Friday, June 12, 2009

Holy Women, Holy Men

Father Alexander and Tim Fountain, both Anglican bloggers, have posted over the past few months about the proposed change in the Calendar of Saints that the Episcopal Church uses that is being presented to General Convention.

Basically what we have currently is a calendar called Lesser Feasts and Fasts that largely follows, with a some differences, the major and lesser Church of England calendar of saints. The fad in the Church of England when the Common Worship series came out was also to have a list of completely optional "commemorations" along with the Greater and Lesser feasts.

Taking a cue from all that dialogue, the Episcopal Church liturgical commission is submitting something for approval from General Convention something called Holy Women, Holy Men, which can be downloaded here. It is a massive PDF file, but worth a read if you have not yet examined it.

From the preface of the proposal, the project was derived from "The 74th General Convention in Resolution 2003–A100 directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to undertake a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts that would reflect the cultural diversity of The Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities."

As is typical of commissions in the Episcopal Church with issues of revising what we already have in moderation, an otherwise innocuous matter of following clear directions for simple revision was apparently not what they wanted to do or be bound by. "
We immediately recognized that it would not be possible to accomplish so major a revision in one triennium because of its scope and depth." The project ballooned into the massively excessive (in my opinion) proposal of Holy Women, Holy Men.

This report has been out for probably a few months now. I read it about a month ago and have been pondering what I thought of it. Before I get into particular critiques of it, I will say from the outset that I am somewhat perturbed and disturbed me most about it is that such a massive overhaul of the Calendar of Saints was done solely on the whim of the Standing Liturgical Commission. I think the more appropriate and fair way of doing this is to have motions made at General Convention per saint, so that general discussion of the merits of potential saints added to the calendar can have equal air and debate time. The way this massive overhaul is being presented strikes me as a bit of a "all or nothing" steamroll job. That does not sit too well with me.

Their principles of revision I found to be likewise rather odd and somewhat convoluted theologically as to what is meant by a Sanctoral Calendar, as they refer to it. I would like to comment of a few of them, which I will have in bold with my reactions to them underneath. They come directly quoted from page 131 and 132 of the Blue Book.

1. Historicity: Christianity is a radically historical religion, so in almost every instance it is not theological realities or spiritual movements but exemplary witness to the Gospel of Christ in lives actually lived that is commemorated in the Calendar.

I am unclear what "radically historical religion" might possibly mean. That sounds nice, but I don't think that actually means anything. But that is neither here nor there. The goal seems to be to have a calendar that commemorates exemplary witness to Christ. Okay, I'll buy that, but to try and divorce individual lives from theological realities and spiritual movements seems hazardous at best.

2. Christian Discipleship: The death of the saints, precious in God’s sight, is the ultimate witness to the power of the Resurrection. What is being commemorated, therefore, is the completion in death of a particular Christian’s living out of the promises of baptism. Baptism is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in the Calendar.

So, by baptism, they do have to be Christian to be included. In a theology of the Communion of Saints, this is good. This smacks of overplaying the Baptismal Covenant with no mention of Confirmation or adult affirmations of faith, which I find a bit disturbing when talking about appropriate commemorations of saints.

3. Significance: Those commemorated should have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God and God’s people for the sake, and after the example, of Jesus Christ. In this way they have testified to the Lordship of Christ over all of history, and continue to inspire us as we carry forward God’s mission in the world.

Certainly, God's glory is reflected in the saints. I am interested in how they would define extraordinary. Looking at these lists of names, there seems to be some quite ordinary ones listed, which makes one wonder as to the modivation of including such Saints onto the calendar. I will discuss this more in a subsequent post.

4. Memorability: The Calendar should include those who, through their devotion to Christ and their joyful and loving participation in the community of the faithful, deserve to be remembered by The Episcopal Church today. However, in order to celebrate the whole history of salvation, it is important also to include those “whose memory may have faded in the shifting fashions of public concern, but whose witness is deemed important to the life and mission of the Church” (Thomas Talley).

