Sunday, October 29, 2006

St. John Chrysostom, Mutuality and Marital Fidelity

It seems that I've started a series on John Chrysostom and family life without fully realizing it. Well, okay, I had a suspicion last week because I realized that I wanted to write about more on John's view of the family and of marriage than I had room for in a single blog entry (unless I would start a blog tome).

What I want to look at is John's Homily 19 in which he discusses a passage from 1 Corinthians 7
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
From this starting point, John goes on to set out a sexual ethic, based on Paul's teaching in his letters which I really think we would be well to listen to in this age of ethical confusion.

What is striking about John's discussion about marital relations is the degree to which John emphasizes that one's control of our body and sexuality is no longer our own (if it ever was) when we are married. This is, of course, a sore point for many feminists who react instinctively to any suggestion that any man can tell a woman what to do with her body. And, in a sense, John fuels that reaction because he states very explicitly that the wife has not control over the body and is the slave of her husband. That certainly isn't going to play well among feminists.

Yet, if we focus only on that point, we've lost entirely John's point almost entirely. The very passage which affirms that the wife is the slave to the husband in regard to the body also makes it clear that she is his ruler. He elaborates his position by commenting that Paul speaks of conjugal rights in the terms of a mutual debt. That is, both husband's and the wife's body are not their own anymore. John's point is that, since both husband and wife no longer are sole masters over their bodies, adultery, for one thing, should be considered almost like theft:
As for you, husband, if a prostitute tries to seduce you, tell her "My body is not my own, but my wife's". And let the wife say the same to any man who is undermining her fidelity: "My body is not my own, but my husbands"
The obligation to remain faithful in body and (I think we can understand) soul is binding on male and female.

What is interesting here is that John openly admits that he is preaching an egalitarian idea here about the bodies of married people (and also, interestingly, about the money of married people). You can sense a bit of discomfort here, I think, because John recognizes that this could be taken to fly in the face of the headship image he promotes elsewhere. Yet, he closes off the possibility of the double standard enshrined in Roman divorce laws, at any rate in which a husband could divorce a wife for infidelity, but a woman generally couldn't do so on her own power.

I think John here is emphasizing here something that we in this enlightened modern age have forgotten. He emphasizes that marriage isn't a contract between autonomous individuals, but a giving of each other in service to each other in God. Sexual fidelity, I think, is only a symbol of this kind of mutual self-giving which is so essential in a marriage. In our individualism and the selfishness that comes from that, we, as a society, have tended to only ask what is in the relationship for me, me, ME! What John points out is that we are called to serve each other in marriage. If we only got that point clear, just among Christians even, I'm sure our divorce rate would plummet. From my mouth to God's ear.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

St. John Chrysostom: Headship and the Culture Wars

I've been on a bit of a John Chrysostom kick recently, since I have, finally, got around to reading a couple collections of John's sermons from St. Vladimir Press' Popular Patristics series(an indispensable source of patristic writers for the patristic amateur). I really like St. John. John is an easy Father to get into because, ultimately, he is grounded in the nitty-gritty of Christian life and, while he clearly understands theology, he has a knack for relating it back to everyday life in a way that makes it clear that he knows where the rubber hits the road. That is, of course, because John is primarily a sermon writer, not a philosophical theologian, but it is a valuable gift and one that he liberally bestowed on the Church of his day and for the generations following.

So, yesterday, when I was contemplating this entry, I decided I would go back and have a second look at the Marriage and Family Life collection I had been reading until last week. In particular, I began to re-read his Homily 20 on Ephesians 5,22-3.

I have to admit I find that particular passage of Ephesians a bit difficult. Not so much because I have a particular problem with what Paul is actually saying, but, really, because of the memory of what people think Paul is actually saying. My experience, of course, is formed by my early intellectual formation at university during the Culture Wars of the 1980s and 90s. So my squeamishness on the subject comes from my discomfort with the polarization of the debate over the how the marital relationship should work.

On one side, we heard feminist accusations that the Bible promoted patriarchy and submission of women to men which had to be broken, if we expected to live in a free and democratic society amid gender equality and respect. Ephesians 5:22-3, in particular, was a passage feminists love to hate because Paul thought wives should be subject to their husbands and, after all, what call did any man have to demand that? Besides, they would argue, how many women were kept oppressed and abused because religious authorities connived in this abuse of women by citing this passage to support the unequivocal right of the man to rule in the household? Surely, we just have to accept that Paul was a misogynist and dismiss his talk of submission as mere patriarchal tripe.

