bls has a nice rant up at her place that strikes some real chords with me. Here are a few things that jump out at me and how I’d address them:
The Episcopal Church is mad for “liturgy.” Over the top, really – that’s all we ever hear about, in fact. “Liturgy” this and “liturgy” that – everything seems to be about the parade and the pageantry.
Now, listen: I, like every Episcopalian, love a parade, and I do like pageantry. I love incense and chant and the whole drama. But I think in many ways this focus on “liturgy” is just a way of avoiding talking about content.
. . .
I would identify as an “Anglo-Catholic,” I think, generally speaking – on the basis of “liturgy.” That stuff really speaks to me – the smoke, the chant, the statuary, the movements, the reverence. I like it. I was rendered literally speechless – kind of choked in the throat, and not from the smoke – when I first saw it. And I agree that all this was meant to express a certain point of view – but I do wonder what, actually, the actual content is, at this point.
Ok—The way that I would say it is this: Despite what many people think, liturgy is not a means for avoiding content, rather, it’s a means for performing and embodying content. But that doesn’t mean that 1) we’re doing the liturgy well, 2) we’re doing the liturgy in such a way that lets the content speak, or 3) that those who know better are helping everyone else connect the dots. As she and I have discussed before, liturgy is a major key to all of this—but liturgy is not enough. I’ve repeatedly said about biblical interpretation, the act of interpretation has not been completed until someone’s habits have changed. It’s not enough to read the Scriptures. It’s not enough to come to an understanding. If there isn’t a lived change in your attitude to God, creation, and humanity, then you haven’t finished the job.
I’d say that the same is true of liturgy.
If your experience of God and your relationship with creation and your fellow creatures is not in the process of being transformed on the basis of what’s happening in the liturgy, something is not happening correctly. Process is important here—liturgical formation is a process not an event, and occasional periods of back-sliding is an inevitable part of the process, but if forward progress into love and virtue is not occurring when measured over a period of years, then something is off.
Liturgy is a means of embodying content. And there’s content there a-plenty: the creeds, the narrative of our failures and God’s constancy in the Eucharistic canons, intercession as a way of drawing the whole world into our view as part & parcel of our relationship with the divine, etc. But we’ve got to do the work to connect the dots and between what we do in worship, how this relates to what we believe, and how this changes how we act.
This means that people like me aren’t doing our job to the best of our abilities. We know how these things are supposed to fit together, and aren’t being as effective as we can be about communicating it!
Again from bls:
So I have to ask again: what is the content of our faith? Well, we don’t generally say, I think because we’ve been worried for a long time about offending people. But, as St. Paul has said pretty plainly: Christianity is offensive. There’s no getting around that; we’re not going to convince people that it’s of value by making it seem attractive or elegant or whatever the adjective happens to be. It’s offensive – so we’d better start talking about why that’s a good thing – why it’s a necessary thing – I’d say. And that means talking about content. (Listen: I myself am living proof of the idea that seeing and recognizing this “offensiveness” can lead to conversion! I’m sure I’m not alone.)
bls had this question up on her blog earlier and not many were willing to tackle it. The question was, how, in brief, to describe the purpose of the church to a non-believer without using churchy language. This was my go at it:
The point of the church is to bring the whole human family to acknowledge reality: that love is at the center of all that is, has been, and will be, (as revealed in perplexing particularity by Jesus, his self-sacrifice, and love’s inability to stay dead [which we call resurrection]) and that our greatest task on earth is to conform ourselves, our community, and our society to the virtues of love, compassion, and justice.
What we as religions and churches tend to argue about is precisely how we define “love” and how we order our lives and societies to best reflect how we understand those virtues.
(Readers of Evelyn Underhill will note a certain similarity here to what she writes in Practical Mysticism.)
Again from bls:
Those who’ve rejected Christianity are, in my experience, rejecting two things:
- The authoritarianism and hostility to reform of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Brain-dead evangelicalism.
