Saturday, 19 January 2008

opinions in Christian Unity Week

Ekklesia brings us a piece by Martin Marty titled Catholic but not necessarily Roman.

And also, Kersten Storch writes about Praying for unity across a century of division.

Peter Steinfels writes in the New York Times about Praying for Christian Unity, When Diversity Has Been the Answer.

Roderick Strange writes in the Tablet about Newman, in Saintly, but very human.

The Guardian has Theo Hobson writing Face to Faith, and he argues that The Church of England’s gay crisis makes clear that that liberal Anglicanism is finished.

In the Church Times Giles Fraser writes that I cannot eat at your table, Plato.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 9:36am GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Opinion

I am reluctant to disagree with Giles Fraser. Who am I to criticise a lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford? I think however that Giles makes a mistake by seeking to separate Philosophy and Religion as two separate entities or disciplines.

That distinction may exist in modern universities, but did it exist in ancient times? Plato has always appeared to me to be the most spiritual of writers.

We may struggle with the "abstract metaphysical" concept of the form of a table being the model of all real tables. But what difference is there betweeen that idea and the idea that Christ or Adam may represent the universal ideal human?

I think it is a mistake also to think of Plato as the only Hellenisitic influence on Christianity. I agree Platonism may have influenced the later development of Christianity via Gnosticism, Philo etc. But I think that is to ignore the separate influence of Greek mystery religions on both early Christianity and Plato.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 10:36am GMT

I'm always irritated and amused when someone trumpets "the death of" or "the end of" this or that - the novel, ideology, religion, sex, capitalism, communism, feminism, science - they're generally wrong.

Theo Hobson's piece is a slightly more thoughtful version of the oft-heard "I don't believe in organized religion" expression. He may be right that the reactionaries will win the day (outside of North America anyway). But I think he's a little too hasty in sounding he death-knell for organized religion. I agree with him in objecting to authoritarianism; but he suggests that you can't possibly have an organized religion without it, and that liberal Anglicanism is definitely dead - well, those things remain to be proven.

Christians no more need to cling to what Hobson calls "sexual moralism" than they do to a literal understanding of Genesis 1-2, or to the Mosaic Law in its entirety, or to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, or to the infallibility of the Pope, or to belief in everlasting torment, or to belief in the inferiority of women, etc. etc. A tradition of essentially non-authoritarian liberal Christianity stretches back over two centuries now. What happened in the Church of England in the 1990's and beyond is just a hiccup that will eventually be seen as a predictable last gasp of conservatism - o.k., I'll stop there because I'm about to commit the sin I condemned in my first sentence.

Posted by: Brian MacIntyre on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 1:58pm GMT

Yes, there are many more Greek influences than simply Plato, but unlike Simon above I think an anti-Plato stance is a good one - and yes it does impact of Christ as perfect human, perfect form, perfect God and all that.

As for the articles, well use of Roman is useful in order to say what is and what is not. There are many independent ecclesial communities (to use a phrase), for example independent sacramental Catholics, that define themselves precisely as being non-Roman. Accusing the Archbishop of Canterbury pursuing a neo-Roman Catholicism does imply a shorthand of centralisation of authority and turning primates into a college of cardinals. It is quite distinct from the Eastern model and the autocephalous model to which Anglicanism better relates.

As for Theo Hobson's piece, he is not watching enough the turning of history's pages, and specifically this GAFCON separation. In the short term this could make Anglicanism a nasty place, but in the long term separation could allow a more liberal outcome. However, there is a time limit. I'd agree with him that Anglicanism needs to rediscover liberalism and that it is not a corporatist type approach and that it draws on, does not start with, collective forms: it has to rediscover individualism perhaps as well as understand the collective nature of speech and traditions, and has to be more fluid. Dumping Plato is a good start.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 3:57pm GMT

I, too, rather doubt that we are seeing the end of conservatisms or liberalisms in religious life, or religious institutions. As if the main point of being conservative or liberal was incarnate in arriving at some (near) total domination?

Oh, Really?

Okay, maybe some forms, some patterns, some iterations of one or the other, or even that other.

The shaking we now endure, not least in the agonies of our current mean-spirited conservative realignment campaign (which will no doubt seek to express itself as forcefully, i.e., therefore as meanly as possible, at the next Lambeth, and though we may all hang on wondering how mean Rowan Williams or somebody else will allow things to get), but perhaps not only in that campaign, is simply gestured by those twin 21st-century empirical petards upon which we are all more or less being hoisted.

