Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Addendum: Pontifex Means Bridge-Builder; or, A Church of Seekers

This is just an addendum to my post of a couple days ago, fleshing out some of the specific implications of that the vision I presented there, and general random thoughts spun off from that. I'm really not intending to update this blog much anymore, but a month or so ago when I was in transition, I promised readers I would flesh out these thoughts regarding the evolution of my philosophy and attitudes (I'm also supposed to do a post on my new outlook for interpreting morality/virtue ethics, but I feel I have to be delicate with that one...) and perhaps it's most honest before I disappear entirely to show where my mind and soul are headed. But this post is going to be very scattered.

In terms of my thoughts about pluralism and inter-communion the other day, I had the idea that one major implication of this might be: letting the Ordinariate (for Anglicans) remain in communion with other Anglo-Catholic groups (ie, who aren't part of the Ordinariate or in communion with Rome) even while the Ordinariate itself remains in communion with Rome. The idea would basically be like the Eastern Catholics I mentioned in their dealings with local Orthodox churches. The Ordinariate Anglicans would accept all of Rome's dogmas, all her "essentials" personally, and so could be in communion with Rome. But I don't think it should be forced to see Rome's essentials for communion as essential for communion with themselves. So, for example, they submit to re-ordination and such so that they're meeting Rome's minimum definitions of sacramental validity, etc. But they could perhaps, among themselves, still recognize the ministry of Anglo-Catholic priests even who haven't come into communion with Rome. So they would be in communion with both, even though Rome and the Anglicans would not be "directly" in communion with each other.

So, like the Eastern Catholic churches to the Orthodox, the Ordinariate could serve as a sort of "bridge" to the Anglicans with the "overlapping horizons of communion" I discussed. Maybe Rome and the Anglicans aren't "friends" directly. But if they have a "mutual friend," then in a certain sense the system is still "open," the Christian community is still meaningfully unified in a very real sense. Isn't this what a bishop is supposed to do as a pontifex? To build bridges? And especially the Pope in his Ministry of Unity? If Rome can be in communion with the Ordinariate, who in turn is allowed to be in communion with other Anglo-Catholic groups, who in turn might be in communion with mainline Anglicanism, who in turn are in communion (I believe) with certain Lutheran groups...well, then the Christian community is still connected by these overlapping horizons of communion.

Anglicanism already does this, of course, with its "big tent." Liberal American Episcopalian and traditional African churches within the communion are basically diametrically opposed to each other, and yet both are in communion with the Church of England which tries to act as a mediator (and, possibly, could serve as a "mutual friend" even if those two later lost communion). I also think of the situation within Eastern Orthodoxy where, for example, the ROCOR was not in communion with Moscow for many years, and yet there were other Orthodox churches that they both were still in communion with, so the church as a whole was not ruptured. 

Within Catholicism, one might think of the spectrum on "traditionalist questions." A Liberal might consider an issue (let's say, "religious liberty") to be practically dogma. They don't consider the Vatican "heretical," because the Vatican does accept religious liberty. But the Vatican, in turn, can accept a group like the FSSP that has many members who don't believe in it, because neither thinks this question is "dogmatic" or "essential" but a matter of prudential judgment. The FSSP, in turn, may find alliance with some of the more moderate SSPXers, for example. These do see "religious liberty" as downright heresy, but as long as the FSSPers themselves don't hold it personally, they're fine in the SSPXer's eyes. A similar approach might be shown in the case of how certain Feeneyite groups were reconciled; they were allowed to keep their position on baptism as long as they recognized that the Vatican position was not heresy (who in turn recognized that their opinion wasn't either). Presumably, more radical groups that do think it's heresy (and are thus not in communion with Rome) might nevertheless accept the reconciled Feeneyites who do share their opinion (albeit, not holding it as essential) but who nevertheless have made their peace with Rome.

