Reasoning in council and the search for a shared discernment

The debate triggered by certain decisions in the Episcopal Church is not just about a single matter of sexual ethics. It is about decision making in the Church and it is about the interpretation and authority of Scripture. It has raised, first of all, the painfully difficult question of how far Anglican provinces should feel bound to make decisions in a wholly consultative and corporate way. In other words, it has forced us to ask what we mean by speaking and thinking about ourselves as a global communion. When ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ fail, what should we do about it? Now there is a case for drawing back from doing anything much, for accepting that we are no more than a cluster of historically linked local or national bodies. But to accept this case – and especially to accept it because the alternatives look too difficult – would be to unravel quite a lot of what both internal theological reflection and ecumenical agreement have assumed and worked with for most of the last century. For those of us who still believe that the Communion is a Catholic body, not just an agglomeration of national ones, a body attempting to live in more than one cultural and intellectual setting and committed to addressing major problems in a global way, the case for ‘drawing back’ is not attractive. But my real point is that we have never really had this discussion properly. It surfaced a bit in our debates over women’s ordination, but for a variety of reasons tended to slip out of focus. But we were bound to have to think it through sooner or later.

And it has arisen now in connection with same-sex relationships largely because this has been seen as a test-case for fidelity to Scripture, and so for our Reformed integrity. Rather more than with some other contentious matters (usury, pacifism, divorce), there was and is a prima facie challenge in a scriptural witness that appears to be universally negative about physical same-sex relations.

Now in the last ten years particularly, there have been numerous very substantial studies of the scriptural and traditional material which make it difficult to say that there is simply no debate to be had. Even a solidly conservative New Testament scholar like Richard Hays, to take one example out of many, would admit that work is needed to fill out and defend the traditional position, and to understand more deeply where the challenges to this position come from.

But it is easier to go for one or the other of the less labour-intensive options. There is a virtual fundamentalism which simply declines to reflect at all about principles of interpretation and implicitly denies that every reader of Scripture unconsciously or consciously uses principles of some kind. And there is a chronological or cultural snobbery content to say that we have outgrown biblical categories. These positions do not admit real theological debate. Neither is compatible with the position of a Church that both seeks to be biblically obedient and to read its Scriptures in the light of the best spiritual and intellectual perspectives available in the fellowship of believers. And the possibility of real theological exchange is made still more remote by one group forging ahead with change in discipline and practice and other insistently treating the question as the sole definitive marker of orthodoxy.

Whatever happened, we might ask, to persuasion? To the frustrating business of conducting recognisable arguments in a shared language? It is frustrating because people are so aware of the cost of a long argumentative process. It is intolerable that injustice and bigotry are tolerated by the Church; it is intolerable that souls are put in peril by doubtful teaching and dishonest practice. Yet one of the distinctive things about the Christian Church as biblically defined is surely the presumption (Acts 15) that the default position when faced with conflict is reasoning in council and the search for a shared discernment – so that the truth does not appear as just the imposed settlement of the winners in a battle.

Archbishop’s Address to General Synod

Flight from embodiedness

Why is it that we moderns are so confused about the sources of our identity? We cannot decide whether we are essentially bodies, and must obey the dictates of our biology, or whether our bodies are simply vehicles which we can use or abuse, as though nothing our body does really touched us.

The modern self is a solitary and solipsistic being. It regards itself as the only real thing, and is determined not to be interrupted and inconvenienced by anything or anyone not itself. The Christian tradition calls this attitude ‘gnosticism’. This is the belief that I am solely my mind, and that I am trapped in my body, and in this world. It asserts that my mind can know the world, and other people, entirely without their aid and begin to extract itself from the limits they represent. Gnosticism is a panicked attempt to escape my past, my present situatedness, and all the plurality and ambiguity of life. It views embodiedness as entanglement and misfortune. It is a permanent temptation to believe that we are to remove ourselves from what it regards as the entangling, disgusting materiality and complications of this world and set ourselves above them.

