Friday, April 05, 2013

Who needs Rome? Answering Continuing Anglicans

My recent conversation with Fr J. Gordon Anderson, a Continuing Anglican, got me thinking of how such high churchmen (whom I sometimes call Bob Hart Anglicans after one of the priests at the Continuum blog) think of the Catholic Church. Since mid-last century, when the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church moved Episcopal churchmanship up, in many places approaching my traditional Catholic worship (high parishes had Prayer Book text and modified Tridentine ceremonial), these high churchmen have been so close to us, yet believe on plausible conservative principle, like the classical Anglican divines, Carolines and Tractarians, that the papal claims overstep the bounds of scripture and the church fathers (with a strange cutoff date for true doctrine, of the church’s first five centuries, per Andrewes; why?). ‘We have those, our godly reformed Catholic doctrine, our classical divines, and our Prayer Book. We don’t need Rome.’ None of Newman’s development of doctrine for them.

It seems well and good but it’s self-refuting because it’s man-made. That the Continuers had to leave the Episcopal Church on principle points that out, as the late Archimandrite Serge (Keleher), a Catholic, said: ‘The Protestant Episcopal Church failed, so let’s re-create it as it was’ (so it can fall apart again). That failure as traditional Christians see it, though, is a feature of Episcopalianism, not a bug. Check out Article XXI: a fallible church is fungible. The mainline Protestants get that, and take it to its logical Unitarian conclusion. ‘Oh, no,’ say the Continuers. ‘We’ll never do that. We obey scripture.’ Well and good. But on whose authority?

Ditto for the fine folk of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, some of whom are high-church and very close to us. That many/most Lutherans are liberal mainliners (witness Scandinavia, Europe’s most irreligious people) shows they have the same Achilles’ heel. Scripture is the church’s book; before there was complete scripture, there was the church. It’s not self-interpreting; once you go that route, even if you’re conservative, you’re unwittingly on the same track as the mainline.

By the way, the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Free Church of England, conservative denominations that opposed Anglo-Catholicism so they left the Episcopalians and the Church of England, have recently reinvented themselves as mid-last-century high churchmen like the Continuers, contradicting their original reason to exist. So who says that can’t happen to the Continuers? It also reminds me of the newer Anglican and Lutheran denominations that left the Episcopalians and ELCA because of changing teaching about homosexuality, but still ordain women: slightly less liberal but still mainline Protestants, or as Hilary says of some Catholic pro-lifers:
The Experiment requires that there be no lines at all, no restrictions or boundaries on human sexual proclivities. Could it be because they, like the “Overturn Roe” pro-lifers really want the entire Big Picture to stay the same? They like the Newfangled World just fine, thanks, but just can’t stomach the “ick factor” of seeing two men kissing on the balcony. Like the previous generation of dilettante pro-lifer, they are fine with the “gains” of the Revolution...
So what about development of doctrine? Isn’t that a slippery slope too? After all, the mainline says the ordination of women and gay marriage are development of doctrine. It seems to me the Tractarians were afraid the Catholic Church in 150 years would turn into what the Episcopal Church became: throwing scripture out the window. (The Orthodox have the same fear.) But of course the opposite happened. The church is what it was, while the conservative Anglicans like Fr Anderson were pushed out. Because development of doctrine can’t overrule past definitions of doctrine, including scripture. Even the Pope can’t do that. That’s what church infallibility means. We can’t change the faith by vote.

High churchmen at least since the start of Anglo-Catholicism have claimed an affinity for Orthodoxy, an estranged traditional folk Catholicism, seeing them as fellow non-papal Catholics bolstering their claim to be such. One word: contraception. Before mid-last century, hot-topic sexual issues now thought of as ‘Catholic things’ were generally Christian things. Not only Orthodox but Protestants agreed with the church on contraception. Widespread Orthodox opinion has changed with the Protestants on that. (Orthodox now = evangelical now = 1950s mainline = plausible conservative argument allowing married couples to use it after consulting their clergyman.) Rome, even right after the non-doctrinal stupidity of Vatican II, held the line. (We believe that the papacy, guided by the Holy Spirit, can do no less, no matter who’s in office.)

(The eternal Rome the saintly Archbishop Lefebvre referred to... Catholic doctrine, not the reigning Pope’s opinions.)

It’s Rome or the abyss.

