Saturday, June 30, 2007

Confession is Good for the Soul

Here is my contribution to the Theological Confessions Meme. Biretta tip to Per Caritatem.

I confess that if I were ever given the opportunity to rewind my life and career, and to start over, I would probably enter the Dominican Order. I also confess that when I look at my wife and children, I am grateful that I will never be tempted with that choice.

I confess that I really enjoy having teenage children. I confess that still having a pre-teen in tow makes me feel younger than I am.

I confess that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been a more formative influence on my life than Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer.

I confess that Karl Barth has irrevocably changed the way I do theology, and that, along with him, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Paul Tillich, and, lately, Hans Urs von Balthasar, are among my favorite dialogue partners in theology.

I confess that I wish my theological seminary had encouraged me to read modern theology rather than to avoid it.

I confess that those who have hurt me most in life are those who have used the pretense of orthodoxy to secure my trust.

I confess that theological liberals have often been more gracious to me than I have been to them.

I confess that C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Paul II, and Mother Theresa are among the reasons that I remain a Christian.

I confess that I have given very serious consideration to becoming a Roman Catholic twice in my life.

I confess that Sacred Heart devotion, gawdy statues, St. Christopher medals, scapularies, and other cheap trinkets are among the reasons that I doubt I'll ever become a Roman Catholic.

I confess that the virtues of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer more than make up for its deficiencies.

I confess that George Harrison is my favorite Beatle, that Pink Floyd's Echoes is the perfect musical composition, and that the end of Yes's Gates of Delerium sometimes brings a tear to my eye.

I confess that some of my most profound spiritual experiences occur while listening to Yes's The Revealing Science of God. I also confess that I find more spiritual value in listening to Rush's 2112 CD than in a MegaChurch service.

I confess that Christian fundamentalism leaves me cold.

I confess that I am in the distinct minority among orthodox thinkers in believing that Interfaith Dialogue is not only beneficial, but also necessary.

I confess that I don't exercise nearly enough for my physical health, nor drink nearly enough for my mental health.

I confess that I sometimes resent that, given my choice of career and my own aspirations, I would have gotten much further in life as a woman and/or an ethnic minority.

I confess that Charles Darwin poses the most serious challenge to the faith of many Christians, mainly because he was correct.

I confess that my disenchantment with Intelligent Design theory rests entirely on my commitment to Theism.

I confess that I am convinced that life exists in other places in our universe, perhaps even in our own solar system, and that the eventual discovery of non-terrestrial life will inspire the most serious re-think of Christian theology since Copernicus. I confess every intention of staying ahead of the curve on this one.

I confess that local orthodoxies (i.e., confessions of faith), while serving a certain usefulness, often become "household idols" that stifle theological inquiry, stall ecumenical progress, and stunt the faith of many. I also confess that I am often impatient with Anglicans who revere the 39 Articles as such.

Why the Articles Must be Interpreted in Light of the Creeds, and Not the Creeds in Light of the Articles: Article I

ARTICLE I: There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The shortcoming of this article is that it does not follow the creedal pattern. It starts out correctly: “There is but one living and true God...” but it should continue thus, “...the Father almighty,” as do the catholic creeds. Article I thus falls short of a truly catholic (ecumenical) articulation, as many western articulations do. This is not to say that the article is incapable of supporting an orthodox reading, only that it is capable of supporting an unorthodox one, which constitutes its major flaw.

As it stands, Article I could be read to imply that there is a “Godhead” or “God-stuff” or some supra-personal “God” that is above the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are subsumed within or beneath It (or Him). Yet the universal creeds (Apostles, Nicene) teach that the Father, not the "Godhead" (however that is understood), is the ground and hypostasis of unity. Thus the unity of the Godhead is grounded in the Father's monarchy: the Son and the Spirit derive from Him, for the Father is the source of their essence. This is the faith of the Church Catholic.

Friday, June 29, 2007

My Mugshot

Y'all can check out my mugshot at my parish's website, where I will be serving out my diaconate until my ordination to the priesthood in six months. My diocese considers my place of work, (the seminary), as my official placement.


Not exactly breaking news...but for those readers who may not have heard, Fr. Al Kimel of Pontifications is now retiring from the blogosphere. Read his departing entry here.

