Comprehensively beautiful, not tightly consistent, Part II

By W. Christopher Evans

The language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as it relates to Scripture and the Creeds is similar to much language found not only in the Articles of Religion, but also in Richard Hooker. A resonance of authority exists there that requires we as Anglicans particularly not only take the Quadrilateral in itself, but look for those resonances, such as Hooker and the Articles. That the Quadrilateral and all of our authorities point beyond themselves, ultimately to a Person, indeed, Persons Three. Historical authorities cannot be dismissed because they are with us also, but that does not mean that we are so beholden to them that no open spaces or even closed opinions are not up for reconsideration or further examination, yes, even reassessment in light of new flesh—that is data, input, member-ed-ness. To say otherwise is to no recognize how truly complex was the undoing of slavery given almost universal biblical acceptance. It required breaking open beyond the Scriptures themselves to a Person who sometimes speaks in a text by forcing us to question supposed “God” in them.

To begin to get at authorities falling within this field of resonances, some questions are helpful for clarifying (without settling) shared and disputed Anglican informative/interpretive sources:

What sources do we share or dispute as Anglican Christians across Churches and Provinces?

I would suggest, for example, that Richard Hooker would fall in this category as a shaping if not shared source, while Lancelot Andrews might not across Churches and Provinces. We share heavily the influence of F. D. Maurice with the Church of England, but the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) might not, though Maurice’s thinking very much shapes aspects of our Communion as a whole. Even here however is broken-open-ness, for though Hooker’s understanding of Scripture shapes an overall Anglican sense as also found in portions of the Articles and distilled in the Quadrilateral, we have always had our faithful, that is, showing up and praying with us, Puritans. Puritans, for whom as with Resolution III.5.b of Lambeth 1998: “This Conference…in agreement with the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and in solidarity with the Lambeth Conference of 1888, affirms that these Holy scriptures contain ‘all things necessary to salvation’ and are for us the ‘rule and ultimate standard’ of faith and practice.” Hooker would not concur. Neither do I. And it seems a misuse of the Articles and Quadrilateral to boot.

What sources do we share or dispute as Anglican Christians across parties or school?

Among High Church and Anglo-Catholics, certainly William Laud, Lancelot Andrewes, and the Carolines would be shared sources, but not necessarily for the more Evangelical-minded or Liberals. Among Liberal High Church and Anglo-Catholics, we might add the likes of Charles Gore, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, Desmond Tutu. Evangelicals might hold out Wilberforce, or more currently, N. T. Wright. Moreover, Evangelical-minded, High Church, and Anglo-Catholics might share an interest in Patristic sources, particularly St. Augustine of Hippo, while the two latter might also look East or to other Western Fathers, particularly St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory the Great, and the Venerable Bede. This complicates matters, as as a whole, for example, the American Episcopal Church presumes a great deal of Scottish and Caroline influence on our Eucharistic understanding and rites, while nevertheless, we have those among us who would distance themselves from these authorities.

What sources are particular to our Church or Province?

For example, I would that in general John Henry Hobart and William Porcher DuBose and James DeKoven and William Stringfellow among others may provide particular interpretations from within our own Province and have informed the long-term scope of revision of our Prayer Book, that is, our own Reformations.

Our party or school?

On the whole, for example, Pusey and Keble are most likely to inform Anglo-Catholics, for example.

And of what type?

I tend to look to Herbert, Donne, Auden, Thomas, Trahern, Tallis, L’Engle, Lewis, and others as equally valid theological authorities and lenses for getting at an Anglican feel.

Depending on position, other (in)formative/interpretive authorities might include science and culture. For example, Michael Ramsey, because of his strong sense of the Word’s activity among us from “in the beginning,” would expect that something of Christ is generally revealed in creation, and hence, we cannot ignore science as a source. Stringfellow, from a more Evangelical point of view, offers a similar sense of the Word’s activity in our social worlds, the Word Who we as Church are meant to point out.

