Friday, November 5, 2010

Not Mere Subscription, But Wholly Formation

I do not dip as much into Anglican controversies anymore.

I do have serious reservations about the proposed Anglican Covenant, most recently expressed in a two-part piece that my academese made incomprehensible. In short, I do not think it adequately makes room for our peculiarly and messy contextual catholicity, what we have often called "comprehension." Part I and Part II.

A coalition formed to oppose the proposed Anglican Covenant is now underway. There is much to commend it as Fr. Haller notes.

And I do share many misgivings about this proposed Anglican Covenent, not rejection of any possible covenant whatsoever, and while I will continue to raise questions of this proposal, offer my disagreement, and make common partnership, I cannot join this coalition for these words, "We believe in an Anglicanism based on a shared heritage of worship, not on a set of doctrines to which all must subscribe."

We have here a misunderstanding, if not decoupling, of liturgy and doctrine as they function in Anglican tradition, as if the one can be divorced from the other. Doctrine, especially that which we call Core Doctrine, in our tradition is not merely propositional or dry (or dead) teaching, but living and relational presentation and proclamation of Presence, more so, of Persons in relation to us. In that same way, liturgy is not merely a shared heritage, but some common sense and praying of Who God is, Who God is for and with us, and Who we are in God. It is ironic to me that both many defenders of doctrine and many detractors of doctrine seem to fail to see their shared similarity of making doctrine something merely black-on-white, something objectified and cardboard, in contrast to common praying, to living relationship that is doctrine and liturgy.

So, while we do not always agree, and we do not on the problems of the present proposed Anglican Covenant, Fr. Owen is right to point out problems with this divorce of doctrine and liturgy.

That is, doctrine is a living reality of among others, God to us, us to God, we to one another, as liturgy. That is not to say that these central or Core presentations and proclamations cannot be expressed in different ways, languages, idioms, or even liturgies. They have been and will continue to be so, as we share these central with the Whole Church Catholic as summed in our profession of living trust in the God who is this way and this way with us, the Nicene Creed.

And so our liturgies, for each is a happening and more so for we have allowable variety, even in our set praying, present and proclaim precisely about Who God is, Who God is for and with us, and Who we are in God. This includes language of Trinity, Incarnation, Creation, Consummation, Salvation by no merit of our own just to name a few. That is to say, Anglicanism does involve shared doctrines, which inscribe us.

As an example, take the last, Salvation. To notice doctrine by contrast, just compare the collects for many Saints feast days as found in the Roman Rite (or Sarum) to those found in Anglican liturgies. While the former often appeal to merits of the Saint, the latter always close on Christ's merits only. That is a peculiarly Anglican way of handling Reformation reforms, as is the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer. We did not throw out the Communion of Saints (all the living in Christ--i.e., the living and the dead), but we did make of it again a companionship and communion, even an intercessory companionship and communion, in Christ rather than a patronage or mediation to Christ.

On the contrary, then, Anglican Christianity is peculiar precisely because we have the audacity to declare that our confession is praying. Our whole selves at prayer are formed by Who God is, Who God is for and with us, and Who we are in God: To you, O Christ.


  1. Thank you, Christopher. One thing that is rarely noted in our rush to proclaim our [past] unity in the Book of Common Prayer is the rather notable divergence between the eucharistic prayers (surely the most important, and central) of the churches following the 1662 tradition and those following the 1549 tradition (via Scotland and the US). The fact that early drafts of the Covenant were entirely blind to this (only referencing the 1662 "line of succession") tipped the hat in what I would call a distinctly deficient eucharistic model -- one that could not help but countervale a truly organic "communion" between liturgy and doctrine.

  2. Nice one, Christopher. I've gotten used to being a fish out of water in the Anglican world, never fitting in with any of the "factions."

    Well, except the one you're describing here, that is. The sad thing about the general dissing of Core Doctrine is that Core Doctrine is the most fascinating, amazing, energizing stuff in the world! I can't understand why anybody would want to get distance from it, myself.

    As for the 1662? Why in the world should U.S. Episcopalians all of a sudden view this particular version as our "Common heritage" - when we never used it here? It's truly bizarre.

    But, that's life in Anglican politics these days. That's why I'm paying more attention to other things, I guess....

  3. Fr Tobias, Oh, no, I'm well aware that our inheritance is multiple. And I think because folks do no understand the proclamatory thrust of 1662 versus the continued presentation-proclamatory interpretive possibilities of 1549, we may not see where they share resonances. And we have gotten ourselves into a bind by thinking Antiochene-shaped prayers are the only proper and non-deficient prayers. Cranmer did not see a theological difference between 1549 and 1552. He had an intent, we have interpretations and refinements.

    I would not say that this relationship is one-to-one, and cannot be so for Anglicans if for no other reason than that our peculiar catholicity allows for variety at least across Provinces, but rather that there is a certain broken-open-ness in the relationship. You cannot have a variety of praying, and multiple eucharistic prayers, as our own Episcopalian BCP does and not have a more canonical, varietal, broken-open contexted catholicity. As I've said, we have had American Reformations, elsewhere other Reformations are underway, and we may be experiencing some reforms again ourselves. But some things are shared, such as core matters and I would include in this what is implied across our prayers, salvation by grace or what we might say in modern idiom, God's unearned love in Christ or a gift or participatory soteriology in Hooker's sense. How these are articulated liturgically may vary. And hence, I walk a very fine line between the formation of our BCP and welcoming experimentation. That is a shift of openness on my part.

    Now, we've had long fights between our Reform-minded and our Arminians. What folks may not note whether they fall more on the monoenergist or synergist scale is that there is a difference between a final recognition of God's unearned love as conquering all, including death which clearly we cannot of ourselves, and how that is appropriated in our lives here and now, how salvation once wrought, works himself out in us are two related but distinct matters. The former is concerned with doctrinal theology, the latter with ascetical theology. The one concerned with the Pattern, the other with the working out of the Pattern in particularities. At the end of the day, Anglicans throw ourselves on God's mercy, to quote our Rite I prayer

  4. Thank you for this, Christopher.

  5. Noticed you participating in a historical jesus thread that my posts are no getting through to, so I thought I would post you directly.

    I would say the two best books in history jesus study are Schweitzer’s _the quest of the historical jesus_, and Struass’s _the life of jesus critically examined. Both freely available to read on line

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET