The Fatal Flaw

It is a constant theme: Anglicanism is intrinsically flawed by its comprehensiveness and doctrinal relativism because of the lack of a teaching authority (magisterium).  It is one argument that convinces Anglicans who are new to it to become Roman Catholics. Unfortunately for them, Pius IX is no longer the infallible Pope. I read a long thread on Facebook introduced by the following observation.

While I believe that some minor disagreements are a necessary evil, the breadth of thought in Anglicanism is not acceptable at all. If the Anglican Continuum wishes to be taken seriously, it needs to stop pretending that it’s totally okay to have a Pentecostal who doesn’t believe in the Sacrament of Penance be a good standing member in the same church as an Anglo-Catholic who prays the Rosary every day. There is one truth. You either accept it, or you are wrong. The Early Church Fathers had huge, Church splitting disagreements over minute Christological details. They would die of heart attacks if they saw the current state of the Continuum. Of course, this hearkens back to the Protestant flaw of Anglicanism… Lack of a living authority.

There are several ways to read this observation. It might be a high-church Anglican saying that we have to get our act together to be credible. I doubt that it would be one of those predatory Roman Catholic apologists, so they drop out of the picture at this point as far as I am concerned. There are many comments, some of which obviously come from people who fail to see the forest for the individual trees.

It is the flaw in Anglicanism: that everyone has to be brought over to a single body of doctrine – Catholicism or Protestantism. The only alternative is relativism and a necessarily insincere form of religion depending on no more than appearances and shallow emotions. Comprehensiveness was the only way for things to work in the Church of England, and by extension in the USA, Canada and Australia. In England, the priority was national unity under the reigning Monarch, and differences were tolerated (increasingly so from the end of the nineteenth century). Perhaps the scope could be narrowed somewhat by suppressing both Anglo-Catholicism and versions of Protestantism inspired by Calvinism. Comprehensiveness has become relativism and nothing is true for its own sake. Roman Catholic orthodoxy became extremely narrow from the death of Leo XIII in 1903 until a little fresh air was let in by Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI!

In the Continuing Churches, there has always been a conflict between the low church, the attempt to isolate the old high-church theology implicit in the English Restoration and the early Oxford Movement and then the liturgical revivals inspired by mid nineteenth-century Romanticism and continental Roman Catholicism. It has all been inherited from the Churches we all came from. This situation could be solved by making changes, but we as conservatives are afraid of change. These changes are sometimes called realignment.

As Archbishop Mark Haverland reminded us

I think the Continuing Church is defined not least by “the Affirmation of St. Louis’, and it clearly affirms the seven sacraments. We can’t keep anybody from calling himself Continuing Anglican (or Roman Catholic or Lutheran etc.), but all the main Continuing bodies are clear on the ‘Affirmation’. The living authority is our formularies and our bishops.

Well, this is enough authority for me. Our doctrinal standard is the undivided Church of before the schism between Rome and Constantinople. Therefore the Orthodox Church is an important reference for us, perhaps more so than Rome as in the case of “Anglo-Papalists”. To accusations of degradations or changes of any kind, our Archbishop replied:

I don’t actually see much change in the last 20 or 40 years. The four Denver consecrands included three Anglo-Catholics (two of whom were decidedly not papalist). The fourth worshipped happily in the chief Anglo-Catholic parish in his diocese after his return from Korea and before the formation of the Continuing Church. I’ve been active in the Continuing Church all that time, and actually was a postulant under Bishop Doren. I have seen very considerable doctrinal stability and about the same mix in churchmanship matters. For better or worse, there just hasn’t been much of a swing so far as I can see.

Perhaps he forgot to mention that there have been some changes – positive ones. The various jurisdictions are now cooperating and buildings bridges towards organic unity. It is all highly encouraging for we who are more isolated from the meetings and synods in America.

The real problem that remains under the surface is this difference between the kind of Anglicanism that strictly adheres to the Thirty-Nine Articles and that which has realigned itself with a rather “Gallican” view of Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the best of twentieth-century theology. I have not spent any time in the United States with continuing Anglicans, but I have the impression that most of the fighting is on the internet! There are some differences between the Arminian-inspired “classical Anglicans” and we in England wearing fiddleback vestments and using the Anglican and English Missals, but tolerance reigns since the polemics surrounding the TAC and the reception of some of its members into the Roman Catholic Church subsided about four years ago.