Here is an excerpt:

Becoming Catholic has brought many blessings, but it has not healed the sorrows of my heart. Indeed, in some ways it has intensified these sorrows. But this is all very private. All I need say is that I often find them overwhelming. God is silent. I am reduced to silence.

I think many of us can relate to this on some level. I know that I can. Fr. Al, you will be missed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Praying Saint Patrick's Breastplate with Anglican Prayer Beads

The Cross:
I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three. Of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word: praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.

The Invitatory:
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The Cruciforms:
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

The Weeks:
1. I bind this day to me for ever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
2. his baptism in Jordan river;
3. his death on cross for my salvation;
4. his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
5. his riding up the heavenly way;
6. his coming at the day of doom:
7. I bind unto myself today.

1. I bind unto myself the power of the great love of cherubim;
2. the sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
3. the service of the seraphim;
4. confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
5. the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
6. all good deeds done unto the Lord,
7. and purity of virgin souls.

1. I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven,
2. the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
3. the whiteness of the moon at even,
4. the flashing of the lightning free,
5. the whirling of the wind’s tempestuous shocks,
6. the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
7. around the old eternal rocks.

1. I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,
2. his eye to watch, his might to stay,
3. his ear to hearken, to my need;
4. the wisdom of my God to teach,
5. his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
6. the word of God to give me speech,
7. his heavenly host to be my guard.

The Closing Prayers:

Invitatory Bead:
The Lord’s Prayer

The Cross:
I bless the Lord.

Or, in a group setting:
Let us bless the Lord
Thanks be to God.

Anglican Prayer Beads: A Form of Contemplative Prayer

From the King of Peace website.

Anglican Prayer Beads are a relatively new form of prayer, blending the Orthodox Jesus Prayer Rope and the Roman Catholic Rosary. The thirty-three bead design was created by the Rev. Lynn Bauman in the mid-1980s, through the prayerful exploration and discovery of a contemplative prayer group.

The use of the rosary or prayer beads helps to bring us into contemplative of meditative prayer—really thinking about and being mindful of praying, of being in the presence of God—by use of mind, body, and spirit. The touching of the fingers on each successive bead is an aid in keeping our mind from wandering, and the rhythm of the prayers leads us more readily into stillness.

Symbolism of the Beads

The configuration of the Anglican Prayer Beads relate contemplative prayer using the Rosary to many levels of traditional Christian symbolism. Contemplative prayer is enriched by these symbols whose purpose is always to focus and concentrate attention, allowing the one who prays to move more swiftly into the Presence of God.
The prayer beads are made up of twenty-eight beads divided into four groups of seven called weeks. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the number seven represents spiritual perfection and completion. Between each week is a single bead, called a cruciform bead as the four beads form a cross. The invitatory bead between the cross and the wheel of beads brings the total to thirty-three, the number of years in Jesus’ earthly life.

Praying with the beads

To begin, hold the Cross and say the prayer you have assigned to it, then move to the Invitatory Bead. Then enter the circle of the prayer with the first Cruciform Bead, moving to the right, go through the first set of seven beads to the next Cruciform bead, continuing around the circle, saying the prayers for each bead.

It is suggested that you pray around the circle of the beads three times (which signifies the Trinity) in an unhurried pace, allowing the repetition to become a sort of lullaby of love and praise that enables your mind to rest and your heart to become quiet and still.

Praying through the beads three times and adding the crucifix at the beginning or the end, brings the total to one hundred, which is the total of the Orthodox Rosary. A period of silence should follow the prayer, for a time of reflection and listening. Listening is an important part of all prayer.

Begin praying the Anglican Prayer Beads by selecting the prayers you wish to use for the cross and each bead. Practice them until it is clear which prayer goes with which bead, and as far as possible commit the prayers to memory.

Find a quiet spot and allow your body and mind to become restful and still. After a time of silence, begin praying the prayer beads at an unhurried, intentional pace. Complete the circle of the beads three times.

