Friday, May 02, 2008

Diachronic Koinonia

I was immediately captivated by this expression the moment I heard it proceed from the mouth of the Bishop of Rome as he addressed a gathering of ecumenical leaders in New York City a couple of weeks ago. While he never mentioned the Episcopal Church by name, it seems scarcely imaginable that he was not speaking directly to "this church." His plea was that we pay attention not simply to our relationships in community (koinonia is the New Testament ecclesiological term for communion, deep fellowship, within the Body of Christ) with other Christians at this moment in time, but with those who lived--or will live, presumably--at other moments. Reconciliation needs to occur not only with our contemporaries, but with those who have gone before us and will come after us.

Nearly four decades ago I had a college professor who never tired of railing against what he called "present-mindedness," a habit of thought that magnifies the insights and attitudes of the zeitgeist, and heavily discounts those of earlier eras. Is not present-mindedness surely the besetting malady of the Episcopal Church? We are veritably amnesiac. We have forgotten who we are. I was raised in midwestern free-church evangelicalism, a subculture that, in my youth, was so amnesiac that it almost believed the doctrinal content of the Christian faith was dropped by parachute on Wheaton, Illinois sometime around the turn of the last century.

So it was a liberating moment for me when I knelt before the Bishop of Los Angeles (33 years ago last month) for the sacramental rite of Confirmation. Without losing anything that I had embraced in my Christian journey before that point, I gained the wisdom and coherence of 2,000 years of Christian tradition. I accepted the givenness of Christianity. It was not my possession, my personal intellectual toy. It was something that had been "handed along" (Greek paradosis--"tradition") to me. As a pastor, all these years later, it is my solemn obligation to "hand along" what we have received to others--intact. I have neither the burden nor the authority to re-invent it.

This is the practice of diachronic koinonia. Until recent years, one could make a plausible case that such practice was in the DNA of the Episcopal Church. Lately, not so much. We are, in fact, rapidly mutating. Bonnie Anderson's assertions (in her message to the House of Deputies this past week) that there is a theology behind TEC's polity, and that such polity is the vehicle for Divine revelation are among the signs of the ongoing mutation. The Presiding Bishop's Pentecost message that speaks not of the Holy Spirit, but simply of "Holy Spirit" is another. Pope Benedict, in his New York remarks, was lovingly and generously holding us accountable to our own identity. We have quite forgotten ourselves.


sam said...

Yes, thanks Father. I love the image of the parachute dropping on Wheaton. I always thought that the parachute with pure Christian doctrine had landed in central Mississippi. That's where I discovered it, anyway...

Anonymous said...

Amen, brother! I had to laugh at the parachute of pure doctrine landing in Wheaton because I was not far east of there with you! I suspect the attitude hasn't changed much since then.

We mourn the "present mindedness" that not only has robbed us of our church home since 1979 (SBC), but that also threatens our secular Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is right to remember where we come from and why as families, as believers, and as a nation. It is dangerous to forget. Sorry if I digressed.

Blessings - Barb

WSJM said...

Dan, I simply don't understand your comment about the "diachronic koinonia" of Bishop Jefferts Schori's use of "Holy Spirit" without an article. For over a millennium the Church in the West spoke of "Spiritus Sanctus" without an article (Latin doesn't have articles). The Greek Testament frequently refers to "Pneuma Hagion" without an article or articles. (Yes, I looked; I found several instances very quickly.) What do you think +Katharine intended by this usage that, e.g., Matthew, Luke, and John did not?

Bill Moorhead

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan,
Do you have one kind thing to say about the PB? This is getting ridiculous!

RB said...

You know, in many ways, I really like the Presiding Bishop's homily. It's full of wonderful and profound things. If she had not turned the Holy Spirit into a subjective experience by leaving off the definite article, this would have been a terrific homily.

Thanks, Dan, for putting your finger on what really is the heart of the problem -- this loss of continuity with Christian tradition, and for doing so without rancor.

Leslie Littlefield said...

Dear Fr. Dan,
It would seem to me that it will not matter what the PB does, you will continue to find fault. What is the real issue here?

Anonymous said...

RE: "Dear Fr. Dan,
It would seem to me that it will not matter what the PB does, you will continue to find fault. What is the real issue here?"

I can't speak for Dan Martins, but PB Jefferts Schori has demonstrated that she is a raving revisionist who does not share the same basic foundational worldviews about pretty much any part of the gospel in which I believe, including sin, the fall, the necessity of the atoning work of Christ on the cross in order for humans to have relationship with God, Christ's divinity and uniqueness, and numerous other foundational doctrines, not to mention Christian moral practice.

So yes -- it is highly unlikely that when articulating the gospel in which she believes, that there will be much agreement from me, or much that she could say with which I wouldn't find fault.

