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Open Body: Essays in Anglican Ecclesiology
York: Peter Lang, 2012
If the first half of the twentieth century was dominated by the development of Christology, and the second half by the renewal of trinitarian theology, the twenty-first century is the era of ecclesiology. The Open Body is a collection of essays in Anglican ecclesiology by young American and English scholars, published as volume 4 in the exciting new series, Studies in Anglican and Episcopal Theology.
The title refers to the overarching metaphor, the Body of Christ, which is “open.” In other words, the resurrected body of Jesus bore the marks of his crucifixion, which he showed to his disciples. In particular, the episode in John's Gospel with Thomas centers on the wound left by the pilum, the short Roman spear, that ensured the death of the crucified before their bodies could be taken down. Tom Shaw, the Bishop of Massachusetts and a monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, alludes in the preface to the book to the medieval concept of the monastic needing to crawl into that wound.
In terms of the Body of Christ, beyond this rather unfamiliar and striking image, the essays refer to the “openness” of the church as the Body. And in particular, the "open" quality of the Anglican churches is viewed from several different angles. The editors, Zachary Guiliano and Charles M. Stang, make clear that they want to address the ecclesiological crisis in the Anglican Communion, which they correctly point out has had a lot of ink spilled on governance and polity questions, but “theology is not animating these debates.” The controversy should eventually result in some “capacious re-interpretation and re-imagination of the nature of the church and of our church.” (p.2). The volume is the fruit of a conference at Harvard University entitled “The Open Body,” which sought to focus ecclesiological reflection on the resurrection narratives, specifically, the body of Christ with its open wounds. “…no body . . . is ever fully closed, “ they write, “the body of Christ is opened with a wound that it carries with it even into the resurrection.” This open wound, including the wounds of our Communion, call forth from this body of Christ neither letting itself bleed to death nor covering up its wounds, but rather “regards its wound as an opening into the world it is called to love and transform and as an opening for the world to enter in.” (p.5) Throughout these essays runs like a red thread the conviction that the cure for the Anglican wound is not found in schisms large and small, with each side certain they are right, and therefore thinking they can form churches — bodies — that have no wounds.
One general comment, before examining each essay, is that none of the authors referred to contemporary Anglican ecclesiologists. This writer expected to find some engagement or at least mention of the work of Steven Sykes, Paul Avis, or Tim Bradshaw, for instance. Even the doyen of modern ecclesiology, Avery Dulles, received no nod. Furthermore, ecclesiology is difficult to get ahold of until a church engages another church in ecumenical dialogue. Then questions of controlling metaphors, authority structures, and governance are put into relief, often uncomfortably so. The only reference to any ecumenical document at all is to the 1982 Lima Statement of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. None of the essays mentions any Communion-wide or provincial dialogues or documents produced by them. These significant lacunae are not explained.
Nevertheless, this volume does offer fresh perspectives on important questions. These essays therefore should perhaps be viewed as attempts to refocus Anglican reflection on ecclesiology. The authors cited above sought to analyze the Church in terms of models: Institution, Herald, and so on, in Dulles’ well-known work. The Open Body is more diffuse, focusing on an image, which appears differently from various angles, as in a hall of mirrors. The essays are arranged in five parts: Forming the Open Body, Governing, Theology of, Identity, and Practices.
The two essays on forming the Body are properly theological, in that both plead for a renewal of profound reflection on the Tradition. Mark Jordan, professor at Harvard Divinity School, asks his students to "apprentice" to one classic theologian, perhaps for a lifetime, so as to "treasure the capacious inherited texts, not because they contain all truth, but because they are self-critical examples of teaching and so give practice in how to open tradition, how to leave behind the cramped articulations of it that set themselves up as the official story." (p.23) Teaching at a university, he inquires whether there are real alternatives to the "exile" of standard seminary education. Just "as the principal task of a church structure is not to maintain its existing arrangements at any cost...the principal task of Christian teaching is to prepare for future encounters with the living God." (p.29)
Richard Valantasis begins with the extraordinary claim that the Second Vatican Council has found its fulfillment in ... the Episcopal Church, which, inspired by the Spirit's workings through the Council, underwent "a deep and abiding renewal of the Church's theology, sacraments, liturgy, practice and mission." Yet this has also led to divisions that show that "there has been something terribly wrong with the formation of Episcopal clergy and laity and the Anglican Communion as a whole." (p.34) This is the result, he posits, of losing the balance of Kataphatic and Apophatic perspectives (positive and negative affirmations on knowing God) on the mystery of God. The "fixedness of the kataphatic categories which is operating in our church, our seminaries, and our ecclesiastical counsels (sic), without the undergirding in the apophatic corrections that keep the church open to the Spirit" is the result, he argues, of abandoning the doctrine of the Incarnation. (p.46)
The second category of Governance opens with an article by Robert Tobin that examines the relationship between the American and English churches. Since both churches' nations have had great influence in the shaping of today's world, Tobin argues that, without discounting the impact that other Anglican provinces have had on the development of the Communion, these two churches have had a disproportionate effect. He correctly identifies the beginnings of the American church, forced by the Revolution to organize itself without the Crown, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and the Bishop of London. The Episcopalians sought as much continuity with the Church of England's theology and traditions as events would allow, through the establishment of a "General Convention" which alone could have the power to issue a Book of Common Prayer, write a constitution (and ratify its own document) that created dioceses, and negotiate with Parliament to allow for consecration of bishops in England without the necessity of swearing allegiance to the monarch.
