Herding Cats and Continuing Anglican Ecumenism

I often get comments lamenting the disunion of various jurisdictional bodies of Continuing Anglicans with their various emphases in matters of theology, notably the appeal of historical Catholicism on one side and fidelity to the rigour of the Reformation on the other.

Well, how do we go about it? I have been into this already in Suggestions for Anglo-Catholic Union. Our Bishops can meet up, as they have done for this very purpose, and negotiate concordats of intercommunion or even complete mergers into a single jurisdiction. There is also dialogue at a more parochial level in which people from different Churches and parishes can meet up. There is also what I am doing on this blog, encouraging dialogue, reasoning things out and being open-minded.

The big problem, the elephant in the room, is the impossibility of reconciling the pure and hard Protestantism of some with either the Anglo-Papalism or aspiration to historical Catholicism of others. One side must accept the position of the other and give up his own. Otherwise, one can develop the art of “fudging” and equivocation – saying something that will be understood in two different ways by two different people.

A peaceful parting of the ways? Perhaps not necessarily. Christians have always collaborated with other Christians with whom organic union is impossible, but on the level of humanitarianism, education or other things related to faith and religion without being directly a part of the ideology of a particular ecclesial tradition.

My commenter maintains – “I don’t see a middle ground. No disunion within the Church is really acceptable“. We are getting close to discussions that may have to be limited to the Blow-Out Departments of this blog. We can have strings of ideas without any possible resolution. This is the problem of theological amateurism.

Why do I bother writing on this at all? I think we could look at the history and ideas of the mainstream ecumenical movement and treat these differences in exactly the same way as between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants (ie. of the Calvinist tradition). The ecumenical movement originated in the Roman Catholic Church and the desires of many of its clergy and laity to reconcile with Protestants and Orthodox. The World Council of Churches was set up in 1948, motivated by the desire to reconcile mankind in general after the hardship caused by the war. The first thing was a sense of unity in helping the victims of the war and building a new foundation of peace.

There are several approaches to Christian unity. The highest aspiration is reconciling different denominations by overcoming the historical divisions on account of theological differences. One approach is that of “comprehensiveness” basing what is held in common on “mere Christianity” as C.S. Lewis would have put it, and treating the more “accessory” conditions as negotiable and “optional”. Another approach is basing the possibility of union on acceptance of the sacramental and liturgical nature of the Church – these aspects are not negotiable, but there may be different possible uses of terminology to discuss them. What is the Church? This is the capital question to which there are answers ranging from a vague notion of an “invisible” body to the dogmatic rigours of Rome and the more conservative Orthodox Churches.

There is a two-stage process: the “dialogue of love” and the “dialogue of truth”. The first is Christians being courteous to each other and abstaining from the customary language of heresy, schism and apostasy. The second is the serious theological study of questions like the Council of Chalcedon, the Filioque, justification, salvation, grace and works and so forth. As scholarship has developed over the centuries, we discover that many difficulties were caused by terminology and language.

It occurs to me that many clergy members of Continuing Anglican Churches have an insufficient level of theological education. For those charged with questions of this nature, and especially senior priests and bishops, I can’t see how many of these problems can be discussed by “amateurs”. Perhaps this sounds snotty on my part, but rigorous reasoning and scholarship are essential, and those generally come from having studied theology at university standard.

I would certain propose that each Church should have a commission of clergy and lay people with a university-level theological education, and work through the questions that divide. This is not a job for amateurs? Many of the problems in Continuing Anglican are theological – the classical problems between Catholicism and Protestantism, but not all. Most difficulties are probably caused by ignorance, prejudice, conservatism and refusal to study more recent scholarship than the late seventeenth century!

There’s the challenge. Some of us are getting our act together with serious blogging and writing books, and above all reading about the things we uphold and defend, all too often emotionally. Let’s get our act together!

If Churches get together, it won’t be by magic or one party knuckling under the strongest opposition – but rediscovering books and libraries, and having the self-discipline to concentrate on the essentials.

For the time being, let’s get on with the dialogue of love, and that means getting rid of our bigotry and rudeness. Goodness me! Wouldn’t that be progress before the theologians get busy!

