Skip to comments.Brood of Vipers
Posted on 11/18/2006 8:34:04 AM PST by sionnsar
We here at The Continuum, myself particularly, have been taken to task this week for daring to question the orthodoxy of the new presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori. (I refer you to two threads here: 'Schori is Not a Christian' and 'Welcome to Anthony Paul Smith').
For having done so, we have been accused of being throw-backs, buffaloes and reactionaries, labeled sarcastically as true believers and charged with speaking sexist and racist bullshit.
We have also been labeled as a brood of vipers. I like that one, because it is at least biblical.
For anyone who spends more than five minutes in the Anglican blogosphere, it is obvious that there is nothing that has been said here that has not been said elsewhere. Moreover, it is being said not just by us "throw-back" continuers, but my members of Schori's own church and by others in the wider Anglican Communion.
Just today, courtesy of Brad Drell, an active and deeply concerned Episcopalian, I found a link to the following.
Perhaps, to borrow the terminology referred to in that piece, I have been too polemic, something I am prepared to consider. So, for the sake of balance, I commend to you this more irenic approach.
Is Katharine Jefferts Schori, recently invested in the position of Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in the US), up to dealing with such subtle theological questions facing her faithful such as irenicism?
Irenicism? Until I started this piece, I had never heard of the word. The worrisome thing is that I wonder whether Jefferts Schori has ever heard of the word either.
What are the boundaries of ecumenism?
For Episcopalians, their new Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, invested on November 4, seems to have taken a very broad view:
In John 14:6, Jesus -- in responding to a question posed by the disciple Thomas -- said: "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." But Jefferts-Schori says she disagrees with the idea that salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus Christ. "It's this sense that one person can have the fullness of truth in him or herself, rather than understanding that truth is -- like God -- more than any one person can encompass," stated the soon-to-be ECUSA leader.
Jefferts-Schori says she views salvation as the healing of all Creation through holy living. "I understand salvation as being about the healing of the whole creation. Your part and my part in that is about holy living," she offered. "As Christians we understand [salvation] as relationship with God in Jesus, but that does not mean that we're expected to judge other people's own commitments."
For a lot of the faithful, statements like these are confusing. They understand that Christians must respect others and their faiths, but does that mean drawing some sort of equivalence between faiths in order to avoid having an opinion and coming to some sort of judgment? If all religions are the same, can they have any value, or claim to hold any Truths? From that position it is only a short hop to a Marxist view of religion as the opiate of the masses.
Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites.
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ, "the way the truth, and the life" (John 14, 6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself (4).
The Church therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions
The Second Vatican Council
Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI
October 28, 1965
When it comes to meetings with non-Catholics, no pope in modern times met with more than John Paul II. Here he speaks on the pitfalls of interreligious dialogue:
On the other hand, as far as the field of religious awareness is concerned, the eve of the Year 2000 will provide a great opportunity, especially in view of events of recent decades, for inter-religious dialogue, in accordance with the specific guidelines set down by the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration Nostra Aetate on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions. In this dialogue, the Jews and the Muslims ought to have a pre-eminent place. God grant that as a confirmation of these intentions it may be possible to hold joint meetings in places of significance for the great monotheistic religions. In this regard, attention is being given to finding ways of arranging historic meetings in places of exceptional symbolic importance like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Mount Sinai as a means to furthering dialogue with Jews and followers of Islam, and to arranging similar meetings elsewhere with the leaders of the great world religions. However, care will always be taken not to cause harmful misunderstandings, avoiding the risk of syncretism and of a facile and deceptive irenicism.
Irenicism is a new word for me. Irenics is the process of trying to overcome doctrinal differences. As John Paul II warns, in it lies the danger of ejecting doctrine altogether in an attempt to achieve the goal that inter-religious peace. Worse yet would be adopting foreign doctrines ("syncretism"). The Lutherans issued a similar warning in their Catechism:
4. Is there a danger in "irenics" as well as "polemics"?
Answer: Yes, indeed! In polemics, there is the danger of simply arguing to win, magnifying nonessential differences, and thus fostering separatism. In irenics there is the danger of compromising a Truth and of minimizing what God plainly says in His Word. Thus irenics may lead to doctrinal indifference, unionism, and syncretism. True polemics, however, should have no other aim than to bring about peace (irenics), and true irenics will find its aim accomplished only through controversy (polemics).
