Saturday, April 08, 2006

Immanence v. transcendence: My question exactly

I just finished reading a book called Finding Home: Stories of Roman Catholics Entering the Episcopal Church, by Christopher L. Webber, which I borrowed from the Episcopal chaplain at the university. I had never heard of this book until one day when I was browsing on Amazon.com and it popped up as a title I might be interested in. I was, but it turned out to be out of print and when I tried to track it down through my usual sources for used books, the cheapest copy I could find was thirty or forty dollars, and I decided I wasn't that interested. Later I asked the chaplain if he might know where I could borrow a copy, thinking he probably had access to some Episcopal library somewhere, and it turned out he had a copy of his own. (Leaving me wondering if I ought to interpret that and the Amazon notice as signs from heaven; see yesterday's entry.)

Anyway, it was an interesting book, but not as interesting as I had hoped it would be. I found common ground with the folks Webber profiled but I did not identify strongly with any of them. I did find myself irritated by Webber's slightly smug tone. I've always felt defensive when people criticize the Roman Catholic church without really understanding it, and that's what I thought was happening here.

I did find two particularly interesting passages:

Discussing theological differences among Anglicans: "Such differences of opinion are tolerable (though sometimes distressing!) because Anglicans find their united in worship rather than in statements of faith and principle."

and

"Where the mystic tends to overemphasize the immanence of God, the systematic theologian may prefer to stress God's transcendence. As we noted earlier, the systematic theologian may also have some professional interests to protect: if God is in all things, perhaps the institutional church is not so important and the sacramental system is not so necessary."

Which is where I find myself heading in my own thinking these days. Since my Catholic spirituality was so strongly rooted in the Eucharist, I found myself missing it very much at first. The question of whether God was really present in the bread and wine in the Episcopal church was an important question for me. But over the past year I've had a strong sense of the constant presence of God both in and beyond church, and it has indeed led me to wonder if the sacramental system that had been so important to me was really so very necessary after all.

No answers to that one; still wondering.

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