On the other side, we heard the voice of the religious right which insisted that the headship of men over women meant that all the decisions of the Christian home should be made by the man. Women could take care of the babies, but shouldn't seek much more than that because they simply weren't cut out for it. Clearly, the headship of men was established by God because, clearly, men were best able to deal with the outside world. Women were too emotional and fragile to function outside the home, so they should be left where their nurturing talents were best employed: the Christian home. The ideal here was the 1950s middle class dream in which the father brings home the bacon and mother cooks it up for father and the kids.

I do recognize that both of these positions are caricatures. The reality of the visions of both sides of the Culture Wars was much more nuanced and varied that I present here. Yet, in the ideologically over-heated debates of that period (which continue until today) the subtleties and the nuances of each position were usually ignored and the broad lines of the debate in the media accentuated these caricatured positions (possibly because a clash of black and white ideas gives better ratings).

This line of thought brought me back to John's homily. In this homily, John can hardly be accused of being pro-feminist. Like most of the Fathers, he is not only unsympathetic with the idea of gender equality, but he is incredulous that anyone would propose it. He plainly thinks someone should take leadership in the family and that person should be the father. So, in that sense, he strongly favours the headship model of Christian marriage. On his side, of course, is that his position is strongly supported by Scripture. Time and again, in Ephesians and in other letters, Scripture makes the headship of the husband the norm in the Christian home. As John himself points out, Scripture even goes as far as making this marital headship the metaphor to describe Jesus' relationship with the Church as a whole. If this headship model wasn't intended to be binding on Christians, how could Scripture use such a metaphor for the whole Church?

I admit this is the point where I start getting uncomfortable. In the Culture Wars, if I was forced to align myself (my favoured position being sitting firmly on the fence), I would have aligned myself with the feminist view. I have few problems with seeing women work outside the home, although I worry when one or both parents are engrossed in their careers to the neglect of their children. I think very well of my wife's intelligence and ability to contribute to the world outside the home. All too often I hear the term headship and I start squirming because it all sounds too authoritarian and uncomfortable to me.

Yet John points the way out of this modern false dichotomy. Yes, he affirms that wives should be subject and obedience to their husbands. He makes it very clear that wives should show respect to their husbands, even if their husbands aren't very loving. Yet he also makes it clear that the obedience of the wife should not be the fearful obedience of a slave, but rather the response to the loving care of the husband. Just as Christ loves the Church and does everything to take care of it, so the human husband should do for his wife and family. That means a willingness to take the actions of love whenever they arise, even if one's wife or child aren't being particularly obedient or respectful. For John, the head of the household wasn't the authoritarian Roman pater familias with the power of life and death over his family and the willingness to use it, but the self-sacrificial Christ, who loves the Church into redemption. The true mark of the head of the family is self-sacrificial love, not naked power enforcing a fearful submission.

The trick, of course, is the application of this practice in my life. How do I, as a husband, balance the leadership which God expects of me with the loving self-sacrifice which is integral to the husband's role in a Christian marriage? I can't say I have all the answers or that the answers that I do have are the right ones. What I like about John, though, is that he points the way to a Christian practice of marriage which avoids the extremes of the modern Culture Wars, but points to an ideal which recognizes human frailty and calls on us to transcend those faults by applying the balm of love and prayer. I can't think of a better way to proceed.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Call for Patristic Blogs

As part of my effort to remake hyperekperisou, I thought it might be interesting to compile a list of patristic blogs. I have a short list of blogs in which tend to specialize in patristics, but I'd be interested in those I'm missing as well as one which discuss patristics occasonally. Also ,any ideas for the patristics links would be helpfu. I intend to add more, but those were the basics I wanted to start with. Either post your suggetions to the comments to this entry or e-mail them to me.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Enough with the schism already! A new direction?

After a little Sunday night reflection on my last post, I do wonder if it is time to back away from specifically Anglican issues for now. God knows that I have enough venues to discuss those issues and, as I recall my first post, I seem to have promised that this blog wasn't going to be reduced to merely another Anglican conservative spouting off. I don't want this blog only or even principally to be known as an Anglican blog. So, it seems time for a change in direction.

The direction I think I want to head for is what, for the want of a better term, could be called applied patristics. I've been experimenting with this idea since June (see particularly my What does Hollywood have to do with Jerusalem, but I'm starting to wonder if this would be a better and healthier contribution to blogosphere in general.