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12 Responses to Herding Cats and Continuing Anglican Ecumenism

  1. Dale says:

    This is indeed a serious issue. But, I would also posit that the divisions in Continuing Anglicanism are less serious than many would want us to believe. One of the offers that certain groups have made to Continuing Anglicans is that if they join such and such a church or denomination all will be wonderful in complete unity, praying and worshiping in complete and total unified theological bliss. Well, it is not really so. Many of the alternatives that offer unity, against all of that horrible Anglican confusion, are not so unified under closer inspection; Roman Catholicism is divided, seriously divided, between liberal and conservative, with the liberals winning; and Byzantine Orthodoxy is serious divided between warring groups that refuse not only to con-celebrate but to even commune members of each other’s sects.

    Our divisions, which are a reproach, are often surprisingly minor on the local level; although not all Anglican groups will con-celebrate, as it were, most remain united on one important issue; laity of one continuing jurisdiction are NOT refused communion in another jurisdiction. This is, as an example, not the situation within Byzantium, where the laity are often refused communion based upon with group they identify with.

    So, on the local, parish level we do have a surprising amount of unity. I have never seen, or even heard of a layperson refused communion because they belong to an opposing jurisdiction or type of churchmanship.

    The issues that divide us are often very serious ones: is the Mass a sacrifice or a memorial meal? do we have Catholic priesthood or a minister presider? What are the Sacraments? et cetera; but these are serious issues and personally I think that Calvinist and Catholic continuing Anglicans will go our own ways now that we no longer have the establishment to unite us under the Crown, but at least our divisions are serious, and not motivated such as issues as pews, beards and calendar!

    • Another thing that has to be remembered. I write this blog in English, my native language, but I am not American but from the “old country”. Most “hits” are from the USA, the UK, Australia and Canada, but also from some other European and non-European non-English-speaking countries. Outside the USA and African countries, Continuing Anglicanism is very marginal.

      In England, the ACC diocese I belong to is very small. We don’t have an exact count, but it is in the few hundred bracket. The English diocese of the TAC is now an unknown quantity. The more active and visible clergy joined the Ordinariate or “disappeared”. I think we in the ACC in England are very open to dialogue with others – but we have the impression they aren’t there. There are one or two other jurisdictions that keep more or less to themselves and have modest web sites. Over the past 15 years, the ACC clergy have had to learn to adopt a more “professional” way of doing things, firstly under the former Vicar General Fr Patrick McEune and under our present Bishop. I think we will do well to lose some of the “conservatism” and gain a little of being able to think “outside the box”.

      Outside the USA, things are situated much more differently. In England we are Anglo-Catholics and the issues of “classical Anglicanism” in America are of no interest this side of the Atlantic. We just don’t think in those terms. Nearly all the Low Church people have stayed in the Church of England or joined the Free Church of England. Our biggest enemy is not disunity or division, but being so small no one notices our existence!

  2. Stephen K says:

    Father: I think you make a very good point about the dialogues of love and truth. I also do agree that there is a lot of what you call ‘theological amateurism” but which I call ‘theological barbarism’. Let me explain. Most of us are theological amateurs, in the sense we busy ourselves in theological discourse as anything – obsession, hobby, interest – but a paid occupation. Many of us have had a seminary or religious formation which means not so much that we are entitled to call ourselves theologians but that we have a smattering of theological vocabulary at our fingertips. Even most pastors and priests are not, I dare to say, anywhere near being able to be described as ‘professional theologians’.

    But it seems to me that all religious adherents, Christians no less, are called to be ‘theologians’, i.e. people concerned to, and loving to, ‘talk about God’. In an earlier post you said that we had to start thinking theologically, and I said in reply, we had to think less like canon lawyers. I think both injunctions are true. But if it is true, then it behoves us to do so carefully and respectfully and studiously.

    It is not therefore a problem being an ‘amateur theologian’ but rather being a theological savage. The way to avoid being a theological savage is to cultivate a truly meditational spiritual life by listening to a wide variety of religious wisdom and tradition and generally shutting up for much of the time, or studying philosophy – which can amount to the same thing.

    In my experience, seminary formation does not make philosophers either, but equips seminarians with the techniques and vocabulary. The difference is that whereas seminary theology amounts to little more than a mouthful of the dessert, the seminary philosophical introduction amounts to the empty bowl and the spoon, tools that may prove useful. Both are deficient.