The Church of England's relationship to its new sister church cooled rapidly, and there was little contact for decades, the English considering the Americans to be not quite orthodox enough. Only reluctantly did the English Church begin to assume some leadership among its children. The developments in each church mirrored the changes in their nations, as their position on society waned in England and waxed in America. The recent rejection of the Anglican Covenant by the majority of English dioceses, Tobin posits, can be seen as continuing the historic reluctance to let "Anglicanism" influence the life of English laypeople. Meanwhile, the social activism born during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement in America has set the Episcopal Church on an increasingly progressive course. With the globalization of the Communion, the tensions between the two churches will perforce change, as Anglicans around the world make new links with like-minded people. Tobin ends by expressing the hope that both churches will be able to create "a relationship not yet born." (p.58)
Christopher Ashley examines the constitution of three modern Anglican entities: the Anglican Church of Aoteoroa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Anglican Church of North America, and the Personal Ordinariat of Our Lady of Walsingham. Comparing a province of the Communion, a breakaway church, and the Roman Catholic structure for receiving members of other breakaway churches of Anglican tradition, Ashley uses as his measure the Lima Statement: he is "indebted to its image of church unity as a governance of unruly diversity by collegial relations between churches' overseers, however defined." (p.65) Oddly, he mentions Norman Doe's work on canon law not at all, though it would seem to have considerable relevance.
The magnificent experiment of the New Zealand church, reforming its structure as a means of undoing colonial dominance and building a multicultural church, centers around three tikangas or groupings around ethnic lines. Each has its own dioceses, archbishop, and language. The whole comes together at a General Synod, chaired by a primate chosen from among the three archbishops. The Anglican Church of North America's 2008 constitution attempts to hold together a coalition of very different churches and former Episcopal Church dioceses along with parishes and dioceses aligned with and created by African provinces, in order "to represent orthodox North American Anglicans in the councils of the Anglican Communion." It seeks eventually to replace the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the Communion's province in North America. Interestingly, the 1662 Book is mandated as the touchstone of orthodoxy, including the Athanasian Creed. The Ordinariats in England and America are presided not by bishops but by priests, with the assumption that they need no bishop other than the Bishop of Rome himself.
Ashley examines each according to his yardstick, and shows that all three depend, in increasing fashion, on a primate whose role is political: the archbishop (or the Pope) holds the structure together by calling its components together, while the constitutions allow for increasing varieties of ethnic minorities, and yet, in decreasing fashion, each allows for less and less dissent. How to allow dissenting minorities to live in the midst of a church is the real challenge the three political documents seek to address. ("Don't drive out your conservatives," biblical scholar Walter Breuggemann admonished the Episcopal Bishops in March 2010...)
Benjamin King holds up the example of Charles Gore, in order to consider "whether the language of 'consent' is a rhetorical way in order to close debate and exclude those who disagree." (p.79) His lengthy essay (by comparison) examines Gore's entire life in the context of the rise of the Oxford Movement and Gore's championing of a "Liberal Catholicism." He shows that while Gore was a proponent of pluralistic readings of the tradition, as bishop he was authoritarian. His influence is responsible for the growth of the inclusion of laity in couch councils, including the idea of the consensus fidelium as necessary for the final reception of proposed changes in doctrine and discipline. King does not close the loop on his argument, however, as interesting as his presentation of Gore certainly is.
