As the Easter Season of 2024 comes to an end, I am posting two new poems which came as a result of trying to think about the mystery of the Resurrection.  This has been colored by thoughts about the Trinity that have been part of installation of the Icon of Abraham and Sarah Hospitality in the Narthex of All Saints.   In particular around the person of the Holy Spirit whose agency has lack clarification in the Western Church.  In a recent video posted on You Tube, I ask the question where was the Holy Spirit at the Crucifixion?  A dove darkly resting on the cross, as in Fra Lippi famous painting, is little help. 


Lying here in the bed,

          I am ready to be led

          by the Father onto that eternal shore.

          into the nether dark, where times past

          are stored, waiting for the last;

 

          to be joined to the Son

          fine ground flour and baked

          which taken from the oven

          will be fed to a hungering world;

         

          to be swirled in the Wind

          like a bright red kite

          Dancing in the light and

          drawing string across a web

 

          becoming light in his light

          word in his word;

          breath in her breath

          second wind in her wind;

Rising there from the dead.

 

 

Where was the Spirit?

 

Where was the Spirit,

          when the body of the Word

          hung upon the cross?

Brooding, I should think, o’re the growing chaos

          in that body as it was in the beginning.

 

          To the world2023 the cross was the end,

          but to the Trinity it was the door,

          which opened into the depth of the Father’s treasure,

          of all times past.  Receiving now the threads

           of the recent times of that body hung upon that tree,

          where the Spirit new weaves it,

          and into it all past times,

          A New Creation!  Christ Risen from the Dead!


Hear more on the Elder of Omaha You Tube channel, First Thursday May 2024.

 

Footnote for “When I Pray the Book of Psalms”

Page 123 in On Giving My Word

 

“When I Pray The Book of Psalms” was included in First Thursday of February 2024, and came with the promise that the references it makes the Book of Psalms would be published on this blog site, for the curious.  The term Hassidim come from Psalm 149:5 where the word occurs. Hassidim a common term in the Hebrew Testament that identifies a pious person.  It is translated as “saints” KJ, or “Faithful Ones” RSV.  The Wisdom Editor identifies the person or persons who published the Psalms in the form that we currently have them.  They introduced the book with Psalm 1 and closed with Psalm 150.  Psalm from their school were added throughout the book and make up roughly a quarter to the psalms.  Their signature work is Psalm 119 which is an elaborate acrostic, literally a book within a book.  The Performer indicated a number of individuals, minstrel, who actually performed the works in the setting of the Temple or the Court.   Psalm 2 is a good example where the voice of the performer is essential to understand it original sense.  Often the grammar of Psalm is sketchy, and it reminds one that the text was an oral event and passed on as an oral event.  For these performers the text was a prompt as opposed to something to be read. Some actually announce their presence as in Psalm 45.  Suffering Servant identifies himself the author in Psalm 22.  It is the well-known lament quote by Jesus from the cross.  The Levite refers to one of the Levite ministers of the Temple who assisted the more restrict group of priests.  One the major Levite clans identified themselves as “sons of Korah.”  There is a large block of psalm that are attributed to them, beginning with Psalm 42.  Psalm 42 was probably once the opening psalm of a Levite collection.  That collection was expanded at some point with psalms attribute “sons of Asaph.”  The first of these is Psalm 73.  The Shepherd King is, of course, King David to whom a number psalm are attributed and in more generalize sense of authorship the whole Book of Psalm.   Psalm 18:34-35 is an example of where David presence is particularly clear.  The Dethroned King is probably King Jehoiachin who was exiled by the Babylonians.   His lament is found in Psalm 89:38-51.  The Children refers to the exiled Israelite who are the author of Psalm 137.  These are start of those individuals of faith that one will meet when you pray the Book of Psalms.

  

 

A Tanner Sighting

 

            Or better “citing.”  It was spotted in the recent edition of the Anglican Theological Review, Vol. 105.  It occurs in an article, “Toward an Anthropologically Engaged Theology: Implication from Human Evolution for Theological Anthropology” by Matthew T. Seddon.  Seddon has a PHD in Anthropology, the study of human development.  He is a scientist, but he is also an Episcopal Priest functioning in parish ministry.  He is also an academically grounded theologian.  One should not let the big words put you off for this is a very readable essay on the way Theology can and should engage science.  The tradition of theology engaging science has a long history in the Anglican World.  One thinks of Charles Gore book Lux Mundi, published 1888, in which he declared his belief in a Christianity that could court the demands of human reason.  More recently, the particle physicist turned Anglican priest and theologian, the Revd. Dr John Polkinghorne, made a significant contribution to this tradition.  The politicalization of theology in the recent decades, however, has eclipsed this tradition, so it was refreshing to see Seddon essay in the Anglican Theological Review. 

