Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shall We Take Obama's Will for a Canon?

I came across this passage yesterday in Kenneth Whitehead's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic:

St. Athanasius described how the Arianizing Emperor Constantius, in 355, dealt with a group of recalcitrant bishops at a local meeting in Milan. These bishops were refusing to sign a condemnation of Athanasius and "to communicate with the heretics. And when they in astonishment at this strange order said that there was no ecclesiastical canon for it, he instantly retorted: 'Take my will for a canon! ... Either obey or go yourselves into exile!'" (St. Athanasius, History of the Arians, 33).

In the course of nearly a half century during which he never wavered in defense of the doctrinal teaching of Nicaea, the great Athanasius regularly fought attempts by the imperial power and by bishops allied with it who sought to dictate Church decisions on the basis of considerations other than the traditional faith that had been handed down from the apostles.
Call me a cynic, but I can't help but wonder about the naivete on the part of those who desire the civil magistrate to be a protector of orthodoxy and guarantor of proper worship in the churches under his jurisdiction. Think about it: Whose orthodoxy would the magistrate enforce? Catholic? Pentecostal? Reformed? And according to whose understanding would the powers that be seek to ensure worship with reverence and awe?

It seems to me that in order to live up to the desires of our Reformed theocratic forebears we must banish all religious freedom so that we all worship and think according to what President Obama deems appropriate.

The collective shudder I just felt indicates to me that this whole ideal is more about power than it is about guaranteeing doctrinal and liturgical orthodoxy. If "our guy" wins the White House then sure, we'll let him call the ecclesiastical shots. But if, as is almost always the case, the president doesn't have a clue about religious matters, then why would we want to anything but escape the trappings of our theocratic ancestors?
After all, it is now, in a religiously pluralistic context, that our forefathers' two-kingdoms sentiments can actually be taken out for a spin to see how they handle.