Diversity in our cosmos is a grand whole that is more than the linear, simple sums of its parts, Gaia, organismic. We haven't a pinhead chance of living into this without the sorts of complicated, informed, check-and-balances freedoms that most modern democracies attempt to institutionalize, thus offering us a working model for something similar in institutional church life globally.

Our diversity, natural and beautiful and startlingly open to God working through our differences at multiple levels, brings us all up short, no matter whether we are left or mixed middles or right or even far right.

You mean to tell me: Those other folks, so different from me, are equally beloved by God in Jesus of Nazareth, and oh goodness sakes, may never be transformed into being clones of me? Ah, yes, the good news now is something like that, and more.

The clear fact that the farther religious rights spend so much time defining diversity away, then covertly addressing it as a key church life problem in so much of their formation and pastoral care (not to leave out, church politics?), only makes the point they are devoting themselves with great energy and flourish to denying, ignoring, and cosmetically dressing up as something else, like sin.

To riff on Winston Churchill? Yes democracy is a messy form of government, but the others are even worse, Domination. To be practical, my being partnered and sexually active in no way precludes or undermines anybody else making a lifelong professional of classical-historic religious celibacy.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 4:56pm GMT

It is good that Giles is looking beyond the surface of things to the premises and presumptions behind them. There have been some wonderful discourses in recent times questioning the presumption that the body is "sinful" and the soul "divine" and that we are to restrain one and worship the other. Here's another article for those who want to do more contemplations along those lines

I agree Drdanfee; tyranny is most certainly not a pleasant form of governance. There is a Chinese saying that societies are at their best when they are ruled by a benevolent dictator.

The Abrahamic religions have the same concept, it’s called God or Allah or Hachem. Some make mistakes and get into hero worshipping, or the idolatry of believing in rules or rulers and aspiring to have the "perfect" king or government so that everything will be wonderful.

They forget that existing on this planet means you need to contribute to this planet's wellbeing. You want peace, give peace. Idolatrous paradigms are used by lazy priests and rulers to dodge responsibilities because they are "too divine" to deal with the mundane things of this world. Babies still need to be fed and clothed, ecosystems still need to be kept clean. Peaceful societies require spiritual leaders who ensure we do the yucky things whilst giving us guidance on how to be content with our lot.

That is why Theo Hobson's proposition will fail. Tyranny is unsustainable and undesirable. Eventually the societies that lurch from one bloodbath to another will realise the problem is that they have leaders who love violence and power. Eventually they will realise why God despised Esau and loved Jacob. Eventually they will choose the more compassionate, merciful and forgiving kind of leader rather than the cruel narcisstic posturer.

And no, puritans and selfish teachers of the law will not go away. They were there contriving Jesus' assassination, and they are still here today contriving the (character) assassination of the prophets of conscience.

Jeremiah 8:8-19 and Malachi 2:1-19. Wisdom is not found from the lying pen of teachers who show partiality in matters of the law. God hates men who cover themselves with violence. Jerusalem is established with righteousness and great is her children's peace as tyranny is far removed (Isaiah 54). Those who dispute this hate Wisdom and love death (Proverbs 8:36).

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 6:22pm GMT

I agree with Simon. The philosophical influences on Christianity are wildly varied, and Plato is one the lesser influences. The biggest single influence, at least in the West, would have to Aristotle. Eight centuries of Scholastic, Protestant Scholastic, and Neo-Scholastic theology bears witness to that. Roman Catholicism still proclaims transubstantiation as an article of faith.

What I find troubling about some of Fraser's recent columns is that he seems to be suggesting somehow Christians are to be only what John Stott called "Bible people." No doubt the Scriptural tradition shapes and forms us as Christians, but we live in a larger world, too. We need to be aware of the questions posed by philosophers, natural scientists, and social scientists, We need to be willing to engage in a dialogue with the larger world. We may not be able to eat at Plato's table, but should invite the thinkers of the world to eat at our table.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 6:53pm GMT

"Yet when the church claims authority to rule on sexual morality his tune changes. This aspect of its teaching is mistaken, he says, and amounts to a betrayal of the Gospel. The problem is that this tradition of sexual moralism is part of the traditional authority of the church, which Father Giles claims to affirm."