            As he ended his paper, he cites Tanner’s Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Guides to Theological Inquiry) 1997His paraphrase, page 423 of ATR, aptly summarizing his paper and its ambitions.  “Furthermore, this understanding indicates that the Imago Dei is not static: it is emergent, and we share in that emergence.  We are and always have been becoming—becoming more fully human—not just in our intellectual, spiritual, and moral lives, but in our very being.  Indeed, our diversity which is in many ways an expression of creativity, reveals that we are supremely creative, which validates the use of theological creativity.”

               The possibility of an anthropologically engaged theology carried out with in the structures of Tanner’s systematic theology is not only imaginable, but it is beneficial to both.    In a sense it verifies Tanner’s claim that her systematic can be tested in experiential theology, be it the life of Christ, the 16th century debate about grace or a contemporary engagement with science.  A scientific endeavor theological engaged, carried out in systematic like Tanner’s, would have the benefit of a linkage with the moral and meaning for the human endeavor. An objective science has for some time been content to operate without this link, but in the present climate I think that has become quested.

Tanner Talk 2 In What Sense is Tanner an Anglican Theologian?

Taner Talk 2

In What Sense is Tanner an Anglican Theologian 

This is our second talk on Kathern Tanner, and our question is, in what sense is Tanner an Anglican theologian.  The question arises because Tanner identified her chief influences as “the early Greek Father’s … Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, the Reformers, Karl Rahner, Karl Barth and some contemporary figures of Eastern Orthodoxy.”  Anglican theologians are notably absent from her list unless one might be included in the category of “Reformers.”  This impression is reenforced by the general absence of references to Anglican theologians across her extensive writings.

But providing an answer to this question is not easy for it is difficult to identify Anglican Theology and those who are to be counted as its theologians.  The Anglican communion has not been noted for its theologians, but for its preachers, poets, and scholars whose work in the historical fields of scripture, patristics, liturgics, and spirituality, is highly regarded.

Richard A. Norris Jr, a noted Episcopal historian of eighties and nineties, provided his list of Anglican theologians at time when he alleged, “everyone is busy talking about the heart or soul or spirit of Anglicanism.”  He went on to argue that it was odd that the great fashioners and interpreters of that tradition—are almost uniformly out of print and unavailable. He continued with a list, Hooker, Pearson, Maurice, Gore, Westcott, Scott-Holland, DuBose, Temple, and Austin Farrer.”  Not long after that Stephen Sykes, late the Bishop of Durham, in his Spirit of Anglicanism, published in 2008, also lamented the state of Anglican Theology and called for the writing of “a distinctly and self-consciously Anglican systematic theology.”   Sykes, were he alive, would be a far more qualified than I to answer the question of whether or not Tanner has done so.

Given the lack of definitive resource, I will rest on my own sense, that there is,  if unwritten, an Anglican Theology and that it’s distinctive mark is a focus on the incarnation. At the time of my formation, it would have been commonplace to identify Anglican Theology as incarnational.  John Booty, an Episcopal church historian at the time, supports this view.  In a forward to the works of John Donn in the series, Classic of Western Spirituality, referenced William J Wolf, and his book “In the Spirit of Anglicanism.”  Wolf, he tells us, wrote “that an incarnational piety has always dominated Anglicanism. Anglicanism has, in a way, appropriated the feast of the Nativity as a celebration of its own particular ethos.”

Anglicans chose, early on, to put the incarnation at the center of their theology as a means of separating themselves from Western theologies, Protestant and Roman Catholic, which were centered on the question of salvation, on soteriology and opposed to Christology.  These theologies were focused on how an individual is saved: by grace, which comes by means of faith and/or obedience.  These theologies produced a sterile and hostile debate which Anglicans thought was preventing and/or warping the process of change, so urgently needed in the church at that time.

From this choice came three significant corollaries. The first corollary involves history.  With the incarnation, God has assumed history.  This results in the obligation for theology to address history.  Theology cannot, by means of dogmatic claims or ideals, exempt itself from doing history.  The second corollary involves community. The continuation of the incarnation, the saving event, is community, the saving mediation.  The community is the-sacrament!  It grounds all other discrete sacraments and preaching.  The third corollary has to do with nature. With the incarnation God assumed not only human history but also all of the natural world.  It follows that reality itself is a sacrament, at least potentially.  This has been represented by the common Anglican teaching that we live in a sacramental universe.

