by Alvin Kimel


The ever thoughtful Episcopal theologian, Albertus Parvus (aka William Witt), whose namesake apparently argued for the equilibrium of earth and seas (no doubt a very important thing to believe), has taken the Pontificator to task (see comments #12). Yes, my dear friends, he has indeed. Such hutzpah. I love it. I am also very grateful that a person of such keen intellect would actually take my pontifications seriously. Thank you.

Albertus has advanced the provocative thesis that the Pontificator and the revisionists are at one on one crucial issue–namely … hmmmm, I’m not exactly sure. I can hazard a guess, but I do not want to put my words into the pen of dear friend Albertus. But let’s continue …

Albertus writes: “By your logic, the revisionism in ECUSA is a direct result of its Protestantism.” Yes, that is my logic and my argument. There is an inherent theological and ecclesiological flaw in Protestantism that makes it helpless in the face of neo-Gnostic modernity. My unoriginal diagnosis of our disease: the absence of magisterium–the absence of a true teaching office and the absence of an authoritative tradition. Consequently, Protestantism is unable to effectively defend Holy Scripture against idiosyncratic and hostile interpretations. Is it accidental to Protestant identity that Protestants find themselves incapable of dogmatically asserting the fullness of catholic faith? Is it sufficient to say that only if we would be true to our Reformation principles we would produce orthodox teaching and practice? But the problem is that many Anglicans, just like Lutherans and Reformed, do not believe that their adherence to either Holy Scripture or Anglican identity requires them to produce orthodox teaching and practice. And let’s face it. The problem goes back right to the first days of the Elizabethan Settlement, when it was decided that Anglicanism would not authoritatively confess the historic catholic teaching on the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

Albertus rightly notes that some of the best biblical theology being written today is being written by Protestants, which of course proves absolutely nothing. The best biblical theology of the past 100 years has always been written by Protestants. That doesn’t change the fact that we now find ourselves in a heretical denomination. And it’s not just ECUSA. The churches of the Reformation, arms locked together, are marching right into apostasy–that is the point. And it is this fact that cries out for explanation.

Albertus writes:

The great betrayal on the American scene seems to stem not from a faithfulness to the Reformation, but from a fuzzy affirming Catholicism.

Despite the high profile of +Griswold and ++Williams, this seems to be empirically false. I very much doubt that more than a small minority of Episcopal priests would identify themselves as affirming catholics. Our clergy aren’t affirming catholics; they are liberal Protestants. (Of course, affirming catholics are simply liberal Prots in catholic drag.) Who has been the single most influential theologian among Episcopal clerics over the past forty years? Paul Tillich! And everyone who has read Tillich remembers his Protestant principle:

What makes Protestantism Protestant is the fact that it transcends its own religious and confessional character, that it cannot be identified wholly with any of its particular historical forms.

Is it any surprise that we find it so difficult to maintain the catholic substance of the apostolic faith when we are confronted and seduced by a worldview that tells us that historically binding divine revelation cannot occur?

The real question is, What does it mean to be faithful to the Reformation? Whose Reformation? Are we talking about faithfulness to content, method, or the English monarch? Albertus refers us to the northeast SEAD statement on hermeneutics. It’s an impressive statement. The basic thesis of the document is that contemporary support for homosex and same-sex unions violates the plain sense of Scripture, as interpreted via Anglican hermeneutical principles. I do not disagree. Yet I do not believe that this statement meets the challenge now facing us. The authors affirm their conviction that Scripture, interpreted in the light of an authoritative tradition, rejects homosexual practice. To reach another conclusion is to call into question the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. To which the Anglican revisionist responds, Who gave you the right and authority to tell us what it means to be an Anglican and how we should interpret the Bible? The SEAD statement says its emphatic NO over against revisionist heremeneutics; but its NO simply amounts to saying “We don’t think that genuine Anglicans could ever interpret Scripture in such a way.” We can shout the names of Cranmer, Hooker, and Andrewes until we are blue in the face; but why do their theological and hermeneutical positions have decisive authority over us today? What should they have greater authority for us than any other Episcopal theologian and writer. Who is going to authoritatively tell us differently?

Contrary to the SEAD statement, Anglicanism does not truly have an authoritative tradition. Yes, we have secondary authorities; but they are secondary for a good reason–they do not function as infallible guides. As Article XXI reminds us, all general councils “may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God”–and this applies to all our secondary authorities. Bottomline: We are Protestants, just like the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Church of the Brethren. Sola scriptura and private judgment. And our contemporary judgment always trumps the past.

The Episcopal Church is a denomination, and we have not yet faced the intellectual and practical consequences of being a denomination. “A denomination is constantly being remade by its members,” George Weigel writes. “A denomination is something we help create by joining it.” We Episcopalians do not understand ourselves as being the Church. We are one choice in the ecclesiastical menu. This conviction is most clearly revealed in our comprehension of the Episcopal office. Though we may believe that the historic Episcopate is “a gift from God,” we have, for the most part, been unwilling to “un-church” those denominations that lack this office. As Bishop Stephen Sykes avers:

But Anglicanism is unable to offer a consistent theory of its own episcopacy unless it is willing to urge that in every place where there is an Anglican bishop, that bishop and not the Roman Catholic or Orthodox bishops is the true symbol of unity. Since the Anglican church has never claimed that in it alone is there to be found the fulness of the church, it follows that the theological interpretation of its episcopate is necessarily the interpretation of a partial and broken symbol of the continuity of faith.

In other words, Anglicanism is not the Church. It is a lower-case church. (Or maybe Vatican II is right and we are best described as an “ecclesial body.”) Anglican theologians of course, have advanced and will continue to advance their individual, and often conflicting, theories about what it means to be the Anglican church, just as they have advanced and will continue to advance their theories on the nature of the Episcopal office. Dreamers dream dreams. But these theories do not constitute our ecclesial identity; they do not express reality. “Too much Anglican writing about bishops,” Sykes remarks, “is about the episcopacy of a church which does not exist.” The same thing can be said about most Anglican articles and books about what it means to be Anglican.

Is it not time to put away our dreams about a mythical Anglicanism and simply ask, Are we a catholic Church? When I converted to the Episcopal Church in 1975, I did so in the (mistaken) conviction that the Episcopal Church belonged to a communion that was a branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. Yes, I know. It’s a romantic concoction dreamed up by the Tractarians. But it was this vision that led a young man to the priesthood. As you might imagine, I am thus quite sympathetic to G. K. Chesterton’s search for a true catholicism:

The Church is a house with a hundred gates; and no two men enter at exactly the same angle. Mine was at least as much Agnostic as Anglican, though I accepted for a time the borderland of Anglicanism; but only on the assumption that it could really be Anglo-Catholicism. There is a distinction of ultimate intention there which in the vague English atmosphere is often missed. It is not a difference of degree but of definite aim. There are High Churchmen as much as Low Churchmen who are concerned first and last to save the Church of England. Some of them think it can be saved by calling it Catholic, or making it Catholic, or believing that it is Catholic; but that is what they want to save. But I did not start out with the idea of saving the English Church, but of finding the Catholic Church. If the two were one, so much the better; but I had never conceived of Catholicism as a sort of showy attribute or attraction to be tacked on to my own national body, but as the inmost soul of the true body, wherever it might be.

Where is the catholic Church to be found? Is denominationalism truly the will of our Lord?

25 April 2004


Each evening from December to December
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.
Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story;
And tell it strong and clear if he has not:
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

Catholic Anglicans, more so, I think, than our fellow Anglican brothers and sisters, have lived on a dream of what Anglicanism might be, a dream of what Anglicanism, by the grace of God, should be, would be, will be. I revisited this dream yesterday while perusing a book I had not read since my seminary days–Christian Community (1960) by J. V. Langmead Casserley.

Casserley is clear that Anglicanism cannot be defined by its past. Anglicanism as it now is and is becoming is not what was intended by Archbishop Cranmer and the English Reformers, nor can Anglicanism be identified with its classical incarnation in the Caroline Divines. Casserley interprets the history of the Anglican Communion as one of compromise and synthesis. It may well have started out in the Elizabethen settlement as a middle way between the evangelical and the catholic, but its true promise lies in a synthesis and comprehension of the two, thus enabling the recovery of the wholeness of the catholic faith. Anglicanism is the proposal, asserts Casserley, “to contain the validities of the Reformation protest within the context of Catholic institutions.” We must become both utterly catholic and utterly evangelical:

We must move on from merely being what we are in Anglicanism to becoming genuinely Anglican, to becoming what we must become if the promise of Anglicanism is to be fulfilled. We can only move on from being either catholic or evangelical in Anglicanism by realising in our spiritual lives, as well as in our thought and outlook, the integrity of Anglicanism by becoming both catholic and evangelical at the same time, not merely bridging but eliminating the gap between the two extremes. It is not enough for catholic and evangelical convictions to co-exist in one Church, they must co-exist in one churchman. Such a development is neither so hazardous nor so difficult as it sounds, for genuine Catholicity is not the negation of evangelical Christianity, just as truly evangelical Christianity is not the negation of the catholic faith and life. The truth is not to be found at the point at which the extremes separate–for that point is the dreary, tragic division between Catholic and Protestant which is the stark reality in every other area of Christendom apart from Anglicanism–but the point where the extremes meet, that is in Anglicanism.

Casserley can even go so far as to declare that “ultimately the destiny of Anglicanism is the destiny of Christendom.”

Living Anglicans, suggests Casserley, can be helpfully divided into three groups. First there are those who would be just as happy, if Anglicanism did not exist, to be Presbyterians or Methodists. Then there are those who would be just as happy to be Roman Catholics. (This latter group, I suspect, has dwindled to near-extinction since the destruction of the Roman rite.) And finally there are those who, finding both Romanism and Protestantism “too appalling even to contemplate,” would have no spiritual home if Anglicanism did not exist. It is in this third group that Casserley, like so many of us today, located himself. Casserley goes on to say, however, that this third group must be distinguished from the actual majority of Anglicans who still see Anglicanism as a middle-way between Catholicism and Protestantism. This majority, in Casserley’s judgment, forms “the least significant group and have least to contribute.”

Let me ‘fess up right now. This is the vision that has guided me for twenty-four years of ordained ministry. I have sought, theologicaly, pastorally, and spiritually, to be both catholic and evangelical.

It’s a wonderful vision. Casserley attributes much of it to F. D. Maurice. I personally encountered it in the person and teachings of Michael Ramsey when I was in seminary. Consciously and unconsciously, this vision has driven my ministry for over two decades. But it is time to admit that the vision was a dream without basis in reality, a delusion that refused to acknowledge both the critical theological flaws of the Reformation and the inherent instability of the Anglican project.

I’m sure by now you have already seen the two big flaws in Casserley’s version of the dream. First, he ignores the liberal/modernist party within Anglicanism. Perhaps one might plead dating. The book, after all, was written in the late fifties, and things still looked pretty good for the Episcopal Church back then–at least so I am told. I suppose it is unfair to criticize a theologian for not foreseeing the theological and ecclesial consequences of liberal Protestantism within his own tradition, especially when it comes vestured in alb and chasuble. But certainly the danger signs were there. They were clear enough in the nineteen forties when Dorothy Sayers wrote Creed or Chaos. They were clear enough in the eighteen thirties when John Henry Newman preached against the liberal exaltation of human reason over divine revelation. Second, Casserley pointedly dismisses the via media majority as insignificant for Anglican identity. Such dismissal is theologically understandable–but also politically naive. We should first ask why this tepid middle prefers the tepid middle. The via media is via media precisely because it rejects the two vital extremes of Anglicanism. It prefers a religion that is doctrinally fuzzy, courteous, temperate, and not too demanding. Newman’s evaluation of the Church of England well over a century ago still applies to the Anglican silent majority:

Religion is pleasant and easy; benevolence is the chief virtue; intolerance, bigotry, excess of zeal, are the first of sins … it includes no true fear of God, no fervent zeal for His honour, no deep hatred of sin, no horror at the sight of sinners, no indignation and compassion at the blasphemies of heretics, no jealous adherence to doctrinal truth … and therefore is neither hot nor cold, but (in Scripture language) lukewarm.

It is the via media that has proven impotent before the ideological zeal of modernity and thus has proven decisive for Anglican identity in the “global North.”

Consider what has happened to us and now read these words of Casserley:

The hope of Anglicanism lies in the union and fusion of the out and out Evangelicals and the out and out Anglo-Catholics, not in some kind of future triumph of the central churchmen, which, and I say this most piously and charitably, may God Himself forbid!

May God forbid, indeed! Unfortunately, what God has forbidden has already happened. Casserley did not foresee the cultural victory of modernity among the central churchmen, could not foresee that the latitudinarian via media would be captured by the ideology of inclusivity that excludes the evangelical and catholic gospel. The Battle of Camlann has been fought and lost. We have now only the myth of Camelot.

24 May 2004


Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

But there never was a Camelot. As we saw in The Death of Camelot, Langmead Casserley advanced a vision of a future Anglicanism where evangelical and catholic would be comprehended in a true synthesis, producing an Anglicanism embodying the fullness of the catholic faith. This future assumes, of course, that the two parties are in fact complementary and reconcilable.

The evangelical concern, Casserley believed, is the claim that we are justified before God by faith. Properly formulated, the teaching of Martin Luther on justification is thoroughly catholic:

The slightly ambiguous phrase “justification by faith” does not properly mean that I am justified by my faith (regarded as a kind of internal spiritual work). On the contrary justification by faith means that it is my faith that Christ and Christ alone is my justifier. Good works may indeed follow as an expression of faith, as a testimony of my gratitude to my Saviour, but the good works are nevertheless not the cause of my salvation. It is Christ and Christ alone who saves me…. There can be no doubt that in this matter Luther was speaking out of the heart of the catholic tradition. His intention was to reassert radically what we may call the Christo-centric principle. Salvation is through Christ and Christ alone. Had Luther selected for his slogan the phrase Christe solo instead of fide sola the subsequent difficulties might well have been avoided.

Justification by faith is best understood, according to Casserley, as the radical assertion of salvation through Christ and Christ alone–and thus grace alone. And if this is what Luther meant by “justification by faith,” then the informed Catholic will agree, as evidenced by the Lutheran/Catholic statement on justification. One question immediately arises: Is Casserley correct that the Reformation sola fide is reducible to the solus Christus? He may be, but I seriously doubt that the evangelical would agree. But if he does, then a second question arises: Will the evangelical be satisfied by this agreement on “salvation is by Christ alone”? And here I think the answer is: No. The evangelical Anglican still requires emphatic agreement on the sola scriptura. To this principle the Anglo-Catholic cannot subscribe.

The evangelical asserts the final and absolute authority of Holy Scripture, under the Lordship of Christ, over all other creaturely authorities. God’s Word written cannot be bound to Tradition or to any other human authority. It must be allowed to stand free to prophetically judge the teachings and practices of the Church. And it is this principle which justifies continued separation from Rome and Constantinople. The catholic Anglican will agree to the material sufficiency of Holy Scripture; but he cannot agree to its formal sufficiency. Scripture, we maintain, is not self-interpreting. It can only be properly read through the hermeneutical lens of the creeds, sacraments, and Ecumenical councils. Otherwise, we end up precisely with the kind of theological chaos we are now experiencing. It is therefore difficult to see how the evangelical and the catholic can ever merge to become Casserley’s new, true, and better Anglican.

In his 1983 essay “Whither Anglican Theology?” Eric Mascall discusses the three school theory of Anglicanism–the evangelical, the liberal, and the catholic.

The fundamental incoherence of the three-school theory can be seen from the obvious fact that the existence of each one of the schools can be justified only on the assumption that its characteristic theological assertions are true. But in that case the characteristic theological assertions of all the three schools must be mutually compatible. And in that case there is no reason why we should not accept them all and a great many reasons why we should. But then what will have happened to the three schools? It is quite ridiculous to envisage the Church as a tricorporate society, each of whose parts is committed to holding one third of the truth. Regrettable as this no doubt is, it is because each school has not been convinced that everything that the others were holding was part of the truth that the schools have remained recognisably distinct.

For several decades Anglican apologists have been proclaiming the virtues of Anglican comprehensiveness. We have been told that it is the genius of Anglicanism to contain within itself, in creative tension, evangelical, catholic, liberal, and now modernist elements in a common search for the truth of God, in the confidence that these elements will be eventually reconciled by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this phantasy was innocuous forty years ago, but in the hands of a Griswold it becomes demonic. Is it not time for us to call this vision of comprehensiveness for what it truly is? A few words come immediately to mind: hokum … hogwash … baloney … claptrap … poppycock. (Where’s my thesaurus when I need it?)

The ideology of Anglican comprehensiveness is simply an impressive way of hiding the internal contradictions of our denomination. “Lots of contradictory things may be said to be complementary,” writes Bishop Stephen Sykes, “by those with a vested interest in refusing to think straight” (The Integrity of Anglicanism [1978]). The real truth is that up until very recently the Anglican genius simply lay in its ability to contain within itself various individuals with opposed and contradictory (and sometimes heretical) views. Comprehensiveness is a verbal sleight of hand that seeks to make a virtue of what was and has always been a political necessity and historical accident. As has often been noted, Anglicanism began as an act of state, not as an act of ecclesial and theological reformation. In his theological history of Anglicanism, The Panther and the Hind (1993), Fr Aidan Nichols finally concludes that Anglicanism is one church of several different and irreconcilable churches. This is far closer to the truth, I think, than the myth of comprehensiveness.

Catholic and evangelical agree on most of the core doctrines of the apostolic faith, but will probably never agree on the nature of authority, sacraments, eucharistic presence and sacrifice, and the necessity of the historic Episcopate. Catholic and evangelical also agree on the nature of divine revelation and thus find themselves sharing a common front against the modernist on the role of reason and personal experience. Of course, as long as everyone stayed within the Prayer Book liturgy and did not publicly attack the inherited tradition, we could all pretend that we shared a common faith in search for a common truth. But now the gig is up. The more +Griswold talks and writes, the more obvious it is that he and his fellow revisionists are speaking a different religion.

Because of this inherent instability in the Anglican structure, orthodox believers who remain in ECUSA determined to fight the good fight are, I think, fooling themselves, though I respect and honor their perseverance. What precisely are we fighting for? For a return to the uneasy compromises and accomodations of the good ole days? for a denomination purged of the liberals and modernists? for Casserley’s mythological Camelot? Four hundred and fifty years of Anglican phantasy is long enough.

26 May 2004


Crystal Ball
by Alvin Kimel

If anything, the present theological crisis is forcing clarity upon us. For that, I suppose, we should be grateful. The Anglican muddle is no longer a viable Anglican option. We may wax nostaligic about the good ole days when the Episcopal Church was “a refuge of moderation, openness, inclusiveness, thoughtfulness and faithfulness”; but the good ole days are long gone and not to be recovered. I suspect they never existed anyway.

I believe that we only have three real futures now before us.

Our first possible future: We can join the revisionist party (in both senses of the word). This means embracing a liberal Protestant hermeneutic that places the “religious” experience of the individual–let’s call it “continuing revelation”—at the heart of our theological reflection. All other authorities, whether Scripture or tradition, are ultimately subordinated to what the Spirit of God is telling us today. If we are affirming-catholic minded, we might also stipulate a place for communal judgment and discernment, though as Griswold and company have made clear, submission to communal discernment is a local affair indeed.

