Thursday, June 10, 2004

Listening to Charles Gore

Within the Anglican Communion, there is quite a bit of shouting going on over who should be allowed to claim the label of "Orthodox." I freely admit to being periodically drawn into this shouting match. I also admit that sometimes I am anything but orthodox in my beliefs; most likely more on the pages of this blog than elsewhere.

How do I explain this? I have no justification, except to say that I am a reader, not a scholar. I was never very good at math. My reasoning is often quite lacking in logic. I trust intuition much more than thought, and will base decisions on a "hunch" even in light of sound arguments against such a course of action. Often, the hunch will prove to be well founded. Other times, the result is disastrous.

Something has been nagging at me lately; some discomfort that I have yet to identify. I suspect it is yoked to the tension between my life within the parish setting, and my solitary life of reading and thinking. I've spoken of this tension before, so I won't belabor it here. When such tensions arise, it is usually evidence that I have not fully thought through some essential ideas. I prefer not to do such thinking. Preparing to do it summons up the feelings of dread I recall when faced with hours of Algebra homework so many years ago.

A "hunch" brought to mind Charles Gore; someone who I haven't read for some time. Possibly I was drawn to him today because during his life he was often accused by conservatives of being too liberal, and by liberals of being too conservative. I certainly do not consider myself in the same league as this giant of a man. But I recall feeling the discovery of a kindred spirit when I read his work some years ago.

Charles Gore was the first principal of Pusey House (named after Edward B. Pusey, one of the original Tractarians), and was a defender of the Oxford Movement, from which came what is often referred to today as Anglo-Catholicism. He was the editor of Lux Mundi, which was an attempt to consider some of the truths of the Christian faith in a way that made them accessible to modern minds. Gore's contribution was an essay entitled On the Inspiration of the Holy Scripture. His claim was that biblical texts were inspired by God but were not infallible on matters of science. This was a very controversial premise in 1889. Gore also supported what is often called "the Social Gospel" as introduced by Maurice, among others, although cannot be considered to have ever fully embraced socialism. In 1905 he was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Birmingham and became Bishop of Oxford in 1911.

I have always understood Anglo-Catholicism to include a bit of socialism, but this may be a personal bias. The figure that drew me to this tradition was James Otis Sargent Huntington, the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately, that model of Anglo-Catholicism is very rare in the Episcopal Church today. Most of those claiming the label Anglo-Catholic are either preoccupied by "right liturgy" or "right doctrine," to the point of excluding the importance of the Social Gospel when manifesting the Kingdom at hand.

But let me return to Charles Gore. As a bishop Gore was insistent that Christian clergy could not teach doctrines which contradicted the creeds. This was in response to some clergy who were suggesting that the Trinity, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection could be denied by Christians. Partially as a result of his frustration with some of these teachings, he resigned his bishopric in 1919.

Here is an example of his response against the denial of what many would call the essentials of the faith;

To return to our original question--since so many things have been taught as Christian truth, and afterwards proved false or uncertain, how do I propose, by more or less objective and producible tests, to distinguish essential Christianity from the variable or uncertain or false accompaniments to it?

The first, and to some minds the most obvious, test is that of authority in its broadest sense. There has been a common, a universal, faith of Christendom, which has, most authoritatively, expressed itself in the Catholic Creeds, the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds. There are, indeed, features in the common faith, such as the belief in Atonement, in sacramental grace, in the inspiration of Scripture, which are only slightly or by implication touched on in these formulas of faith; but at least in what they contain they represent what has been universal Christianity.
A review of his life makes it impossible to place the label of "liberal" or "conservative" on this man. I suspect that he would have been pleased that he escapes easy categorization. One of his recurrent themes was to preach against "onesidedness."

