For some time, I’ve been meaning to initiate a series of posts that function as a kind of “noted this week” or “what’s interesting on the interwebs” or even “here are a few interesting events I heard about or went to.”
So let’s try this out: I’ll aim for once a week, or perhaps every two weeks when busy. The name, Gathering the fruit, recognizes a lot of wonderful stuff happens or is written out there (online and in that world called “real”), all of which is easy to miss.
Luckily for me, this week happened to be chock full of interesting announcements: from David Cameron’s gaffe on corruption with the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia’s decision to wait on same-sex marriage, and much more besides. And it was something of a banner week on our own blog: a lot of pageviews, to say the least, especially of our posts on the Jesus Movement and the “meaning of liturgy” (or lack thereof).
But three things really caught my eye this week: a transatlantic debate on the Eucharist, a talk on ecumenism, and the idea of intercontextual missiology.
Anglican eucharistic theology: Receptionism or real presence?
Now, for a horse of a different color. In his inimitable way, Ian Paul recently took on the question of “Anglican” eucharistic doctrine over at Psephizo (“Do Anglicans believe in ‘real presence’?”). He argued against any idea of “real presence” (though he misunderstands what that means), championed a sort of memorialist view (especially in comments on Facebook and elsewhere), and maintained receptionism. The latter two positions are not usually seen to be compatible, and indeed the latter can be seen as an affirmation of “real presence.”
Ian argued that the 39 Articles of Religion (see XXVIII) uphold “receptionism” and said that the Church of England’s current eucharistic prayers in Common Worship reflected a receptionist view as well.
Well. Many took exception to this post, myself included, though it generated some interesting discussion in all sorts of places. One occasionally wonders if Ian is playing some complicated game of devil’s advocate. But regardless of Ian’s intentions, our own Fr. Jonathan betook himself to the formularies and Anglican divines and laid the proverbial smack down (do people still say this?) over at The Conciliar Anglican.
Here’s a crucial section:
The purpose of the formularies, much like the creeds, is not to say all that can be said but to create the fence within which the conversation is to be held. Once the Real Presence is abandoned, we are outside of that fence. Lancelot Andrewes, writing in opposition to Cardinal Bellarmine, put it this way:
We believe no less than you that the presence is real. Concerning the method of the presence, we define nothing rashly, and, I add, we do not anxiously inquire, any more than how the Blood of Christ washes us in our Baptism, any more than how the Human and Divine Natures are united in one Person in the Incarnation of Christ.
Anglican affirmation of real presence is linked in Andrewes’s thought to a kind of humble apophatic mentality: we’re not competent to inquire about some things.
Ecumenical dialogue: just for bishops?
I recently had the chance to attend a meeting of the Cambridge chapter of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, dedicated to fostering Anglican-Orthodox dialogue and friendship. In the dean’s rooms at Corpus Christi College, the Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Rowell gave a talk on the 2014 agreed statement between Anglicans and the Oriental Orthodox churches. For more general details on that talk and Anglican-Oriental Orthodox dialogue, see The Living Church in a little while.
The evening was interesting for all sorts of occasions: Bishop Rowell has about a million interesting stories from various expeditions, undergraduate trips, and official commissions in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa. He brought some particularly interesting items with him, including an Ethiopian psalter manuscript I took a look at, and for which I gave a very approximate date (wearing my other hat as a manuscript scholar). And it was an interesting crowd of students and local Anglican and Orthodox clergy.
One of the negative things I will take away, though, is a sense of frustration on the part of many. One of the Orthodox priests noted how few clergy and lay people in his church know about ecumenical dialogues or agreed statements. The same is true of Anglicans as well, as I’ve noted before (see “Anglicans on primacy: a selective amnesia”).
The inspiring history and intellectual heavy lifting that the ecumenical movement did from the 1950s until now is forgotten, or even derided or dismissed out of hand. So, when approaching particular issues, we tend to start from an unnecessarily blank slate, as if we need to generate a new theology of communion, governance, or the like. (Here we might categorize the fanciful document Re-membering and Re-imagining from the “Ecclesiology Committee” of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops)
How do we get better at sharing the fruits of ecumenical labors? I’ll be thinking about that quite a bit in the future, as it’s becoming even more of a passion of mine: slow burning in the past, now starting to bubble over.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Bishop Graham Kings has been convening some interesting seminars at Lambeth Palace and Durham University as part of his brief as mission theologian in the Anglican Communion. I’ve mentioned a couple of these in the past (see here and here), but I attended another one this past Thursday.