The boundaries of revisionist Anglicanism are fluid, flexible, supple, porous—except when it comes to political and social issues. Revisionists may have profound intellectual doubts about a transcendent deity, the unique Incarnation of the eternal Son of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and a trustworthy written witness to divine revelation; but they have no doubts whatsoever about abortion rights, homosexual marriages, identifying deity in female terms, the evils of American military power, and the moral necessity of never permitting a congregation to leave the institutional church with its assets. Beneath the veneer of inclusivity and tolerance, there lies the cobra that will defend its territory at all costs and will expend all its energy and wealth to extend that territory. Revisionist Anglicanism is neo-gnostic, ideological, illiberal, ruthless, and antagonistic to all forms of dogmatic Christianity. Neuhaus’s Law is amply confirmed in the common life of every revisionist diocese: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

The large majority of ECUSA bishops have decided to hang their pointy hats on the revisionist future. This includes all those who voted against the election of Gene Robinson but who have decided to make peace with the majority position (our so-called “moderates”). Precisely because neo-gnosticism is the default religiosity of contemporary American culture—and of the Episcopal Church—the refusal to take a firm stand against heresy must inevitably mean the adoption of heresy. We get gently swept along, and eventually we find ourselves in a warm, quiet, tranquilizing pond we do not recognize but which is oh so very pleasant. How much nicer it is not having to be constantly swimming against the current. Slowly we become aware of our previous closed-mindedness. Our prior insensitivity horrifies us. How could we have been so intolerant? Before we know it, the process is complete. We have become Episcopal pod people.

Our second possible future: We can fully embrace an evangelical, free-church identity which just happens to include bishops. Anglican evangelicals explicitly uphold the claims of historic divine revelation. They share a common commitment to the central assertions of the Nicene Creed, but are fluid on most everything else. Certainly evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are light years apart on sacramental efficacy; and when it comes to questions of church order, evangelicals are willing to radically adapt ecclesial structures to historical and geographical conditions–as evidenced, for example, by the eagerness to adopt nongeographical episcopal oversight and to move toward lay eucharistic presidency. On moral issues, evangelicals are, like most American Protestants, all over the place—except when it comes to sexuality. They believe that the Scriptures are clear and definitive on sexual morality.

But one has to wonder about evangelicalism’s ability to withstand the corrosive acids of modernity. Last week a friend of mine shared that he believed that evangelicalism and revisionism are flip-sides of the same coin. An unsettling thought. At first glance it seems ridiculous. Evangelicals affirm the infallible authority of Holy Scripture; revisionists subordinate Scripture to the continuing revelation of God in human experience. They are in two different ball parks altogether—yet … they are united in the act of “private judgment.” Scripture has to be interpreted. Its plain meaning, for us today, is not always perspicuous. Ultimately only the Spirit can lead us into a correct understanding of the biblical witness. Only the Spirit can show us which parts of the Scripture speak directly and authoritatively to us today and which parts are culturally conditioned and limited. The Spirit did after all lead us into a new understanding of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. Perhaps, just perhaps, he may eventually lead us into a new and deeper understanding of human sexuality. Let’s give our favorite gnostic Affirming Catholic his due. +Grizzie really and truly believes that homosexual unions are authorized by a “right” reading of the Bible. Apart from an authoritative tradition and magisterium (of some sort), how can any form of evangelicalism rationally maintain the orthodox faith against the revisionist-biblical attack. As I asked back in early April, Who will defend Scripture?

Evangelicals are at peace with American denominationalism. Their attachment to Anglicanism is basically a matter of preference and style. It’s the rare evangelical who would agree with the Anglo-Catholic that the historic episcopate belongs to the esse of the Church. Perhaps they find themselves attracted to the liturgy, adapted, of course, for praise music. Perhaps they find themselves attracted to Anglicanism’s connection to historic tradition, purified, of course, of all medieval and Roman corruptions. Perhaps their minds and hearts have been captured by the three-streams vision of Anglicanism, a vision first articulated, I believe, by Michael Harper way back in the seventies—Anglicanism as a creative synthesis of the catholic, evangelical, and charismatic streams of Christian faith and life. It’s an enchanting dream. It promises a way to transcend past denominational differences. Here is a future worth the investment of our lives. But it shares the same critical weakness of Langmead Casserley’s earlier proposal of a future Anglicanism as a “union and fusion of the out and out Evangelicals and the out and out Anglo-Catholics.” Both visions flow from, and are deformed by, the 16th century Reformation experience. Neither are grounded in historical ecclesial realities; neither are rooted in a living tradition of faith. Both are attempts to invent a “church” that has never existed and thus to provide intellectual justification for Anglicanism’s continued existence. Both are unreal, fantastical, utopian. I am reminded of John Henry Newman’s admission in 1837 that his presentation of an Anglican via media was purely imaginative: “Protestantism and Popery are real religions; no one can doubt about them; they have furnished the mould in which nations have been cast: but the Via Media, viewed as an integral system, has never had existence except on paper.”

The decision of the evangelical to remain within the Episcopal Church is finally a pragmatic decision. Perhaps he might decide to follow Ephraim Radner’s counsel to stay within the present structures in witness to the crucifying love of our Lord—evangelicalism’s inherent congregationalism certainly permits such a course—but I suspect that he will not heed this counsel, at least not for long. Evangelical tolerance of heretical bishops and priests has its limits (thank God!). Most importantly, evangelicalism thrives on mission and the creation of new congregations. It has long been noted that Protestantism breeds division and sectarianism. What perhaps has been overlooked in all of this is the evangelical thrill of starting new congregations. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the new life of a new church. When a church is spiritually alive, when the large majority of church members are excited about their faith and are committed to discipleship and mission, when Bible studies are packed, when the congregation sings the hymns with gusto and enthusiasm … well … all I can say, speaking as a pastor, is that church actually becomes a blessing instead of a burden. And practically speaking, “liveliness” and commitment is easier to generate in a new congregation than in one that’s been around for decades. As one evangelical bishop recently told me, “It’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead.” The problem, though, is that first-generation churches eventually become humdrum, culturally-accomodated third-generation churches—and we end up right back where we are now. Ultimately, evangelicalism lives by the revolution that initially created it and which it must ever seek to replicate.

We can expect evangelical Anglicanism to forge even deeper bonds with non-Episcopal evangelical denominations and ministries in the years ahead. We already invite all the baptized to the Episcopal altar. The next logical step is to publicly acknowledge the absence of decisive evangelical reasons why Episcopalians should not be free, if invited, to share in the Lord’s Supper of any Protestant (orthodox) congregation. After all, the Holy Spirit is not bound to ecclesiastical, man-made boundaries and rules …

What of the future of typical Episcopal churchmanship in the decades ahead? As Bill Witt recently commented:
I am being patient, and waiting with baited breath for your third installment, but so far I do not recognize your possible futures as likely possibilities for any of the parishes I have attended in the twenty odd years I have been an Episcopalian. And I have lived in four dioceses. Nor do I recognize it as a likely future for the ten to fifteen clergy (and their congregations) I meet with once a month at our local Northeast SEAD gathering. We?ve been meeting for five years. Nor have I seen it in my yearly pilgrimages to the Holy City where SEAD(ACI) holds its annual conferences. (I just can?t imagine Ephraim Radner being slain in the Spirit. Perhaps a lack of imagination on my part.) What I do see is a lot of traditional Anglicans, more happy with George Herbert than John Calvin, with more affinities to Richard Hooker than John Henry Newman, who are committed to the preservation of an historic reforming catholicism grounded in scripture, the creeds, the Daily Office, and Prayer Book worship.

Sadly, and tragically, I do not foresee a viable orthodox future in the Episcopal Church for the individuals and parishes Dr. Witt identifies. Within twenty years the priests to whom he refers will have retired or died. They will not be replaced by like-minded priests. When parochial vacancies arise, the bishop and clergy-deployment officer will be and are quick to insinuate themselves into the call process and manipulate it to a satisfactory conclusion. All it takes is the institution of one “moderate” rector, someone portrayed as capable of bringing “the parish together,” and what had once been an orthodox congregation quickly finds itself surrendering to the new “orthodoxy.” We have seen this happen all too often over the past twenty years, to the grief and anguish of faithful parish priests who have watched their life’s work destroyed in a matter months. Several years ago Bishop Edward Salmon shared with me his conviction that it is almost impossible in the long run for traditional congregations in revisionist dioceses to maintain their traditional identities. It is difficult to long stand against the combined power of episcopate and culture. Parishes invariably choose to identify themselves with the bishop and wider diocese.

Revisionist bishops are not sending their postulants to Nashotah House and Trinity, the last two orthodox seminaries, nor are they ordaining anyone who does not pass their ideological litmus tests.

On a diocesan level, it is questionable how long the various Network dioceses will be able to maintain their opposition to current ECUSA policies. Every orthodox diocese is only one episcopal election away from disaster. Certainly it is doubtful that the House of Bishops and Standing Committees will approve the election of someone with strong traditional, much less catholic, convictions. Will the Network dioceses be willing to proceed with the consecration of an elected priest without the requisite canonical approvals, perhaps with support from Africa? A few might (Fort Worth? Pittsburgh? South Carolina?); but I’d wager that most will not. The Network is a fragile coalition. Howe and Herzog, for example, have publicly stated that they will never lead their dioceses out of ECUSA. I suspect that over the course of the next year we are going to learn that most Episcopalians really do not care whether we belong to the Anglican Communion or not.

Perhaps it is the very virtues of classical Anglicanism that ill-serve us at this time. The typical Episcopal congregation has tended to embody “English” values of moderation, rationality, openness, sobriety, and respect for institutional authority. These values can make for gracious communities; but they also tend to discourage the passion and conviction necessary to effectively maintain counter-cultural, counter-diocesan Christian identity. Few ordinary Episcopal congregations are willing to clearly define themselves over against their bishops. Even fewer are willing to renounce their property and assets and start all over.

But what about the church of George Herbert and John Donne? Will it disappear? Tragically, the church of Herbert and Donne disappeared the moment Anglicans abandoned the elegant, hieratic prose of Thomas Cranmer. Surely what was unclear to us in the late seventies is now clear today: Classical Anglicanism is embodied in, and mediated by, the liturgies and prayers descended, directly or indirectly, from the pen of Cranmer. To be “Anglican” simply is to be a Christian who has been formed by the Great Litany, the General Confession, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the psalms of Coverdale. It is within this Prayer Book discourse that Donne and Herbert, Hooker, Andrewes and Taylor all have their place and significance. Once we moved to a contemporary idiom, classical Anglicanism was lost forever and a new Anglicanism was created.

The style of the new Anglicanism continues to attract aesthetically-inclined members of the new class. The Episcopal liturgy continues to be celebrated with grace and loveliness. Choirs ensure that Anglican chant is not lost. The Daily Offices are said. The poetry of Donne and Herbert are quoted in our pulpits. And snippets of Richard Hooker are read, and misread, by clergy eager to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of Anglicanism over against fundamentalist alternatives. I do not expect these churches to flourish; but I certainly do expect them to secure a boutique niche within their respective religious markets.

This is the present and future church of Herbert and Donne–a church of liturgy, the arts, Prayer Book spirituality, and an encompassing message of God’s inclusive love–but also a church with a theological difference. It is an Anglicanism that fudges the boundaries of orthodoxy and heresy, an Anglicanism that reflects the multi-cultural ideology of first-world culture. Traditional orthodox conviction will only be tolerated as private opinion, as orthodox parish priests around the country are now discovering. It is this future, the future of revisionist Anglicanism, that will be the future of those traditional Episcopal congregations now struggling to preserve a “historic reforming catholicism.” It’s oh so very easy to move from “historic reforming catholicism” to “revisionist reforming catholicism.” The externals remain the same. One hardly notices the difference …

Our third possible future: Hmmm … is there a third future? Surely there must be a possible catholic future to go along with our revisionist and evangelical futures. I suppose it all depends on how one defines catholic. Quite frankly, I do not any longer know what it means to be a “catholic” Anglican. Everyone claims the title yet with no agreement on its significance and implications. There are decisive differences between catholicism as understood by Newman, Pusey, and Hall and catholicism as understood by Hooker, the Caroline Divines, F. D. Maurice, and William Temple. Some of these differences are noted by David Curry in his article The Recovery of Reformed Catholicism. There are even greater differences when Thomas Cranmer, John Jewel, Charles Simeon, and J. C. Ryle are brought into the mix. Reformed catholicism? Take your pick.

For four hundred and fifty years, Anglicanism has been a religion in search of an identity. In his book The Anglican Spirit Michael Ramsey concludes that what distinguishes us from all other churches is not doctrine but vocation. To be Anglican is live out in history and culture the appeal to Scripture, tradition, and reason. Twenty-five years later, standing in the midst of the ruins, Ramsey’s vision of a special Anglican vocation no longer convinces. A more realistic and accurate assessment is given by Aidan Nichols: Anglicanism is three distinct and irreconcilable churches that just happen, through accidental circumstances, to be cohabiting in the same house.

Is there a catholic future? Perhaps the question might be better put, What is going to happen to those congregations that identify themselves as Anglo-Catholic?

If these congregations remain in communion with ECUSA, then they will undoubtedly be absorbed by the revisionist future that I outlined in my previous articles. They will accomodate. They will becoming Affirming Catholics. This accomodation began after ECUSA’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood. A few priests and congregations left the Episcopal Church, either joining Catholicism and Orthodoxy or starting new continuing Anglican churches. Those Anglo-Catholics who remained either embraced the ordination of women as a work of the Spirit within the catholicity of the Church or retreated into their parishes and threw up the barricades. But the barricades have proven vulnerable and porous. One by one, traditional Anglo-Catholic congregations have succumbed to the ECUSA spirit. As a vital ecclesial reality, Anglo-Catholicism is but a shadow of its former self.

If there is a viable catholic Anglican future, then that future must lie either with the continuing churches or with the creation of an Anglican Uniate Church, a church in communion with Rome that would maintain “much of the best of the Anglican inheritance but within a Catholic ecclesiological framework.” Is an Anglican Uniate Church even a possibility? Private discussions have been going on for a number of years. I know that ecumenical Catholics, who have worked so long for full reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury, have opposed the creation of a uniate Anglican body. In light of Anglicanism’s continued disintegration, perhaps their objections will no longer seem as compelling. Whether these discussions will ever bear fruit is anyone’s guess. The obstacles are manifest. Let us pray they are not insurmountable.

What about the Continuing Anglican churches? Here I must allow others to opine, because my acquaintance with these churches is minimal. Perhaps Fr Hart, Dr Tighe, and others can tell us more about these various groups and their history.

I know that the Continuing Anglican churches have been life-savers for many. But with all due respect to my Continuing Anglican brethren, I cannot imagine these churches as representing a viable future for Anglo-Catholic faith. Here I must move from prognostication to pontification. Continuing Anglicanism is sectarian, pure and simple; and that sectarianism violates the deepest ecclesial convictions of Anglo-Catholicism. The continuing churches enjoy all the advantages of a sect, namely, the ability to define and maintain a clear identity, but they are loners. With whom are they in communion? They aren’t even all in communion with themselves.

St Augustine tells of a confrontation with a Donatist bishop who was boasting of the catholicity of his church. Augustine challenged him to produce valid letters that would demonstrate his communion with the ancient sees around the world, which of course he could not provide. Catholicity is not absolutely proven by numbers and worldwide dispersion, as our Orthodox brethren are quick to argue, yet it cannot be divorced from communion with churches that are undoubtedly catholic. It does matter with whom we are communion. It does matter whether we are in communion with Rome or Constantinople or Antioch or … even Canterbury. Securus judicat orbis terrarum. We cannot create a catholic church by sitting down and creating a list of what we think a true church should be. That is what the sects do. Nor is catholicity established merely by securing valid ministerial orders, as if authenticity is guaranteed by pedigree. Catholicity is given by communion with the Church catholic.

However one might assess the “Anglicanism” of the continuing churches, their catholicity is very much in question. One cannot be “catholic” simply by claiming to be such. This observation does not in any way question the sincerity and devotion of Continuing Anglicans; but if these bodies wish to be catholic, then they need to be born again through communion with the two historic communions that are indubitably catholic. Until such time, they will remain Protestant sects, no matter how catholic their doctrine and liturgy. I believe this also applies to all the churches of the Anglican Communion.

Ultimately, therefore, the only future I envision for faithful Anglo-Catholicism is conversion to Rome or Constantinople. If God is good, he will raise up a uniate church in communion with the Bishop of Rome, which would allow entire congregations to remain intact and would provide a way for the Anglican heritage to be preserved as a living catholic reality. Some parishes might choose the way of Western Rite Orthodoxy. But ultimately, I am convinced that conversion to Catholicism or Orthodoxy is now a moral and spiritual imperative for all catholic Anglicans. Whatever our justifications in the past may have been for remaining separate from Rome and Constantinople, they have been demolished by the developments in worldwide Anglicanism over the past fifty years. I finally agree with the judgment of Richard John Neuhaus: “Orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism.”

28 September 2004


With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. “Fly, you fools!” he cried, and was gone.

One of the unforeseen consequences and privileges of being the Pontificator is that distraught Episcopalians will email me privately and ask me what to do. This is my counsel: If you are not in an Anglican Communion Network diocese, or if your parish is not a member of the Network or Forward in Faith, then for the sake of your souls and future salvation, and for the salvation of your children and grandchildren, get out of the Episcopal Church now! Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now! For priests, this is not an easy thing to do. We are invested in the institution, we have families to support financially, and many of us are not trained to do anything else. And so we wrestle with God in prayer, seek his guidance and forgiveness, and negotiate our consciences. But lay people have a freedom here that we priests do not. And to you I say, leave the Episcopal Church.

But, some of my correspondents write, my priest is pretty orthodox. He just doesn’t want to divide the parish further by forcing us to make a decision on the current hot-button issues. Perhaps this kind of equivocation was acceptable twenty years ago; but in the present situation, political and moral equivocation by the rector is cowardice, not pastoral care, and it condemns the parish to the revisionist future. As a priest and rector, I well understand the dynamics of equivocation. All of us priests compromise our integrity to one degree or another. The temptation not to rock the boat is almost overwhelming. I do not condemn the silence of priests who “would be orthodox.” I stand in their midst and share the judgment of God. But as Thomas More said to Richard Rich: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … But for Wales!”

If now is not the time to divide an Episcopal parish, then when will that time ever come? In the name of Jesus Christ, I now speak to every priest who “would be orthodox”: If you are not in a Network diocese, now is the time for for you to lead your congregations and urge them to join the Network. But I understand if you cannot find within yourselves the courage to do so. Perhaps I do not have that courage either. I do not condemn you. I am one of you. I too have made too many compromises over the past twenty-four years. I too have sold my soul for mammon and security.

But to you orthodox lay believers who find yourselves in this parochial situation, I say to you now, Get out! Compassionately understand and forgive your parish priest who cannot find it within himself to risk the wrath of vestry and bishop; but get out now! It doesn’t matter what the Primates decide in Februrary. Get out now! Flee!

But where to go, you ask. And to my correspondents I always answer: Join either the Orthodox or Catholic Church. I cannot commend AMiA, CEC, or one of the continuing churches, because they are Protestant denominations. (See my earlier article Gladiators in the Colliseum.) If you are happy being a Protestant, well, that’s fine; but just understand that choosing to be an Anglican is primarily a matter of style and aesthetics, not substance. And remember: you are still choosing to be a member of a denomination. What’s the problem with denominations? you ask. Here is George Weigel’s analysis:

There is little that is given or secure in a denomination; the denomination is constantly being remade by its members. Christianity as denomination has no distinctive, fixed form, given to it by Christ; it adapts its form, its institutional structures, to the patterns of the age…. In much of American denominational Christianity today, institutional process is more important than binding doctrinal reference points; anything can change. The denominational community’s boundaries are ill defined, even porous, because being nonjudgmental is essential to group maintenance. Religious leadership is equated with bureaucratic managership; bishops and other formally constituted religious leaders are discussion moderators whose job is to keep all opinions in play, rather than authoritative teachers.

A denomination is something we help create by joining it; according to Vatican II, however, the Church is a divinely instituted community into which we are incorporated by the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist). Denominations have members like voluntary associations or clubs; the Church has members as a human body has arms and legs, fingers and toes. A denomination has moving boundaries, doctrinally and morally; the Church, according to Vatican II, is nourished by creeds and moral convictions that clearly establish its boundaries. The structures of a denomination are something we can alter at will; the Church, according to Vatican II, has a form, or structure, given to it by Christ. Catholicism has bishops and a ministerial priesthood, and Peter’s successor, the Bishop of Rome, not because Catholics today think these are good ways to do things but because Christ wills these for his Church.