Charles M. Stang compares the notion of hierarchy in both the pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor. Dionysius is perhaps best-known for naming a hierarchy of nine choirs of angels, but he also named hierarchy in the Church, finding a triple rank in the Order of Laity as well as the other Orders. Maximus refined and clarified the point he made, which is that while the arche or governing principle of hier-archy is in fact God, the goal or telos is also God. Hierarchy affirms and annuls itself, in other words. Stang's elegant argument sets forth in theological reasoning what this writer–hierarch likes to teach about hierarchy in the Church: hierarchies are natural, as Rabbi Edwin Freidman liked to say, but in the Church the hierarchy is turned on its head. The greatest must be servant of all (Matthew 23: 11, etc.)
Cameron Partridge picks up a theme articulated by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori at General Convention 2006 (after her election but before her installation). She used as a metaphor for the Anglican Communion the image of conjoined twins. It is wrong, she said, to attempt to separate them, unless both can be assured of living full lives. Partridge, a transgender man and priest, confesses that these words were a "shock of revelation," "... of the complexity of Anglican corporeality, the notion that Anglicanism could be described as a body with dimensions both 'polymorphic' and 'disruptive'" (p.126). Like this writer, Partridge regrets that Bishop Jefferts-Schori has never returned to the conjoined-twin metaphor. He moves on to consider the image of Janus, the Roman god looking both forward and backward, that has often been used to describe our Church, both negatively and positively. Partridge argues that our "skandalon of conjoinment" is actually an invitation into the heart of God.
I was especially interested in the Rev. Canon C. Denise Yarborough's article on "radical hospitality." As an interfaith officer, she is caught between the dioceses' perceived need to increase numbers of Episcopalians and to engage in interreligious dialogue. Only this latter, she posits, "is absolutely critical if I am to go deeply into the mystery of God." (p. 154) Yarborough reviews several documents: "Companions in Transformation", "Statement on Interreligious Dialogue", "Generous Love" and "Lambeth Indaba." As I am a member of the Network for Interfaith Concerns (NIFCON) for The Episcopal Church that wrote "Generous Love", a member of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (SCEIR) that created the "Statement", and a bishop at Lambeth, her take on these is interesting. "Companions" is a document issued in 2003 by the Standing Commission on World Mission, and like the others, has received much less attention than it deserves. "Statement" leans on it as well as "Generous Love" for it seeks above all to be a help to parochial and diocesan interreligious dialogues.
Yarborough fails to note that "Companions" and "Statement" are, unlike the other two, official teachings of The Episcopal Church, having been presented as such for adoption by the General Convention. "Companions" sets forth a whole new paradigm for mission of the Church, advocating for the great shift in Christian thinking about the Church's mission summed up by the saying, "It is not that God's Church has a mission, but that God's mission has a Church." Mission is no longer about making converts by saving them, but witnessing to God's work through Christ in the Spirit to reconcile all people, and indeed, the whole Creation, with God and each other. "As Jesus went into the world," Yarborough writes, "so we must go into the world as reconcilers, healers, justice bearers and reconcilers." (p.159) Interreligious dialogue is at the cutting edge of this work. The opening of "Statement" puts it baldly, saying that if we are obedient to the command to love our neighbor, we must first go and know that neighbor.
Lawrence Wills is a former Methodist, now a convert to Judaism, who attempts "as an outsider" to analyze what are "Anglicans." Just as the word "Jew" comes from a geographical designator ("Judean", so too with "Anglican," meaning "English." Both became words for religions: Judaism and Anglicanism. While Jews identify themselves by birth, Christians have the Pauline extension of such by adoption.
Wills goes on to examine several other common features. The body metaphor of the volume, he says, relates to the classic exploration by Mary Douglas of the isomorphism between collective bodies and individual human bodies. Both have boundaries, enforced by purity requirements, and not merely analogically. The purity code of the collective has direct bearing on the individual, and vice versa. Wills moves to the notion of "textual community", in which a community is defined by the ritual of reading its sacred text. Anglicans in particular have the Book of Common Prayer as the ritual for reverential reading and interpreting of Scripture. The Eucharist is another identity maker, and marker; here Wills drops mention of Judaism. The word "Church" (ekklesia) is rarely used in the New Testament, though Wills points out that it is used elsewhere to denote the qahal assembly in Ezra-Nehemiah. Eschewing definition, he calls the use of the word a "family resemblance." And finally the idea of network applies to the Anglican Communion, a connected set of nodes related by family resemblance. Wills opines that the proposed Anglican Covenant goes against the grain; Anglicans like "communion" because we function as a network.
