Anglican Catholic Gentleness

I would like to salute Fr Jonathan Munn in his sensitive and gentle comments to a posting by Cappellane, the posting in question being Tea With Fr. Munn.

Gentleness and kindness, an irenic approach, are a fundamental part of Anglican culture and our way. This is most praiseworthy and, with the contribution from Archbishop Haverland, shows a happy new direction and example for Continuing Anglicanism.

Experience has taught us to avoid being shrill and intolerant, but rather to adopt a kind attitude that dialogues with the other and feels empathy for the other person’s human qualities. Indeed, we English start by putting the kettle on and making a cup of tea. I encourage readers to read about the life of Saint Philip Neri, who was Florentine, not English, but who left us an amazing spiritual legacy alongside Richard Rolle and our own English way.

I select this quote of Fr Jonathan Munn, which should take its place in history:

I will admit to being “anti-Reformation” on the grounds that it stopped acceptance of theologoumena in favour of shrill dogma which proclaimed absolute certainty rather than that truly Anglican of virtues of being fairly certain, and also because of the concomitant loss of life of good men on both sides. It is this reason that I have sought to undo the Reformation and find that Faith which England possessed before it was pulled astray first by medieval accretion and then the subsequent fractures and partisan behaviour.

* * * * *

Dear Christopher,

A colleague from my school put me onto this, and you ask very reasonable questions.

“1. What are his thoughts about why Calvinism — which is merely an attempt to be faithful to apostolic teachings about God’s sovereign grace — provokes such heated opposition from Anglo-Catholics, Arminians and liberals, and does he understand our concern that the three might share some common DNA?;”

I doubt that I am sufficiently qualified to answer this question. I certainly cannot answer for every Anglo-Catholic or Arminian, and I never know how someliberals can even function rationally. I would suggest that this is another of those areas in which there is a reaction to a stereotype rather than the actual doctrines and I suspect there may be some greater confluence in ideas that are more reasonably thought about. I also suspect that there is difficulty among Christians in seeing the rifts which have fallen out from the Reformation. I fully understand Calvinism to be an attempt to be faithful to the teaching on Grace even if I cannot affirm to it. If I am permitted to walk in the company of God after this life is over, I fully expect to see Calvinists there.

“2. Does the ill-feeling he mentions above stem from the fact that he “can never be a Calvinist”, or rather from what he and other Anglo-Catholics have written or said about it, which includes many outright misrepresentations of Reformed theology?;”

The ill-feeling I spoke of was due to someone objecting to the Anglican Catholic Blog claiming that I was making an exclusive statement despite clear evidence to the contrary. It had nothing to do with any Catholic-Protestant deliberations.

“3. When he speaks in this connection of “Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Church”, will he concede that the Church has never really settled the issue between Augustinians and anti-Augustinians, and that this should call forth an attitude that tolerates the two theologoumena existing side by side in the Church?”

I concede nothing because my opinions have not changed. I have never once believed that there was any consensus on Augustinian or non-Augustinian theologoumena in the Early Church. Such is the nature of the division between Eastern and Western theologies and both are valid within the Catholic Church. It is this knowledge that keeps me from denying the Christianity and indeed Catholicism of my brothers in Christ. I am not intolerant of any teaching that is consistent with the Faith once handed down to the Church. I am just unable identify myself with Calvinism as it is demonstrated in TULIP. If TULIP is not actual Calvinism, then perhaps I can find more common ground.

I know that I am neither Pelagian nor Semi-Pelagian, for I know that I cannot be saved by anything of myself and that my being is riddled with holes. (http://warwickensis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/wholly-holey-or-holy.html) and therefore I am reliant upon God to make the move to save me. But I believe that I have a choice as to whether to accept that Grace or not. For all my inadequacy as a human being, I have decided to receive that Grace so generously offered, that Divine Hand of Friendship, that Life-giving salvation, and also the Grace that God liberally gives through His Holy Sacraments. I acknowledge God as the beginning of my Faith, but also my part in the upkeep and maintenance of that Faith. I cannot begin to understand predestination because I am a temporal being and God is Eternal for Whom the “pre-“ in predestination must be meaningless. That is God’s work and not mine. I simply trust in His Grace to draw me further, not concerning myself about whether others are saved for I have to work out my own Salvation in fear and trembling. I must simply preach the Gospel and live in the hope that the salvation of others that I don’t see will be reified when I see Him as He is.