But at least the RCC has tried to make a case. As I’ve said quite often before: I have RCC Catechism envy. I admire the massive intellectual tradition of the RCC, and its appeal to reason; it’s very unfortunate that all that has come along hand-in-hand with claims of “infallibility” and the authoritarian tendency. (By contrast, our feeble Catechism in the back of the 1979 Prayer Book is nothing except embarrassing, at least to me. More of a problem: it once again assumes prior acceptance of Christian claims. It has nothing to offer anybody who doesn’t already accept the basic claims of Christianity – and it doesn’t offer anything really interesting even in that case. “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”? OK – but could you please say a little something about these “inward and spiritual graces” that connects our minds with our hearts and souls, instead of just offering bland doctrinal summaries? Apparently we have nothing very deep or interesting too say on the topic, which is mighty sad.)
We need to make a case. Reformed Protestantism – it seems to me – speaks to the individual modern human psyche, in all its alienation and anxiety. It does have something important to say – but our case can’t be predicated on Biblical literalism or shallow, “personal salvation.” It can’t assume facts not in evidence; it must make an argument.
And, actually, I’d tie this line of questioning in with the whole set of questions around Anglo-Catholicism:
I would identify as an “Anglo-Catholic,” I think, generally speaking – on the basis of “liturgy.” . . . And I agree that all this was meant to express a certain point of view – but I do wonder what, actually, the actual content is, at this point. . . . And there’s no particular clue in that article, titled “What Is An ‘Anglo-Catholic’ Parish,” about anything else we might regard as content. It’s all about form: historical events and counter-reactions, and “ecclesiology” and “how we do things” – i.e., “liturgy.”
I have to believe that one of the major issues here is that Episcopalians who are Anglo-Catholic are going to have a different understanding about the core content of the faith than other Episcopalians. But what and why? There have been a lot of the shifts in the past few years. Many of those who identify as Anglo-Catholic have left and those of us who are still here have yet to take stock and claim our identity. We need to do it clearly and publicly. Most Episcopalians still think of us as “those people who like incense and Mary and closets and who don’t like women.” Is that who we are? If not, then who and what are we? I have some ideas but am still working them out.
I do believe that the Society of Catholic Priests is a good start in this regard. But I think we also need a lay movement that can provide an active and vocal presence to church discussions. What would/could/should this look like?
We need to make a case. “Mystery” and “mystification” are two completely different things; we really can retain the former and eliminate the latter, I believe.
Absolutely! The fact that God, the communion of the saints, the sacraments, resurrection life etc. are mysteries to be inhabited doesn’t mean that it’s ok to keep everything nebulous or to use those mysteries as an excuse for fuzzy thinking.
We do have things to offer – but we’re not saying anything that’s very interesting to anybody not already interested! (And sometimes not even to those of us who are, when you get right down to it. I mean, when we’re not talking about “liturgy” we’re talking about partisan politics – both of which get my eyes to glazing over these days.)
But the Gospel is very interesting – it’s speaking to some of the most basic facts about living life as a human being on earth – and we just can’t let the opportunity to talk about it go to waste.
I agree entirely!
Thank you, Derek (and bls). Good stuff. I would like to see you offer a description of a post-liberal, post-traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism.
Yeah – but I’m kind of down on the whole idea of “Anglo-Catholics have a different idea.” I mean, as the lady said: “There’s one Lord, Jesus Christ, and one faith. All the rest is a dispute over trifles.”
I mean: I get it, in some ways, and especially as regards “liturgy,” I suppose. But that’s just where the whole thing comes apart, in my view. That’s the whole problem! “Liturgy” comes out of the heart; it’s not what goes in!
OK, OK: prayers for the dead, invocation of saints, etc. But you know, these things are no longer the church-dividing issues that apparently they once were. And OK: I still run into Protestants that think Catholicism is of the devil or something. But not much in our church, really. Lots of Episcopalians are ex-Catholics anyway – and all those religious-war issues are kind of over in the here and now.