Three essays on "Practices of the Open Body" complete the volume. In an impassioned defense of the Occupy Wall Street movement by a "Protest Chaplain," Marisa Egerstrom accuses the Anglican authorities in Toronto, New York, and London of siding with the powerful. She wrongly identifies The Episcopal Church as the church of the "1%", the church for the rich and powerful (in fact, the majority of Episcopal congregations are blue- or gray-collar). In particular, she describes how, in the New York case, people evicted from Zuccotti Park went to occupy a vacant lot, Duarte Square, owned by Trinity Church, Wall Street. Until then, Trinity had tended to sympathize with the Occupy protesters, opening up facilities for their needs. When they tried to go to Duarte Square, Trinity balked. Led by resigned Bishop of the Armed Forces George Packard, the protesters nevertheless moved onto the lot. This act was condemned by the Rector of Trinity, the Bishop of New York, and the Presiding Bishop, and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Egerstrom analyses the politics in terms of Judith Butler's philosophy of enfleshed body, applied to Jesus first, then us all. She rejects both the progressive emphasis on human rights and those who respect overly much the power of "market forces" because we humans are inextricably related to one another. "... the assumption of being implicated in one another's lives and struggles trains our vision on the machinations of power, rather than on identity. The inextricability of our lives — the ontological solidarity signified by the Eucharistic act – forms a corporeal witness against that power. It is the witness of the innocent body that was crucified, and yet not vanquished." (p. 202)
Reflecting on the rapid growth of the Internet that is supposedly unprecedented, Elizabeth Anderson argues that the practice of letter-writing is a historical antecedent: three-quarters of the New Testament are, after all, letters. She contends that the Cappadocians' epistolary practice offers a useful precedent. The modern tendency to consider only the content of letters reflects an indefensible tendency to divorce thought and act, mind and body. Countering this tendency requires consideration of why the letter-writers wrote. They considered that letters should be "icons of the soul." Indeed, Anderson's title quotes Basil: "I saw your soul in your letter." This reflects their conviction that letters not only strengthened relationships between individuals and communities, but also rested on the belief that there exists a prior spiritual bond because of being members of the universal church. Of course, the Cappadocians were well aware of the possibility of inauthentic or fraudulent representation through letters. This is why they emphasized the need for authentic self-disclosure, as a spiritual practice among Christians.
Anderson argues that the Internet is no more disembodied than letters, and the same desire to indwell cyberspace as an alternative to physical living was condemned by the ancients, who saw that possibility quite real in letter-writing. The spiritual practice of self-disclosure they exhorted requires time and patience. This is the major difference between then and now, says Anderson: instantaneous communication offers a spiritual temptation.
The last contribution to The Open Body is a panel discussion among a bishop, the Rt. Rev. Tom Shaw, two priests, one the Very Rev. Kathryn Ragsdale, Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, the other the Rev. Susanna Snyder, a professor at that seminary, and a politician, State Representative Denise Porvost of the 27th District, State of Massachusetts. "[It] sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke," writes the moderator, Jeffery Bridges, a political campaign consultant. He asks the panelists three questions: do they "see the body politic as something independent and separate from the Church? Or is the Church a political body in its own right interacting with other political bodies? Put another way, is the State something which the Church speaks to, something it participates in, or something it forms?" (p.231) The reader will enjoy the resulting conversation.
This body of work is significant, notwithstanding my critical comments above concerning interaction with recognized authorities. It is composed of essays mostly by young scholars. Even one of the editors, Zachary Guiliano, was still a doctoral candidate at the time of publication. Despite contributions from Cambridge and Oxford scholars, most of the writers are Americans, from around Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since the initial conference on the "open body" theme that led to the submission of papers was held at Harvard University, this is hardly surprising.
The Rev. Canon Charles K. Robertson is to be commended for having this collection published in a series that promises to be a major resource when all the volumes in Studies in Anglican and Episcopal Theology are complete. The Open Body gives a rare opportunity for new thinkers to get public exposure for their ideas. Several of the essays show great originality and will be useful in other contexts besides ecclesiological studies. Others, while interesting, are youthful indeed. This writer thinks that the whole deserves a wide readership, and he hopes that many people, not just ecclesiologists and other professional theologians, will also give The Open Body a close reading, with an open mind.