 Our question then is in what way does this fit what Tanner does. We need to be aware as we look for evidence that the nature of a systematic theology is to be universal. In other words, we should not expect a systematic theologian to wear on their sleeves the stripes of a local identity.  A systematic theology is by definition a search for universal rules to govern theological statements.  It aspires to being outside of the local, not to replace it, but to serve it.

Anglican Theology is essentially local.  It has never been the position of the Anglican Church that it was the universal church.  Its position has consistently been that it was the error of the Church of Rome, a local church, to take its doctrines and liturgy to be universal. A position, it should be noted, that has been greatly modified by Vatican II.  What the Anglican perspective asked was that Rome’s relationship with other churches should be one of mutual respect. 

This is not the same as saying all theology must be local. To the extent that the Anglican Communion has not produced systematic theology, is not to be taken as it is sometimes to be a virtue, but an accident and/or a matter of indolence.  A viable systematic has a role in mediating the relationship between local communities. Our question is then whether or not there is a fit between the rules governing Tanner’s systematic and the substance of Anglican Theology. Does her theology put the incarnation at the center of the theological enterprise?  Does it own the need for theology to be invested in historical enquiry?  Does community precede individual in the mediation of salvation? Does reality itself take on a sacramental role?

We can begin then by noting that the center of Tanner’s systematic is the book entitle Christ the Key, published in 2010.  This provides prima facie evidence the incarnation is the center of her theology. Ahead of its publication, Tanner previewed it in Jesus, Humanity and Trinity, 2001, saying that “This book sketches a  systematic theology that centers on Jesus Christ and the meaning of his life for the world.  (p. 1.}  She further defines this systematic, arguing that it would be based on,

“an understanding that incarnation was the essential means of grasping the Christian matter, from which it follows that Christianity is historical (local not universal), and it is experienced in community by means of being assumed individually and personally by Christ.  Salvation is not something done for us but is something worked in us by means of this assumption.”  

She continues by clarifying how this assumption unites us with Christ: “in hearing the Gospel as an irrevocable call for a transformed life, in being baptized, in being lifted up in the Eucharist to Christ in order to go with him to the Father … to make Christ the center or axis of all that we do with the Spirits help.”

She identifies her Christology with the Christology of Council of Chalcedon and more particularly with the Alexandrian interpretation of the council, frequently citing Athanasius.  (JHT p. 20) Noting that there has been a modern tendency to prefer an “Antiochian” interpretation Chalcedon which emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, and that while “there is evidence of a slighting of Jesus’s humanity by the early Greek or Alexandrian theological traditions,”  she argues that it is less than one might think and that  “working from aspects of this long tradition of incarnational thinking—the early Greek Fathers up through the sixth century, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Raher, Karl Barth and some contemporary figures of the Eastern Orthodoxy – one can recuperate the emphasis in the early creeds on the divinity of Christ.”

The consequence of Tanner’s position is that no doctrine or theological statement is exempt from history.  Inevitably, theological discussion must sort through it history in order reprise the theological element to be relocated in a new historical setting.   This has been an Anglican position from its beginnings whether in dialogue with a Protestant or Roman Catholic orthodoxy. It was also the key issue confronting the Roman Catholic theologians preparing for and counselling the Second Vatican Council.  Chief among these was Karl Rahner.  Dogma was presented as having escaped history by means, among other things, papal definition.  Carefully its doctrine had to be contextualized in its past history which made it possible to re-contextualize in its contemporary history making change possible.  This was the labor of Rahner’s famous “Questions in Dispute,” which Tanner identifies as significant for her own thinking.

When we come to the way salvation is shared with us, Tanner places the initiative with the incarnate Christ.  Christ assumes us.  “We are united with Christ after the fact of our existence as a kind of second creation, a second birth or adoption to be the Son of God’s own in Christ.” 

“Baptized, for example, into Christ, initiates a struggle to shore up our oneness with him: the character and the quality of our union with Christ must be bettered, heightened from weak union to strong, for example, through the repeated performance of the Eucharist in the power of the Spirit.” (JHT p.54)

 

In the Eucharist,” we offer up the things of the earth for the Father’s blessings through Christ so that they become new for our renewed sustenance; we are empowered to do so in and with Christ who has already taken up the things of the earth by assuming our body in all its fragile connections with the natural world.” (JHT p. 58) 

If the Incarnation according to Tanner engages us with history, it also results in community that is essentially sacramental.  This reaches out into the natural world itself, which is understood sacramentally. 

