. Article XXVI is a standard anti-Donatism, anti-Arminian, anti-Anabaptist statement. The Sixteenth century was swimming in theology born not of the longer tradition of Augustinian thought but rather of a hyper sensitive idea of holiness. This idea came, just as it did for Donatus and Pelagius from a fairly uncomplicated reading of the Holy Scriptures. Twisting them to feed the pride of those who had decided that they were on the “inside” as opposed to those outside. These were people who rejected Church history and much theology out of ignorance and pride of owning God’s word. They had the Bible, and didn’t need anything else. Into this mix came the most loathsome of all the early heresies: Donatism.

More on these sixteenth century perfectionists, and their twisting of the Gospel, later.

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