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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bush was right to veto the Iraq withdrawal bill

The war was stupid and wrong from the start. We (Americans, British, etc.) went into it on false pretences, and we have almost certainly done more harm than good. But we are there now. You can't just charge into a neighbor's house and make a mess and then run off. We have made ourselves reponsible for what happens. To withdraw unilaterally simply compounds the evil we committed by invading in the first place.

We must withdraw when and only when it is clearly the desire of the Iraqis as a whole that we do so. I would applaud Congress if it explored the question of whether Bush should be impeached for his dubiously constitutional actions in the conduct of the war, but it ought not and must not impose a timetable for withdrawal. Such an action will only embolden the insurgents. We had no right to invade in 2003, and we have no right to leave now. We can leave only when we are unambiguously told to do so by the Iraqis. It's no longer our decision.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pope Benedict praises Origen

After 1500 years, Origen gets a break. Pope Benedict dedicated his Wednesday audience to him, saying in part:


I invite you to welcome the teachings of this great teacher of the faith into
your hearts. He reminds us that in the prayerful reading of Scripture and in a
coherent way of life, the Church is renewed and rejuvenated. The Word of God,
which never ages or has its meaning exhausted, is a privileged way of doing
this. It is the Word of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, which leads us
always to the whole truth (cf. Benedict XVI, international congress for the 40th
anniversary of the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum," in Insegnamenti, vol. I,
2005, pp. 552-553). Let us ask the Lord to enable us thinkers, theologians and
exegetes of today to find this multidimensional nature, this permanent validity
of sacred Scripture. We pray that the Lord will help us to read the sacred
Scriptures in a prayerful way, to really nourish ourselves on the true bread of
life, his Word.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What is Anglicanism?

As the crisis in the Episcopal Church appears to be nearing a climax (but haven't we been saying this for years now?), one hears more and more virulent rhetoric on both sides. And the most common charge made by "reappraisers" and "reasserters" alike is that the other side has somehow betrayed what it means to be Anglican. These charges are made with great sincerity, and I think they are both correct--given the presuppositions with which each group is starting.

On the liberal ("reappraiser") side, the definition of Anglicanism is primarily methodological. Anglicanism is defined in terms of the "three-legged stool" of Scripture, reason, and tradition (a definition which I find either tritely obvious and common to all Christians, or completely ahistorical and false as a description of historic Anglicanism); or it is defined in terms of the independence of national churches (which I admit is a historic principle of Anglicanism, but which I believe has always been our Achilles' heel); or it is defined in terms of some vague principle of not being very assertive or confident about doctrine, and particularly not being fundamentalist (or anything that looks to a liberal Christian remotely like fundamentalism) in one's interpretation of Scripture. Obviously if Anglicanism is these things, then conservatives are betraying Anglicanism. That is to say, we do not believe that Scripture, tradition, and reason are equal and co-ordinate authorities for Christian doctrine (neither, of course, did Richard Hooker!). And we certainly treat doctrinal and Scriptural questions in a manner that seems too dogmatic and "fundamentalist" to the "reappraisers" (few if any American Episcopalians are anywhere near real fundamentalism, but by liberal standards many of us look fundamentalist). And it is certainly true that "reasserters" are becoming more and more convinced that the complete independence of national churches is fatal to any attempt to maintain a common Christian orthodoxy, and that we must have some structure of mutual accountability if Anglicanism is to be more than a gaggle of sectarian national churches each pursuing an agenda dictated by the local culture. (To the "reappraisers," I would hold up the Nigerian antigay legislation as an example of this--do you really think that Nigerian Christians should be allowed to support such legislation and still be part of the Anglican Communion? I don't.) Yes, this requires us to rethink the position taken by 16th-century Anglicans over against Rome. And apparently to some liberal Episcopalians this is the ultimate taboo. We cannot suggest that our spiritual ancestors might have been wrong in rejecting the concept of an international ecclesiastical authority. (Note--such a suggestion does not require us to accept every aspect of the RCC's understanding of that authority--papal infallibility, for instance. This is a common scare tactic used by liberals, and it's intellectually empty.) We can question every other doctrine of the English Reformation, but not this one. . . . .

Conservatives, on the other hand, see Anglicanism in terms of beliefs and liturgical practices. To "reasserters," it seems downright perverse to accuse people of being "un-Anglican" for wanting to develop new authority structures in order to defend traditional beliefs and practices. To conservatives, liberals appear to be fighting to keep the windowpanes intact while demolishing the building at its foundations.

Consider the very different way two retired bishops have been treated in the Episcopal Church. John Shelby Spong published "Twelve Theses" which rejected most of the things Christians have traditionally believed. He was never disciplined. But William Cox gets swift and speedy justice from the ecclesiastical courts for daring to administer the sacraments without the approval of the local bishop.

I have heard sermons in Episcopal churches implicitly comparing conservatives to the Pharisees of Jesus' day as described in the New Testament. But surely the privileging of questions of jurisdiction and canon over basic issues of faith and practice is as "Pharisaical" (in the traditional, pejorative Christian sense) as anything one can find on the conservative side.

That is not to say that the conservative flouting of canons is to be justified. There's something to the charge that the so-called "reasserters" are looking more and more like typical American Protestants out to start their own church. But they are doing this because the pursuit of theological, moral, and liturgical innovation by liberals has weakened or destroyed the hold of traditional Anglican structures and conventions on the volatile and individualistic minds of American Christians.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thoughts on Tanzania

Since every other Anglican blog has naturally been holding forth for the past few weeks about the Primates' meeting in Tanzania, and since I'm trying to get back into blogging, here are my thoughts:

I am encouraged by the fact that the Anglican Communion appears to be holding together and that it is moving toward some kind of structure of authority and accountability. But I can't get away from the question raised by liberals on the one hand and Catholics on the other: on what basis does the Anglican Communion claim authority to decide controversial questions? We aren't the Church Universal. We are an incidental outgrowth of the British Empire. Not that God couldn't use the British Empire to form His Church (one could, after all, describe Catholicism--that is, historic Christianity excluding the Nestorians and Monophysites--as an outgrowth of the Roman Empire). But we don't claim to be the Church.

So while it's good that we're struggling toward being Church, soberly we know that we are at best one fragment of the Church. In other words, I can't really take much comfort from the victory of "my" side--if we are really winning--not only because I have become increasingly sensitive to the pain that such a victory would bring to the "losers," but also because the controversy itself awakens the basic ecclesiological doubts that gnaw at me as an Anglican.

And, of course, it's quite possible that the communique won't mean much anyway.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lenten message from G. K. Chesterton

The two great parties in human affairs are only the party which sees life black against white, and the party which sees it white against black, the party which macerates and blackens itself with sacrifice because the background is full of the blaze of an universal mercy, and the party which crowns itself with flowers and lights itself with bridal torches because it stands against a black curtain of incalculable night. The revellers are old, and the monks are young. It was the monks who were the spendthrifts of happiness, and we who are its misers.

On Tuesday I was old--I ate pancakes and sausage.

For the past four days I have been learning slowly, painfully, haltingly to be young.
Every morning of Lent, if we are willing to receive the grace offered us, the winged messengers of repentance come to us from the fiery mountains of the sun and place in our mouths the fruit that takes away a little of our age. And when we have become as young as the child born yesterday, we will be ready for the dance of Easter.