Sunday, October 28, 2007

Finding Some Clarity

I have sometimes been told I have an obscure sense of humor (commonly, by my best beloved). Perhaps it had something to do with coming up with a series of book titles from relatives of Martin Heidegger – the one from Richard the gardener, titled Bean and Thyme; or the one from Edward, the commercial photographer, called Sign and Sight. Perhaps it had something to do with referring to our rescued shelter dog as a “Melange” (a practice I stopped after the third person said with all sincerity, “A “Melange?” I’m not familiar with that breed. Where is it from?”).

It has also been said when someone noted that I am a fact-junkie. I like browsing reference sources, just to pick up something new. When I pick up USA Today I find myself looking at the state by state snippets, starting with the state where I live, and then states where I have lived, and then states adjacent to states where I have lived….

So, I was playing recently in the Digital Archives of the Episcopal Church, looking at legislation of past General Conventions. (Take some time to browse there yourself. It’s a wealth of information on the statements and actions of General Conventions since 1976.) There I ran across Resolution 1997-A014:

Resolved, That Canon IV.15 is hereby amended by adding thereto a definition reading as follows: "Doctrine": As used in this Title, the term "Doctrine" shall mean the basic and essential teachings of the church. The Doctrine of the Church is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.

First, that led me to consider this definition: "the basic and essential teachings of the church… [are] to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.” (emphasis mine) Whatever some may say about the importance of Scripture in the Anglican tradition, the General Convention in 1997 affirmed in at least one place in Canons the importance of the Church’s interpretation of Scripture rather than a sola scriptura tradition. That is even more clear when we consider that this definition was accepted as amended. The original version of the resolution was,

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That Canon IV.15. is hereby amended by adding thereto a definition reading as follows: "Doctrine": The Doctrine of the Church shall be found in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Sacraments, Pastoral Offices, and Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer, and is in all cases to be supported by Holy Scripture.

The difference is subtle, but the amended version essentially reverses, I think, the original. Rather than Tradition being understood through Scripture, Scripture was to be understood through the Tradition.

Then, it led me to Title IV Canon 15, the title of which is “Of Terminology Used in This Title” It is, in fact, a list of definitions of terms used in Title IV, which encompasses the Disciplinary Canons. In addition, it includes definitions of such terms as “Amenable for Presentment for an Offense” (“a reasonable suspicion exists that the individual has been or may be accused of the commission of an Offense”); . “Discipline” (“found in the Constitution, the Canons, and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer”); and “Minor: (“a person under the age of twenty-one years of age;”).

It also includes a definition of “Conduct Unbecoming a Member of the Clergy:”

“any disorder or neglect that prejudices the reputation, good order and discipline of the Church, or any conduct of a nature to bring material discredit upon the Church or the Holy Orders conferred by the Church.”

and a definition of “Offense:” “any conduct or acts proscribed in Canon IV.1.1. “

One of the complaints about the Episcopal Church has been lack of clarity and of definition. Here are some clear definitions, affirmed through the constitutional processes of the Episcopal Church. I wonder what use we might make of them.


Christopher said...

Adrian Thatcher has noted in his latest work on families and theology that our doctrine, meaning for him the Trinity, is our hermeneutic. I think we might begin to use what has been passed in GC to suggest that that is indeed the case. That we have a hermeneutic. Just as sola Scriptura for Lutherans never meant what it has become, but rather everything read through the lens of revelation in Jesus Christ, so we can say something quite similar by suggesting the Creeds as our hermeneutic, something I've suggested before.

I think liturgical theological work needs to be done on say our Ordinal. It's quite a departure from 1928 in some ways, for example. What principles went into this reshaping? I think it's what appears to be a penchant to reshape without clearly stated theological principles that causes me issues when we tool with our rites.

Marshall said...

I think you have a point about declaring a hermeneutic. Granted, I think sometimes when we push for too much "clarity," too much specificity we fall into heresy, or at least into places we don't want to stay (as, for example, when Trent declared transubstantiation the only allowable understanding of how Christ might be physically present in the Eucharist: it works, but it undermines our appreciation of mystery and the limits of our understanding).

Even in the canon I cite, we don't define what the doctrine is, only where it is to be found. I've looked in at your discussions with Derek and Scotist, and appreciate the struggle in trying to articulate the content of the Gospel (those who don't know what I'm referring to can - should! - look here, and follow the bouncing links). We struggle between stating again where we start with the Gospel and articulating all of its ramifications.

As for the Ordinal: yes, there is a departure. I made some reference to one aspect of that on August 20 this year (and I think you commented then); but to look into the history I'd need to read Hatchett, and preferably to speak with him and with Louis Weil while we still have them.