More to the point: Nobody outside the church knows anything about these issues! And obviously, not everybody in our church is an Anglo-Catholic – so it can’t be that we’re not all adherents to “one faith.” What we seem to have problems with, most often, is that in our church, the phrase “we don’t check our brains at the door” has come to mean “Hey, really: it can be anything you like!” (Lots of well-educated Protestants and Catholics would, I suspect, agree with each other against this approach! A big problem, at least in my experience, has been that many Episcopalians do not know either the Bible or the history – or else have a Jesus Seminar take on one or both, ignoring any deeper meaning and fixating on the surface of “fact.” Some are here because of our stance on the ordination of women and gay issues – which is altogether fine, IMO. But don’t they deserve to learn more about the faith, too? The Jesus Seminar stuff doesn’t go anywhere; it’s a complete dead end, in my view.)
There must be a common language and a common set of assumptions underneath our various disputes over trifles. I mean, the RCC agrees with the Evangelicals that we are “saved by grace”! So how can it be that Anglo-Catholics have, somehow, a whole different take on things? I don’t believe it! What’s so hard about starting from Grace? That is a whole topic in and of itself, deserving of years of thinking and writing.
Actually what I meant was that most Anglo-Catholics believe that the creeds are meant to be taken literally and that you don’t have to defend or qualify the statement that Jesus was both human and divine. There are other quarters in our church where those can’t be assumed as a given.
Oh, yes. Well, it IS helpful to start from a few basic axioms taken for given, as in mathematics. I suppose if we could just get the point across that the church has been there and done all that – like, 1600 years ago! – things would indeed be simpler. It’s that damn Jesus Seminar again.
Sorry; I misunderstood you there. Apologies.
I’m not so worried about that, though; that’s a problem of the current state of the church and its “religion popularizers” – but it’s not even a vague notion for people outside it, I bet. What I’m saying is that there are things we could be talking about which speak to ALL people: the story itself as the microcosm of human life; the notion of Divine Grace and forgiveness; Love that doesn’t die (as you pointed out on that other post); the need for Salvation; and yes: even Law vs. Grace. The parables are a huge mother lode, waiting to be mined.
All of these things are in need of fleshing out in (perhaps) a new way, or else need to be re-introduced in new language. I think we need, in some ways, to forget everything we think we know and see this from the point of view of the complete outsider: Paul wanted to be “all things to all people” – and still was able to preach the real Gospel. So can we.
What Derek said.
But are we? There comes a point when there isn’t enough shared to make a community. In my current community, I am very sure I and my husband are the only people present who think Jesus is in any meaningful way present in the Eucharist. And yet, there we are. One bread, one cup. Inessential? Not to me. I’m an Anglo-Catholic.
I’m not sure what your question refers to, Annie, or what you mean by asking “Inessential?” (I don’t think I ever used the word, so I can’t put my finger on what you’re speaking to….)
Sorry, but can you explain?
If I could presume to speak for Annie… I think what she’s getting at here is one of the classic distinctions that has always separated Anglo-Catholics from other Anglicans and that’s our high sacramental theology. For Annie and her husband, the real, true presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a theological essential; the rest of the congregation doesn’t see it that way—they believe it’s not an essential element.
Same holds for Baptism as Eucharist. We hold the line on Baptism before Eucharist because we take both of them seriously and because we understand them as transformative events where we do partake in the mystery of God. If they’re both just outward public symbols without a mystical reality behind and within them, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal…
But what does it matter what the rest of the congregation believes? It is quintessentially Anglican, I thought, to worship together without concerning ourselves with what our neighbor happens to believe; that was the whole point, originally. In any case, I still don’t understand what this is all in reference to. Is this about the QEI quote about “trifles”? That was in reference to religious war and schism! And that was how I was speaking of them. I don’t think the fact that a large part of the congregation believes something, or doesn’t, is really in the same category.
I’ve belonged to parishes that practice CWOB, but I’ve never for a minute considered leaving on that account. I know priests who have charge of parishes like that who’d rather not practice it, either. But they do it, because that is what the congregation has decided to do – and they still find a way to preach the Gospel. Even that is not a church-splitting issue.
Anyway: the situation doesn’t have to remain static. If what you believe is important to you – if it’s something you think would be valuable for others to know – then share it with them. This is exactly what I’m talking about here, about “making the case,” in fact! People can change, if they hear something that makes good sense to them, or touches them in some deep way.