What caught my eye today were portions of The Anglo-Catholic Movement Today which he wrote in 1925. I want to start with his conclusion of part III, Some Necessary Modifications, as it outlines his primary points within this section;

Just at this point I have only been concerned to call attention to three modifications or enlargements of the original spirit and temper of the Anglo-Catholic Movement which it is, in my judgment, necessary to welcome. These are (1) the acceptance of the principle of Biblical criticism, while combating the extravagance and prejudice of many of its advocates; (2) the acceptance of the principle of social justice and human brotherhood as a central and essential element of the Christian Gospel, laying upon the church a duty of witness and discipline which is sure to be unpopular with many of its adherents, not least within the sphere of influence of the Anglican communion; and (3) the frank and full recognition that, while the New Testament will not suffer us to draw any distinction between the public and covenanted membership of Christ and obedient membership of the church which is His body, at the same time the final judgment of individuals is not given to the church as one of its functions, and we ought to feel quite sure that the just Judge will repudiate no one, nor refuse to welcome him into His eternal kingdom, who has faithfully sought to be true to the Light which lighteth every man and to 'repent when he did amiss.'
1. The acceptance of the principle of Biblical criticism, while combating the extravagance and prejudice of many of its advocates...In today's climate, such acceptance is assured to get one labeled as a "liberal." What did Gore mean by Biblical criticism? I came across another quote from Gore that is worth noting at this point;

We must lend our ears, then, not only to the wisdom of the gospels but to the wisdom of the ages and of the present age. We must learn to preach "the everlasting Gospel" so that the men of our time may catch in it the reflection of their own best thoughts and aspirations. We must interpret the old creed into modern speech. I am quite aware that some who claim to be doing this are not really interpreting the old message, but ignoring it in part and in part plainly misinterpreting it. We must avoid such rash dealing with what rightly claims to be a divine message and word of God. Nevertheless, if we believe that there is such a permanent Gospel which speaks through all changing ages to the unchanging heart of man, yet it must be able to recognize also a fresh "movement of God" in each age. As of old it spoke in terms intelligible to the spirit and philosophy of the Greco-Roman Empire, and again of the Middle Ages, and again of the Renaissance -- correcting the current spirit and philosophy but also assimilating it -- so also it must be able to assimilate the movement of God in the heart of our own age as well as to correct what it interprets.
- The Everlasting Gospel and the Spirit of the Age

From Charles Gore's Christ and Society; the Halley Stewart Lectures 1927.
This is what many who are charged with being "liberal revisionists" are attempting to do; imperfectly sometimes, no doubt. It is a matter of changing the wrapping, without altering the gift.

2. The acceptance of the principle of social justice and human brotherhood as a central and essential element of the Christian Gospel...This happens to be one of my personal passions. It is why I continue to be a Christian, in spite of the example I see all around me of what passes as Christianity, which, intended or not, is often seen as being primarily about getting one's personal ticket to heaven. Here's a bit more of what Gore had to say on this;

The Tractarian Movement had begun as a protest against 'Liberalism' - not without good reason as Liberalism was. And, though some few of the Tractarians were not Tories, yet the movement, at least till it went out into the towns in the form of Ritualism, was on the whole associated with the Tory party. But there was another contemporary school of religious teachers - F. D. Maurice and Kingsley being its leaders - who were discovering that the existing social and industrial structure of society was fundamentally contrary to the ideas of justice and brotherhood which it is among the primary objects of the Old and New Testaments to instil and maintain among men with all the authority of the word of God. And that wonderful book, Ecce Homo, which appeared anonymously in 1865, had recalled to men's minds how deeply an 'enthusiasm for humanity' had inspired the mission among men of Jesus of Nazareth, and that its expression and propagation ought to be regarded as at least one of the primary objects for which the church exists in the world.
3. The frank and full recognition that...the final judgmentent of individuals is not given to the church as one of its functions, and we ought to feel quite sure that the just Judge will repudiate no one, nor refuse to welcome him into His eternal kingdom, who has faithfully sought to be true to the Light which lighteth every man and to 'repent when he did amiss.'..."The harvest is at the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels." We finite humans are not to weed the wheat field, as in our zeal to uproot the dastardly weed, we trample many innocent stalks of wheat in the process.

I know this has been much too lengthy for some. I also realize that I have not done justice to the great work of Charles Gore. Hopefully some will appreciate this taste, and feast further on their own.

I think I'll continue reading.

J.

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