When you have completed the round of the prayer beads, you should end with a period of silence. This silence allows you to center your being in an extended period of silence. It also invites reflection and listening after you have invoked the Name and Presence of God.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Science and Eastern Orthodoxy


LIGHT FROM THE EAST: Theology, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition
by Alexei V. Nesteruk
Fortress Press (2003)

In the non-Orthodox world, a lively dialogue between science and theology has been taking place for decades. Among Orthodox, however, the theological response to modern scientific theory has hitherto been extremely muted. It has therefore been with great anticipation that they have awaited the study by Alexei Nesteruk which has now been published. For Nesteruk, as well as being a member of the Orthodox Church, is also a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, and, as such, he is someone who can speak of the scientific enterprise from within.

As a mathematical physicist, Nesteruk has clearly decided to stick to those aspects of science that he knows well. Some might regard this as a pity, since it leads him to ignore almost entirely the theological questions arising from some of the aspects of modern scientific theory that Christians tend to find the most disturbing, such as neo-Darwinism. This is, however, less of a problem that might appear at first sight, since Nesteruk’s approach is far more subtle than that of those Western theologians, who – through a methodology of beginning with questions about the perceived dissonance of science and theology – often by-pass important and necessary questions about the nature of the two disciplines.

His fundamental thesis is, in fact, not that theology and science can be interpreted in terms of some surfacelevel consonance, but rather that both can be “reinstated to their proper relationship to the Eucharist,understood in cosmic terms as the offering of creation back to God through art, science, and technology.” In this context, he goes on, scientific activity can be treated as a cosmic eucharistic work (a “cosmic liturgy”). Science can thus be seen as a mode of religious experience, a view obvious to those scientists who participate in ecclesial communities, but as yet undemonstrated to those outside such communities, (p.2).

To illustrate this view, Nesteruk provides, in the second half of the book, a number of extremely interesting but scientifically complex arguments. This scientifically informed argument is, however, based on a more general attempt, in the first half of the book, to develop a patristically-oriented rationale for seeing the sciences as an important aspect of our contemplation of divine realities. To expand on this he provides an extremely thought-provoking analysis of the patristic use of apophatic and cataphatic language in relation to God. He links this way of using theological language to the way in which God must be seen as immanent in the cosmos and yet as utterly transcending it. Like many Orthodox commentators, he sees the witness of St. Maximus the Confessor – especially in relation to the concept of the logoi of created things having their origin in the Logos himself – as central to the development of a contemporary understanding.

A recognition of the importance of this book does not, of course, imply that it is beyond reproach. Being both ambitious and complex, it inevitably has many features that raise critical questions. Some, for example, may wonder whether the concept of hypostasis can really carry the weight that Nesteruk makes it bear. Others,perhaps, will wonder whether a modern Orthodox theology really requires a utilizing of neo-Platonic categories of the sort that is attempted here (and, even if it does, whether modern cosmology can be used to underpin this usage in the way Nesteruk suggests). Perhaps more important than any of these questions, however, is one that arises from the way in which Nesteruk has – as he candidly admits – “been deeply influenced by the ideas of [the Presbyterian theologian] Thomas Torrance” (p. 2). These ideas are, admittedly, themselves deeply influenced by patristic (and especially Alexandrian) perspectives. They are also, however, rooted in important strands of continental Protestant (‘neoorthodox’) theology, and it is far from clear that Nesteruk has taken this adequately into account.

To recognize that such questions are posed by Nesteruk’s approach is not, however, to diminish the importance of what he has done. On the contrary, it bears witness to it. For, by setting off trains of thought of this kind, Nesteruk has surely done an invaluable service, both to his fellow Orthodox – who can now begin to see the sciences in a new and positive light – and to non-Orthodox, who can now see a way in which their own ongoing dialogue of science and theology can be expanded and deepened by Orthodox perspectives.

Nesteruk himself is modest enough to recognize (p. 12) that his efforts represent no more than “first steps ... with no pretensions to completing the enormous task” that lies ahead. It is, however, the first steps in any journey that are the most important, and for this particular journey Nesteruk has arguably not only pointed us in the right direction, but also provided us with many of the vehicles that we shall need as we progress. Our long term judgements of some of his specific arguments may, perhaps, turn out to be negative ones. Even if this is so, however, this will not prevent him from being remembered, in the history of the Orthodox Church, as the pioneer of a new frontier that had for too long remained unexplored. As the first clear expositor of the view that science is a cosmic eucharistic work and a mode of religious experience, he has begun a phase of Orthodox theological reflection which may have truly momentous consequences.

