Archive for August, 2006

Anglican Formularies and Anglican Authority: Prolegomena (I)

August 22, 2006

It has been about six weeks since I posted anything substantial of my own (as opposed to lengthy quotations from someone else). This was due in the main to a combination of summer work and an all-too-brief vacation. But it also stemmed to a small degree from a lassitude that I cannot attribute to the summer heat wave. Rather, the aftermath of General Convention 06 brought on a certain weariness that must be akin to the feeling a Bostonian baseball fan must have about now after watching the Yankees complete a five game sweep at Fenway. Faithful North American Anglicans can certainly empathize with the Red Sox Nation.

Now, however, that the urge to type has returned, what to say? Not long ago, a reader asked me to write why I was still an Anglican and not Roman Catholic or Orthodox. Yet I remain reluctant to speak directly to the second part of that question, to write why I am not something, for various reasons.

Moreover, screeds on the internet like that of the retiring Bishop Swing of California a few weeks ago (“Communists, Counterfeiters, and Catholics”) no longer provoke in me the urge to respond to such venomous venting. What’s the point? The Episcopal Church is dead. The Pension Fund will just help defray the costs of the funeral. If people like Bishop Swing haven’t gotten the news yet, well, somebody else can tell them. Oh, I will still attend my parish for the forseeable future and see what happens—the larger story of Anglicanism is not yet over—but my heart is just not in railing at the Bennisons, Swings, Chanes, Brunos, Schoris and company any longer. Pointing out their errors and inconsistencies when, really, any intelligent teenager can see through them doesn’t even have the value of fun anymore. It certainly won’t do anything to save the Episcopal Church, because it is clearly beyond saving, and the various meetings of “Windsor bishops” only serve to underscore the point. All that is left is sorting out the legal technicalities of the impending divorce. That may take some time, but the outcome can no longer be in doubt.

Thus liberated, I want now rather to turn my attention to the former part of my commenter’s question: why be an Anglican? The crisis of Anglicanism is certainly not limited to North America. What is the nature of that crisis?

  • Of one thing I am certain : it is not a crisis over “justification.” Al Kimel has been chewing on that bit of spiritual gristle for a long time, and while I was sleeping (so to speak), the Pontificator posted an interesting piece on “the Grand Question” (as Richard Hooker put it), that which (in Hooker’s view) chiefly distinguished the Protestant from the Roman Catholic. This provoked a thread over on tituseonenine that eventually reached (as of today) 558 comments (a site record not likely to be soon passed). It was soooo tempting to join the fray, but I only became aware after it had been going on for awhile, and by the time I had resurfaced in mid-August from my deep dive, the thread already had over 200 comments and I was unable to escape from my summer torpor sufficiently to hurl myself into the discussion. Then suddenly classes began (absurdly early this year), there were syllabi to create, et cetera, so I let it go.

    It is not that I don’t have thoughts on the matter. However, contra Hooker and Al Kimel, I just don’t believe that justification is the “grand question.” Briefly (just to go all theological for a moment), questions of justification and sanctification, of regeneration, will and sacrament are ultimately questions of the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus was utterly free at both the Temptation in the wilderness and Gethsemane, yet utterly obedient. Christ is one with his Father, yet distinct not only in his person as Son, but eternally distinct (in a distinction willed by God) from divinity in his humanity, which included his will. Why else the distinction between the divine and human wills insisted on by the Fathers and given dogmatic authority in the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils (councils fully authoritative for Anglicans) that condemned monotheletism? And if that is so, and if Christ is both the model and the means for our salvation, then that salvation must somehow include making our wills like unto Christ, in the mystery of utter freedom and utter obedience, and yet utter union and utter dependence. Justification is a Chalcedonian issue.

    If then the debate between Catholic and Reformed (broadly speaking) is between what is termed a synergist vs. a monergist view of the relation between will and redemption, synergism must win. I stand by my formula: monergism = monotheletism = monophysitism = monism = heresy.

    One accepts either a monegist or a synergist view of humanity’s relationship to the will of God. One either views the Christian life primarily as a progressive psychological transformation or as (in the words of St Seraphim of Sarov) “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” One either understands baptism as an affirmation of that which has been predetermined or as a genuine act of God in infusing grace and regenerating the Christian. One regards the distinction between justification and sanctification as either real or notional. From what I can tell, both Hooker and Anglican formularies (Articles plus Prayer Book) ultimately come down on the latter side of each of those pairs, and the space between an Arminian and Trent is but a trickle, compared to the Nile that flows between the Catholic and the Calvinist.

    Moreover, once two people—say, one Roman Catholic, the other Protestant—have accepted the latter side of my set of contrasts, then, while there might still be differences (and important ones at that), they are on the same page and it is a matter of working out emphases and a common terminology; whereas if our two theoretical believers continue to hold one to one set, the other to the other, no amount of discussion will settle the matter. The Catholic believer will continue to regard the distinction between justification and sanctification as notional, not real, while the Protestant will hold that any talk of regeneration in baptism (or the presence of Christ in the eucharist, et cetera) is notional, not real. Protestantism is nominalism redux, and I’ll take Catholic notions over Protestant ones.

