Skip to comments.Stipites Mundi [the abysmal intellectual state of contemporary northern Anglicanism]
Posted on 05/04/2005 8:12:29 AM PDT by sionnsar
[A long read, but worth it IMHO. --sionnsar]
I recently had the pleasure of discovering an online resource, The Anglican Library, which you can find here at http://www.anglicanlibrary.org The collection of texts online is not enormous, and the conversion of scanned text to html has resulted in some odd characters on screen (accents often come out as some strange question mark symbol, for example), but there are some choice selections.
I quote at length from chapter two of The High Church Tradition, published in 1941 by G. W. O. Addleshaw (1906-1982), who was Canon Residentiary of York and later Dean of Chester, in England. (The reason for the length will become apparent as you read on.)
The English Church consequently escaped the fate that befell so many Protestant bodies on the Continent of being saddled with some dominant theological idea which was to prove a mental and spiritual incubus to later generations. But some justification had to be found for the changes made at the Reformation, and the English reformers found such a justification not in the need of emphasizing some particular truth, but in an appeal to antiquity, to the Fathers.
The appeal was not productive of any immediate consequences. The Elizabethan theologians were undistinguished and second rate; as Hallam politely puts it, their writings are neither numerous nor refined. [Literature of Europe, II, ch. 2.] But at the end of Elizabeths reign theology began to live again in the persons of Hooker and Andrewes. Their importance in the history of Anglicanism is immense. They brought into the Church a breadth of culture and an ease with humanism and Renaissance learning, both hitherto conspicuously lacking. Their intellectual achievements and prose style did for the Church of England what thirteenth-century philosophy did for medieval Christianity; they completed its structure and gave it form and shape. [T. S. Eliot: For Lancelot Andrewes, Selected Essays, 1832 (sic), p. 319.] They are the founders of Anglican High Churchmanship and probably its greatest glory. But down to the beginning of the eighteenth century the High Church school was producing creative theology in the works of Field, Jeremy Taylor, Sanderson, Thorndike, Barrow, Beveridge, Hickes, Bull, and Johnson of Cranbrook. Coleridge much admired the seventeenth-century divines, though he had little sympathy either for their theology or political thought. He declares that they formed a galaxy of learning and talent, and that among them the Church of England finds her stars of the first magnitude. [Notes on English Divines, I, p. 325.] He told Derwent that Fields great work Of the Church, thoroughly understood and appropriated, would place him in the highest ranks of Anglican divines. [Ibid., p. 35.] Jeremy Taylor is a great and lovely mind. The school mainly follows the lines laid down by Hooker and Andrewes; although at the end of the century its writers were largely under the influence of Thorndike. One purpose runs through their works, a purpose of restoration, not of producing something new; nor do they emasculate Christian truth by trying to reconcile it with the spirit of the age. The controversies of the sixteenth century in England as well as abroad had wellnigh destroyed the old theological scheme. The High Church divines of the seventeenth century set out to restore the grandeur of Christian truth, and teach it anew to their countrymen who had largely forgotten it in the turmoil of the Reformation.
It is a theology characterized by a veneration for the Fathers, by a wholeness finding its centre in the Incarnation and a massive learning. Instead of attempting to create a scientific system of theology on the plan of Suarez or Calvin, they take seriously the claim of the English reformers to be returning to antiquity. They turned to the Fathers and there in Dean Churchs words found something to enrich, to enlarge, to invigorate, to give beauty, proportion, and force to their theology. [Bishop Andrewes, Pascal and Other Sermons, p. 92.] The patristic basis makes their theology something sui generis, something quite different from Tridentinism of continental Protestantism. It is by no means provincial. Many High Churchmen betray the influence of what the Abbe Brémond called devout humanism. [Janelle: Robert Southwell, the Writer, p. 285.] The school read most of the contemporary works produced on the continent. Bishop Morleys library, now in Winchester cathedral, contains most of the literature produced in the controversy between Port-Royal and the Jesuits. Jeremy Taylor plundered the case books of Roman moral theologians to illustrate the moral problems which he tries to resolve in Ductor Dubitantium. Bishop Kens friends were much shocked to find amongst the books which he left at his death most of the best French writers on prayer. But the seventeenth-century High Churchmen read continental works because they were interested in the same problem which confronted the divines of the Counter-Reformation, the rebuilding of the Christian thought and life after the havoc caused by both the Renaissance and the Reformation. They attack the problem in quite a different way. Counter-Reformation theology drew its strength from the Thomist revival begun in Spain in the sixteenth century; it thinks in the terminology of the Middle Ages and is a continuation of medieval theology. The Anglicans are thinking and working the whole time in terms of patristic thought, more especially that of the Greek Fathers. One finds in them something of the catholicity, the wide-mindedness, the freshness, the suppleness, and sanity of Christian antiquity.
