Skip to comments.When Bishops Become Fruits
Posted on 05/02/2005 6:34:59 PM PDT by sionnsar
Bishop Charles Bennison has written a strange, and irritating, article on the catholicity of Anglicanism. Fisking his piece would be too easy. The mans incoherence and ignorance are manifest. He reminds me of the leadership of the N.I.C.E. (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) in C. S. Lewiss That Hideous Strength. N.I.C.E is the nefarious scientific organization in C. S. Lewiss That Hideous Strength. Secretly controlled by evil spirits, it is intent on controlling and reconstituting humanity. In order to accomplish this end, it engages in a systematic corruption of public discourse. Words are twisted to make despicable policies acceptable to the public. In David Millss words, their method is to force people to think certain thoughts by giving them the words with which to think them or by destroying the words with which they might think other thoughts. The leadership of N.I.C.E. thrive on obfuscation, equivocation, and jabberwocky.
Prelate Bennison was privileged to be in Rome during Pope John Pauls death. This apparently was very moving for him. He left Rome, so he says, with a deeper appreciation of the catholicity of the Church. But what does it mean to be catholic in the Bennisonian universe?
As the church historian Rebecca Lyman pointed out in her lectures to our diocesan clergy last December, to be catholic means to embrace the diversity of the whole church (the Greek kata-holos means according to the whole). Orthodoxy, by contrast, represents a theological compromise or reduction made to include diversity. Catholicity is like a basket full of every kind of fruit there is. Orthodoxy is like a jar of all-fruit jelly. Rome, I understand, need not be the center of the catholic church, but recent events lead me to believe as never before that the church must be catholic.
Catholicity equals diversity. The more diversity, the greater our catholicity. The more fruits in the ecclesial bowl, the more we reflect the complexity and mystery of deity. Orthodoxy, therefore, must be understood as a violent restriction of the Churchs catholicity (see Lymans Tradition without Orthodoxy). This then leads Bennison to conclude that ecclesial separation because of doctrinal differences is an act of Protestant faithlessness.
Now I admit that this position has its appeal. All of us who learned our basic philosophy from Star Trek remember the exchange between Miranda Jones and Mr. Spock: The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity And in the way our differences combine to create meaning and beauty. IDIC: Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. More fruit, more truth. Yet as appealing as Vulcan philosophy is to our modern sensibilities, it is a far cry from an authentic understanding of catholicity.
The Church is catholic because Jesus is catholic. He comprehends within himself the fullness of deity. The Church is catholic because she is mystically united to the God-man and sacramentally makes him present to the world. The Church is catholic because she embodies the wholeness of truth and teaches the dogmas of faith fully and completely. The Church is catholic because in her communion sinners are reborn in the Holy Spirit and brought into the salvation of the Kingdom. The Church is catholic, writes Florovsky, because it is the one Body of Christ; it is union in Christ, oneness in the Holy Ghostand this unity is the highest wholeness and fulness.
To be catholic is, I agree, to embrace everything. It is to embrace the fullness and perfection of divine revelation. It is to embrace the totality of Gods creation. It is to embrace life. But the Church has never understood catholic vocation as embracing falsehood. Hers has been a tumultuous history of discerning truth and distinguishing it from falsity and error. Catholicity and orthodoxy cannot be divorced, for the Church has understood that both the integrity of her mission and the happiness of mankind hung in the balance. G. K. Chesterton captures the challenge in this remarkable passage:
It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins or the fulfilment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious.
The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten forests of the north. Of these theological equalisations I have to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness.
A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties.
The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless. This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any war-horse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism.
She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly.
The next instant she was swerving to avoid an Orientalism which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic.
It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep ones own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendomthat would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame.
But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.
What is truth? Pilate asked, unable to see the Truth that was standing before him. We all know the depths of human blindness and self-deception and of our own personal limitations and fallibility. And we also know the dangers of premature closure of theological debate: a theologian gets censured only to be rehabilitated a generation or two later. Yet the Church has also known that on important matters debate cannot be pursued endlessly. God does lead his people to discern the truth. The Church has always dared to dogmatize, trusting in the Holy Spirit to protect her from grievous error. And those who would not submit to her godly judgments have been separated from the Body, both for the good of the Church and for their own salvation. Such individuals are named heretics.
Prelate Bennison presumes to wrap himself in the mantle of catholicity, even as he and his colleagues sunder into pieces the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. He appropriates to himself an authority and infallibility that no Pope would ever dare to claim. When confronted by the rebukes of his fellow Anglicans, he stubbornly persists in his heresy and accuses everyone else of the sin of schism. Chesterton was right. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic.
"It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic."
especially today in so much of Western Christianity:
The poison of heresy is not too dangerous when it is preached only from outside the Church. Many times more perilous is that poison which is gradually introduced into the organism in larger and larger doses by those who, in virtue of their position, should not be poisoners but spiritual physicians. Metropolitan Philaret
You know what, sionnsar, I think many Westerners are, at base, afraid to be Christians. They are afraid someone will think they are weird. And by the world's standards, we are weird. Real Christianity asks a lot of individuals, a lot they don't want to give or have the strength, they think, to undertake.
The poison of heresy is not too dangerous when it is preached only from outside the Church. Many times more perilous is that poison which is gradually introduced into the organism in larger and larger doses by those who, in virtue of their position, should not be poisoners but spiritual physicians. Metropolitan Philaret"
What a phenomenal quote. Is it from a source I can reference? I would love to read the context.
In the blue state where I live, being a real Christian means being classified as a "sexist, heterosexist, homophobic bigot". Since I am outspoken in my support and love for the Serbs, I at least have the advantage of being bashed as a "Serb" rather than as a "Neanderthal bigot". But I am still considered a "weird" Christian, I am still bashed, and I have many fellow Christians who do not have my "advantage".
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