Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nashotah House: There the Atomic Heresy Prevails, "When wild in woods the noble savage ran"

The latest news of the impending trip down the slippery slope of one of the two remaining conservative Anglican seminaries in the U.S., Nashotah House, should serve as a lesson to all of us that when it comes to religion, those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it. What makes the error of the Dean of the House more remarkable is the fact that he, if anyone, should be well informed about the past. So now the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, the woman who once delivered the worst sermon ever, the woman who has deposed more priests and bishops than any previous Presiding Bishop, the woman who has sued fellow Christians in secular courts including some members of the Board of Nashotah House, will deliver a sermon from the pulpit at Nashotah.

If any seminarians choose to boycott the P.B.'s sermon, I came across one the other day that might serve as a suitable replacement.

If we try to follow C.S. Lewis' advice and read several old books for every new one, we don't have to make a special trip to the library anymore since we have the advantage of the new internet libraries in which one can find a large number of old books, and where one can also find lots of old sermons. Taking a cue from Lewis, let me suggest that for every new sermon we hear, we should pull up three old ones to help build a better foundation and to gain examples with which to compare our modern preacher's efforts.

I was browsing the old sermon section the other day and came across "A little one shall become a thousand" : a sermon preached at the opening of the Cuddesdon Theological Institution, on Thursday, June 15, 1854 by the Right Rev. G. A. Selwyn, D.D.. Bishop of New Zealand. (1854). In it, I found the "atomic heresy" reference. Tracing this backwards forces one to dredge up more old works as I have footnoted for you.
"The first step in the improvement of mankind, has been to bring him out of that state, described by the poet, 
'When wild in woods the noble savage ran.'[1]  
It was to combine the separate atoms of mankind into one system; for religion, to unite them in a Church; for government, to combine them into a state. But every advance of  knowledge or of feeling tends to draw men back again to the state of independent egotism from which they were rescued. What is called in art the division of labour, distributes to each workman his own small part and wheel of the great machine, and by constant practice each becomes perfect in his own branch of the work; but this alone does not give the absolute perfection to the engine. There must be a presiding power to demand from every workman his finished piece, and to unite them all in one body, 'compacted with that which every joint supplieth.' [2] 
That power is found least where it is wanted most, in the Church of Christ. It is found working in government, in law, in science, in medicine, in trade; but it is not found in religion: there the atomic heresy still prevails; and the result so far as it is not overruled by Divine Providence is a tendency to return to chaos.  
This retrograde tendency is the more dangerous, because it is often the direct result of high principle and great earnestness in work, and real advancement in knowledge."  G. A. Selwyn (pp 8-9.)    
What a great warning to a new theological institute. I wonder if they got it?

This question pulled me back to the web and to research what has become of Cuddesdon Theological Institution. It is now Ripon College, Cuddesdon and its web page sums it up in the following,
"Our strength today comes from the acceptance of diversity" 
Acceptance of diversity is coded language at its best. The CofE is the force behind this clear tendency for the atomic heresy to be at work at Cuddeson. Witness the recommendations of the 2009 CofE inspection,

Recommendation 9
We recommend the student handbook include a policy statement on gender, ethnicity and inclusivity with regard to community life. (para 54)
Action Plan:
The revised handbooks for 2009 include policies relating to behaviour in a diverse community, and the use of inclusive language. Draft policies specific to the issues of gender, ethnicity and inclusivity will be prepared for the 2010 handbooks.
This remains an item for follow-up in a future inspection.  The College have committed themselves to including these policies and have begun a process of drafting and consultation.  As noted, it is planned to complete the implementation of this recommendation in the 2010-11 Handbooks.

Recommendation 10
We recommend that specific opportunities for theological reflection on the diversities within the life of the community should be created, so that experience of diversity may be integrated into learning and formation. (para 61)

Action Plan:
A thorough discussion of the challenges and opportunities of diversity within the community was held at the Governors’ meeting in June 2009. The Governors commended the subtle and unobtrusive process of continuing reflection on diversity which is woven into every aspect of the college’s life, worship and teaching.
The commendation for "the subtle and unobtrusive process of continuing reflection on diversity which is woven into every aspect of the college’s life, worship and teaching" is particularly alarming. Selwyn must be turning over in his grave (many of the old timers I quote seem to be doing that lately).

The message to today's seminarians should be clear, and I don't think they need to hear more from me, and certainly they shouldn't listen to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, but instead they should look backwards, and study the old books.

This tendency of mine to research things in a somewhat retrograde fashion is intended to combat the retrograde tendency to chaos, and I apologize if I sometimes create greater chaos in the minds of my readers. Today's exercise is an effort to demonstrate that the atomic heresy is an ever constant danger as real to us now as it was to Selwyn in 1854, and as it was to the fictional character of Almanz in Dryden's 1672 classic that Selwyn referenced (footnote [1]).

To combat the pull of the heresy, one must depend on the "presiding power" of the Word of God to keep things bound together otherwise, wild in the woods we shall run.

[1] Almanz:
"No man has more contempt than I of breath,
But whence hast thou the right to give me death?
Obeyed as sovereign by thy subjects be,
But know, that I alone am king of me.
I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran." - John Dryden, The Conquest of Granada, 1672 Part 1, Act I, scene i. [p_040]

[2] Ephesians 4:15-17
15 but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,


  1. Pewster,
    I kind of got lost along the way. Is there an abstract to your scholarly dissertation? Is the chorus, "Read the old books"?

    1. That is the chorus, and perhaps the solution to the problem of seminary decay, and the cure for the atomic heresy.