Their veneration for tradition made them suspicious of an overmuch emphasis on one particular aspect of the Christian faith; it made them dislike new conceptions of Christianity, planned in the minds of theologians and possessing no connection with the past. Often too this veneration made them liable to a somewhat static notion of authority; frequently they seem to enthrone the Fathers instead of the Church as the voice of truth. On the other hand from the Fathers they learnt to see the Christian faith as an integral whole, quite naturally finding its centre in the Incarnation. Andrewes in his famous sermons before the court deals with the great central facts of the creed in relation to one another and as forming a whole; there is no over-stressing of one aspect of Christian truth, with the consequent impoverishment of the whole faith. He speaks of Christian truth in its comprehensiveness and variety, with its power to deal with all the sides of mans nature. The centre of their theology is the Incarnation; to quote Dean Church again, it ends in adoration, self-surrender, and blessing, and in the awe and joy of welcoming the Presence of the Eternal Beauty, the Eternal Sanctity, and the Eternal Love, the Sacrifice, and Reconciliation of the world. [Ibid., p. 77.]
The learning with which this theology is expounded, made its authors well deserve the title stupor mundi. Their learning gave them a European reputation, and in the case of Hooker, if we may believe Walton, provoked the enthusiastic admiration of Clement VIII. After having extracts from the first four books of the Ecclesiastical Polity read to him in Latin he remarked: There is no learning that this man has not searched into: nothing to hard for his understanding: this man indeed deserves the name of an author: his books will get reverence by age: for there is in them such seeds of eternity, that if the rest be like this, they shall last till the last fire shall consume all learning. Bishop Bulls works were much admired by French ecclesiastics. In 1700 a few years after the appearance of his Judicium Ecclesiae Catholicae, Bossuet wrote to Robert Nelson, asking him to convey to Bull the congratulations of the General Assembly of the French Church, pour la service quil rend à lÉglise Catholique, en défendant si bien le jugement quelle a porté sur la nécessite de croire à la divinité du Fils de Dieu. [Robert Nelson, The Life of George Bull, prefixed to the 1846 edition of Bulls Workes, pp. 327-32.]
Stupor mundi, the astonishment of the world. Thus was the learning of Anglican divines once characterized and admired.
How the mighty are fallen. There are still learned and subtle exegetes and theologians in the Anglican hierarchy; ++Rowan Williams himself is no mean example. And of course, learning is no guarantee of orthodoxy, nor is the lack thereof necessarily an indictment. It has been argued in the past that the authors of the great classical heresies were generally pretty smart guys, often smarter or more learned than their orthodox opponents. In our own times, the late Bishop Pike earned a deserved reputation of being bright and quick, indeed perhaps too
bright and quick for his own good; a brilliant mind completely undisciplined can easily go unhinged, as it clearly did in Pikes case. I can personally attest that the now retired Bishop Holloway, formerly Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church but who by now has pretty much abandoned the Christian faith, could be a very impressive preacher, and anyone who has read some of his early stuff would find much to commend.
Yet these days the headlines always seem to go to . . . to . . . to . . .
Well, take Bishop Spong, trotting the globe, oblivious to the transparency of the intellectual conceits in which he so royally clothes himself. His Twelve Theses were described by none other than ++Rowan Williams as the sort of thing that might be asked by a bright 20th century sixth former (the UK equivalent of a US high schooler).