Modernity is not simply a new phenomenon. It is also a timeless temptation. But it is only properly identified as this by the Church disciplined by the full gospel. The whole Christian tradition is our very own corporate memory. From this bank of resources constituted of all previous Christian experience, we may select parallels to our present experience. From these parallels we can see the range of options open to us for dealing with the challenges of our situation. If we have less memory, we have fewer resources by which to understand our circumstances and fewer options for dealing with them. The grace of God provides us with these resources for the very purpose that we grow through them and are empowered by them. The Christian life and teaching is the grace of God mediated through the experience of previous generations of Christians. It allows to us grow and become a holy people, able to hold out to our society what it cannot receive from any other source.

The whole surrounding culture of modernity is a flight from embodiedness and situatedness. Without the Christian gospel mediated through the Christian life and teaching, our culture is obliged to construct for itself what it refuses to accept from God. It is under a harsh law, entirely self-imposed. Unable to receive its shaping with gratitude, it is then only able to perceive others as a threat. This appears in its belief that all previous experience is rendered redundant by time, and its insistence that we abandon our experience and we flee whatever we identify as ‘the past’.

No Lack of Love – the Fulcrum sermons of Oliver O’Donovan

Sunday – a fragment of time imbued with eternity

Sunday is, so to speak, a fragment of time imbued with eternity, for its dawn saw the Crucified and Risen Christ enter victorious into eternal life.

With the event of the Resurrection, creation and redemption reach their fulfillment. On the “first day after Saturday”, the women and then the Disciples, meeting the Risen One, understood that this was “the day which the Lord has made” (Ps 118[117]:24), “his” day, the “Dies Domini.” In fact, this is what the liturgy sings: “O first and last day, radiant and shining with Christ’s triumph”.

From the very outset, this has been a stable element in the perception of the mystery of Sunday: “The Word”, Origen affirms, “has moved the feast of the Sabbath to the day on which the light was produced and has given us as an image of true repose, Sunday, the day of salvation, the first day of the light in which the Savior of the world, after completing all his work with men and after conquering death, crossed the threshold of Heaven, surpassing the creation of the six days and receiving the blessed Sabbath and rest in God” (Comment on Psalm 91).

Inspired by knowledge of this, St Ignatius of Antioch asserted: “We are no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day” (Ad Magn. 9, 1).

For the first Christians, participation in the Sunday celebrations was the natural expression of their belonging to Christ, of communion with his Mystical Body, in the joyful expectation of his glorious return.

This belonging was expressed heroically in what happened to the martyrs of Abitene, who faced death exclaiming, “Sine dominico non possumus”: without gathering together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist, we cannot live.

How much more necessary it is today to reaffirm the sacredness of the Lord’s Day and the need to take part in Sunday Mass!

The cultural context in which we live, often marked by religious indifference and secularism that blot out the horizon of the transcendent, must not let us forget that the People of God, born from “Christ’s Passover, Sunday”, should return to it as to an inexhaustible source, in order to understand better and better the features of their own identity and the reasons for their existence.

The Second Vatican Council, after pointing out the origin of Sunday, continued: “On this day Christ’s faithful are bound to come together into one place. They should listen to the Word of God and take part in the Eucharist, thus calling to mind the Passion, Resurrection and Glory of the Lord Jesus and giving thanks to God who “has begotten them again, through the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, unto a living hope'” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” n. 106).

Sunday was not chosen by the Christian community but by the Apostles, and indeed by Christ himself, who on that day, “the first day of the week”, rose and appeared to the disciples (cf. Mt 28:1; Mk 16: 9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; I Cor 16: 2), and appeared to them again “eight days later” (Jn 20:26).

Sunday is the day on which the Risen Lord makes himself present among his followers, invites them to his banquet and shares himself with them so that they too, united and configured to him, may worship God properly.

