Sunday, March 16, 2008

A few thoughts on Rome. . .

These are just a few random musings about the current state of the Church of Rome. I believe the Roman Catholic Church to be a true Christian body, but not the One Church of Christ. I believe that the current Bishop of Rome is a godly bishop, one who is an excellent theologian. The current Bishop of Rome has made statements about doctrinal issues that ring nicely in Anglican ears, especially about the Eucharist, the role of the papacy, and Purgatory: I have a book by the current presiding bishop of the Free Church of England and he points out how much closer Roman Catholic theology has come to classical Anglican theology, on both the nature of the ministry and the Eucharist.

While some Anglicans feel a soft spot in their hearts for the Roman Church of the Middle Ages, Trent, and the late Victorian period (Anglo-Papalists, a name which many of them proudly embrace), other Anglicans (myself included) wish that John Paul II or the current Bishop of Rome were around during the Reformation--a few more steps and they would have been on the side of the Lutherans and Anglicans.

While many moderate and ecumenically minded Anglicans read the current works of Roman theologians and think (on many points) "why that sounds rather Anglican," we must also acknowledge that other heads of the Roman Church have endorsed teachings on Purgatory, the role of the Saints, the nature of Indulgences, the status of the Blessed Virgin and her role in salvation, etc., that are far from orthodox and strike a severely discordant note in the ears of many a Reformed Catholic Churchman (otherwise known as an Anglican). We have to ask, quite honestly, which position is the position of the Church of Rome? Is it what Benedict is now saying of Purgatory, or what other popes have endorsed? Of course, they could ask the same of the Anglicans. It would be my humble opinion that the Anglican position is to be found in the canons of the Reformed Church of England, the formularies, and the Anglican divines (where too few Anglicans go for their own authority).

Do I think honest ecumenism with the Roman Catholic Church is possible from the standpoint of classical Anglicanism? I pause and say "perhaps." Honest ecumenical dialogue with one patriarchate of the Orthodox Church or even a confessional Lutheran group would be easier. The very strident Romans simply cry "submit!" but an honest ecumenical approach demands a rejection from the Anglicans of those things that need to be rightly and roundly rejected or an orthodox restatement of those things that would be authoritative.

The Papal Claims Examined

I'm afraid to say, that on many things, Rome was just wrong. . .

The Papal Claims Examined
from Catholic Principles
The Revd Frank N. Westcott

It is a sad and most unfortunate fact, yet one which is easily capable of demonstration by any competent historian, that all along the ages, Rome’s interests have been advanced by forgeries and falsification of the Fathers; and that such interpolations are quoted with approval today, in Roman controversial books; and that it is not safe to accept patristic quotations in such books, without verifying them at first hand.

There are plenty of historic facts which are utterly inconsistent with the assumption that the supreme judicial and spiritual authority of the Church, has always been in the hands of the Bishops of Rome. For example: the first difficulty which required judicial action in the Apostolic Church, was settled by a council of the whole Church at Jerusalem, under the presidency, not of St. Peter, but of St. James, who pronounced sentence in his own name, without any regard to St. Peter.

When Victor, Bishop of Rome, AD 196, undertook to excommunicate the Asiatic Churches, because they disagreed with him about the time of the observance of Easter, he was rebuked by the other Bishops, including Irenaeus, and his excommunication was ignored, and had no effect whatever.

In the fourth century, the Council of Sardica allowed a condemned Bishop to appeal to Rome for a new trial, not as a recognized right, but as conferring a privilege. This canon of Sardica, was misquoted by the Bishops of Rome as being a canon of the Council of Nice in a controversy with the African Bishops. But the latter consulted the Eastern Patriarchs, and, so discovering the misquotation, replied to the Patriarch of Rome through his legates, “We find it enacted in no council of the Fathers, that any person may be sent as legates of your holiness . . . . Do not therefore at the request of any, send your clergy as agents for you, lest we seem to introduce into the Church of Christ, the ambitious pride of the world.”

The great Arian heresy which denied the divinity of our Lord, was settled by the Nicene Council, which was called, not by the Pope, but by the Emperor Constantine. Hosius presided, and the heresy was finally refuted, not through the pronouncement of the Pope, but through the argument of Athanasius; while Pope Liberius himself became a heretic.