Spong was among those suggesting that the Anglican bishops in Africa opposed to the sexual innovations of North American Anglicanism suffered from poor education and having just escaped from animism. In the words of Richard John Neuhaus, writing in 2000,
To the joy of some and the distress of others, the last Lambeth Conference, the decennial gathering of the worldwide Anglican communion, strongly reaffirmed biblical and traditional teaching on a number of subjects, including sexual morality. American bishops were in the lead in promoting the acceptance of homosexual acts and unions. African bishops took the lead in opposing such changes. When their plans were thwarted, some Americans explained in a none too subtle way that Africans did not understand the issues and, as one American bishop suggested, were but one generation away from the jungle. Canon George Conger, editor of Lambeth Directory, offers some pertinent data. In Nigeria, for instance, there are sixtytwo dioceses for 17.5 million Anglicans. In the U.S., there are more than twice as many bishops (139) for about oneeighth as many Episcopalians (2.4 million). Put differently, in Nigeria there is a bishop for every 282,000 people, and in the U.S. a bishop for every 17,000. African bishops, he notes, are, by and large, better educated than their Western counterparts in the U.S., Canada, England, et al. Of the fortythree Nigerian bishops for whom educational information is available, six hold a research degree (Ph.D.) and two hold doctorates of ministry (D.Min.). Of the 139 American bishops, three have research degrees and fifteen have a D.Min., which is not a research degree but a professional degree awarded by seminaries. At least 14 percent of Nigerian bishops and 22 percent of Indian bishops hold research degrees, compared with 2 percent of American bishops. The lowest level of academic qualifications is found among American female bishops. Barbara Harris of Massachusetts, for but one example, did not graduate from college or attend seminary. Of course a degree does not a bishop make, but this helps put into perspective the condescending contentionsome think not untouched by racismthat bishops from Africa and other developing nations are not equipped to understand the questions in dispute.
And who should have just received Spong-bob Squaremitre into his cathedral to lecture on Spongs latest book of non-belief? Why, none other than the Bishop of NewWestminster, Michael Ingham. +Michael, as you may recall, is the fellow who started . . . well, no, he didnt start the whole blessing of gay unions business, but he helped precipitate the current unpleasantness with his support of same. Ingham, it seems, has some strange ideas of his own, set out in his Easter Message for 2005. Top-Notch-Cutting-Edge Physicist Ingham has declared that we now know, thanks to quantum physics (calling Scott Bakula!) that Easter is the occasion for the divine uncertainty principle inserted into our world. (I mean, good heavens, we wouldnt want to be certain
about anything, now would we?) For that matter, its time to stop thinking of ourselves as created beings and stop thinking of God as a supernatural Being located outside the universe.
This piece of work has been nicely dissected by a real physicist, Michael Davenport, PhD. Davenports critique is well worth a read. (The full version in PDF is here, an edited one here.) Among other observations, Dr. Davenport notes
Ingham credits OMurchus book Quantum Theology for these ideas, so I went in search of a copy. It was not listed in the catalogues of British Columbias two largest libraries, nor was it at any local store of Canadas big-box booksellers. When I called our local new-age bookshop however, they didnt even have to check their inventory to tell me that they had it. So I went with my two pre-school sons to pick it up, and they admired the four-foot tall Buddha and goddess statues by the door while I plunked down my twenty nine dollars. The absurdity is, OMurchu doesnt base quantum theology in any meaningful way on quantum physics.
Then there is Bishop Bennison of Pennsylvania, persecutor of David Moyer and the Church of the Good Shepherd, object of scorn to Global South bishops, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (as so often, if you really need to be brought up to speed on Bennison, just go to titusonenine and type Bennison into the search engine there).
In the May issue of The Pennsylvania Episcopalian, Bennison declares
Some outside bishops have presumed to offer Episcopal ministry to parishes in our diocese whose rectors or wardens or vestries oppose the 2003 decision by the Episcopal Church to consecrate the present Bishop of New Hampshire. In so doing, these bishops are willfully violating the centuries-old consensus, in place since the Council of Nicaea, that no bishop will enter the geographic bounds of another bishops diocese without his or her permission. Those violating the agreement today argue that the Episcopal Church has become apostate by its 2003 decision about the place of gay men and lesbians in our church. In our eyes these invading bishops are schismatic, violating the very church order that provides the framework for working through controversy. They are out, in effect, to form a new church.
This they do in the name of orthodoxy. But 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.
The good Pontificator has already torn up this nonsense. I only note the following:
a) Once again, there is the strange and unwarranted reference to Nicaea, something that has, thanks to the pernicious influence of the Windsor Report, taken on a life of its own in the imagination of heterodox bishops. (See Nicaea and Lambeth and And why beholdest thou the canon that is in thy brothers eye, but considerest not the canon that is in thine own eye? or, A Canon is in the Eye of the Beholder). Will this nonsense never die?
b) The one out to form a truly new church is, of course, Bennison, busily promoting an innovation previously unimaginable in nearly 2000 years of Christian teaching. The invading bishops are, rather, desperately (and not very effectively) trying to preserve something of the old church. More power to them.
c) Whatever Rebecca Lyman said, I certainly hope it wasnt what Bennison claims it was, for it would be a serious sign of the decay of academe. Katholos does indeed mean according to the whole. So far as we know, it was first used by St Ignatius of Antioch circa 116 AD in reference to the catholic church precisely to exclude, in this case to exclude gnostic heretics, whose fruit was judged bitter to the faith. Catholic has always meant the faith of the whole church, not every passing theological fancy of all those who at any time tried to claim they were members. Bennisons basket of fruit would have to include quite a number of poisonous plums and hallucinogenic mushrooms (hmmmm . . . ).
d) I can hardly make heads or tails out of the bizarre contrast Bennison makes between orthodoxy and catholicity. However, historically the purpose of orthodoxy has been to put limits on diversity (has the bishop never heard the word anathema?), while catholicity has never signified anything remotely resembling the fevered imagination of the Bishop of Pennsylvania.
