Trinity Got It Wrong? (part 2...)

What is the mission of the Parish of Trinity Church? Is the notion of a conjoined real estate and community-building venture consistent? The more I've been thinking about this, and the sorts of general thoughts I had about Trinity as a corporate real estate actor on the stage of New York politics, the more I am drawn to the notion this is a matter of final causes.

This is getting complex in interesting ways. Clearly, Trinity's purpose is no Cartesian hidden-in-God's-mind independent end; it seems it must be a Modern, subjective Wille-zur-Macht end, inherent in Trinity's character as a political actor. This is, I think, entirely consistent with the deep structure of the meaning of "mission".

A mission is a sending, and that which is sent. The missus is a messenger, but seems pretty quickly (and certainly by the 9th century...) to become not just a message-carrier, but an agent. For example, in Carlovingian times, the imperial missi were sent out to carry the word of the imperial will to the magnates and common folk alike, but also to demonstrate its working and see it implemented. The mission was purposeful: To establish the imperial — and divine — order, in all the many senses of that concept.

I doubt I am pushing that too far; I am reasonably certain a person of that time would have had little difficulty seeing both emperor and missus as agency in teleologically driven social agenda. What would have been different: That for the sake of which the message was sent was independent of both proximate messenger and ultimate dispatcher. The emperor is a sacred personage, implementing the sacred Will which exists independently and toward which emperor and empire are drawn. Something like that.

Teleology becomes a problem for Modernity; Descartes is pretty clear that final cause is inaccessible to human understanding except perhaps in some remote and derivative fashion; it is hidden in the secret mind of God. I suppose the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were, in a sense, ages of greater faith than even the Middle Ages; without even the ability to grasp imperfectly Divine Reason in human thought (the very medieval line espoused by the current Roman pontiff), no one is quite willing to dismiss Divine origins.

On the other hand, I am pretty well convinced that final cause is never really dismissed from the explanatory schema. It shifts definitively from objective to subjective status, from something that is natural, imposing order on what is inherently chaotic, to something strictly human. It isn't out-there, pulling things to fulfillment, but in us, driving the way we impose our concept of things as we are thrown forward. [Again: Something like that; I am still clearly playing with this concept.]

The clue for me is the "mission statement". Such statements are unambiguously teleological: They express, if well put, that for the sake of which a program of action is undertaken, and what that undertaking was to be. The appearance of mission-independence is just that: mere appearance.

"Because of our endowment," added The Rev. Dr. Daniel Paul] Matthews, "we feel called to help more fundamental directional setting...We need to be on the growing edge of setting the agenda for the way we're going to think in the future." []

That is clearly an expression of mission in the late- and post-Modern sense of a "mission statement". We are thrown toward a future in ways that are for the sake of some purpose. I hear this as well in Dr. Cooper's sermon.

But: Trinity's political heritage, still currently predominant, favors the already-established. Neither thrown-ness, nor drawn-ness (sorry about the neologism) characterizes most of what I have found visible over the last 30 years, on and off, that I have watched Trinity Church. I am beginning to think that this political-Will-that-is-no-will constrains Trinity's mission.

This could prove troublesome.

First: Trinity was initially endowed to serve the political and relgious evangelism of the English government as it reached out its influence across the hitherto Dutch colony. Its endowment grew in no small measure to advance that same cause — necessarily political as much as religious, if less explicitly so. It has been some time since I waded through the documents, which I imperfectly understand in any case, but this struck me pretty clearly, and I have seen nothing to sway me from that view. That original end — securing the status quo ("thrown" only insofar as that became English, no longer Dutch) — is entirely consistent with Trinity's current corporate and political character.

How is this new end, of building the real estate operation while building community through that, consistent with the growth over time of initial purposiveness of Trinity Church? Asking this, I simply extend the prior discussion of the first horn, Trinity's character as a political entity.

Second: How well considered is this teleology? Trinity is an agency of change, of course. If I am right, and final-causation is alive and well regardless of Modern and subsequent philosophical rejection of it, it is possible Trinity, corporately and severally, hasn't adequately understood final cause. While Modern and post-Modern thinking may have transferred that for the sake of which something is to the mission of the missus-as-agent — something projected by agency as efficient cause more than something imposed on agency.