Now Weigel is speaking here of the mainline Protestant denominations; but his analysis applies to all Protestant denominations. Just consider the eagerness of some evangelical Anglicans to embrace non-geographical bishops or to authorize the presidency of laymen at the Eucharist.

Hence I advise my correspondents that they have only two real options—Orthdodoxy or Catholicism. Orthodoxy and Catholicism are the only two churches that do not understand themselves as denominations but precisely as the Church. They both can legitimately claim to be the Church of the Apostles. They both can legitimately claim to be the Church of the ecumenical councils and church fathers. They are, in fact, the only two legitimate claimants to the title “the Church.” As Neuhaus has written: “Orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism.”

Which one should you choose? You might consider just flipping a coin. There’s then a 50% chance of getting the decision right, which at least is a heck of a lot better than trying to choose one of the Protestant denominations. But to assist you in your choice, I will be sponsoring here on Pontifications, from time to time, articles written by Orthodox and Catholic writers to argue for their respective ecclesiastical points of view. Stay tuned.

Fly, you fools!

8 November 2004


During my senior year at Nashotah House, Michael Ramsey delivered a series of lectures on Anglicanism, which were eventually published as The Anglican Spirit, edited by my classmate Dale Coleman. He devoted a large portion of one lecture to the figure of John Henry Newman, the genius of the Oxford Movement. At the conclusion of Ramsey’s discussion of Newman he addresses Newman’s loss of faith in the Church of England. “It was that crisis of belief,” Ramsey says, “that led to Newman’s final tragedy. And it was a tragedy.”

“Tragedy.” Newman, of course, would not have described his conversion to Catholicism as a tragedy—quite the contrary, it was his salvation—but from the perspective of the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, the defection of Newman to Rome could only be seen as something unfortunate, as something that never should have happened.

If Bishop Ramsey were alive today, what would he think about life in the Anglican Communion? Would he embrace the Affirming Catholic theology of Rowan Williams? This is certainly a possibility. Ramsey was not like the old-style Anglo-Catholics who looked to Rome to find out what being catholic meant. Ramsey, rather, followed the path first struck by Charles Gore and the pioneers of Lux Mundi. He also had a high regard for F. D. Maurice and his idiosyncratic, and increasingly influential, vision of the Via Media. It is thus quite possible that the logic of his theological and ecclesial commitments would have finally driven him into the Affirming Catholicism typified by the present Archbishop of Canterbury.

But the other possibility is that he might have re-examined his assessment of Newman’s conversion. Instead of seeing Newman’s turn to Catholicism as a tragedy, perhaps he might have joined Newman in a more radical evaluation of Anglicanism itself. Perhaps he might have revaluated his own role in promoting an understanding of Anglicanism that has brought us to our present crisis.

I suggest that Newman’s lectures Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching are mandatory reading for all who are struggling with the catholicity of the Anglican Communion. These lectures are also available under the title Anglican Difficulties from Real View Books (877-247-6886). Newman’s evaluation of the religion of the Church of England is incisive, grave, sobering, trenchant. In his first lecture he describes the Oxford movement as “mimic Catholicism,” a phrase that has haunted me since I first read it early last month. Newman pulls no punches. His was the great theological intellect of the 19th century English world. He cannot, must not, be ignored by any of us who desire to be catholic Christians.

Ten years ago Dr. Stanley Jaki, physicist, philosopher, Catholic priest, described the relevance of Newman’s lectures for us today:

In 1930, the Church of England was the established religion of a world empire, with enormous cultural and social influence. In 1994, the Church of England is still globally influential in at least one sense: It is the only Protestant church with an impressive semblance of Catholicism which it displays over much of the globe through its 60 million or so communicants. It therefore can seduce a great many Catholics into thinking that Catholicism is possible in an Anglican fashion: with all the spiritual comfort which all those sacred rituals can give, but without significantly curtailing the individual’s freedom in matters of faith and especially in sexual morality.

The best summary of the Church of England is that it is the consummate form of “mimic Catholicism.” Hence Rome’s concern. As in the biological world, in the spiritual realm, too, mimicry is a most alluring instrument of survival and expansion. To put that label “mimic Catholicism” on the Church of England will lose its apparent rudeness as soon as one identifies the one who coined it, John Henry Newman. He did so in the context of a series of 12 lectures he delivered in London between April and June, 1850. The general title of his lectures, “Certain Difficulties Felt by Some Anglicans in Catholic Teaching,” reveals those whom he wanted to reach above all. They were his former comrades-in-arms in the Oxford Movement, soon to be known as Anglo-Catholics, who failed to follow him into the Catholic Church. To them, Newman said nothing less than that it was impossible to be Catholic and Anglican at the same time, because the Church of England was essentially Protestant. Anglo-Catholics reluctant to recognize this were, so Newman warned them, putting their eternal salvation in jeopardy.

The lectures were in part triggered by the failure of the Anglican hierarchy to stand up, shortly before Newman gave those lectures, on behalf of baptismal regeneration, or the very Catholic doctrine that Baptism imparts a new, a supernatural nature. About that failure of “dogmatic nerve” Newman showed in those lectures that it was but part of a long chain of similar failures, a chain amounting to a sinister inner logic at work within Anglicanism. And he laid down the truth with no words minced, among them his cry that “the Establishment is a wreck….” A prophetic anticipation of the spiritual wreckage that looms large at a time when England has barely completed the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the birth of its most lecherous and perfidious monarch, Henry VIII.

Plain words once more had their desired effect, although not as humans would like to have their desires fulfilled. Newman himself hoped that most of the hundreds of Anglo-Catholics who attended the lectures would make the move he urged on them. Only a few listened in such a way as to recognize the futility of an illusion: to remain as Catholics within the Church of England. Among the few were Henry Manning and James Scott Hope. Manning gave up the almost complete certainty of becoming the archbishop of Canterbury. Hope, although the most prominent lawyer in the House of Lords, had to face subtle forms of social disgrace for the rest of his life.

I do not know if my dear friend Michael Ramsey, whose last name I gave to my third son, Bredon Ramsey Kimel, would have ever awakened to the illusion of the catholicity of the Anglican Communion. But for the sake of our souls and the souls of our children and grandchildren, we dare not indulge any longer in delusion and denial.

18 December 2004


Since Christmas I have been reading Stanley Jaki’s new book The Church of England as Viewed by Newman (Real View Books). The great virtue of this book, like its predecessor Newman to Converts, is its presentation of Newman’s reflections as found in his letters. Newman’s letters, I understand, number in the tens of thousands. Fr Jaki has done us a great service in wading through this body of epistolary literature and making it thematically available to us.

Newman, of course, is best known for his conversion from the Church of England to Catholicism. What, perhaps, is less well known is his assessment of the ecclesial status of the Church of England. The Church of England, Newman bluntly stated, does not belong to the one fold of Christ. Our Lord’s promises of grace and indefectibility do not therefore apply to it. Newman’s words are withering: “false Church,” “a tower of confusion and house of bondage,” “a mere national institution,” a “palace of ice that melts in summer,” a “grave without a body,” “a tomb of what once was living,” a “casket of treasure which has been lost,” “the veriest of nonentities.”

The story of how Newman reached the conviction that the Church of England lacked the critical note of catholicity is best told by others who know a great deal more about Newman than I. In 1849 Newman wrote to Henry Wilberforce, recalling how in the late 30s he had begun to recognize the Church of England as akin to the Semi-Arians and Monophysites:

Nothing is more day-clear than this, that unless there never was a Church and heretics round it, the Anglican Church is in loco in the position of one of those early sects. This again I kept saying;–I think I wrote to Keble “I am far more certain that the Anglican Church is in loco haereseos, than that the Roman corruption are not developments.”

Whatever his reasoning may have been, what is important is that Newman did eventually reach the conclusion that the Church of England could not be acknowledged as a part of the Church catholic. He never wavered in this firm conviction. In 1866 Newman explained to Miss Mistowe his departure from the Church of England:

I left because I was sure that it [the Anglican Church] was not a portion of that Catholic Church which our Lord and His Apostles established, as the source of teaching and the channel of grace till the end of the world. We are saved by grace, and grace is ordinarily supplied to us through the sacraments, and, excepting baptism, no sacrament exists outside the Church. If the Church of England is not part of the Catholic Church, it does not possess the sacraments of confirmation, penance, Eucharist, or extreme unction to give to its people–and these are the ordinary means of grace. It cannot give them even though it professed to give them.

In 1870 Catholic Newman wrote to an unknown correspondent:

Of course, I have not any doubt that the Anglican communion, as a communion, is no part of God’s Church–from the beginning. It is not a question of Orders; were the Anglican Orders ever so good, they would not avail a communion which is cut off from the Church. Orders do not make the Church–they are but a portion of its prescribed characteristics nor can you have any certainty about them, even though you know nothing against them. We believe our Order to have been transmitted without break, because we are the Church of God. We believe that God will not fail His Church–but Anglicans must first prove that they are part of the Church before they can be sure that, by the promise of God, their Orders have been transmitted safely. And besides this there is actually reason to doubt their Orders. They are not certainly good, and, whenever there is doubt in so grave a matter, it is our duty to go by what is safe.

It was not a question for Newman, as it is for many of us today, whether the Anglican Communion had lost its catholicity, say, through doctrinal false teaching or sacramental malfeasance. Newman was convinced that it lacked all catholicity from the moment it established itself as a Protestant national body independent of the see of Rome. From that moment on, the Church of England was deprived of the ordinary means of sacramental grace.

Newman was therefore not surprised to see the impotence of the Church of England before the growing forces of liberalism (defined by Newman as “the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another”). The Church of England is a creature of the State. Erastianism is its essence. It will inevitably accomodate itself to the culture as the culture changes. The religion of the nation must be able to be modified according to the will of the nation. Thus as liberalism grows within English society, so it will come to be expressed in the teaching and practices of the Church of England. Newman even prophesied that liberalism would eventually “eat out” the Anglo-Catholic movement, which is precisely what has happened. Did Newman foresee a time when the Church of England would simply disappear? Probably not as long as the monarchy and aristocracy remain; but he added this warning: “I can conceive its body radically liberalized–so radically as to become a simple enemy to the Truth.”

Throughout his life as a Catholic, Newman received letters asking him if might one day return to the Church of England. Here is a representative reply to one such invitation to return (1870):

I am as certain that the Church in communion with Rome is the successor and representative of the Primitive Church, as certain that the Anglican Church is not, as certain that the Anglican Church is a mere collection of men, a mere national body, a human society, as I am that Victoria is Queen of Great Britain. Nor have I once had even a passing doubt on the subject, ever since I have been a Catholic. I have all along been in a state of inward certainty and steady assurance on this point, and I should be the most asinine, as well as the most ungrateful of men, if I left the Gracious Lord who manifests Himself in the Catholic Church, for those wearisome Protestant shadows, out of which of His mercy he has delivered me…. This is why I cannot help smiling at your invitation, though it comes of so kind a heart, as I should have laughed if had been the chicken, to whom the good-wife said “Chick, chick, come and be killed.”

Cardinal Newman’s ecclesiological judgment upon the Church of England necessarily extends to the wider Anglican Communion. If Newman is right, then the churches to which the Church of England have given birth must also share in its condition as non-church. Communion with the see of Canterbury is an insufficient guaranty of catholicity; nor do canonically valid orders provide such a guaranty. Holy Orders are validated by the truth, power, and life of the church as Church; they do not create the Church. Newman succinctly stated the difference between Anglicanism and Catholicism on the question of the validity of Orders: “Catholics believe their orders are valid, because they are members of the true Church, and Anglicans believe they belong to the true Church, because their orders are valid.” For Newman it is the present historical and spiritual reality of the Church, the fact of the Church, that is fundamental and obvious. The apostolic succession of the ordained ministry does not need to be established through historical research, for if a given body truly is the Church (and of course Newman is thinking here of the Catholic Church), then its Orders come under Christ’s promise of indefectibility and grace and are thus validated by God. This does not dispense the Church from meticulous observance of the proper administration of the sacrament of ordination; but it does mean that the Church does not ground its catholicity upon antiquarian research which can never achieve anything more than a judgment of probability:

Our starting point is not the fact of a faithful transmission of orders, but the standing fact of the Church, the Visible and One Church, the reproduction and succession of herself age after age. It is the Church herself that vouches for our orders, while she authenticates herself to be the Church not by our orders, but by her Notes.

I wonder what an Eastern Orthodox theologian would think about Newman’s presentation. I’m thinking here, for example, of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, who would no doubt criticize Newman’s strong emphasis of the historical dimension of the Church, emphasizing instead its eschatological and charismatic dimensions, yet I think that he too would agree that the validity of the ordained ministry is grounded upon the prior authenticity of the community as the Church.

Underlying Newman’s ecclesiological appraisal of the Church of England was his rockbed conviction that divine revelation requires a Church. “If there is no Church,” he declared, “there is no revelation.” A divinely inspired society, guided, led and corrected by the Spirit of God, is absolutely necessary for the faithful and reliable historical transmission of the revelation given to the Apostles, a society that can interpret to the world the divine revelation of God in the name and authority of God. “Extend your view across the channel and let it range the earth,” urged Newman–“go back into history for 1800 years; and it is a matter, not of private judgment, but of public fact, that the immense majority of Christians have ever said that there is a Church, that there is a Prophet of God.”

It is at this point that he sees the fundamental difference between Catholicism and Anglicanism, a difference so profound that he describes the two as two different religions. There is a vast difference “between believing in a living authority, unerring because divine, in matters of doctrine, and believing none;–between believing what an external authority defines, and believing what we ourselves happen to define as contained in Scripture and the Fathers, where no two individuals define quite the same set of doctrines; between believing a creed, which, as far as such definitions go, is ever increasing, and believing the letter of Creeds which we may expand and explain for ourselves. In the one case, the living authority, deciding in controversies of faith, is the Church, in the other (whatever men pretend), it is we ourselves who are the ultimate authority.”

Cardinal Newman was of course convinced that the Catholic Church was the one Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church also claims this office. Both claim to speak with divine authority. Readers of Pontifications will negotiate these mutually opposing claims as they will. Yet every Anglican should ponder the question posed by Newman regarding the Anglican Communion: “Is it a safe Church to die in?”

1 January 2005


“The simple question then for Private Judgment to exercise itself upon is,” writes John Henry Newman, “what and where is the Church?”

If Luther’s quest was to find the gracious God, then Newman’s quest was to find the true Church to which Christ’s promise of grace and indefectibility applies. This is a quest that Anglicans rarely think about anymore. We are very generous in our ecumenical identification of the Church of Jesus Christ. Our attitude might be described as “If you don’t question our ecclesial status, we won’t question yours.”

Perhaps we should simply dispense with the question altogether. Back in early November on this blog, Ephraim Radner suggested that the question belongs to a past age of Catholic/Protestant polemics:

While it may well be internally consistent to claim that everyone else is a “denomination” except oneself … and one or two others (a rather odd semantic distinction within the realm of more common speech); and while it may well be internally consistent to call oneself the “true church” in the face of everyone else (except perhaps one or two others), I consider it a delusion. And most delusions have a wonderful internal consistency about them. The arguments that have been going on recently over the need for authoritative adjudications regarding revelation and teaching and so on are ones that have been pursued since the 16th and 17th centuries in this quite particular vein without much constructive escape from the final fidesitic straw to be grasped.

But can the ecclesial question be so easily dismissed? The two apostolic communions, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, both exclusively claim to be the one Church of Jesus Christ and thus by their very existence incessantly pose the ecclesial question to us. We can refuse the question, but such refusal is itself an answer. Are both Catholicism and Orthodoxy wrong? Are they both deluded? Was St Augustine deluded when he refused to acknowledge the Donatists as Church? Was St Cyril of Jerusalem deluded when he properly named the Church Catholic, in contrast to other bodies that also claimed to be Christian?

The identification of the authentic Church was a matter of life and eternal salvation for the Church Fathers. “Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress,” declares St Cyprian, “is separated from the promises of the Church, nor will he that forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is an alien, a worldling, and an enemy. He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” And again: “There is no salvation outside the Church.” Neither the Protestant understanding of the invisible Church nor the Anglican understanding of the unity of the fractured Church is to be found in the Fathers. The Church is visibly one, and this unity is embodied in baptism, eucharist, and the eucharistic communion of bishops. Precisely because the Church is the divine society ordained by the risen Christ, precisely because of the profound identification between the risen Christ and his mystical body, salvation can only be found in that rightly ordered community of grace to which the promises of Christ rightly apply. The Church Fathers had a lot of experience with schismatic and heretical sects, and they did not hesitate to declare these sects outside the communion of the Church catholic and thus outside the promises of Christ.

99% of Episcopalians have never given a moment’s thought to the ecclesial question. Despite the worldwide promulgation of Pontificator’s Fourth Law, we unquestioningly assume the truth of the Protestant paradigm of the broken Church. With so many different Christian denominations in our country and throughout the world, how can any group, we ask, rightly claim to be the true Church ordained by Christ? We reflexively reject such claims as arrogant presumption. If we are of a more popular Protestant bent, we adopt some notion of the invisible Church divorced from the empirical realities of the Church. If we are of a more catholic bent, we speak of the Church as now existing in disunity. Thoughtful Anglicans, I think, would overwhelmingly affirm the following words of Christopher Seitz: “The church of Jesus Christ is, since the Reformation most famously, a divided reality, seeking to see unity beyond those divisions, which seeing and which living is a gift of God the Holy Spirit himself.” Yet no Church Father would have expressed himself in this manner, and certainly both Catholicism and Orthodoxy would reject this formulation of ecclesial disunity.

But please note the similarity of our rejection of the ecclesial claim to the worldly rejection of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Savior of the world. Just as we find in-credible, in light of so many existing denominations, the claim of any single group to be the true Church to the exclusion of others, so many people today, both inside and outside the Church, find the Christian claims about Jesus equally in-credible. How dare Christians assert his unique and final authority. Does not the existence of so many religions demonstrate that there are many paths to God? The pluralistic worldview that now dominates our culture decisively rejects the assertion of any historical particular as possessing universal salvific significance. This in itself should encourage orthodox Anglicans to critically reexamine their ecclesiological presuppositions. They may well discover that disbelief has been incorporated into the ground floor of the Anglican system.

Is it not possible, indeed likely, that the Protestant rejection of the ecclesial question is self-serving ideology generated by schism and heresy? Do we dare stake our souls, and the souls of our children and grandchildren, on the churches of the Reformation?

We Episcopalians find ourselves in the midst of a theological and ecclesiological crisis. This crisis rightly forces us–or at least should rightly force us–to ask the question of Newman: What is the Church? Are we in the Church? Where is the true Church of Jesus Christ to be found? This is not a matter of idle curiosity. If the Church Fathers are correct, it is a matter of our eternal salvation. We have a solemn duty before God to seek the truth of his Church. We should not bank on our invincible ignorance before the Divine Judge.

1 January 2005


The Common Anglican, whose first name, I believe, is Andy, has written a very thoughtful explanation of why he has recently joined the Episcopal Church: Why I am Anglican. Andy is clearly a sincere and faithful man who desires to serve his Lord in all things. He has made this choice only after great prayer, study, and reflection. He has moved out of the sectarianism of Calvinism into a wider, more catholic vision of the Christian faith. I almost hesitate to comment on his article; but given Andy’s evangelical and orthodox convictions, his article cries out for response. Why would any orthodox believer choose now to join the Episcopal Church?

Andy’s answer to this question is simple: because he believes Anglicanism to be “the most complete expression of the Christian faith.”

