The Spirit-guided sensus fidei of the whole body of believers

For the first time in recent memory, Anglican conservatives have something to cheer about. Ever since the Episcopal Churchâ??s general convention in June, things have been moving rapidly in the Anglican world, and this past week was no exception. There were not one but two events sure to shape the future of Anglican polity and doctrine, following fast on the heels of a major statement by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. But instead of the almost obligatory gloominess of conservatives in response to, well, any significant action of their church, there is today a powerful sense of hope among many of the Anglican faithful, thanks to the long-awaited convergence of Canterbury, the Global South, and a substantial number of orthodox American bishops.

The case for hope starts with Abp. Williamsâ?? pastoral letter of September 15, addressed to the global primates. Just as in his previous letter to the primates, Williams affirmed the orthodox theological position on sexual ethics, recognizing it to be the mind of the Communion. Likewise, Williams duly noted that the actions of the Episcopal Church in convention could at best be called a â??mixed responseâ?? to the requests of the Communion, thus posing some â??very challenging questionsâ?? for the upcoming primatesâ?? meeting in February. At the same time, the archbishop cautioned conservatives against impatient and hasty actions that could lead to further schism. There is, he warned, no â??rapid short-term solutionâ?? to the current crisis capable of bypassing the need for Communion-wide discernment. The long-term solution, however, he made quite clear by his appointment of Archbishop Drexel Gomez, a conservative primate from the West Indies, to chair the forthcoming Anglican Covenant design group. It bodes very well indeed for Anglican identity that the Covenant, which will ultimately become a condition of full Communion membership, is to be overseen by a primate committed both to theological orthodoxy and Communion unity. And, not least, it bodes well that the Archbishop of Canterbury firmly wishes that it should be so.

Viewed as a whole, Archbishop Williamsâ?? actions and words can only be seen as positive from the perspective of those who hope to see the catholic substance of Anglicanism preserved. The Church of England is quite clearly not willing to give up either her children or her heritage, and while many conservatives have been understandably impatient at the seemingly glacial progress of Canterbury, it must not be forgotten that Williams is unable to jump ahead of decisions that can ultimately be made only by the entire Communion. Canterbury moves slowly by its very nature, but the irrevocable logic of the Covenant process guarantees its forward motion. So long as the majority of the Communion is dedicated to the preservation of Anglican catholicity and identityâ??and it isâ??the time will come, and soon, when the Covenantâ??s promise of mutual ecclesial subjectivity will entrust orthodoxy to that upon which it has always dependedâ??the Spirit-guided sensus fidei of the whole body of believers, living prayerfully under the authority of Scripture.

Jordan Hylden First Things

Catholicity 5

The Christian people is a vast assembly made up of all the members of Christ, both those who for us are in the past and the future. All the members of that assembly, the whole Christ, intend that we join them. Our full identity is there with them. They intend to make us present there with them, and the pass on to us the means by which we may fully take on our identity and take up our place in that assembly.

This future and final assembly makes itself present to the present world in two modes. It passes on the manyness and diversity of the whole Christ to each eucharistic congregation present in each location in the world. And it makes present to the world the unity of the whole Christ in the one indivisible Church in which each of these congregations participate. The Church participates in the unity and plurality of the whole Christ. It witnesses to the manyness and oneness of Christ, and it passes on to the world the manyness and unity it receives from Christ. The Church supplies the world simultaneously with both unity and plurality, identity and difference. The world receives its own unity and diversity, and with them its very existence, from the whole assembly of Christ. This act of witness shows that, in itself, apart from Christ, the world is not yet either one or many. Without the present assembly of the Church, present in every part of the world, both the unity and diversity of the world are in doubt.

The assembly of Christ’s people makes itself present in the eucharistic community in each locality. In its petitions it makes each locality present to God, and so that locality receives its existence. Each congregation that confesses Christ-with-his-whole-people, receives the discipline and shaping of the whole Church. The eucharistic community that receives the shaping of the whole Christ makes the whole future cosmic community present there in that locality. To participate in the whole it must seek Christ in every corner of his worldwide Church and beg each part of the body to give it that gift of Christ that it has not yet received. Thus each particular part of the world, represented and made present in the assembly called before God, seeks and receives the discipline of Christ learned and exercised worldwide and through all generations. Next we have to link this universality to the authority and discipline of Christ, that the Lord exercises through his entire Church.

