Skip to comments.Projection (Frank Griswold)
Posted on 11/23/2005 8:34:34 AM PST by sionnsar
Frank Griswold preached at the convention of the Diocese of Southern Ohio recently. His sermon happened to fall on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, one of Frank's favorite saints. After relating some famous incidents in the life of Martin, Frank gets to his point:
Though Martin was much loved by his flock, his uncompromising witness to the gospel, his reforms and his unflagging concern for the wellbeing and faithfulness of the clergy and people of his diocese, provoked further hostility on the part of many of the bishops. And yet, at the center of his ministry was nothing less than the compassion of Christ as given witness in the sharing of his cloak. His merciful heart was able to understand the paradoxes and contradictions which are part of our humanity and to challenge the church in its harsh and unyielding treatment of those it deemed the enemies of truth.
If you do not already know where Frank is going in this sermon, you definitely need to read him more.
It is authority exercised in the form of authoring that lies at the heart of Jesus ministry as described in the gospel: I have come that they might have life life in all its fullness, he proclaims. Martins ministry was characterized not by imposition but by liberation and an invitation to the spiritual freedom of which St. Paul speaks when he declares, For freedom Christ has set us free. His biography describes Martin as a destroyer of idols which, on first reading may sound quaint and of another age. Yet his real concern was not images of wood or stone but spiritual bondage to lesser things and hopes shallowly grounded in what is false or fleeting.
Frank gets in this shot at the United States for some reason.
There are political idolatries as well. The American Way has a shadow side. It is my sense that our present inability to be self-critical, and to see beyond our own national interest, has severely compromised the values upon which this country was founded. We are very much in a season of false prophets and any word of criticism or judgment in certain quarters is declared disloyal or unpatriotic. Too frequently the common good, though spoken of, is displaced by the idols of wealth and power.
But he soon gets back on track.
The church in Martins day at the end of the 4th century was becoming increasingly imperial and self-assured. In many instances it stood in danger of losing sight of the One who came not to be served but to serve. Martin was able to withstand this prevailing spirit because of his intimate companionship through prayer and service with the One who had appeared to him in a dream, cloak-clad, on that winter night of his youth. Because Martin possessed what St. Paul calls the mind of Christ he was able to see all things and all persons as Christ sees them: as friends, as members of Christs family, deserving of his loving care and compassionate concern. He did not see them as enemies or some sort of dangerous other whose existence or otherness threatened his security.
This interior freedom rooted in Christ and worked within Martin by the Spirit of truth resulted in a graciousness, a magnanimity, a largeness of spirit that prevented him from getting caught, as so many other bishops of his time did, in the hostile and destructive aspects of the orthodoxy of his day. Though very much a defender of the Catholic faith as the collect for his feast proclaims, he never fell victim to the extremism very much in the air, whereby the declared enemies of orthodoxy were caricatured and so dehumanized that it was only a short step to pronounce them worthy of death and to feel virtuous in so doing.
Martin was not the first bishop or saint to think this nor would he be the last. Wazo, an 11th-century Bishop of Liège, opposed capital punishment of heretics as did Bernard of Clairvaux. The distinction, of course, is this: all three of these great men of God thought heretics were wrong. None of them would have had any patience or continued association with a "Christian church" that casually jettisoned 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy and called it a "movement of the spirit."
Martin, I have no doubt, was very aware of the tendency to reinforce ones own sense of righteousness, or the righteousness of their particular group, by projecting ones angers and fears onto a designated enemy. After all, Jesus serves this purpose according to the gospel. It is interesting to reflect that it was when Jesus was condemned, we are told, that on that same day Herod and Pilate became friends.
That, of course, is what conservative and orthodox Christians do. Since they have, for the most part, gone universalist, liberal Christians have no "angers and fears" left to project. Except, perhaps, that they might just be wrong
This tendency to project angers and fears is very much part of our humanity, and we see it plainly in our own day. The passionate energy that comes out of an assumed rightness even when it is profoundly disordered (and we need to acknowledge that Satan can take the form of an angel of light) that energy can draw people together and unite them in a common cause which will bear no compromise or moderation.
Frank's right but Frank doesn't know why he's right. What Frank describes is what people without serious principles feel when they encounter people with them. When you don't believe much of anything at all, you will be profoundly threatened when you meet someone who actually believes something.
This was true in Martins day in the instance of a theologian by the name of Priscillian. The church drew together in opposition to his teachings and was not shy in approving violent means to stamp them out along with their proponent. Martin stood against such a course, and was able to recognize Priscillian as a child of Christ own redeeming, albeit entrapped in the patterns of untruth.
As terrible as the idea of killing heretics is(and let us not forget that modern Protestantism looks the way it does largely because Frank's own religious tradition once bore "no compromise or moderation"), it must once again be emphasized that Martin and the rest of the church differed only in what should be done with Priscillian. Both thought Priscillian was wrong.
The churches of other parts of Gaul and in Spain were being disturbed by the Priscillianists, an ascetic sect, named for its leader, Priscillian, bishop of Avila. A synod held at Bordeaux in 384 had condemned his doctrines, but he had appealed to Emperor Maximus. Meanwhile, Ithacius, the orthodox bishop of Ossanova, had attacked him and urged the emperor to have him put to death. Neither Ambrose at Milan, however, nor Martin at Tours would hold communion with Ithacius or his supporters, because they had appealed to the emperor in a dispute over doctrine, and now were trying to punish a heretic with death. Martin wrote to reprove Ithacius severely. It was sufficient, he said, that Priscillian should be branded as a heretic and excommunicated by the bishops.
Back to Frank.
Do we not show some of this violence of spirit in our own day, at least in the public rhetoric of our political life and sadly of our church life as well? Martins fierce and unyielding graciousness, his ability to see beyond caricature set him apart from most of his contemporaries and makes him, even to our own day, an exemplar and an embodiment of the gospel of Christ.
Frank may be on to something there because he knows quite a bit about caricature and violence of spirit:
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold identified by name six Episcopalians for having detrimentally influenced the course of the primates meeting in remarks to the House of Bishops at their March 11-17 spring retreat at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas.
The devil is a liar and the father of lies and the devil was certainly moving about Dromantine, the site of the primates meeting in Northern Ireland, the presiding Bishop said, according to accounts from several bishops who spoke to THE LIVING CHURCH on the condition that their names not be revealed. The primates were out for blood, Bishop Griswold told them.
The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh; the Rev. Canon Bill Atwood, general secretary of the Ekklesia Society; the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Parish, Fairfax, Va.; the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council; the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina; and Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, were singled out for opprobrium by the Presiding Bishop for their behind-the-scenes roles at Dromantine.
Thanks to Karen for the heads-up.
"The church in Martins day at the end of the 4th century was becoming increasingly imperial and self-assured. In many instances it stood in danger of losing sight of the One who came not to be served but to serve."
Probably explains why this person Griswold has such a problem with that 4th century, imperial, self assured, worldly declaration called The Creed.
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