Just as -- were I to ever have had a conversation with Stalin or Karl Marx, it would be highly unlikely that he and I would have agreed on much regarding economics or government, since we start with diametrically opposing worldviews and philosophies.


Daniel Martins said...

To Leslie (two comments above as I'm writing):
I have, as you notice, been sharply critical of the Presiding Bishop's administrative decisions, her apparent theology, and her pastoral wisdom. But not exclusively so; see here. And on other blogs, in the recent kerfluffle over what at first appeared to be a gratuitous snubbing of the Pope, I have expressed sympathy with the decision she made. More to the point, while I anticipate that I will continue to be critical of her in these areas, the criticism will never become personal. I will not mangle her name, and I will refer to her with the respect due her office. When she does or says something that strikes me as positive, I will say so. There is no "real issue."

Malcolm+ said...

I have to admit, I really don't see the point of the kerfuffle over the presence / absence of the definite article. At points, scripture refers to Jesus as "the Christ," yet we find no fault with referring to Him without the definite article. I really think you're reading more into this than is there.

That said, it has been suggested elsewhere that, building on a rabbinical example, the Presiding Bishop is using "Holy Spirit" sans definite article as a proper name - much as "Saint Sophia" as I've seen used in other places.

However you cut it, surely this is an improvement over her religion free Easter message.

Anonymous said...

Whatever one's personal sense of our Presiding Bishop is, this reader cannot help but feel that her writing is often rather opaque, using terms in novel ways that must "teem with hidden meaning" (to use a phrase from W.S. Gilbert) but fail to communicate much of substance. There is often, for my tastes, too much of the academy and not enough of the ordinary stuff of life; saying "Holy Spirit" rather than "the Holy Spirit" is not, in itself, something monumental (our language does have articles, so to say that Greek or Latin doesn't as a justification for this seems a bit odd; I don't think that justification could be very helpful in most situations). It does build, however, on a history of other usages or omissions in her writing that seem to about a highly-specialized world of thought not shared by many readers, and not part of the current of expression one encounters in the language of the mainstream formularies (the Creeds, the Liturgy, &c.). In other words, I have found much of her writing and speaking to seem to be about another audience rather than the one to whom she is writing/speaking. It reminds me of any number of academic sermons or college lectures I've read/experienced... but offered untranslated or explained to everyone as somehow indicative of our current shared culture/language of faith.

Having grown up in the town in which our present Presiding Bishop did much of her academic work, I can vouch for a general sense that "history is bunk" found there. The past was seen as largely a cesspool of ignorance... except where various figures could be connected to currently-held viewpoints. We were assured that somehow we were a uniquely enlightened people, marching into a New Era of evolved awareness. However, it was only when I was able to get out of that cloistered world a bit and engage in some "diachronic koinonia" in this country and abroad that I was able to see how futile and misguided was much of the "enlightenment" we were supposed to have. Perhaps that is another reason I cannot find myself moved by her writings; the spirit behind them just does not "ring true" for me. There is not the materiality of the Gospels or the inspiration of the Tradition to back up the ideals of our own era in these writings. There is too much of Us, and not enough of the Other for me. I always feel I've gotten more opinion than wisdom.

Time alone will tell, I suppose. I submit this an all such matters to a Greater Wisdom than I or any other person possess.

plsdeacon said...

I believe it was Chesterton that referred to Tradition as "democracy for the dead."

I think I like with +Fitzsimmons-Allison said in The Cruelty of Heresy: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

One problem with TECUSA that I see is that we no longer cling to Tradition. We no longer care about why we do or don't do or believe or don't believe almost anything. It seems that there is nothing that cannot be brought up for a vote and changed by General Convention.

Phil Snyder

Unknown said...

If I may suggest, I think Fr. Dan's article here is an excellent call to each of us to look more deeply at the roots of our faith and its amazingly affirming continuity from the Gitgo. That woman in New York City has her own problems, and needs our prayers, but in the meantime I believe that Anglicans in the States, in Kenya, Ireland, what-have-you need to leave Episcopal Life with the rest of the junk mail, and the "market" books aside, and re-discover from such notable Anglican and earlier scholars (Hooker, Cranmer, & Wesley, Anselm, both Clements, all three Gregories, Irenaeus, Macarius, etc.) what our Faith really is, offers, and expects.

Unknown said...

Bill Moorhead, I have yet to master the Greek, but from blind speculation I might guess the instances in your mind might be from the Alexandrian text family which is known for choppy grammar and sentence structure. PB Schori's sermons are carefully polished so that, I'm sure, nothing is vague unless she intends it so. This particular vagary (as in "go forth in Spirit") is best read as an attitude rather than as a Person.

Malcolm+ said...

Much seems to be read into the absence of a definite article. What is read in seems to be based principally on one's liking for the Presiding Bishop.

No one has produced anything the least bit convincing that the lack of a definite article means anything at all - let alone anything heterodox.