Some of the comments remind the reader to keep a sober attitude in regard to some of the more provocative words used. For example, I don’t know of any Pentecostals in the TAC or the ACC, &c. I don’t know of any who contradict the traditional positions on sexual morality or abortion. We are remarkably united in our commitment to the wider Anglican umbrella. Perhaps our bishops might have something to say about the ACNA which is a later dissonance from the Lambeth Communion. I live in France and don’t interest myself in whatever they put on the internet. If it’s all about women’s ordination and the 1979 Prayer Book, or our various Series III and ASB in England, then we are all united. But, our religious experience is not reduced to single-issues. The problem for many people is ignorance and prejudice.

People do need to be careful to distinguish between the older Continuing Church emerging from the St Louis meeting of 1977 and the Affirmation and the later bodies which are much more Evangelical than we are. The TAC and the ACC together with several other jurisdictions are definitely Catholic in ethos, with the use of vestments and the Eucharist as the main public church service on Sundays. I don’t find my diocese in England “over the top” like some Church of England parishes. We are quite sober in our liturgical usage and the life of our clergy. Many of the “Anglo-Papalist” tendency in the TAC joined the ordinariates, and there is a slow process of rebuilding, now led by its very able new Primate, Archbishop Shane Janzen in Canada. Since those tumultuous years of 2011 and 2012, things have calmed down considerably, and the dialogue is very positive.

There are certainly differences in terms of academic theology between scholasticism, both Protestant and Catholic and a more contemporary approach. We should be thankful that some clergy and laity are interested in studying theology and discussing it. The problem is when theology becomes ideology. Even the Thirty-Nine Articles are not expressions of dogma but a precisely historical landmark. For many of us, they are obsolete and belong to the bitter polemics of the late sixteenth century. Theology has advanced in Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. I see no sense in stoking old fires of anger.

Roman Catholic apologists make much ado about their magisterium, constrasting it with the “private judgement” of everyone else. Pius IX died in 1878 and things have changed a little since then. The Roman Catholic Church has kept a male priesthood, at least until now, and is fairly steady doctrinally. Those temporally displaced apologists seem to forget that Eastern Orthodoxy is stable in terms of faith and doctrine, even if they hate each other to death! We in the ACC have the Affirmation of St Louis, and then we have the entire Tradition of the Church, the Fathers and Councils – and our own sensus fidei informed by what we learn in school. That doesn’t seem much like “private judgement” to me. I often speculate about things that aren’t terribly orthodox, but I don’t blurt them out in public. I prefer to study ever deeper into things and go by a comparative approach. As a priest, I teach the faith of the Church.

When there are differences between us, what do we do? St Augustine came up with the saying In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (unity in what is taught as Church dogma, freedom in things that can still be discussed and charity in all things). There is a “hierarchy” of truths ranging from the articles of the Creed to questions of liturgical rites, vestments and particular spirituality. The ideal is clearly that we should be one Church, but is humanly impossible after centuries of division, hatred and predatory pillaging of each others’ tithe-paying clients (cough, sorry), faithful. Given the divisions between the big Churches, I have the impression that we little Churches are doing rather well in working on these points.

In bygone days, Anglicanism was divided by differences between Arminianism and Calvinism, the old high-church and the Evangelicals, conservatives against liberals and finally the widest difference between “extreme” Anglo-Catholicism and the Evangelicals, with everything else in between. The Roman Catholic Church has been through similar trouble: Jesuits and Jansenists, counter-revolutionaries of the 1860’s and 70’s, liberals, modernists, worker priests, Archbishop Lefebvre and the traditionalist movement with the small offshoots of sedevacantists and “home-alone” folk. I get the idea that we all got it wrong, especially through our intolerance.

There are three fundamental notions of what Anglicanism is or ought to be:

  1. An attempt to take a step back from the raw hatred of the Reformers against medieval Catholicism and an attempt to restore what little was known of the Church in the fifth and sixth centuries shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire. It would be a Church of absolute sobriety and altogether suitable for British reserve!
  2. Something like in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries minus the abuses, the corruption of the clergy and popular superstition due to excessive compromise with paganism. Such a vision would affirm an “old” Catholicism based on the authority of the Monarch and the bishops together rather than the Pope. It would be a different form of “Gallicanism” that what was found in France, Germany and central European countries. Anglicanism would perfectly suit the English culture and yet be Catholic.
  3. The growth of Anglo-Papalism, understood as an attempt to imitate post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism for the purpose of finding a way to reconciling the Church of England corporately with Rome is a large subject. Probably the best book on the subject is Michael Yelton, Anglo-Papalism, Norwich 2008. I have this work and recommend it to your attention.

