Support for V. Gene Robinson inconsistent

Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2004 20:36:18 -0800 (PST)
Subject: V. Gene Robinson


I am encouraged by your support for policies that favor the poor over the wealthy, and that you base this on the catholic tradition, but I find your condoning of the canonization [sic] of V. Gene Robinson to be inconsistent. It's so hard to find consistent catholics these days, people who base their beliefs on nothing but the law, the prophets, the gospels and the fathers, without any innovations or developments in doctrine, yet you have transgressed these borders with your support for the canonization of Robinson. I understand the liberal impulse to identify and support those who have been marginalized, but we don't support those who have been marginalized if we say that sin is not sin anymore, because the holy spirit has "moved" us to declare such things (to the contradiction of Holy Tradition). I find your acceptance of Robinson's ordination to be based on the rather liberal protestant notion of the development of doctrine (that the Holy Spirit is saying a new thing to us). In effect, this gives you no more authority than any other liberal protestant, and therefore you should drop the "catholic" adjective and replace it with "protestant,"


A Response

Dear Jim,

Thanks for your comments.

I would want to suggest, with Kenneth Leech, that "relativism and revelation, liberalism and fundamentalism, are not the only alternatives; that there is a creative orthodoxy that is not only compatible with, but also of necessity involves, a critical, subversive, movement of interrogation and of resistance, a continuing encounter between things new and old." (in Subversive orthodoxy; traditional faith & radical commitment, Anglican Book Centre, Toronto)

I would want to suggest that "Holy Tradition" has, in fact, been nowhere near as unanimous about many questions (including same-gender-loving relationships) as it has been made to appear, that it is, in fact, less a univocal compendium of doctrinal propositions than it is a way, a movement, a journey through history toward the Kingdom, a way that, if it is true to itself, lives and develops in every new age, in constant dialectic with the evolving human society in which it finds itself.

Indeed, I cannot imagine that an Incarnational faith could take any other course. It is not an easy course, and it's perhaps a much messier project than we might like it to be -- ambiguities, contradictions, and disagreements are only to be expected. They have been there from the start, and they abound in "the law, the prophets, the gospels and the fathers." The desire to avoid them, to have everything cut and dried, clear and precise, has, in fact, been far more characteristic of heresy than of Catholic orthodoxy.

Are there, then, no limits? Of course there are. I like to be guided by Vincent of Lerins' observations (in Commonitory Chapter 23): "But some one will say perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ's Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith . . . The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress. . ."

Vincent goes on to issue a caution, saying that progress must be "only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning."

But many of us who, over the last thirty years, have been struggling prayerfully, thoughtfully, and, we hope, faithfully, with the question of Christian attitudes toward what we now know about homosexuality, and did not know in the past, would want to suggest that this is exactly what is happening. Our core Christian doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, Baptism, the Eucharist, are, in fact, being enriched and enlarged, not denied by the knowledge and wisdom gained from recent advances in medical and scientific understanding, and not least by the actually-lived experiences of same-gender-loving Christians.

It seems to many of us that coming to grips with the full God-given humanity of all our sisters and brothers, regardless of sexual orientation, and being able to see the grace of God at work in faithful, committed relationships between persons of whatever gender, is true progress in the sense Vincent defines it. Our core doctrines, enshrined in the three Catholic Creeds and the Liturgy, are further illuminated and enriched, while remaining fully what they were before.

And I would want to argue that this "progress in the faith" does not involve in any sense the introduction of totally "new truths", of the sort to which you refer, but rather the discernment, under the collective guidance of Holy Spirit, of neglected truths, misunderstood truths, partial truths, and their transcendence into a new understanding of a fuller truth that has, in fact, been there implicitly all along had we but eyes to see it. This often happens when a part of what we have accepted as truth is seen, under the impetus of events and faithful reflection, to be incompatible with the truth of the whole, or with truths that are more basic and fundamental.

Being faithful to the whole truth may, indeed, involve us in what appears to be a radical break with the customs of the past. But I recall Cyprian and the Seventh Council of Carthage: "Our Lord said 'I am truth'. He did not say, 'I am custom'. Therefore the truth being evident, let custom yield to truth."

You are, of course, free to reject any or all of the above without being called names or "excommunicated" from the Catholic community. Separating what is "progress in the faith" and the work of Holy Spirit from what is "alteration of the faith" and not, is a matter of collective discernment that has always involved disagreement and controversy and always will. But it is and has always been a duty and an opportunity for Catholic Christians of every generation.

That duty and opportunity are not advanced, IMHO, but only evaded, by the attachment of dismissive labels like "liberal protestant" to those who have a differing vision of catholicity. And I would urge you to consider that in wanting to deny us the right to describe ourselves as "catholic" solely because of our support for the ordination of Bishop Robinson, you may yourself be in danger of that prime characteristic of error, the mistaking of the part for the whole, of placing a particular customary interpretation concerning human sexuality (which has been, in actual practice, by no means as "universal and unchanging" as is often thought) on the same level as the Catholic Creeds, the Sacraments, and the seeking of God's Commonwealth of justice and peace.

With respect and prayers,

Ted Mellor
Webmaker, Anglo-Catholic Socialism
Co-Moderator, Anglican Left

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