Then the heresy denying the divinity of the Holy Ghost, was settled at the Council of Constantinople in 381, at which the Nicene Creed was reaffirmed, and the sentences defining doctrine concerning the Holy Ghost added, and the Roman Bishop was not present either in person or through his legates. Meletius of Antioch presided at the council, and was succeeded by Gregory Nazianzen, Patriarch of Constantinople; and so in the settlement of the two greatest heresies, the authority of the Bishop of Rome counted for little or nothing; and it is interesting to note that the Bishops assembled in council at Constantinople in 381, in their Epistle to the Western Bishops assembled at Rome, called the Church of Jerusalem the “Mother of all Churches.”

Of course the most complete refutation of the Roman claim of supremacy has been the historic position of the four patriarchates of the Eastern Church, which have never acknowledged the claims of such universal jurisdiction, and yet were in communion with the patriarch of Rome until the twelfth century.

The claims of supreme and spiritual jurisdiction over the whole Church, on the part of the Bishop of Rome, cannot stand the test of catholicity, and so become articles of faith, unless they have been acknowledged always, everywhere, and by all Catholics; and this we have shown to be historically incredible.

Roman Catholics are very fond of asserting that a visible Church must have a visible head; and that as there is no other Bishop who claims to be the head of the Church but the Pope of Rome, therefore he must be that head. We reply, that in the Holy Scriptures St. Paul asserts that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church; and he nowhere recognizes any other head; though he constantly insists on the visible, organic nature of the Church itself. St. Augustine asserts the same fact, thus: “Since the whole Christ is made up of the head and the body, the head is our Saviour Himself, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, who now, after He has risen from the dead, sits at the right hand of God; but His body is the Church; not this Church, or that, but the Church scattered over all the world . . . . For the whole Church, made up of all the faithful, because all the faithful are members of Christ, has its head situate in the heavens which governs this body: though it is separated from their sight, yet it is bound to them by love.” Then again, it must be remembered that the greater part of the Catholic Church is made up of souls in Paradise, and therefore is not visible to us; and Christ is the Head of the Church to them, as well as to us. To them He may be visible.

But supposing the visible Church must have a visible head: we reply, as a practical matter of fact, the universal episcopate assembled in general council was from the first regarded as the head of the Church; the ultimate source and seat of authority, to which the Bishop of Rome himself was always subject: as is proved by the fact, that the universal episcopate settled heresies, defined the Faith, and deposed Popes who were themselves heretics, and excommunicated them. Gregory the Great, as we have seen, expressly repudiated the title of "universal Bishop” which he most certainly would not have done, if he had considered himself the “head of the Church,” in the modern Roman sense.

It makes a neat turn of an argument to say that the visible Church must have a visible head; and then to set forth the Pope as that head; but after all, it is merely a question of historic fact, and history points to the universal Episcopate as the head, and not to the Pope of Rome. If the Pope of Rome is the head of the Church, then when the Pope dies, apparently the Church has no head, and remains a headless monster, perhaps for several months, until another Pope is elected and enthroned. Surely this is a curious condition of things, that the Church should be continually sloughing off its head, and growing another, every generation or so; so that every little while it has no head at all. The collective episcopate does not die; but lives on from age to age, and as the head of the Church, is abiding and permanent.

The whole growth of the papal claims may be summarized by four words: Primacy, Supremacy, Sovereignty, and Infallibility. The Primacy of Rome, Anglicans admit to be lawful; not as of divine appointment, but as a matter of precedence and executive convenience, originating from the prominence of the Imperial city. The Supremacy of Rome, Anglicans reject, as disturbing the original balance of power defined by the general councils and canon law of the Church. The Sovereignty of Rome, Anglicans repudiate, as mere secular Imperialism transferred to the Church, from the State. The Infallibility of the Roman pontiffs, the Anglican Church denies, as an assumption by one man in the Church of a power, or faculty, conferred by our Lord on the Church as a whole.From what has been said, it seems evident that there is no scriptural evidence that St. Peter was appointed supreme head of the Church by our Lord, and that there is no historical evidence of any sort which proves that St. Peter ever attempted to transfer any authority, peculiar to himself to the Bishops of Rome; and that what the early Church conceded to the Patriarch of Rome, was a primacy of honor among equals, and not a supremacy of authority, by divine appointment.