Personally I am more in tune with the second notion. It was partly through the third notion that the TAC largely came unstuck when Rome came up with Anglicanorum coetibus and the Ordinariates. It was an entirely Anglo-Papalist endeavour and was designed as such from the beginning. One thing that makes me happy in the ACC is that our ethos is largely according to the second notion. Some of our priests in America would be more for being like seventeenth-century Arminians and high churchmen. Our Church tolerates them as she does for me with my liturgical eccentricities. After all, Sarum is an Anglican rite.

In the thread I describe in this posting, I would qualify perhaps a third of commenters as trolls, whose purpose is to cause trouble and whose behaviour is predatory. Don’t feed ’em! I am too distant from anything to know whether the squabbling is still fairly generalised or whether it is merely a “cyber-illusion”. I would prefer to believe the latter, given the progress our Churches are making in coming to an understanding.

I suppose that Anglo-Papalism in the Continuing Anglican world is largely a thing of the past, which brings the ACC to have much more in common with the present-day TAC. That reduces the Continuum to the first two notions which are both retreats from sixteenth-century Protestantism. The only difference is the period of reference for anchoring present-day practice, the sixth or the sixteenth century. Like in the RC Church between the ordinary and extraordinary usages, I don’t see why we can’t continue to have a certain amount of liturgical diversity within the Anglo-Norman tradition on which all our usages are based. Such would not imply moral or doctrinal relativism or infidelity.

If we are up against intolerant Protestantism as inspired by Calvinism, in the absence of human civility and courtesy, then we have to part company. Hopefully, we would keep friendships and be in dialogue to understand each other justly. I don’t think there are more than a few cranks in the world who would maintain such a position. They can rightly be ignored and left in the marginal position in which they placed themselves.

We need to be aware that we are all very marginal and fragile in the world and contrasted with the “mainstream” churches with money and credibility for ordinary churchgoers. Diversity and flexibility in secondary matters (within reasonable limits) is essential if we are to have any credibility and hope of our Churches surviving beyond our own lifetimes.

Do not give way to predators and fanatics, but rather listen to your own reason and intuitions, searching for what is right and taught by the Church of all times and places. We have to be ourselves and not allow ourselves to be bullied.

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12 Responses to The Fatal Flaw

  1. I must buy a copy of Michael Yelton’s book sometime. I’ve put it on my wishlist.

  2. Patrick Sheridan says:

    Father, what you say about the disdainful attitude (once my own) of Roman Catholic traditionalists about Protestants and their “private judgement,” as opposed to a fallible magisterium, resonates with me. Interestingly, I witnessed this attitude spill over into the practice of liturgy in a parish setting, in which a culture of general ignorance was tacitly encouraged. The parish priest and the MC were seen as all-wise, and all-knowing, and dealt with the liturgy as they saw fit. The ordinary parishioners, like me, were expected to be servile, agreeable yes men, there to be fed a cheap wafer grudgingly, kneeling at the rails and to congratulate the parish hierarchy on a job well done, and pat one another on the back for being ever-so-traditional. When confronted with knowledge and truth, in my experience these people turn very nasty.

    This is clearly a reflection of the broader tendency within Roman Catholicism. Irish Catholicism in particular. The idea is you keep the common people as ignorant and servile as possible, the better to manipulate and control them, feed them a lot of half-truths and superstiton and just take their money, and potentially their souls. Heaven forbid one of them might learn to read and point out a few discrepancies.

    Nobody questions the hierarchical nature of the Church. But when things become bureaucratic, secretive and faceless, then they soon turn rotten inside. Maybe the Church should be accountable to people like me? I’m reminded of a story someone told me once about a pious woman who banged upon the deacon’s doors of the iconostasis till the priest came out. He came out because she had noticed that he’d skipped a lot, and she was adamant he do it properly. That old woman is me. I don’t go to church for half-baked crap. I want the real thing, and I’m certainly not prepared to treat the clergy as some kind of irreproachable class of people. Nobody escapes my love!

  3. Ian says:

    “The breadth of thought in Anglicanism is not acceptable at all”. Not acceptable to whom, I wonder? Not acceptable to the author, whoever he or she may be, but not acceptable to God? It would be a brave (or foolish) person who claimed they knew.

    A lot of religious dispute seems to be about trying to control God. A particular group of humans decide that God will only operate, only interact with humans, if we have the furniture arranged in a particular way, use a particular language, wear particular clothes; or alternatively reject those who do all those things; or have had a conversion experience; or whatever. But God (as far as I am aware) has never said that you will only be saved if you have a particular experience; or He will only be present in your Eucharist if you have a particular man there; or anything else of that sort.