Our common salvation is the central thing, in my view; at least – and that’s what we can speak to.
(Anyway, now we’re off “content” again, and back onto “liturgy” and “ecclesiology”! Ai yi yi. ;P
But here’s a question: having a “high view of the sacraments” assumes, once again, that 1) our church offers some actual content in its “teaching” (yes, those are scare quotes) about the various “views of the sacraments” – for instance, about the “real, true presence of Christ in the Eucharist” – and I don’t think it really does (at least, it sure doesn’t in our Catechism!); and 2) that people outside the church could possibly have any idea how to process this information (or, perhaps more accurately, this lack of information).
How does anybody arrive at a “high view of the Sacraments” if there’s no particular teaching about it? Where is this view coming from? What’s its actual meaning for somebody new to the church? How does it help us preach the Gospel in the Agora? All serious questions; inquiring minds want to know…..)
First off, “ecclesiology” is a label to define a certain portion of “content”—not a moving away from it!
I think part of what’s going on here is that we’re fussing around two different-but-related things. Your question was about proclaiming the Gospel and how we do that to those who haven’t heard it. Where I took it and where Annie’s picking it up is the sense that the Anglo-Catholic understanding of core “content” will be shaped a little differently from other folks in our church. We have a different perspective. And every denomination or identifiable church body will. A good Anglo-Catholic, Methodist, and Greek Orthodox will agree to a large part on the core content but will frame it differently and will insist on certain things the others simply won’t agree with—that’s why we have the different groups…
I think that the high sacraments question flows right into how I described core content above. I’ll flesh that out a little more in a subsequent post.
I’m working on it; it just might be a little while… :-)
To let you know where I’ll be heading, I refer you to my earlier “elevator pitch” on Christianity. The difference between what we’re trying to do with that and what we’re doing here is that the elevator pitch uses “churchy” language, this endeavor does not. Otherwise—same concepts, different words.
[ETA:] Another angle, coming at it from the question of pluralism is here.
Where I took it and where Annie’s picking it up is the sense that the Anglo-Catholic understanding of core “content” will be shaped a little differently from other folks in our church. We have a different perspective. And every denomination or identifiable church body will. A good Anglo-Catholic, Methodist, and Greek Orthodox will agree to a large part on the core content but will frame it differently and will insist on certain things the others simply won’t agree with—that’s why we have the different groups…
Well, the Methodists and Greek Orthodox have common confessions (or whatever the Orthodox have – I don’t really know). Their “faith content” is clear, elaborated upon right there in black and white, on paper.
What’s the content of the Anglo-Catholic perspective? Does anybody know? Doesn’t it all just….depend – upon the rector of a particular church, and possibly what he or she ate for breakfast this morning?
I’m not being snide or picking on you! I’m just trying to illustrate what I see as a central problem in our church; I’m actually asking these as serious questions. I’m pointing out that we have left a vacuum – a void – in the place of content that various factions rush in (or don’t) to fill with their own viewpoints. This is why (as I’ve just written in a follow-up post), the Jesus Seminar gets a hearing; it’s taking up space in the vacuum we left there. We do not teach anything in particular, except via rather bland and tame statements in the Catechism – all of which depend upon prior acceptance of the very first claim, that “We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.” The Catholic Catechism, though, says this: “By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works.” That’s a crucial difference! And the Catholic Catechism speaks to the human heart – attempting to describe in depth what life is like for us, and how we actually see things.
But we are not going to go that route in the Episcopal Church; we’re not going to create some great body of catechical teachings – and we probably couldn’t if we wanted to. It would take decades and maybe centuries. However, the adoption of Anglo-Catholic liturgical trappings churchwide has emphatically not resulted in the adoption of Anglo-Catholic faith content (whatever it happens to be!). I’m pointing out that the attempt to reform the church via liturgy has already “been tried and found wanting,” from my point of view. Membership continues to decline. It’s just not working.
