a quite varied and often rather unruly Christian community: the Church of England and the Anglican Church, worldwide.
He starts with this affirmation of Radical Orthodoxy. The question is clever, because it is not in the lecture. Rather, his narrative approach is associated with it, because his narrative approach if pure does not depend on objectivity and indeed Radical Orthodoxy takes account of postmodernity and rejects objectivity in this world. Whereas Rowan Williams inhabits the detail of a narrative story, Radical Orthodoxy goes for the big Church issues:
[I]t's a movement which has attempted to recover a sense of the confidence and independence of Christian discourse as something that can't just be reduced to sociology. I think that's good news.
It actually attacks Sociology as "secular theology". Trouble is, Sociology (and Sociology of Religion) is based on research, and it isn't just a humanist ideology but defines its terms as closely as science does. Research is tentative, and the more Radical Orthodoxy attacks Sociology the more it displays its ignorance. The related Social Anthropology is incredibly useful to an understanding of religion, and, like Sociology, is not just reductionist to itself. Radical Orthodoxy rather displays a lack of confidence in its need to attack, not confidence. Nevertheless the approval is in some contrast to later answers.
He is wrong about Muhammad and Islam:
For a Muslim, as I understand it, Mohammed comes at the end of a continuing sequence of prophets revealing aspects, dimensions of the word of God and the demands of God to the world. In that sequence of prophets Jesus occupies a crucial, very important place, and is regarded with profound respect by Muslims. Nonetheless for the Muslim, the whole point of Islam is that Mohammed is – so to speak – the end of the story, the point to which the others are moving.
Not so. He has given a Bahai view of progressive revelation. The view of Islam is that all the prophets revealed precisely the same in The Book. Each prophet recited the same, but that every prophet found that which was recited corrupted. So in the end Muhammad recited The Book and this book, through the exactness of Arabic, was preserved. This is why Islam did not start with Muhammad, nor was completed by him, but started with Adam. Now Rowan Williams and I may regard this as historical and narrative nonsense, because we believe that Jesus wrote nothing down, or at least nothing to preserve, and we believe that earlier prophets, whoever they were, varied in their messages, but Muhammad believed he received the one revelation from the one God. The Archbishop has this completely wrong.
Well the Archbishop says that Jesus is the defining moment about God's dealings with humanity; but some would vary this, and my own view (for what it is worth) is that Jesus is a coherent point for understanding transcendental values as lived through in a costly, sacrificial and serving focused way that provides a basis and hinge into a new setting for a new community and one's own potential manner of life.
This would be inadequate for Rowan Williams give his next main answer, and I think the big one, the surprise even (even if he had said it before - well I missed it). The question is about fabrication, but the answer has implications for all that Rowan Williams presents:
I was asked this question in another context a couple of weeks ago and I had to reply that if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine I could not be a Christian in the way that I now am. I could not celebrate the Sacraments: I could not understand the life of the Holy Spirit as I do: I might still want to be associated with some of the insights and values of the Christian tradition but you would no longer have me as Archbishop of Canterbury (I rather hope you wouldn't have anyone as Archbishop of Canterbury!) because I actually don't think that the Church would be credible in its central historical shape.
This is a wopping statement given the intellectual place of so many theologians today. How he equates this with his narrative approach - why he even bothers with a narrative approach - I have no idea. He really is depending on the speculation of history, he really wants history to do a huge job. This is the Doubting Thomas at a distance: the only difference is time and space. I recently read a sermon for Easter Day by one of Anglicanism's educational figures (outside Britain, not American) who has a spiritual view of resurrection, and absolutely sees nothing in the Paul statements to suggest bones are involved at all. He allows this to be objective or subjective, as the spiritual account can be either. It does not have to depend on bones.
After dealing with Mark and the shock effect, and the resurrection left unclear, we get back to these bones again via a question on St. Paul. Rowan Williams says:
Personally, I've never quite been able to see why St Paul's statement that Jesus was 'raised on the third day' should imply anything other than that the tomb was empty. Paul is a rabbinically trained, first century Jew: when he talks about 'rising' he means what he says, he means what the prophet Daniel says, he means 'someone being restored to the earth'. I don't think that this alleged polarity between what the Gospels say and what St Paul says in I Corinthians 15 is anything like as marked as some would like to make it. So, given that St Paul is clearly drawing on some of the same reservoir of tradition that you find in Mark or in John: I don't think I'd want to entertain the idea that the empty tomb is a late-comer in the story. And if it were, I think we'd need quite a good explanation as to why it came in when it did and what the work was it was supposed to do. If Paul already assumed that Resurrection was the Resurrection of a body, I think he must have been taking it for granted.
But if you take a narrative view (those literary critics again!) of 1 Corinthians 15 there is every reason to consider that Paul is dealing with spiritual data that clashes with the available body language of his tradition. Why else would he have a text that is a gambit: that if he is not raised then the faith is in vain? He is clearly dealing with an evidence deficit - and only after this does he go on to affirm resurrection, but then in an altered way from the available language. The fact that he is rabinically trained is the problem, not any evidence that it is all straightforward. And the business of three days is not some literal account - we are dealing with a tradition already, fast moving maybe. His account is already fashioned into a roll call of authority and legitimacy, and there is something not quite honest about the way he puts himself down as so lowly when he is making so much of the organisational running. This is another tactic of language: I am so unworthy and yet he came to me so I am here, also an Apostle, organising you... Plus the fact, surely in time and substance, that Mark and John are following on from Paul, not some given that all three take from. Well, this is so for those of us who have a narrative understanding...