To put all of this more forwardly, I do not think we can arrive at a singular hermeneutic, a tightly consistent interconnection of strands upon which most much less all can agree that may not finally cut off someone (and something’s) understood as Anglican—even if we disagree, and even if we court error, and the question becomes more what is decidedly out of bounds? And why? Who decides? And what are the consequences?

Rather than despair all of this, however, I receive this multiplicity and intransigence as a challenging gift rich in godly nourishment and mutual correction from friends and enemies alike, that leads me to trust finally and ultimately in Jesus Christ. We who are Anglicans in this time have been handed on quite a lot. The dispersed authority and many authorities makes Anglican Christianity capable of error, open to correction, contingent in decision-making, and dependent on God. This makes us pilgrim Christians living in an eschatological tense, or perhaps better, mood, a mood that is hopeful, and thus, subjunctive, as if all things are already reconciled in Christ because Christ promises precisely this. And we cannot see our way through, much less see how on our own.

Which is to say that in our actual expression of authority and authorities, we body one of the root reforms of our tradition, that we are nothing of ourselves, and receive everything because of Jesus Christ. Like an icon, we break open and out onto Someone more than ourselves, Jesus Christ. Our broken-open-ness with regard to authority and authorities though muddy and painful, is a great gift in our dominant social worlds proclaiming self-sufficiency and much of Christianity claiming a definitiveness that now scandalizes at every turn. Our painful muddiness throws us into Arms Who alone will finally make all manner of things well. Precisely in our broken-open-ness, in our airing of dirty laundry and public fighting, we are in a good position to proclaim and present our only Life.

Because of this complexity, we have been spared the ravaging wars of the worst excesses of creationism and scientism alike precisely because we have not made of the Scriptures more than “rule and ultimate standard of faith.” Not practice. Which begins to dig into that beyond common prayer, our root practice, and is meant to do so in response to human sexuality—the undertext for the resolution. Begins to close up the pastoral/ascetical/moral requiring observation of fruits, that is, among other things, the observations of science and relationships in communcal discernment and the particularity of human beings trusting that the Logos has been and is always working among us not only in Church sanctuaries but in our daily social worlds. Which turns Scripture to matters it cannot and is not meant to or fit to answer sufficiently, much less, definitively. We have neither made of our Scriptures a science textbook, nor an ascetical/pastoral theological manual, or even, a book of polity and ecclesiastical law. They are sufficient and definitive for their purpose, to lead us to trust in Jesus Christ, our salvation as is evident by the profoundly Patristic theology of Maurice, who himself seems to have known little of the Fathers (Scripture, especially John 1 and the Christ canticles were enough). And we can do no more as a Body than proclaim and present this Same One. And our broken-open-ness may do this best in our own time if we will embrace, rather than constrict the open spaces and the controverted spaces and the revisited spaces. Precisely in tumult and uncertainty and contention the Word speaks.

We have painfully but surely been able to reassess ascetical/pastoral theology surrounding chattel slavery and its civil remains, precisely because Scriptures are not a rulebook on all manner of life. We have been able to live with being adult Christians and the contentions this often brings. We have begun to undergo the struggling grace of seeing in sisters, daughters, mothers that same Christ. And not without a lot of heat. Can we sit with grace long enough to discover what it is sin hath wrought and grace undoing regarding human sexuality, not just, that of “those people” but of our own?

I would suggest that the proposed Covenant may address some of these matters without actually providing the spacious framework of informative/interpretive challenging and correcting diversity that has prevented us from falling into traps. My grave reservation is precisely and largely so because the want of those most adamant about the Covenant is largely encapsulated in Section IV. The intent of this section is juridical and even punitive, and may unnecessarily cut off the informative/interpretive diversity needed for sharing salvation with others in our time. We may yet have our own Galileo should we go this route. But even that broken-ness, I trust, God can and will turn to grace dare we give away our member-ed-ness for pottage. It is precisely when we are broken most open that God’s grace takes our want for consistency and shows us God’s own Beauty: “Blessed is this One.”

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

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