In making this change in direction, I note that I'm going out on a limb. I have no formal patristics training, although I have a fair bit of Classics training. I am a rank amateur in patristics, but, as Robert Farrar Capon notes in The Supper of the Lamb, the world needs more amateurs. As Capon opines "the amateur--the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy--is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak." So, let me think this week and, then, let me speak in due course.

Prayers for inspiration are always welcome.


Further Thoughts on Schism

I've been thinking about some discussion I've been having about schism; one on Orthodox Episcopal Board and below one in the Kigali thread. I've rightly been taken to task about my arguments about schism, largely because they can be misunderstood as meaning that there is no right for anyone to leave a heretical church. So, I need to clarify my argument.

I think we do have to understand first what we mean by schism and how that applies to the current conditions in the Anglican Communion. So, what is schism? Alister MacGrath (Christian Theology. An Introduction, p.502)) defines it very simply as a deliberate break with the unity of the church and notes it condemnation by Sts Cyprian and Augustine, among others. That seems clear enough.

The problem, of course, is just what constitutes a deliberate break with the unity of the church and how to define that unity. Dave Williams in the Kigali conversation rightly pointed out that, in our current multi-denominational universe, schism doesn't make too much sense. What unity are we talking about? Dave is right, of course, although I note that the current state of church division (fragmentation?) while it has been normalized, these schisms can hardly bee seen as a good thing. Variety of worship and theology is good, certainly, but the lack of charity and lack of concern with underlying unity which produced the denominational divisions in the first place was sinful. We can talk about who is to blame for this or that schism, of course, but I suspect we'll find that the sin is distributed fairly equally among the participants. Yet, schism, like any factionalism in the church, is the result of human willfulness and sin.

Yet, I hasten to add, we live in a mixed church- partly sinful and partly saintly-which means we have to confront the problem of disunity in the church. Here the question is what is the boundary point between staying in unity with the church and stepping outside of it. Here, I submit that a decision to enunciate or, worse, act upon a position not accepted by the church (i.e. before the rest of the church is convinced of the rightness of a position), this is already a schismatic act. It is a stepping out of the church (whether we are speaking of the universal church or a particular denomination). In the case of merely enunciating such a position, we can and should employ persuasion to draw the person back to unity. Yet, a stubborn refusal to listen to such admonishment or deliberate action in line with this position is harder to reconcile. At the end of the process, an acceptance of this schism implied in the initial action may prove necessary.

Of course, this whole argument is made in the context of the current situation of the Anglican Communion. I would agree with conservative arguments that General Convention 2003 and the decision of the Diocese of New Westminster to sanction same-sex blessing were schismatic actions. This means that what we have to decide as conservatives is what to do about this schism. Some conservatives have argued that we've done all the admonishing needed and we should just let the schism happen and harden. That is a compelling position, but one that I disagree with.

My own decision to stay with AC of Canada over the past years is based on the belief that I have to earn my way out. That is, I have to continue to admonish the liberal position of my church where I am until I believe that the schismatic impulse has hardened to the point that there is a refusal to listen. I very simply don't think we've reached that point in the AC of Canada. In fact, I would argue that the events of the last few years with the Windsor process has given me more hope that AC of Canada can be salvaged. This is why I don't think this is the time to leave because, by leaving, I believe I would be simply enabling the liberal element in the church in their error by enervating the conservative opposition. We can see the results of this in General Convention 2006 because the conservatives were simply too weakened by the exodus of conservatives after 2003 to make a real fight to support the Windsor process. The result is deepening schism in TEC.

I am a stubborn man, I have to say, so I may well be holding on longer than I need to. Yet, this is what I see out there and holding on is what I believe I'm called to do.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Judas may be evil after all? Who knew?

I ran into this news on Phil Harland's blog, Religions of the Ancient World and couldn't stop laughing. After all the hype and media splash around the Gospel of Judas in the spring, it turns out the National Geographic version of this gospel may have been badly mistranslated. Louis Painchaud, a professor at Laval University, has argued in a recent paper (abstract posted by Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica). Painchaud's main point is "A close reading of the Gospel of Judas reveals a totally different picture. Judas is guilty of sacrificing the man who wore Jesus, he is a demon, misled by his star, and he will never make it to the place reserved for the Holy Generation." Painchaud attributes the mistranslation to importing the testimony of Irenaeus and Epiphanius into the document, not reading it in its own right.

Of course, we need to be cautious here. This is merely a counter claim and needs to be verified by other Coptic scholars. Also, it really only addresses whether Judas is meant to be a postiive or negative figure in the Gospel. It says little about any of the theology enunciated by the 'Jesus' in it. Still, it is an interesting development.