Were we just wrong and Rome just right?

My fellow blogger on The Continuum, Fr. Matthew Kirby of the ACC, wrote a very interesting article and posted it in April 2006. I repost it here.

There is a remarkable blind spot of many conservative Roman Catholics in their anti-Anglican polemic that overlooks the fact that a number of the changes made at or after the Reformation in Anglican Churches were eventually also made by the RCC, though sometimes centuries later at or after Vatican II. I do not complain about these reforms, far from it. I rejoice that Rome caught up to Anglicans and others in:

  1. giving vernacular liturgies (how many forget that even the Epistle and Gospel were once read in Latin!);
  2. allowing the laity access to the Chalice;
  3. accepting religious and political liberty of conscience as genuine rights;
  4. making the Ordinal's representation of the priestly ministry less sacerdotal and more evangelical and pastoral in emphasis;
  5. supporting Ecumenism and shared prayer between Christians in different Communions;
  6. accepting that unity will require reform of the Papacy and some de-centralisation;
  7. condemning torture (rather than commanding it!) to extract confessions of heresy and wholly abandoning any justification of the Church using or directing violence to fight erroneous ideas;
  8. making the intermediate state not about God ensuring he get his "pound of flesh" from Christians in a chamber of horrors (yes, that is what the most common medieval RC concept of Purgatory was, with even Aquinas teaching that Purgatory was not about changing the internal state of the soul) but about progress in sanctification (as the Anglican Dean Richard Field taught way back in the early seventeenth century, with various Anglican teachers, bishops and Scottish Episcopalian Catechisms following suit, and as the present Pope has taught while a Cardinal -- see also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1472 -- last two sentences);
  9. finally giving proper weight in popular teaching (and not just in the "fine print" and obscure but careful qualifications of theologians) to the doctrines of sola gratia and the insufficiency of works, and how the word "merit" is used in an analogous rather than "strict" sense (CCC, 2007, 2011 quotation);
  10. re-appraising the once normal Western representation of the Eastern Orthodox Church as simply schismatic and heretical (again, compare 17th C. Anglicans like Field and Blessed W. Laud on this and the modern Balamand Statement);
  11. admitting ecclesial "reception" has a role in discerning a truly authoritative Ecumenical Council (see ARCIC documents on Authority);
  12. teaching that the three major Orders are Bishop, Priest and Deacon, not Priest (including bishops), Deacon and Sub-Deacon;
  13. discouraging non-communicating attendance at Mass;
  14. and simplifying ceremonial, cutting back on secondary devotions used at the expense of primary ones and encouraging lay piety to focus more on Christ and the reading of Scripture.

Now, my point here is not to rant about old “Papist” abuses or to pretend that Anglican Churches got all these things right from the start either. They didn't, though in each case above they preceded the RCC. I don't claim the RCC erred at a dogmatic level. I don't believe they did go that far, which is why they could improve things later. But, then, neither did Anglican Churches (despite their own long list of failings, ambiguities and outright heresies in particular teachers) definitively deny true ecumenical dogmas or make erroneous doctrinal statements at a binding or dogmatic level: until, that is, the ordination of women, when certain of them introduced an innovation which effectively became binding by infiltrating the Ordinal and forcing those who remained in full communion with the affected churches to accept sacraments of, at best, doubtful validity. Hence our existence as Continuing Anglicans.

Even more to the point, I cannot accept that Rome was quite simply in the right and we were quite simply in the wrong when they excommunicated Elizabeth I and the C of E, so that they were and are the Catholic Church and we are outside it. Taking this Roman perspective would entail accepting the same clear-cut asymmetry in the East-West separation, since the Papal claims of jurisdiction were fundamental to both splits. But when I consider a list such as that above, I cannot perceive as realistic such a rendition of the story. It is not tenable that they are the Church and we are not when we "separated brethren" were imitated to some degree in so many important areas by them, but after such a long delay. Thus, for example, to leave my Church for the Pope's would be implicitly a judgement about the past as well as the present, since his claim on my absolute allegiance is based on a claim about history, identity and the exclusive limitation of indefectibility to within the boundaries of the RCC.