    I don’t want to be thought that my views are simply the projection of my own experiences and wishful thinking. But the more my life goes on, the less important questions of ‘church’ become and the more important questions of love and relationship become, and the latter is more truly theology, in the practical sense.

    I hope I am making sense myself. I am not ashamed of being an amateur theologian; I am more ashamed of being a selfish person.

    Father, may I conclude by saying that I think you always raise and discuss really central issues that many other bloggers, purporting to be “experts” fail to grapple with in any edifying sense, if at all. Or maybe I just ‘dig’ you. Religion may involve regulations and laws; spiritual life must involve contemplation and love.

    • Thank you for this comment. I always appreciate your freshness and candour. Amateur is a French word, someone who loves. We say in France – Pierre est un amateur du bon vin. He likes this beverage and is enthusiastic about it, and may be highly knowledgeable about how it is produced and judged by wine tasters. An amateur is someone who loves.

      It also means someone who is good at and enthusiastic at something (a hobby) without doing it to earn his living as a professional. We have amateur choirs, orchestras, theatre groups, sports people and all sorts. Some of them are every bit as good as professionals.

      There is also another meaning – because someone isn’t a professional, he is an amateur and less competent or skilled at his particular interest. He hasn’t had the same degree of training. We moderns tend to use the third meaning. Amateurish is applied to the way a job has been done poorly and without the right degree of competence. This is the meaning I used myself.

      The danger with amateur theology is not that amateurs in this field don’t do it to earn their living or that they don’t have bits of paper from official universities, but that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Some people go off the rails because they don’t see the wholeness of and issue.

      I have no objection to there being good pastoral priests who have only a basic level in theological reading – as long as they have no pretences at being anything other than good down-to-earth pastoral priests. Amateurishness can also cover a inordinate enthusiasm for something, leading to an unbalancing of judgement.

      Indeed, we are all called to learn according to the time we have for study and aptitude to focus and concentrate our intellectual abilities. I’m not much of an intellectual myself, and prefer to be in the great outdoors, whether on land or at sea! I agree that there is a big difference between being a good amateur, as able as any “professional”, and being a “savage”. I quote from Oscar Wilde:

      Like all poetical natures he loved ignorant people. He knew that in the soul of one who is ignorant there is always room for a great idea. But he could not stand stupid people, especially those who are made stupid by education: people who are full of opinions not one of which they even understand, a peculiarly modern type, summed up by Christ when he describes it as the type of one who has the key of knowledge, cannot use it himself, and does not allow other people to use it, though it may be made to open the gate of God’s Kingdom.

      What is important is not so much the technical side of theology, but a right judgement, the ability to reason outside the box and to be open to other people. Education is important, but one can only build a church or a house on a solid foundation. That foundation is human character and sound personality.

      I am an amateur in just about everything I do – except what I do to earn my living, translating industrial technical documents that have nothing to do with religion. I am an amateur theologian, trained to be a professional, but I am a non-stipendiary priest. I am an amateur musician, and nowhere near as good as professionals. I sail my boat as a hobby, learning about the sea and seamanship, and the great challenge to me is to learn more: coastal and offshore navigation, radio, meteorology, handling real yachts and not just beach dinghies. Being an amateur is nothing to be ashamed of, even if we’re not as good as the pros – just as long as we are aware of that and seek to learn and improve continuously throughout our lives.

      We all have a long way to go. A little humility (which I don’t have) goes a long way!

      • ed pacht says:

        Steven K. I truly appreciate your comments. I was considering something similar, but you said it so much better. I used to think very highly of seminary education, but over time I’ve become more and more skeptical. So many are fooled into thinking of themselves as experts. None of us are. Theology is the exercise of grappling with what we are simply unable to comprehend. Even professional practitioners of theology are amateurs in one of the senses Father cites: some know themselves to be amateurs, if they have their heads and hearts on straight, lovers of theology and what it points to who know deeply how insufficient they are; and others who do not are amateurish proclaimers of what they claim to know but do not.