I will admit to being “anti-Reformation” on the grounds that it stopped acceptance of theologoumena in favour of shrill dogma which proclaimed absolute certainty rather than that truly Anglican of virtues of being fairly certain, and also because of the concomitant loss of life of good men on both sides. It is this reason that I have sought to undo the Reformation and find that Faith which England possessed before it was pulled astray first by medieval accretion and then the subsequent fractures and partisan behaviour.

When I say I must “walk apart”, there is a sense in which all Christians must take a lonely road to meet God because, while I may be saved with the Church, the details of my salvation are between me and my Creator. I walk in agreement with the ACC because it is Anglican (by which I mean “English” in its tradition and not post-Reformation sense. That is not uniformly regarded by many not in the ACC, but it is how we see things and understand ourselves.), and Catholic because it seeks to hold to the Vincentian Canon. I believe fully in the validity of Anglican Orders provided that the matter in their Apostolic Succession is correct because I believe in the promises of Christ. I must walk apart from those who (a) deny the effective Grace of the sacraments (b) think that they can change how God-given sacraments work or (c) wish to exclude me from the Catholic Church in the first place.

I am aware of the imperfections of the ACC, but then even Our Lord was only perfected at His last breath upon the cross as that wonderful cry of “tetelestai” proves. We seek perfection in the same way as any other Christian body must: we do not claim to have it unlike certain Catholic jurisdictions. We have standards and definitions, and many disagree with those standards and definitions, but as our recent ecumenical dialogue shows, we are open to discussion, open to worship together and open to the possibilities of re-union with our fellows.
I’ve put the kettle on.

God bless.

Fr. Jonathan

* * *

Fr. Munn, I want to thank you for your gracious and thoughtful reply here. As I stated previously, going forward it is my intent to write in such a way as to invite respectful give and take on the issues that divide Protestant and Catholic, and within our fold, Reformed, Arminian and Catholic Anglicans. Let us covenant together to not knock the teapot off the table. My replies:

1. I agree that all this is fallout from the Reformation, and to be honest, I see a lot of the same heated opposition against Arminians and Anglo-Catholics in Reformed ranks. I just wish that it were not so. You write that you cannot affirm the Calvinist understanding of grace, just as we cannot affirm libertarian notions of the human will, but are the doctrines our respective sides rail against really heresies, or merely theologumena each side believes for good biblical and theological reasons?

2. Fair enough. I was responding to this: “As I have said below, I can never be a Calvinist and this seems to have stirred up more ill-feeling.” I took that to be a reference to me. Indeed, the anti-Calvinism I have experienced in Anglican ranks, which has come not just from Anglo-Catholics but some Arminian Protestants as well, has stirred up a certain amount of ill-feeling in me.

3. Very well, you concede nothing. But, by my lights, the very fact that there was, as you say, no consensus on Augustinian or non-Augustinian theologoumena means precisely that the Church has never really settled the issue between Augustinians and anti-Augustinians, as I wrote. This demonstrates at a minimum, a willingness on the part of the Church to countenance both theologies. But it is more than that. Not only has the Augustinian doctrine of prevenient grace never been condemned by the Church, it actually has catholic provenance as to Pelagianism and significant Western provenance as to Semipelagianism. The question then becomes, if prevenient grace is a Catholic doctrine, whether or not it is actually efficacious to save and given to all people or just some. The Augustinian answers are, respectively, “yes” and “just some.” Whether or not those answers logically commit us to Five-Point Calvinism is debatable. The sticking point for me is the doctrine of limited atonement, which I do not think can withstand scrutiny in light of the Scriptures. However, I do not agree with an Anglican Catholic fellow I knew in college, who argued that if limited atonement goes the whole Calvinist edifice collapses. There are other options for Reformed Christians who balk at limited atonement, such as the Amyraldian or Barthian ones.

Happily, you understand the role God’s sovereign grace has played and continues to play in your own life. Yet, you say that you “cannot begin to understand predestination because I am a temporal being and God is Eternal for Whom the ‘pre’ in predestination must be meaningless.” I don’t think any credible Reformed theologian will say that the predestination/”free-will” issue is fully comprehensible, but that fact won’t, and shouldn’t, reduce him to silence. This is because the Bible tells us enough about the matter to lead us safely to the conclusion that we live in a universe not ruled by contingency or characterized by a kind of Manichean or Whiteheadian dualism. The metaphysic Holy Writ gives us is quite different: God is totally in control, and nothing surprises him. Moreover, when it comes to our salvation, the apostolic writers attribute it to a gracious “gift” and strongly imply if not expressly state that it has nothing to do with the will of man. Put all that together, and some sort of “Calvinism” sure seems to follow.