A more balanced narrative might be this: The East-West schism, even if not complete, left the West in the weaker position ecclesiologically, theologically and devotionally, since the initiation of the schism was due to unjust assertion of power and unreasonable perceptions of superiority by Rome. This made the Reformation inevitable. However, the Reformers were as isolated and separated from the East and as bound by merely Western thinking as the RCC, and so could not solve the West's problems. Without the Catholic solution of E-W re-integration, the Protestants fell back on private judgement and denial of any sort of Church infallibility, since the only pre-existing institutional Church they were dealing with seemed so manifestly fallible.

The English Reformation, on the other hand, had at least a formal adhesion to the consensus patrum and even to the ongoing reality of an authoritative consensus Ecclesiae. (There is evidence, addressed in the recent book Anglicans and Orthodox: Unity and Subversion by Judith Pinnington, that Elizabeth I also deliberately picked a number of bishops who looked to the Fathers more than contemporary Protestant theologians.) It took about half a century for this formal adhesion to overcome an initial over-reaction to Roman excesses and successfully inspire better affirmation of Holy Tradition in specific areas of difficulty. At the very same time as this was happening (17th C.) Anglicans were starting to look more at and to the East, which was inevitable if they were to be consistent. (The process had begun in the 16th Century in a small and halting way during the Henrician period when the C of E looked at the question of Papal Supremacy and during the Elizabethan period an appeal to the example of the East was also made in Jewel’s apologetics.) This "facing East", so to speak, never ceased in Anglican Catholicism and really heated up in the early Twentieth Century. After which catastrophe struck as the "cancer" of comprehensiveness which was the unwritten law of Anglicanism finally ate its way to the heart.

A RC could respond to the argument above by giving his own list of areas where Anglican Catholics have come back to them, where we have been playing catch-up, particularly in the areas of the Eucharist and the Communion of Saints. But my point is not that Rome was wrong and we were right. The East was right (though not faultless, as they would admit). We, on the other hand, were right in general principles and dogma and ecclesiological “Orientation” (pun intended) but often wrong on some specifics at the level of popular teaching, belief and practice. Roman Catholicism was also often wrong at this latter level in opposing ways and possibly also without error at the level of dogma (of which it had much more), but lacking the Eastward “Orientation” that would enable it to correct its faults as quickly as Anglicans could correct theirs. Yet, in the end the RCC’s corrections, though belated, took better hold than “Anglo-Catholic” or “High Church” efforts in most Anglican Churches due to both Roman centralism and Anglican comprehensiveness and ambiguity. (Unfortunately, along with the corrections came unnecessary and dangerous changes and movements. If people were once to biblically name the anti-evangelical tendency of Roman Catholicism, they may have talked about Pharisaism. These days they would more likely see Sadduceeism. There appears to have been a move at the popular level from legalism and over-encrustation with merely human tradition or superstition towards minimalism and unbelief.)

But at the Affirmation of St Louis Anglican Catholics more explicitly than ever before asserted the authority of Holy Tradition, including the Seven Great Ecumenical Councils, affirmed the Seven Sacraments, and thus dumped the very ambiguity which Bp Kallistos Ware and others in the Eastern Orthodox Church had said was the main barrier between them and us. My own Church has followed this up with another official declaration against Comprehensiveness, the "Athens Statement". No dogma separates us from the East. What separates us (outwardly if not inwardly) is that the East no longer trusts Anglicans and that Churches such as mine are too small for them to have much interest in as ecumenical partners in dialogue. In other words, it appears easier and more beneficial for them to look on us as just a pool of potential recruits for absorption, for the time being at least. But I have not given up hope. Not even of reconciliation with mutual dignity between us and Rome, and the East and Rome.

