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From the November, 2000
issue of Touchstone

 

Dialogue with a Dominican by Aidan Nichols + James M. Kushiner + David Mills

Dialogue with a Dominican

An Interview with Aidan Nichols, O. P.

Aidan Nichols, O.P., one of England’s most accomplished and lucid theological writers, is the prior of the Dominican community at Blackfriars, Cambridge.

He is the author of numerous works of theology and church history, including Theology in the Russian Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 1989), Rome and the Eastern Churches (The Liturgical Press, 1992), and two books on the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Word Has Been Abroad (Catholic University of America Press, 1998) and No Bloodless Myth (Catholic University of America Press, 2000).

In his 1999 Eerdmans book, Christendom Awake: On Reenergizing the Church in Culture, Fr. Nichols addresses how the recovery of the Church’s traditional mission can reenergize its witness in such areas as philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, the family, economics, relations between the sexes, and politics.

The interview with Fr. Nichols was conducted by editors James M. Kushiner and David Mills at Blackfriars in July 1998 and was edited and slightly revised this year.

Touchstone: Thank you for meeting with us. We have enjoyed our visits to Oxford and Cambridge.

Aidan Nichols (AN): Have you come across the Radical Orthodoxy movement during your visit to England?

Not yet.

AN: The Institute of Radical Orthodoxy is the brainchild of three Anglicans: John Milbank, who is moving from Cambridge to the University of Virginia; and two other people from Cambridge: Graham Ward, the Dean of Peterhouse, who is going to Manchester; and Catherine Pickstock, who is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. They have formed a definite school that has disciples.

Their line is that postmodernism is the natural result of the way that Western philosophy has developed. That is to say, the postmodernist critique of Western philosophy is irrefutable in terms of what it is attacking, but postmodernism itself is nothing but nihilism dressed up in fancy clothes. And therefore, the only remedy is the Holy Trinity!

They basically argue that all of the errors or false directions or insoluble problems in the Western philosophical tradition stem from misunderstandings of theology and of revelation. The only remedy is to go back to the source by renewal of a revelatory mode of thinking, which has the Holy Trinity as its center. That is the basic idea, roughly speaking, of Radical Orthodoxy, as I understand it.

It is an overwhelmingly Anglican movement. To be fair, it has been described as a theology in search of an ecclesiology. I would say it’s the first major theological movement in England since the South Bank school of John Robinson, which was a sort of warmed-up Tillich and so much less original.

Do you think the idea of postmodernism is helpful in understanding the current state of things?

AN: First, there are notorious problems with the definition of the term. There are many people who don’t think that there is any substantial difference between a list of features that define modernity—whether it be philosophically or aesthetically or whatever—and a list of features that define postmodernity.

But on the other hand there has been a significant shift. The unpredictability of the methods and the conclusions of postmodernist writers certainly suggests that we have moved into an era in which there is no commonly accepted secular rationality against which Christianity is judged and found wanting. That was the case at the end of the nineteenth century, more or less, because of the predominance of positivism. To that extent there is an opening for the Church.

But here I would differ from what I understand of Radical Orthodoxy. I think one way that the Church should capitalize upon that opening is not to say, “Since we have now discovered that there are no foundations, all we can advise people to do is to stand on the firm ground that is provided by God from outside the human cultural process.” I don’t think that is a fully satisfactory answer.

I think one should also say that the Church has a mission to re-express—in the light of that revelation that certainly comes from outside culture—the notions of truth and goodness and unity and beauty, and to help people to discriminate the way in which these ideas ought to be applied to reality and their experience. As I understand it, this approach is typical of the Great Church, as opposed to the sects. It does not write off all of the wisdom of the pagan sages as misguided. It is able to reaffirm at least some of it, in a new way, in the light of the gospel.

So I would say that the Church has the task to steady the West’s hold on a true metaphysics, as well as to proclaim the need for a truth that comes from beyond all purely human thinking. But that, of course, brings us back to the question of how to understand Karl Barth and the significance of his witness in the churches, as well as the Catholic’s difficulties with simply underwriting the whole of Barth’s project.

You said the mission of the Church was to express “the notions of unity, truth, goodness, and beauty.”

AN: Yes, the transcendentals.

But how does the Church do that when people have no instinctive belief in any of them?