There is something wonderfully sweet, and naive, about this claim. Andy is clearly a romantic at heart. As I know from my own life, Anglicanism, particularly in its catholic incarnations, has the ability to touch something deep in our souls. At its best, Anglicanism achieves a harmony of worship and witness that is gentle, gracious, and lovely.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Andy has fallen in love with Anglicanism … and as we all know, love is blind. I fear for him, as I fear for all who remain in the Episcopal Church. I fear especially for the young who are being raised within a denomination in which there will soon be no place for orthodox faith. The Episcopal Church is now dominated by a seductive ideology that employs the words of the gospel while insidiously destroying the faith of the gospel. Andy recognizes this, yet still he enters into sacramental communion with this ideology. I confess I find his decision almost incomprehensible. But he has fallen in love and cannot see beyond the fantasy in which all lovers initially live. He has yet to see the inner contradictions within Anglicanism that will always prevent it from becoming a truly catholic Church.

Whatever else Anglicanism may be, it is most definitely not “the most complete expression of the Christian faith.” Its deepest roots are Erastian and Protestant. As Dr. Tighe so often reminds us here on Pontifications, the “reformation” of the English Church was nothing less than a violent take-over of the Church by the State, against the will and desire of both bishops and laity. There have been catholicizing movements within Anglicanism—the Caroline Divines, the Non-Jurors, the Anglo-Catholics—yet all such movements have ultimately hit the immovable wall of Anglicanism’s essential identity as a religion of state and culture. Yes, Anglicanism incoherently tolerates any number of theological parties within itself; but this tolerance presupposes that private judgment which must be repudiated by all of catholic sensibility. A Church grounded upon private judgment cannot be catholic; it can only be the religious expression of the culture that rules it.

Andy writes:

What I mean to say is that the Church of England was founded at a unique time in history that allowed it to make a conscious decision to allow a plurality of beliefs, all of which were under the supreme authority of Scripture. The Church did and does condemn open heresy, but allows for diversity on other doctrines. It was founded as a balance between Protestantism and Catholicism.

A conscious decision? A decision certainly, but a decision not of the Church but of the State—a decision of political expediency to accomodate as many points of view as possible within the National Church, excepting Catholics, who refused to affirm the Monarch as “the only Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England,” and radical Puritans, who sought to replace the Episcopal-ordered Church with the new presbyteral-ordered Church of Calvin. Here is the famous Anglican Via Media, an ostensible way to comprehend the blessings of both Catholicism and Protestantism. But heed the more sober judgment of J. H. Newman:

Such, then, is the Anglican Church and its Via Media, and such the practical application of it; it is an interposition or arbitration between the extreme doctrines of Protestantism on the one hand, and the faith of Rome which Protestantism contradicts on the other. At the same time, though it may be unwilling to allow it, it is, from the nature of the case, but a particular form of Protestantism. I do not say that in secondary principles it may not agree with the Catholic Church; but, its essential idea being that she has gone into error, whereas the essential idea of Catholicism is the Church’s infallibility, the Via Media is really nothing else than Protestant. Not to submit to the Church is to oppose her, and to side with the heretical party; for medium there is none. The Via Media assumes that Protestantism is right in its protest against Catholic doctrine, only that that protest needs correcting, limiting, perfecting. This surely is but a matter of fact; for the Via Media has adopted all the great Protestant doctrines, as its most strenuous upholder and the highest of Anglo-Catholics will be obliged to allow; the mutilated canon, the defective Rule of Faith, justification by faith only, putative righteousness, the infection of nature in the regenerate, the denial of the five Sacraments, the relation of faith to the Sacramental Presence, and the like; its aim being nothing else than to moderate, with Melancthon, the extreme statements of Luther, to keep them from shocking the feelings of human nature, to protect them from the criticism of common sense, and from the pressure and urgency of controversial attack. Thus we have three parties on the historical stage; the See and Communion of Rome; the original pure Protestant, violent, daring, offensive, fanatical in his doctrines; and a cautious middle party, quite as heretical in principle and in doctrinal elements as Protestantism itself, but having an eye to the necessities of controversy, sensible in its ideas, sober in its tastes, safe in its statements, conservative in its aims, and practical in its measures.

The great weakness of the Via Media is its claim to comprehend a plurality of beliefs under the “supreme authority of Scripture.” What is neglected is the fact that the Anglican reading of Scripture is ultimately ruled not by Holy Tradition and magisterial authority but Protestant private judgment. Andy misapprehends the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism as unity in the faith, when of course it is anything but true unity. The judgment of Aidan Nichols is the more accurate: Anglicanism is a house historically inhabited by three incompatible Churches. But only three, Fr Aidan?

Our Common Anglican has fallen in love with a paper religion, as has so many before him, including this lowly Pontificator. But paper religion is not real religion. It does not feed the deepest hungers of the soul, and it leaves one trapped within the prison of the self. Nor does it strengthen one against the onslaught of the principalities and powers. Only the Church of the saints and martyrs can provide what is truly needed.

It is often said that Anglicanism is a bridge between Catholicism and Protestantism; but what is a bridge but a structure to walk over to get to the other side.

“Oh, my brethren!” Newman cried out to his former Anglican friends and colleagues, “life is short, waste it not in vanities; dream not; halt not between two opinions; wake from a dream, in which you are not profiting your neighbour, but imperilling your own souls.”

8 August 2005


It seems somehow appropriate that my last article for Pontifications before my move to New Jersey be a response to John Wilkins. He has recently shared with us some reflections on the theme of “Authority.” The article also has some critical things to share about my own writings, which is fine. John is always civil, and I well understand the way blogging works. We bloggers rely on other bloggers to provide the grist for our mills.

But before getting into the substance of his piece, let me first share some personal things about myself, since John has himself shared so intimately. I am a single malt man and Oban is my absolute favorite. On occasion I also like an ultra dry Bombay Sapphire martini, with a twist. I cut a mean jitterbug and am a romantic at heart. But I never, ever speak publicly about the lusts of my heart. :-)

Now to John’s article. I think that John has written almost the perfect piece in defense of revisionist Episcopalianism. He does not present us with a sustained argument but rather a medley of thoughts on the goodness of life and the difficulties each of us must live through. Life is so complex and often so very hard. We love, we hate, we suffer, we die—and always there is the power of sin shaping and malforming our lives. In the end all we can do is live and die the mystery. John is correct. Paradox, change, and ambiguity are ineradicable aspects of our mortal lives.

Thus law cannot be God’s exhaustive word to us—at least not if God is the God revealed in the gospel, not if God is the one who has raised Jesus from the dead. Yet law nevertheless remains God’s word to us, coming to us with an authority absolute and divine, a word that demands our obedience and evokes our disobedience. And it is this solemn, directing, and judging word that has no place in the revisionist universe of ambiguity and paradox. But the law cannot be eliminated by waving our scholarly wands. God continues to speak his moral word to us in the depths of the human soul. It is a word embedded in the structures of existence. It is a word that we cannot not know.

John says that he has sometimes been called an antinomian. He denies the charge. Antinomianism is too hard, perhaps impossible, to live, he says. We are “bounded by language and culture.” This of course is true, but it begs the question. The question is not whether we can ever escape the codes and customs of the societies in which we live. The question is whether God determinately wills our good and reveals to us how we might pursue this good and avoid destruction and evil.

In his essay “Gnosticism, Antinomianism and Reformation Theology” (Pro Ecclesia [Winter 1993]), Lutheran theologian David Yeago asserts that much Protestant theology of the past century has been essentially antinomian. It has posited an irresolvable conflict between law and gospel. Law is understood as oppressive precisely “because it is law, that is, because it is an ordered demand, a requirement, a command. The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it.” The gospel, on the other hand, is gospel because it liberates us from the law; it is good news “because it is not-law, because it terminates the law.”

If it is true that the law oppresses simply because of its formal character as ordered demand, then the converse would seem also to hold: anything with the formal character of ordered demand oppresses. That is to say, anything which proposes some particular ordering of our existence or calls for a determinate response from us will be perceived as being, simply as such, the oppressive law from which the gospel delivers us. And since the gospel’s liberating character is defined in terms of its antithesis to the law, it will not be our sinful abuse of the law and hostility to the commandment, and God’s wrath against us on that account, from which the gospel liberates us. Rather, the gospel will liberate us from the situation of having to hear commandment at all, from having to reckon with any word whatsoever which has the formal character of ordered demand. (p. 41)

For Episcopalians the law/gospel dialectic, so characteristic of Lutheran theology, is verbally alien. Yet the theoretical antinomianism that Yeago describes is very much a part of the contemporary Episcopal understanding of the gospel. It was mediated to Episcopalians through the influential writings of Paul Tillich and popularized in the books of Robert Farrar Capon. Grace triumphs not just by destroying sin and death. Grace triumphs by eliminating the divine law altogether. Yeago writes: “The practical antinomianism now regnant in many churches is simply a long-standing theoretical antinomianism achieving the courage of its convictions.”

I suggest that when revisionists enthusiastically celebrate the ambiguity and paradox of human existence, what they are really doing is celebrating freedom from the law. Each person is a law unto himself, for indeed there is no law. There is only freedom—freedom from demand, freedom from form, tradition, and institution, freedom from morality, freedom from judgment and wrath. In this antinomian universe, the Church is incapable of authoritatively speaking a word that commands, for such a word is understood as intrinsically oppressive and contradictory to the very gospel the Church is authorized to speak. Hence the Church is consigned to the role as listener. Consider this key paragraph from John’s article:

Granted, for some, life is so challenging that following directions is the best thing they can get from the church. And if my parishioners want that, I have plenty of advice. Sometimes they won’t get what they want to hear. But most of the time I can just listen, and people figure out their lives on their own. I think of the Episcopal church as a “listening” church, and for the last 25 years, it’s been listening to Gay people. There are plenty of places in scripture where this is exactly the kind of spiritual practice individuals are supposed to have. People are made in the image of God, and by listening to them, we have a clearer understanding of what and who God looks like. What Al misses is not that we have a “cavalier attitude” but that we have decided to focus on practice first. And when the tradition is wrong, we change our minds. What are you supposed to do?

I agree that the advice most priests offer is not helpful at all. I’m sure that most of my former parishioners would agree. But there is a vast difference between offering advice and speaking the moral law in the name of the God of Sinai. In the antinomian Episcopal Church, YHWH has been silenced. The Church can only listen nonjudgmentally, allowing each individual to define his or her life as he wills. Having identified the moral law as that from which Jesus delivers us, the Church finds itself incapable of saying anything except “God loves you. God forgives you. God accepts you as you are. Follow your bliss.”

(Curiously, though, the liberal Protestant Churches still feel themselves authorized to speak prophetically to institutional structures. Is this because the institutions to which such prophetic words are addressed are faceless and impersonal, whereas parish members are personal indeed and would undoubtedly object to churchly interference in their lives?)

What is the role of the pastor in the antinomian Church? He is preminently a counselor—and specifically a counselor trained in the listening skills of Carl Rogers. The moral discourse and praxis of the Church is replaced by the antinomian discourse and praxis of the therapeutic world. Instead of being urged to make regular confessions and embrace a life of ascesis and prayer, the clergy are required to attend Clinical Pastoral Education classes and to be formed as nonjudgmental listeners. Please do not misunderstand. I am not suggesting that such skills do not have a role in pastoral ministry. But counseling thus construed must always be subordinated to the Church’s primary ministry to speak God’s divine Word into a confused and confusing world.

Is John Wilkins an antinomian, as some have charged but which John denies? Perhaps not theoretically but certainly he comes very close, especially at the practical level.

John’s article is ostensibly about authority, but what is most conspicuous about his piece is the absence of any theological reflection on authority. This is not surprising, because John is far more comfortable with the discourse of sociology, anthropology, and comparative religion than with the moral and theological discourse specific to the Church. I do not criticize. We all have our special interests. But there is an especial danger here for John. The soft sciences can give one a false sense of superiority, as if one is able to stand over against and above the Christian tradition and objectively critique it from a higher, truer perspective. John, I think, is sometimes guilty of this. He apparently does not realize that the disciplines upon which he relies were themselves ideologically constructed to “liberate” the world from the Church he loves. John is fond of urging us to read his favorite scholars, so I’m sure he will not mind if I commend to him the following scholars: Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory. But of course everyone can cite scholars. Our arguments are not established by our footnotes.

Revisionists tell us that ours is an ambiguous and paradoxical universe. In this universe uncertainty and tolerance are primary virtues. We do not expect to actually discover truth; what is important is the search for it. Yet over against this exaltation of uncertainty, I would propose the virtue of certitude. The Christian way is grounded in confidence that God has definitively revealed his life and will and that the Church is divinely guided and authorized to interpret this revelation to the world. Only certainty generates saints, martyrs, and missionaries. Uncertainty generates pew-sitters and parish priests. As Dom Gregory Dix explains: “Where the ‘private judgement’ consitutes the final authority on facts which are irretrievably beyond its own verification, there can be no certainty; and where there is no certainty, there is no faith, and therefore no salvation.”

John asserts that the Episcopal Church has a special vocation in the world:

I’m content that that the Episcopal Church might be the ONLY self-consciously Christian denomination that can be liberated to proclaim the liberal gospel that was spawned by the biblical humanism of the evangelical movement. The magnanimous gospel. The generous gospel. The gospel based on thankfulness and joy. This will become more formally part of our identity.

As the conservatives form their own congregations, the Episcopal church will become a haven for people who have been abused by fundamentalism and Roman Catholicism and its image of a cruel and punishing God, but don’t want to give up the Gospel and Christian spirituality. It will be a small church, but a powerful witness. “Salt” as it were.

This is a very important and revealing passage. Please re-read it. According to John, the Episcopal Church has been entrusted with a message—the liberal gospel!—a message that can only be dated to the last hundred years or so. Here is the gospel of antinomianism. Here is a gospel that supports and undergirds the ideologies of relativism, pluralism, and multiculturalism that now dominate our culture. It is a pleasant gospel, a supportive gospel, an affirming gospel. But it bears little resemblence to the gospel, the apostolic gospel that created the Church and has sustained generations of believers for two thousand years. But that’s okay. There will always be consumers for the antinomian religion that ECUSA promotes. The Episcopal Church has found its niche as a boutique church.

John’s article, as I said at the beginning of this piece, is an almost perfect defense of revisionist Episcopalianism. Every Episcopalian should be encouraged to read it. Here is the future of the Episcopal Church. And here is the reason why I have become Catholic.

28 August 2005


Given the present disintegration of the Episcopal Church, it not surprising to find folks, both pro and con, vigorously debating the catholicity of the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism. Over at the Propaganda Box, J-Tron has recently entered the fray. J-Tron is a student at the Yale Divinity School, a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, and a former Roman Catholic. He also used to hang out a lot in Ellicott City, Maryland, a little village I know pretty well. I wonder if he ever attended St. Peter’s Church there. If he did, he probably missed the ministry of Fr Gary Mathewes-Green (now Fr Gregory). Too bad. J-Tron identifies himself as an Anglo-Catholic, but from reading through his blog articles, I’d plug him into the Affirming Catholic niche. J-Tron is also a poet and musician. A talented young man.

The thrust of his article is that Anglicanism must be catholic because Catholicism is too flawed to be truly catholic. (For some reason, the claims of Orthodoxy are completely ignored.) The Catholic Church is alleged to be less-than-catholic because she does not practice authentic “conciliar government and development,” because she has concentrated too much authority and power in a single see, because she requires demonstrable miracles before she canonizes someone as a saint, because she abuses authority by covering up scandals, and because she refuses to consecrate gluten-free wafers for those suffering from celiac disease. (No kidding, he really does mention this last item in his list of Catholic crimes.)

We can debate the merits and demerits of each of these items, but only one of them is worth discussing as pertaining to essential catholicity, namely, conciliarity; but in order to criticize the Catholic understanding of conciliarity, one must first determine whether the papal claims are sound or not. Perhaps J-Tron has given this question ample attention elsewhere, but he hasn’t done so in this article. Moreover, J-Tron is an Episcopalian. Does the Episcopal Church have an authoritative teaching on conciliarity? Does Anglicanism? Article XXI ain’t going to be a big help to him here. Perhaps he might make an appeal to antiquity, but such appeals remain unconvincing because of their arbitrariness. Who, for the Episcopalian, has the authority to pick out the first, third, twelfth, or sixteenth centuries as the normative standard for Church polity? Why aren’t the views of Saints Boniface, Leo, and Gregory authoritative for Anglicans? J-Tron doesn’t like the present centralization of power in the Vatican. Now centralization may or may not be a helpful way to organize the Church; but I don’t think we are talking about anything that belongs to the esse of the Church. And as Anglicans are now discovering, the lack of a divinely-mandated transnational authority brings its own very serious problems. Of course, if one wants to argue that the papal claims are simply wrong, that God the Son never intended and does not intend the bishops of Rome to enjoy a supreme authority in the Church Militant, that’s a different argument; and it’s not the argument that J-Tron makes.

Missing from J-Tron’s list of Catholicism’s deficiencies are three issues that really should be there: Catholicism’s position on divorce and remarriage, Catholicism’s exclusion of women from Holy Orders, and Catholicism’s proscription of fornication and homosexual unions. Surely he feels more strongly about these issues than gluten-free wafers.

Parenthetical newsflash: Children who suffer from celiac disease are free to receive the Sacred Blood. It is false to claim they are excluded from the Blessed Sacrament. Also, as far as I know, the Episcopal Church still requires, if not by canon law then by long-standing tradition and liturgical law, wheaten bread as proper matter for the Holy Eucharist (see my “Rice Jesus“).

At the conclusion of his piece, J-Tron then makes this incredible statement: “And though I am fearful for how things may develop in the next year, I still believe now that we are the branch of the Church where catholicity is best and most fully expressed.” This wasn’t just a slip of the keyboard. Back in July he wrote: “Anglicanism is not only the right place for me but in fact the truest expression of Church as it exists in the world today.” Oh my. I wonder if Fr J-Tron has ever read J. H. Newman’s 1850 lectures Anglican Difficulties.

Perhaps the best way to shake all of this out is to ask, What does it mean to say that a Church is catholic? From my reading of the Church Fathers, catholicity seems to entail two elements—wholeness and universality. To be catholic is to enjoy the wholeness of that which has been delivered to us by Jesus Christ through his apostles. A sect enjoys only partial truth, a partial revelation, a partial valid structure; but the Church enjoys the fullness of the means of salvation. This fullness is both objective (Holy Eucharist, Holy Scripture, valid sacraments, the historic episcopate and ministerial priesthood, ecumenical creeds, conciliar dogmas) and subjective (possessing the mind, heart, and truth of Christ Jesus; life determined by charity, faith, and hope; worship and prayer in the power of the Spirit, a zeal for evangelistic mission and works of mercy). Thus Georges Florovsky speaks of catholicity as “the inner wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life.” For Florovsky catholicity is unrelated to geography. Even if all other churches fall into apostasy or are destroyed by the heathen, the last remaining (Orthodox) congregation will still be catholic. Catholicity is both gift and achievement. Only Christ himself can make his Church, yet catholicity can be lost, as the history of the Church well demonstrates.

The second dimension of catholicity is universality. The Church is not made up of individual congregations or dioceses; it is a communion of dioceses. Consequently, when it comes to identifying the catholicity of a church, it does matter who’s in communion with whom. As early as the 4th century, we see the geographical universality of the Church being invoked by Cyril of Jerusalem as a mark of catholicity: “The Church is called Catholic because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge.” St Augustine, in his debate with the Donatists, asserted the principle securus judicat orbis terrarum (“the whole world judges securely” or “the verdict of the world is conclusive”). When confronted with two or more competing ecclesial claims, the Bishop of Hippo appealed to the judgment of the worldwide Church. With whom are you in communion? Thus Augustine challenged the Churches of Donatus to direct their reproaches not just against the bishop of Carthage or of Rome, “but also against the churches of Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colossae, and Philippi, to whom as you know, the Apostle Paul wrote; or against the church of Jerusalem where the Apostle James was the first bishop; or against that of Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians.” This appeal to communion with other catholic communities was employed by ecclesiastics throughout the Church, both East and West.