Another objection might be to this whole way of looking at things. I freely admit that this kind of analysis -- who influenced or imitated whom, who modified their position outside the area of dogma sensu stricto -- cannot provide a proof of who is and isn’t orthodox or catholic. I am investigating here what might be called the circumstantial evidence. On its own it isn’t sufficient, but that’s why I have written other articles on this weblog dealing with these issues from different perspectives. May truth and love reign supreme.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Hooker on unity with Rome

Posted previously on The Continuum

From Richard Hooker's The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book III, I, 10

We hope therefore that to reform ourselves, if at any time we have done amiss, is not to sever ourselves from the Church we were of before. In the Church we were, and we are so still. Other difference between our estate before and now we know none but only such as we see in Juda; which having sometime been idolatrous became afterwards more soundly religious by renouncing idolatry and superstition. If Ephraim “be joined unto idols,” the counsel of the Prophet is, “Let him alone.” “If Israel play the harlot, let not Juda sin.” “If it seem evil unto you,” saith Josua, “to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods whom your fathers served beyond the flood, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell: but I and mine house will serve the Lord.” The indisposition therefore of the Church of Rome to reform herself must be no stay unto us from performing our duty to God; even as desire of retaining conformity with them could be no excuse if we did not perform that duty.

Notwithstanding so far as lawfully we may, we have held and do hold fellowship with them. For even as the Apostle doth say of Israel that they are in one respect enemies but in another beloved of God; in like sort with Rome we dare not communicate concerning sundry her gross and grievous abominations, yet touching those main parts of Christian truth wherein they constantly still persist, we gladly acknowledge them to be of the family of Jesus Christ; and our hearty prayer unto God Almighty is, that being conjoined so far forth with them, they may at the length (if it be his will) so yield to frame and reform themselves, that no distraction remain in any thing, but that we “all may with one heart and one mouth glorify God the Father of our Lord and Saviour,” whose Church we are.

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) wrote to defend the polity of the Church of England against the attacks of the Puritans who wanted to abolish every trace of Roman influence, and who had assumed that the episcopal polity of the Church of England was simply one of those "Romish" things that they wanted to dismantle. In a very lengthy Preface, Hooker criticizes "Calvin's Geneva Discipline" and other theories on how to reinvent the ecclesiastical wheel, tearing down Puritan assertions that their model was taught by scripture. In the process he became the first Anglican writer to provide certain things that have become a basic philosophy that contains features of theology foundational to Anglicanism. The need to weigh all doctrines by Scripture, with the aid of Right Reason and the Church with her Authority (or, as is customary to say today, Tradition- though he meant Polity as well), comes from a careful reading of his Laws of Ecclesiastical polity, as does the idea of the Via Media, not as some sort of compromise for peace, but as a different road altogether, to be taken for the sake of truth.

To appreciate Hooker, we need to remember the times in which he wrote. The nature of religious apologetics was far less polite and far more polemical in the Elizabethan Period than it is in our own ecumenically sensitive time (usually). To write a sweeping dismissal of "Papist" or "Romish" practices as consisting of idolatrous and superstitious abominations is not at all acceptable today (and indeed, it hinders communication and understanding). But, in Hooker's day, the possibility of reunion was the sort of thing that was potentially scandalous and dangerously controversial. His words aimed at something charitable shortly after a time in which "Papists " (to use the word of that period) had murdered Protestants in great numbers for heresy, and in which the Queen still considered obedience to the pope as treason punishable by death, that is, loyalty to a foreign prince who had sought to undermine her rule (i.e. kindle civil war and her execution). Nonetheless, in that period with all of its violence, we find in Hooker the reasonable and pacific attitude that would become characteristic of Anglicanism at its best.

In the above passage, Hooker affirms principles that were unique among Reformation churches.

First of all, Hooker affirmed the antiquity of the Church of England, and the fact that no new church had been formed. "We hope therefore that to reform ourselves, if at any time we have done amiss, is not to sever ourselves from the Church we were of before. In the Church we were, and we are so still." Even though Archbishop Matthew Parker (if not Cranmer before him) could have been considered the first of his line, this was not the position of the Church of England. Instead, Archbishop Matthew Parker was the 77th Archbishop of Canterbury. It was the same Church that had been established at the Council of Hertford in 673 A.D., when the ancient Celtic British and the Anglo-Saxon Christians came together in unity as Ecclesia Anglicana (not at the earlier Council of Whitby in 664, though it had laid the necessary foundation). This first unique principle was, therefore, no new church but rather continuity of identity.

