The "danse macabre" of Halloween and the US electioneering are now past. Now the frosty winds blow through our streets and our churches as the Windsor report, its reception and the ongoing discontents on both sides of the same-sex union debate go on. Would I wish that I were still under a Roman pine or sailing around Sicily? Not really. And why not? Because of Richard Hooker.
|Anglican Divine Richard Hooker|
Though I recently received mail to "303 East Cadaver St." (rather than Cordova), I have not returned to St. James' from two weeks in Southern Italy and Sicily with any sense of dread. Looking at caves and volcanoes, clambering over Greek and Roman ruins, and being whelmed by splendid mosaics in medieval churches as well as by the freshness of lemons, pastas and mozzarella made for a great change.
But for facing the music and the noise of our present contexts, I was glad to be back to receive two timely letters from our Bishop Michael and another from the American Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, a few days before coming to the altar in recollection of Richard Hooker (d. Nov. 3, 1600). Their lines all fell in pleasant places together, for me a sign of where there is hope in the midst of trials.
Hooker, that quintessential and archetypical Anglican was a distinguished scholar, parish priest, and loving family man —all in a most difficult time for his church and society. During the reign of Elizabeth I, while undertaking the care of souls, he authored The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.
His majestic and magisterial work formulates our Anglican "middle way" and sets out Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as the three courts of interdependent counsel and authority. Written to answer those who would narrowly "purify" the Church of his day with their own narrow reading of Scripture, Hooker argued for a more open outlook which integrated the testimony of Scripture, the course of human history, and the values of human reason in order to defend the Church as a communion for all the people — not just a small group of the chosen few (the Puritans of his day).
Where Hooker also contributes valuably to today's conversations is in his understanding of the church, which he characterizes as a society (a "commonwealth") rather than as an assembly. Assemblies are a property of the Church and not the Church itself. They exist to perform public actions and may dissolve and no longer have being. But the church is gathered by Christ and exists even when assemblies dissolve.
Anglicans are well known among the Christian family for our sociability while practicing the difference between society and assembly. Our synods and conventions are characterized more by a society's exchanges of ideas than by a legislative assembly's proceedings and pronouncements. Assemblies are partisan and ideological. While some of our contemporaries are convinced that unity is best or only found in conformity to a single ideology or polity, these actually are not desirable.
More in keeping with the gospel as Hooker understands it, is a unity whose future life will be based on a spirit that transcends the limitations of assemblies and their partisans. That Spirit, as the Gospel points out, blows where it wills. That Spirit is elusive, as we have seen in all the divided assemblies over issues and ideologies from divorce and remarriage to creationist theologies, from liturgical revisions to the ordination of women.
Tension and dissent have been a way of life for many for a long time, but Hooker — like St. Paul — points out another way. It is the Spirit's way to behave differently. And that distinctive difference is that the Spirit searches everything.
While an assembly does not go beyond the limits that support its own interests or ideology and reflects only a segment of human opinion and life, the Spirit of God is inclusive. It searches everything to seek the good for our living.
Life in the Spirit may mean that we will never arrive with final solutions, but rather shall make and have our lives within a never-ending dialogue. If such conclusions still made it possible for Hooker to live a moderate, serene and patient life, it is because he was able to live within that Spirit who searches all things and knows that in the searching there is life.
When he and we are freed from any need to arrive, to have final solutions and forever definitive truths, we are not only walking in the spirit of Anglicanism but, I suggest, we are walking in the Spirit of God.
When our Church's leaders in special meetings can come out with a document that both clears the air, attributes blame and points a way forward, and Bishops Ingham and Griswold can still be in dialogue while accepting rebuke and offering apology, they are striving to maintain not only the bonds of affection and unity of our Communion, but a society in which there is both comprehensiveness and room for difference.
The process of reception of the Windsor Report will take time. Listening to different viewpoints will require energy from the Church as a whole and from this diocese in particular. Still I feel that we can move to what God and God's future have yet to reveal.
When we faithfully use our threefold authorities of Scripture, Tradition and Reason and see ourselves part of a community (a "commonwealth") called to healing and reconciliation we are living and journeying as true and intentional Anglicans. Then - generous and patient faithfulness can be offered to one another not only on behalf of our Parishes, or our Diocese or even our Communion, but as a sign to and for the sake of the world our Lord came to save.
William Derby is priest-in-charge of St. James, Vancouver. This column first appeared in St. James' parish magazine, Cornerstone.