I was reflecting upon the whole denomination discussion below, especially in light of Annie’s comments. I typically keep audiences in mind when I write, and I find that when I write on denomination/doctrine issues I often think of Annie and Anastasia; Annie reminds me to bear in mind an openness to the Spirit and the Jesus who steadfastly resisted the religious authorities’ attempts to nail him–and the God he proclaimed–down. Anastasia reminds me of the value of hierarchy, the weight and responsibility of the faith handed down from and by the saints, and the need for process and protocol when it comes to matters of doctrine. (The rest of y’all are floating around in there too–they’re just the two edges on *this* topic…)[Update: It just occurred to me how this title and paragraph could be construed…Annie and Anastasia are NOT the two heretics of the title; they show up down below…]
In a way, I want to uphold the value of both positions because there are truly important things that we need from both. The bottom line for me is that an openness to God is essential; the church should not be in the business of squelching anything and everything for the sake of institutional self-preservation (and yes–that goes for liberal churches too…). On the other hand, good theology is also important. We take this God stuff seriously for a reason and we need to have a good sense of what we do and don’t believe and why and how that participates in the openness towards God. Note that I don’t say “precise” or even “correct” theology. These adjectives seem to me to lack way too much humility. So–I’ll settle for “good” taking two sense of the word: more-or-less internally consistent and one that highlights the practice and presence of the virtues. (Needless to say, my starting point for this is the Triune God known through Jesus as explicated in the creeds.)
In some sense I’m arguing for an openness with controls. You’ve gotta have them or else things get *really* wacky. Want an example? I’m a fan of St Boniface. A good English boy originally named Wynfrið, he is the Apostle to the Germans and was the first Archbishop of Mainz. Despite the apostolic toitle, Germany had been a mission-field for quite a while before he arrived. Much of his work was in organizing the Christian presence there, and he did this with a decidedly Roman notion of organization and papal authority. Thus, he did a lot of running around and yelling about clerical celibacy which was big in Rome and not so big on the edges of the empire.
One of my favorite sections of his correspondence is the record of the Synod of 25 October 745, Condemning Aldebert and Clemens. Here, Boniface had apprehended two bishops who he was arraigning on heresy charges. Let’s read about the second one first…
The other heretic, whose name is Clement, is opposed to the Church, denies and refuses to acknowledge the sacred canons and rejects the teaching of the holy Fathers St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Gregory. He despises all synodal decrees and declares on his own authority that, even though he has had two children born to him during his episcopate, he can still exercise the functions of a Christian bishop. He accepts the Old Testament ruling that a man can if he wishes, marry his brother’s widow and considers that the same doctrine is applicable to Christians. Contrary to the teaching of the Fathers, he affirms that Christ descended into hell to deliver all those, believers and unbelievers, servants of Christ as well as worshippers of idols, who were confined there. On the question of predestination he holds a number of damnable opinions which are contrary to Catholic belief.
So, this guy is for clerical–even episcopal–marriage, universal salvation, relaxed views on marriage laws, and takes a dim view towards the Church Fathers. This guy could be a time-traveller from our House of Bishops… I sometimes feel a little uneasy about this particular ecclesiastical smackdown. Given the way rhetoric and prosecutors function, I wonder how far outside the pale Clement really was or if the other issues were hopped up to add to the seriousness of the episcopal marriage problem. Clement makes me wonder about the abusive potential of the hierarchical system.
Then there’s the first guy…
Of Aldebert they say that I have deprived them of a saintly apostle and robbed them of a patron and intercessor, a doer of good deeds and a worker of miracles. But hear first the story of his life and judge for yourself whether or not he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Quite early in life he deceived many people by saying that an angel in the guise of a man had brought him from the other end of the world relics of extraordinary but rather suspect holiness, and that through their efficacy he could obtain from God whatever he desired. By such pretence he was able by degrees, as St. Paul says, to make his way into house after house, captivating weak women whose consciences were burdened by sin and swayed by shifting passions. He also deceived great numbers of simple folk who thought that he was a man of truly apostolic character because he had wrought signs and wonders. He bribed ill-instructed bishops to consecrate him, in defiance of canon law and, finally, with unbridled arrogance, put himself on the level of the Apostles. He insolently refused to consecrate churches to the honour of the Apostles and martyrs and used to ask people what they expected to gain by going on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles. Later, he dedicated small chapels to himself – or, to speak more truthfully, desecrated them. In the fields or near springs or wherever he had a mind he erected crosses and small chapels  and ordered prayers to be recited there. As a result, throngs of people absented themselves from the established churches, flouted the injunctions of the bishops and held their services in those places, saying: ‘The merits of St. Aldebert will help us.’
