Periodically, we like to take stock of our work and mission. How can Covenant best serve the Anglican Communion and wider Christian family? And how do we think about the breadth of our writing? For the next few days, we present perspectives that we hope you enjoy. —Eds.
By Hannah Matis
I write for Covenant because, although I am a Church historian, I am by temperament a magpie and a hopeless fidget, and find myself inevitably, constantly drawn to make connections between the past and the present. I have many other, perhaps too many other, interests beyond my immediate academic corner. Many of these interests, if they are not formally theological, at least rely on instincts and intuitions honed by living and working in the Church all my life, in various denominations. As a secular historian, these would be perceived as an active liability, if they were considered at all; as a Church historian forming seminarians for ministry, they are not always part of my day job, so to speak. Writing for Covenant generously allows me the opportunity to engage with, sometimes to publicize, interesting work which I discover and which, I hope, helps people to make connections themselves between the teachings of the Church and the world around us.
A significant part of that world, at least for me, must always be the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is deeply important to me: both the fact of its existence and the claims that it makes upon each of its provinces to learn from one another and to be responsive to one another, even if we do not always agree. As a historian and scholar of the Christian tradition, I am always conscious of teachings and traditions which stretch well beyond my immediate social and political context: beyond the United States, beyond Europe, well beyond the Global North. Neither the United States, nor Europe, nor the Global North would be what it is, in faith or in any other respect, without the world represented by the Communion. Once a missionary school, Virginia Theological Seminary, where I teach, retains historical and institutional connections with many provinces across the Anglican Communion. One of the many griefs of this pandemic was how the protracted uncertainty surrounding international travel impacted our then-current international students, and how it has limited our ability, in this present moment, to admit more. However, the Center for Anglican Communion Studies continues to support engagement with and education about the Communion across the Episcopal Church.
I do not believe, in the Episcopal Church or beyond, that it will be long possible to live in splendid confessional isolation without considering the presence and differing opinions of our fellow brothers and sisters. Raised Pentecostal and environmentalist, I am also an early medieval historian who studies the aftermath of the fall of Rome. The apocalyptic, particularly in this moment, comes very naturally to me, and I am always keenly aware of the fragmentary and vulnerable nature of what does survive: the Church’s teaching, the true opinions or stances of many demonized by the Church, the texts we have. We would not have many of the texts we take for granted from the classical world if an anonymous early medieval monk had not laboriously copied them out by hand and for the glory of God. In the modern world we have perhaps the opposite problem: too much information, too much text. But the risk is no less great that the tradition in its fullness and complexity will be simplified and distorted or forgotten altogether. Just yesterday I unpacked a complete set of volumes from the Parker Society which I had been given, duplicates from our newly renovated library. Sorting through the complete works of Lancelot Andrewes, among many, many others, made me acutely aware that even encyclopedic knowledge requires interpretation — exegesis, if you will, by a living community — if it is going to have influence. That is certainly my day job, but it extends beyond that, to being a Christian in the world, to see and to stand as witness to the world in front of us. What I write for Covenant is part of the record of that witness.