Go Green?

If you feel unsettled at the prospect of large groups of privileged people from the developed world spending vast sums of money and fossil fuel to listen to pep talks on climate change activism, then prepare to be dismayed. 

The Episcopal Church just spent a whopping $500,000 flying its House of Bishops to Taipei, for their fall meeting. To what end? Expanding the Apostolic Imagination, apparently, that being the theme of the event. But what does this mean? If the Episcopal Church’s Leaderene, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, is anything to go by, it’s code for being “green.” Here’s an excerpt from her September 17 sermon to the assembled prelates. Following an introduction about the life of St. Hildegard von Bingen, from whom she gets the word viriditas (greenness), Schori goes on to ask:

“Where do you meet viriditas? Where is joy and wonder in the world around you? What creative ferment engages and transforms you? All are signs of expanding possibility, divine creativity, and new green shoots emerging.”

Then, after referencing Sirach and the Psalmist, Schori goes on to enlist St. John the Evangelist in the climate change movement, and even Christ himself gets a mention (it’s the one time he’s named in the sermon) – as the “green man” of pagan myth. Remarkable:

“John’s gospel speaks of those who love darkness as those who refuse the encounter with God’s creative, greening Word. Those who do what is true, he says, are those who are willing to live in that fiery light that burns and transforms like a laser – perhaps a green laser that enlightens or heals. The light has come into the world for life. The Celts and others often imaged Christ as the green man – the life-giver – the way, the truth, and the life.”

The Lindisfarne monks and their co-religionists saw Christ as the green man? The same nature spirit that Saint Rabanus Maurus described as demonic in the 8th century? Who knew? And it’s more than a little worrying to note that Global Warming skeptics find themselves on the wrong side of St. John. But the Presiding Bishop isn’t finished expanding the apostolic imagination of her bishops with the virtues of viriditas:

“This Episcopal Church is in the throes of creative ferment, yearning to find a new congruence that will discover emerging life in new soil, and refreshed growth in the plantings of former years. Our gathering here will offer opportunities to learn of greenness in different pastures, and God willing, transform us to discover abundance and possibility in more familiar ones.” 

Creative ferment? An interesting way to describe the interior workings of a small and declining denomination that’s reinvented itself as an LGBTQ advocacy group with a sideline in aggressive litigation. But still, Schori isn’t above a “call to action,” green action, of course.

Viriditas begins in wonder, and emerges to motivate constructive, healing connection between air and ocean, carbon and crops, hunger and floods, Ebola and economic inequality. Bishop Michael Baroi of Bangladesh challenged the bishops of this Church to find that connection when we gathered in Puerto Rico in 2003. He told of flooding on his coastal plains, and cried, ‘save us from these curses!’ He might as well have said, ‘show forth greenness.’”

She concludes by describing Saint Paul’s viridic power as evidenced in the Apostle’s Epistle to the Colossians. He’s part of the green movement too, along with Sirach, the Psalmist, St. John and Jesus himself. 

“As Colossians puts it," states Schori, "be at peace, let the creative word of God take root within you and bear new branches, discover viriditas and truth, and be not afraid. New life is springing forth – be thankful – and pray for the gift of joy and wonder in God’s good, green, creative possibility.”

And there you have it. In the whole address the word “green” appears 13 times, almost rivaling the word “the.” The word “Christ” appears once, in an astonishing sentence equating him with the “green man” of pagan legend, and the word “salvation” appears not at all. We could perhaps be forgiven for wondering if the whole thing was written by a U.N. apparatchik, rather than a Christian. But that aside, there is an irony in the Presiding Bishop’s idea of what it means to expand the apostolic imagination. I hope, for her sake, that it’s unconscious.

In the first place, urging some 100 comparatively privileged bishops to be green on the heels of who knows how much spent jet fuel, is at best ironic and at worst, bald-faced hypocrisy. All at the cost of $500,000. Climate change awareness doesn’t come cheap, it seems, and so much for the House of Bishops’ brave attempt to minimize their carbon footprint. This is bad enough but it gets worse. Schori’s new-found green virtue, viriditas, isn’t original with her and she freely admits it. It’s a word used by the famous 12th century “Sibyl of the Rhine,” Saint Hildegard von Bingen, who was a reforming Benedictine Abbess, scientist, musician, preacher and visionary, or prophet.

