Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anglicans need not believe in the Virgin Birth

This is a fairly interesting little piece about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, saying that the Virgin Birth, at least as recounted in Matthew, is a "legend". I can't tell if the statement is simply an instance of colossally stupid PR, or if Dr. Williams is simply being comprehended by lesser minds. In either case, I cannot really agree with him. Let me cite before I critique:

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has picked apart elements of the
Christmas story, including how a star rose high in the sky and stood still to
guide the wise men to Jesus's birth place.

Stars simply don't behave
like that, he told the BBC during an interview.

Dr Williams said there
was little evidence that the three wise men had existed at all. Certainly there
was nothing to prove they were kings.

The only reference to the wise men
from the East was in Matthew's gospel and the details were very vague, he said.

I have a hunch that Dr. Williams is primarily bucking against the trend towards historicizing scripture, a move that I whole-heartedly support. On the other hand, I am very much a scripture-reading product of Fr. Tarazi and Fr. Behr, who likewise tend to go against the grain of historicizing scripture through and through, but who also are very careful to add the qualifier that scripture IS binding on Christians AS it's written, and that there IS a sense in which we must believe ALL of it.

Perhaps Dr. Williams had all of these qualifiers in mind. I must say that such statements are often difficult to decode for those who lack a formal theological education. But I would be interested to know if he indeed made further qualifications, or if he simply stuck to his point that "it's not a hurdle that new Christians need to bother with", in which case we're in disagreement. It's part of the creedal belief. While I would be all about him speaking in terms of "spiritualized" belief, I am quite uncomfortable with simply saying carte blanc that it's an unnecessary belief. After all, if Christ was not born from the virgin womb, in some sense, then we suffer an aesthetic problem saying that new Christians are born of the Virgin Church. The Church is the virgin mother, symbolized by Mary, who gives birth to new Christ's every day.

However he meant it, I reserve bloodthirsty judgment on him until I know more. But this I am certain of, it was not a smart thing to simply call it "a legend". This isn't Sampson killing 5,000 with the jawbone of an ass, nor is it Lot plugging his daughters while his wife is still being sprinkled on French Fries... this is a line from the Nicaean consensus of the early church. It's a cornerstone of Christian self-understanding, and at the very least he needs to tread these waters more carefully.


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