The enlightenment lives from its Christian roots 2

We asked ourselves two questions: if rationalist (positivist) philosophy is strictly rational and, consequently, if it is universally valid, and if it is complete. Is it self-sufficient? Can it, or more directly must it, relegate its historical roots to the realm of the pure past and, therefore, to the realm of what can only be valid subjectively?

We must respond to both questions with a definitive “no.” This philosophy does not express man’s complete reason, but only a part of it, and because of this mutilation of reason it cannot be considered entirely rational. For this reason it is incomplete, and can only be fulfilled by re-establishing contact with its roots. A tree without roots dries up.
In this connection, the Enlightenment is of Christian origin and it is no accident that it was born precisely and exclusively in the realm of the Christian faith…..

Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the “Logos.” It is faith in the “Creator Spiritus,” in the Creator Spirit, from which proceeds everything that exists. Today, this should be precisely its philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not, therefore, other than a “sub-product,” on occasion even harmful of its development or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal.

The Christian faith inclines toward this second thesis, thus having, from the purely philosophical point of view, really good cards to play, despite the fact that many today consider only the first thesis as the only modern and rational one par excellence. However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way.

In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the “Logos,” from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger Europe’s crisis of culture

At the beginning of the academic year

If your college allows you to pay your academic fees in instalments, bring each payment with you to the theology seminar, lay it on the table in a big envelop.

But before you do this, go to the cathedral, stand inside the door and as people emerge from the morning eucharist ask them for a pound each to pay for your theological education. Tell them that you will come back to tell them what you have learned. And do so. Better still, ask the bishop, publicly and every time you see him, what his Cathedral theology school is teaching today, this week, this term.

Write the name of your church, or your several sponsors, on the envelop, and enclose letters from these congregations on their headed notepaper.

Mark the envelop ‘For the doctrine of God …. as taught by Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Newman, Barth, Congar, John Paul II …. ‘

Always ask your teacher which Father or doctor of the church you should read on the matter under consideration. Whenever you ask your professor a question (do this often) preface it with ‘What shall I tell the people of St Mary’s, Stoke Newington (or whatever your church is called) when they ask me … ’ then put your question to them. This will help focus the group and open the conversation up, and your teacher may very well find it helpful.

Our giant


Giants can still be found in Britain. Well, just the one giant really. He is our theologian, and he is an evangelical theologian.

His name?

Oliver O’Donovan

Author of The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Politcal Theology and most recently The Ways of Judgment, O’Donovan is now Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology in the University of Edinburgh. I have excerpted from O’Donovan’s public lectures, and posted on the significance of his and John Webster’s departure from Oxford. There seem to be just two photographs of him (not much of self-publicist then). This one was taken as O’Donovan was giving the sermon at the enthronement of his colleague Tom Wright as Bishop of Durham.

It’s hard to say what a single word sums up the O’Donovan kerygma, but I’ll go for ‘patience’ in the hope that you’ll hear the passio – listening to the tradition, being discipled by the apostles, serving an apprenticeship with all the doctors of the church, learning to suffer and so become robust enough to outlast the opposition.

We need time to be formed by that whole Christian tradition and to get to know, and know how to use, those many intellectual resources the Church has acquired in the course of the many centuries of its witness to the world. We learn from our predecessors in the faith by reading large numbers of primary texts (his From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought is an introduction to these texts, not an alternative). We may not hurry away from our predecessors with glib statements of what this means for us today.

O’Donovan is scholarly, patrician, awe-inspiring. ‘Evangelical’ is the only other epithet that does not bounce straight off him. Salvation is incorporation into the good company of God, which company and fellowship God has graciously extended to man. We are redeemed from our asocial isolation, and brought into love and life together in the society of man with God. This evangelical communion ecclesiology comes from the Augustinian and in particular the Anglican theological tradition. I think we will prosper as long as we go the way he is pointing. I think we will be stuffed if we go any other way.

If O’Donovan is new to you, Wikipedia has a bibliography and you could try Gilbert Meilaender’s review of The Desire of Nations . There is more critical response to The Desire of the Nations in A Royal Priesthood? – the collection of essays edited by Craig Bartholomew, to which O’Donovan adds responses, by the Scripture and Hermeneutics seminar – though they look like kids throwing stones at a very tall house without once managing to break a window.

O’Donovan is courteous and ready to grant as much as he can to his interlocutors, and to tackle the intractable issues of sexuality and church order and unity. This is what he is doing at the moment in a series of seven web sermons for Fulcrum, the first three of which have appeared: ‘The Failure of the Liberal Paradigm’, ‘The Care of the Churches’, ‘Ethics and Agreement’. Coming up next is ‘Scripture and Obedience’.

In the following posts I will talk about O’Donovan as:

Evangelical theologian
Christian ethicist
Political theologian
Historical theologian
Anglican theologian

I will of course make O’Donovan’s thought seem much less nuanced than it is. But I will let the man speak for himself with an excerpt from The Ways of Judgment

An effective church with an effective ministry holds out the word of life

The ministries are known by their effects; when we see the effects we may discern that the Spirit is giving the church its authentic shape. What impact, then, will these effects have on the politics society in which the church lives? If a political society has in its midst a church that is taught by the episcopate not to confine its deliberations to the local, national, linguistic, or racial sphere, but to explore contested issues in a catholic manner, not only attending to Christians from every present source, but also from every past age, it must have a profound effect. A society influenced by a such a church will be restrained from universalizing its own local experiences and perspectives. The narrow and culture-bound spirit which expects to exports its local assumptions and values en masse and makes no effort to learn from others, meets a roadblock when it comes face to face with a church support by a functioning episcopal ministry.

An effective church with an effective ministry, in holding out word of life, than which there is no other human good within the world or outside it, will render assistance to the political functions in society by forwarding the social good which they exist to defend… In holding out the word life, an effective church with an effective ministry issued, the call ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!’ and so in the short, medium and even penultimate term the presence of the church in political society can be a disturbing factor, as those who first thought Christianity worth persecuting understood quite well. It presents a counter-movement in social existence; it restrains the thirst for judgment; it points beyond the boundaries of political ideology; it undermines received traditions of representation; it utters truths that question unchallenged public doctrines’.

Oliver O’Donovan The Ways of Judgment 291-92

Catholicity 4

So far I have said that in the eucharist we receive our place in the one loaf of Christ glorified together with his people. In the eucharist all are called and gathered together in Christ, and through him we will be connected to, and so become alive to, all other people. When we are at last connected to one another, we will no longer be isolated entities, are our life be be supplied to us without limit.

It is not only that we are being fitted together in a vast living company of people, but that this company is being fitted to the cosmos. Humanity and nature are in process of reconciliation and integration. The church and the cosmos, like two halves of a single piece of engineering, are being brought together to form one vast entity. We are learning how to get into time with the cosmos, and the cosmos is being brought into synch with us. When humanity and nature are fitted together, and move in step, they will make a single beautiful working whole, called ‘creation’. But in giving the loaf to you, he is making it complete. It is not complete without you, but as you take hold of it and it is so joined to you, it is made complete. You are the completion of the cosmos. So the eucharistic loaf is a world-loaf – all creation united with Christ. We will be complete, and live with, rather than against, the order of creation. When Christ is all in all, we will all be in all.

This bread, which we now understand is the loaf, shows the world the present and the future of the church, which is linked to the future of the cosmos. The loaf we see held up in the eucharist is the cosmos. It is shown to us so we can acknowledge that it is not yet complete, but still fragmented. It is waiting for us, and for many others. (The verb ‘shows’ is scarcely adequate to the case, but I’ll come back to it when I talk about participation and our Amen).

