Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Massive Loss of Tradition in the Church of England

It's not just the Church of England, of course, that has lost large amounts of Holy Tradition (as distinct from plain tradition, with a lowercase 't', which referes merely to customs).

Holy Tradition is, as one person described it, footprints left in the Church by the Holy Spirit. Or to put it in non-metaphorical terms, Holy Tradition exists in the Church to promote, promulgate, safeguard and support life in the Holy Spirit. That's what Holy Tradition is. That's what it's for. And every single, small aspect of it has a specific role toward that end.

People outside of the Orthodox Church don't appear even to know what that means anymore. That's why Holy Tradition also no longer makes sense. That's the only reason Holy Tradition could lose its meaning. If the life it enshrines and structures has been lost, then Holy Tradition appears as nothing more than 'doing it this way just because this is how it has always been done.' Or, worse yet, Holy Tradition appears as the new Pharisaism, a legal-mindedness.

And it would be hard to tell them what it is they've lost because the Lost Treasure, like all True Love, exists at that wordless level of the human soul.

People live pious, devout, religious lives and mistake that for life in the Holy Spirit. But no, it is not the same thing. I think perhaps the difference can be illustrated by two contrasting sermons I came upon recently, both using the text in which the man asking for Jesus' help cries out, 'Lord, I beleive; help my unbelief!'

The heterodox minister, in his sermon, asked, 'What does this mean?' Because of course at the cognitive level it's nonsense: one cannot believe and disbelieve at the same time. So if you live at the cognitive level, that is indeed a question to raise and discuss. In fact, the Lutherans are actually right that faith is sometimes irrational - they are right, that is, provided you live on the cognitive level and not the existential or spiritual or noetic.  At that level, it's all rational.

The Orthodox priest got up to preach on the same text, and asked, 'Who among us does not know what this means?' and everybody smiled sadly and nodded. We all know what it means because we've all prayed the same prayer! We have all wrestled with that issue. But to attempt to deal with it cognitively would strike us a very strange!

Or here's another example of the difference between living at the cognitive level and living at the deeper level of human personhood, the existential or spiritual level. Philosophy for the last couple of centuries has deal with the questions, 'Who am I?' and 'How do I know I even really exist?' And whether any answers have been forthcoming is still being debated, with no end in sight because no end is possible for such silliness. We all know we exist! We don't know how to prove it in words, how to demonstrate it cognitively, but we nevertheless, deep down, know we exist. And every one of us knows jolly well who he is, too!  (Granted, though, that our self-knowledge is fragmented and riddled with deception except when God grants us moments of clarity.)

I've told the story before on these pages of Demetrios' huge high school friend Vasilis (Basil), who, hearing a fellow student, an atheist, say, 'I'm not sure I exist,' decked him. Well, he lifted the boy high in the air, over his head, and then dropped him - quickly returning him from the cognitive to the existential level! - and then asked, 'Now what do you think? Do you exist or not?' Safe to say, he knew at that moment he did!

Yet another example: every toddler knows when he is being treated unfairly. He cannot analyze what has happened; cannot put it into words, has no cognitive anything with which to deal with it. But he knows it anyway. At another level.

But people by and large, at least in Western culture, just don't live at that level any more (unless they have learned from Holy Orthodoxy how to do it). 'That level'. I've called it spiritual, I've called it existential, I've called it by its Greek word, nous. But it's also just the deepest awareness of each of us, of our truest humanity and personhood. Yes, it's something natural (because of our having been created in the Image of God).  It's natural and supernatural; and it's ironic that we, who have become unnatural, only seem able to retrieve it by supernatural means, by Divine assistance. To lose touch with 'that level' is to be estranged from ourselves, in the first place, and from the Holy Spirit in the second place.

I'm not saying the Holy Spirit is absent from these people, for He is not. No, by no means is He absent! To the contrary, He is 'everywhere present, filling all things.' But what they've lost is living together a common Life in Him. They know Him only from the outside. (And some of them like it that way, distrusting anything that is not external to themselves.) They have Him boxed in by doctrines of 'means' through which alone He is allowed to operate. (Well, sure, because they aren't aware of His immediate, direct, personal operations. You can't show these cognitively most of the time.) They have constructed theological work-arounds, so His operations are never essential to anything. Some of them mistake their own emotions and/or their fantasies as movings of the Spirit. Or they live 'by the Book' because they are unaware of the possibility of living 'by the Spirit.' They tell themselves it is the same thing, since after all, He is the Author of the Book. But although living 'by the Book' is the closest they can come, it is very far from the same thing. It isn't what one Orthodox bishop, quoted in the blog Ad Orientem, described as 'the experience of the charismatic presence of the Holy Spirit in the ecclesiastical assembly' and 'the living experience of the uncreated energies of the Triune God.'

That's what is missing.  That's why Holy Tradition, to the extent the Church of England may have had it, no longer means anything to her, and devout Anglicans are in the midst of a conscientious, systematic, wholesale rejection of its remnants.


margaret said...

The Church of England I knew as a little Jewish girl with her nose pressed against the leaded glass (!) had a lot of Catholic tradition but she was Secondhand Rose. Some of it was leftover from the pre-Reformation Roman church but most of it was consciously revived or blatantly borrowed by the Tractarians and Ritualists. It was lovely and for a few decades from, say, the 1870s to the end of the War, there was much to admire and one could live in the ‘High’ Church and feel like a Catholic but the reality was too much like putting the genie back in the bottle and as time passed it got ridiculous and more like stuffing the dormouse in the teapot. You see that with the ‘catholic’ party in the C of E right now, they’ve seen the liberals run the whole gamut of theological and doctrinal insanity - David Jenkins, Gary Bennet driven to suicide, women priests, all the mad assertions about sexist language causing domestic abuse, gay marriage blessings using the whole wedding service, Don Cupitt, the general dissolution and disarray of all traditional belief and practice (both Catholic and Protestant) - and yet they have reduced their idea of what it means to be Catholic (in the larger sense, not the Roman one) down to not letting women bishops step inside their church buildings. It doesn’t matter that their male bishop is in communion with female bishops as long as they don’t have to see her. That is what passes for Catholicism in the C of E these days, it’s like playing hide and seek with a tot who hides under a blanket and thinks because she can’t see you, you can’t see her.

Anam Cara said...

"...it's like playing hide and seek with a tot...."

Nicely phrased, margaret!

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Kacie said...

And thus the popularity of the study "Experiencing God" in evangelical circles.