    This is not to say that notional distinctions are unimportant. They can be very important. St Paul is full of them (see the eighth chapter of Romans). But it is to say that a notional distinction is only notional because it exists in our minds, which are finite; and that when it comes to justification and sanctification (or deification, theosis), because these are in the final analysis actions of God, who is infinite, and not men, who are not, the distinction between them is ultimately insubstantial, rooted in the mystery of the incarnation.

  • So no, the issue is not justification. Al is closer to the mark when (taking a cue from Canterbury Tales) he quotes Hillaire Belloc:

    Thus, one Protestant may affirm, as do the English Puseyites, the truth of all the doctrines underlying the Mass—the Real Presence, the Sacrifrice, the sacerdotal power of consecration, etc.—another Protestant may affirm that all such conceptions are false, yet both these Protestants are Protestant because they communicate in the fundamental conception that the Church is not a visible, definable and united personality, that there is no central infallible authority, and that therefore each is free to choose his own set of doctrines.

    One could as easily say that about justification as the Mass, and today the Anglican must ask himself, is that true? The “grand question” is thus not justification but authority. It is not soteriology, but ecclesiology. Do we have one?

  • Paul Zahl, the Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, has recently mused about ecclesiology. According to Dean Zahl,

    Both “low church” and “high church” have failed in their project of renewing or re-orienting the Episcopal Church to the values of a passionately understood Gospel and a passionately felt ecclesiology. The reason we know we have failed is because of this institution which has been judged so tangibly by the judgment of God . . .

    To put in another way, the Episcopal Church has frustrated our ecclesiologies both Catholic and Protestant. The facts of how things have turned out have made it necessary to say that “all bets are off” in relation to ecclesiological hopes on this particular institution. It is a shocking fact, yet one that is impossible to deny from the empirical record.

    Here Zahl is completely correct. However, he goes on to say,

    What I do know, clutching my 1928 Prayer Book to my bosom, is that ecclesiology of any type has been called into question by the record of recent times in the Episcopal Church.

    To give Dean Zahl credit, he does not say that the various schools of Anglican ecclesiology have failed, but that faithful Anglicans (presumably including himself) have failed to renew the Episcopal Church in the light of their respective ecclesiologies. However, he goes too far when he states that “ecclesiology of any type” (emphasis mine) has been called into question. In the words of Article XIX, “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” No ecclesiology that denies to any particular, local church an infallible authority can ever be said to fail, for the simple reason that the possibility of apostasy is inherent in the very denial of infallible authority. In fact, an ecclesiology cannot fail even if it does assign an infallible authority to a particular locus or local church. The only ecclesiology which does that is Roman Catholic; and since by Roman Catholic definition the dogmatic decrees of that church which maintains communion with the bishop of Rome are infallible, then the question of apostasy quickly becomes circular.

  • So, is there an Anglican ecclesiology? Where is our authority? That is the question I want to examine. But before I do that, I must write a note of caution. Allow me to wander off topic for a moment as I end this post with a note of intellectual humility

    A few years ago, the university system in the state where I work changed its calendar from the old quarter system to the more widely used semester system. While most faculty (including myself) thought this was a good thing, administrators at my institution decided that, rather than simply transfer the courses from the old calendar to the new, this was the moment for a root-and-branch reconsideration of the entire “core curriculum,” that menu of options from which all students, no matter their particular course of study, had to choose. So, in the case of the history department, whereas previously all students had been required to take either the first part of western civilization (down to about 1500 AD) or the second (1500 to present), now all students were required to take only the second part of world civilization (from 1453 to the present). The former first part (now world civ I) only survived as a requirement for history majors, minors and a few others. “World Civ I” was drastically reduced in enrollments, and I was required to teach “World Civ II” as well, covering areas and periods of which my knowledge was sketchy (to put it kindly), in which I had never been trained, and for which I had not been hired.

    Suddenly, I was personally responsible for all of human history from australopithecus to Dubya. I was afraid. Very afraid. But then . . .

    I had a dream . . .

    In my dream, I was giving my standard lecture on the Reformation of the 16th century. I rolled through the various figures—Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, the Tudors, Charles V, Ignatius et alii—with ease and authority. I explained the issues and their consequences—indulgences, justification, sola scriptura, Trent et cetera—with clarity and insight. The students, when they weren’t taking careful notes, sat back and listened with respectful awe.

    At the end, there was scattered applause, and one student came up to me and asked, “Gee, so what are you? Some kinda Reformation scholar or something?”

    I smiled and responded, “No . . . but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!”

  • I am not a theologian. I am a historian. Moreover, my training is in such areas as Roman history, late antiquity, early Christianity and papyrology. It does not include theology per se, or the Reformation, or even Anglicanism. I’ll take the fourth century over the sixteenth any day. Yet in posts to come, I will be differing with men such as Peter Toon and Ephraim Radner and Bishop N. T. Wright on the one hand, and bloggers such as Al Kimel and Michael Liccione on the other, men who have far greater authority in these areas than I do. But differ I must. I will do so, however, in a different spirit (I hope) than I did when I thought it worthwhile to argue with the likes of +Lee of Virginia or +Alexander of Atlanta. I would rather quarrel with friends and be instructed by my betters than fight a battle already lost.

    to be continued . . .