Christopher C. Knight
Condensed from SOUROZH:
A Journal of Orthodox Life and Thought, 2003, N 94, pp.45-49
Also reviewed in ESSSAT News, 13.4

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Master Stroke of Quantum Indeterminacy

To be sure, there is nothing about quantum indeterminacy at the base of our existence that proves it was the work of God. Or of a design to the universe clearly put there by an intelligent force to accommodate living things. However, if there is a God, consider what a master stroke quantum indeterminacy was. To create an orderly material world that didn't require constant intervention, the Creater had to make things obey defined laws. But if those laws were to run all the way down to the building blocks of matter, they would also have denied free will. They would have made it possible for His creatures (eventually) to figure out that all past events and all future ones could be inferred from a single reading of the state of the physical world at any given time.

Remarkably, what quantum indeterminacy does is to deny us the possibility of that ever happening. We cannot uncritically extrapolate the details of the present backwards to learn the past; and the future is what we make of it. Were this not the case, the future would be what our particles make of us. Instead, we are inextricably locked into the present, with our thoughts, words, and deeds helping to construct the future, a future that remains open to our own choices, to a world of possibilities.

Once He had fixed the physical nature of our universe, once He had ensured that the constants of nature would create a chemistry and physics that allowed for life, God would then have gone about the process of producing the creatures that would share this new world with him. He could have created anything He wanted, of course, by any means He cared to use. But He had already decided that the living world would be physically independent of direct divine intervention, and that life would find its support in the physics and chemistry that He was careful to create.

--Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God, pp. 251-2.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

One week away from the "Midas touch"

Just an update on my status, for those who may not be "in the know": I will be ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Don Wimberly of the Diocese of Texas next Saturday, June 23, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. This will take place at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston. I will, however, continue in my present position as Dean of the Faculty at an ecumenical seminary.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Do Positions on Evolution Really Matter in 2008?

Believing in evolution and God is fence-sitting??

Do Positions on Evolution Really Matter in 2008 Race?
By DeWayne Wickham

During a televised debate among GOP presidential candidates last month in California, Sen. John McCain of Arizona was asked whether he believes in evolution. McCain first answered with one word: "Yes." Then he quickly added: "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also."

That bit of fence walking might remind some people of what comedian W.C. Fields, a life-long atheist, said when he was discovered reading a Bible shortly before his death. When a friend asked incredulously what he was doing, Fields responded: "Looking for loopholes."

But a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll suggests McCain's attempt to have it both ways is not an uncommon view. One-quarter of Americans think evolution, a scientific theory on the origins of life, and creationism, the biblical description of how life began, are both likely explanations. But in the world of politics, reality is too often shaped by what it takes to win over the relatively small number of voters who take part in a political party's selection process — not the thinking of a wider group of people.

Whatever the reason, three of the GOP presidential wannabes standing with McCain that day gave a much different answer. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado answered with a show of hands when a reporter asked, "Is there anybody on the stage that does not agree, believe in evolution?"
This month, during a GOP debate in New Hampshire, Huckabee was asked about his rejection of evolution. "To me, it's pretty simple," the Baptist minister answered. "A person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own."

In politics, few things are described so simply. But for many members of the religious right — an influential bloc in the GOP's presidential candidate selection process — answers to questions of faith have no middle ground. This is especially so in the long-running debate over the beginning of life.

Faced with such intransigence in 1925 on the eve of the trial of John Scopes — a man charged with violating a Tennessee law that prohibited teaching evolution — H.L. Mencken, a columnist for Baltimore's The Sun, wrote, "Enlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed." Mencken would be surprised to know that when it comes to debate over the origins of life, enlightenment is now in greater supply.

Many Americans think the theories of divine creation and evolution can coexist. And why not accept the Bible's story of God's creation of life as a metaphor, and the evolutionist's version of how life started as a more detailed account of the same event? Isn't it possible the "Big Bang" theory of the universe's beginning is just science's explanation of what happened when God said, "Let there be light?" Why worry about where presidential candidates of either party stand on this issue?

At one point in the New Hampshire debate, Huckabee bristled at being asked about his position on the origins of life. "I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States," he said.