The Lord wants us to acknowledge that it is not yet whole loaf, and that we are all waiting for the rest of God’s creation to come in and join this loaf. This incomplete loaf represents his commission, ‘Go into all the world’: the mass is commission and mission. We have to go out and get these many others and bring them back with us and present them to God here at this point. That loaf is one half of a tally stick: the point is to come up with the other half. So this bread is work. This work of bringing these many in is what is going on in the lifting them up (anaphora) or offering them. This means that we present them to the Lord for his inspection. This work is Christ’s work. It is not our work apart from Christ. It is an invitation to participate in Christ, and so also in his work, to take it for ourselves, and to enjoy with him this labour of his along with its outcome.

Only within this assembly, that recognises and gives the proper name to all things as creatures of God, does this by participating (publicly for the benefit of world) in Christ’s office of lifting up (anaphora) the world to God. Only the assembly-member (represented by the bishop) in the assembly can carry out this priestly office. Thus only the bishop is the priest, and only when all those around him, all the people of God, accompany him in this act, so it is their act because his, his because theirs, their joint act because the act of Christ. In the next post I will talk about the significance of the bishop.

Soul and body

Months ago I promised that I would post pieces from The Apprenticeship. I haven’t told you anything about the purpose or structure of the book, and without any context, passages may not make all that much sense, but let’s try anyway.

This first piece comes from a section asking ‘Which comes first – the individual or society?

Man is a social animal. We do not live in isolation. We live our lives before others: they make up our audience. We are influenced by them and they are influenced by us, so we wield power over one another. Others observe what we do as much as we watch what we do: they copy us and we copy them. Everyone is looking out for anyone who has good idea or has find a better way of doing the things we do. Better ideas are picked up and integrated.

Man is always with his company and his audience. Each man stands before his own home crowd. He plays to them and they receive and acknowledge his acts, and his acts only have sense to the degree that they acknowledge them. Our every act makes that act first acceptable, then compelling and over the long term binding over others.

But we are not only in relationship with those we are aware of, whom we see and can name. We are also in relationship with others all across the world, who want (or no longer want) the goods and services we produce, with the result that we are making money or struggling financially. Their demand for what we do means that we have a position, in a firm, with all its security and recognition. Though they may be unaware of this, we receive our place, and in it permission to do a range of things, from them. Our identity, even perhaps our very existence, comes from them.

But we are not only in relationship with those who are alive now, our contemporaries across the globe. We are also in a different sort of relationship which those who preceded us, and who set up the institutions and infrastructure that we take for granted, and from whom who have inherited our worldview, the palette from which we select what we regard as our own personal views.

Let us imagine that we do we are observed by others, who inhabit spectator galleries far above us, and of which we are unaware. Ancient people thought of the world as a series of galleries, such that the people who come before us, who are now dead to us, continue to take an interest us while they lead lives in a parallel sphere. Between us is a screen of one-way glass, which means that they can consider us part of their world, but we are unaware of their existence. It wouldn’t matter if we thought of our invisible predecessors as living not above us, but below us, in a basement of which we have no knowledge.

The ancients placed the ancestors not only in the notional spirit of the heavens, but also deep beneath us, because they were able to regard past and present as different floors of a single building. In our modern metaphysics we regard what is past as either behind us or as nature, which in worldview expresses as beneath us, constituting the ground on which we stand. It is not just ancients who visualize different times, past and present, as different locations relative to ourselves, whether arranged vertically one above another, or in some other way.

If we indulge the ancients a moment longer however, we will see that they sometimes visualize our predecessors as a crowd of sympathizers who look down us, and who regard us as their man in the field. We are not only their DNA, but their memes, their worldview, adapted so it survives in a new climate. When we think, it is with the conceptuality they have passed on to us; though we are oblivious of them, we may still be serving their agenda. Then we can say that any man represents and personifies his predecessors and ancestors to us. We could even say that they send him to us. The living man represents and incorporates his ancestors, as though the assembly of ancestors sends out an individual, the individual we see before us in our time.

The ancient world imagined that the ancestors were either above us, or below us, but just out of sight. They want to be our audience, because in some way the outcome of their lives rests on us, on our remembering them or vindicating them by continuing to do what they did. If we have no successors, not only will there be no one to remember us, but no one to remember them, so their memory and ours will disappear and that would place a question mark over our existence. This sort of thinking may seem foreign to Westerners, but there are two points to make here. One is that it may seem much more obvious to non-Westerners. The other is that I don’t think it is as far removed from our Western thinking as we assume, and even that modern Western thinking is an attempt to conceal this issues, and our anxiety, about other people and other times than our own.

Now here is the pay-off for all this cosmological speculation. The company of the ancestors are our soul. The soul is a plural thing. It does not greater matter if we call it the self, or the mind, though I will stick with ‘soul’ for now. We are plural beings, made of two (in some accounts, three) elements, soul and body. We should regard the soul as a noisy convention of ancestors arguing about how best to push forward their identity in the world in which we live, and in which they live through us. We could say that we are the body, while our soul is them. We, the body, are the message boy that the soul sends into the world in order to represent it to other bodies representing other souls. We could say that we are the body and while our soul is our ancestors. But the soul is also us, or is even more us than is our body, for the soul is our past, our agenda and our future.

It is not necessary for us to buy into any worldviews such as these. But the Christian claim is that we are in one world, and a single world-community, not only with those around us now, but with those who have been and who will be, here where we are now. I have sketched for you the beginnings of a participative ontology, or account of corporate personality. This might come in handy when talking through the Christian understanding of communion, as in the communion of saints, eschatology and the eucharist.

The enlightenment lives from its Christian roots 1

The Muslims, who in this respect are often and willingly brought in, do not feel threatened by our Christian moral foundations, but by the cynicism of a secularized culture that denies its own foundations. … The same is true for the reference to God: It is not the mention of God that offends those who belong to other religions, but rather the attempt to build the human community absolutely without God.

The banishment of Christian roots does not reveal itself as the expression of a higher tolerance, which respects all cultures in the same way, not wishing to privilege any, but rather as the absolutizing of a pattern of thought and of life that are radically opposed, among other things, to the other historical cultures of humanity.

The radical detachment of the Enlightenment philosophy from its roots becomes, in the last analysis, contempt for man. Man, deep down, has no freedom, we are told by the spokesmen of the natural sciences, in total contradiction with the starting point of the whole question. Man must not think that he is something more than all other living beings and, therefore, should also be treated like them, we are told by even the most advanced spokesmen of a philosophy clearly separated from the roots of humanity’s historical memory.

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger Europe’s crisis of culture

Benedict: Human beings share in reason

It may sound strange, but the pope’s main point is that the most pressing problem we face in the world is not the nature of faith, but the nature of reason. How could he say this? Isn’t the problem today simply religious fanaticism and the intolerance associated with it? The pope certainly thinks these things are problems; he’s not a stupid man.

Yet in the course of his very brief treatment of Islam, he points to another dimension of the issue: How do we understand the relationship of reason to the divine?

The quotation that caused all the furor involves a 14th-century dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam. The pope quotes the emperor, who says: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by sword the faith he preached.” Fighting words to be sure, but the pope does not quote them favorably. Rather, Benedict uses the quote to illustrate his deeper point. For Christians, it is always wrong to spread the faith through violence, precisely because of what the Christian faith claims about God. The pope says that “violence is incompatible with the nature of God” because acting against reason is contrary to God’s nature. God is reasonable, not willful or arbitrary.

This may seem like an abstract theological point, but much of our common life hangs on it. By analogy, what if the people who ruled our country were willful and arbitrary? What if they said they were above reason or even acted contrary to it? If they made no pretension to being reasonable, there would be no reason for them to shirk away from threats and violence.

By contrast, we demand reasons from our fellow citizens, and especially from people in charge, when they act in the public sphere. In turn, we (hopefully) respect our fellow citizens’ intelligence and good will enough to give them reasons when they ask us to justify our own actions.

When we do this, we are making a large statement about the way things are: Human beings share in reason, and we need to justify the decisions that govern our common life by appealing to reason so that we can persuade rather than manipulate. Manipulation and violence are wrong because they violate who we are most deeply as human beings.

The pope’s point is partly that religious people believe God is the fundamental ground of reality. If we think that what is most real is willful and arbitrary, we can justify all sorts of irrational domination and violence. He is urging us to rethink the essential connection between God and reason.

Thomas W. Smith Pope’s focus: Reason