While I am aware of the particular shortcomings of the Reformation, I do not think your characterization of it is fair. In fact, I would call it more a caricature than a characterization. I would strongly recommend Alister McGrath’s book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution–A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First for what I believe to be a fair and balanced assessment of it. Though McGrath admittedly writes as a partisan, his is an account of both the Reformation’s glories and its defects. (See the reviews at Amazon.)

One of the reasons I was initially attracted to Anglicanism was that I believed that its Anglican Catholics didn’t react viscerally against its Anglican Protestants, and vice versa. I have come to learn that while this may fit some Anglicans’ ideal of what Anglicanism is to be, it’s not really true “on the ground.” However, I think it can be. I think the old ideal of Anglican comprehensiveness (sans liberalism, which isn’t even Christianity IMO) can work, provided we all start playing our cards right. For instance, I don’t believe a Pauline-Augustinian view of grace necessitates a low view of the sacraments. It certainly didn’t for St. Augustine (though admittedly he belongs to a somewhat different sacramental school than the one that came to prevail in the late Middle Ages). I believe the Reformed are wrong on that issue, and that is precisely why I don’t belong to a Reformed Church. I also think Fr. Chadwick goes too far when he insinuates that Reformed theology necessarily calls forth iconoclasm and sanctuaries characterized by Zen-like emptiness. Two of my favorite Archbishops of Canterbury, Thomas Bradwardine and John Whitgift, were both Augustinian predestinarians and High Church.

While these are very important issues to me, they all pale in comparison to the issue of the Gospel. If we don’t have the Gospel right, nothing else really matters. Perhaps we can reserve that issue for discussion later. Here, in conclusion, I’ll simply thank you for reading and responding to my article. It is my sincere hope that your offer of tea augurs well for the tone and content of our future discussions.

* * *

If you two ever do have tea (and I’d recommend some lovely Russian caravan), you probably couldn’t do better than review those junctures in history where giants of Christendom focused heavily on the issues. An historical foundation is a great place to start and reviewing what others have stated can often both stimulate and renew. While there may be more such junctures, at the very least you might look at:

– Sts. John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, & Faustus of Riez vs. St. Augustine (5th century),
– Erasmus vs. Luther (1520s)
– Melanchthon and the Philippist Lutherans vs. the Formula of Concord & Gnesio-Lutherans (1550s-1580s),
– Bullinger’s 2nd Helvetic Confession (1560s) vs. the Westminster Confession of Faith (1640s),
– Molina vs. Jansen (17th century)
– Arminius vs the Divines of the Synod of Dordt (17th century), and
– John Wesley vs. George Whitefield (18th century).

What is so amazing is how so many giants of so many faith groups at various points in time have taken different views on the issue and how the Church has yet to come together in Council to attempt to discern the grace of the Holy Ghost on the issues.

* * *

Dear Christopher,
I am English. I NEVER throw the teapot from the table. That is an unthinkable heresy! 😀

“1. I agree that all this is fallout from the Reformation, and to be honest, I see a lot of the same heated opposition against Arminians and Anglo-Catholics in Reformed ranks. I just wish that it were not so. You write that you cannot affirm the Calvinist understanding of grace, just as we cannot affirm libertarian notions of the human will, but are the doctrines our respective sides rail against really heresies, or merely theologumena each side believes for good biblical and theological reasons?”

I would never have said they were heresies, more different philosophical viewpoints. The Free-will problem is still very much open in Philosophy and in Science too, especially as we no longer live in the Clockwork Universe of Pierre Simon de Laplace. Our Christianity must be independent of philosophical viewpoint and it seems perfectly reasonable for an Orthodox Christian to hold either point of view until it become untenable in the light of Christ’s Truth which may not ever happen at all. I guess the problem will never really be solved. Indeed, I rather think that with the coming of Christ, we shall see something that neither party expected. You and I both gaze through the glass darkly. (I now use metal darklies – they don’t break as quickly :-D)

On point 3, I did say I concede nothing. I fear I may have not made my position clear. I concede nothing because there is nothing to concede. You and I are in agreement here and I have never been in opposition, thus I have no concession to make. I think it is perfectly reasonable that, as Augustinians and non-Augustinians have both thrived in the pre-Schism Church, that both are tenable positions.

