Ok, I am going to do some nitpicking here. Some of this stuff will be about things I'd usually not make a big deal out of, or even mention at all. This post (or my earlier ones) shouldn't be taken as meaning that I am actually seriously
annoyed. I think he's wrong on a lot, and the criticisms below will be valid, but at the end of the day I don't think it amounts to much. I'm a geek who likes discussing, learning, and sometimes being a polemical jerkhat when it comes to theology. This is my jerkhat post for the day.
So on to Mr. Taussig...
In 325 AD Christianity took one of its bigger steps toward becoming a major faith in the ancient Mediterranean. Under new sponsorship by the Roman emperor Constantine, hundreds of bishops gathered in Nicaea in Asia Minor for what is now understood as the first "ecumenical" Council of emergent Christianity. At that Council the bishops composed and promoted the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief, which--although at first rejected by many and perhaps most churches--eventually became a standard for Christianity up until recent times.
I realize he is writing for a popular audience, but I think this is oversimplifying to the point of distortion. First, it is misleading to say that the creed that came out of Nicea was composed there, as though they came up with it on the spot. It was actually based on baptismal creeds that had long been in use in Christianity. So it was actually a modification of an old creed. Second, mentioning only "bishops," as though they alone had a role, seems unnecessarily inaccurate; having said that, I've never been a big fan of (for example)
the deacon Athanasius, so it doesn't bother me a ton.
Third, again a nitpick, but the creed does not stand by itself, or of some vague and undefined "Christianity," as though it came be some independent document analyzed and torn apart and put back together and provide some basis for belief regardless of what else you believe or do. It was a document that was created by a Church, argued over in a Church, settled on by a Church, and lived out by that Church. If you divorce the document from the Church you are already going in a different theological and historical direction. I do not know to what extent this guy would do that, but considering that he's a Jesus Seminar member, published a New Testament with a bunch of Apocryphal texts, etc., I am quite wary (to put it mildly).
Now earlier this month from a meeting of Pope Francis' recent meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew have come murmurs about a new Council of Nicaea in 2025 on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the original formulation of the Nicene Creed. A closer look at such a possibility brings both strong promise and worrisome threats to Christian integrity.
Here is where I thought you guys were being too hard on him. He mentions "murmers" here and I thought perhaps he had just heard things that we hadn't. After all, I don't hang out with or exchange emails with theologians around the world on a daily basis. I figured maybe he was more in the loop as far as global ecclesiastical rumors go. I do not think he was speaking of the original announcement of the meeting in 2025 and simply misunderstanding; I think he really heard rumors and was (at least for the sake of argument... or as seems more likely, to get some publicity for his work) speculating as to how that might play out.
LOL at talk of "worrisome threats to Christian integrity" from a guy who got together with a dozen and a half friends and published something called "A New New Testament."
The real promises for such a new Council are:
• We need new perspectives on what it means to be Christian in the 21st century. So many aspects of life have changed since the first Nicene Council, and new or adjusted ideas by a new Council could help people make more sense of Christian teaching and practice.
Maybe. Kinda. Not really IMO. Sorta. Not how he thinks, anyway. I think people are too timid in trying new things, or simply closed minded oafs. Having said that, it's not the perspectives that need to change, just the way these perspectives are manifested in daily life. I agree with him that changes can be good. For example, using the internet or other new technologies can open up doors (hopefully good, if we are careful) that weren't available to us before. I think the problem is that the "new perspectives" he is thinking of isn't in doing more effective evangelism, getting spiritual literature into the hands of more people, etc., but rather getting female clergy and other such changes.
• Similarly, and especially in the spirit of the first Council of Nicaea which introduced new ideas about Jesus, a new Council could provide perspective on who Jesus is for the 21st century. Our modern consciousness of a very different world and the existence of other authentic religions around the world have changed the questions and thoughts we have about Jesus. The new Council could help formulate meanings Jesus carries for the 21st century.