Securus judicat orbis terrarum would later prove decisive in John Henry Newman’s conversion to the Catholic Church. When he was introduced to this Augustinian principle in 1839, Newman was wrestling with the ecclesial status of the Church of England in light of Church history:

It was difficult to make out how the Eutychians or Monophysites were heretics, unless Protestants and Anglicans were heretics also; difficult to find arguments against the Tridentine Fathers, which did not tell against the Fathers of Chalcedon; difficult to condemn the Popes of the sixteenth century, without condemning the Popes of the fifth.

The securus judicat orbis terrarum gave Newman a secure principle by which to judge the claims of competing Churches. These words, Newman wrote, “decided ecclesiastical questions on a simpler rule than that of Antiquity; nay, St. Augustine was one of the prime oracles of Antiquity; here then Antiquity was deciding against itself.”

Though my Eastern brothers and sisters will disagree, I would be remiss not to mention that at least some in the early Church believed that communion with the See of Rome was decisive for communion with the Church Catholic. Thus Pope Boniface I wrote in the early fifth century:

The structure of the universal Church took its origin from the honor given to Peter. All rule in the Church consists in this, that from Peter, as from a fountainhead, the discipline of the whole Church has been derived as this church grows and expands…. It is certain that this church is related to the churches spread over the whole world as the head to its members. Whoever cuts off from this church places himself outside the Christian religion, since he no longer remains part of its structure. I hear that certain bishops want to set aside the apostolic constitution of the Church and are attempting to introduce innovations against Christ’s own commands. They seek to separate themselves from communion with the Apostolic See, or, more precisely, from its authority.

So how does Anglicanism fare when judged by these two inter-related dimensions of catholicity?

31 October 2005


Why does it really matter to Anglicans whether they are catholic? I know why it’s important to Anglo-Catholics, but they are a dying breed and are doomed to either extinction or transmogrification into Affirming Catholics. But why do other Anglicans care?

Why would it be important to evangelical Anglicans that their church be catholic? After all, what really counts for the evangelical is that the Church be biblical. Evangelicals, of course, dispute among themselves what being biblical really means, with the practical result that “mere Christianity” often becomes truly mere. In his book Evangelical Truth (2002), John Stott states the popular rule: “Whenever equally biblical Christians, who are equally anxious to understand the teaching of Scripture and to submit to its authority, reach different conclusions, we should deduce that evidently Scripture is not crystal clear in this matter, and therefore we can afford to give one another liberty.” This rule has apparently hit the wall on the issue of homosexual unions, but the reductionist consequences of the rule within Anglicanism are manifest. If our goal is to be biblical, then it is crucial that all catholic distinctives—which according to evangelical judgment cannot be convincingly demonstrated to be biblical—be eliminated or at least minimized as adiaphora. Catholic beliefs and practices must not allowed to disrupt the transdenominational evangelical fellowship. The evangelical is not a member of an Anglican congregation because it is catholic or even because it is Anglican. He is a member of an Anglican congregation, first and foremost, because it is evangelical or at the very least hospitable to evangelicals. And he is a member of an Anglican congregation, secondly, because Anglicanism speaks to his heart in some perhaps indescribable way. (The same can be said, in their own way, of Anglo-Catholics.) Perhaps it’s the liturgy and ceremonial. Perhaps it’s the poetic language of the Prayer Book. Perhaps it’s the feel of Englishness or tradition. But whatever it is, he feels at home in the Anglican Church. But the evangelical is willing, if necessary, to leave his Anglican congregation, either to start a new “Anglican” congregation or to join another Protestant denomination. But at no point is catholicity, in any ecclesiological or theological sense, a decisive consideration. When the evangelical Anglican uses the word catholic to describe the Anglican Church, he certainly does not mean serious openness, say, to Anglo-Catholicism. What he really means is “We’re biblical.”

Why would it be important to revisionist Anglicans that their church be catholic? After all, what really counts for the revisionist is freedom from the catholic tradition. On one issue after another, he dissents from authoritative tradition and catholic practice. I am not speaking just of folks like Jack Spong and Bill Swing but of those Affirming Catholics who are so facile in catholic-speak. Affirming Catholics pride themselves on being catholic, and certainly want their churches to be catholic in liturgy and vesture, yet they find themselves consistently dissenting from catholic teaching. But despite the obvious contradiction, they still continue to wrap themselves in the mantle of catholicity. Indeed, they are even willing, as we have seen, to assert that Anglicanism is the most authentic expression of catholicity in the world today:

Are Anglicans Catholic? I think you’d get different answers from different Anglicans, since many Anglicans identify strongly with our Reformed stream. But functionally speaking, we have valid orders, the full richness of the sacraments, a consonant effort to bring together the teaching of scripture and reason with Holy Tradition. No single institution in this day and age can make any more than rhetorical claim to being the be all and end all of the Holy Catholic Church Undivided. That is the sad truth brought to bear by a millenium’s worth of schism. But institutions like ours that have the things I’ve mentioned have as valid a claim as any to being a constituent part of the One True Church, the only Church that matters, the Body of Christ. And though I am fearful for how things may develop in the next year, I still believe now that we are the branch of the Church where catholicity is best and most fully expressed. It is the work of Anglo-Catholics to insist that the Church maintain and improve in this direction. We are far from perfect. In many ways we are highly broken. But that which is broken needs fixing. This is our home. We should be fighting to keep it that way, not looking wistfully towards a “truer” church that never really existed. (J-Tron of the Propaganda Box)

Catholic appears to be a magical word that every Anglican wants to claim for himself and his communion. Indeed, Anglicanism out-catholicizes everyone else!

Revisionists are passionately committed to remaining “Anglican,” which explains why they have been so successful in capturing the reins of power within their respective national churches. Anglicanism provides them both them with the trappings of catholicity and with the freedom to recreate catholic religion according to their private judgment and the ideological principles of “inclusivity.” There simply is no other denomination around that would satisfy their boutique preferences. When the revisionist says “We are catholic,” what he really means is “We are a church guided by the Holy Spirit, who is leading us into new and often untraditional understandings of the gospel, celebrated in the vesture and ceremonial of Catholic-style liturgy (except we do it better).”

Catholic? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Is Anglicanism catholic? We need to recall the decisive changes in the Church’s doctrine and liturgical practice that were made by the English Reformers and the Elizabethan Church, all of course in the name of the Bible and reform:

1) The authority of Scripture and Tradition: The Church of England clearly sided with the Continental Reformers in affirming the formal and material sufficiency of Holy Scripture (Article VI), but it did so in a somewhat conservative mode. Thus in the 1559 Act of Supremacy we find the modest assertion of the first four ecumenical councils as a hermeneutical guide to the right reading of Scripture. Similarly, in 1571 a synod in England passed the following canon:

Let Preachers above all things be careful that they never teach aught in a sermon to be religiously held and believed by the people, except that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and which has been collected from the same doctrine by the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops.

But we should not put too much stock in this canon. The folks who passed it were also convinced that the Fathers were in basic agreement with their own moderate Calvinism! For the first and second generation Anglicans, the Fathers are typically read through the lens of Geneva, when not through that of Zurich, and if the Fathers can’t be twisted to support the Reformed reading, then too bad for the Fathers. When one reads the works of John Jewel, one discovers that the Fathers are important, not to establish doctrine, but to discredit the theological teachings and claims of Rome. And when you pick up Thomas Cranmer’s The True and Catholick Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, don’t expect to find any doctrine that was taught before the 16th century.

Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy believe in a living Tradition apart from which Holy Scripture cannot be rightly interpreted; both deny the formal sufficiency of the Bible. Though there are differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy here, both share a common approach to Scripture and Tradition that distinguishes them from all Protestant bodies, including Anglicanism. Richard Hooker is characteristically invoked as representing the normative Anglican position. For Hooker, the Bible is clearly the primary, sufficient, and decisive authority. After Scripture, what is the second highest authority for Hooker? Answer: right reason! Tradition is relegated to third position.

Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason over-rule all other inferior judgments whatsoever. (Laws, Book V, 8:2)

What is tradition for Hooker? Paul Avis explains: “Practice, experience and consent are all involved.” Respect for tradition is a prudential regard for the wisdom of antiquity and human experience. Only a fool ignores the wisdom the Church has acquired through long practical experience.

With the rise of Caroline divinity, the appeal to the Church Fathers took on greater importance. Lancelot Andrewes memorably stated this fresh appreciation of the hermeneutical authority of antiquity:

One canon in Scripture revealed to us by God, two testaments, three creeds, the four first councils, and five centuries with the fathers through them (three hundred years before Constantine and two hundred years after), fix the rule of religion for us.

Yet this appeal to antiquity still remains Protestant. For the Carolines, Holy Tradition is not the living experience of the Church formed by the saints and martyrs; rather, it is the historical appeal to antiquity. The appeal to antiquity is an essential dimension of Sacred Tradition in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but it’s not the heart of Holy Tradition. Read some Florovsky and Congar and you’ll see what I mean. When Catholics and Orthodox speak of Tradition, they are talking about the living voice of the Church. For my own attempts to analyze this issue, see my compilation of postings Holy Tradition.

I have cited Scripture and Tradition as the first difference between Anglicanism and catholicism because from the Anglican position on Scripture and Tradition, which really is mere Protestantantism, flows all the other differences. It also explains why Anglicanism has proven incapable of standing against modernity in the Western world.

2) Ecclesiology: Catholicism and Orthodoxy each believe that they are the Church in an exclusive, or relatively exclusive, sense. This sense of being Church has characterized Christianity since the patristic period. The Church is visible and indivisible. Do the Churches of the Anglican Communion believe this? Have they ever believed this? No. The Church of England may have considered itself as the catholic Church in England, but it has never sought to unchurch the Protestant churches throughout the world. Yes, some of the Tractarians have argued for an exclusive catholicity of sorts (the branch theory); but this position has never been embraced as the Anglican position, and it has been effectively repudiated by Anglican churches in recent decades by such agreements as the Meissen Agreement (1989) between the Church of England and various German Lutheran church bodies and the “Concordat” some five years ago between the Episcopal Church and the ELCA here in America. Even John Cosin advised his friends to attend Reformed Lord’s Suppers when visiting Paris. And nowadays Episcopalians welcome all the baptized, of whatever denominational affiliation, to the Holy Table (and sometimes even the unbaptized!).

Pontificator’s Fourth Law: A church that does not understand itself as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is not the Church but a denomination or sect.

With this abandonment of an exclusive sense of being Church, must be appended Anglicanism’s rejection of the historic Episcopate as belonging to the essence (esse) of the Church. One can find, beginning with Archbishop Laud and his colleagues, various bishops and theologians arguing for its essential necessity, but such views have always remained the views of individual churchmen, not of Anglicanism. The historic Episcopate may be commended in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; but it has never been formally asserted as essential to Church polity, and in recent decades Anglican practice has witnessed to the tacit abandonment of such views.

And of course more recently Anglicanism has embraced the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, a move denounced by Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Pontificator’s First Law: When Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree, Protestantism loses.

3) Eucharistic presence and sacrifice. Let’s be honest. The 1552 and 1559 Prayer Books, by design, were ambivalent on the real presence, but the Zwinglianism of Cranmer is apparent at many points. The dominant views within Anglicanism over the past four hundred have been Hookerite receptionism and Calvinist virtualism. Bishop Lancelot Andrewes probably came closest in the 17th century to approximating a more catholic understanding (though compromised by confessional commitment to Article 29), but his views were not widely received. Even someone as catholic as Jeremy Taylor espoused a view that is hard to distinguish from that of Calvin. In the 19th century the Tractarians showed up on the scene, caused a ruckus with a position similar to Lutheran consubstantiation, which they called “the doctrine of the Real Presence,” and eventually won a tolerated status. (See my article “What do real Anglicans believe about the Real Presence?“)

The English reformers and Elizabethan Church clearly rejected the Roman view of the sacrifice of the Mass, and this rejection has been a constant in authoritative Anglican teaching and liturgy. Anglicans have generally agreed that the Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross, a commemorative sacrifice, but what precisely this means has varied considerably from theologian to theologian. My guess is that the position of the eighteenth century Daniel Waterland is representative of mainstream Anglicanism:

The service therefore of the Eucharist … is both a true and proper sacrifice … and the noblest that we are capable of offering, when considered as comprehending under it many true and evangelical sacrifices: 1. The sacrifice of alms to the poor and oblations to the Church…. 2. The sacrifice of prayer from a pure heart…. 3. The sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God the Father through Christ Jesus our Lord…. 4. The sacrifice of a penitent and contrite heart…. 5. The sacrifice of ourselves, our souls and bodies…. 6. The offering up the mystical body of Christ, that is, His Church…. 7. The offering up of true converts or sincere penitents to God by their pastors…. 8. The sacrifice of faith and hope and self-humiliation in commemorating the grand sacrifice and resting upon it.

What Anglicanism has not been able to do is to decisively and formally state the identity of the eucharistic sacrifice and the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on Calvary. It is this identity that is the heart of the catholic understanding of the eucharistic sacrifice. Lancelot Andrewes appears to have approached this identity, as did Jeremy Taylor in a different way, and we certainly find it clearly stated by Robert Wilberforce and E. L. Mascall; but one could easily cite many, many Anglicans who violently disagree with any such construal.

4) Justification by faith: Taking Hooker again as our guide (though why Hooker and not Jeremy Taylor?), Hooker is certainly convinced that the Church of England is committed to a view of justification that is identical to the views of Continental Protestantism. (But let me say that I much prefer Hooker’s version to Taylor’s!)

5) The veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints. What can one say? The Church of England junked all that in the 16th century, just like the Protestants on the Continent did. Veneration of the Theotokos and the saints has crept back into some Anglican quarters since the 1850s; but it remains a marginal practice and is widely disapproved.

6) Prayers for the dead: Ditto. In recent decades, however, Anglicans appear to have become more comfortable with the practice, as evidenced, for example, by the addition to the intercessions in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer: “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service …”

Each of the above is a significant departure from the teaching and practice of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Combined they represent a very different understanding of Christianity and a very different understanding of being Church.

So why do Anglicans continue to insist that Anglicanism is catholic? My best guess: It is a way to reassure themselves that Anglicanism is just as good as Catholicism and Orthodoxy, if not better (this was particularly important for me during my thirty years as an Episcopalian), with perhaps a not so subtle suggestion that Anglicanism is Protestantism in its fullness, i.e., Protestantism-plus.

So, is Anglicanism catholic? Does it matter?

2 November 2005


Four bloggers have honored me by responding to my two articles “More catholic than the Catholics” and “So what’s so catholic about Anglicanism.” In this post I’d like to offer a necessarily brief rejoinder to each.

(1) Over at Raw Edges, Larry Kamphausen seeks to reassert a catholic version of sola Scriptura as being the most authentic interpretation of the Reformation. He states the matter thusly:

There is a catholic articulation of the doctrine and it goes something like this: The faith that was once delivered to the saints is found in the Scriptures Old and New Testament in which we find the perfect rule of faith and all that is necessary for salvation. Along side scripture are the creeds and the doctrine of historic Christianity. The Creeds and doctrines of the church, the writings of the Fathers expound what is found in the Scriptures. If there are contradictions between a teaching and Scripture our final court of appeal is Scripture. Read carefully one finds Tradition in this text while having a distrust for tradition at the same time, while never using the term tradition. Given the schism and its nature this reluctance to use the term tradition is understandable but does not imply a rejection of catholicity. This articulation of Sola Scriptura does not deny the ongoing work of the holy spirit nor does it deny that the deposit of the faith that is handed on precedes and exists outside of Scripture but claims that Scripture in the community of faith is the final court of appeals when it comes to disputes about the nature of the deposit of the faith. It does not mean as some seem to think that on the settled disputes that we are to reopen them with reference only to Scripture as if the Church has never confronted these issues before. Numerous theological propositions I accept and was taught to believe that have no explicit and direct articulation in Scripture in a literal sense, but I was also taught to see how the are founded upon the Revelation of God in Scripture. This is not a rejection of catholicity, nor of tradition properly understood, but using Scripture as the Tradition has in fact used it as the Revelation of God in Christ and the source of truth and life. Certainly the catholic tradition has never claimed that its doctrines are too be understood separate from the revelation of God in the Scriptures. The Tradition is meaningless without reference and reliance upon the Scriptures.

This is a very reasonable statement. Certainly it represents what most high church Anglicans have believed and taught over the past four hundred years. Does it accurately represent, as claimed, the views of Martin Luther? I’ll wait to hear from the historians before assenting or dissenting. But the following citations from Luther (sent to me several months ago by a Pontifications reader) must be considered part of the mix:

Augustine has sometimes erred and is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as other fathers … But when the door was opened for me in Paul, so that I understood what justification by faith is, it was all over with Augustine. (LW 54, 49)

I know no doctor [Jerome] whom I hate so much, although I once loved him ardently and read him voraciously. Surely there’s more learning in Aesop than in all of Jerome. (LW 54, 72)

I have no use for Chrysostom either, for he is only a gossip. Basil doesn’t amount to anything; he was a monk, after all, and I wouldn’t give a penny for him. Philip’s [Melanchthon’s] Apology is superior to all the doctors of the church, even to Augustine himself. Hilary and Theophylact are good, and so is Ambrose (LW 54, 33).

Based on my reading of Luther over the years, my uneducated guess is that the Fathers were relatively insignificant for Luther, except in polemical situations where they might be invoked in support of his interpretations of Scripture. On the other hand, the Fathers seem to have been somewhat more important for Martin Chemnitz. However one finally judges Luther or the Lutheran reformers, we must evaluate the Reformation more broadly and watch how the principle of sola scriptura got played out over the centuries. Why was it so easy for Reformed and Anglican Protestants to dissent from the catholic tradition on the Eucharist in the name of Scripture? Why was it so easy for all Protestants to depart from the catholic claim that the historic Episcopate belongs to the essence of the Church? These questions can be multiplied across the board. It’s not just a matter of formulating a theory of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. We need to see how this theory became embodied in theological teaching and church life. It is insufficient to assert that sola scriptura got sabotaged by the Enlightenment. The question is why was it so easily sabotaged?

No matter how “catholic” one wants to formulate sola scriptura, the fact remains that it misconstrues the proper relationship between Scripture and Tradition. Again I reference especially the two books by Yves Congar: The Meaning of Tradition and Tradition and Traditions.

(2) Over at, Kevin Johnson dismisses my arguments as typical cant from a new convert to Catholicism. But most of his article focuses on Louis Bouyer’s famous book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, in which Bouyer argues that the principal concerns of the reformers (solus Christus, sola gratia, the authority of Holy Scripture) are authentic Catholic concerns, though Bouyer would also agree that when divorced from the Catholic Church they become distorted. I agree with Bouyer’s thesis, but I’m afraid I do not see how it in any way contests anything I have written. Indeed, I would suggest that anyone who finds Bouyer persuasive no longer has good reason to remain separated from the Catholic Church.