        More could be said, but at this point I am ready to conclude that there is a substantial fit between what we have identified as the marks of Anglican Theology and Tanner’s Systematic Theology. I feel at home in it. More than I would in that of Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Wolfgang Panneburg or Karl Rahner. How much Tanner owes to Anglican Theology for her own theology, is not so easily concluded.  As we have pointed out, her writings are silent on this question. Her journey though American academic life would done little to reinforce an Anglican Theology or reward her for referencing it. As a result, we will limit our conclusion to a question, how could she have arrived at her mature theology without it?

 

First Thursday December 2023: The Key of David

Welcome to First Thursday.  A full year has passed since I began sharing with you the poems and aphorisms from my book, On Giving My Word.  We are in the season of Advent, the season of expectation.  Themes of Advent are well served by a reprise of Mary, the mother of our Lord, the God bearer, not as a devotion for the Queen of Heaven, but as the human maiden of Nazareth, whose humanity is linked to the humanity of the Christ.  For a long time, I have used a story that I invented which imagines the journey of Mary, heavy with child, to Bethlehem.  It relies on, to be sure, one’s imagination as we have from the Gospel of Luke, alone, two reports, that of an annunciation to Mary in Nazareth and of a birth of a child Bethlehem, which imply that journey of some seventy miles was made late in her pregnancy.  I shaped this journey into seven meditations corresponding to seven days of travel.  Each day has at its center one the seven “O” antiphons which were originally composed as antiphons for the Magnificat sung on the last seven days before Christmas.  Later they were collected and sung as the well-known Advent Carol, “O Come, O Come Emanuel.” Each of the seven verses turns on a name of the Messiah.

          The fourth name is “The Key of David.”  This name in found in the Book of Isaiah, "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isaiah 22:22). It also occurs in the Book of Revelation (3:7), where the words of the glorified Christ are addressed to the Angel of the Church of Philadelphia: “These are the word of the Holy One, the True One, who has the key of David, who opens, and no one shall shut.  Who shuts and no one will open.”  The key is the symbol of authority, an authority that is passed from the messiah to the church according to the Gospel of Matthew, where it is associated with the authority to guard the inclusiveness of the church, forgiving sins. 

          In my imagined journey of Mary, the fourth day finds her and Joseph in the middle stretch of the Jordan Valley, between two dusty villages, Zaphon and Adam.  On that stretch was a fortress built by Herod, the Alexandrium. It stood atop a conical mountain, clearly not the work of nature and a rather obscene intrusion on the valley built by Herod’s engineers.  It remains to this day with its eerie effect.

          A patrol of Herodian soldiers has passed them.  This encounter raised the question of the legitimacy of their authority.  Instinctively, Mary wants to trust them, even as Joseph, instinctively, distrusts them.  In time, Mary and Joseph see a small group of merchants coming towards them.

Reading now from page 150:  “Sometime after the soldiers had passed them, they spotted a group that looked like merchants, traveling north toward them. As they drew near, it was clear that some of them were wounded. Joseph rushed ahead to meet them and quickly began to help them dress their wounds. The words between them and Joseph were cryptic, but Mary could tell that Joseph was understanding what they were saying with perfect clarity. A few words had told him what had happened. Mary slipped off the donkey and joined Joseph in helping the wounded. Slowly their story was sinking into her consciousness. The group had been stopped by the same Herodian soldiers who had passed them. Their answers to the soldiers’ questions, had not been satisfactory, so the soldiers had beaten some of them. The beatings were supposed to elicit the answers that the soldier wanted and had gone on for a considerable length of time, since the merchants had no answers to give that would satisfy the soldiers.

            Why were the soldiers so insistent and what had they wanted to know?  It seems that during the past week somewhere along this road between Beth Sham and The Alexandrium, a similar squad of Herodian soldiers had been ambushed by a group of Zealots.  One of the soldiers had been killed and several wounded. The way the group’s spokesperson had pursed his lips as he recounted the story, made it clear that the injury to the soldiers gave him a great deal of satisfaction.  It was clear to Mary that these merchants held these Herodian soldiers in great contempt. It was also clear that this news neither surprised her husband nor found from him any form of rebuttal.  She had, of course, overheard her husband arguing with the men of Nazareth to the effect that Herod could not be the true king of the Jews since he was an Idumaean.  Even if he was a convert to Judaism, he could not be its king because he was not of the house of David. She had thought that Joseph argued this out of fun or for pride in his own lineage.  Now she changed her mind.  Joseph seemed to possess a seriousness about the matter that she had up to now underestimated.  