But with that job comes significant influence over public education, as we have seen with the Bush administration's imposition of teaching standards. The Oval Office job also plays a role in defining the nation's response to harmful atmospheric changes that many scientists say are man-made, and in determining government's response to calls for expanded stem cell research, which could alter lives afflicted with disease.

Putting a religious absolutist in the White House might sharply reduce the role of science in our national life — and distance the next president from the thinking of a lot of Americans.

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NEWS FLASH: "Fed-cons" unite in resolve to scupper Cantuar

Well, folks, Matt Kennedy and Stephen Noll are finally on the same page. Actually, truth be told, they always were, but there was this little issue of the upcoming Lambeth Conference to resolve between these two "fed-cons." For details, catch the latest over at Stand Firm.

Someone, somewhere along the way, coined the terms "federal conservative" and "communion conservative" to describe the differences between two rather nuanced and (up to now) ambiguous, i.e., hard-to-define, positions within what Kendall Harmon dubbed the "re-asserting" camp.

However, what divides so-called "conservatives" (I hate that term too) has never been so clear as it is today. The issue is CONCILIARISM, and we can thank Ephraim Radner and the ACI for articulating this difference beyond any question (See Dr. Radner's excellent article below).

"Fed-con" and "Com-con" are messy, imprecise, and outmoded designations. They should be put to rest. The real division is between non-conciliarists and conciliarists. Obviously, Noll and Kennedy are non-conciliarists, and Radner, Seitz, et al. are conciliarists. It should be obvious where Catholic in the Third Millennium stands.

Let's call 'em what they are.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A MUST READ: Ephraim Radner's "Lambeth Can Be What It Wants to Be"

Read the entire article at the Anglican Communion Institute website. Here's the Link


The charismatic character of conciliar authority

In light of all this, I would emphasize that the real basis for the authoritative nature of the Church’s conciliar vocation is not, therefore, the entity of a “council” in itself. Councils are not Scripture. Councils themselves are not the Holy Spirit. Councils guarantee nothing. Just because one has a council – local or wider – does not mean that what it decides has any authority in Christian terms. Rather, the basis for the authoritative nature of the Church’s conciliar vocation lies in the faithful perseverance of its members in common over time, that is, in their willingness to live the Christian life together “for the Lord” and “in the Lord”. Since the authority of councils derive from their place in a historical series, it is grasped only retrospectively, and it is possible to do this only because one has carried through with the conciliar life together long enough and through a perseverant life of faithfulness on such a path that the truth is apprehended together. A synod may indeed come to a decision that is “true” in the sense of conforming to and displaying the truth of Scripture, but that council may never gain “authority” in the Church because it never took place within the extended conciliar life of the Church in such a way that its truth was apprehended.

The place where the Holy Spirit “authorizes” a council, therefore, is not first in the abstract nature of its decisions nor even in the juridically-defined and defining shape of a given gathering. It is in the ongoing Christian life of those making decisions and receiving them. Councils are authoritative when they are perceived, that is, as being “holy”, enacted by holy people and received by holy people, conformed to the Scriptural shape of God’s will. True councils are “charismatic”, in the qualification used by Orthodox theologians. Councils are authoritative, not only when they speak the “truth” (this is not a sufficient condition for conciliar authority), but when they are filled with and give rise to the gifts and fruit of the Spirit – faith, generosity, and so on, and “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Rom. 12:6ff.; Gal. 5:22f.). This should not be a surprise, Scripturally speaking: for it is the “gathering in my Name (cf. Mt. 18:20), in its rich and profound sense of the Spirit’s common life, that is promised the presence of Jesus. The Church “over time”, and hence as a truly conciliar reality, exists as Christ’s Body only as she embodies the Holy Spirit’s gifts and fruit in this sense that allows her to gather at all (1 Cor. 12).

The necessary and essential link between council and Holy Spirit, understood in the sense above, underscores a paradoxical reality: the Church’s councils need not be wholly “pure” in their make-up to be valid and authoritative. Rather they require only that some of their members be holy and, more importantly, that such holiness persist in the midst of the Church’s errors and sin. For the Spirit is “sent”; the Spirit does not constitute. The Spirit inhabits; the Spirit does not embody. This is the model of the apostolic church of Jesus, at the Last Supper and Passion: the holiness of the Church – and her councils – is given in the means by which her saints demonstrate the Spirit’s fruit within the Church’s fallenness, by the exercise of truthful witness, mercy and charity with and among her corrupted members, as Jesus did not only towards his persecutors, but towards his own followers who would and who did eventually abandon Him.