With regard to predestination, while I believe that God is wholly in control and there is no surprise for Him, this occurs because all is present to Him. I can’t go as far as some folk would say in “once saved, always saved”. It is very possible for me to shipwreck my faith and so the tense of Salvation needs to be very carefully recorded. I know myself to be redeemed through the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross; I know that I have been drawn by God first and foremost and my faith has its beginning in Him, but I am still working through this thing called salvation. I hope to be saved and I know that, through the Grace of God, I am being saved, but that salvation is not yet completed. Of course, “once saved, always saved” is tautologically true anyway from a tenseless viewpoint. I, personally, understand predestination in the Orthodox sense that God has a specific calling of His people from an Eternal standpoint and that it is not applicable to individuals, but rather to the Church as a whole. When I get time, I need to do a study of the relationship between Time, Eternity and Holy Writ. Unfortunately, as you yourself must know, Time is the one thing one seems to possess least of.

My characterisation of the Reformation comes from reading Chadwick (not Fr. Anthony), Duffy and Haigh and as such I always have to balk at the way the powers that were acted in this situation, and I have come to the conclusion that the Reformation was a political mess in England and that, as usual and as evidenced in Northern Ireland, all parties became rather tribal entities rather than confessing bodies, though there were many confessing martyrs who died for their cause. My parish is in Rochester so I have a particular fondness for St John Fisher. I’ve always thought that if Leo X and Martin Luther had both been Franciscan rather than Augustinian, the Reformation might have had a lighter touch, but, hey, I’m an old Romantic at heart. I have reasons for not trusting McGrath, but I really don’t want to air them, especially not in a public com-box.

I can’t say that Calvinism necessarily leads to iconoclasm unless Calvinism necessarily teaches that the seventh Oecumenical Council is in error in permitting the use of ikons. If it does then it is technically iconoclastic but, again, one needs to understand that term in the light of the sincerity of one’s beliefs. Is Iconoclasm a pejorative term? If Calvinism permits iconography, then it can’t possibly be convicted of iconoclasm. As it is, I cannot speak for the logical conclusions of following Calvinism as I am not a Calvinist. I can only follow the logical conclusions of the faith upon which I have embarked.

I do have hope that Anglican Catholicism can see itself as a much broader church than it perhaps is now, though it is certainly broader than I had understood hitherto. I certainly don’t want anyone to be told to drop the “Anglican” adjective if they have good grounds for using it, especially if they have an understanding of that Anglicanism a desire to be with other Anglicans. I have my faith, a faith I’m still learning and I faith I am now called to preach faithfully.

Russian Caravan, Mr Frost? There’s plenty in Oz – samovar over the rainbow. Seriously, that does sound rather exciting! I must look into those discussions you suggest. The Cassian-Augustine viewpoint certainly interests me.

I must go, as I’ve another sermon to prepare.

God bless.
Fr. Jonathan

* * *

Fr. Jonathan, Keep in mind that the 5th century semi-Augustinian troika countering St. Augustine approach the issue from entirely different perspectives. St. Vincent essentially shows the novelty of Augustine’s thinking; it can’t survive his “canon”. St. John essentially puts the issue in the words of the Eastern monastics, esp. the Desesrt Fathers,with whom he lived for many years before returning to Gaul; Augustine’s thinking isn’t in accord with the East. See John’s Conferences, the 13th. Faustus is the only one who wrote extensively on the issue; he is the only one to take Augustine on directly, if very respectfully. It is hard to find Faustus’ writings in English, though Thomas Smith’s De Gratia, Faustus of Riez’s Treatise on Grace and Its Place in the History of Theology (Notre Dame, 1990) is probably the best. (I believe there is one short biography from the late 1930s.)

If you have the time, you might study Gregory Graybill’s recent work: Evangelical Free Will, Philipp Melanchthon’s Doctrinal Journey on the Origins of Faith (Oxford, 2010). Graybill is a Presbyterian pastor. He goes over Philip’s maturing thoughts decade by decade, work by work. While academic, very accessible. And since both Arminius and John Wesley essentially follow in his footsteps, most instructive for understanding the semi-Augustinian viewpoint from within the magisterial Reformation.

* * *

Thank you, Mr Frost for these insights. I am aware that the Vincentian Canon does indeed struggle with the Catholicism of Augustinian thought and perhaps I am too broad-minded, but I still cannot quite reject Augustinianism just yet. I do struggle with it as interpreted by Calvin, as I have explained, but I am interested in preserving a broad Church despite my convictions.

When I get to become intelligent, perhaps all will become clear.

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