In reference to my earlier article Facing Criticism, an update by someone calling himself Embryo Parson promises that he will “address his comments when I have a big enough block of time to do so in depth“.
I remember from the 1980’s a sketch on a comedy TV show about two English gentlemen in the very early nineteenth century. One accuses the other of insulting his wife and slaps him across the face with a pair of gloves, indicating that the accuser and husband of the insulted wife was challenging the other gentleman to a duel. Whereupon, the challenged party learns to shoot with a duelling pistol. Finally, on the morning appointed for the duel, the challenger produces a pair of swords to the dismay of the one who had so diligently learned to shoot a pistol.
Embryo Parson describes himself in The Life and Times of The Embryo Parson. He seems to be an interesting and sympathetic fellow who has been through a lot of personal hardship and lack of pastoral sense on the part of clergy in various Churches. His conversion was a radical one, and this can bring the kind of radical commitment Christ asks of his disciples, and it can also bring fanaticism. As Umberto Eco wrote in his famous book The Name of the Rose:
Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.
I haven’t had time to peruse the whole site, but I discovered that he is a Calvin apologist. I need to see his expressed opinions through that optic. That seems to be the bee in his bonnet when “modern Anglo-Catholics” say that Calvin has no place in Anglicanism. According to this Embryo Parson, Calvin is intrinsic to Anglicanism (for example The Rev. Roger Salter on the True Nature of Anglicanism).
Calvinism is intrinsic to the fabric of Anglicanism and any vendetta against Calvin himself cannot erase this historical and theological fact. Anglicanism is drenched with Augustinianism.
I am a cradle Anglican and have seen a few churches in my time. I have also lived in France and Switzerland, the former country with a Reformed Church minority. Last summer I visited a Reformed church in La Rochelle quite similar to the one in this old engraving.
Here is another one of a French Reformed church. It must be very “high-church” because there is a cross on the wall!
The Reformed Christians of France and much of French-speaking Switerland (outside Fribourg and Valais) were brave people, and resisted the persecution by Louis XIV and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. There was a bloodbath. Decidedly, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not a time of tolerance and dialogue!
This being said, I do know the difference between the Church of England that baptised me and the Eglise Réformée.
I haven’t studied Calvin very much, still less read the Institution de la religion chrétienne, his flagship work comparable in the Reformed world to the Summa Theologicae of Thomas Aquinas. Without wishing to insult anyone, I have always had the impression that Calvin was the sixteenth-century Christian equivalent of the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Calvin, like many historical ideologues, needs a good deal of study. Some sources (for example) whose impartiality I cannot guarantee suggest that Calvin was something of a little dictator who gladly put people to torture and death in anticipation of their inevitable damnation as reprobate souls predestined to the fiery pit. The sixteenth century was a nasty time, and Christians – Catholic and Protestant – were behaving not very differently from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in our own times. If a human being was predestined for damnation, then there was no duty of any respect of that person. You can kill them, take their property, rape their wives – and no sin is committed!
Puritans in England and America had an inquisition against women accused of witchcraft that rivalled the Roman Catholic Church’s inquisition in Spain and other parts of the world. The Salem Witch Trials in New England are an example of persecution by Puritans. See Salem Witchcraft: The Events and Causes of the Salem Witch Trials. Can all this be blamed on Calvin? The article makes no such insinuation, but seventeenth-century Puritanism was just as fanatical and murderous as fanatical Catholicism in the same period. What was sure about Calvin is that he set Geneva up as a theocracy and he made the rules!
I’m not going to waste my time reading Calvin’s theology any more than Suarez, Bellarmine, Molina and others. Catholicism in the seventeenth century had Jansenism that also had very pessimistic tendencies derived from Saint Augustine. Lots of damned and very few saved. Do we see where the logic goes? Yes, the Untermensch of the guys in jackboots in the 1940’s, lining up their “unworthy of life” victims for the gas chambers. I am often criticised for reasoning according to the principle of the reductio ad absurdam or taking things to their ultimate consequences. It isn’t always a valid way of thinking, but it can be. I hardly have the taste for wading through Calvin’s theology, since the man had nothing to do with Christianity or the Gospel other than nominally and hypocritically.
Putting aside the accusations of murder, persecution and oppression, because everybody with few saintly exceptions was doing it in those days, there is another consideration. The properly theological considerations are based on late medieval scholasticism based on philosophical systems that forbade the participation of any being in another or any notion of the Universal. God was being put in prison!
I refuse to argue according to the categories of this kind of theological method. No theology is perfect, since it is faith seeking understanding (and not always finding it). Still, it can be said that some approaches to theology are more open to the mystical and spiritual notion of God, to God’s generosity and even to a carefully understood notion of universal salvation or deification (Θέωσις) by grace, or even the orthodox version of Gnosticism of the Alexandrian School. I have written on neo-patristics and the Ressourcement school of twentieth-century Europe.
Our embryo parson friend and I seem to live on different planets, and we seem unlikely to have any common ground on which to base a dialogue. I find this tendency with a few others who run blogs and call themselves “classical Anglicans”. I don’t think they really represent most Continuing Anglican jurisdictions seeking to bring churches together in unity and Christian love. If they did, then we are necessarily faced with the exclusion of Catholic or even “high-church” elements.
If he is thinking of challenging me to a long and drawn-out theological debate, as with Roman Catholic and Orthodox convert apologists, he will be disappointed. But I will maintain that Continuing Anglicanism is home to many Christian folk who are all on their pilgrimages. I am a fairly thick-skinned person, having been blogging for years and facing criticism and occasional insults – but I do take exception to being trashed, as seemed to be implicit when we “modern Anglo-Catholics” are seen as “playing at religion”. It’s always the same dagger – we’re the “true church” and you are the insincere and perhaps deceitful impostors, traps for the unwary and spiritual frauds.
I will not argue with a man who thinks this way. If he wants to initiate a theological argument with a long article, I fear he may be wasting his time. Actually, it might be more apposite to see if he picks his nose in public, forgets to zip up his fly or if he has dirty fingernails! Someone familiar with his writings has told me – I don’t know his real identity, but indications are that he has moved around quite a bit and earned for himself a reputation for being loudly dissatisfied and combative. We’ll see, or perhaps we won’t. Either way…