Plus... no. There were no new ideas taught at Nicea. Clearly Jesus had been considered divine from the first century. The controversy that was new at the time was what this meant, but it's not like the orthodox were just then coming up with answers about, for example, his eternality. They simply struggled to put into words, in a way that all the faithful could accept, that which was already believed. Not that everyone held to orthodox thought at the time, but neither were "new ideas" introduced. Rather, the articulation of old ideas were introduced in an attempt to defend orthodox beliefs and give a clear rallying point for the orthodox to go to. The only thing really new about the council was the championing of the term homoousios, which had not exactly had an impressive or even orthodox history as a theological term up to that point.
Plus, I don't see why we need to have a council to help us understand Jesus in the 21st century. Didn't Spong, Borg, etc. already do this?
• The most recent Roman Catholic Vatican II Council in 1962-65 provides a fine model and creative results for such a 2025 gathering. Vatican II changed a great deal about Christian (and especially Catholic) life. The mass began to be celebrated in the languages of the people rather than Latin, the study of the Bible was opened to lay people, and the role of women's leadership grew. Vatican II also invited many Protestant and non-Christian leaders to join as official observers.
Yeah... I dunno. What is he saying here exactly? Using the vernacular, lay reading of the Bible, giving increased roles to women, etc. was not something unheard of, it was simply a return to previous customs, or at least customs that other local Churches had long held to. It would be nice to see the Orthodox and Catholics encourage people to read the Bible more, encourage the Orthodox to use languages people can understand, etc... but this isn't really where he's going with this. As for observers, sure, come on in and observe! (EDIT--I was going to go on a mini-rant about Orthodox using "come and see," but I'll leave that for another thread)
• Most of the world
that allowing Roman Catholic priests to marry
Maybe. Only if they think it best.
and women to be ordained
I agree that it should be discussed; it would provide a good opportunity to make explicit the reasons behind orthodox belief and practice. I wouldn't count on the answer going your way though, Mr. Taussig.
would make life more full of God's grace and love.
A new Council could provide these and other key reforms.
Such a Council would result in schisms within both the Catholic and Orthodox groups.
• Since Councils of churches throughout history have been a way to show that Christian meaning-making is an on-going process, rather than a once-and-done proclamation; this new Council could serve as a dramatic reminder of the ever-unfolding nature of truth.
Dude. Please. Can you throw me a bone here? I support the idea of a development of doctrine. Then guys like you, or papal supremacy apologists, or whoever, come along and throw this kind of stuff out, and it makes things impossible for me. Any time someone even hints at the concept people just throw this stuff in your face and say "OHHH... development? Like THIS!?" and it's impossible to discuss anything.
The threats to Christian integrity by a new Council are:
Yes, please tell us Mr. liberal Protestant theologian, who wants to tamper with sacred texts, change customs and doctrines, etc., how this speculative Council could threaten Christian integrity...
• One of the real strengths of Christianity in our day is its diversity. Life around the globe needs different models and teachings from Christianity, not just one way. Passing new instructions for everyone could undo some of the advantages of Christian diversity.
Isn't the fracturing into a thousand diversities one of the central problems with Christianity today? Don't get me wrong, I agree in principle: just because something happened in 5th century Byzantium or 10th century Italy, that doesn't mean we have to adopt it in 21st century Australia or China. Having said that, there is good diversity and then there is bad diversity. It seems to me that there was a good amount of diversity in the earlier Church, from Spain to India, England to Africa. Syriac, Coptic, Greek, Latin, etc... let's look more closely at all of that, along with what came after. Sometimes that diversity caused problems, at other times it didn't. It should be the same way today--but note, the Church has a right to say that someone's idea of "just a difference" goes too far, and to try to eliminate or condemn it if no accommodation or reconciliation or modification can be found. Don't expect some type of allowance for diversities such as female preachers.
• Display of the current exclusive male power and leadership at the new Council would be at least embarrassing.
If only we had an Empress these days...