The only "issues" arises when some group becomes fundamentalist by trying to adopt a "recursive" policy something along the lines of "any contact with an unclean person makes you unclean." So, for example, some radical trad types not only think the Vatican is heretical for holding religious liberty, but think the FSSP is totally tainted as well for having any intercourse with the Vatican, and think any SSPXers who ever attend or look favorably on the FSSP to also be totally tainted because the "contagion" spreads like that (even though the SSPXers they're anathemizing like this ironically do agree that the Vatican's position is heresy!) 

Of course, excommunication never worked like this; even in the days of "excommunication vitandi," the excommunication imposed on the person who dared to have contact with a vitandi was not, itself, an excommunication vitandi, but a more minor form (tolerati) that did allow for contact with Christians (as you can imagine, if contact with a vitandi resulted in also becoming a vitandi, a sort of "creeping" excommunication would have become a major issue). So a vitandi could talk to a tolerati, who could in turn talk to Christians, so the "lines of communication" were still open in that way, even if the vitandi could not directly speak to Christians in good standing.

Though: I now think that "heresy" and "excommunication" and "orthodoxy" and "dogma" are all more useful as sociological/political categories than as theological ones...

Of course, implementing this vision would require a shift in policy in Rome's part away from fundamentalism. But a shift that I think would be rather minor given the state of things on the ground in many of the Eastern Catholic churches already vis a vis the Orthodox. Rome would merely need to say, "Churches in communion with Rome must meet Rome's minimum. But those churches, as long as they personally meet our minimum, can have lower minimums for communion with themselves." This would require empowering sui juris churches to decide their own status of communion, however, more like it is with the autcephalous churches among the Orthodox, however. Rome might be very frightened of doing this.

And yet, sometimes it feels like they already do. Although the CDF officially argued that the "anaphora of Addai and Mari" was valid, which was a rather scandalous decision in the West, I now think that maybe we should interpret that instruction more like a statement that: "The Chaldean Catholic Church must include the words of institution in order to meet Rome's minimum standards for validity and communion with us. However, they themselves are free to recognize as valid the anaphora as it stands, without those words, in the Assyrian church and to not make this a communion breaking issue among the Chaldeans, even though it is for communion with Rome directly." Subtle, I know. Most people thinking in terms of absolutism probably have trouble thinking according to this model. But I trust my readers are not "most people."

And I look at Taize. I now am very supportive of such ecumenical efforts. Efforts that seek not an ecumenism of "conversion to Catholicism" of Christians standing together even in our different horizons of truth, even in our irreconcilable differences. What if their was a community with a "continuum" or "spectrum" of chapels of different groups. Catholics, then the Ordinariate, then Anglo-Catholic, Mainline Anglican, Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, Reformed. Each group, each "chapel," would be able to keep communion with the one to its right and the one to its left, and so even though the Catholics and the Presbyterians would not share communion directly, the "chain of overlap" would keep the two connected nonetheless.

This works on the level of World Religions too, even. I mean, an atheist can accept an agnostic can accept some sort of deist can accept a pantheist can accept a neopagan can accept a Hindu can accept a Buddhists can accept a Taoist can accept a Confuscianism. And I tend to agree with Ricci that Confuscianism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. And then from the more liberal Christians to Unitarians and Bahai to Islam and Judaism, etc,

This I think this is how we should envision the Church and the World, rather than as isolated "islands" of belief-systems. It is also how I think we should hold beliefs in our own head: not as a closed system but as an open system like this. Not that we don't believe our own truth is the Truth. We don't give up our horizons and our belief in truth, but we accept that everyone's horizons overlap in an open system. We still all believe someone is right and someone is wrong, but our truths are nevertheless not radically incommensurable, is my point, at least not when humanity is considered as a Whole.

Which once again reminds me of that Von Balthasar quote I used in my last post: "She enters into the world and becomes for the world one religion among others, one community among others, one doctrine and truth among others- just as Christ became one man among others, outwardly indistinguishable from them." We know that She is "the center of the bullseye" by faith, yes. But we must also recognized that, like in cosmology, there isn't really any "privileged perspective." From their own perspective, every planet is the "center" of the universe, so it's understandable that they would think of themselves as the center of the bullseye too. We know we "really" are by the eye of faith only. This should prevent all triumphalistic (and patently absurd, in the world of modern pluralism) claims that Catholicism is "obviously" true, or imputations of malice or ill-will to those who sincerely don't believe.