AN: Unless one supposes that all human powers are irremediably subverted by the Fall, that there has been a complete corruption of human nature, there will always be some instinct in that nature, however weak, which is oriented to reality and therefore oriented to these basic qualities of reality: truth, goodness, unity, and beauty. Also there is, of course, always the possibility that the grace of God is at work in uncovenanted ways in human hearts and situations, so that those instincts can be assisted by grace to respond to the divine presence in the Creation. This is what it ultimately comes down to.

Part of what the Church can do is to attempt to purify and reorder people’s imaginations. Another part is to attempt to clarify their ideas, or the ideas that they may be supposed to imbibe from reading the newspapers or watching television, etc. And part of it is, of course, moral suasion—trying to have an influence on them by all the means that moral rhetoric can provide.

Is the analogical nature of the English mind useful here?

AN: There seems to be a particular affinity between the English mindset and an insistence on concreteness. Now, if we were to explain what was involved in all of that, then one might very well draw on the idea of analogy and link up that insistence on concreteness with a feeling for the transcendentals—a matter of our attraction to the way in which being, with all its qualities of goodness, beauty, truth, integrity, unity, and so forth, has epiphanies on different levels of reality that are all interconnected.

But you know the English are not so good at laying this out in theory form. That’s why I think that we need the great theologies of Christendom to assist us. That’s why we need Thomism, Barthianism, the great Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century like Bulgakov and Lossky. The English insistence on concreteness is more of an instinctive sense that what we say about nature and grace in Christian discourse must be really rooted in the concrete, rather than always spelling out what is involved in a theoretical way.

You can see an example of that in the second book of Mere Christianity, in which C. S. Lewis defends the moral law. He begins with what people actually say, such as, “That’s not fair. You can’t do that. That’s not right.” People in fact actually recognize a moral law whether they know it or not. No one is a pure nihilist, even though most people talk like relativists. In America over eighty percent say there is no settled truth. This includes a large majority of self-identified Evangelical Christians. Lewis, as well as G. K. Chesterton, finds something within people’s experience of life and says, “Christian life is exactly that, just transposed.”

AN: Yes, I wonder to what extent that language survives in a certain way. Maybe it’s been displaced somewhat, that language of what is due, which ultimately is the language of justice and therefore a language about the divine will for the Creation. I think it may have been to some extent displaced by a language of rights—you have a right to this, or you should go for your rights in this matter.

This is a much more ambiguous thing, really. There is always that uncertainty as to whether we’re talking about a positive right that has been given by the State or some other entity—which for various political reasons has found it appropriate to declare that people have this or that right—or about a natural right, a right that is granted in the nature of things.

There certainly is a lot of subjectivism and sentimentalism in the way in which people talk about the moral life or their religious experience, which is the result of the invasion of sensibility by various defective cultural and philosophical movements, such as romanticism and existentialism. Religion-as-what-you-feel and all that represents a kind of flowering of these movements.

Even if that language of analogy has been displaced, is there any other language to convey these things to people outside the Church who otherwise don’t have a clue about them? I’m referring of course to evangelism or apologetics.

AN: There isn’t any one strategy that can convey these things to people outside the Church. For instance, I mentioned the way in which Radical Orthodoxy tries to show the flawedness of all the principal philosophical systems in the West and the ways in which these flaws derive ultimately from theological misconceptions. Similarly, I think, a noble and traditional part of apologetics is to attempt to show up the insufficient foundations of all the alternatives to Christianity being offered, whether scientism or Freudianism or simply hedonism. That would involve pointing to the consequences of wrong directions that the culture and society have taken—say, the tendency of a consumer society to create in people ever more needs, so that desire becomes infinite and therefore people become necessarily frustrated and this causes a profound collapse of meaning in their lives. You could point out the ways in which the secular alternatives to Christianity don’t work, don’t remove their frustration or rebuild their sense of meaning. I think that’s perfectly acceptable and legitimate.

The other thing would be to rely on the native power of the language and affirmations of Scripture and of the Liturgy. If we hold that these things have their origin in God and that they are never invoked without a special bestowal of grace or possibility of bestowing grace, then I think it is appropriate to have a certain trust that these things will strike home, even though people can’t necessarily give a theological account of what is happening.

So you would see the Liturgy as playing a key role in divesting people of false ideas, especially in the Church.

AN: Yes. It has to be Scripture and the Liturgy. Of course, the Liturgy is where Scripture, in a sense, comes most fully into its own, in the liturgical preaching and in the way in which the Liturgy is textured out of myriad biblical references.