9 comments:

  1. Whenever Catholics search for a point of teaching that they can say the Orthodox are wrong about, all that they can ever come up with is ... contraception. Even granting arguendo that Roman Catholic teaching on this point is both coherent and correct, out of the grand scope of Christian teaching finding only that one point of doctrine weak or incorrect is rather weak tea. By RC standards, the Orthodox Church is correct on triadology, christology, soteriology, eschatology, and almost all of moral theology -- and has maintained all of this without benefit of the Papacy. But Orthodoxy has a less-explicitly-articulated understanding of the morality of sexuality within marriage, and different standards of pastoral application; and out of all of Christian teaching, this and this alone means that "it's Rome or the abyss."

    Nope, not buying it.

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    1. That and the nature of the papal office: just like any other bishop, or unique as a subset of church infallibility? The scope of the Pope is why the churches are on parallel tracks, so close but union will never happen unless one side gives in. Sacramentally they're the same so it's very doable but it probably won't happen. At most you'd get a split in Orthodoxy: more Greek Catholics, fewer Orthodox. (If the Patriarch of Constantinople converted for example.) As for contraception, my guess is the church is kind and views this error among the Orthodox like the dissent among Catholics. It gives the Orthodox churches the benefit of the doubt because they've never dogmatized heresy.

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  2. Really, we Orthodox allow contraception? You should tell that to my priest, who has 8 kids and publicly preaches against onanism as a terrible sin.

    Just because a majority of cradle Orthodox in America are more interested in being American than Orthodox (which leads to a whole bevy of unique pastoral problems) does not mean the Church has suddenly accepted contraception as an acceptable practice.

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  3. I have the sense that the Anglicans in general suffer from the problem that I recognized in what I believe was a numinous experience which also appeared to me to be God's answer to six months of prayer asking His guidance on when to leave the Episcopal Church and whither to repair (Rome or Constantinople). Even at the time of the experience, late September 2008, I was hardly able to put what I had understood into words, beyond mumbling something about the lack (at least operationally) of any reliable authority in Anglicanism.

    It was not until March 17, 2009, when I read that day's On the Square article, Benedict's Vatican II Hermeneutic at First Things, that its author, the Rev. Edward T. Oakes, SJ, cited the following from Newman, that I began have the words to explain half of what I had understood almost nonverbally some six months earlier:

    "The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation given, and other authority there is none but she. A revelation is not given if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given. . . . If Christianity is both social and dogmatic, and intended for all ages, it must humanly speaking have an infallible expounder. Else you will secure unity of form at the loss of unity of doctrine, or unity of doctrine at the loss of unity of form; you will have to choose between a comprehension of opinions and a resolution into parties, between latitudinarian and sectarian error. You may be tolerant or intolerant of contrarieties of thought, but contrarieties you will have. By the Church of England a hollow uniformity is preferred to an infallible chair; and by the sects of England an interminable division. Germany and Geneva began with persecution and have ended in scepticism. The doctrine of infallibility is a less violent hypothesis than this sacrifice either of faith or of charity. It secures the object, while it gives definiteness and force to the matter, of Revelation."

    The remaining words of the realization came some six months later, when I encountered the adage of St. Anselm of Canterbury: "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo, quia, nisi credidero, non intelligam," albeit in its English translation. The third part of the realization was that as an American of predominantly German ancestry who had come to a very Catholic understanding from 38+ years in the Episcopal Church, the cultural gulf to Rome was much smaller than that to Rome. I submitted a formal letter of resignation from the Episcopal Church and my parish on 28th September, 2008.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

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    1. Thanks for this.

      The third part of the realization was that as an American of predominantly German ancestry who had come to a very Catholic understanding from 38+ years in the Episcopal Church, the cultural gulf to Rome was much smaller than that to Rome.

      Should that be '... the cultural gulf to Rome was much smaller than that to Constantinople'?

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    2. I read Canterbury not Constantinople.

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  4. Re: the Latin quote from St. Anselm.

    Faith precedes reason but reason can flesh out faith--St. Anselm & St. Augustine. I wish I had said that. Well said St. Augustine, St. Anselm, and Martial Artist!

    Note that you (Martial Artist & YF) stated "cultural" gulf, not "religious" (as in faith gulf). Again, the Papacy aside (OK, a big aside), the doctrines of East & West can be harmonized if both sides drop their (I include all of 1,000+ years of historical separation) polemics, cultural antagonisms, etc., and let the Holy Spirit due His thing.

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  5. Sorry, that should have read "than to Constatinople."

    My apologies for the failure adequately to proofread the comment before pushing the "Publish" button.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

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  6. I agree with much of your article, but not where you say that Continuing Anglicans are trying to "recreate" the Episcopal Church. I would say they're trying to continue being what they have been (hence the name).

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