This brings into some additional focus the sleight of hand about history with the Archbishop of the Simon Mayo programme 19 December 2007, when because it was in a gospel the stay outside the inn was apparently history,when all this is varied, sourced in myth and completely ahistorical. They are not equivalent, because the birth narratives are about a time before Jesus began his ministry whereas the resurrection narratives are afterwards, but both inhabit the fantastical world view (as we might see it - perhaps not Rowan Williams) of virgins giving birth and a fast rotting corpse becoming disappeared into something that goes through doors and appears when a theological point gets exposed of relevance to the early Churches. Come on!
Having mentioned Gandhi (which is not developed) he says in some contrast:
But the Gospels are about an initiative from elsewhere: breaking through a deadlock in human existence which human beings can't break for themselves.
This is just theological supposition: it cannot be demonstrated as historical in any sense. There is not one historiography that will deliver this, and this matters. So this ends up being, as history, meaningless. Bones transformed aren't meaningless, if there is a document of actual witness, but there is not - the documents purporting to be witnessing are theological secondary documents. So there is a faith stance that is trying to turn that into history, and it simply is not available.
Just look at how this argument for history turns around and becomes unhistorical:
I think those who take a less positive view are wrong; it's as simple as that. It's an argument that I and others have had with those who take a less positive view, over many many years. I do sometimes suspect that that climate of the modern age makes it a bit less easy for people to settle with the kind of interpretation I've given, but I suppose one of my reasons for holding to a more traditional, more material view, is admittedly not a historical reason at all but it's the way in which these claims about the – in some sense material - Resurrection interlock with how we understand the Sacraments and the nature of our prayer.
This is just fanciful: the logic won't stand up. It is not history, is it, but faith statements or theology that tries to strain history. It is "not a historical reason at all".
So the whole thing is a kind of collapsing black hole of a historical demand that falls back into a narrative argument again. So what does he want?
What he wants is history. He wants bones that vanish into a transformation, into an actual person who appears to others after death. But his view does not support it: like Radical Orthodoxy is has foundations that are not historical, not objective, are simply not there. The bones disappear into a puff of nothing but a story, a wish, a desire - even for the magic (let's call it magic) or the sacraments.
I turn this all around. If I had this historical dependency, I wouldn't bother! I am no Thomas: I take the view of having faith. I couldn't care less if the body rotted fast on a lime pit. This is the realm of myth, of story, of narrative. It is made less by being about bones, not more.
I do accept, as somebody else raised the question, that there are Christians who, in good conscience, can't see their way to accepting the emptiness of the tomb and yet live lives of exemplary Christian devotion. I can't see that their position is consistent, but I respect it as a position that is held by prayerful, thoughtful Christians.
No, this won't do. The position is entirely consistent, because it is category-consistent. It is Rowan Williams's position that is inconsistent, because he jumps about from desire to desire, to claim history when his foundation is in some spirituality. In fact it is rather rude to regard them as inconsistent: perhaps they know what they are talking about! I well suspect that Rowan Williams knows what he is talking about too.
Someone asked a question about if Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection took place in the present day: the problem being not that today is formed by (in part) events of that past, but that today such a protester would be largely ignored: they might be moved on, but would not be killed. It is rather difficult to have a resurrection if not killed (from a historical viewpoint). So it this is a universal event, how can it be so? Yet faith, being of the transcendent, has rather more capability of being a universal... The crucifixion is, of course, historical, as a simple killing by a regime (but of course the Muslim would say... and then we use texts to say that they indicate absence as well as presence - this ain't no revived corpse walking at the best of times).
Finally, here is a nice one for my Liberal Catholic friends, who sometimes come across as a little less liberal when it comes to the matter of apostolic succession and lines of bishops for validity (though the Liberal Catholic faith varies so much in actual content):
what matters most about it is perhaps a little less the transmission of Bishops laying hands on the heads of others through the centuries than Bishops conveying the integrity of the faith from generation to generation.
I think Rowan Williams should make his mind up whether the integrity of the faith is upheld by bones or by faith regardless, whether he really wants to find history or wants to use narrative. Of course history, as something that might have happened, is not ruled out, but there is no access to such history by any adequate method, and there is plenty of reasoning with the texts that suggests that the bones argument is not there. We who think this are consistent.
And then after all this, and after affirmations of the historical Jesus as God the Son, and the Trinity met in prayer, there is a little surprise.
Jesus is an agent, as risen from the dead, who is also the one who realizes what God the Father desires and wants to bring into being. In that sense you could say 'an instrument' though it's language I'm not completely happy about.
Yes, that's not quite the full deal, is it, so he may not be happy about it. After all Paul was no trinitarian, and Jesus was the agent of God - God's sole worker, the ambassador doing the work for the King (God). Resurrection is a vindication of the chosen prophet with some escalation in status (synoptics) or Jesus is the firstborn of creation (John's gospel) who always was and will be. So, interesting, because the demand for bones in history doesn't then secure everything even then. Such is another need for faith, as indeed the Trinity is related to prayer.
Establishing the existence of God is not simply a matter of abstract argument, it's a matter of whether you find lives like that, trustworthy, worthy of respect, worthy of imitation.
Quite so, but there is an argument there: and he did say:
I had to reply that if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine I could not be a Christian in the way that I now am. I could not celebrate the Sacraments: I could not understand the life of the Holy Spirit as I do: I might still want to be associated with some of the insights and values of the Christian tradition but you would no longer have me as Archbishop of Canterbury...
He tells a questioner to "feel free" to be a Pagan but he knows no system that:
can grow into a fullness of joy and liberty that is part of God's own joy and liberty without limit.
He thinks the Pagan would live in a smaller world. I just think Pagans have a different approach, with different emphases, another joy. They have human potential in their liturgies too, but another emphasis on natural potential. I'll learn from the Pagans - well I have already in my past and I still keep what I discovered, including spiritually. They reinvented too, full of narrative into an imagined past, and no need to depend on any desired history of missing bones in order to celebrate their sacraments.