Some have suggested that the Church must, in fact, be torn up like Shel Sylverstein's "The Giving Tree" for the sake of the world. I like that image. Von Balthasar also talked about something like this in Razing the Bastions: "In this way the love of the Church has been moved out of her, tragically and utterly irremediably, often still recognizable in the pieces of her lying about in front of her doors. But the more they become dissolved in the world, the more unrecognizable they become. Finally, they will be concealed in the elements of the cosmos. What a strangely new meaning for the Bride Church take on those words, once the object of so much commentary, from the Song of Songs: curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum, now that the invisible fragrences of the Beloved now are scattered in the most worldly parts of the world and suddenly accost the unperceiving Bride as she hastens through uncharted places after the invisible One. The extrapolated awareness effected through the felix culpa of the wounds inflicted has created an indissoluble solidarity with the separated brethren, and through them the world."

Basically, it would be the Church emptying herself, and "taking the form of a servant" to actively defend the "free market" on truth. And of course, that assumes there is a real truth everyone is seeking, and She believe She's it, ultimately. But it also implies allowing real competition among ideas without coercion or maintaining an artificially/force-sustained monopoly. In fact, it implies helping people in their own journey, wherever they are, without any sort of pressure or agenda. Blessed Mother Theresa got a lot of flack from certain trads and conservatives for it, but now I understand how right she was when she said, "“We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.”

It is really only by defending this sort of open market of competing ideas, or by encouraging "seekers" wherever the Spirit leads them that we really are defending Truth and conscience on a more radical level. I don't think the 'decline' of religion is not leading inevitably to atheism. That's where the "progressive" narrative gets things wrong. Rather, it's like if Coke had a monopoly, and then suddenly competition was allowed. You'd see Coke's share shrink, and Pepsi's grow, yes of course. But that would not indicate the eventual triumph of a Pepsi monopoly in the end, as if one monopoly always replaces another. Rather, in a free market, an "equilibrium" would be reached with some Pepsi market-share and some Coke, dynamically fluctuating. Likewise, I think the rise of Atheism (alongside a million other spiritual systems) doesn't mean Christianity or religion will ever disappear, just that we'll all be in a market in flux. But it definitely doesn't mean any other system will ever get the monopoly again as if one universal Totalizing System is destined to be replaced by another. Rather it will be a state of dynamic pluralism (I hope) in this secular age. And while that might disenchant or disembed things, it may be a higher testament to conscience and truth, and the Church's "emptying herself" should be in accepting this and knowing that God is really with Her in the very weakness and poverty, instead of seeking the power of the monopoly of Christendom.

I think the wisest priests or rabbis say things like "How can we help you, here and now? Yes, our teachings are there in the books, for everyone to see. Consider them if you feel the inclination. But maybe I can help you figure out what you value and where would be the best place for you right now. Even if it isn't with us." People like stores that, when they don't have what you need, point you to another. Ironically, I think a lot more people would consider the Church if, instead of pushing her own agenda, she was also the "Church of Seekers" and totally didn't "insist upon Herself" or on any notion of Triumph for God other than the Triumph He chose for Himself: to die on a cross. Not that we'd give up our own beliefs, but that there would be evangelization would be entirely through love and not through argument or apologetics or proselytization. This is the "weak God" who is a persuasive call rather than a demanding claim.

This is something I very much respect in liberal protestant Christianity. And yes, it sort of "sacrifices itself" in the process, because it doesn't have as much cache, then, in terms of identity politics. But so what? I'd rather we spend ourselves to death helping people honestly seek and letting them spread their own wings spiritually and trusting that the Spirit is at work in their lives even in mysterious ways.

1 comment:

Petrus Augustinus said...

Verging on the heretical, I must say..but I'll give it another read and put something substantive in my next comment. Just a few days.