        I’ve long rejected any concept of clergy as ‘professionals’. A priest, theologian, pastor, or teacher is vocational, filling a role to which he has been called. Some are fortunate enough to be supported by a “living” (in the old English term) so that they can be “amateurs” on a full-time basis, while others need to scrounge for a living. There is no essential difference in their ministries. Some have formal training, some have to teach themselves, neither ever stops being an ignorant student.

      • I was conversing with a priest of our Church some time ago and he asked me whether I believed in Purgatory. I replied saying that the ACC prays for the dead and uses the same Mass formula in the Anglican Missal as the Roman Missal of up to 1965. I answered the question with another question – What’s in a name?

        I am not interested in questions of status and qualifications. The purpose of education is not to stuff a man’s head with facts and information, but to teach him to think, to transcend conventional categories and language and look for the being of everything. That is the point. The best thing is university (or equivalent education) on the basis of experience of life. There’s no hard and fast formula for everything, but the point is that some of our priests see conflict where there is none because of some buzz word from Reformation times.

        I’m an “amateur” priest myself, because I do something else to earn my living. I have done theological studies at university, but am not formally qualified as a translator – I just have on-the-job experience. I am an amateur in something I am “qualified” in and professional in something I am not “qualified” in. The point is that I don’t attach importance to the official qualification or status symbol, but the ability to do the job, which can be acquired through apprenticeship and experience.

        This is why I used the French word in the modern English sense of amateurish, meaning something that is sub-standard or showing incompetence. I think someone who is self taught can be an excellent theologian – just as long as he is able to think critically and above all out of the box.

      • Stephen K says:

        “Theology is the exercise of grappling with what we are simply unable to comprehend.”
        This is as concise a statement of the subject as I have ever seen, ed. I think it is upon the recognition of what you have said that the path of religious wisdom and wholesomeness really begins. Thank you, ed.

  3. Michael Frost says:

    Father Anthony, Usually I just wish I could put some specific bones on the basic terminology that is used by Anglicans. Some real specifics about what it means. For example, just in this thread you wrote these three statements:

    – “the appeal of historical Catholicism on one side”: What is this specific form of “historical Catholicism”? AD 300-600? AD 450-900? AD 900-1500? AD 1545-1960?
    – “with either the Anglo-Papalism or aspiration to historical Catholicism of others”: What is this “Anglo-Papalism”? Is it like Piux IX telling the Oxford Movement that they were like a bell calling faithful to church but remaining outside of it themselves?
    – “In England we are Anglo-Catholics”: What is this Anglo-Catholicism? Is it the RCC in England before Henry VIII? Or how the Oxford Movement interpreted Anglicanism (e.g., Tract 90)?

    What is each of these phrases and are they synonyms or are there subtle nuances and differences between them: “historical Catholicism”, “Anglo-Papalism”, “Anglo-Catholics”?

    • Indeed that is the problem and limitation of human language. I suggest a good study of Nominalism, philosophy and historical development – quite revealing.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Father Anthony, Hmmm….nominalism. I just finished reading an essay (Cyril Richardson’s “Zwingli and Cranmer on the Eucharist (1949)) Dr. Tighe sent me that discusses the eucharistic theology of Zwingli and Cranmer. The author makes much of the nominalism he sees inherent in them both and in Protestantism in general, and which he says are so influential.

        Unlike Boethius, I don’t get my consoloation from philosophy. I just Kant seem to do it. And I find it a bit hard to keep separate Neoplatonism from Nominalism. 😉

        [I tend to agree with Melanchthon on philosophy. It can be good and profitable to adequately know and properly use the tools of philosophers, but ultimately one has to rely on the Gospel rather than philosophy.]

  4. Michael Frost says:

    And here I’m think of the recent ACNA Provincial Council from June. I can’t wait to see the final product! From its communique:

    “An Anglican Catechism: The Catechism Task Force, which has been developing a comprehensive Catechism over the past two years, presented a report to the College. To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism is now is in final refinement for a working document to be published by the end of the year.”

  5. Rdr. James Morgan says:

    I’ve been following this with interest and want to jump up and down cheering!
    I note that in the Eastern Orthodox Church there are only three saints styled as ‘Theologians’: St. John the Evangelist, Gregory Nazianzus and Simeon the ‘New Theologian’. not even John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas, both giants, are given that title. Possibly something to think about….

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