Christopher has posted some very helpful observations on the the current Anglican issues. No, I’m not getting into those now, rather, he makes an important point in the realm of theology and morals that bears being lifted up.
Much of the struggle is focused on what constitutes acceptable sexual morality for Christians; that is, how do we employ our human sexual urges in light of the resurrection and the call of the Gospel?
The chief battleground seems to be the “traditional” mores most often defined by saying the only acceptable context for the expression of sexuality is in a lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. The Episcopal Left has called for moving from this standard; the Episcopal Right is for maintaining it. These things are well known.
The reason why I put “traditional” in scare-quotes above is because Christopher is lifting up something in Fr. Haller’s recent writings that I have also noted in my patristic and scriptural studies. “Traditional” Christian sexual ethics are far more complicated than one man and one woman. For quite a while it was assumed that the correct Christian moral stance was celibacy. For everyone. Don’t trust tradition? That’s fine—it’s in Scripture too. Check 1st Corinthians for starters. Marriage between one man and one woman wasn’t the ideal—it was the tolerated lesser of two options.
Furthermore, Jesus never promotes marriage—he just says that divorce is a bad deal. The best the Church Fathers could do was to note that Jesus attended the wedding at Cana thus showing he didn’t actively oppose the institution. Less well known in our day, however, is their identification of the apostolic evangelist John as the bridegroom—who, upon seeing the miracle of the water turned to wine, left behind his bride in their never-consummated marriage and lived his long life as a virgin. (Ælfric refers to this quite a number of times throughout his corpus, for example, as part of his argument for clerical celibacy…)
What I see Christopher doing is something that I haven’t seen the Episcopal Left do—at least not well. They propose doing away with current standards but I have not heard them talk in a clear and compelling manner about what should take their place. Christopher’s answer is to return to the virtue ethics inhabited by both Paul and the Fathers and to ask us to consider once again the meaning of Christian chastity.
The central hallmark of Christian chastity as found again and again in both Testaments of the canon is covenant faithfulness. Time and again, Scripture uses the metaphor of God the husband and Israel the bride; time and again the problem is infidelity and promiscuity—egregious breaches of the covenant. The images in Ephesians and Revelation of the Church as the bride of Christ participate fully within this thematic trajectory. The Church must be faithful to Christ her spouse and not be as Babylon. Christian marriage is acceptable in so far as it models the relationship between Christ and his Church and thus marked by self-giving love and fidelity—constancy.
Christian chastity is yet another virtue which—to my mind—is only capable of being cultivated within classical Benedictine lines: it can only flourish in an environment marked by stability, obedience, and conversion of life.
This, friends, this is the direction in which our discussion needs to move. What are the practices that faithfully reflect Christian chastity and how do we as congregations help engender and enable Christian chastity for those within our walls and common life?