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Saturday, December 06, 2003

Something New Under The Sun?

Mark Sullivan's comment below got me thinking. One of the interesting (well, for me, anyway) features of early Christianity and its understanding of the nature of God is the bewildering profusion of half-baked notions on that topic. The technical term for these notions is "heresy," but since that word is verboten in our ecumenical age....

One of the very intriguing facts about concepts of God held by certain early (and current) heretics is this: while there were those who said (and say) only God the Father is truly God, and there were those who held (and hold) that only Jesus is truly God, there was no equivalent movement that held only the Holy Spirit is truly God. Why is a subject best explored at a better time, although the best brief explanation is that in scripture the full divinity of the Holy Spirit is more muted than similar declarations on behalf of God the Father and God the Son. Ah, Trinitarian theology--is your head exploding yet?

Moving along, it is important to note that the lack of a heretical notion concerning Holy Spirit-onlyism now appears to be changing. Indeed, the Holy Spirit has been invoked for any number of interesting...projects...these days--all of which contradict earlier actions of God the Father, Christ and/or functional rationality. Indeed, for the causes the Third Person is called to support, He is expected to spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning up after the Father and the Son.

First, consider Frank Griswold (and this blog is a big, big fan!), presiding bishop of the formerly-Anglican (and still Christian in parts) Episcopal Church, USA, claiming that the Holy Ghost elected Vicki Gene Robinson.

The Holy Spirit can be up to different things in different places. As hard as it might be for sisters and brothers in Christ in other contexts [Editor: by which Frankie G. means Third World God-botherers and extra Y chromosome types in the West] to understand and accept, please know that broadly across the Episcopal Church the New Hampshire election is thought to be the work of the Spirit.

In fact, the Holy Spirit is invoked so often in Episcopalianism these days you could be excused for thinking it's a high-church Pentecostal tent revival. However, it is important to note that there are two places where the ruling cohort of Piskies will never find the spirit: Scripture and Tradition. Rather weird, but there you have it.

Not, of course, that Catholicism is immune to the workings of the as-yet unnamed new heresy. Recently, the spirit absolved American liturgists who continue to insist on the unfettered right to swing oars at people trying to get into their boat.

"Don't quench the spirit!" Translation:

You'll have our banana bread hosts, Sophia references, iconoclasm, "inclusive" language, self-deifying music and liturgical dance, mister--and like it! The spirit has spoken! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your beef?! Anathema sit down and shut up, you patriarchal rubricistic transcendent-grubbing carbunkle on the (androgynous) Body of Christ!

But perhaps the most enlightening example of Holy-Spirit-onlyism is seen in this article in the most recent issue of the episodically-lucid Commonweal, entitled "Pastor Eveline." It follows a liturgy in the life of a Dutch female pastoral administrator, predictably moon-eyed, day-dreamy and worshipful in tone. Here are your money grafs:

Pastor Eveline is one of five lay pastors who now serve a cluster of towns in the diocese of Breda. While the priest comes every fifth week to offer Mass, she is the person who speaks for the Catholic Church four Sundays out of every five, the one who preaches and prays, who presents the body of the Lord in Holy Communion, and who instructs and consoles.

Some questions arise. Is this a stop-gap measure? Will Pastor Eveline be replaced if, per impossibile, enough celibate males come forward for ordination? Will a growing number of people ask why Pastor Eveline and her dedicated female colleagues cannot also celebrate Mass, hear confessions, and anoint the sick? Several Dutch and Belgian priests told me that female hospital chaplains are already anointing patients, as it is almost impossible to find priests to give the official sacrament. Will young women desiring parish ministry soon outnumber male seminarians (as has happened in several American Protestant denominations)? Will the prohibition against ordaining women be seen as unjust and foolish as more and more women are appointed pastors of priestless parishes? Will the already limited opportunities for sacramental confession become all the more rare? Will the sacrificial reality of the Sunday Mass become a cherished memory as a new generation becomes accustomed to the somewhat “Protestant” weekly prayer service?

There are prelates in high places who do not want to hear these questions, and who are even more uncomfortable with the possible answers. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is nudging the Catholic Church to begin thinking “outside the box.” Could it be that something of our church’s future can already be discerned in the parish at Zevenbergen and in its new pastor?

Take a few minutes to marvel at this. Savor--or, more likely, gag on--what can only be described as narcissistic SixtiesChurch palaver.

If the Church has a ward for the theologically insane, I'd like to suggest another commitment. This is the "Holy Spirit" speaking? The condition of the Church in the Netherlands is the work of the Holy Ghost? A formerly-vibrant ecclesia renowned for its resistance to the Nazis, now prostrate before the culture (scroll down to "In the heart of Europe") of death, and suffering from cratering Sunday attendance? Note that the last fact is confirmed by omission in the article--Fr. Jabusch offers more information about PA Eveline's icon collection and vestments than he does about the number of parishioners.

Yes, that's very inspiring. For someone quick to accuse unnamed "prelates" of short-sightedness, Fr. Jabusch's article is a masterwork of myopia. In the face of a national church in a death spiral, he rides the progressive hobby horse of women's ordination. Within fifty miles of the immaculately-garbed Ms. Eveline's weekly affirmation, Eastern European slave girls are getting pimped for $20, twelve year olds are getting euthanized, baptized Catholics who haven't darkened the door of a church since age 0 are getting stoned out of their minds and radical Islam is ascendant. In the midst of this nightmare, Fr. Jabusch coos and imagines the future of the Church.

If he and his friends get their way, I see it, too: a sidelined museum piece, self-referential and -reverential, adrift in the spiritus mundi, gazing lovingly at its "enlightened" reflection as the world goes straight to hell. There may be a spirit at work in all of this, but it's a spirit that needs an exorcist. Count me out.

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