“He distributed his hair and fingernails for veneration and had them carried round in procession with the relics of St. Peter the Apostle. Finally, he committed what I consider to be the greatest crime and blasphemy against God. Whenever anyone came to him and fell at his feet desiring confession he would say: ‘I know all your sins: your secret deeds are open to my gaze. There is no need to confess, since your past sins are forgiven. Go home in peace: you are absolved.’
“In his dress, his bearing, his behaviour., in fact, in all the details described by Holy Scripture, he imitated the hypocrites.
My own fingernails will be on sale on eBay shortly…
The document continues during the second session:
When he came in, Zacharias, the holy and blessed Pope, said: “Bring forward the life-story of the infamous man Aldebert, together with his writings which you had in your hands at the last session, and cause them to be read out before the present gathering.” Then Theophanius, the regional notary and treasurer, took them and read aloud the following opening sentences:
“In the name of Jesus Christ. Here begins the life of the holy and blessed servant of God, Bishop Aldebert, born by the will of God. He was sprung from simple parents and was crowned by the grace of God. For Whilst he was in his mother’s womb the grace of God came upon him, and before his birth his mother saw, as in a vision, a calf issuing from her right side. This calf symbolized the grace which he had received from an angel before he came forth from the womb.”
. . .
Denehard, the priest, answered: ” I have a letter here which he made use of in his teaching, saying that it was written by Jesus and came down from heaven.”
Then Theophanius, the regional notary and treasurer, took it up and read out the following words:
“In the name of God. Here begins the letter of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, which fell from heaven in Jerusalem  and was discovered by the archangel Michael near the gate of Ephraim. This very copy of the letter came into the hands of a priest named Icore, who read it and sent it to a priest named Talasius in the city of Jeremias. Talasius passed it on to another priest Leoban, who was living in a town of Arabia. Leoban sent the letter to the city of Westphalia, where it was received by a priest Macrius. He sent the letter to Mont St. Michel. In the end, through the intervention of an angel, the letter reached Rome, even the tombs of the Apostles, where the keys of the kingdom of heaven are. And the twelve dignitaries who are in the city of Rome fasted, watched and prayed for three days and three nights,” etc.
From the third:
When he had come in, Zacharias, the Pope, said: ” Have you any other writings belonging to those renegades which you ought to hand over to be read? ” Denehard, the priest, replied: ” Yes, my Lord. I have a prayer which Aldebert tried to compose for his own use. Here it is in my hand. Pray, take it.”
And Theophanius, taking it, read it aloud, beginning with the following words:
“O Lord, Omnipotent God, Father of Christ, the Son of God., and our Lord Jesus Christ, alpha et omega, who sittest on the seventh throne above the cherubim and seraphim, immense love and wonderful sweetness is with Thee. O Father of the holy angels, who hast created heaven and earth, the sea and all the things that are in them, I invoke Thee, I cry out and summon thee to my aid, wretch that I am. Thou hast deigned to say: Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that will I give. To Thee I pray, to Thee aloud I cry, to the Lord Christ I commend my soul.”
And as he was reading from beginning to end, he came to the passage where it said: “I pray and entreat and besecch you, angel  Uriel, Raguel, Tubuel, Michael, Adinus, Tubuas, Sabaoc, Sirniel. .. .”
When he had read this sacrilegious prayer to the end, Zacharias, the Pope, said: ” What is your comment upon this, dear brethren? 11 The holy bishops and venerable priests replied: ” What else can we do except consign these writings, which have been read out to us, to the flames and to strike their authors with anathema? The names of the eight angels whom Aldebert invokes in his prayer are., with the exception of Michael, not angels but demons whom he has called to his aid. As we know from the teaching of the Apostolic See and divine authority, there are only three angels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. He has introduced demons under the guise of angels.”
There’s a problem with Aldebert. This guy should not be a bishop–and I really don’t think that I’m quenching the Spirit when I say that; he’s just wierd. What take from Aldebert is that there is a reason why we have to have boundaries on our beliefs. An openness to the Spirit is essential but we have to be able to say when some one has gone too far and crossed that line. To my mind, Aldebert is a fairly clear-cut case. But what about Clement? And who lies between Clement and Aldebert?
And how do we tell the difference between a heretic and a prophet? Take Jeremiah and Ezekiel–the religious leaders thought they were total nuts and they *did* act quite strangely at times too, but we declare that they were men of the Spirit.
Naturally enough, this topic leads to Spong, Pike et al. I’m not gonna take that up today. Where do–where should–the boundaries of hierarchy and theology lie–and who gets to make the call?