Papal Letter to Cardinal Arinze on the Anniverary of “Sacrosanctum Concilium”

O'Donovan's successor

Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology of Oxford

The Queen has been pleased to approve that The Reverend Professor Nigel Biggar MA PhD be appointed a Canon of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford from 1 October 2007,in succession to the Reverend Professor Oliver O’Donovan MA DPhil FBA.

The Reverend Professor Nigel Biggar, aged 51, is currently Professor of Theology in the School of Religions and Theology at Trinity College of the University of Dublin, and he is also a Fellow of that college.

Professor Biggar was ordained to the priesthood in 1991, having studied history at Worcester College, Oxford, and theology at Regent College, Vancouver and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. From 1985 to 1991 he was Research Fellow and Librarian of Latimer House, Oxford; and from 1987 to 1994 he was a part-time Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Wycliffe Hall. He was made Chaplain of Oriel College, Oxford in 1990, and then Fellow in 1993. In 1999 he was appointed Professor of Theology in the University of Leeds. He took up his current post in 2004. From 1999 to 2004 he was Lecturer at the Leeds Parish Church, and since 2004 he has been a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Professor Biggar’s many publications include (as editor) Cities of Gods: Faith, Politics and Pluralism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam; a monograph on the ethics of the twentieth century theologian Karl Barth; Good Life: Reflections on What We Value Today; (as editor and contributor) Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict; and most recently, Aiming to Kill, a book on the ethics of suicide and euthanasia.

His current research interests include the doctrine of justified war, the politics of forgiveness, the ethics of (separatist) nationalism and empire, the contribution of religion to public deliberation in a liberal society, the public responsibility of the media, and the bearing of theology on ethics.

This is very good news. My prognostications of last year turn out to have been unjustified. Hooray!

Growing Together in Unity and Mission

68. We are agreed that no local church is self-sufficient. Various structures and practices are needed to maintain and manifest the communion of the local churches and sustain them in fidelity to the Gospel. These include local, provincial, world-wide and ecumenical synods and councils. Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree that from New Testament times (cf. Acts 15.6-29), the
Church has sought through collegial and conciliar gatherings to be obedient to Christ in fidelity to its vocation.

69. Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree that councils can be recognised as authoritative when they express the common faith and mind of the Church, consonant with Scripture and the apostolic Tradition. Those councils up to modern times which the Catholic Church describes as ‘ecumenical’ are understood as having a binding character, and are for Roman Catholics an authoritative expression of the living tradition. Anglicans historically have only recognised the binding authority of the first four ecumenical councils. While they affirm some of the content of successive councils, they believe that only those decisions which can be demonstrated from Scripture are binding on the faithful.

70. The communion of the Church requires a ministry of primacy at every level of the Church’s life as a visible link and focus of its communion. From early times an ordering developed among the bishops, whereby the bishops of prominent sees exercised a distinctive ministry of unity, as the first among the bishops of their regions. They acted not in isolation from but in collegial
association with other bishops. Primacy and collegiality are complementary dimensions of episcope, exercised within the life of the whole Church. (Anglicans recognise the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury in precisely this way.)

71. The office of a universal primate is a special and particular case of that care for universal communion proper to the episcopal office itself. “The only see which makes any claim to universal primacy and which has exercised and still exercises such episcope is the see of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul diedâ€?. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element for maintaining it in unity and truth. Anglicans rejected the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the sixteenth century. Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a re-united Church.

Growing Together in Unity and Mission An Agreed Statement by the International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission

Catholic events in London

Here is a selection of events from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster – events page

Commission for Justice and Social Responsibility – Inaugural Conference
Catholic Social Teaching and its impact on the wider community Saturday 24th February 2007 Brentwood, London

Journey to Freedom – with the Augustinians of the Assumption
Assumption Priory, Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green, London E2

15 March 2007– “Hope against all hope!â€? with His Grace Bishop Basil of Amphipolis, Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Great Britain

25 April 2007– “Love and do what you will!â€? with His Eminence Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the Archbishop of Brussels (to be delivered in French)

