The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was back in the pulpit yesterday, suffering again from a bad case of a collapsed eschaton. "Jesus said upon this rock I will build—listen to the promise—my church," he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "And the gates of hell—listen to the promise—the gates of hell—neither ABC nor CNN—the gates of hell—neither Hannity nor O’Reilly—the gates of hell—neither Time, Time magazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune . . . the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Nothing will be impossible with God." Yes, the gates of hell are manned by Rev. Wright’s demons not by Satan’s angels.
The Rev. Wright’s temptation has always been the temptation at the heart of most poorly done liberation theology, the temptation to reduce God’s justice to my desires, to see the Kingdom in socio-economic or even psychological terms rather then in theological terms, to see in God’s unconditional love for us an excuse for unconditional love of ourselves. He jumps from his id to ontology in the twinkling of an eye. Whether it is a heresy or not I will leave to the theologians, but it is definitely an example of truth running amok.
Last week, the decision of certain conservative elements of the Episcopal Church to form their own province of the worldwide Anglican communion caused shivers of anxiety throughout the Anglican church. "Episcopal Schism: Both Sides’ Leaders Unsure Of Next Step," headlined the Hartford Courant in an article about several parishes that have split from the mother Church. "It’s immensely sad. It really is. It’s also unprecedented," said the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, the Right Rev. Andrew Smith. Of course, my papist sensibilities are dying to ask the bishops of the Episcopal Church a simple question: "So, NOW you start worrying about schism, eh?"
It is time for both the far left and the far right to return to Ecclesiology 101. Rev. Wright would do well to recall that the Scripture passage he invoked was an example of the Lord speaking to Simon Peter, not to Jeremiah Wright. You don’t have to be a Counter-Reformation apologist (although I am happy to be that too) to realize that Chapter 16 of Matthew’s Gospel is a promise to the entire Christian communion of Christ’s presence for all time precisely insofar as the apostolic unity of faith in his messiahship was present. The second they lose that, and before the end of Chapter 16, Jesus has told Simon Peter "Get behind me Satan" because he has begun to think in human rather than godly terms.
And the Episcopal bishops should explain how it is that the eternal mind of Christ willed there to be multiple Christian churches in one geographic location but not multiple Anglican churches. That is, why can their forebears have been justified in breaking away to set up "The Church of England" because they believed the Church of Rome had fallen prey to distortions but these conservatives cannot form a breakaway church on the very same grounds? There is one Christian church or there are as many as the stars of the sky. That one church may breathe through two lungs, as Pope Paul VI described the relationship between the Eastern and Western churches, but there must be a oneness of faith and charity that binds the Church.
The problem with Rev. Wright and the breakaway Episcopalians is not primarily their lack of a sound ecclesiology, or better to say, their lack of sound ecclesiology evidences a deeper problem. It is their lack of charity for their fellows: If the press challenges Rev. Wright, they are satanic. If the Episcopal bishops ordain a gay man, they are ungodly. Where is the charity? We Catholics have our moments, but we stick together and this permits charity and truth to walk arm-in-arm, never easily, sometimes fitfully, but always together. The way the eschaton makes its presence felt in our own time is precisely when truth and charity combine with hope to create an ecclesial reality, a communion with God, a sacrament and an Advent. It is primarily God’s work to which we respond in the words of the Virgin, "Let it be done to me according to Thy will." The Virgin, you will recall, did not start a schism nor did she demonize anyone.