The Presiding Bishop likes Hildegard because she celebrated the creative power of God in creation by using the word “greenness,” which fits in well with Schori’s own climatic sloganeering. The Episcopal Church is all about being green and so too, evidently, is Hildegard. The 12th century abbess is also a woman, notoriously, who wasn’t afraid to use feminine imagery for God, which makes her a fit patron for Episcopalian feminadoxy. To cap it off, Hildegard was a prophet, just like the Episcopal Church imagines itself to be. Here’s Schori reverently touching on this last aspect in the introduction to her sermon:

“Listen to Hildegard the prophet: ‘He Who Is says, ‘I destroy contumacy, and by myself I crush the resistance of those who despise me. Woe, woe to the malice of wicked men who defy me! Hear this, king, if you wish to live; otherwise my sword shall smite you.’” 

Schori is in favor of this and supplies her hearers with the fact that Hildegard is rebuking the Emperor Barbarossa for fueling schism in the church. We’ll return to that, but first listen to Hildegard the prophet speaking in a different context, one that the Presiding Bishop doesn’t mention:

“Diabolical seduction [by the Cathars] gives rise to criminals and seducers, the hate and the crime of the devil, brigands and thieves; but it is in homosexuality that the sin is most impure, the root of all vices. When these sins have accumulated among the nations, the constitution of God’s law will be torn, and the Church, like a widow, will be stricken.” 

This brings us to the point. Saint Hildegard, one of the few Doctors of the Church, no less, was fiercely anti-schismatic; as we’ve seen, a scourge of heretical Catharism and about as far removed from being an LGBTQ champion as you could hope to get. In short, she was a zealously orthodox catholic Christian of the 12th century, and while she was able to use feminine language to describe God, she could only do so because she was firmly grounded in his transcendent Fatherhood. We see something of this in Hildegard’s opposition to the ordination of women as priests. 

“Therefore,” she writes in Scivias, quoting God the Father, “just as the earth cannot plow itself, a woman must not be a priest and do the work of consecrating the Body and Blood of my Son; although she can sing the praise of her Creator, just as the earth can receive rain to water its fruits.” Take it or leave it, that’s Hildegard’s view on the matter and Schori is either unaware of this or conveniently ignores it.

Still, the Saint was a prophetic apocalyptic visionary. Listen to another utterance made by the “Teutonic Seer,” and ignored by Schori, in which the Beast, as Antichrist, emerges from the womb of a wounded church that has been raped by the Devil. It’s worth quoting at length:

“The image of the woman [the Church] before the altar in front of the eyes of God that I saw earlier was now also shown to me again so that I could also see her from the navel down. From the navel to the groin she had various scaly spots. In her there appeared a monstrous and totally black head with fiery eyes, ears like the ears of a donkey, nostrils and mouth like those of a lion, gnashing with vast open mouth and sharpening its horrible iron teeth in a horrid manner... Lo, the monstrous head removed itself from its place with so great a crash that the entire image of the woman was shaken in all its members. Something like a great mass of much dung was joined to the head; then, lifting itself upon a mountain, it attempted to ascend to the height of heaven. A stroke like thunder came suddenly and the head was repelled with such strength that it both fell from the mountain and gave up the ghost.”

After describing the fall of the Antichrist and the woe of those who had been deceived by him, Hildegard continues: 

“Behold, the feet of the aforementioned female image appeared to be white, giving out a brightness above that of the sun. I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: ‘Even though all things on earth are tending toward their end, so hardships and calamities is bowed down to its End, nevertheless, the Spouse of my Son, though much weakened in her children, will never be destroyed either by the heralds of the Son of Perdition or by the Destroyer himself, however much she will be attacked by them. At the End of time she will arise more powerful and more secure; she will appear more beautiful and shining so that she may go forth in this way more sweetly and more agreeably to the embraces of her Beloved. The vision which you saw signifies all this in mystic fashion.’” (Scivias 3:11; Translated by B. McGinn, Visions of the End, pp101-102)

Hildegard’s words speak for themselves and I’ll leave you to consider the extent to which they apply to Katharine Jefferts Schori’s version of God’s church: a church which has come out of the church, and which wounds the Body of Christ by its violently continued schism, heresy and open immorality.

That a quasi-Cathar, such as the Presiding Bishop, should have chosen such a Saint as the patron of her House of Bishops is irony indeed and perhaps apt. Hildegard stands as a prophetic voice to the heretics of her own time and to ours, a voice calling for repentance and a reminder of the implacable will of God. A will that guarantees Antichrist overthrown and the church beautiful and shining in the embrace of her Beloved.

Herein lies true viriditas, or “greenness” if you like, the abundant, procreative, life-giving power of God in His Bride, the church.

Forward in Christ

Proclaiming the Faith and Order of the Church, given to us by Christ.