Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Canonical Joke

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once penned in jest a composition so bad that he entitled it A Musical Joke (in German: Ein Musikalischer Spaß).   If you would like to hear it performed by a modern orchestra, here is a link to the first movement, with links to the other three movements in the sidebar. 

The piece breaks nearly every compositional rule that had evolved until that time -- it features parallel fifths, offbeat accents, terrible transitions, egregious writing for the horns (who used a notation that was notoriously difficult for amateurs to learn), and a level of overall banality and triteness that only a true master could commit knowingly to the page.

Mozart was having fun, as only such a genius could, at the expense of all the wealthy aristocrats who owned private orchestras and fancied themselves inspired composers, but who in reality were just dilettantes.

They could command their own orchestras to perform their execrable compositions, while the musicians could take no public revenge -- so Mozart stepped up to give the house-tied musicians their own voice.

They now could perform a piece that was so bad that it made their master's compositions look good! And only the musicians would be in on the joke, as no doubt their master would praise their taste in having chosen such an outstanding practitioner of the art for a vehicle which would (1) show forth their talents, and (2) reflect the discretion and glory of the aristocrat who retained them.

(If you really want to get in on the joke, listen here to the insipid third movement, and pay attention to the solo for the horns.)

Well, it has taken more than 220 years, but now we have the canonical equivalent, within the Episcopal Church (USA), of Mozart's Musical Joke. Except that this joke is not the offspring of a canonical genius -- instead, it is the equivalent of one of those dilettantish compositions by privileged aristocrats which inspired Mozart to pen his immortal spoof.

For this canonical joke is outwardly a respectable appointment, made by the Presiding Bishop acting under her authority under ECUSA's Canons, of the episcopal members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, announced yesterday on the Church's official Website. Here is the official text of her announcement:
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has announced appointments to the House of Bishops Committees for the 2013-2015 triennium as well as the bishop appointments to the General Convention Joint Committees and Standing Commissions.

Appointed by the Presiding Bishop are:

Disciplinary Board: Bishops Ian Douglas of Connecticut, Dena Harrison of Texas, Herman Hollerith of Southern Virginia, Scott Mayer of Northwest Texas, Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts, Prince Singh of Rochester, James Waggoner of Spokane, Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis. (Note: Dorsey Henderson of Central Florida is president of the Disciplinary Board and was elected by the HOB) ...
Do you see the joke in that announcement?

The Presiding Bishop has appointed no less of an episcopal personage than the Right Reverend Thomas Shaw, of the Diocese of Massachusetts, to sit in judgment of accusations brought against his peers, i.e., other Episcopal Church bishops.

This is the same Bishop Shaw who flagrantly violated the canons and BCP rubrics regarding the celebration of a ceremony of marriage in the Episcopal Church. He illegally presided as the celebrant, in St. Paul's Cathedral, Boston, of the lesbian same-sex rites between Dean ("Abortion-Is-a-Blessing") Katherine Ragsdale, of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, and his own canon to the ordinary, the Rev. Mally Lloyd.

When he performed the ceremony, in January 2011, General Convention had authorized (in 2009) a "generous pastoral response" to persons of the same sex who were cohabiting. It did not explicitly purport to authorize the performance of same-sex blessings until it adopted Resolution A-049 in Indianapolis this past summer.

Regardless of what General Convention may have considered to be allowed within the compass of its ambiguous words "generous pastoral response" in 2009, it could not have intended to authorize the performance by Episcopal clergy, in an Episcopal church, of marriages between persons of the same sex. That is because both the Canons of the Church, as well as the rubrics of its Book of Common Prayer, have always defined marriages in the Church as between "a man and a woman."  

Despite those in the Church who seem to think that General Convention is unlimited in what it can do, there are boundaries upon its authority, placed by ECUSA's Constitution. That document requires the approval of two successive General Conventions to authorize changes to the Book of Common Prayer. And it has contained that requirement ever since its first adoption in 1789.

The acts of General Convention in passing Resolution C-056 in 2009, and again in passing Resolution A-049 in 2012, did not rise to the level of a purported amendment of the Book of Common Prayer. These were mere resolutions, which had no further effect than to express the "mind of the Convention" at that particular moment. They were at the time, and are now, not binding upon anyone, let alone upon bishops or dioceses -- they simply gave official permission for bishops to act within their already existing powers.

Those powers emphatically have never encompassed the flagrant disregard of the Book of Common Prayer.  That Book, still as of this very day, sanctions marriage in the Episcopal Church as only between a man and a woman. And under the new Title IV, bishops (and other clergy) who violated the previous version of the Canons (in effect until July 1, 2011) may still be prosecuted: violations of the old canons are treated (within specified time limits) as violations of those current canons with equivalent  provisions.

Our Presiding Bishop, who is known far and wide for her respect for the language and authority of the Church's Constitution and Canons (to say nothing of its Book of Common Prayer), has thus seen fit to appoint, to the very body charged with the responsibility of disciplining Bishops for their violations of those august documents, a genuine miscreant -- one who is wide open to being charged with having violated Canon IV.3.1, which states in relevant part:
Sec. 1. A Member of the Clergy shall be subject to proceedings under this Title for: 
(a) knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church ...
Equally, Bishop Shaw may still be charged with having openly and notoriously violated current Canon IV.4.1 (b):
CANON 4: Of Standards of Conduct

Sec. 1
. In exercising his or her ministry, a Member of the Clergy shall:
(b) conform to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer ...
And this miscreant, this Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA), is to sit in judgment over his fellow bishops who are (so far as we less privileged ones may know) yet to be charged with canonical violations of their own.

It is, as I say, a Canonical Joke -- one composed not by a genius akin to Mozart, but only by a far, far lesser light, who is utterly unable to understand, honor or follow the one indisputable rule by which the entire Church has agreed to abide for the last 223 years.

And thus does the Episcopal Church (USA) descend into its own peculiar hell of irrelevance and inconsequence -- on a path paved, as St. John Chrysostom once said, "with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts."


  1. Or as one marsupial judge said to the other, "This one's in the bag."

  2. Why expect lawful behavior from Her Lawless Ladyship?

  3. Why am I not surprised. I expect the worst from our PB.

  4. Mr. Haley,

    I will not comment on the attributes of the P.B. beyond affirming my agreement with Alice Linsley's implicit assessment—one that accords with my original assessment with her at the time I left TEC.

    As to the Mozart, I fear I am insufficiently musically literate to identify the specific conventions which Herr Mozart knowingly violated, and my sense of humor is probably better aligned with the works of one of the Bach children, namely the youngest (and oddest) of Johann Sebastian Bach's twenty odd children, P.D.Q. Bach, of whose work I am extremely fond.

    Nevertheless, it is an interesting comparison, although that which Mozart wrought knowingly was most likely done by the P.B. without her conscious awareness of its inappropriateness.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer