Thursday, June 3, 2010

Writing Histories Is Not a Plain Task

Historical literalism or positivism still seemingly abounds. Robert Taft, SJ that great liturgical scholar of history reminds us that histories are not mere expositions of the past without interpretation (not possible) but interpretations of the past that help us understand and create our present. In that sense, histories are related to tradition where tradition is not a mere handing on (replicative), but a handing over (developmental).

Histories both explain who we are and create how we are. More than one telling is possible. Tellings may be more or less careful with the past. Tellings may also require repudiation of our past, often by digging up some other portion of our inheritance or digging more deeply theologically.

That the Scottish Episcopal Church has a different telling of itself and its roots in Celtic Catholic history than the Church of England should not surprise us. Dig enough into the Welsh Church and you'll find as well a different telling from glorious England. The Cornish cry against Cranmer's insistence on English, for example, is not without recognition of a colonial imposition. After all, sermons and sometimes Scripture texts were read in Cornish in 1549. These tellings need not be understood as simple romanticizations or New Age-ery as others accuse, but tellings meant to distinguish and conserve, sometimes naively, other portions of our inheritance easily swallowed up by conformity--and hand over a spirit or ethos.

I would suggest that it is not merely a bishop that The Scottish Episcopal Church bequeathed to us. Our kin bequeathed to us a spirit or ethos born of non-establishment (and persecution) that places us in a different relationship to the social worlds we inhabit from that of the established Church of England of the time. A tension is created in relationship between Church and the social worlds we inhabit, and through time and events (slavery, for example) we learn that we cannot pretend that the Church can extract itself from our social worlds completely or naively. Through time and history, our own Episcopal Church has learned that the Spirit may not only correct our social worlds by means of the Church (and sometimes despite us), the Spirit may correct the Church by means of ourselves and the social worlds within which we find ourselves. Given need for correction, such complexity does not allow anything more than the contingent cry of the prophet--but a cry it must be.

The sermon by Bp Skinner preached at the consecration of Bp Seabury.

1 comment:

  1. It's rather interesting that the position of the Scottish Episcopal Church on civil authority that Bishop Skinner expressed originated from a century of persecution due to acknowledging the authority of the "wrong" temporal ruler rather than objections to intimate association with the civil authority. Indeed, James III ("The Auld Pretender") successfully appointed bishops in Scotland, which was pretty ballsy for a Roman Catholic.

    But it was remarkably good advice to a church that was not Established in Connecticut, likely was going to be disestablished in the States in which it was Established, and whose civil authority (in Connecticut) literally had edited the Crown out of the constitution with a few strokes of the pen. (Connecticut was governed by its colonial charter of 1662 until 1818.)

    That sermon couldn't be printed under Skinner's name, but it displays the theological work that grounded his campaign for toleration of the Scottish Episcopalian a few years later.