But it has to be Liturgy that is not denatured so that it simply becomes an instrument of political correctness. Because in that case you’re losing precisely its power to challenge and transform the way people are when they arrive. If the function of the Liturgy is simply to affirm people in their secular identities or those aspects of decent living that are available through secular agencies, then I don’t see the Liturgy as having any special evangelical force. It must lift people up to something beyond their secular consciousness.

To what extent do you see the liturgies, as practiced today, as denatured? Are we worse off today?

AN: In countries where a traditional historic Liturgy has not been made the object of liturgical revision, then a certain danger has been avoided because one of the characteristics of liturgical revisionism is the desire of pastoral liturgists to reshape the Liturgy so that it conforms better to their notions of what its impact ought to be. Now, in an age when Christian anthropology is in danger of being subverted by secular considerations, to give pastoral liturgists that sort of power over the reshaping of the Liturgy is precisely to endanger its evangelical potential.

Having said that, I think it would be naïve to suppose that in countries where liturgical experts have not been set loose all is necessarily well. I don’t think that is the case at all, because what is certainly true is that for the Liturgy to be appropriated in depth in a local Christian community, there has to be a set of attitudes and expectations that allow the Liturgy to have its transforming power. Those attitudes and expectations can be unfortunately absent, for reasons that have nothing to do with liturgical reform or revision, but derive from all sorts of other sins and faults of mankind.

Do you think the debate about retaining traditional English instead of using contemporary English is a significant one?

AN: I don’t think this is a particularly good time for the English language! The purification of archaic idioms in a period when English is in a very unstable condition is already problematic. But it is really asking for trouble, I think, to propose its modernization at a time when it has become dominated by, on the one hand, a functional use of it by an increasingly technologically dominated society, and on the other hand, banal entertainment-oriented uses of it in cultural media like television.

You mentioned earlier the transcendentals—goodness, truth, and beauty. There is, I recall, a statement in Dostoyevsky about beauty saving the world. This is a theme that you have touched on in some of your books, such as Looking at the Liturgy. . . .

AN: Yes, and I have just done an introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s aesthetics, The Word Has Been Abroad—I have a copy I will give you as a memento of our visit—which is devoted to that theme.

Thank you very much. Do you think that’s a good approach for modern man?

AN: Yes, I do. So long as it is understood—as Balthasar would be the first to say—that theological aesthetics is not simply a Christian version of aestheticism. Balthasar’s line would be that the glory of the biblical God in his self-manifestation—yes, initially in the Creation, but then much more fundamentally in the Incarnation and the paschal mystery where his glory is ultimately revealed as self-humbling but also triumphant love—that is, Christian aesthetics, takes the form of asking how that divine glory is shown in a whole variety of media, ranging from the discourse of the mystics to the great classical theologies of the Church, to the Liturgy and Christian iconography, and above all in the Scriptures.

He would say that the New Testament is unthinkable without this explosion of glory that has left people fascinated, shattered, bewildered, and rejoicing. If we really took that on board, I think the yawn that accompanies the mention of our religion in large sections of society would be far less frequent.

What do you mean by “taking it on board”? Perhaps you could give some practical examples.

AN: Letting oneself be changed by it would be foremost. Everything that one did would in some way be marked by it. That is to say, we would be known as people with the highest standards in everything we did. The way we make objects, the way we offer hospitality, the way in which we live the moral life, in our sense of discrimination in art, in our sense of the holiness of the Liturgy—we would observe the highest standards in all of these things.

Could you give an example? For instance, what would a hospitable home look like?

AN: It would be a home that is beautiful, not just in the sense in which people who can afford it have the nicest possible furniture. Its ethos would be beautiful; there are various aspects to that.

One aspect would be the stewardly way in which people appreciated the things that they had as ultimately a divine gift and intended for the common good, and the most natural thing in the world would be for people who come into their ambit to share in them. The way in which things are done—like cooking—would be in a way that respects the integrity of the creative processes involved. There would be a kind of resonance of the Sacraments and the Mass in the way Christians eat together. These are just two small instances.

Francis Mannion, a well-known priest in America, the founder of the Society for the Catholic Liturgy in Salt Lake City, Utah, has written a remarkable essay in the American Benedictine Review on the idea of a Christian economy in the sense of the domestic management of a family or a household. The original meaning of the word economy, oikonomia, is the running of a household.

