"I wouldn't make such a big deal of it," a good and respected friend once told me. "I don't know any educated Episcopal clergyman or -woman who believes in the letter of the creeds. When we make a statement, we know what we mean by the terms we use."
While it was one specific person, an Episcopal priest, who made that statement to me, I believe that it is a very widespread view among Episcopal clergypeople today. But it's one which I can't embrace; to me, it is intellectually dishonest to engage in what I call the spiritual and linguistic gymnastics in which so many Episcopal clergypeople today seem to engage, and I simply can't do it.
First of all, I do know many "educated Episcopal clergy[persons] who" believe in the letter of the creeds. Actually, "educated Episcopal clergypersons" is a redundancy, since no one is ordained in the Episcopal Church without liberal arts degree(s), followed by a rather lengthy and comprehensive seminary education; all Episcopal clergypersons are highly educated; in fact, most laypeople I've met in my many years as an Episcopalian have also been better-educated than most non-Episcopalians. And, having met and interacted with many, many members of the clergy in my more-than-thirty years as a member of St. John's, I can honestly say that there are only two of those people whose allegiance to creedal letter would I suspect. I don't doubt for a nanosecond that every single one of the priests who are serving the parish today is as orthodox in his or her faith as it's possible to be. One priest, a woman, is quite liberal socially and politically, but as she elevates the host and wine during the most sacred part of the Mass, the Consecration, she always intones, barely audibly, "My Lord and my God!" No doubt whatsoever in her mind that the Jesus, into Whose Body and Blood the bread and wine have been transformed, is (not "was") God Incarnate.
It is "a big deal" to me. When one is admitted to Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, one pledges to uphold the "discipline and doctrine" of the Church. While I admit that I don't really understand what is meant by the "discipline" of the Church (although, witnessing recently what was in effect a "disfellowshipping" of a particularly abrasive and disruptive member of St. John's gives a hint), I do know that two of the most basic, fundamental doctrines of the Episcopal Church are two ideas that I simply do not embrace, so I could never in good conscience uphold. One is that the Bible "contains all things necessary for salvation" (an idea which I've explored in another blog post, http://donzpost.blogspot.com/2013/11/all-things-necessary-for-salvation-i.html, so I won't get into here), and the other is what is probably the most basic doctrine of the Church today, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
While I've expressed my suspicion that my own ideas about the Nature of God are probably closer to those held (quietly) by many Episcopal clergypeople today, they are not by any means universally embraced. Before you go further into my approach to this subject, please check out these dramatically different views --- views that are held by thousands of Episcopalians:
Yes, many --- maybe, most --- Episcopalians do definitely believe in the Trinity, and are horrified to learn that there are some of us who call ourselves Anglicans or Episcopalians who do not. I'm not sure how they would react to the fact that, throughout much of its earliest history, the Church in England (precursor of the Church of England, our Mother Church) was Arian, non-trinitarian. This is a bit of history that I think I'll present in greater detail at some other time.
I want to stop and make two points here that I think are very important: For the first, I'll simply repeat what I said in the first post I published on this subject:
"I do not claim to understand the Nature of God. I believe that an amoeba can comprehend the life and thinking and writing of Stephen Hawking more fully than I can understand the Nature of God; if I can fully understand and describe God, then God is not God. So, maybe there is some Cosmic Divine Truth that is hidden beneath the words of various trinitarian formulas that I just do not grasp. Maybe I will at some later time, but I don't now."
For the second point, I ask if you recall the story about the medieval Church Fathers arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a needle --- and whether angels should be dancing at all? Ridiculous, we'd say, right? Well, I lean toward that when it comes to the present subject, too. I know what I believe, and why, and I know that it is very different from what my beloved Church teaches, and many of its adherents fervently believe, but at the end of the day, who's right? They teach and believe; I believe something different. But we are all finite human beings, with finite intellectual abilities. I don't think that any of us should suggest that we know all about, or fully comprehend, the nature of God. Again, if I can fully understand God, then I don't believe that God is God.
That said, let me proceed to lay out a few of the things that I do --- and don't --- believe. In the first post on this subject, I published the text of the lengthy Athanasian Creed; it may be well to re-read that now.
As promised, in this post I am going to outline the major ideas about the nature of the Godhead that the Church has ruled to be heretical. Before I do that, though, let me suggest that I think most modern liberal Christian lay and clergypeople probably believe concerning the Trinity, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three characterizations of one God, rather than three distinct "Persons" in one God, and your own view may be close to that. But, did you know that such a view has been condemned by the Church as a heresy? Except for the way the idea of the Trinity is laid out in that tiresome Athanasian Creed, just about any description of the Godhead has been denounced as heretical. Here is a list of the major ideas which the Church has officially ruled to be heretical: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_heresies#Trinitarian.2FChristological
Ooops! When you read the Athanasian Creed to see what a true trinitarian professes, then examine your own beliefs in light of the list of proclaimed trinitarian heresies, it just might be that you aren't a trinitarian, either, huh? Hmmm...
It is not now, nor has it ever been, my intention to sway your opinion on this subject in either direction. Frankly, I didn't even want to tackle this subject in my blog, but several friends pressured me to do so. I'll bet they're sorry now!
I'll stop here, except to throw out just one little historical tidbit that I find very interesting: Most of us are aware that it was at the First Council of Nicaea, convened by Roman Emperor Constantine I, that the official trinitarian view of the Godhead was settled as orthodox in the Church. Some of us may be aware that Constantine wasn't even a Christian at the time; he wasn't baptized until he was on his deathbed. The interesting fact that I'll bet you didn't know, though, was that the person who finally did baptize him was an Arian (non-trinitarian) bishop!
Mull that over a bit as I prepare the next post, which will go further into the histories of trinitarianism and non-trinitarianism in the Christian Church --- including the fact that the early Church in England was non-trinitarian.
In case you haven't read my Part I on this subject, here is a link to it: http://donzpost.blogspot.com/2014/01/why-i-am-not-trinitarian.html