In light of this discussion, we can answer a number of questions currently being raised about attendance at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. We can do so by observing the character of the Church’s first great councils – e.g. Nicea and Constantinople – and seeing how in fact they conform to the outline of conciliar life suggested above, and how they clarify current concerns. Although these two councils represent something “new”, from the perspective of history, they were not in fact “primordial”. They emerged from and took their place within an existing and long line of previous councils, some of considerable significance and weight. As “councils”, they are “general”, not de novo.

Does one sit in council with those with whom one is out of communion?

Nicea answered this question affirmatively: present were not only the Novationist schismatic bishop Acesius, but also Arians (including Arius himself!) who had previously and formally broken with bishops of the (finally decided) “orthodox” party. One does not need to share the Eucharist with another Christian in order for the counsel of the Holy Spirit to be authoritatively pursued among them.

In the midst of disputes within the Church, including ones that cut deeply and that burden us today, this reality (more fully demonstrated below) cuts in all kinds of directions.

Does one sit in council with heretics?

Invited to Nicea, as we know, were Arius and his friends and supporters (e.g. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who ended up causing so much trouble for the orthodox after Nicea, despite signing on to the final agreement).

The first Council of Constantinople, over 50 years after Nicea, had to revisit with much anguish and conflict the very matters already decided at Nicea. This means that the later council, by definition, was one engaged with known “heretics”, established as such by a previous council. Yet that did not prevent the council’s gathering and its engagement of orthodox and heretic together.

Does one sit in council with the excommunicated?

As the previous question and response show, “heresy” can already be conciliarly defined and still be engaged subsequently on a personal level at another council. Hence, Arius, along with at least two African bishops, Secondus and Theonus, had been formally condemned and excommunicated by a formal Alexandrian synod, some time before Nicea convened. Yet Bp. Alexander (and Athanasius, his then-secretary) met with them at Nicea. Both Nicea and Constantinople gathered bishops who had, at various times, been excommunicated and even exiled by opposing parties.

One of the questions to be asked in the context of the above is, “does not counsel with heretics and the excommunicated threaten the corruption of the council itself and of the church subsequently?”. This question has been posed within the Anglican Communion currently in terms of TEC being a liberal “heresy” similar to a “gangrene” or “cancer” whose presence cannot be tolerated in council for fear of contamination. Clearly this was not the view of those participating in the first councils of the Church, including the first two Ecumenical Councils. It was not so because the nature of Christian conciliarity, as we have explained, is founded on the power of the Holy Spirit within the lives of those taking council, not uniformly, but simply really – just as Jesus’ authority in the Church is based on His own pneumatic life, not on His members’ uniformly.

Certainly, there are a variety of responses given in the New Testament church to heresy or immorality within the Christian community. In all cases where possible, discipline is exercised. But discipline within the New Testament is not uniform – as Paul’s experience with the “false apostles” at Corinth makes clear – and is often set aside in favor of the “power” of the Spirit’s “demonstration” in the lives of the Church’s saints, regardless of the failures of others around them. Indeed, the one text in the New Testament regarding “gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:17) is not about complete disengagement with heretics, but about the proper kind of engagement, based not on drawn out controversy but on a particular kind of charismatic posture and example as a teacher (2 Tim. 2:24ff.) that leads the erring person to “repentance”.

The point here is that a council may choose to invite or not, on the basis of discipline or not – none of this validates or invalidates a council. These are prudential decisions, not matters of faith (see below).

Does one sit at council with those who have betrayed previous councils?

Following Nicea, an entire array of Arians and related “heretics” continued to agitate and in fact often “triumph” ecclesially through episcopal establishement and numerous new councils, both local and wider. Many, although not all, of these subsequent councils were attended by “orthodox”, who knowingly came to gatherings in which they were outnumbered, deceived, and mistreated. Their attendance, where possible, was based on the courage, calm, and faith granted them by the Holy Spirit, not on juridical realities. Such councils were often later judged to be invalid; but not because of their initial gathering, but rather because of their fruit. I personally believe it to be the case that, at certain point, if one can no longer trust the word of certain members of the Church, their presence at the Church’s councils do indeed become problematic. But again, to what degree is a prudential decision, not one based on principle.