Stupor mundi? Hardly. Surely these threeSpong, Ingham, Bennisonbelong to a new category of Anglican clergy, the stipites mundi, blockheads of the world.
The occasion for Bennisons reflections was his presence in Rome when John Paul II passed away a few weeks ago. This is fortuitous (his presence, that is), though not in the manner Bennison thinks. Rather, it leads naturally to consideration of John Pauls successor, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, or now Benedict XVI. To judge from the comments one finds posted on various websites, many Anglicans are quite taken with the new Pope, and I would suggest that, for Anglicans at least, the reason may not lie simply, or even primarily, in his conservatism.
As a rule, Popes have not generally been terribly learned or particularly brilliant. Gregory the Great, for example, has often been listed with saints Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine; but this group was created to stand as Latin counterparts to the great Fathers of the Greek Church, saints Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, and one gets the feeling that Gregory the Great, whose heyday (he was Pope from 590 to 604 ) was considerably later than Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, was put there to fill out the otherwise empty fourth space. His gifts were not primarily theological or polemical, but pastoral and missionary.
Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is a true academic (though not, contrary to his image, without pastoral experience. He was bishop of Munich 1977 - 1981, and students and colleagues have attested to his pastoral nature.) The Library of Congress lists over forty titles by Ratzinger in German, 127 in all when you throw in the translations into numerous languages, etc.
Nowadays, academics are notorious for the opacity of their writing (clouds of theoretical jargon coupled with horrendous grammar and sentences as long as the Ring cycle). Yet despite his academic background, Benedicts writing is, according to the German novelist Martin Mosebach, startlingly clear yet simultaneously profound. In a marvelous essay published in The New York Times, Mosebach writes that
his German is beautiful, which is particularly noteworthy for a German in a high position, since the language is not often spoken correctly, not even by native speakers. Although he is a philosopher and a theologian, he has developed a style that is crystal clear in its simplicity, but that never simplifies the complicated topics he needs to address. Is this, too, not a virtue befitting a shepherd of souls?
Compare that with the bloviations of the likes of Spong, Ingham, Bennison, Griswold and company, and even with the, shall we say, frequently opaque quality of the writings of ++Rowan Williams.
The name Benedict is clearly indicative of the new pontiffs program. Even as a cardinal, the pope struggled against a tendency that saw the Second Vatican Council as some kind of supercouncil, as if the history of the church began in 1962. Benedict plumbs the depths of that history down to the first Christian century, when the Latin and Greek churches were still united. The great Latin liturgy and Gregorian choral chanting have special ties with the Benedictine order. At his installation, the new pope reverted to a wool pallium in the style worn by the pontiffs of the first millennium. He had the Gospel chanted in Latin and Greek, as once was done at every papal Mass. Clearly he sees in the ancient liturgy a sign of unity between East and West.
Hows that for catholicity?
His strictness in matters of doctrine is in part an answer to a perceived loss of clarity in both dogma and liturgy following the Second Vatican Council. But his main goal in restoring the liturgy is reconciliation with the Byzantine church. Exactly how charged this project is may be seen in the words he spoke as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that in reconciling with Rome, the Orthodox Church should not be expected to accord any greater primacy to the pope than it did before the schism.
Any pontiff who truly wants to build bridges must first stabilize his own embankment. While John Paul IIs teachings centered on humanity in its God-given dignity, Pope Benedict might turn back to the nature of Jesus. Western theology has long been influenced by a creeping Arianism - the idea that Jesus was not of the same substance as God. It would be true to character if Pope Benedict were to invest all his zeal in the effort to recast the concept of the divine incarnation in a new language, which would once again render it understandable to modern-day theologians, teachers and intellectuals.
Now compare Mosebachs essay with the description of the works of the Caroline Divines by Addleshaw quoted at the beginning of this entry, and ask yourself, who is the stupor mundi now?
Greek Fathers connection ping
Pope Benedict speculation (at the end) ping
Could be. My Latin was too long ago, with several years of Gaelic since.
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