    Good order is needed, but the very virtue of Anglicanism is a comprehensiveness that allows for us to find God in all sorts of ways – and maybe different ways at different points in our life. At its best it doesn’t seek to control God. It is inclusive, just as Jesus was.

    I have been a traditionalist RC, convinced that I was right, part of the faithful remnant, and everyone else wrong. But now I see that maybe, just maybe, I am wrong. And so I should just let God get on with it.

    • A very wise reaction. As I mentioned – In necessariis unitas… which means that we are all agreed with the essential dogmas of the Creeds and the seven Ecumenical Councils. We can still dialogue with Copts and Nestorians and find that many difficulties are simply caused by imperfect human language, the meanings of Greek words and so forth. We need to work on our diversity in all other and secondary matters like what rites we use and what clothes we wear.

      Difficulties are caused by our own sinful bigotry or that of others. We have to educate and inform ourselves, since knowledge will help in many things to solve conflicts and problems. Indeed, God escapes our control – and fortunately! One thing that is marvellous in Continuing Anglicanism is that we are not like the RC traditionalists and conservative apologists.

      Thank you for you frank and straightforward comment.

    • ed pacht says:

      I may be justified in claiming that this or that stipulation is a guarantor of truth or validity and thus be constrained to hold firmly to such parameters, but can I be justified in claiming with certainty that God cannot operate beyond my understanding? For example, I can (and do) assert that a valid priest using a valid liturgy and the proper elements celebrates a valid Eucharist and can (and do) reverence the presence of Christ and receive His Body and Blood at such a Mass, and I can withhold such recognition and devotion when these factors are not present — BUT can I with certainty state that Christ is NOT present in some ‘defective’ celebration? This kind of consideration applies many or most of the judgments we make as to the faith and practice of others. Yes, all salvation is through Jesus Christ, but am I sure exactly how God applies this salvation? What I believe and practice and am (at least reasonably) sure of, is, and should be, far narrower than what God in His mercy permits, for I am not Him, and my mercy is surely less than His. What I believe does matter, but what I insist someone else believe, not so much — that is up to God.

  4. J.D. says:

    The key in this is the part about this are the Creeds, essential dogmas and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. I find both your own style of Continuing Anglicanism and my own Orthodoxy to be pretty consistent in this. At any rate I agree sonewhat with Ian, that within reason we ought to be inclusive and not try to box in God too much. These days I find that sticking to my Old Orthodox Prayerbook, Horologion and Prayer Rope and largely ignoring and disengaging from religious forums and websites has done me good. Keep it simple and as lighthearted as possible.

    — JD the ex Trad Roman Catholic

  5. Dale says:

    The continuing Anglicans of the original movement are not comprehensive in either theology or liturgical tradition. They accept the Catholic faith of the Seven Councils and reject liturgical revision, basing their liturgical practices on the traditional Prayer Books and the old missals. The problem is the growth of a new group, which is often confused with the original movement, The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA); they have no problem with the modernist movement of institutional Anglicanism, they accept, at least in the United States, all of the modernist innovations of the Episcopal Church, including the ordination of women and the very theologically defective 1979 BCP (also the liturgical standards of the Ordinariates!). They are completely theologically and liturgically comprehensive, from liturgical spikes to dancing in the aisles and Pentecostal screaming and yelling. As an example, many of their parishes do not have traditional names but are called by such things as “All Nations,” “Amazing Grace,” Bread of Life,” “Celebration!” etc. etc.

    The original continuing movement left institutional Anglicanism over deeply felt theological issues, the ACNA left over sex. They have no theological or liturgical issues at all with official Anglicanism, their liturgies are exactly the same as found in any official Anglican parish, if anything, even more banal; their music is the same soppy semi-pop drivel found in any Roman or official Anglican parish as well (except they are a bit out of date, they still respond with “And also with you”); they left only because of the ordination of practicing Homosexuals and homosexual marriage. They where and remain, quite happy with the theological and liturgical drift of the American Episcopal Church, except for the sex thing.

    In my neck of the woods they do have a parish, with one of those bizarre names, and it is serviced by a husband and wife team, both ordained. Their absolute hatred of traditional continuing Anglicans is not very much different from the local female minister of the local Episcopal parish.