Does non-invitation of potentially worthy attendees invalidate a council?

The Bishop of Rome was never invited to (nor did he or his formal representative attend) the Council of Constantinople (and he was, at the time, out of communion with the Council’s president, Melitius, as well as with others present). Yet, in time – and not a long time either – the Council of Constantinople was recognized by the Pope as a valid “ecumenical” council, despite not even having a formal papal representative present.The conclusion here, to restate a point made before and well-grounded in conciliar theology, is that councils are authoritative in their historical reception, not in their immediate form. The form, however, points to the character of the council in an initial way, and eventually reveals that inner character over time: one comes to council, and God does His work.

--The rest of the article.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gerald Bray on Augustine's Conception of the Spirit as Love

The link between the Trinity and human salvation is clearer in Augustine than in any other ancient writer, and it has indelibly marked the entire Western tradition. The belief that God is love is now such a commonplace that we seldom realize what a new and powerful idea it was to Augustine. Unfortunately though, Augustine formulated his belief in a way which leaves it open to serious question. As he understood it, the essence of God was both spirit and love. Despite serious hesitation, Augustine eventually argued himself into believing that spirit and love were the same thing, with the result that the Holy Spirit must also be the personification of holy love.

The basis for this equation come from a comparison of John 4:24 ('God is spirit') with 1 John 4:16 ('God is love'). Today we would say that the word 'spirit' refers primarily to the nature of God, whereas love is the way in which God functions. To tie the two together as Augustine eventually did is to unite essence and function in a way which distorts the biblical data. This conjunction later became a standard feature of Western theology, which to this day likes to claim that pure being is the same as pure act. During the centuries when the emphasis was ontological, however, love tended to become a remote abstraction. Now that the emphasis has shifted to the functional, the opposite tendency has asserted itself, and love tends to be regarded mainly as a subjective feeling, which is then somehow identified with the very being of God.

In fairness to Augustine, it must be said that he himself never went anything like as far as that. He did not regard 'Spirit' as the personal name of the third person of the Trinity, but only as a designation of the divine nature. As such, the word could and did refer equally to the Father and the Son. On the other hand, Augustine toyed with this question of finding the personal name of the Holy Spirit, but never really came up with a satisfactory answer. At one point he suggested that it might be 'gift' (donum), although that is hardly a personal name in the sense that we would understand it. Later on, he put forward the view that the Spirit's personal name was Holy. this was slightly better than 'gift', but it suffered from the fact that, like Spirit, it was a term which could be applied to the other persons of the Trinity as well.

Augustine's difficulty here is symptomatic of his whole approach, which locates the unity of the Father and the Son in the person of the Holy Spirit. But because the unity of God is expressed at the level of nature, there is an inescapable tendency to think of the Holy Spirit as a personification of the impersonal qualities which constitute the being of God. Admittedly, this tendency is helped to some extent by the impersonal name which is given to the third person, even in the Scriptures, although of course he is also called Comforter (Paraclete). Augustine was aware of this, but neither he nor his successors made much of it when discussing the names of the Trinity in their writings.

--Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God (Intervarsity, 1993), pp. 171-2.

Latest from the Anglican Communion Institute

The whole article is well worth reading. What follows below is the conclusion. Here's the LINK.


Given the fact that the Primates have been assigned "enhanced responsibility" by the Lambeth Conference itself, and given the fact that no one with the authority to do so has withdrawn their proposal to address the threat of fracture our Communion now faces, and given the fact that the claim made that these proposals do not accord with the Constitution and Canons of TEC remains no more than an unsupported assertion, we ask four questions:

1. The Primates still have warrant to make their appointments to the Pastoral Council. Why have they not done so?

2. The Archbishop of Canterbury still has the authority to make his appointment to the PastoralCouncil. Why has he not done so?

3. The Presiding Bishop of TEC still has authority to make her appointment to the Pastoral Council. Why has she not done so?