I mean, if by that you mean that women are underrepresented or underappreciated, yeah, maybe so. (I'm not that familiar with how such things go in Russia, Greece, etc., so it's difficult for me to saying anything about such things on a global scale). I would love, and hope we can, choose theologians, representatives, etc. based on their competency, creativity, power of thought, ability to forge meaningful agreements, etc. I really don't care what skin color, gender, age, nationality, etc. they are. Though of course it would be best to have a large chunk of the participants be bishops, otherwise it just wouldn't work given the ecclesiology of the two churches, since these bishops would have to authorize the decisions anyway.
• ...the arrival of Pope Francis
it is not clear that church--in both Roman Catholic and other forms--is healthy enough to model honest and open-minded dialogue and decision-making.
I have had experience of convening important Christian leaders to break new ground in Christian belief and practice.
You lie, you fry.
In 2012, with the help of a major publisher, I invited 19 well-known spiritual leaders to study recently discovered documents from the Christ movements of the first and second centuries and to decide which of them might be added to a new expanded version of the texts from these first and second century movements. Heads of different denominations, bishops, famous Christian authors, and several New Testament scholars were joined by two nationally known rabbis and two yogic scholars in this study.
Maybe it'll have as much impact as the rest of this type of scholarship and pet-doctrine-publishing has. That is, no impact at all. Bart Ehrman has sold more books than the entire Jesus Seminar crew combined*, just by taking some old, nearly-dead theories from past and giving them a mildly charismatic, mildly entertaining, mildly interesting new paint job.
*This statistic is a best estimate off the top of my head.
As this group worked to make this momentous decision
on adding newly discovered ancient documents to the traditional New Testament
Well if anyone is capable of making such a decision, I'm sure it was this group.
we argued with each other, had long talks around good food and drink, became friends across major differences, agonized about right decisions,
I can't imagine these guys agonizing over such things... but then again, when it comes to pet theories, and the chance to see your speculative BS be printed, I guess there might indeed be some anxiety and even agony involved. Plus, publish or perish and all that.
and ultimately added ten new books.
You guys must have been pretty confident about these to be so audacious!
As women and men from very different spiritual paths from many different cultures, we never all agreed.
Oh. Kinda a let down. Is this how it happened in the early Church?
I mean, I fully acknowledge that there are a half dozen or more major canons (and dozens more variations) that have been used throughout Christianity, and that it is unnecessary and even harmful to dogmatically assert one list to the exclusion of all others. But there's a difference between accepting that, for example, the Ethiopians have different books than the Greeks, and on the other hand adding books which had never been included by any Church or even individual theologian before.
But listening carefully to one another, reading the new documents with open hearts and critical perspectives, and thinking together about the spiritual needs of the American public made us excited about providing new resources for spiritual practice and clear thinking about Christianity.
You couldn't publish these "new resources" in a separate book... like one not called A New New Testmant
? Look, I don't want to get too conspiracy-theory-like here... I'd really like to think it all comes down to lust for fame, or greed, or something mundanely despicable like that. Still, this does seem to be part of a larger attempt to transform Christianity. And what better place to start than by putting forward the idea that even the sacred text of Christianity can be updated, reevaluated, etc., not on the basis of the diversities that have always existed in Christianity, but on the basis of what a dozen religious folk (including some non-Christians just to be inclusive) came up with while they sat around eating and drinking and agonizing and ecstasying? Today: the New Testament... tomorrow: the world! Mwahahaha!
What I know already about this 2012 process of adding books to the traditional New Testament is that the decisions we made were almost certainly not all correct. I am quite sure, for instance, that adding The Gospel of Mary will help many thousands of people in their relationship to each other and God. On the other hand, our decision to add The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, another ancient document recently discovered, has not yet proven nearly as helpful as The Gospel of Mary. And, it seems probable that other books we added may inspire many people for a period of time, and then cease to do so.
Bummer. Maybe you can do a revised edition every few years?
A new Council of Nicaea could make major contributions to Christian meaning for the 21st century, even while risking presumptuousness, minor and major mistakes, and solutions that only last for a certain season of time. With careful preparation, bold initiatives, attentive listening, and a spirit of openness, the potential for such a Council probably outweighs its problems.
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