These days, I tend not to bother very much with knowing how my former brethren in the TAC are doing since they went to the RC Church, whether through the Ordinariates or other channels. Deborah Gyapong has always been kind to me, since the days when we collaborated together on the defunct English Catholic blog, trying to bring out the best of Archbishop Hepworth and the movement towards the RC Church. We may have been mistaken, but we were sincere in trying to put things in the best light possible.
She certainly has been drawn into the prevailing ideology of the “true church” conservatives, but this was inevitable. It is a mechanism to cope with the variations and imperfections she is meeting, has met in the past and will continue to meet. The problem with going along with “true church” ecclesiology, logically, is to trash all other churches as “false” Catholics. The dichotomy is built up as with so many – you have to be Roman Catholic, in communion with the official structures of that Church, to be a true Catholic, otherwise one should be a Protestant or relinquish Christianity altogether to be seen as sincere. Deborah stops short of saying this, because she won’t see things in terms of their ultimate consequences.
She speaks nicely of Deacon Munn’s article on article on The Anglican Catholic blog, quoting it extensively. Both Deacon Munn and I seek to be irenic in this new endeavour, having learned from having seen bitter polemics in the past with even worse threads of comments. We want to build from the ruins and embers, so that Christ’s Church may be manifest in goodness and beauty.
Deacon Munn’s article strikes Deborah as expressing an immobilist position against doctrinal development as expressed by Cardinal Newman and documents of Vatican II like Lumen gentium. Indeed, having defended this theory myself, I see the limits. Look at it historically. It seems that Newman sought a way to believe in Roman Catholic doctrines that simply were not there in earlier periods of history. What really was in mind was Papal infallibility. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 recognised that St Peter had spoken through the mouth of Leo the Great, but such in its historical context was a far cry from the definition in 1870 of Vatican I or the madness Pius IX would have liked to have got through had it not been for the moderating influence of the “inopportunists”. Newman was very precise in his theory, with a number of criteria to distinguish true developments from perversions or heresies. The theory simply is imperfect, attractive though it is. I find it interesting, but it, like all theological discussion, belongs to the world of analogy.
Theological (and liturgical) immobilism also presents problems. If such a notion is held rigorously and absolutely, where or when is the time period of reference, the golden era? Such a view of the Church prevailed generally with most of the Fathers, the institutional Church, the scholastic theologians, St Thomas Aquinas, the Tridentine theologians, the Protestant Reformers, Bishop Bossuet and just about everyone until Newman and the early twentieth-century Modernists. All the polemics of the sixteenth century were about what was the belief and practice of the early Church, whether or not they understand that the pre-Nicene Church was a complete mess and hodgepodge of competing heresies and beliefs. So I am critical about immobilism too except in its role as a brake to resist imprudent “developments” or moves to express things differently or to adapt to changing conditions in history. In a well-regulated world, this is the role of an interplay of conservative and progressive politics, left-wing and right-wing, so that moderation may prevail.
Modern Roman Catholic ecclesiology seems to depend on the development theory, but very selectively. I frankly see little of the discernment of the criteria Newman set out in his book, about how an acorn becomes an oak tree, for example, and not a stinging nettle or a cow. So we have the notion of “organic” development and “hermeneutic of continuity” – which in practice often turn out to be exercises in resolving cognitive dissonance.
Of course, I no longer believe you can be capital “C” Catholic without being in communion with the Bishop of Rome—that ecclesiology is part of the faith and that includes visible, outward unity.
The problem is that there are obstacles to this aspiration to “visible, outward unity“. The Orthodox have been separated from Rome since the symbolic date of 1054, the Anglicans since 1534, the Old Catholics since 1724 and 1870, Ecône since 1988 when the illicit episcopal consecrations caused Archbishop Lefebvre to be excommunicated. Was Rome always pure white and innocent in these fractures in the human dimension of the indivisible Church? Of course not. The Popes and Roman Catholic bishops sinned as much as anyone else.
There are certain “developments” in the Roman Catholic Church that are plainly unacceptable to anyone other than Roman Catholics. Perhaps some of these things are on their way to being changed. Who knows?
The view according to which –
The view described above is often touted by those who reject any development of doctrine. But the problem with this is a kind of “frozen in amber” view of the Church as stuck in one epoch. I think we see the same kind of thing among traditionalists in the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), i.e. let’s freeze the Catholic faith at the Council of Trent.
is somewhat tired and worn. Having spent time with ACC clergy and people, I don’t see this view prevailing. Some of our priests are enamoured of the seventeenth-century divines, but not all by a long chalk. I don’t see the fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries as times of “perfection”. Many things were wrong as in all periods of church history. Perhaps the crowds at Lourdes and Fatima are a little less into simony than the paying customers of indulgence merchants in the 1500’s, but there’s not that much difference. Deborah then throws us a sop by wishing us well in our efforts to heal our divisions. I also wish the Roman Catholics well in healing much more serious divisions between themselves! It is all relative.
Do we expect the Church to be “pure” or “perfect”? All Churches in their human dimension are imperfect and sins are committed. We have only to examine our own consciences and look at ourselves. That’s where the imperfection is. And that you will found in Venice, Paris, Moscow or Canterbury (at the big cathedral or the little cathedral!). Over the weeks and months since Pope Francis’ election, I have seen a difference between what he seems to represent and the pottage with which Roman Catholics had been served over the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. There is something deeply spiritual which I recognise as big as a house! At the same time, I don’t see him as trying to proselytise the world into the Roman Catholic Church, but rather into faith in Christ in spite of the infinite variation of human conditions in the world. I think we will find him reviving the dialogue with the Anglicans (Canterbury Communion) and the Orthodox as well as the Reformed and Lutheran denominations. I have more esteem for this Pope as time goes on, but we belong to another ecclesial communion.
Deborah’s transition, in solidarity with most of the community in which she worshipped, involved a rupture between her “false” Catholicism and her “true” Catholicism. She and they will have to live with that break in their spiritual experience. It is not for me to judge them or any of the other Anglicans who followed the Anglicanorum coetibus trajectory. However, many of us reject this “break” as harmful and unnecessary. Deborah has suffered, as she told me and expressed publicly on her blog. It was necessary for her, but it is not a convincing argument for the ACC to embark on a path in which it has never shown the slightest interest.
Holy fear? Self sacrifice? Temptations to break the Church’s laws? Wanting one’s own way? All this sounds like some of the Jansenistic claptrap I have come across in France and the Cachez-moi ce sein que je ne saurais voir of Tartuffe. Such notions cannot be rejected entirely, but they are relative to many other aspects of ecclesial and spiritual life. Perhaps we might be that much more convinced by the “true church” rhetoric when we see entire Orthodox patriarchates and synods going over and submitting to the great infallible Pontiff who plainly doesn’t want to be one. When we see fruits of the ecumenical movement by the Anglican Communion repudiating women’s ordination and drawing close to Rome, perhaps we might be persuaded of being wrong in our isolation at the margins of ecclesial life.
In the total absence of such a movement, there is a question of survival – which also is relative in terms of our mortality. Security is an illusion – but who will swim in the sea when there is a perfectly good boat they can get into and the ship is on another sea?
We are far from being unanimous in believing that the will of Roman Catholic popes and bishops is automatically the will of God. Otherwise God himself will lose credibility as he has for the majority of western humanity.
I am happy for Deborah in that she has had spiritual experiences and confirmations of her choice. Others of us made similar choices in the past and were seriously misled and mistaken. I cannot judge others by my suffering and nor can she judge others by what she interprets as happy spiritual experience. Roman Catholic spirituality is full of tales of miracles and wonders. I recently watched the old film The Song of Bernadette. It is moving, and sick people were miraculously healed at Lourdes, as still occasionally happens. I have no experience of miracles (as in purely supernatural events by which the laws of nature are suspended, like healing of illness or levitation) in my own life, but I cannot refuse the possibility. It is a question of trusting credible witnesses as in law. A part of me sees the good in popular religion, spiritual experience and the wonders of God, and a part makes me want to stay down-to-earth, sensible and more trusting of the liturgy to manifest the Mystery of God.
We as Anglicans are not “into” popular religion in a big way, and that is perhaps something we lack. We have few monastic communities and people consecrated to the contemplative life. We don’t have shrines or miracles as a rule. Walsingham is sober and discreet compared with Fatima or Lourdes. But there are undeniable spiritual fruits outside Rome and conversions to Christ.
I believe the Catholic faith subsists in the Catholic Church.
Indeed, insofar as Catholic transcends the boundaries of the Roman Catholic establishment. As Deborah and others equate Catholic with Roman Catholic, it also subsists elsewhere. Who are any of us to judge which are the “bogus” and which are the “true”? I hope the pontificate of Pope Francis will discredit triumphalism and proselytism once and for all, that dialogue and a truly Catholic unity movement may resume in the future.