Dr. Moreau Ecclesiology

In my previous post I was critical of a restorationist or primitivist ecclesiology that assumes that one can (re)create (or restore, or renew) the New Testament Church by simply finding all the parts (beliefs, practices, etc.) that belong to the Church as delineated by the New Testament and then establishing the believing and practicing of these things among a particular group (or groups) of people. As though one could assemble the various parts and imbue life into them. Humans have no such capacity to create life from nothingness.

There is a distinct, though related sort of ecclesiology. This ecclesiology seeks to take the lived beliefs and practices of history and current churches, political ideologies, and sociocultural mores and to fuse these various parts together into a new amalgam somehow new and improved over historical bodies, or even that nebulously conceived body, “the Church”–an attempt, as it were, to discover, by culling the best or most innovative or the most dynamic beliefs, practices, or traditions of these various groups and bodies, that “secret” component, the elan vital which makes the Church the Church. It is an attempt to capture the essence of “church” Much as Dr. Moreau’s experiments on his nefarious island attempted to hybridize various creatures in an attempt at discovering and perfecting the principle of life.

The penchant of some mainline churches’ appropriation of historic and present liturgies from diverse and even contradictory tributaries of Christianity, as somehow “improving” on the liturgies from which they borrow, is precisely this sort of irreverent hybridization. The borrowing by the self-described “emergent” churches of ancient practices such as the Jesus Prayer or the rosary or the display (though not usually the veneration) of icons, is another example. The problem of course is not the sincerity of purpose or intention, but rather the wrenching of these practices from their historically lived practices and the rejection of the lived Tradition from which they come. Too, there is the problem of the self-referential selection of these practices: the paradigm of the usefullness for spiritual feeling or self-measured spiritual growth of these various practices, without the need to submit one’s own group or self to the judgment of the Tradition from which these various components come. So in the same church where one might find the Stations of the Cross, one also finds labyrinth walking, clown Eucharists, radical feminist revisions of “patriarchal” texts. In the same church were the seasons of the Church year are kept, and with them the traditional structure of historica lectionaries, one also finds the judgment on the texts of those Scriptures that they are anti-semitic.

But like Dr. Moreau’s pitiful creatures, these hybrids lack that beauty and goodness of the design of the author of life himself. One can no more perfect life than one can create it.

When one comes to the Tradition, one does not come to a set of parts upon which one may practice vivisection. Though the Author of Life came create life from nothing, the cutting off of a part of the life of the Church–icons, the daily office, the sacraments–does not guarantee that what lives within the organic whole will also live apart from it, or sutured on to another form of living altogether. The fusion of strange life forms almost always ends up in sterility or lifelessness.

Similarly, these hybridizations resulting from the admixture of political ideologies, Church tradition, and sociocultural mores give birth not to new forms of the living Church, but to Moreauesque monsters resembling none of the various forms from which it is created, and making a travesty of them all.

The living principle of the Church is not subject to the isolation and manipulation of man, for that living principle is the Holy Spirit himself, the third Person of the Trinity, the divine wind who blows where he will, and comes from where we know not. Our task is to simply receive this life as it as been given to us, to be brought into its infinite variety of goods, and to be transformed ourselves, and all our living as well. We are called to be new creations, not man-made hybrids of myriad parts of our own selection.

4 thoughts on “Dr. Moreau Ecclesiology

  1. Yes, there is a lot of silliness out there. And it increases! But borrowing liturgies, icons and the Jesus prayer… that would seem as steps away from silliness into the light, even if only baby steps. Prayer is called for, or, perhaps, pointing out like the Ghost of Christmas Present, “Come closer, the better to know me!”

    It is possible to view others’ use of historic methods as their reaching to the light – and that as a good thing? Certainly it was the near-byzantine liturgy of St Gregory of Nyssa Church that helped bring me to Orthodoxy. But the other side of that equation was that Fr Victor didn’t poo-poo my searching and wondering path as “Dr Moreau’s experiments”. God was acting, even then.

    As Bishop Seraphim (OCA) reminded me, “there is grace before *and* behind”.

    Is there a way to preach Orthodoxy without “critiquing” others? Or to look at the beam in our own eyes while not worrying about the mote in others’?

  2. Huw has a good point. If the ECUSA did not “borrow,” where would you be, Cliff? That is an important disctingtion to play with. There are steps. There is seldom a swallowing of the whole of faith in one gulp.

  3. I agree with Tripp and Huw Raphael and You as well. When this searching becomes a search or quest of relativity or “everybody being okay” or pluralistic then borrowing this practices and ripping them from their living tradition is wrong, but I do not find this in the “Emerging Church” you refferenced. I find a people dissatisfied with the incomplete faith they have, open and organic to the spirit and searching out the Truths of God. They do not label the rest of Easter traditions as false, but rather say yes we have found God in this and we shall use it. If you condem them have you not commited the same error as the Jews in Romans? (Chp.2) Have you not also created a law? Can you not see that by doing these good things, seeking love, being compassionate and forgiving they are ultimately lead back to repentance? By doing using these traditions do they not create a law unto themselves? A law that is now in their heart which the mind is now witness too?now confirming, now denying?

  4. In other words aren’t these people who honestly seek doing what this Man said? (With Exception to those who seek relativity)

    St. Maximilian Kolbe
    “No one in the world can change truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.”
    Martyred at Auschwitz, August 14, 1941

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