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Church management

Following the kerfuffle in Canterbury, Tobias Haller, BSG, was reminded of a piece he wrote in 2006 in response to issues we were having with the Anglican Communion, and has posted it, unchanged, noting that little has changed between 2006 and 2016, except the approach to ‘management’, which breaks with history and tradition.

From the post:

The leadership of the Church of England, and by extension (since the majority are relatively recent products of English missionary efforts) many of the Primates of the Anglican Communion seem to have taken a managerial approach to the development of doctrine and polity within Anglicanism. One might observe this is better than the almost impossibilist approach of the Eastern Church or the heavily top-down of the Roman, but in recent years these leaders seem to have taken their cue more from those directions than from the more traditionally Anglican model of provincial autonomy to innovate and the process of reception over time.


His re-posted piece is a list of all the times that we’ve reinterpreted Scripture in our continuing relationship with God; taking a Swiftian approach, Haller provides these as a list of times when we didn’t do what we ‘should have’ done. From the post:

Joseph should have ignored the “personal revelation” he received — again in a dream, no less — and acted in accordance with the Law, and when he found Mary to be with child by someone other than himself, had her stoned to death, and her unborn child with her.

Then we wouldn’t be having all these problems with the Anglican Communion.


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Tobias Haller

Well, this will be my last comment on the topic, as it appears from this last that there is really no substantial disagreement between us. My point, founded upon the text, was that it was because of the angelic message that Joseph came to believe that Mary was not unchaste; that he previously thought so, on the evidence of her pregnancy, was the reason for setting her aside quietly (perhaps taking the provision of Dt 24). Once he was convinced otherwise (by the angel) he acted accordingly. He needed that assurance, and he received it, and no longer had any need to enforce any ancient law whatsoever. (Chrysostom’s sermon on the text goes on to speculate as to why the angel delayed in informing Joseph, unlike that angel who gave preemptive warning to Mary (in Luke); and suggests that like Zachariah Joseph might have been slow to believe.)

To quiet any further doubt as to our agreement, here is a passage from that sermon (Homily on Matt IV.7). It also ends with a rather exuberant antiphon.

Many have chosen to give up their lives rather than fall under the suspicion of jealousy. But in this case it was not so little as suspicion, the burden of the womb entirely convicting her. But nevertheless Joseph was so free from passion as to be unwilling to grieve the Virgin even in the least matters. Thus, whereas to keep her in his house seemed like a transgression of the law, but to expose and bring her to trial would constrain him to deliver her to die; he doth none of these things, but conducts himself now by a higher rule than the law. For grace being come, there must needs henceforth be many tokens of that exalted citizenship. For as the sun, though as yet he show not his beams, doth from afar by his light illumine more than half the world; so likewise Christ, when about to rise from that womb, even before He came forth, shone over all the world. Wherefore, even before her travail, prophets danced for joy, and women foretold what was to come, and John, when he had not yet come forth from the belly, leaped from the very womb. Hence also this man exhibited great self-command, in that he neither accused nor upbraided, but only set about putting her away.

And I trust that there we can let the matter rest.

Prof. Christopher Seitz

Of course he didn’t follow any ‘legal’ option because none applied!

Classical commentators note this as well.

Where was the man she had adulterous relations with?

God isn’t setting aside the Law–Luke and Matthew would find the idea specious. He is revealing its internal logic. Deuteronomy 22 applies to adultery. It does not apply to Mary of Joseph in consequence, and the dream clarified that to Joseph: She was by child with the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia. And so the angels rejoiced and the Law was upheld, to the final purposes of God in Christ.

Tobias Haller

Dt 22 addresses the issue of a woman suspected of infidelity. Proof of virginity would exculpate her if she was a virgin. In the normal course of events, pregnancy is a sure sign of a loss of virginity. Of course that was not true in this case, but it was as it appeared to be to Joseph, and he was prepared to act on that appearance until warned in a dream not to do so. I really don’t see why you find this reading to be incredible, as it is rather the plain text, and, as I say, the way the church has read the passage for centuries.

Jean Lall

It’s a terrific post. Do read the whole thing.

Tobias Haller

The reference, of course, is to the 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy, where the situation of a betrothed woman who has had or is accused of having had relations with another man is described. Matthew’s account relates to this, (pregnancy normally being sufficient evidence of having sexual relations — though not in this case!) and I am hardly the first person to have made the observation that Joseph, in a dream, is persuaded not to enact the penalty of the law, or even his more modest choice of setting Mary aside. He could, under the law, have made lethal demands.

William (Bill) Paul III

” He could, under the law, have made lethal demands.” I think that it’s true that we don’t actually know much about whether and how the law in this regard was carried out. I am not weighing in so much on this particular post, though it seems strange to me. I am just saying that I think I recall some Old Testament prof saying in a lecture (on the lex talionis) I heard that there is scant reference to the actual carrying out of any punishment, or not. If I am wrong, I apologize.

Tobias Haller

Bill Paul, the NT attests to stoning for adultery even 30 some years later. Stoning for perceived blasphemy is attested in Acts even later (Stephen). Such rough justice may have been rare, but the Scripture attests to it being employed.

Tobias Haller

I could direct you to any number of classical commentaries that note the significance of Deuteronomy 22 in relation to the account from Matthew. Many note that Joseph _while_ a righteous man, chooses in this instance to consider the option of divorce (setting Mary aside) rather than insisting she be brought to her father’s house and stoned in public. But the angel in a dream urges him not to take advantage of either “legal” option, and instead accept the child as being a gift from God. Others are, of course, free to disagree with that reading, but it is not original to me, and has been common since the days of the Fathers. (Ambrose, Jerome and Chrysostom having made exactly the same point, among others.)

Prof. Christopher Seitz

Correct. This is a Virgin Birth!

Where in the NT is there any charge ever made publicly that Mary was an adulterer — especially given the Gospels’ record of Jewish opposition to Jesus.

As for special revelations undoing the Law’s demands, Matthew consistently glosses his episodes with ‘accordance with the scriptures.’

Mary and Joseph follow the Law not reluctantly but joyfully. Luke’s depiction of the faithful Israel is even more rapturous in his opening chapters.

Tried to make this point previously but didn’t get through the retinal scanner!

Ann Fontaine

The essay was sort of tongue in cheek — but the text is clear that he could have had her stoned. And the point is that stuff changes in the Bible. Compare Ezra and Ruth – about marrying foreigners. Or even the Flood story – 2 stories – is it 2×2 or 7 pairs?

Prof. Christopher Seitz

“…by implication also support the death penalty for Mary and the consequent killing of her Child.”

Can’t even post a response anymore. The New TEC at work.

Epiphany is about Jesus becoming fully manifest to the world in all his truthfulness and glory. No secrets, “and all laid bare before him with whom we have to do!”


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