As to the worth of my arguments others must judge; but I think it is fair to say that Kevin’s piece does not address the substance of my arguments, so there is not much for me to say in reply. Kevin and his Reformed Catholic colleagues are pushing the Protestant envelope in their attempt to recover catholic substance. There have been several such attempts before. All have failed. Most are hardly remembered. At some point they each hit the brick wall of the Protestant DNA of their respective denominations. A good recent example is the evangelical-catholicism movement within Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Despite theological luminaries such as Robert W. Jenson, Carl Braaten, and David Yeago, the movement has failed to transform ELCA or even to halt ELCA’s slide into revisionist Protestantism. As a result a number of fine Lutheran theologians have found it necessary to reconsider their Reformation commitments and to enter either the Catholic or Orthodox Church. Even Anglo-Catholicism, the most “successful” attempt at catholic recovery, had to abandon its goal to transform the Church of England and settle for party status. Within the churches of the Reformation, catholicity remains, and will always remain, an expression of private judgment. In 1850 J. H. Newman pleaded with his former Anglo-Catholic colleagues to recognize the irrationality in remaining a part of the Church of England. He has never been adequately answered:

In the beginning of the movement you disowned private judgment, but now, if you would remain a party, you must, with whatever inconsistency, profess it;—then you were a party only externally, that is, not in your wishes and feelings, but merely because you were seen to differ from others in matter of fact, when the world looked at you, whether you would or no; but now you will be a party knowingly and on principle, intrinsically, and will be erected on a party basis. You cannot be what you were. You will no longer be Anglo-Catholic, but Patristico-Protestants. You will be obliged to frame a religion for yourselves, and then to maintain that it is that very truth, pure and celestial, which the Apostles promulgated. You will be induced of necessity to put together some speculation of your own, and then to fancy it of importance enough to din it into the ears of your neighbours, to plague the world with it, and, if you have success, to convulse your own Communion with the imperious inculcation of doctrines which you can never engraft upon it.

Of course, it is always possible, if one is willing to separate from one’s parent Church, to create a new denomination confessionally based on more “catholic” principles, as we see, for example, in the Continuing Anglican churches; but the Continuing churches remain isolated, tiny denominations, enjoying eucharistic communion with virtually no one but themselves. Refusing to enter into the wider catholic Church, as actualized in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, they paradoxically embody what has been described as “catholic sectarianism.” Richard Neuhaus’s judgment remains secure: “Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media. The realization grows that orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism.”

(3) Over at the Propaganda Box, Jonathan Ratican has offered a lengthy critique of my two articles. Jonathan approaches the question of catholicity from a different viewpoint from that of either Larry or Kevin, in that he approves recent developments in the Episcopal Church. He’s asked me not to describe him as a revisionist, which is a fair request and I’m happy to grant it; but I will continue to describe him as an Affirming Catholic, even though he does not belong to the organization, as his theological viewpoint more closely approximates those in that camp than anybody else’s.

I will also put aside his discussion of the primacy of the bishop of Rome, as he does not appear to have looked seriously at the historical evidence.

Jonathan covers a lot of ground in his piece; but for purposes of this article, I need to restrict my attention to his explication of catholicity and the identification of Anglicanism as catholic. What does it mean to Jonathan to describe an ecclesial body as catholic? Unfortunately, this is not at all clear in his piece, and the unclarity is compounded by his failure to address the six areas I cited in my second article where Anglicanism departed from catholic faith and practice at the Reformation. He agrees that one dimension of catholicity is wholeness, but goes on to assert that no single body is truly catholic in fullness:

My belief is that Anglicanism allows for a fuller expression of the catholicity of the Church than other bodies today. But expression does not mean that other branches of the Catholic Church, as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, are not Catholic or are less Catholic than the Anglican Church. Expression is practice and witness. In that regard, none is completely full in expression save for the whole Church herself, without break or boundary.

This is an attractive statement; and it’s one, I imagine, that most Protestant Christians would agree with. Underlying Jonathan’s position is a form of the branch theory of the Church. The branch theory has many variations, some more exclusive than others. My guess is that Jonathan’s view tends toward the inclusive end—that is to say, it allows all authentically Christian bodies, including those lacking apostolic orders, to claim union with the catholic Church. Difference in catholicity is a matter of degree. Some bodies embody, in practice and witness, a greater fullness of the catholic faith than others. In Jonathan’s estimate, the Anglican Communion is presently at the pinnacle in the ecclesial expression of catholicity.

Jonathan’s assertion here is a humble claim, as he excludes no one from the catholic Church. All are equal—some are only more equal than others. But it is also a breathtaking claim. Given the present theological and spiritual condition of the Episcopal Church, one has to wonder if the Episcopal Church could do anything that would bring its catholicity into question. It is not unusual, for example, for bishops in the Episcopal Church today to challenge or deny basic doctrines of the faith and to do so with impunity. Yet Jonathan does not seem to be worried. In his article he tells us that he dissents from catholic teaching on women in the priesthood and homosexual unions. He says that on these, and presumably other issues, the Church is presently in a process of discernment as it seeks “the Mind of Christ for the Church.” But who determines when the process of discernment has been brought to closure? On the former issue, the Catholic Church has already definitively declared that she does not have the authority to admit women into the priesthood, and the Orthodox Churches have made similar statements. The only Churches that believe they have such authority are on the Protestant side of the ecclesial world, and most of them (including most Anglicans) do not interpret their ordained ministry as a sacerdotal priesthood. Jonathan states that he is willing to submit to the will of the Church if the Church should ever definitively determine that women cannot be admitted to the priesthood; but of course this willingness, though I’m sure sincere, is meaningless. The only Church that has mechanisms to dogmatically decide on matters like this is the Catholic Church; but in Jonathan’s catholic Church disagreement on disputed matters is permissible and encouraged until unanimity is reached, which will never occur this side of the Eschaton. Similarly, on the question of homosexual unions Catholicism and Orthodoxy both teach that God intends sexual intercourse to be enjoyed between a man and woman exclusively within the bonds of Holy Matrimony and both emphatically reject the contemporary movement to embrace homosexual unions. Most Protestant bodies, with various degrees of enthusiasm, teach the same, including the overwhelming majority of Anglicans. I find it curious that Jonathan has ignored the Windsor Report, which is the first truly serious attempt to restructure Anglicanism along more conciliar lines. But to adopt the Windsor Report would mean that ECUSA would have to put off the formal sanctioning of homosexual unions and the ordination of practicing homosexuals for the foreseeable future. All in all, I have no idea what catholic means when Jonathan uses it to describe either himself or Anglicanism; but one thing for sure, Jonathan doesn’t mean what Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholics mean when they use the word.

Jonathan objects to my assertion that universality is an essential dimension of catholicity. “If, however, you want to suggest,” he writes, “that lack of communion with other churches robs us of catholicity I have to wonder if you are correct …” Here I admit I stand on uncertain ground, yet I continue to believe that universality is an important criterion when one is seeking to identify the one true Church in the midst of conflicting claimants. It really does matter with whom we are in communion. It certainly mattered to St Augustine and the other Fathers. This is clear in the witness and practice of the early Church (see Ludwig Hertling, Communio [1972]).

Perhaps the most revealing passage in Jonathan’s article is his response to my question “Why aren’t the views of Saint Boniface, Leo, and Gregory authoritative for Anglicanism?” Jonathan’s rejoinder: “Why aren’t the views of Saints Hooker, Seabury, and Ramsey authoritative for Romans?” This sentence jumped out at me: Anglicans don’t recognize as saints those who lived and died after the Reformation! They may add specific post-Reformation individuals to their liturgical calendars for weekday commemoration; but they do not speak of “Blessed Richard Hooker” or “St Samuel Seabury” nor do they invoke them in prayer. Here is a clear difference between catholic Christianity and Anglican Christianity. Jonathan may dismiss as silly the Catholic insistence that canonization must be accompanied by miraculous evidence, but the salient fact is that Anglicanism has no means of acknowledging men and women as “saints.”

(4) Over at In a Godward Direction, Fr Tobias Haller flatly rejects the exclusive claim to catholicity by any church body. It’s all a myth:

And so I come to the myth of the catholic church: no single institutional church can claim that title. One can’t even make those little lists of “branches” so dear to Anglo-Catholics of a former age, who clung to the myth of short-list catholicity: Rome, Constantinople, and Canterbury — the latter somehow desperately clinging to the fringes of the formers’ garments, as they might rightly say, Who touched me? No, my friends, this is not where the church catholic subsists.

I had to smile when I read “no single institutional church can claim that title.” I am reminded of Mark Twain’s answer to the question, “Sir, do you believe in infant baptism?” to which Twain replied, “Believe in it! Why, Madam, I’ve seen it!” Perhaps no ecclesial body should claim to be the Catholic Church; but it is certainly a claim that an ecclesial body may make—and there are in fact two present-day Christian Churches (and perhaps more than two if we include the Oriental Orthodox) that have consistently made this claim for the past two thousand years. This is a remarkable historical fact, an adamantine, unyielding, irresistible, incontestable fact. How many empires have risen and fallen in this time? Yet here are two Churches, two Churches that were once one, still advancing the claim of catholicity. Facts such as these are so much more impressive and compelling than the theories of theologians. Yet Fr Tobias is certain that both Catholicism and Orthodoxy are wrong.

So where is the Catholic Church, according to our priestly blogger?

The church catholic subsists in the body of all the baptized, for the church is one and holy as well as catholic and apostolic. There is only one holy catholic and apostolic church — and all the rest are just denominations, just the promontories and peninsulas of the mainland, the denominated seas of the boundless ocean, even Rome and Constantinople, and yes Canterbury too, and for that matter (on this the feast of Willibrord) Utrecht, and Geneva, Wittenberg, and Uppsala and Calcutta and Tokyo and all the countless places where the word has been preached and the bread has been broken, and the water splashed, and the voices raised, and God glorified. This is the catholic church — that curious and contentious caravan of wayfarers who though they fail to recognize each other, will one day discover they are long-lost children of one Father in heaven.

It’s an eloquent passage, and one has to admire Tobias’s willingness to push his ecclesiology to its logical conclusion. EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes. Even the Catholics and Orthodox will get their prize, despite their delusion and arrogance. With Tobias we see the triumph of ecclesiological relativism. We all find it an attractive position, because the spirit of relativism is the air that we breathe. In our culture any claim of salvific particularity is immediately suspect. We resist absolute assertions of truth. The Catholic and Orthodox claims are so “exclusive”—they just can’t be right. Didn’t Jesus say that where two or three gather in his name, there he is in the midst of them? Better to declare both wrong, than to admit the possibility that one may be right.

My four respondents assume, without question, a branch theory of the Church catholic. But the branch theory is rejected by Catholicism and Orthodoxy—both of which insist that the Church is visible and indivisible—and enjoys no patristic support whatsoever. It is a concoction of Protestants. Various rationales have been advanced for the theory. One of the most popular: since the separation of East and West no body can claim to truly be the Catholic Church. How anyone can know this to be true apart from a special revelation from God I do not know; but if it is indeed true that the great schism has made it impossible for any body to claim exclusive catholicity, then a more appropriate interpretation is that the promises of Christ to his Church have failed and Christianity is now demonstrated to be a false religion. Newman long ago noted the incoherence of the branch theory:

Now it is very intelligible to deny that there is any divinely established, divinely commissioned, Church at all; but to hold that the one Church is realized and perfected in each of a thousand independent corporate units, co-ordinate, bound by no necessary inter-communion, adjusted into no divine organized whole, is a tenet, not merely unknown in Scripture, but so plainly impossible to carry out practically, as to make it clear that it never would have been devised, except by men, who conscientiously believing in a visible Church and also conscientiously opposed to Rome, had nothing left for them, whether they would or not would, but to entrench themselves in the paradox that the Church was one indeed, and the Church was Catholic indeed, but that the one Church was not Catholic, and the Catholic Church was not the one.

One of the reasons I became Catholic was the ability of the Catholic Church, as expressed in Lumen Gentium, both to assert her exclusive catholicity and to affirm the catholic elements found in particular Churches and ecclesial communities outside her canonical boundaries.

Pontificator’s Fourth Law: A church that does not understand itself as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is not the Church but a denomination or sect.

I submit that Anglicanism is a sect. A big, glorious and beautiful sect, perhaps, but a sect nonetheless. And if this is true for Anglicanism as a whole, how much more true must it be for the Episcopal Church of the United States of America!

12 November 2005


Last month Philip Turner delivered a paper titled “ECUSA’ Choice.” He describes his paper as a diatribe, but do not look for angry denunciations. As always, Dr Turner is the quintessential Christian gentleman. His paper is a diatribe in the archaic meaning of the word: “an extended argument meant, on the one hand, to wear away a point of view that one believes to be false and, on the other, to present by contrast a more adequate perspective.”

“ECUSA’ Choice” is important because in it Turner finally acknowledges that constructive theological dialogue and debate is no longer a possibility in the Episcopal Church:

For years I held the hope that ECUSA might engage in a theologically informed discussion of the many issues that now threaten to divide it. I no longer have such a hope. We have given up reasoned and faithful argument for struggles in which the exercise of power dominates, and in which calls for “dialogue” do no more than cloak a quest for dominance. On the matters I am about to present, I am not asking for dialogue. Sadly, we now live outside that possibility. I ask only to be listened to. When what I have to say has been heard, let each of us make what they will of it. There is in the original Rule of Taize a wonderful paragraph that (roughly paraphrased) says this. When there is a matter of common concern, let the brother say what he has to say and then remain silent. Let there be no special pleading—no heaping up of words. Let the truth (if there be any) make its own way.

Believe me when I tell you that if the Very Reverend Doctor Philip W. Turner III has reached this conclusion, then the fat lady has sung for the Episcopal Church. Personally, I wish he had come to this conclusion fifteen years ago—I still remember how frustrating I found his always balanced and fair talks in the early days of SEAD—but I’m sure it would not have made any difference to the outcome.

As well as being a gentleman and a scholar, Turner is also a thoroughly committed Anglican. For the past thirty years he has been the Richard Hooker of the Episcopal Church. The present crisis has not compelled him to question, at least publicly, his “Anglicanism.” And here is his problem. Anglicans simply do not know what to do with heresy. If only we could sit down together around a bottle of sherry, surely we could reason our way into theological agreement. But theological disputation has rarely been so dispassionate, and no matter how many bottles of sherry have been drunk, disputants continue to disagree on fundamental matters. It is clear from the apostolic letters of Paul and John that first-century Christianity was marked by vigorous, emotional, and tempestuous theological debates, often ending in mutual anathemas; and so it has been for two thousand years. Because so much is at stake, and because the assertion of theological opinion is so often connected to intellectual pride and conflicting visions of faith, the Church has always known that obstinate heretics ultimately need to be excluded from the eucharistic fellowship of the Church, for their own good and for the good of the community. Tragically, the Church has too often exercised this final resort prematurely, unwisely, and sometimes unjustly. Could not the schism between the Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians have been avoided if only everyone had exercised greater patience and charity? Would it not have been best if Photios had actually read and understood Augustine before firing his anti-filioque guns? Was there not a better way to theologically negotiate the Reformation crisis? Schism is so difficult to heal once it is firmly established. Perhaps for this reason, as well as others, modern Anglicanism has been loathe to excommunicate heretics, as long as they publicly avoided the extremes of atheism and Catholicism.

Yet there are also times when the Church must decisively act, times when it is necessary to name the heresy and to authoritatively separate false teachers from the Church. This the bishops of the Episcopal Church have resolutely refused to do. Dr. Turner has reviewed this history in several of his articles (see, e.g., “The Episcopalian Preference”). In the early 90s, a handful of us urged the remaining orthodox bishops to avail themselves of the option of excommunication. Fr Stephen Freeman and I even wrote a paper for the members of the now defunct Irenaeus Fellowship of Bishops on the pastoral desirability and necessity of excommuncation. But the decision was made to continue dialogue. The bishops refused to sever communion with those bishops publicly teaching heterodoxy. The consequence was the takeover of ECUSA by the new revisionist theology.

Turner’s article offers substantive and helpful reflections on the significance of communion. He hopes to build upon the Windsor Report. But I do not expect many will receive his counsel—and rightly so. Anglicanism has never had much of an ecclesiology and certainly has never had an ecclesiology of communion. That an Anglican Communion even exists is but an accidental consequence of British colonialism. Turner and his companions are proposing to reshape the structures of Anglicanism based on an ecclesiology they have only recently invented. I thus sympathize with the complaints of ECUSA revisionists that traditionalists are trying to impose bonds of communion that are alien to Anglicanism. But more importantly, the Windsor report simply will not work. The kind of communion that the Windsor report envisions, a visible communion that is deeper than “loyalty to creedal and confessional statements,” is impossible apart from a divinely-ordained center of unity. And whatever else the Archbishop of Canterbury may be, he is not a divinely ordained center of international unity. How ironic that Turner and others should now be commending to their fellow Anglicans an understanding of communion that requires, and indeed presupposes, the Pope.

Perhaps it is time for Anglicans to ask themselves, Is the Anglican Communion worth saving? I can certainly think of elements of the Anglican patrimony that are worth saving and pray that they will indeed be saved within the Catholic Church. The old Prayer Book liturgies are worth saving; but Anglicans themselves have already consigned them to the museum. Anglicans will never again be able to reproduce the beauty, grace, and mystery of the Cranmerian Prayer Book. It belongs to an age now past. The Book of Common Prayer was, as Chesterton remarked, not “the first Protestant book” but “the last Catholic book.” There are also Anglican writings, hymns, psalmnody, anthems, and liturgical music that will keep their value for future generations; but one does not need to be an Anglican to appreciate them. Catholics and Protestants alike can treasure Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, John Donne, George Herbert, Isaac Watts, Healey Willan, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. But when Anglicans invoke their special Anglican identity, they are thinking of something more than just the Prayer Book, hymnal, or favorite divines. They are thinking of a particular sensibility and experience that is precious to them: “Surely God has given to us an undefinable grace, a grace of generosity, gentleness, and beauty. This is our unique vocation—to keep this grace safe for Christendom.” Whether this grace is an authentic work of the Spirit or simply a by-product of Anglican equivocation and muddleheadedness, as Stephen Sykes suggested years ago in his book The Integrity of Anglicanism, probably cannot be settled. But one thing I think is certain—the cultivation of a special “Anglican” spirit has little to do with the gospel and the mission of the Church. Churches are called to be Christian. We cannot recapture the ethos and experiences of a beloved past; and it is sin to seek to do so. We can only live in the present into the future.

Why maintain an Anglican Communion? Anglican parishes already admit all and sundry to the Table. When Anglican Churches abandoned the practice of closed communion, they abandoned any pretence to distinct ecclesial, as opposed to sociological and political, identity. The long-held myth that Anglicanism represents a third-way of being catholic is now largely recognized as vainglorious and theologically untenable. Anglicanism is a historic form of Protestantism, no more and no less catholic than Lutherans, Methodists, Reformed, and Emergents. If the Spirit of God is now breaking down institutional barriers and creating a new form of ecumenism, as Thomas Oden has prophesied, then attempts to salvage and renew specifically Anglican structures may well be at cross-purposes with the Spirit. I am not saying that it is. I am simply noting that this concern to assert an “Anglican” ecclesial presence seems anachronistic and sectarian in today’s denominational world.

I disagree strongly with one of Dr. Turner’s recommendations: “Don’t contribute to further division by leaving the parish, diocese, province, or communion of which you now are a part. Rather stay the course by making both a truthful and charitable witness.” This is, I believe, a morally irresponsible statement. It was understandable perhaps twenty years ago, but the exhortation lacks all persuasiveness and authority today. I respect Dr. Turner’s decision to go down with the ECUSA ship, but it is wrong for him to tell people that if they leave ECUSA they are contributing further to the division of the Church. Turner is a Protestant Christian, and church division is intrinsic to Protestant Christianity. As much as one may deplore sectarianisms based upon “ideological conviction and thin moralism,” “confessional agreement and premature, exclusionary discipline,” and “slothful limitation of the boundaries of God’s people to one’s own stamping ground,” the fact remains that all are part of the Protestant universe. It is utopian to believe that Anglicanism ever could escape the sectarianism that is inherent to separation from the see of Peter.

Orthodox Episcopalians now find themselves in an absolutely intolerable situation. All blinders have been stripped away. The heretical condition of the Episcopal Church is clear for all to behold. Orthodox parents are now raising their children in a denomination they know to be heretical. They are thus forced to tell their children, “We are not ‘really’ Episcopalians; we are Christian.” And so Episcopalian children are raised by their parents as non-denominational Protestants! But what choice, besides leaving the Episcopal Church, do orthodox parents have? ECUSA is not a safe theological and spiritual place in which to raise children.

