Friday, September 09, 2005

Apologia Pro Vita Sua (70-80)

For some reason it took me a long time to get through this section.

The Articles are 'evidently framed on the principle of leaving open large questions on which the controversy hinges. They state broadly extreme truths, and are silent about their adjustment. For instance, they say that all necessary faith must be proved from Scripture but do not say who is to prove it. They say, that the Church has authority in controversies; the do not say what authority. They say that it may enforce nothing beyond Scripture, but do not say where the remedy lies when it does. They say the works before grace and justification are worthless and worse, and that works after grace and justification are acceptable, but they do not speak at all of works with God's aid before justificaiton. They say that men are lawfully called and sent to minister and preach who are chosen and called by men who have public authority given them in the Congregation; but they do not add by whom the authority is to be given. They say that Councils called by princes may err; they do not determine whehter Councils called in the name of Christ may err.'

This passage has provided a lot of contemplation. The question I've been thinking about is whether this sort of ambiguity is a good thing or not.

In some lectures on American history, I've heard the Constitution celebrated as this sort of document--one that was necessarily ambiguous as a means of forging unity amongst participants while leaving open important issues dealing with currently unresolvable conflicts.

On the flip side, I've heard arguments that the failure to address key differences allows the status quo to remain or makes changing injustices more difficult. One issue that the Constitution deals with is that of slavery. I see the current situation in the church dealing with issues of sexual orientation as one in which this ambiguity is ceasing to be a good thing, in part because polarized sides do not want things left ambiguous; they want them settled in their favor.

I've been involved in institutions where policies were similarly broad--use "discretion" when watching movies, don't make political remarks about subjects unrelated to class discussion...sometimes these work, sometimes they don't. What's related to class discussion? How is it determined (and by whom), whether discretion has been used?

Newman says later in the same chapter that he has come to dislike "understandings." It seems to me that policies or principles of this sort work if there is an understanding between parties of what is intentionally left vague and why--and a reciprocal agreement to not push the point, even when the opposing side is in violation of some principle consistent with how you interpret the understanding. These understandings are a way, perhaps, of agreeing to disagree for the time being and to proceed in other areas in the hopes that an agreement can be reached dealing with the problem area later on.

As with all understandings, this sort of codified understanding gives more power to the status quo than the minority, I think.

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