Those who deserve to be celebrated.
Certainly I don't object to always remembering those whose faith is known to God alone, lost to the human pages of history. However, all Christians who have "fought the good fight and finished the race" are indeed saints in their own right. I object slightly to the use of the term "celebrated;" which to my ears brings up notions of both "The Celebration of the Life of X" that people want to do instead of actually having a funeral and calling it such, and also a trifle bit of anthrocentric arrogance, i.e. that it is about the person and not God working in and through the person.

5. Range of Inclusion: Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of laypeople (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical representation. In this way the Calendar will reflect the reality of our time: that instant communication and extensive travel are leading to an ever deeper international and ecumenical consciousness among Christian people.

This is, in fact, an Anglican Calendar of saints, so that does make sense to include Anglicans and those from the Mother Church and from the Catholic church before the Great Schism. I am cool with ncluding lay people, women, minorities, etc. I am a bit concerned about the "ecumenical representation" part for several reasons. Primarily, I don't understand the point of including people from other Christian traditions that do not teach the doctrine of Communion of Saints. I mean, is it intellectually fair to John Calvin or some of the other radical Protestants proposed to include them in a Calendar of Saints. I think John Calvin is likely turning over in his grave at the thought of a such a thing.

6. Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant commemoration of a particular person already exists at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church as a whole.

While I personally do not have an issue with this one, this is contradictory to No. 4 (see above). If they have faded from memory, how is it that they must also be regionally commemorated? That does not make logical sense to me.

7. Perspective: It should normatively be the case that a person be included in the Calendar only after two generations or fifty years have elapsed since that person’s death.

I also agree with this principle, but there are a few proposed additions that seem to violate this rule. Oscar Romero comes to mind, though he was already on trial basis in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

8. Levels of Commemoration: Principal Feasts, Sundays, and Holy Days have primacy of place in the Church’s liturgical observance. It does not seem appropriate to distinguish between the various other commemorations by regarding some as having either a greater or a lesser claim on our observance of them. Each commemoration be given equal weight as far as the provision of liturgical propers is concerned (including the listing of three lessons).

I have to object to this one in principle. The Feast Days of St. Peter and St. Paul and Michaelmas are much more important that, say,
Rauschenbusch and Ralph Adams Cram. This leads me back to my initial comment about "steamrolling" this through. Is this an all or nothing proposition? If we have individual objections to a particular saint, are we not free to not use such a commemoration?

9. Combined Commemorations: The present edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2003) recognizes that not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation”. Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense (cf. The Cappadocians - Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and Macrina— and the Reformation martyrs—Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley).

I also have to object to this principle. Lumping the great Patristic fathers all together for the sake of creating more days for unknowns like
Albrecht Durer is demeaning to the Church fathers involved.

10. Common of Saints: A greater range of “Commons of Saints” should be provided to allow for optional commemorations at the local and regional levels. Presently there are propers provided for martyrs, missionaries, pastors, theologians and teachers, monastics, and “saints.” Possible additional categories could include musicians and other artists, reformers of society, and “stewards of creation,” for example, scientists and environmentalists.

Why are cluttering up the calendar with musicians, scientists, artists, and "stewards of creation"(whatever in the thunder that means)? There is a theological line between having a Saint Day commemoration for a saint in which we see Christ at work in his or her life, and patting the backs of political and artistic persons for their own personal achievements. Like in liturgy, God must always be the center, God must clearly be reflected in the Saint. With all due respect to Copernicus and Kepler and their achievements, I am baffled as to why such persons are being considered other than because they were Christians who also happened to be scientists. As such, they would seem to be commemorated for their achievements as scientists and not as Defenders of the Faith or models of Christian virtue.

That having been said, there are certainly some very positive additions to commend about Holy Women, Holy Men, but I still feel that such additions would be more properly added and discussed one by one. Innocent of Alaska is a great one, as is Don Bosco. But even they need to stand or fall on their own merits, and not as part of some massive overhaul.

Ah well, just my thoughts. I am sure I will post more on this at some future point.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Very imformative, Archer. Thanks for posting this, I had been curious but have not had time to review the proposal myself. I agree with the vast majority of your sentiments.