Part of what is involved is an application of the notion of the integrity of something attractive or lovely. It is an integrity that is moral, physical, and evangelical at the same time because it has a beauty that is determined by the beauty of the Creator and Redeemer, and therefore it has certain quasi-moral qualities and is not just a matter of how things look.

What would the same things look like in a parish Liturgy?

AN: Perhaps I could go back one step and mention that in Balthasar’s theological aesthetics, the supreme manifestation of beauty is the Cross and Resurrection, because this is where the Trinity reveals that the glory behind the Creation is ultimately the glory of self-humbling and triumphant love. Now, I think quite a good criterion to bring to the Liturgy is to ask to what extent it expresses, in theological terms, the paschal mystery. And that would be true no matter how it was celebrated stylistically, if you will.

But it is also useful to ask whether the style of the Liturgy is determined by our Lord’s Cross and Resurrection. I think we can, in a way, translate the Cross and Resurrection into categories that are relevant to liturgical aesthetics. For example, does the style of the Liturgy reflect the objectivity of God’s deed for us in Redemption? In other words, is the style a projection of what we would like to see in worship—the God I want—or does it express a humble self-restraint, vis-à-vis God’s actual redemptive deed?

Perhaps more immediately helpful, with regard to the aspects of liturgical style related to the Cross, are qualities like self-restraint, a certain austerity, sobriety, a certain penitential seriousness. It would obviously rule out sentimentalism in the Liturgy and “happy-clappy” behavior, both of which would be out of keeping with the Good Friday aspect of the Mass. But it’s not just the Cross, it’s the Cross and Resurrection.

So then you have the question of how the Liturgy and its style express the paschal joy of the Easter Lord. Therefore, in Liturgy there should be also a spirit of exultation. In the artifacts and the art objects, the forms that help define iconographically the place of the Liturgy, there should be an expression of the transfiguration to glory. There should be joy.

And I think true Liturgy always involves not just the juxtaposition but the integration of those Good Friday and Easter Sunday moments of the Mass. This should be the aim of people who are writing liturgical music, translating texts, painting icons or designing churches.

Is there particular music that you would point to as helpful in this respect?

AN: I think that what I have described is a quality of the classical liturgical music of the Church.

Gregorian?

AN: Gregorian and classical polyphony on the one hand, and the traditional chant of the Greek and Russian churches on the other. I think there are, no doubt, modern twentieth-century analogs of that. Olivier Messaien’s music has sometimes been suggested as having those qualities, but his is for the most part concert-style music, and couldn’t be used in church other than by a very competent organist.

Is there a reason that Gregorian or some of the ancient chant of the Church has a character that would be useful today, rather than that of more contemporary music? Is it more difficult to do new church music?

AN: I think there may well be good church music that has these qualities. I live in a priory that has a rather simple liturgical life. Most of our music is Gregorian in either Latin or simplified English form. I don’t have much exposure to church music, really. But I would have thought that the monastic origins of Western church music are rather relevant to this.

In talking about chant, we’re talking about a music that is characterized by a certain poverty and chastity of expression, and which is obedient to the biblical text or the text devised by the Church that it is meant to serve. In a way you can almost see it as an application of the monastic vows to musical composition intended, of course, to be a vehicle of contemplative life and of worship. I think the way in which monasticism played a role in the genesis of the chant was a grace for the Church. I would expect today that composers of music that is fit for the Liturgy would at least have the spirit of those monastic vows in their work.

I had not thought of music in terms of a reflection of monastic vows. Do you see monasticism in general or monastic renewal as holding a key to the revitalization of the churches in the twenty-first century?

AN: Yes, one can see in the Catholic Church in France the way in which monastic renewal, to use your phrase, is playing an indispensable part. I think it is because it is such a pure expression of what is sometimes called Christian maximalism—that nothing is too good for God and no gift is too great to make. It is theocentricity, a God-centered life. The monastic renewal partly takes the form of the reviving of traditional communities, often in the direction of recovering aspects of tradition that were set aside in the post-conciliar period, the period after the Second Vatican Council. But perhaps more typically it takes the form of new kinds of monastic life that often involve monks or nuns or both and married people living in monastic settlements and—as far as worshipping and prayer aspects are concerned—living a common way of life, what we might call the newer traditional communities. These new offshoots are often foci of attention from young people, and they are very often important centers for the Christian formation of young people, for pilgrimages and evangelization.