            After about an hour, the merchants resumed their journey north, and they south. Mary could not get out of her head the conundrum that those who were in authority did not respect the people and in turn they were not respected by the people, her husband included. How could one be safe in such a world where true authority was missing?  How could one feel good about bringing a child into this world?

            A phrase entered Mary’s mind, which she remembered overhearing Joseph use in his arguments with the men in Nazareth.  He would speak of the “Key of David.”  It seemed to name a hope;  name a messiah whom God would send. This messiah would bring an authority that would respect the people because it understood that it was the task of a king to serve the people. In turn this authority would be respected by the people because they would know that their life needed to be under authority.  Obviously, no man held this “Key of David:” not the Herodians who would beat witnesses, not the Roman’s whose arbitrary reign was sending her on this arduous trip, not the priests of her own people who were more concerned about their share of the sacrifice than the prayers.  Not the self-appointed Pharisees who judged everyone to be beneath them.  With the sudden loss of her innocence, she found herself with no legitimate authority unto whom she could entrust herself. Was there nothing to do except wait?

            She struggled with the puzzle. If this authority which is to come belonged to God, it would have already been here.  How else could men have come to have formed an expectation about it, if it hadn’t been with them once in some form or other? If the eternal God who will be, also once was, then he had to be right now as well. Suddenly she surrendered to the authority which had no soldiers to enforce it, no priest to parse it, and no scribe to declare it corban. At the same time, she trusted her unborn child to the protection of that authority. Whatever soldiers did or failed to do, that authority would justify bringing her child into this world.

            With her hands lifting her heavy abdomen, she prayed: “O Come thou Key of David Come.” “O Come Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path of misery.”

          The question of authority is an issue in which we finds ourselves deeply conflicted. It is obvious in those places in our world that are at war, but in our social order as well.  There is a crisis in our policing which cuts both ways.  What authority do I have to ask someone to get out of a car?   What authority am I under, that makes me get out of car?  Where does this authority come from, or is just a question of power?  Our politics is equally conflicted.  What confers authority on an elected official?  What authority asks me to respect the acts of such an official?  Or does it come down to power?  Not to long ago, it seemed that judges had an authority which was more than simply a matter of power. This seems to get disproven daily as trials become contests over power, power appoint judges, power prolong trials and counter sue. 

          We might look at the challenge of our Advent, as summoning authority, which will distribute justice and peace across the world. We might pray: Come thou the Key of David, come. Katherine Tanner, a current Episcopal theologian has made the center of her theology a book called.  Christ the Key.  In she says “Christ is the key.  . . to what God is doing everywhere.  Christ clarifies and specifies the nature, aim, and trustworthiness of all God’s dealing with us because that is where those dealings with us come to ultimate fruition.”  

          That may sound evangelical because it is, but be aware that first impact of that call, is not on those out there, those others, but is on oneself, is putting oneself under the authority of the Christ, before it is an issue for anyone else. 

Watch for some Christmas specials and, of course, First Thursday in January, the fourth.


 


Br. Jerrold Thompson of the Priory of the Incarnation in Omaha sent the following comments after watching the our You Tube video A Brief Introduction to the Meaning of Katherine Tanner for  the Local Congregation.

We are most grateful of them and pleased that he agreed to share them with you.    Michael

I just watched your talk on Tanner and find it thought-provoking on two - well, really, three - levels. I have two degrees in English literature and language and have always been fascinated with language. So the discussion around first-level and second-level God talk is especially engaging. I've often thought, although in other terms, that parish priests live in that odd and (hopefully in our best moments) creative place of combining the two. I also think that many of the problems in American Christianity arise from a lack of respect for the two levels and combining them in a creative way. Your observation about average Christian people being engaged with sound theology not so long ago is spot on and is a very real loss to the quality of theological talk. 
I was also taken by your brief story about the monk who runs from the room during the talk about the transcendence of God. Both the immanence and the transcendence have to be held in a creative tension. It's one of the great gifts of the Christian faith from my perspective, although it's very much found in Judaism as well. Again, we get into trouble when we leave one to the side, or when we are not explicit about our emphasis of one over the other in a given context. This discussion also relates back to language, and language's ability to point us in the direction of God, even reveal God, and yet never capture the entirety of God. Which also relates deeply to the subject of prayer. Interesting how prayer and language are so deeply connected. 
And finally, your unanswered question at the end. How is Tanner specifically an Anglican theologian?  You know her way better than I. I'll be interested to hear what you think!
Watch on You Tube and add comments or questions.  

As the Easter Season of 2024 comes to an end, I am posting two new poems which came as a result of trying to think about the mystery of the ...