The second thing was principle. The 39 Articles state very simply that the Church of Rome has erred. So, Hooker's words: "In like sort with Rome we dare not communicate concerning sundry her gross and grievous abominations." The English Reformers rejected ideas and practices that were either taught by Rome or allowed by Rome, not in an effort to turn away from the Catholic Faith, but instead to purge it of errors, and get back to its essentials. This kind of thinking is principled where some modern forms of ecumenism fail. The sloppy ecumenism of the Charismatic Movement comes to mind, in which unity was simply assumed by means of ignoring or explaining away genuine points of disagreement. If theological principles are unimportant, eventually moral principles must also fall by the wayside. Without the honesty that this form of principled stand requires, no real efforts toward unity will ever be possible, because no true discussion will take place. The Anglican position was that these principles mattered, but unique to Anglicanism was the notion that these were errors within the Church. The other churches of the Reformation dismissed the Church of Rome altogether as a false or fallen church, even as Antichrist. Not so Hooker, setting the position that would prevail in Anglican thinking.1

Finally, the Anglican position as stated by Hooker was unique in that it held forth the hope of reunion. So he said: "yet touching those main parts of Christian truth wherein they constantly still persist, we gladly acknowledge them to be of the family of Jesus Christ; and our hearty prayer unto God Almighty is, that being conjoined so far forth with them, they may at the length (if it be his will) so yield to frame and reform themselves, that no distraction remain in any thing, but that we 'all may with one heart and one mouth glorify God the Father of our Lord and Saviour,' whose Church we are." It has been argued by anti-Anglican apologists that the Church of England was no different from the other Reformation churches because they never officially "unchurched" the Lutherans or Calvinists. Never mind the fact that (despite much fiction to the contrary) the polity of the Church of England did not allow the functions of ordained ministry to any man unless and until he was ordained by a bishop in Apostolic Succession, a fact that, in itself, teaches the limits of their confidence in the sacraments of the continental European Protestants. What matters in Hooker's writing is that he never "unchurched" the Church of Rome. Furthermore, although in embryonic form, he sets down the goal to someday establish unity with the Church of Rome, a serious effort that would get underway long after his death.


At this time one group of Anglicans who may be able to go forward in that effort is the TAC. Of course, it would require the resignation of Archbishop Hepworth from his position (as he knows and has stated himself). Most of us are not able to speak intelligently about what exactly their plan is, or maybe simply their hope. Speculation and rumor do not help us get to the facts, and neither do panic or suspicion. However, certain things are obvious, not the least of which is this: When (or if) an answer comes from Rome it will not lead to immediate action, but to discussion. This discussion will have to be theological, because it would involve polity and liturgy.

In recent months I have posted a few things aimed at fellow Anglicans who lack confidence in their own heritage as legitimate and validly Catholic, mainly because it is clear that they have learned only from Roman Catholic sources, and have completely lost sight of Anglican principles. RC bloggers have beaten up quite a few of them mentally. And, the weakened state of the official Anglican Communion is enough to depress them, leading to despair that any good thing could ever come from that Nazareth. And, in some ways other Anglicans add to the confusion by losing all proper sight of the via media, becoming either just like modern Evangelicals as extreme low churchmen, or nose-bleed high Anglo-Catholics who live in constant fear of anything that seems "Protestant," forgetting that it is not the opposite of "Catholic."

This fear of anything "Protestant" is easily exploited by people who see the same terms employed by Lutherans or Calvinists as by Anglicans, not realizing that often the overlapping of phrases was inevitable, and that most of these instances were a continuation of theological debate among Catholics in the west that preceded the Reformation period. Sometimes, what they perceive as "Calvinist" is Augustinian, Dominican and even Thomist. The overlapping of terminology was inevitable, but one thing remains certain. The 39 Articles and other Anglican formularies were not Lutheran or Calvinist, nor were most of the terms employed in them unique to Protestantism at all.

If efforts to achieve unity do continue between the TAC and Rome (or any serious body of Anglicans and Rome, and/ or Orthodoxy) I urge consideration of these few principles I have gleaned here from Richard Hooker. If, for anybody, that involves studying Anglicanism all over again, or perhaps for the first time, it is well worth the effort. Our own baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater


1. Indeed, in the same chapter One of Book III, Hooker dismisses Calvin's extreme position on the children of the Church of Rome as, to use his exact word, "crazed"- as in, crazy.