This hardly exists in England. I think the mediocrity of much of the church life in this country, speaking of the Catholic Church, compared with the best in France, is related to that. I tend to agree with the Archimandrite Boniface Luykx. He founded the Monastery of the Transfiguration in northern California and is a Premonstratensian canon who went from the Latin to the Byzantine Rite (I think he belongs to the Ruthenian exarchate). In a book called Eastern Monasticism and the Renewal of the Church he writes that the religious orders and communities in the West must go back to the original monastic inspiration of the first centuries and rediscover the sense in which they are wellsprings of that original movement.

The danger at the moment for many orders in first-world countries is that they are redefining themselves as Christian professionals, working in various sectors of society or the Church. Their distinctive spirituality becomes attenuated by that. I think there has to be a reconnection of the Roman Catholic religious orders in the West, and indeed in the East, to the inspiration of the original monastic movement, in order that these themes of maximalism and theocentricity and the related ascetic virtues and qualities—like desire for solitude and willingness to endure solitude—should be fruitful.

James M. Kushiner: I see some promise in monasticism and sanctified celibacy, in terms of models and even evangelization for the youth. My daughter brought in a Roman Catholic nun to speak to her public high-school group. Some of her friends were not Christian. They had no idea of the rationale for such a life. But they were fascinated by it. For them, it was a new thing. It said to them that they can be fully human while remaining celibate. I think that is something that is sorely needed.

David Mills: There have been several studies and polls recently that show that young people are actually scared of sex, are having sex and wish they weren’t. They are looking for models for a chaste life, but the culture provides them with none. The Church could be giving a message that many teenagers want to hear.

Unfortunately, the religious orders were hurt badly in the ’60s. A psychologist who worked with Carl Rogers tells, in a recent article, how by teaching nuns a sort of non-directive psychology he helped to destroy convents, in some cases in three years. Convents closed down; all the sisters left. He’s now extremely repentant.

AN: Many religious relied excessively on the capacity of an institutional way of life to sustain people, without realizing that you have to teach the human heart, the heart of each person, to confront the mystery of God in solitude. There was, in a way, a false spirituality of unremitting work and institutionally provided occupations of other sorts, which could be devotional, but the effect of it was to leave people exhausted, and also in a sense empty.

What should have been done was to give them the Philokalia [a collection of texts written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Orthodox tradition]. Instead, they were given a variety of different books on secular psychology. It’s one thing to say that they should have been more respectful of the need for interiority and interiorization, but it’s quite another to worship in the cult of “I” in its modern secular form.

Some, in the Catholic Church in particular, and to some extent in the Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical Churches, oppose contraception and the ordination of women—positions for which the modern (and many good-hearted modern Christians) have no categories whatsoever enabling them to understand. You might as well sit there eating nails or glass for all the sense it makes to them. How important do you see what the world sees as the Church’s eccentric acts of intolerance or traditionalism or all resistance to change, to the life of the Church and also to the renewal of the West?

AN: You are saying that opposition to the ordination of women and opposition to contraception would come under the heading of traditionalism and resistance to change?

Yes, as viewed by the wider society and many Christians. There are Christians who are culturally and theologically far to the right of me, yet they talk about Pastor Mary and have no trouble at all with contraception. It’s not something that I can even understand.

AN: I would have thought they would have been more open on the question of contraception than on the ordination of women because you find people coming from very different directions outside of the Church who may not see what is wrong with artificial contraception, but both from an ecological perspective and from a feminist perspective are willing to say in public that they think artificial contraception may have been a wrong turning in medical technology.

A strong case can also be made that once you divide the unitive and the procreative aspects of sexuality—in the way Paul VI’s intervention on contraception said one shouldn’t—then it really becomes exceedingly difficult to find any point at which to stop on the descent into treating sex as something that is not in any way necessarily related to marriage and family. Many people, when at last they become parents, suddenly become concerned about these questions in a way they weren’t when they were teenagers or young professionals. On this basis they could be made to see that there’s a problem.

On the ordination of women, I wouldn’t expect those Christian traditions to object to it that neither customarily think of the Church as Mother Church or as the Bride of Christ nor think of the Eucharistic Liturgy as a sacrificial action where Christ the great High Priest continues to show forth his saving sacrifice. I am not surprised that such Christian traditions don’t restrict the ordained ministry to those of the same sex as the One Incarnate. Unless, of course, they base such a restriction simply on the Pauline traditions.