It sure sounds like Jefferts Schori is crossing the line into "facile" irenicism.
But what I find striking is that someone at such a senior post would not recognize that danger. When I started looking into her statements, I had no idea what "irenicism" was. I had never heard of the word before. But I'm not a theologian, much less the head of a major church.
I sometimes think the Episcopalians elected a theological lightweight to lead their church, probably for political reasons.
From Jefferts Schori's biography in Wikipedia:
Jefferts Schori was raised in the Roman Catholic Church until 1963, when at the age of eight her parents brought her into the Episcopal Church in conjunction with their own move out of Roman Catholicism. She attended school in New Jersey, then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in biology from Stanford University in 1974, and a Master of Science in oceanography in 1977 and a Ph.D. in 1983, also in oceanography, from Oregon State University. She earned her M.Div. in 1994, and was ordained priest that year. She served as assistant rector at the Church of the Good Samaritan, Corvallis, Oregon, where she had special responsibility for pastoring the Hispanic community (she speaks Spanish fluently). In 2001, she was elected and consecrated Bishop of Nevada. She was awarded a D.D. (honoris causa) in 2001 from The Church Divinity School of the Pacific. (It is a common practice for a bishop in The Episcopal Church to be awarded an honorary doctorate from her or his alma mater seminary.) She is an instrument-rated pilot.
So she was ordained for all of 11 years before becoming Presiding Bishop, having spent 3 years are a bishop. And her theological degrees? An honourary doctorate issued on the basis of tradition of making sure all bishops in the Episcopal Church can say they have one.
Compare with John Paul II:
In 1942 he entered the underground seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Sapieha. Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest on 1 October 1946, by the same bishop who confirmed him. Not long after, he was sent to study theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, commonly known as the Angelicum, where he earned a licentiate and later a doctorate in sacred theology. This doctorate, the first of two, was based on the Latin dissertation Doctrina de fide apud S. Ioannem a Cruce (The Doctrine of Faith According to Saint John of the Cross). Even though his doctoral work was unanimously approved in June of 1948, he was denied the degree because he could not afford to print the text of his dissertation (an Angelicum rule). In December of that year, a revised text of his dissertation was approved by the theological faculty of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, and Wojtyla was finally awarded the degree. He earned a second doctorate, based on an evaluation of the possibility of founding a Catholic ethic on the ethical system of phenomenologist Max Scheler (An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler), in 1954. As was the case with the first degree, he was not granted the degree upon earning it. This time, the faculty at Jagiellonian University was forbidden by communist authorities from granting the degree. In conjunction with his habilitation at Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, he finally obtained the doctorate in philosophy in 1957 from that institution, where he had assumed the Chair of Ethics in 1956.
An ordained priest for 36 years before becoming Pope, with two (count' em, two) real doctorates, one of them on the analysis of a Latin dissertation.
The current pope, Benedict XVI? Ordained over 50 years ago, a doctorate, full professorship at the University of Bonn, reknowned theologian, and an expert on ecumenical dialogue.
One of the reasons the Roman Catholic Church appoints bishops and elects popes with this sort of intellectual heft is precisely because even straightforward questions, like the one posed to Jeffords Schori in an interview, hide a lot of subtlety and are strewn with theological land mines. Someone like John Paul II or Benedict XVI would have no problems handling a question like that quite deftly, and the answer would be consistent with Church teaching and mindful of the need to provide clarity to those listening.
Jefferts Schori's answer, in the other hand, has generated a lot of confusion, and I'm sure has raised questions in some, like this blogger, about just how prepared she really is to handle to job.
I wonder if, like me, she's ever heard of irenics. I shouldn't be asking that question -- in her position, the answer must surely be yes. But whereas with John Paul II or Benedict XVI, there would never be any doubt, with Jefferts Schori, it is all doubts.
Addendum: To all the readers coming here from various places of the Anglican blogosphere, welcome. I'm pleasantly surprised at just how much interest this piece has generated. To those who don't know me, I'm in fact Roman Catholic, not Anglican, but like many of my brothers and sisters in the Anglican communion, I'm concerned with the direction being taken by many in the Anglican leadership. As always, please be kind to each other as you debate this issues, or at least be polite. No need to for name-calling.
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