Ms Rice and Our Divided Church

Some ink (some virtual) has been spilled on novelist Ms Rice announcing that she has “left the Church” but not left Christ. Recently I have been reading and studying the five theological orations by St. Gregory the Theologian (also known as St. Gregory of Nazianzus where he was Bishop for a time). These orations (or homilies) in an important sense define what it means to be an orthodox Christian today. In the time just prior to the convening of the 2nd Ecumenical council in Constantinople, the majority of those in the area and expected in attendance were (roughly speaking) Arian in sympathy. St. Gregory just before this council gave in short succession, just outside the city, a series of 5 orations and the matter was settled in the cause of orthodoxy. And for the following 800 or so years, these lectures were the primary pedagogical examples of the art of rhetoric for those studying the art of the rhetor in the Eastern Roman world. An American analogy might be Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, after which the case for the Civil war was arguably settled and subsequently this has been a speech studied by debators and rhetors as a jewel of the art.

What does this have to do with Ms Rice and her disillusionment with the earthly Church? Her situation came to mind when I read this (from the 1st homily of this set, which is Oration #27 in oeuvre of St. Gregory). He wrote (spoke):

Such is the situation: this infection [to much bitter disputation and argument over theological detail] is unchecked and intolerable; “the great mystery” of our faith is in danger becoming a mere social accomplishment. [emphasis mine]

Later in that homily he writes (speaking again against bitter theological quarrels):

But first we must consider: what is this disorder of the tongue that leads us to compete in garrulity? what is this alarming disease, this appetite that can never be sated? Why do we keep our hands bound and out tongues armed?

Do we commend hospitality? Do we admire brotherly love, wifely affection, virginity, feeding the poor, singing psalms, night-long vigils, penitence? Do we mortify the body with fasting? Do we through prayer, take up our abode with God? Do we subordinate the inferior element in us to the better — I mean, the dust to the spirit, as we should if we have returned the right verdict on the alloy of the two which is our nature? Do we make life a meditation of death? Do we establish our mastery over our passions, mindful of the nobility of our second birth? … 

So, what might this have to do with Ms Rice? Well, it might be said that her disappointment with the Church was that it wasn’t good enough as a social accomplishment. It might be offered, in the Church’s defense, that to complain of the failings of others and their tarnished social accomplishments is something like fretting about the log in my brother’s eye. Recall 1st Timothy 1:15. 

The orations can be found in this small paperback: On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius



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  1. Boonton says:

    I listened to Rice being interviewed on NPR on Tuesday. I’m used to read her Vampire novels which were pretty good for the most part. Didn’t quite follow her arguments much at all.

    She seems to be mostly upset with the Catholic Church being against SSM, which is fine but that’s hardly rejecting Christianity which is made up of numerous denominations including denominations that even have SSM (although her criticism was simply that the Church was opposing SSM as an option in civil law, not that she necessarily wanted SSM as part of doctrine). No doubt part of this is the fact that her son came out as a gay writer.

    She said she was an athiest before she converted to Christianity and that her vampire books took place in a universe without a God, I thought that was odd considering that one of her books actually has God as a major character and features a Job like debate between God and the Devil.

    Anyway what this is about is the disconnect between ‘educated theology’ and actual members of a Church. Mark is very familiar with educated theology and can always hold his own in that arena. But most people do not swim in that pond, they swim in an ocean filled with ideas that would get you laughed out of your Theology 101 classroom. Yet if your intention is to engage with ‘regular people’ you must learn to understand that ocean and swim in it well. If your approach begins with smug satisfaction that you understand the complicated theology and other people are fools who just need to receive education from you you’re going to sink right to the bottom.