Monday, August 22, 2005

what I am thinking...

  • Emily from Hazelnut Reflections and I are going to start reading Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation, a recently (2003) published history. MacCulloch is a church history scholar from England, and this particular book has gotten a favorable response.

  • Emily lives in Oklahoma, and I live in Indiana. She is the person who organized the Episcopal blog ring seen linked at the bottom of my blogroll. She is a priest. I am a layperson. We've never met. This is an experiment of sorts. And of course, she is not responsible for anything I write and visa versa. Anybody who wants to join in on the conversation is welcome -- although long rants not germane to the topic, unsolicited advertisements, and uncivil behavior (at least here) are not so welcome.

  • Here's my rationale for reading this book. One of the things I was reminded of while in England this summer, is that like many things, it is hard for an American to understand institutions and histories and stories outside of our own. I think is particularly true of the American Church(or es). This is powerfully pointed out to me when I enter a church or cathedral that has had over a 1,000 years of service as a sacred place for prayer and worship. We Americans (and our institutions and buildings) rarely stay in the same place for a tiny percent of that time: our attention span, like our historic era, is quite short.

    The impact of the reformation was quite strong in this country, but I imagine many of us see it in terms of the denominations that formed or developed on this soil that were seeds of that renaissance religious movement. And many of those original divisions, the key characteristics that separated Anglicans from Presbyterian/Reformed from Lutherans from Methodists from Baptists, etc. ... are now not so obvious. We could probably divide today along power-point projected praise choruses led by rock bands and more traditional hymns and organ music, I suppose (sorta kidding).

    Given the culture wars within various denominations, between liberals and conservatives, I thought it would be interesting to read more closely about how Christians broke up in the past. I am a history geek (i.e., not a scholar, sadly), and history helps me to process ideas, or at least organize them and hopefully understand them.

  • I bring this perspective. I was raised Southern Baptist. I am an Episcopalian. In reading Gilley's biography of Newman, it startled me to realize (something I knew intellectually, but there you have it, not so easily digested) that the early church formed the New Testament. My protestant upbringing for the most part understands scripture as something given whole -- yes, I've studied theories about the various biblical sources in both sections, Old and New, and how canon books were developed. But instinctively, there is a protestant idea that the church is based on the dictates of the New Testament as if there is no link to succeeding church history until Luther tacked up his theses on the door.

    The catholic understanding would point out that New Testament scripture is a product of the early Church. Perhaps that is too crude. How is this. Under the influence/inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the formation of the New Testament came out of the experiences and life of the early Church.

    My point, and I assume this is probably a lot more obvious to others than it has been to me over the course of my life, is that picking the canon books did not close the Christian story. Given that the doctrine of the Trinity was not formalized until the Fourth Century with the Nicene Council, and that while the parts of that doctrine are all expressed throughout the New Testament but never explicitly in our understanding of Trinitarian dogma, there are examples of the development of our faith that transcend as well as build upon the biblical era.

    It is that doctrinal development that supports the Roman Catholic Church as distinctive from other Christian churches save the Orthodox Churches. They link to history, to the accumulative teaching of the Church, to a continual tradition. Protestants link to scripture alone, interpreting God and faith from a closed period.

    And as an Anglican, I am in a tradition that fudges on these dichotomies, seeking a middle way -- we link to a reformation, but we are catholic (little c).

  • These are all simplifications. The reformation provided numerous divisions over the concept of salvation -- personal versa corporate, sacrament versa ordinance. It did not reject or change the basis of Christian faith in God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in how we believe, worship, talk about God.

  • Oh, one other thing. As a life long liberal (a fairly moderate one, but I am certainly aware that liberalism forms a lot of my perceptions, perhaps more outside of the church than in it), I am curious about western liberalism and in understanding it better.

    My sense is that individual freedom (including inclination, judgment, action) comes out of the Renaissance/Reformation -- this was later refined into a stronger rationalism in the Enlightenment. Having visited Italy and England within the past year, and having reconnected to my liberal arts education of many years ago, I am ready to take up again reading the arguments and stories of how we got here. I am a curious person, sadly a dilettante, not a scholar. So if this all has the whiff of a college sophomore discovering the great questions, you may be right. Or at least returning to them. My feeling is that I will look at them much differently and with more patience than in the 1970s. But we will see.
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