I think I'm with Phil Harland on this. I wish I knew Coptic too!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kigali, Covenant and Communion

I can't say that I'm rushing in where angels fear to tread for the simple reason that I'm hardly rushing in (I think the angels, if they have any sense, still fear to tread where I'm going). The Kigali Communique has been issued for over a week now and I've been spending part of this week twisting my head around it, both in the light of the ecclesial position that the Anglican Communion and in the light of my own hopes and fears about the future of that Communion. The following are some observations.

First, most obviously, there has been plenty of heat and very little light in the response in Anglican blogosphere. Very simple, conservatives are dancing in the virtual streets. Liberals are in a rage at the perceived impertinence of the communique. There are plenty of charges of skullduggery, dishonesty and conspiracy which have been answered by the theological equivalent of 'so's your mother!'. Even the Chapman memo from Jan. 2002 has experienced a glorious (sic!) resurrection as evidence of this conservative plot which has come to fruition at Kigali.

Now, it sounds like I'm dismissive of this whole debate. I'm not. Yet, we have to always keep in mind that both sides are feeling hurt and angry, so sometimes fall into mere polemics, instead of meaningful analysis and discussion. This is natural, but it is, I would point out, fatal, if we have any chance to salvage anything out of this ecclesial mess that TEC is in and which threatens the AC of Canada.

Second, I was actually mildly comforted by Kigali, largely because the Global South primates hadn't gone as far as I feared they might. I honestly thought there was a real possibility that they would simply declare TEC apostate (they kind of did this) and declared a new province in the US on their own. This second point would have finished any attempt to avoid schism and scuttled the AbC's Covenant proposals before they even got off the ground. That would have been tragic because I really do think that these proposals are perhaps the only chance we have to avoiding a scenario where the whole Communion will fly apart in the same way that TEC is well in the process of doing so. Now, I grant you that the Global South primates have not renounced the option of creating that new province, but merely postponed it to the indefinite future. That gives us a breathing space, albeit a short one.

Okay, this comfort that I feel about Kigali is rather a cold one. It is the choice between complete destruction now and impending destruction later. Still, nothing irrevocable has been done yet by the Global South. That is good.

Lastly, even granting that the Global South primates haven't gone as far as I feared, I'm still concerned. I'm concerned because even the threat to set up a new province is deeply problematic. For one thing, the Windsor Report made it clear that this kind of extra-provincial interference is really not on, however understandable it is, given the situation in the TEC. All too often, conservatives forget that Windsor spoke against this kind of interference, even if it concedes that those who have indulged in this kind of oversight have done it from the good motive of giving pastoral support to parishes which cannot accept GC 2003 or their bishop's support for the ordination of Gene Robinson or which face sanctions for their position. Yet, these extra-provincial interventions merely add to the confusion in the American church.

Further, these interventions are deeply problematic as far as ecclesiology goes. If we are a tradition which claims catholicity, then we should be extremely cautious about allowing actions which encourage schism. We are a tradition which, in the words of priest that my wife knew, rejects splitting as a means of theological discourse. I fully grant that TEC (and to a lesser extent, AC of Canada) have already broken into schism with the rest of the Communion because of their actions in 2003/4 and their failure to admit their mistake since. Yet, I don't think compounding the damage helps which is precisely what extra-provincial intervention is doing.

What I mean by that comment is that one of the unintended effects of this kind of intervention is that it saps the strength of the conservative cause within TEC and the AC of Canada. That is, by siphoning off conservatives to alternative Anglican churches, it makes the task of pulling an erring church more difficult for those who decide to stay and fight. Quite legitimately, liberals can disregard conservative positions because they are not, all too often, present in sufficient numbers to make their case. So, what conservatives fear the most, a drift to the theological left, is precisely what must happen because there is no countervailing force to prevent it.

A commentator in the last week or so commented that what Archbishop Williams needs is a moderate conservative voice in TEC (and, again, by implication, in the AC of Canada)which can make itself heard and pressure the rest of the church to greater compliance with Windsor. Extra-territorial intervention is putting that at jeopardy because it siphons off conservatives. Besides, it polarizes politics because it means that liberals simply will come to trust conservative less and less as they increasingly leave and get embroiled in nasty court battles over property (don't get me started on that point either!). Yet, there is hope. There are voices out there who are moderate and conservative (Ephraim Radner, Philip Turner to name two). I hope and pray that more will emerge in the next few months of this breathing space that Kigali gave us.