Parish priests, on the other hand, now find themselves in the position of calling sinners into a national church that is teaching heresy and grave sin. How long can a pastor swallow his conscience before his soul is torn apart? What is he to do? Keep silent and continue to build his Episcopal parish? lead his congregation out of ECUSA? leave the ordained ministry altogether?

And then there are those who are finding themselves forced to confront the Protestantism of Anglicanism. Can Protestantism maintain the catholic faith in the confrontation with modernity? Was the Reformation a blunder? The dream of a catholic Anglicanism is now revealed as the mirage it has always been. Newman powerfully addressed this fantasy in his lectures Anglican Difficulties. I confess that now that I live on the other side of the Tiber I am appalled that it took me so long (thirty years, to be exact) to see through the illusion that is Anglo-Catholicism. Hence I urge my brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church, and especially those who find themselves questioning the Reformation experiment, to heed the words, not of Philip Turner, but of John Henry Newman. In May 1850 Newman stood before his friends and colleagues and pled with them to see the truth about the Church of England:

My dear brethren, there is but one thing that forces me to speak,—and it is my intimate sense that the Catholic Church is the one ark of salvation, and my love for your souls; it is my fear lest you ought to submit yourselves to her, and do not; my fear lest I may perchance be able to persuade you, and not use my talent. It will be a miserable thing for you and for me, if I had been instrumental in bringing you but half-way, if I have cooperated in removing your invincible ignorance, but am able to do no more. It is this keen feeling that my life is wearing away, which overcomes the lassitude which possesses me, and scatters the excuses which I might plausibly urge to myself for not meddling with what I have left for ever, which subdues the recollection of past times, and which makes me do my best, with whatever success, to bring you to land from off your wreck, who have thrown yourselves from it upon the waves, or are clinging to its rigging, or are sitting in heaviness and despair upon its side. For this is the truth: the Establishment, whatever it be in the eyes of men, whatever its temporal greatness and its secular prospects, in the eyes of faith is a mere wreck. We must not indulge our imagination, we must not dream: we must look at things as they are; we must not confound the past with the present, or what is substantive with what is the accident of a period. Ridding our minds of these illusions, we shall see that the Established Church has no claims whatever on us, whether in memory or in hope; that they only have claims upon our commiseration and our charity whom she holds in bondage, separated from that faith and that Church in which alone is salvation. If I can do aught towards breaking their chains, and bringing them into the Truth, it will be an act of love towards their souls, and of piety towards God….

I have said, we must not indulge our imagination in the view we take of the National Establishment. If, indeed, we dress it up in an ideal form, as if it were something real, with an independent and a continuous existence, and a proper history, as if it were in deed and not only in name a Church, then indeed we may feel interest in it, and reverence towards it, and affection for it, as men have fallen in love with pictures, or knights in romance do battle for high dames whom they have never seen. Thus it is that students of the Fathers, antiquaries, and poets, begin by assuming that the body to which they belong is that of which they read in times past, and then proceed to decorate it with that majesty and beauty of which history tells, or which their genius creates. Nor is it by an easy process or a light effort that their minds are disabused of this error. It is an error for many reasons too dear to them to be readily relinquished. But at length, either the force of circumstances or some unexpected accident dissipates it; and, as in fairy tales, the magic castle vanishes when the spell is broken, and nothing is seen but the wild heath, the barren rock, and the forlorn sheep-walk, so is it with us as regards the Church of England, when we look in amazement on that we thought so unearthly, and find so commonplace or worthless.

These are hard words, but they are also words of truth and liberation.

But whether you agree or disagree with the assessment of Newman, I urge you: do not be afraid to follow your conscience. These are difficult times for all orthodox Episcopalians. God has not laid upon you a moral obligation to stay within the Episcopal Church, no matter what the cost. Neither the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion makes such a claim upon you; neither can rightly make this claim upon you. You must act for the good of your family and for the good of your soul and your eternal salvation. If you decide that you must leave the Episcopal Church, either individually or perhaps corporately with other members of your congregation, know that you are not dividing the Church nor contributing to its further division. Your fellow churchmen created this division by their embrace of heresy and false teaching. But before you make a final decision, I ask you, please give the claims of the Catholic Church a sympathetic hearing.

15 February 2006


What will happen to the Episcopal Church after this summer’s General Convention? Many have been predicting a schism; but two bishops of the Anglican Communion Network have recently intimated that traditional Episcopalians need to be prepared for a long struggle within ECUSA.

In a recent article in his diocesan newspaper, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, encourages his diocese to “hold on” and “stand fast.” His article is a response to a question recently put to him by one of his priests, “Why struggle on?”

The context of the question was a presentation I had been making to various gatherings of diocesan leaders throughout the month of January. I had shared my sense that the battle in which we are engaged in the Episcopal Church will go on for a very long time, that there were unlikely to be any “quick fixes” or decisive actions either at the General Convention or in the systems of the Anglican Communion, and that our best course forward, remained a relentless and unyielding focus on the mission of our congregations, on our mission together as a diocese and on are missionary partnerships worldwide.

If you read the entire article, I think you will agree that the bishop is holding his cards very close to his rabat. He is preparing his people for a long struggle. Some have suggested that Duncan is throwing cold water on hopes and expectations that the Network will leave ECUSA after General Convention; but this is not clear to me. I imagine that many of the Network bishops have not yet made up their minds. I imagine that all are dreading the possibility of long, drawn-out, expensive litigation if they do try to leave with all their diocesan and parochial assets. What I do know is that Bishop Duncan is a prayerful, thoughtful, and courageous man. The Network could not have a better man at the helm.

In a recent meditation delivered to the Executive Council of his diocese, the Rt. Rev. James Stanton, bishop of Dallas, suggests that neither leaving the Episcopal Church nor staying with the Episcopal Church is ecclesiologically significant. “Denominational affiliation does not make a Church a Church,” he opines. “What makes a Church is the presence of the Risen Lord, operating through His Holy Spirit, confirming and strengthening the apostolic faith once delivered to the saints.” It’s hard to disagree with the good bishop; but perhaps it would not be out-of-place to point out that these two sentences would also be enthusiastically endorsed by theologians in the free-church tradition. The retreat into a free-church ecclesiology is perhaps not unexpected under these circumstances. What else can a bishop say when he is maintaining sacramental and institutional union with heretical bishops? And so Bishop Stanton promises to stand and fight: “What is the alternative? For me it is simple. We stand. We are the Church. We are not the Church alone, of course. But we are the Church. And we have a mission to fulfill. We must stand on that mission.” But Stanton’s meditation is just ambiguous enough to give him and his diocese some wiggle room after this summer’s debacle. Standing is not the same as following the Episcopal Church as it walks away from the Anglican Communion. Or is it?

I do not envy these bishops. They have hard decisions to make in the months ahead. Some of these bishops, I know, are being torn apart in the depths of their souls. How does one reconcile responsibility to one’s diocese, commitment to catholic faith and polity, and involvement in a heretical national institution? A few of these bishops would have left the Episcopal Church by now if they had not been bishops. Perhaps one or two would even become Catholic. Rightly or wrongly, they stay because they feel they must. Yet consider the spiritual, psychological, and theological toll. We must keep them in our prayers.

Even if the bishops of the Network have decided that they must remain within the institutional fold of ECUSA, should everyone else feel so bound? This is a difficult question. As I argued in my earlier article “Is the Anglican Communion worth saving?” I do not believe that Anglican ecclesiology authorizes one to advance an unconditional duty to remain an Episcopalian when confronted with institutional heresy. On the other hand, if one is committed to a denominational view of the Church, then perhaps there really isn’t much of a point, as Bishop Stanton suggests, in leaving one denomination in order to join or start another. Cardinal Newman made this very same point in one of his lectures:

While you are looking about for a new Communion, have nothing to do with a “Branch Church.” You have had enough experience of branch churches already, and you know very well what they are. Depend upon it, such as is one, such is another. They may differ in accidents certainly; but, after all, a branch is a branch, and no branch is a tree. Depend on it, my brethren, it is not worth while leaving one branch for another. While you are doing so great a work, do it thoroughly; do it once for all; change for the better. Rather than go to another branch, remain where you are; do not put yourselves to trouble for nothing; do not sacrifice this world without gaining the next.

Newman explained to his friend T. W. Allies that he could not have left the Church of England if he believed that it was a true branch of the catholic Church: “To leave it merely as a branch of the Catholic Church for another which I liked better, would have been to desert without reason the post where Providence put me.” But once he became convinced that the Church of Rome was the Catholic Church, then conversion was a moral imperative, no matter what the cost.

Stay or leave? If one is going to dig in for the long, hard ecclesial struggle, be sure one is digging into the Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.

25 February 2006


On May 25th, Andy of All Too Common published a piece criticizing the decision of Jeff Moore, a former Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth, to become Catholic. “It boggles my mind,” he writes, “why a priest at a Catholic parish in the Diocese of Ft. Worth would leave for Rome individually, rather than try to work for a corporate reunion.”

I had a similar reaction to Andy’s article. It boggles my mind how any catholic-minded Anglican can remain within Anglicanism, even in a fairly catholic diocese like Fort Worth, and I say this even if the ecclesiastical landscape changes dramatically in the months and years following the 2006 General Convention. The Fort Worth diocese is to be strongly commended for firmly holding the line during the past thirty years against the forces of revision. But the diocese remains a member of the Anglican Communion. Not only are Anglo-Catholics a rapidly dwindling minority within the Anglican Communion, but Anglo-Catholicism remains simply one theological alternative among many within Anglicanism. Even in the eagerly awaited reconfigured Anglican Communion—especially in a reconfigured Anglican Communion!—the fundamental tenets and practices of Anglo-Catholicism will be rejected by the large majority of bishops: ex opere operato understanding of sacramental efficacy, eucharistic real-real presence, eucharistic sacrifice for the living and the dead, eucharistic adoration, the historic episcopate as belonging to the esse of the Church, invocation of the saints, prayers for the dead, veneration of icons and relics, special devotion to the Mother of God. The Diocese of Fort Worth may understand itself as catholic, but it continues in communion with many bishops and dioceses that understand catholic in a very different way. Andy believes that an Anglo-Catholic should remain Anglican and work for church unity, yet Anglicanism is itself incapable of establishing doctrinal unity within its own communal life. Anglicanism practices “dispersed authority.” Edward Norman explains the consequences of this peculiar practice:

The concept of “dispersed authority,” however, does not propose any means of arriving at an orderly conclusion in each particular area of controversy. It is a steady-state; permanent indecision. The more weighty the doctrine at issue the less likely the prospect of a resolution: “dispersed authority” is a formula for, or rather a description of, the means of reducing Christianity to generalities…. The most telling difficulty about “dispersed authority” is that four centuries of its operation in the Church of England has produced what most acknowledge: a crisis of identity, a crisis of unity, and an inability to adduce a coherent ecclesiology. It is hard to imagine that divine providence, disclosed in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can have entrusted the presence of Christ in the world to such an ideological shambles.

The Windsor Report witnesses to this fundamental flaw of the Anglican Communion, but it does not and cannot solve it. The solution cannot be found within Anglicanism. The only escape from the crisis of “dispersed authority” is the adoption of the divinely-instituted teaching office; but such an adoption would quite literally mean the undoing of Anglicanism (see my review of Norman’s book Anglican Difficulties).

Andy then advances his Common Anglican ecclesiological thesis:

Thesis: I argue that while juridical unity is important for Catholics and while juridical unity with the Holy Father is preferable, that the Catholic Church exists where the Sacraments exist; and the Sacraments exist where Succession exists and the Catholic Faith is taught.

Andy makes clear that he is not advancing a new form of the branch theory. His argument is based, rather, on communio-ecclesiology. This is an interesting argument. I bet Andy had a great deal of fun quoting then-Cardinal Ratzinger in support of his thesis. I am not well read enough yet in Catholic ecclesiology to offer a substantive response, but I do have a few thoughts.

I agree that where true sacraments are, there is the Church of Jesus Christ. One might also more simply say, where the gospel is, there is the Church of Jesus Christ. Our Lord did after all promise, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20); and St Ignatius assures us that “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church” (Smyrneans 8). I imagine this is precisely why Vatican II felt it necessary to affirm the presence of the Church, in some way, outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. One cannot divide the risen Christ and parcel him out in bits. He comes to us in the wholeness of his glorified reality.

Andy wishes to insist upon the valid succession of the ordained ministry constitutive of the Church: the Church exists where the sacraments exist, and the sacraments exist where “Succession exists and the Catholic Faith is taught.” Several questions are raised by this stipulation. Certainly almost all Protestants would disagree with the insistence upon the historic succession of the Episcopate, including most Anglicans; and even Catholics acknowledge that Holy Baptism may be validly administered by the non-ordained. One therefore must ask by what authority Andy advances his ecclesiological thesis. It certainly does not enjoy the authority of the communion to which Andy and the Diocese of Fort Worth belongs.

Yet it must be acknowledged that the Catholic Church does acknowledge the existence and ecclesial reality of particular Churches that are not presently in communion with the See of Peter—specifically the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Catholic Church affirms the validity and efficaciousness of the sacraments of these particular Churches. In the words of Dominus Iesus:

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

From the recognition of true particular Churches, Andy then draws the following problematic conclusion:

Being in communion occurs by having common sacraments and having a common Lord. So we are, in fact, in communion with all Catholics, by virtue of having the sacraments. Is it bad that we are not in juridical union with the Pope? Absolutely! But not being in juridical union with the Pope is not breaking Christ’s command that we be one like He and the Father are one. Unless the sacraments are not what unite us to Christ and make us His Bride, the local churches are indeed a part of the universal Church.

In other words, Andy tells us, because true particular Churches enjoy valid sacraments, separation from the successor of Peter does not violate the divine call to unity. But surely this conclusion only follows if one rejects the Catholic understanding of the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome. Perhaps it might be useful to recall the teaching of Vatican II on the constitutive role of the Pope in the life of the Church and the universal summons to unity with him:

This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God. (Lumen gentium 18)

It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem. (Unitatis Redintegratio 3)

My intent here is not to argue for the Catholic view but simply to state it. All Churches are called to maintain unity and communion with Peter. The refusal to enter into such unity might not be judged as formal sin, because of historical factors and the force of invincible ignorance, but it most certainly must be judged as material sin. Christ Jesus wills the visible, sacramental unity of his Church through union with the rock upon which he has established her. It is not only Catholics who are called to juridical and eucharistic unity with the Pope but all Christians and all particular Churches.

But if I am a member of a particular Church that has true sacraments and true bishops, what do I lose by not being in communion with the bishop of Rome? Why not simply remain a catholic Anglican and work for unification, as Andy suggests? Two reasons immediately come to mind.

First, if God indeed calls us to unity with the Church of Rome, and if I recognize the fact and truth of this call, then disobedience to this summons is disobedience to God. Thus the Second Vatican Council solemnly declared that any person who knows that “the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ” and refuses to enter her or remain in her cannot be saved (LG 14). This fact alone should justify the decision of Jeff Moore, Taylor Marshall, Al Kimel, and others to leave the Anglican priesthood and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. To stay with ECUSA and work for unity simply is not a spiritual possibility for those who know the Catholic Church to be the Catholic Church.

Second, if the Pope is indeed the head of the college of bishops, then only those bishops and Churches that are united to him can share in the infallibility and teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Only these bishops and Churches can rightly claim that their authoritative teachings are presented in and with the authority of the Holy Trinity. Here is the solution to the Anglican crisis of authority and its doctrinal confusion and impotence. Dom Gregory Dix, despite his papalist convictions, remained within the Church of England in order to work for the restoration of unity with the Church of Rome. During his second bout of Roman fever in 1940, he was even dissuaded from converting by a Catholic monk, Dom Bede Winslow. Yet surely the time for such a hope is long past.

Anglicanism has decisively decided that it will be Protestant, whether liberal Protestant, revisionist Protestant, or evangelical Protestant. The refusal of the Catholic Church to recognize Anglicanism as a true particular Church has been proven to be well justified. Corporate reunion with the Catholic Church is no longer a reasonable hope. (Even the ever-ecumenical Cardinal Kasper is about ready to throw in the towel.) Anglo-Catholics who recognize the truth of the papal claims are called by God to submit the hearts and minds to Rome, for their good and salvation. Rome has graciously offered sanctuary to married Episcopal priests through the Pastoral Provision and even made possible the continued use of a modified Anglican liturgy for congregations that follow their priest into the Catholic Church. Anglo-Catholics who do not yet accept the papal claims must search their consciences and justify to God their continued separation. Given the distintegration of the Anglican Communion and the failure of the Anglo-Catholic mission, who is most likely to have been right, Pusey or Newman?

It is time to climb back into the barque of Peter!

7 June 2006


When a well-known evangelical bishop teams up with a fairly liberal Affirming Catholic bishop to address a topic of ecumenical concern, one should take notice. The Rt. Rev. Thomas Wright is a scholar of great erudition and accomplishment. He is widely recognized as one of the top New Testament scholars in the world. The Rt. Rev. David Stancliffe is less well known. He is president of Affirming Catholicism and was one of the six English bishops who in 2005 declared that neither the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the episcopate nor the blessing of same-sex unions should be considered of such significance as to justify division within the Anglican Communion.

On 5 June 2006 Cardinal Walter Kasper addressed the bishops of the Church of England on the question of the ordination of women to the episcopate. In this address he reminded the bishops that the Catholic Church does not believe that she has the authority to alter the male constitution of the priesthood: “It should not be assumed that the Catholic Church will one day revise its current position. The Catholic Church is convinced that she has no right to do so.” Drawing particularly on St Cyprian of Carthage, Kasper emphasized the collegial nature of the episcopal office:

The episcopal office is thus an office of unity in a two-fold sense. Bishops are the sign and the instrument of unity within the individual local church, just as they are between the contemporary local churches and those of all times within the universal Church.

Kasper then concluded his talk with the warning that the hope of eucharistic reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England would “disappear into the far and ultimately unreachable distance.”

Bishops Wright and Stancliffe have now released a response to Cardinal Kasper: “Women Bishops.” The response is illuminating. If it represents the majority position within the Church of England (and I suspect it does), then it demonstrates that the ARCIC dialogues have in fact borne little fruit toward the goal of reunion.

The gist of the article is this: “We are just as Catholic as you are! You have no right to tell us what to do!”

The article unfairly criticizes Kasper on points that he did not address, did not intend to address, could not have addressed in his talk: What are the criteria for faithful developments in doctrine? the authors ask. How can the Catholic Church advise us on “what we may and may not do with our orders” (emphasis added), when the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize their validity anyway? And what about Roman innovations, like the papal and Marian dogmas? By what right did Rome introduce these “potentially divisive innovations”?

I particularly note the downgrading of the unifying role of the Episcopate and the dismissal of the Catholic concern for sacramental validity:

The question of Cardinal Kasper bringing a distinctively Roman perspective to Anglican affairs is also revealed in his remarks about unity, and about the role of the ordained ministry, and particularly of bishops, in engendering communion within that. The Anglican tradition takes its role as a ‘bridge’ seriously, and we too believe that we must work for, discern and enhance that unity for which Jesus prayed. But we do not believe that eucharistic unity (‘communion’ in that sense) is only attainable when there is full recognition of ministries, and all are in communion with the see of Rome. In Anglican theology, unity is achieved by our saying yes to God’s gracious invitation to his table. It is because we are one with God through being caught up in Christ’s one perfect self-offering to the Father that we have unity with one another, rather than communion with God being a consequence of our union with one another. We, in other words, are inclined to see eucharistic sharing not as the goal at the end of the ecumenical pilgrimage where God is waiting for us, but as the path of that pilgrimage itself, along which he accompanies us on the way. We would base our theology of union within the Godhead on a dynamic incorporation into the divine life of the Holy Trinity, rather more than on a sacramental theology based on the validity of the sacrament confected by one who has the authority to do so; and we would prefer to see debates about orders within the frame of mutual eucharistic hospitality, rather than the other way around. In this regard, we would look to Galatians 2, with its clear teaching that all who believe in Jesus Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their cultural background.