4. The Windsor Bishops still have warrant to make their nominations for Primatial Vicar. Why have they not done so?

We believe that the credibility of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Meeting of the Primates, the Presiding Bishop of TEC, and the Windsor Bishops depends upon a speedy answer to these four questions. Some may think us naïve for continuing to think these instruments of unity still have credibility. We have, however, considered the alternatives-all of which portend the end of Anglicanism as a communion of churches. We pray, therefore, that those in whose hands Providence has placed responsibility for the peace, faithfulness, and unity of the church will respond publicly and speedily to these questions that rest so heavily upon the minds and hearts of all who care about the future of the Anglican Communion.

Christopher Seitz
Philip Turner
Ephraim Radner

Officers of the Anglican Communion Network

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Blast from the Past: What did Augustine and Arius have in common?

--Originally posted on June 26, 2006. I'm reposting this in view of Trinity Sunday.

Answer: Both Arius and Augustine defined deity in terms of divine causality, thus understanding causality to be the essential attribute of deity rather than the hypostatic (i.e. personal) feature of the Father's monarchy.
In this confusion of Person, nature and attribute, Arius went on to assert that only the Father was truly God, for the Logos was begotten of the Father. Thus Christ could not be fully divine in that he was "caused by," and in no way the "cause of," the Father. Divine causality and essential deity are inextricably mixed.

In his argument against the later heresy of semi-Arianism, Augustine conceded this point, but went on to employ it in favor of the essential deity of Christ by positing the filioque doctrine. Thus Augustine saw the Son as the "cause," along with the Father, of another divine Person: the Holy Spirit. "For if the Son has of the Father whatever He has, then certainly He has of the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from Him" (De Trinitate 15:26:47). In other words, the Son receives divine causality from the Father and thus is fully divine, for the Holy Spirit proceeds from both.

At this point the inconsistency in Augustine's view of the Trinity becomes apparent, for where does this leave the Holy Spirit? If the Holy Spirit is a fully divine hypostasis then wherein is manifested the attribute of causality?

From the Telegraph: Church Call on Intelligent Design

By Graeme Paton
The Church of England yesterday suggested that schools should teach the controversial theory of intelligent design in science lessons.

The Rev Jan Ainsworth, the Church's head of education, said that the belief - that man was created by an intelligent being, such as God - should have a place in the national curriculum.
The comments come despite warnings from academics that intelligent design and creationism are "anti-science" and a veiled attempt to smuggle fundamentalist Christianity into teaching.
It also places Mrs Ainsworth on collision course with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Government ministers, who have told schools to keep strict Biblical interpretations of life out of school science lessons.

Speaking at a seminar on faith schools, Mrs Ainsworth, who is responsible for almost 5,000 primary and secondary schools, said: "While it is not something I would subscribe to, it is a recognition that there are different ways of looking at the evidence."

Intelligent design is often seen as a more "acceptable" version of creationism, the strict Biblical theory that God created the world in six days 6,000 years ago.

Its proponents argue that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own, suggesting that there was a hidden hand behind the creation of man.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Over at Stand Firm: Hospitality and Heretics

Stand Firm's Matt Kennedy recently wrote an article of interest entitled, Hospitality and Heretics: The Necessity of Discipline in the Anglican Communion. The article itself is what I've come to expect from Matt: a well-written, impassioned argument for the federal conservative view. But the comment section reveals the essential flaw in the fed con view, and why a presumed Communion set up in the fashion that fed cons envision will never work.

In the providence of God, the Church used councils to deliberate controversial matters, and, yes, actually to DEFINE dogma, not merely to reiterate scriptural teaching, as Matt seems to be saying in his remarks (one commenter does a good job challenging Matt on this point). Conciliarism as a process for discerning what the Spirit is saying to the churches is often messy, political, and (in the ancient world) has even been violent. And in the aftermath of a council (i.e. the period of reception for a council's teaching), things could even be worse. As unholy as it sounds, like or not, orthodoxy triumphs by virtue of being the "last man standing" after a conflict has subsided.

The Anglican Communion is a very young community of churches, ever inching their way to a conciliar model of community life and discipline. We are not there yet, and the present struggle is by no means the first or last challenge that will threaten its very existence.

In short, I think Matt should have started with Acts 15 rather than with Matthew 18.