Traditionally, Platonic Gnosticist Academics in State and Church claimed Authority because of their being celibate.

The "White" Martyrdom, they called it.

That is a very un-Biblical authority. The Bible is about Life, not death. Lechaim. So is the Gospel. Enough said.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 6:54pm GMT

Theo Hobson's editorial is so full of *logical fallacies*, it is difficult to know where to begin.

The problem ISN'T that the Church is affirming sexual morality, in the form of marriage. It's that it's *violating the Imago Dei*, of those God made LGBT (by denying them the right to/blessings of monogamous marriage, the same it gives to heterosexuals).

Moreover, simply from a position of *political prediction*, Hobson likely has it ALL wrong.

As it appears now, the Lambeth Conference will happen all right---but WITHOUT the Akinolist Bloc, which will stay away (if the "apostate" Episcopalians are permitted to attend).

Even if Akinola & Co DO show up, it's clear that the days of *ramming* through another "1.10" are OVER: *thinking Anglicans* are FED UP with this kind of abuse of power (and if the bishops don't resist it, the clergy and laypeople will: Alleluia!)

Finally, Hobson seems to be calling for a radical individualism (as if must be "Liberal Christian Contra Mundi"). Not only is this NOT necessary---we Liberal Anglicans are strengthened by the FELLOWSHIP we share with each other (as true EQUALS, and not North American *puppets* as Martyn Minns ventriloquizes for Akinola)---but Hobson forgets, crucially, that "one Christian is NO Christian".

It's *reactionary ConEvo Anglicans*, who do the "I have no need of you" act. Liberal Anglicans have *true devotion to the Church*, as Christ's Body . . . a Body whose members are, in part, queer. Thanks be to God! :-)

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at 6:20am GMT

Liberal Anglicanism might indeed be dead in the CoE, but it is alive and well in the U.S., Canada, Scotland, South Africa, etc.. These churches are in position to carry on the tradition of broad Anglicanism should Rowan continue to kowtow to the fundamentalists.

In other words, Mr. Hobson, England is not the whole world.

Posted by: JPM on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at 3:57pm GMT

About Theo Hobson (regarding England) I now have this:

He hasn't counted all the chess pieces, nor where they are.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at 5:34pm GMT


I think it is time that people stopped focussing on sexual morality and relearnt the concept of "righteousness". There’s a plethora of bible studies to be done. Some gem passages, and by no means complete:

Jeremiah 9:24 "I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight"

Isaiah 16:4-5 "The oppressor will come to an end, and destruction will cease; the aggressor will vanish from the land. In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it —one from the house of David — one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness."

Hosea 2:16-19 "I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. “In that day I will respond,” declares the LORD— “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond.. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ”"

Isaiah 1:26 "God will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City"

Isaiah 32:16-18 "Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest."

Psalms 85:8-13 “…listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints… Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.”

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at 7:46pm GMT

I think I would like to see some teasing out of the difference between Plato and Neo-Platonism. There are dangers, yes, but first we must distinguish between these two.

Posted by: Christopher on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at 9:47pm GMT

Exploring which Church Father imported which bit of Greek philosophy into the Christian theology may be of interest. But when I read many commentators on this subject there seems to be an unsaid assumption that if we can remove these later accretions then we will get back to a purely Jewish Jesus with no Hellenistic pollution. But I wonder if that is the case.

What interests me is the Hellenistic influence in Palestine before and during the time of Jesus, and not after - an influence from the Mystery Religions not philosophy (although there is a huge overlap).

To take one simple example - my understanding is that Dionysus was born son of a male God and human woman - his birth celebrated at the Winter solstice.

At the Spring equinox his followers re-enact his death and coming to life, and partake of his spiritual body/life (and in fact become one with the God) by consuming wine and bread.

If you take away everything Greek from Christianity I am not sure what you will be left with - certainly not much.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at 10:38pm GMT

As an individual you can take a small step towards Christian Unity at

It is an on line petition to unite the date of Easter that Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox would celebrate this Feast of Feasts all on One Date.

There is also a downloadable petition kit that you can take along to Unity Week events.

Posted by: Easter Dates on Monday, 21 January 2008 at 2:47am GMT

I have just found the one date petition.
I hope union with God might lead to union with each other without destroying the delight of diversity.