So I’m suggesting we try something else. Specifically, I’m suggesting we re-learn how to preach the Gospel to people so that it makes sense to them.. It is entirely possible to do this as an Anglo-Catholic, BTW; St. Francis, anybody? St. Paul? I don’t think they would be classified as “having a different perspective,” would they? They were trying to preach the Gospel, simply put. The reason the church is in such a sorry state is that there’s hardly any Gospel in it anywhere. The Gospel is the thing we all have in common. And that is not a matter of liturgy – or of perspective, really, either. The Good News is the Good News: life-giving salvation. If we can speak to people’s broken hearts, we have something to offer. If we can’t: well, we just don’t, IMO.
(I will acknowledge that I consider myself (sort of) an Anglo-Catholic – likely because I am possessed of a desire to experience reverence, and have a hankering for the holy, which can hardly be satisfied anywhere else these days in our church. Perhaps you identify with this?
Anglo-Catholic parishes do tend to emphasize those things, I’ll agree! They are throwbacks to a former era in that way. But liturgy comes out of those desires; it can’t inculcate them. And Anglo-Catholics don’t have a corner on a desire for the holy; Evangelicals offer it, too – and of course, so do the Greek Orthodox – both along with a host of other things that are potential problems for us, of course!
But even I don’t know what the content of “Anglo-Catholicism” actually consists of. I do think I understand what the Gospel is about, though….)
(Can I just add one more thing? Some of the things you guys are arguing here for as markers of a specifically “Anglo-Catholic” viewpoint – “Real Presence,” for instance, and “belief in the historic Creeds” – are, or have been, actually just normative Anglicanism!
We shouldn’t even be having that discussion, IOW. Those are baseline markers, not anything like a “different perspective”! (To illustrate: Sydney Diocese is considered a sort of weird outlier in the Anglican Communion, yes?)
IOW, the bar has, without anybody really noticing it, been majorly lowered. If those things are peculiarly “Anglo-Catholic” now, it’s simply another indication that we are not teaching anything in TEC. The bar can’t really get any lower, in fact – because what’s left to throw out?)
Well, the Methodists and Greek Orthodox have common confessions (or whatever the Orthodox have – I don’t really know). Their “faith content” is clear, elaborated upon right there in black and white, on paper.
That’s the thing, though–they don’t as far as I know. That’s one reason why many Anglicans have looked hopefully towards the Orthodoxen; because, in a sense, we too are (or were) a regional church defined by our liturgy rather than catechisms and confessions or the say-so of the bishop of Rome.
One of the best formulations of Anglo-Catholic belief is that we hold the faith (not the discipline) of the Undivided Church—so, what was believed by both East & West by 1054. Thus, the clearest documents to point to are the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Classic Anglicanism accepts the first 4 as those are when the main doctrinal items were hammered out.
Some of the things you guys are arguing here for as markers of a specifically “Anglo-Catholic” viewpoint – “Real Presence,” for instance, and “belief in the historic Creeds” – are, or have been, actually just normative Anglicanism!
Actually, no… Historic Creeds, yes, but remember the official statements on the Eucharist in the 39 Articles. The idea in Article 29 that the wicked don’t receive Christ in the Bread and Wine is Receptionism, a belief that only the spiritual really receive Jesus and that the unspiritual only get bread.:
Well, consider: “orthodox” literally means “right belief”! In my experience, that is the one and only essential condition of conversion: you must actually hold to the faith, and profess that you do to the priest who’s going to be chrismating or baptizing you. Also consider that you must actually be Orthodox to be eligible to partake in the Sacraments. So I disagree with you there; the Orthodox hold that belief is very important – and they teach that it hasn’t changed since Apostolic times.
As for the 39 Arts.: they are now considered “historical documents” and have been for while, as far as I know – until the recent Evangelical resurgence, that is. But, OK: let’s say, instead, “normative Anglicanism” for the past 200 years or so – after the Oxford Movement, maybe?
I wonder how many people actually know what’s in the documents of the 7 Ecumenical Councils? That’s pretty arcane stuff. I also wonder how many who identify as Anglo-Catholic would answer the way you did – any idea?