  6. ed pacht says:

    Depends what you mean by comprehensive. The ‘original movement’ does indude include a wide variety of thinking and practice, though far short of the theological and liturgical anarchy endemic to ACNA. We have always included a range o theology from those Anglo-Catholics who hold pretty much to a Tridentine theology to “Classical Anglicans” who emphasize the 39 Articles and value our Reformation heritage. Liturgically we have those who insist on a strict observance of the 1928 (or other traditional) BCP) to those who use the Anglican or American Missal in the closest possible conformity to the Tridentine rite, and we have enormous variety in the local interpretation and use of either of these liturgical sources. What we do not permit is the outright heresy that has become endemic in Canterbury Anglicanism, and in other denominations reflecting the modernist era, as also the new liturgical revisions reflective of this falling away. Yes, we are comprehensive, but not infinitely so — and do hold firmly to the core faith of the undivided church and to the tradition expressive of that faith.

    • I don’t see why the “classical Anglicans” (Prayer Book and 39 Articles) and Anglicans adhering to the Affirmation of St Louis (also as a kind of “plan” or “structure” to be filled out) could not cohabit in a same Church institution if they tolerate each other and not seek to annihilate the “other”. Unfortunately, much of what is considered to be revealed truth would have to be relegated to the level of opinion. I don’t think either side would accept this idea.

      However, there is room for liturgical diversity which I encourage within the French-English tradition (Sarum, Prayer Book, Tridentine in English as in the English Missal and Anglican Missal). Ditto for questions of prayer, spirituality, clothing, vestments, style of churches, etc.

      There is the alternative of separating church jurisdictions according to whether they grant dogmatic importance to the 39 Articles and the notion of Anglicanism as an Arminian-moderated Protestantism or the 7 Ecumenical Councils and the notion of Anglicanism as “English Gallicanism”. After that, there is nothing to prevent the two different kinds of Anglicans from staying in friendly dialogue and working towards mutual understanding and times in prayer together. Yet, in the ACC we have “Classical Anglicans” like Fr Hart and a more Anglo-Catholic approach in the Diocese of the United Kingdom (and with Archbishop Haverland) and we get on just fine because no-one is trying to get anyone to “swim the Tiber”.

      Where are most of the contradictions between the Affirmation of St Louis and the 39 Articles? The Anglican Catholic view is less pronounced that the Roman Catholic Church, the Council of Trent and “Anglo-Papalists”, so distinctions become more blurred and less a question of orthodoxy vs. heresy. Is the Mass a sacrifice (the re-actualisation of the one Sacrifice of Christ on the cross)? How is the notion of the Real Presence understood? Metaphysics in the light of something like quantum physics gives us another view of matter and substance. The mind boggles, but our thinking should not prevent us Christians from being friends. The ACC is not bound by the Council of Trent even if we read it and find it to be one light among many in the tradition of the western Church.

      It isn’t easy, but love and friendship (cf. St. Aelred of Rievaulx De Amicitia Spirituale – a term I prefer to “charity” to translate St Paul’s agapé) above all things.

    • Dale says:

      Ed, a very good comment, but I think that we both agree that the comprehensiveness in the older Continuing groups is vastly different from that found in either the Canterbury groups or the ANCA. It is more a live-and-let-live with an understanding that there are indeed liturgical, moral, and theological parameters that cannot be crossed. Although I prefer the Anglican or English Missal, I have been just at home in a more “Classical” Anglican BCP tradition. They are both Anglican, as is Fr Anthony’s Sarum Use, which I am also very fond of as well. The comprehensiveness that I see in ACNA is not Catholic, they do indeed have a spectrum that goes all the way from once saved, always saved, with hand waving included, to female priests offering high Mass at a Tridentine style altar with the big six.

      In some ways it is the liturgical and minor theological differences one finds between the Great Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Greeks. The “feel” of their churches is very different, but they are all Orthodox.

      • ed pacht says:

        Yes, as I said, it all depends on what one means by “comprehensive”. The tricky question that Catholic Christians have been thrashing out since before Nicea is as to how much definition is essential for the integrity of the Faith and how much speculation is permitted within the Faith. I think the balance seen in the “original” Continuing movement demonstrates a healthy kind of comprehensiveness, while Trent and magisterial Protestantism both evidence a schismatic kind of narrowing down– and modernist churches go to the other extreme in requiring nothing and effectively declaring that the Gospel itself is merely optional.. ACNA stands somewhere between, insisting on basic credal orthodoxy and a traditional moral code, but yet allowing so much latitude as to dilute the Faith once delivered. All of this is why I am a Continuing Anglican. Here I find both boundaries and freedom.

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