Posted by: Bosco Peters on Monday, 21 January 2008 at 7:38am GMT

"It may be no surprise, therefore, that the fiercest contemporary attack upon Plato has come from the Chief Rabbi, the ever-challenging Jonathan Sacks. “The Bible represents the great anti-Platonic narrative in Western civilisation,”"

That is certainly arguable if the gentleman is refering to the Jewish canon. But some of us Christians recognize the canonicity of highly Hellentized books such as Wisdom, and all Christians there is of course the New Testament, a series of Greek works which in various degrees make a great deal of sense in a Hellenized world (most obviously, the Johannine conception of the incarnate Logos).

Jesus teaches particulars as well as universals. He is happy to epitomize his teaching in the laws regarding love of God and neighbor, but those sorts of things are hardly alien to Second Temple and later Judaism.

Of course in neither the Christian nor the Jewish canons is there anything that a philosopher would recognize as real Platonism. But that is true of almost all texts, ancient and modern, Hellenist and Hebraic. I wouldn't call the Aeneid "Platonic" either, but I would refrain then from calling it a "great anti-Platonic text of Western Civilization."

The accusation that Platonism is totalitarian is pretty much old news. As a unifying philosophy it can be used in awful ways, as can all unifying philosophies, as can certain ways of enforcing the particularity of biblical texts. The fault is not in Plato, but in ourselves.

Posted by: rick allen on Monday, 21 January 2008 at 1:53pm GMT

Simon Dawson --

Agreed -- the writers of the New Testament were certainly influenced by Hellenistic thought, which of course included Stoicism & neo-Platonism (which is an anachronism -- all "neo-Platonists thought that they were Platonists -- or more accurately, that Plato was right & that they were agreeing with him).

The notion that "spiritual" always is positive & "physical" is always negative is a nasty element in the tradition that waxes & wanes -- if you read the Philokalia you won't find it at all in the Desert Fathers but you will find it taken for granted by the 17th century monks -- all very curious!

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Monday, 21 January 2008 at 1:56pm GMT

Whether it was his intention or not, Giles Fraser's warning about "the attempt to impose an artificial unity on divinely created diversity” makes sense in the context of Christian Unity Week.

Theo Hobson's gloomy piece was a shot across the bows. In spite of best efforts to chip away at conservative religion, hopes for an inclusive church will be dashed this year, caught as we are in the throes of patriarchal authoritarianism and colonialism. North American attempts to show us otherwise will be marginalised.

Synod will approve a watered-down Covenant next month; there'll be stagnation on women bishops. At Lambeth, discussion of the outcome of the listening process will get barely a day's worth of official Conference time, in spite of the media build-up to what will be dubbed the Conference-to-decide-the-fate-of-gays-in-the-church. A bland statement endorsing the Covenant process will be issued, but which also affirms civil rights for gays, to appease liberals. Windsor positions will be confirmed - ie. no gay bishops or blessings unless the mind of the whole Communion changes. No change on 1998, then.

The Conference will be a regarded as a success, in spite of attempts by GAFCON to derail it. ABC is quite right to say there'll be no schisms or splits - talk of which is just fanciful.

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Monday, 21 January 2008 at 11:38pm GMT

The Guardian itself has several letters in response to Theo Hobson's article, including one from the Bishop of Lincoln, John Saxbee. See,,2244112,00.html

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 22 January 2008 at 12:51am GMT

Interesting discussion. Thanks, Simon, for the Guardian letters link. I was struck by Thomas Camps' letter, in which he writes, "The huge ethical dilemmas that arise from our developing sense of the world as one interconnected being is just one major cluster of questions of the day." Last November, before the Diocese of Vermont convention, the Presiding Bishop gave a lecture at the University of Vermont on the importance of the Millenium Development Goals and how their achievement can be an important ministry of the Church.

After reading the last sentence in Mr Camps' letter ("It is time for religious organisations to give up their childish bodily obsessions and join the grown-up world."), I immediately thought of a conversation Bishop Katherine had with youth of the Diocese of Vermont during a lunch break at the diocesan convention. She was asked by one youth,
"'Why are they making such a big deal about gays and gay rights? My definition of an Episcopalian is having a more open view.'

'Most of this stuff for your generation is not an issue," Jefferts Schori agreed."

Link in Episcopal Life Online:

Posted by: Jay Vos on Tuesday, 22 January 2008 at 2:06pm GMT
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.