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Hallo again to all.

We've been thinking about the faith once delivered to the saints — and tea. The unlikely combination was prompted by reading today*: 'Lin Yutang, the essayist and inventor of the Chinese typewriter, famously asked: What is patriotism but the love of the good things one ate in childhood?' This struck us as strangely profound (probably more than it is, but let that go).

Applying it to a subject we've mused on from time to time: What is meant now when someone invokes 'the faith once delivered to the saints'? As in: 'My parish teaches the TFODTOS' or 'My diocese has strayed from TFODTOS'. Paraphrasing Lin Yutang, we're tempted to write: 'What is the faith once delivered to the saints but the love of the church one experienced in childhood?'

It was not always thus, we hasten to add. For centuries the classic definition of the expression was attributed to Vincent of Lérins — quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus (those things [held] always, everywhere, by everyone). Despite its elegant terseness, Vincent's canon is difficult to establish. From the first ages of the church, the question of who believed what rightly has been with us. But let's presume that there has been a body of dogma and doctrine which Anglicans held, more or less, in common until the early twentieth century, when it began to shatter. Yes, there were differences. But there was essentially one Book of Common Prayer. There was the firm understanding that women could not be ordained. There was entire agreement that divorce was not to be countenanced by the church except under the most extreme cruelty or abandonment and even so, remarriage was not possible — even by the 'innocent party'. Each national church had some slight variations on these major doctrinal understandings — for instance, the Church of England cleaved to the Table of Kindred and Affinity and forbade marriages that the Episcopal Church in the United States permitted — but the general fault lines were clear.

And that is no longer so. If we find ourselves in a discussion with someone who invokes TFODTOS and wants 'to do things as they've always been done' and we press for details about what they mean, that 'always been' most generally refers to the parish church of that person's childhood or youth. The hymns we sang when I was six years old. The kinds of people I remember who were elected to the PCC. The vicar stopping in every so often. The crowded pews. The numberless women who always had time to volunteer. In our very rough survey, the general underA table of kindred and affinitystanding of the faith once delivered rarely extends much further back than World War II.

Codswallop, we can hear some of you thinking. That's demeaning to those people who see themselves as more orthodox and more 'rightly believing'. No doubt there are theologians who know full well what is meant by TFODTOS and we like to think they are advisors and counsellors to some of the groups who have chosen to leave the Anglican Communion and form other Anglican-like associations. But too often we're confronted frequently by resounding silence when someone suggests that those who wish to rewind the church to one more resembling TFODTOS must accept that divorce and remarriage would not be possible in such a church. (A surprising number of bishops in the Anglican Communion have been divorced and remarried, often more than once.)

It isn't possible, it seems to us, to accept the church's expanded understanding of its historic position on divorce and remarriage without allowing an expanded understanding just what marriages the church can countenance and whether marriage in church is possible for those attracted to their own sex. (As the Biblical evidence for Our Lord's position on divorce quite clear, the church's enlargement of the understanding of marriage and divorce was nothing less than seismic.) Similarly, a revision in the understanding of Holy Orders that made it possible for women to be ordained to the priesthood would have been unknown within TFODTOS.

As well, the understanding of Holy Orders within denominations outside the Anglican Communion changed dramatically in the early 20th century, as well. In the US Episcopal Church from its beginnings, it was impossible for a minister from, say, the Presbyterian Church to preach from the pulpit of any parish§. As alien as it may seem to us, such ministers were regarded essentially as lay people, not having had the charism of Episcopal ordination. Do those who invoke TFODTOS in the States wish to return to that historic understanding?

We wonder. And meanwhile we sip our tea. It is a good thing and we drank it in our childhood.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 31 January 2010

* Quoted in an article by Alexander McCall Smith in The Guardian

† From Chapter 4 of the Commonitorium

§ Selected at random is a brief article in the New York Times from 1908 that makes reference to the contentious issue of the 'open pulpit'.


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