Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Quotes of Note: Urban T. Holmes

One of the books I can ALWAYS lay my hands on is a slender, worn paperback copy of Urban T. Holmes' "What is Anglicanism?" It is a book I virtually devoured when I discovered it back before I went to seminary and was trying to put into language what I knew my cradle-Episcopalian-heart believed but my arrested-theologically-educated brain didn't know how to articulate.

It helped me through three years in seminary, five years of parish day school chaplaincy and more adult education hour forum presentations than I have the energy to shake a stick at. And I turn to it still ... and here are a couple of the reasons why:

ON THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE: “The Puritans taught that the Scriptures provided a certainty that transcended all other certainty, including reason, which reason they wished to confine to “science” (e.e. all forms of human learning). They believed that the Scriptures must be read for themselves and devoid of subsequent interpretations, namely, tradition. Hooker’s answer to this was that the Scriptures when read apart from reason and tradition and were subject to the all kinds of private interpretations, which would of necessity be biased. Hence, Hooker articulates for Anglicanism its answer to the question of what is our authority. Our authority is the association of Scripture, tradition and reason … Scripture for the Anglican is a fundamental source of authority for the church; but apart from reason it is dangerous. It becomes the mirror for the misdirected person to project his or her own opinions and give them the authority of God. The sin of schism in the result.” – Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 11-13

ON ANGLICAN COMPREHENSIVENESS: "We often speak of Anglican "comprehensiveness." If this is a way of making relativism palatable or a means of accommodating all shades of opinion with no regard for truth, then it needs to be rejected. If by comprehensive we mean the priority of a dialectic quest over precision and immediate closure then we are speaking of the Anglican consciousness at its best." – Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 7

ON CLARITY OF AUTHORITY: "Clarity of authority should not be expected-- in fact, it should be suspect -- when we are attempting to make clear the infinite mind of God for the finite minds of humankind. When Anglicanism is true to its concept of authority, this apparent hesitance to say, "Thus saith the Lord!" -- only to have to spend the next hundred years subtlely qualifying "what the Lord said" -- is not a sign of weakness but evidence of strength and wisdom." - Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 16

Holmes reminds me in clear, concise, accessible language of all that is best -- and worth preserving -- about the historic Anglicanism we inherit as American Episcopalians. It is the tradition we are currently struggling to defend against those urging us to abandon the dialectic quest in favor of immediate closure, to accept a clarity of authority that has never been a hallmark of the Anglican ethos and to replace Hooker's "three legged stool" approach to the authority of scripture with a narrow literalism that echoes the Puritan insistence on "sola scriptura" and is driving the communion to the brink of the schism Holmes warned against.

Finally, he reminds me that there is a point to all we do as Anglican Christians that transcends the political, eccleisal and theological wranglings that seem to consume so much of our energy:

ON FAITH AND BELIEF: Ultimately the authenticity of faith and belief is measured at the bar of justice. All religious questions merge into the one query: What shall we do? There is an inevitable course to our religious profession which can be aborted only by denying its Lord. That course leads to living in the world as God sees the world. We can debate the trivial points, but the vision is largely clear. To love God is to relieve the burden of all who suffer. The rest is a question of tactics." - Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 95

And let the people say, Amen!


Anonymous said...

How grateful I was when you gave me a copy of this book; I've had it out in the last week, wagging it in someone's face as "my favorite and most concise reference about what it means to be an Anglican." Predictably, one of my favorite parts is where he discusses Anglican sensibility thorugh the image of "thinking with the left hand." Here he is: "We Anglicans are not given to writing great theology. There are notable exceptions, but they are difficult to remember; but when Anglicanism is at its best its liturgy, its poetry, its music and its life can create a world of wonder in which it is very easy to fall in love with God. We are much more adept at the left hand than at the right."

Jake said...

Thanks for the reminder of Terry Holmes. His book, Ministry and Imagination, was the nudge I needed to take the plunge and go to seminary.

Neil said...

Thanks, Susan, for this posting. Don't tell anyone, but I often struggle with my own faith, and I have found myself identifying more and more as an christian agnostic, if that makes any sense. By that I mean that while I feel rooted in Christianity and in the Episcopal Church in particular, I can't honestly say that God exists or not. What I like about the Holmes qoute is that it reminds me that, in some ways, the question of whether or not God exists is the wrong one. What matters is the struggle to do justice and create a kingdon of God marked by greater human rights and more love for all human being all around the world. I recently came across the following quote from Anne Frank's diary, and it seems to sum up my hopeful view of my faith: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Blessings upon you.

Anonymous said...

You say, "When Anglicanism is true to its concept of authority, this apparent hesitance to say, 'Thus saith the Lord!'"

So -- why are you so sure that same-sex relationships are acceptable to the Lord?


For "hiram" -- Why am I so "sure"?

1] Because of my lived experience of the spiritual fruits of love, peace, joy, patience and compassion I have seen lived out in the relationships of counples of the same gender ...

2] Because I believe the Holy Scriptures I inherit as a Christian and believe to be the Living Word of God calls the church to be as open to changing its mind on what is clean and unclean as God called Peter to be open when Cornelius came knocking on his door ....


3] At the end of the day, my faith isn't based on being "sure" or even being "right." Here's what Verna Dozier -- one of the great 20th century Anglican saints -- had to say about that:

"Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today."

Father Doug said...

I don't suppose Mr Holmes had real abortion in mind as he wrote these words: "There is an inevitable course to our religious profession which can be aborted only by denying its Lord. That course leads to living in the world as God sees the world."
Makes you wonder. Certainly, being actually aborted hinders anyone's ability to "live in the world." Oh, well, if the whole enchilada is about eliminating suffering, which becomes in our depleted culture nothing more than everybody getting what he or she wants (not to get what I want equals "suffering") and if bringing to birth and life one whose existence is not what I want, and if, maybe, the little one won't really suffer (or we at least won't know about it) and if never living life at all is perhaps the very best way to eliminate anyone's suffering, then, sure, let's abort the thing. Now, then, this actual abortion being completed we can get around to avoiding that horrible metaphorical abortion Holmes worries about. Whew. Good thing we can now "live in the world as God sees the world." (Who that other god was who somehow started out a little fetus on its way toward interrupting my project to eliminate suffering is I can't imagine. Good thing we don't worship him, though.)