This could just as easily have been written by a Presbyterian or Baptist. That an evangelical Anglican and an Affirming Catholic Anglican could together write this paragraph confirms what everyone already knows: Anglicanism does not have a consistent catholic ecclesiology and sacramentology.

§A.8 is particularly curious. Why this reminder that the Church transcends race, class, and gender? Do the authors think that Catholics believe otherwise? The phrase “including people with diverse opinions” suggests that the authors are arguing for theological inclusivity: let’s embrace all manner of belief and practice. But surely Bishop Wright does not believe this. And I wonder what Metropolitan John Zizioulas thinks about being invoked to support a view of Church and catholicity so at odds with his own writings and the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

§A.9 & §A.10 bring us to the heart of the dissensus: whereas Catholics believe that Scripture can only be read “through the lens of the Church’s tradition,” Anglicans believe that Scripture judges all tradition. If an “undoubted innovation,” therefore, “can be shown to follow from, or be contained in, scripture, then that is sufficient authority whether or not the subsequent tradition of the church has allowed it.”

But who determines the rules by which Scripture is to be read? Biblical critics? bishops? church synods and conventions? the individual believer in the pew? And who judges between conflicting interpretations? Bishops Wright and Stancliffe are convinced that Scripture authorizes the ordination of women to priestly orders, but they disagree with each other on whether Scripture authorizes the blessing of same-sex unions. Bishop Wright was a member of the committee that drew up the Windsor Report, a report which rebukes the American and Canadian churches for breaking from the received moral tradition before the creation of a new consensus within the Anglican Communion. But should not the same reasoning be applied to the question of women’s ordination? Should not the Anglican Communion be rebuked for moving ahead on women’s ordination before the creation of wider catholic consensus. Why, in this age of ecumenism, do the opinions of only Anglicans count? Does it not matter to Anglicans that by embracing the ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate they are effectively negating the possibility of ecclesial reunion with the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church?

The second half of the document presents the case for the priestly ordination of women. I confess that I am a bit surprised by the weight the authors put on the question of Junia/Junias in Romans 16.7. Let us suppose, for the moment, that the name is best rendered in the feminine (though don’t tell that to Epiphanius, who reports that the Junias [masculine] mentioned in Rom 17:7 became the bishop of Apameia). On the basis of this one debated text are we suddenly justified in jumping to the conclusion that the long-standing belief that Christ chose only men for the Apostolate is wrong? Are no other interpretations possible? Might it not be possible that Paul is using the word “apostles” in a wider, less technical sense than what we are used to? Perhaps “apostles” here refers to missionaries or church messengers. Perhaps, as several of the Church Fathers believed, Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife, perhaps even a missionary team. Or perhaps the phrase ‘episemoi en toi apostolois (notable in/among the apostles) does not necessarily mean that Andronicus and Junia were actually Apostles with a capital “A.” In a 2001 article published in New Testament Studies, M. H. Brurer and O. B. Wallace argue, on the basis of their comparative study of the extant Greek literature, that the phrase is best interpreted as “well known among/to the apostles” (see John Hunwicke). Ultimately, we know virtually nothing about Junia. We do not know in what sense she may have been considered an apostle. We do not know how she functioned within the life of the apostolic Church. We do not know her relationship to Andronicus. Yet on the basis of this one controverted text, the authors assert that the example of Junia authorizes the departure from catholic practice. St John Chrysostom certainly had no problem acknowledging Junia as a woman and he praised her devotion (“Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”); but he did not infer that women should be ordained to the episcopate and presbyterate, which he believed was restricted to men by divine law (see On the Priesthood).

I will leave the rest of the document to others to analyze. Let me simply say that this article confirms the impossibility of maintaining catholic faith and practice based either on Scripture alone or on Scripture and tradition, with tradition subordinated to our ever-fresh and novel readings of Scripture. I daresay that Bishop Stancliffe could easil compose a very similar argument for the blessing of same-sex unions and the urgent biblical necessity for the Church of England to prophetically move ahead on the issue.

The Catholic Church needs to reconsider its ecumenical relations with the Anglican Communion. Anglicans have already decided to walk apart.

28 July 2006


Episcopal priest Fr WB of the Whitehall blog has published a response to the Alexei Khomiakov citation I posted a few days ago. It is a heart-felt piece, and I commend it. His last two sentences are particularly moving: “What is difficult to bear is the implication … that if catholic-minded Anglicans were really sincere or really obedient, they would go immediately to Rome. Once more I can assure you: I am doing the best I can, and I am still an Anglican.” I fully understand. I too was in this position for many, many years. I have many friends who remain in this position. I honor you.

Yet as difficult as it may be for this good priest to hear, I must continue to maintain that the catholic Anglican is in an untenable and incoherent position. He confesses the faith of the Church catholic, yet the church he serves makes no such confession—nor can it. Though he may declare his agreement with many catholic essentials, yet he does so from within an ecclesial body that has always allowed disagreement on these essentials. The real presence, eucharistic sacrifice, prayer for the dead, invocation of the saints, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the necessity of the historic episcopate—each of these doctrines, all of which are considered essential by both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, are judged optional, if not rejected outright, by historic Anglicanism. So it has been from the very beginning of the English reform (see William Tighe’s discussion of the 39 Articles). More recently, the bulk of Anglicanism has rejected the catholic doctrine of the male priesthood. Catholic Anglicans sincerely seek to submit themselves to catholic authority, yet their church does not and cannot command their catholic obedience. As a result, they are forced to create their own versions of the catholic faith, each version varying from individual to individual. And this is true not only for individual Anglo-Catholics but also for the small Anglo-Catholic denominations within the Continuing Anglican movement. The Anglo-Catholic, whether individually or corporately, lives by private judgment.

WB seeks to minimize the sting of private judgment by observing that all converts exercise their reason when deciding to become Catholic or Orthodox:

However: were I (or anyone else) to convert to a non-Protestant (in the way Khomiakov seems to be using that term) church, would not “rationalism” still be sitting in judgment over catholic doctrine? Would not the “mode and process by which” this convert attained a catholic creed yet be “a protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled…”? Would not Rationalism, or better perhaps would not rationality, or the reason, yet be “the supreme judge of every question” in such a case? In other words, is it not in fact the case that converts convert because the doctrine of the ecclesial entity to which they are converting makes sense to them? Concomitantly, then, is not their reason the arbiter of (Scripture and) Holy Tradition? Khomiakov finds in Anglicanism “a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love.” But here, precisely, is the paradox: does not the act and possibility of conversion, which surely Khomiakov admits, entail the very possibility of that which he here denies: namely that an individual outside the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love (which is the Church) may “judge and decide” rightly, by an inscrutable process of intellection and affection, that catholic doctrine is true and therefore ought to be assented to? And once he has converted, does not the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian, by the quotidian renewal of his resolve to remain within the Roman or Orthodox communion, just continually ratify the sovereignty of his reason as the arbiter of truth?

WB raises a common objection to the private judgment argument, but the objection misses the point. All parties agree that private judgment must be exercised in the decision to become Catholic or Orthodox. As Cardinal Newman wrote to Mrs. Helbert in 1869, “Private judgment must be your guide, till you are in the Church. You do not begin with faith, but with reason, and you end with faith.” But what does Newman mean by ending with faith? Helbert was already a believing Christian. She was struggling not whether to believe in Christ but whether to become Catholic. The solution is to be found in the difference between the Church as a magisterial community that authorizes binding doctrines in the name of God and the Church as denomination that projects theological opinions.

All Protestant converts to the Catholic Church are asked to make the following declaration: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” If the convert wants to know precisely what this means, he is directed to those teachings proposed by the Catholic Church as de fide. These teachings require from the faithful the full and irrevocable assent of “divine and Catholic faith.” De Fide doctrines include the trinitarian and christological dogmas, the institution of the sacraments by Christ, the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, existence of original sin, the Marian dogmas, the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff. Whoever obstinately doubts or denies these doctrines falls under the censure of heresy.

The convert is also informed that there are teachings that are definitively and irreformably taught by the Catholic Church. These teachings are joined to the the truths of divine revelation by historical relationship or logical connection. They require a firm and definitive assent based on theological faith in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the magisterium and his protection of the Church from grievous error. Definitive doctrines include the reservation of priestly ordination to men and the illicitness of euthanasia. Whoever obstinately doubts or denies these doctrines diminishes his communion with the Catholic Church.

With regard both to divinely revealed truths and definitive truths, the assent given is full and irrevocable. “The difference,” the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith explains, “concerns the supernatural virtue of faith.” With regard to divinely revealed truths, “the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda)”; with regard to definitively proposed truths, “the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).” In both cases, the Catholic gives his assent because he believes that the Catholic Church has the authority to propose irreformable doctrine. He is confident that the Holy Spirit will always protect the Church from serious error. As Richard John Neuhaus writes, “The dogma of infallibility … means, quite simply, that the Church will never invoke her full authority to require anyone to believe what is false.” In that confidence and faith the Catholic entrusts himself to the magisterium of the Church.

Whatever else Anglicanism is, it is not a community that claims to make doctrine that binds the conscience in an absolute manner. Neither the Anglican Communion as a whole nor the churches within the Anglican Communion assert the right to dogmatize in the name of the Holy Trinity. This obvious fact is easily overlooked, though, given the claim of Anglicanism to teach the catholic faith in its purity—hence its common self-description as a reformed catholicism. That Anglicans freely disagree on many of the catholic essentials does not appear to diminish the validity of this claim, at least not in the mind of Anglo-Catholics. Anglo-Catholics do not see the problem because they are living off the patrimony and authority of the pre-Reformation Church. Anglo-Catholicism is essentially parasitic, both theologically and ecclesiologically. Anglicanism may not be able today to resolve doctrinal disputes so as to command catholic assent; but there was once a time when the Church could do so and did. Thus the famous rule of Lancelot Andrewes:

One canon reduced to writing by God Himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period, the three centuries that is before Constantine, and two after determine the boundary of our faith.

This appeal to antiquity and catholic consent feels comparable to the Catholic assertion of dogma. The Anglo-Catholic surrenders his heart and mind to the beliefs of antiquity, without noticing the absence of contemporary ecclesial mediation (see my article “Dead Fathers“). The faith the Anglo-Catholic embraces remains a reconstruction of his own imagining. In many of his letters, Newman pointedly attacked the eclecticism of Anglo-Catholicism, particularly as embodied in his old friends, Edward Pusey and John Keble. In June 1846 he wrote to Mrs. James Bowden, who found herself incapable of deciding between the Church of England and the Catholic Church:

Do what I will, I cannot make out why Dr P. remains in the English Church. … He is always moving, and in one and the same direction. He dissuades men from Rome, yet he is every month getting to it. He is not allowed by any party to represent the Church of England. All but those who are kept in E. Ch. [English Church] by his influence distrust him, and think him a Roman Catholic in heart and prospect. Do you really wish me to commit myself to the guidance of one, in so awful a matter, who in point of doctrine belongs to no Church whatever that ever was. Can you mention the Church which ever held that system of doctrine which Dr P. holds? is it not an eclectic system, part from the early Church, part from the Anglican, part from the Roman? whom does he follow? himself. Do you tell me, it is not private judgment to follow one who himself goes by his own private judgment?

(Also see Newman’s comments about Pusey in his 1848 letter to Catherine Ward.)

Similarly of Keble he writes:

By whom does he go? Did Hooker hold what he does about the Apostolic Succession? Did Taylor view the Church of Rome as he views it? Did Laud take the view of Protestantism which he takes? Did Bull allow of the devotion to St Mary and the Saints which he allows?—Let a child be educated in principles and doctrines of the Lyra Innocentium, and what will he will grow up with a tender devotion to our Blessed Lady, which his own Church will instantly and peremptorily denounce as idolatrous. I find then no coherence in his doctrine—I do not find why he holds so much of the Roman doctrine, yet no more,—unless he asserts the right of believing what he pleases.

Newman refuses to divorce the Catholic Faith from the Church that propounds it. It is insufficient to hold theologically correct beliefs. One must hold them for the right reason—specifically, one must hold them on the basis of that divine authority by which the Church of Jesus Christ speaks to us today. This, as I take it, is Khomiakov’s point when he writes: “Suppose an impossibility—suppose all the Anglicans be quite orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled to something very near Truth. If we admit this, all is lost, and Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question. … Were you to find all the truth, you would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain—the assurance of truth.”

There is a decisive difference between assenting to catholic beliefs because one has decided, by whatever means, that they are true and assenting to catholic beliefs because the Church in her magisterial, divinely inspired authority propounds them to be true (see Michael Liccione). A year ago I pontificated Pontificator’s Ninth Law: If a Catholic cannot name at least one article of faith that he believes solely on the basis of the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, he’s either a saint or a Protestant. The point of this law was simply to point out that the mark of authentic catholicity is assent to proposed doctrine on the ground of contemporaneous ecclesial authority—not on the basis of one’s historical investigation of Holy Scripture or Sacred Tradition nor on the basis of whatever arguments and evidence that one’s reason happens to find compelling, but on the basis of one’s simple faith in the infallibility of the Church. It’s not just what one believes; it’s who one trusts. As Newman once wrote to a fellow Catholic, when faced with contradictory theological opinions and authorities, one can never go wrong by saying, “I believe what the Church holds and teaches.”

In his heart the Anglo-Catholic desires to give divine assent to the catholic faith; but he is incapable of doing so because he believes and serves in a community that cannot rightly command this assent. And so he finds himself trapped in his private judgment. There is only one solution to this painful dilemma.

12 February 2007


Is the Episcopal Church a truly catholic Church? I ask this question in response to a series of blog articles and comments written by the Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Dunlap. I reference in particular the following: GAFCON—Initial Thoughts, Personal Reflections for Remaining in TEC, The Problem with Confessionalism, Why Anglican Confessionalism will Undermine the Anglican Catholic Position, Restating a Third Mill Catholic Prophecy, Response to Al Kimel, and “Anglicans and Orthodoxy” from the Land of Unlikeness Blog. Also see Dr Dunlap’s article “Why I ‘Migrated’ to the Episcopal Church.”

Fr Dunlap is a former minister in the Reformed Episcopal Church. He was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 2004. Six months ago he was ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to the sacred order of priests. He is presently Vice President and Dean of the Faculty at the Houston Graduate School of Theology. He has also been blogging at Catholic in the Third Millenium since March 2006.

Fr Dunlap considers himself a catholic Anglican and is distressed by the emergence of GAFCON, which he sees, quite probably rightly, as an attempt to impose a Reformed confessionalism upon the Anglican Communion. He himself is content to remain within the Episcopal Church. While he acknowledges that preaching and teaching contrary to the Church’s credo is now occurring in parts of the Episcopal Church, this does not mean that the denomination as a whole has become heterodox:

In essence, I don’t believe that the simple “two gospels” dichotomy is an accurate working description of the way things really are in TEC or the Anglican Communion. Truth be told, people are all over the map. Only the most tenacious folks on the extreme wings are living into the reality of “two gospels” and believe it to be their divine calling to impose one or the other “gospel” on everyone else. That’s why the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is the Church’s credo, not our individual “credos,” and endeavoring to live into it.

As a new convert to the Episcopal Church, Dunlap can perhaps be excused for his benign assessment of the state of the Episcopal Church. Clearly his acquaintance with the denomination, and particularly with its seminaries, diocesan bureaucracies, and political and theological struggles of the past thirty years, is limited. Perhaps his direct experience of the Episcopal Church has been restricted to a few conservative southern dioceses. Perhaps he has never come face to face with a roomful of honest-to-God revisionist Episcopal clerics. Perhaps he really does not know that despite the presence of the Nicene Creed in the eucharistic liturgy, Nicene orthodoxy is truly optional in the Episcopal Church. It may well be true that Episcopalians are theologically “all over the map,” but this diversity conceals the depth of hostility that exists among both clergy and laity to the exclusive claims of traditional Christianity. Yes, Episcopalians still employ the vocabulary of the inherited faith, but the words are reinterpreted through the hermeneutics of personal experience. In the categories of George Lindbeck, Episcopalians are “experiential-expressivists” to the core. The essential identity of the Episcopal Church is well expressed in the oft-recited mantra: “There will be no outcasts in this church.” The Episcopal Church comprehends great diversity, but this diversity is both determined and limited by the dogma of radical inclusivity: to be “catholic” is to be inclusive, and to be inclusive is to be committed to the ultimate exclusion of the exclusive claims of the catholic faith. Philip Turner has accurately identified radical inclusivity as the working theology of the Episcopal Church.

In the early 70s the large majority of catholic Episcopalians firmly opposed the ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate, believing that it was contrary to the will of Christ and the ecumenical tradition of the Church. When the 1976 General Convention decided to permit the ordination of women to the priesthood, most Anglo-Catholics decided to remain within the Episcopal Church and to fight for a reversal of church policy. What happened? The older generation retired or died. The younger generation, including the present writer, eventually got with the national church program. Seminaries and bishops carefully weeded out the opponents of women’s ordination from the prospective ordinand pool. Thirty-five years later we find that a new orthodoxy has been successfully imposed and the opponents of women’s ordination marginalized. Twenty years ago one might have been forgiven for thinking that it was still possible to reverse this situation, but surely no one can persuasively argue this any longer. Something very similar is now happening on the question of the moral legitimacy of same-sex unions. The goodness of same-sex unions is now widely affirmed in the Episcopal Church. New ordinands are expected to support this policy and the doctrine underlying it. Perhaps freedom to oppose this policy is still allowed in some dioceses (presumably Texas); but the number of such dioceses declines each year. Within a decade or two Episcopal priests will no longer be permitted to teach the catholic understanding of Holy Matrimony nor to declare the immorality of same-sex unions. In the inclusive Church, even tolerance has its limits. The recent history of the Episcopal Church demonstrates the harsh truth of Neuhaus’s Law: “Wherever orthodoxy is optional, it sooner or later will be proscribed.”

Yet Fr Dunlap is committed to remaining within the Episcopal Church. I know many faithful believers who are likewise committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church. I certainly do not criticize Fr Dunlap for doing so, though I find his assessment of the state of the Episcopal Church to be deeply flawed. The Episcopal Church, Dunlap insists, remains a catholic Church, despite false teaching and practice. Hence he does not need “a reason or strategy” to stay in the Episcopal Church. Really? Is the catholicity of the Episcopal Church so apparent, so manifest, so self-evident, so primordial that it needs neither defense nor apology? What would the Episcopal Church need to do to move itself over into the category of heretical or schismatic Church? In Dunlap’s judgment, the decision to ordain women to the presbyterate and episcopate does not represent a church-dividing departure from catholic order, despite the contrary judgments of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He notes that he made his peace with the innovation some time ago. But what about the popular embrace of the pan-sexual morality? What about the ritual blessing of same-sex unions? What about the Episcopal Church’s consistent refusal to assert the evil of abortion? What about denials by many Episcopal preachers that the salvation of humanity is accomplished through Christ and Christ alone? What about the refusal to discipline bishops and priests who deny the divinity of Jesus Christ and his bodily resurrection? Are the historic episcopate, communion with the see of Canterbury, and liturgical use of the Nicene Creed really sufficient to secure the catholic identity of the Episcopal Church?

And so I ask Fr Dunlap: What is your breaking point? Where does the confessional rubber hit the road? At what point would conscience forbid you from summoning sinners into the communion of the Episcopal Church?

And to all others I ask: Is the Episcopal Church truly a catholic Church? What does it mean for the Episcopal Church to claim to be a branch of the Church catholic when it has departed so significantly from catholic norms in faith, morals, and order?

29 July 2008

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