There is a myth so dear to most Christians that we have developed various versions of it to comfort ourselves with. It goes like this:
Once upon a time the Church was perfect. Unfortunately in [A] [B] happened and things have never been the same since. For [A] substitute some date in the dim and distant past. If you don't know the date, a vague nod in the general direction of some past century or other will do. For [B] substitute the name of whatever it was that ruined things. A helpful list follows:
* the fall of Jerusalem
* the end of the New Testament era
* the Apostle Paul
* the suppression of the Gospel of Thomas
* the Reformation
* Vatican 2
* Sunday sports
* St. Augustine
The last two are particularly popular as villains because they each mark significant turning points in the development of the Church, very few people are as knowledgeable about them as they give the impression of being, and it's not difficult to find incriminating proof texts. I spent today listening as Andrew McGowan tried, and in my view, succeeded, in putting each into their historical context, and discussed each as an exemplar of a particular strategy for relating temporal power to spiritual authority. As Andrew pointed out, the Church has been conflicted and ambiguous from day one, as is to be expected of those who gather round one whose strength is demonstrated principally in an act of vulnerability and weakness.
The implications of the lectures we have received here have been discussed in caucus groups; yesterday I talked to other bishops and today was in a men's group and a group of people in their fifties. Discussion has been warm, and occasionally profound. Talking has helped me assimilate the material from Andrew and relate it to the not unrelated stuff I had been serendipitously reading before coming here. One of the theses emerging is the resonance between issues emerging around the formation of Christendom, and those emerging around its ending; a resonance important not because it marks out some golden era to which we should all strive to return, but because it shows the sorts of struggles we are likely to encounter as we learn to be a different sort of church than has ever existed before.
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