Sunday, March 7, 2010

Qualities of Sanctity and Criteria for Selection

In his piece, "Holy Women, Holy Men, a different definition of sanctity," Derek points us to two different sets of criteria for determining our Sanctoral calendar.

As he notes, one set is concerned with what salvation in us might look like, that is, what are qualities of mature Christian faith and discipleship, that is, sanctity. It is a sketch, but one that is rich enough to encompass a multitude of worthies. The other is concerned with process to provide a variety of models for the community.

On the surface, it could seem we have two competing notions of sanctity or even commemoration. At first, I would hazard to say a more Catholic and a more Protestant version. But that is not, in fact, quite right. In fact, one set is concerned with sanctity, the other with selectivity.

In my own dissertation research one of the things I discovered is that Anglicanism as a whole, whether from our more Reformed or our more Catholic emphases, has never let go of the goal of Christian life as increase in Christ, sanctity, that is, salvation once-for-all wrought in Jesus Christ now being worked out in each of us here and now in our flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, especially through the regular, public life of the Church.

What Anglicanism has done is reestablish the Ground upon which salvation might be worked out in us at all, namely, Jesus’ once-for-all self-gift who is always present to us and especially so through public prayer and the Dominical Sacraments. Our imitation of Christ does not flow out of a need to purchase salvation or plead our case, but out of our receiving salvation once-wrought, Love’s own purchase of us particularly received in Holy Baptism and renewed in Holy Communion.

That is why our imitation is never aping, either of Christ or of the Saints. The former because he has in himself and does now make available salvation, the new humanity, in all times and in all places always--notably, liturgically. Redemption is finished and draws nigh to us that we might be made new in our selves. The latter because we are each particular persons, so salvation working himself out in us will not look precisely the same in any of us. We do not know ahead of time where Sin has touched us all the ways down, we can only know that in hindsight as we grow in him. We do not know in advance those gifts we are given for the whole, aptly given but unable to release, except in him who by his Spirit releases us to live for the life of the world.

Nevertheless, we do know something of what Christ-likeness looks like. And this raises the sanctity question. The sanctity question is this: What does salvation look like in us? The fruits of the Spirit are a good place to start. Expansion by considering other virtues continues in this trajectory. We have learned, for example, that a particular Anglican gift and virtue is theology wrought in verse and other poetic forms. If any one thinks it easy to write poetry praising God who works in the midst of things, and hence, not a virtue sharpened, take it up for a day. A number of worthies, Herbert, Donne, and others well-serve. Courage is another, and Bonhoeffer serves us well on this score.

What this tells me is that any set of criteria primarily concerned with sanctity will examine gifts, fruits, and virtues. Set one goes precisely in this direction. Now if our concern is what is commemoration, that is, whether commemoration is of those past who we are to consider as role models for their gifts, fruits, and virtues they commend to us or whether it is recognition of living relationship with those in the heart of God whom we honor for the gifts, fruits, and virtues they commend to us, then we have a different matter to consider (and different prayers). Nevertheless, just as with sanctity, whether our understanding of commemoration is more Reformed or more Catholic, qualities persist as reason for selection. (And I have to admit that my bias is toward relationship with living persons in the heart of God who inspire me to aspire to beauty in its most graced and expansive sense.)

What strikes me, therefore, is that the second set of criteria to which Derek directs us is actually neither classically Reformed, nor classically Catholic on either count (sanctity or commemoration), and certainly, not that of the Reformed Catholicity to which I assign broad Anglicanism. A Reformed Catholicity by which I mean that the starting point for our theology is God’s love for us revealed in Jesus Christ rather than our own sinfulness, and by which I mean that this Love will change us.

No, the second set strikes me as Liberal Protestant of a most modern form, concerned with what read as quotas, more than qualities.

Now, it is very true that in the whole of Church history, laypersons, married persons, women, and others, who otherwise might qualify for our various sanctoral calendars, have been given short shrift. Again, not necessarily for lack of sanctity. Prejudices and one-sided understandings of sanctity, not to mention politics, have at times driven the process. We do need to be mindful in a tradition that is rooted in homely divinity that we should expect those living quite ordinary lives to be exemplars of grace. We should expect in a tradition that is meant for all, that is common, that we would find sanctity among all sorts and conditions. And we can expect that virtues properly understood show many sides. Humility, for example, is multifaceted depending on the person in whom it is manifest. Diversity should abound in oneness. After all, grace is many-splendored. And we want to encourage all sorts and conditions to holiness.

So, we have to be mindful that our selectivity has sometimes been touched by Sin. Yet, nevertheless, our Sanctoral will be selective if it is to keep in mind the concern to retain our principle Sunday Holy Communion and Daily Office cycle rather than revert to former trends that saw the Church Year so clogged up with saints days as to have central feasts overtaken by minor fasts. Solutions to the blessing of having many worthies may be to provide possibilities for local observance while retaining a pared down Provincial Sanctoral. Others include ordering of festivity.

Again, the second set speaks to some considerations for selectivity in light of past problems rather than to sanctity per se.

At the end of the day, it would seem to me, if selectivity criteria overtakes sanctity criteria, however, we run into the possibility of altogether losing sight of the purpose of the Sanctoral. In an effort to correct for selectivity touched by Sin, the very Liberal Protestant tradition that looks to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement among others, that lauds social justice and equality, ends up undoing the heart of their own message—that all are capable of Christlikeness, of Godly character, that is, of sanctity. We are left not with a sense that persons of all sorts and conditions might rise to the occasion through increase in character by the power of the Spirit, but that persons of all sorts and conditions are fine as we are (that Love need not change us) and thus equally worthy of consideration for the sanctoral irrespective of actual character of life, sometimes irrespective of actual Christian profession of faith. Without qualities such an equality ends up undoing equity, removing the necessity of a sanctoral for a Church Militant seemingly already arrived. A too realized rather than inaugurated eschatology pertains if this set is pushed. And we end up no longer looking for what salvation looks like as wrought in this life—in our life—here and now.

The solution to our calendrical problems, in my opinion, is not a set of quotas, but a set of qualities and a contingent yet coherent selectivity process. A quota mentality is the spirit of the age found both left and right and sometimes middle, that reduces persons to a portion of her or his identity irrespective of the qualities of her or his discipleship and the content of her or his character and the fruits of her or his faith. The solution is to inspire all Christians—black and white and red and brown and yellow, male and female and intergendered, rich and poor and middle and working class, married and partnered and single and professed, American and Nigerian and Malaysian and Aborigine, gay and lesbian and straight and bisexual and asexual—to discipleship, to character, to fruits. A proper set of sanctoral criteria sketch out for us what Christ might look like in each and all of us while leaving room for God to shape us each particularly and personally using the gifts he has given us for the work he has given us to do for the sake of the whole Church and world. We must begin there before turning to selectivity.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Gal. 5:22-23.