9 May 2007– “The Church, Catholicity and Unityâ€? with Fr. John McDade, Principal of Heythrop College, University of London (SJ)

“When the Truth is Silenced – Freedom of Religion and the Christian Response to 21st Century Rights Discourses.â€? Seminar 5 March 2007 Herbert Smith, Exchange House, Primrose Street London EC2

The Eucharist & Catechesis
This course will focus on the core teaching about the Eucharist and how it challenges us on a personal level and as a diocese. These sessions will offer the opportunity to consider:

• the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian life
• the Eucharist and real presence
• the Eucharist and sacrifice
• Eucharistic spirituality
• the Eucharist making Church

The sessions are being offered in locations throughout the Diocese so that all catechists can attend the core session plus the one relating to their area of catechetics.

Celebrate Love – at Ealing Abbey, Ealing, London

Celebrate Love promotes a healthy, celebratory attitude to sexuality and shows the link between sexuality and the spirituality of the sacrament of matrimony. The presentations give couples the insight to identify and change attitudes and behaviours that detract from the magnificent vision that God calls couples to live and the Church desires to sustain. Insights are drawn from some of the most experienced international relationship educators and the vision of marriage espoused in John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, and Theology of the Body for an effective renewal experience.

MAN AND WOMAN HE CREATED THEM – reflections on a theology of the body. 28 April 2007 – Westminster Cathedral Hall, Ambrosden Avenue, London SW1

A major event welcoming the renowned scholar Professor Michael Waldstein (International Theological Institute, Gaming) and author of MAN AND WOMAN HE CREATED THEM – a theology of the body (published in USA, copies will be on sale). To include visiting speakers on the subject and practical ideas for exploring further this vision for relating and building up community in family, home, workplace and Church.

So, some little signs of life then.

Ash Wednesday

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Isaiah 58

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right* spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51

To seek a common mind

Report of the Anglican Covenant Design Group

6 Unity of the Communion

(Nehemiah 2.17,18, Mt. 18.15-18, 1 Corinthians 12, 2 Corinthians 4.1-18, 13.5-10, Galatians 6.1-10)

Each Church commits itself:

* in essential matters of common concern, to have regard to the common good of the Communion in the exercise of its autonomy, and to support the work of the Instruments of Communion with the spiritual and material resources available to it.

* to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and discernment to listen and to study with one another in order to comprehend the will of God. Such study and debate is an essential feature of the life of the Church as its seeks to be led by the Spirit into all truth and to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each generation. Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God’s revelation to us; others may prove to be distractions or even obstacles to the faith: all therefore need to be tested by shared discernment in the life of the Church.

* to seek with other members, through the Church’s shared councils, a common mind about matters of essential concern, consistent with the Scriptures, common standards of faith, and the canon law of our churches.

* to heed the counsel of our Instruments of Communion in matters which threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness of our mission. While the Instruments of Communion have no juridical or executive authority in our Provinces, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.

* to seek the guidance of the Instruments of Communion, where there are matters in serious dispute among churches that cannot be resolved by mutual admonition and counsel:

* by submitting the matter to the Primates Meeting
* if the Primates believe that the matter is not one for which a common mind has been articulated, they will seek it with the
other instruments and their councils
* finally, on this basis, the Primates will offer guidance and direction.

* We acknowledge that in the most extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of the Instruments of Communion, we will consider that such churches will have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches.

Report of the Anglican Covenant Design Group

Catholic in the UK – Declaration on the Liturgy

The 1996 Oxford Liturgy Conference was ‘a watershed for English Catholicism’, apparently. Here is its Declaration on the Liturgy (I have added some italics):

1. Reflecting on the history of liturgical renewal and reform since the Second Vatican Council, the Liturgy Forum agreed that there have been many positive results. Among these might be mentioned the introduction of the vernacular, the opening up of the treasury of the Sacred Scriptures, increased participation in the liturgy and the enrichment of the process of Christian initiation. However, the Forum concluded that the preconciliar liturgical movement as well as the manifest intentions of Sacrosanctum Concilium have in large part been frustrated by powerful contrary forces, which could be described as bureaucratic, philistine and secularist.

2. The effect has been to deprive the Catholic people of much of their liturgical heritage. Certainly, many ancient traditions of sacred music, art and architecture have been all but destroyed. Sacrosanctum Concilium gave pride of place to Gregorian chant (n. 116), yet in many places this “sung theology” of the Roman liturgy has disappeared without trace. Our liturgical heritage is not a superficial embellishment of worship but should properly be regarded as intrinsic to it, as it is also to the process of transmitting the Catholic faith in education and evangelization. Liturgy cannot be separated from culture; it is the living font of a Christian civilization and hence has profound ecumenical significance.

3. The impoverishment of our liturgy after the Council is a fact not yet sufficiently admitted or understood, to which the necessary response must be a revival of the liturgical movement and the initiation of a new cycle of reflection and reform. The liturgical movement which we represent is concerned with the enrichment, correction and resacralization of Catholic liturgical practice. It is concerned with a renewal of liturgical eschatology, cosmology and aesthetics, and with a recovery of the sense of the sacred – mindful that the law of worship is the law of belief. This renewal will be aided by a closer and deeper acquaintance with the liturgical, theological and iconographic traditions of the Christian East.

4. The revived liturgical movement calls for the promotion of the Liturgy of the Hours, celebrated in song as an action of the Church in cathedrals, parishes, monasteries and families, and of Eucharistic Adoration, already spreading in many parishes. In this way, the Divine Word and the Presence of Christ’s reality in the Mass may resonate throughout the day, making human culture into a dwelling place for God. At the heart of the Church in the world we must be able to find that loving contemplation, that adoring silence, which is the essential complement to the spoken word of Revelation, and the key to active participation in the holy mysteries of faith (Orientale Lumen, n. 1 ).

5. We call for a greater pluralism of Catholic rites and uses, so that all these elements of our tradition may flourish and be more widely known during the period of reflection and ressourcement that lies ahead. If the liturgical movement is to prosper, it must seek to rise above differences of opinion and taste to that unity which is the Holy Spirit’s gift to the Body of Christ. Those who love the Catholic tradition in its fullness should strive to work together in charity, bearing each other’s burdens in the light of the Holy Spirit, and persevering in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus.

6. We hope that any future liturgical reform would not be imposed on the faithful but would proceed, with the utmost caution and sensitivity to the sensus fidelium, from a thorough understanding of the organic nature of the liturgical traditions of the Church (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 23). Our work should be sustained by prayer, education and study. This cannot be undertaken in haste, or in anything other than a serene spirit. No matter what difficulties lie ahead, the glory of the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s love, his cosmic sacrifice and his childlike trust in the Father – shines through every Catholic liturgy for those who have eyes to see, and in this undeserved grace we await the return of spring.

Oxford Liturgy Conference Declaration on the Liturgy 1996

For some discussion of the context and developments since, see Stratford Caldecott Liturgy and Trinity: Towards an Anthropology of the Liturgy in the ‘Mystagogy’ section of Second Spring and the (UK) Society of St Catherine of Siena

Rutherford House Christology conference

The person of Christ

The Twelfth Edinburgh Conference in Christian Dogmatics

Monday 27th to Thursday 30 August 2007

Speakers include:

John Webster
Richard Bauckham
Henri Blocher
Bruce McCormack
Stephen Holmes

– all the greats

Rutherford House holds these conferences every other year. They are small, which means there is a good chance of some real discussion, and they are Scottish, which is nice.

But we need a nationwide forum for some real Christian dogmatics in the UK. So Rutherford House might think of widening participation and making this an annual conference. I wonder whether there should be a national organisation, perhaps with the words ‘evangelical’ and ‘theology’ in its title. On second thoughts, let’s stick with the word ‘Dogmatics’ – it is better than ‘evangelical’.