But I think in the context of the Great Church, in which there has been a conviction that the Church stands next to Christ as Bride, and that the Eucharist is the re-expression of the action of Christ for his immaculate bride, it’s supremely supernaturally natural to imagine that the minister or priest would be male vis-à-vis the Church.

Our magazine’s editors have discovered that part of our calling is to articulate an idea of sexual order, which, at least in the United States, has been lost in much of the Church even among conservatives. There are conservative Protestants who oppose women’s ordination as a purely cultural response, a reactionary sort of thing. There is no idea of sexual order. We see that lack of an intuitive sense of sexual order play itself out in the family and society, but we can’t, at this point, trace this out very well.

AN: The crises over both issues, in a way, do reflect the fluidity of gender identity and self-definition. If, on the one hand, women cease to consider the vagina as the entrance to the place of motherhood, and if, on the other hand, the genderedness of the human creation is not regarded as sufficiently significant to be likely to be taken up into the sacramental and salvific order, then it’s not surprising that these problems arise.

So, yes, I think you are right; you are on to something. There is a breakdown in the concept of sex, which is subjacent to these issues. I’m just agreeing with you and reformulating what you said.

We all intuit the same things, but it is very hard to spell it out, to communicate such intuitions to other minds. Are there any connections here with Trinitarian doctrine, in which there is a sense of ordered relations? Much of the press for women’s ordination in America has flowed out of egalitarianism and “rights” language.

AN: Well, there is a sort of connection, at any rate, in the sense that errors about Trinitarian theology are used to justify dissenting positions on these issues, sometimes even thought up to justify them. It’s quite common now to claim that the Trinitarian taxis between the Persons is an expression of hierarchy that is counter to the basic thrust of the New Testament, and that one must think instead in terms of an egalitarian Trinity or an anarchic Trinity, by which I mean a Trinity without an arche in any one Person.

And again, there are ideas of so-called processional indeterminacy in the Trinity—each of the Persons can be regarded as in some sense the origin of the others. This is used, certainly, to underwrite the modern world’s obsession with undifferentiated equality, which can then be turned against the so-called traditional concept of the family and also against that whole interconnected set of notions that divine transcendence is best imaged in fatherly terms, that therefore the Word Incarnate is not just accidentally embodied in the male sex, and that the church’s ordained ministry is to be in the same sex.

Would you also say that errors in practice eventually lead to errors in Trinitarian theology—C. S. Lewis’s argument in “Priestesses in the Church?”

AN: Well, it would seem likely. Because in any sacramental understanding of church life, and ultimately of the cosmos (in the wider sense of the word “sacramental”), we are dealing with the iconicity of human relationships and with the ability of sacramental actions to express the ultimate divine ordering of things. These changes in church order naturally tend to be retrojected and the people who practice them end up misconstruing God.

Some people emphasize our “unity in Christ,” and therefore think that all these other questions are peripheral. There are godly, brilliant, and serious Christians, who have taken a good deal of abuse for being Christians in a secular university, for example, who yet treat an issue such as this—that we think is crucial—as peripheral. They say we can all disagree happily. Our intuition is that it runs too close to the heart of things.

AN: Yes, I think that is the more profound approach to it.

But I think there’s another difficulty. Even those people whose objections to the ordination of women are really only procedural often make the point quite rightly that anything to do with church order isn’t trivial if you say, “Well, we just have to disagree about it.” Because the whole point of church order is precisely to articulate what is going to govern the common life of Christians.

You see the practical consequences of this in the notion of impaired communion in Anglicanism. They have this nonsense where the role of a bishop as the unifying factor in his diocese is simply contradicted when a parish is able to call upon what they call a “flying bishop” from outside, a bishop with whom they feel more comfortable theologically. It simply overthrows the concept of the episcopate to do that.

I think even at the level of the procedural objections—the objections about authority—it’s quite clear that it’s a very serious question because it’s leading to a self-contradiction of the notion of the ministry. But, as you say, that’s not the deepest level of the issue.


James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.


David Mills is executive editor of First Things. He was editor of Touchstone from 2003-2008. His most recent book is Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God (Servant Books). He is living with his wife and two of their four children in Manhattan, where they attend Immaculate Conception church.

Letters Welcome: One of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversation among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to articles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. letters@touchstonemag.com

 

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