Dr. Robert Heaney, director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies and associate professor of mission at Virginia Theological Seminary, gave a talk: “Facing the Criticism: Towards a Critical and Constructive Anglican Missiology.” I’d recommend you head over to the Mission Theology site and read it, but I’ll tell you what caught my ear while there.
Channeling and interpreting the African theologians John Mbiti and Jesse N.K. Mugambi, he spoke, among other things, about the necessity of developing our missiological discussion through fostering widespread contact and dialogue throughout the Anglican Communion, the broader church, and between religions. Such “intercontextual” missiology would help prevent us from identifying our culture with the Gospel in a type of syncretic blend. (This latter point stems from one of the criticisms that Mbiti and Mugambi make of colonial religion.)
Towards the end, Heaney criticized any attempt to cut oneself off from the rest of the church in favor of nationalism, in a move that would silence “the voice of God’s judgment across differences.” He specifically cited the threat, often surfaced among liberal and conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans the world over, of refusing to contribute money to the Anglican Communion when it’s not doing what we want, while retreating into our own national affairs and refusing to engage with others.
We are then confusing the “particularity of [our] ‘usness’ with a universality that belongs alone to God.”
Heaney therefore argued that theology, not least missiology, can never be done while listening to voices from one place, but only in a constant intercontextual dialogue. This practice is one way out of our current impasse in the Communion.
It might imply “testifying and counter-testifying” or “narrative and counter-narrative” in a “catholicity from below,” although he was nervous about proposing the latter phrase.
I didn’t have time to ask him about what he thought the format for such exchanges would be: an Anglican Congress or a series of small, organized discussion groups, perhaps?
But I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So, as I am wont to do, I found myself continuing to ponder the day’s events during Evening Prayer, as the Scriptures were read, and canticles, psalms, and anthems sung. As always, the liturgical context provided a fruitful site for continued thought, not least on how such intercontextual dialogue might work in a more traditional vision of “Catholic order” in the Communion.
If I can, I will write more about the idea at a later point, but I thought it might be fruitful to join a few ideas here to Heaney’s incipient proposal, though he would no doubt like to say more as well.
In the creative vein, we might view his idea of “narrative and counter-narrative” in a “catholicity from below” not as an oppositional process, where one view combats another, but as a harmonious musical exchange like counterpoint, call-and-response, or the exchange, repetition, and development so common in liturgical music — not least the Anglican choral tradition.
One line of music is rarely repeated in precisely the same way, but is taken up by other voices, whether in a higher or lower register, in a complementary or divergent rhythm, or with myriad other possible changes. Such variation (in service of a greater harmony) is what makes choral music such a vehicle of revelation: as individual words and phrases are drawn out or sung differently, their manifold resonance is opened up for meditation.
This is one reason why I often prefer attending a choral service to a said one. I find it more possible to contemplate the Scriptures, whether as a signer or a listener.
My inspiration here came from the context I was in: the Westminster Abbey choir sang as an introit William Byrd’s Non vos relinquam.
Like many early modern settings, the song begins with a single voice, which others join and move around. It develops in complexity and beauty through the exchanges: difference, play, unique progressions, and returns to the original theme are all a part of its art.
In theology, one might even think of heresy, innovation, or apparently deviant ideas, as the “false relations” in early music or more general dissonance. So long as the false relations, the dissonance, develop the music and do not overcome the piece, they are an integral part of a broader whole. Indeed, they can bring about its most interesting moments, and serve as preludes to greater resolutions. Singers in an ensemble must attend to them as well, not shy away from them; otherwise they appear as mere disruptions to an otherwise beautiful piece.
To further the illustration, most musical processes are held together by a common text, key, and time signature, along with an agreed upon practice or performance time and space, an authoritative interpreter and leader of the music, and so forth.
Thus, if one were interested in a contrapuntal metaphor for Heaney’s “intercontextual theology,” one might easily work in Scripture and tradition, inspiration, format of discussion, and (dare I say) authoritative leaders like bishops, presbyters, and deacons: a “catholicity from below” need not exclude Catholic order and it might actually reflect the way various ecumenical documents have described the gift of authority and the embedded character of prelacy. Finally, I note that the idea of church governance as musical elegance was floated in IASCUFO’s report to ACC-15: “Towards a symphony of instruments.”
More on that anon. For now, let us close out the week.
The featured image is “Berries” (2011) by cookbookman17. It is licensed under Creative Commons.