Hmm, I generally identify as Anglo-Catholic, but I’ve sometimes been told that my particular views are unique. I’d say that the necessary content of the faith can be found by reading the liturgies of the church, especially the Eucharist, and taking what is said fairly literally. Of course, paying attention in church is a viable alternative. Once we get beyond that basic level of content, I think the most important question is “how do you live”. Ideally, Christians as a group should be notable for the high quality of their behavior, even in the judgment of unbiased non-christians.
Actually, liturgy does “inculcate” or enact at least a mesh of meanings making. For example, if we bow ourselves before receiving, or if we kneel at the elevation, this suggests something different than not doing so given particular cultural understandings of these postures and gestures.
Well, you are right there, Christopher – except that, for instance, Rite II has no required postures, and in addition we live in a church-shopping culture. People who want to bow and kneel are most often going to find parishes where that’s the standard routine – or go to Rite I services, which are pretty thin on the ground anyway. Or, if they don’t mind “sticking out” as the only ones who do it at a particular parish or service – it’s because they already feel a deep need to do so. But people who don’t (or wont’) kneel will never have to.
It’s inward-out, not outward-in – at least in our church. Don’t you think?
Actually rite II does require certain postures in its rubrics. There are options in certain instances like after the Sanctus it says “the people stand or kneel”, but in other instances it has rubrics with no alternatives. Before the gospel it has “Then, all standing, the Deacon or a Priest reads the Gospel, first saying”.
I think that Chris has a point that we stand for the Gospel means something. That we kneel or stand also have definite meanings. We haven’t done a very good job of explaining these things, but doesn’t mean that they have no meaning.
I have been pondering these issues, and I think we need to focus on two things to fix this problem. These are all things that come from a pre-Christendom practices. We need to focus on evangelism and catechizing. A refocusing on the catechumenate I think is a good way to do this.
I have several friends who have become Orthodox and this is one thing they do very well. The Orthodox do not like the Roman Catholics have a huge magisterial catechism that explains everything yet they are able to impart what they believe. They do this by pointing to the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils, and most importantly their Liturgy.
Yes, Rite II asks us to stand – but never to kneel or bow. I should have been more specific that I was speaking to the issues that Christopher had mentioned. I looked it up myself afterwards, because I’d thought Rite I Communion did ask for people to kneel – but it seems that isn’t true (unless I missed it); it says either nothing, or gives an option for standing or kneeling. You have to go back to the 1928 to see a requirement for kneeling in the Communion service (although I believe both Rite Morning and Evening Prayer ask for kneeling specifically).
(The Orthodox church still has the authority to pronounce anathemas for heresy, BTW:
I’m kind of thinking that sort of thing wouldn’t fly in good ol’ TEC…. ;-) )
I have read the ROCOR anathema against “ecumenism”. I know that we are uncomfortable with that language. Which is why there’s some discomfort with the Athanasian Creed in our church.
The BCP is a work of compromise, and is in some sense a minimalist document. For example, if it had required bowing or genuflecting, or the elevation, etc evangelicals could never have signed on to it. It’s a comprehensive Anglican document like BCPs that came before.
What I meant, though, was that “anathema” – the casting out of the church of persons for heresy – is, from what I know, very much a live option in Orthodoxy. It’s not just language; it’s actively on the table. We probably won’t ever do that – I can’t see it happening anymore, although I guess there was a heresy trial not long ago in TEC (was it over the gay issue? Ironically – and of all things! – I think so!).
But we can’t depend on “enforcing” anything; as you say, the BCP – our liturgy – is all about compromise. Thus: we need to make an active, apologetic case for Christianity – one that can speak to people’s minds and hearts, that they can weigh in both those locations, and judge for themselves.
Using words, I’m afraid. For people who come from a love of the English language, via Cranmer and the Prayer Book, I’m really not sure how we’ve come to be so tongue-tied when it comes to the content of the faith…..
(I do really think, as I’ve said, that it’s a loss of confidence in the Gospel itself. And I think that’s simply, basically, because we don’t think of ourselves anymore as “we who are being saved”: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I don’t think we think about ourselves that way anymore.
How we go to this place is a ‘nother question….)