Saturday, July 2, 2011

Is there a unique Anglican doctrine?

Fr Jonathan at Conciliar Anglicanism posts on a post by Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction. The former is headed "Anglicanism's Unique Doctrine" and the latter is titled "Thought for 06.30.11." Tobias comments on Fr Jonathan's post, in a debate on whether the latter has understood the former.

What interests me is, first, what Tobias Haller says about the Communion and Covenant; but secondly, with Fr Jonathan, whether there is anything unique to Anglican doctrine or not. (Tobias argues for a unique polity). I may take up what Haller says about the Communion and Covenant on another post, but for now I will confine interest to the possible uniqueness of Anglican doctrine.

With or without reading the two posts linked to above, is there a unique doctrinal contribution of Anglicanism to the theological life of the universal church?

I like Fr Jonathan's observation that some Anglicans, on all parts of the spectrum of our life, tend to think being Anglican is a convenient way of being Christian, or in the words used by many an evangelical Church of England preacher, our church is a good boat to fish from. Is that all there is to Anglicanism?

Debate and discussion on this particular matter is spreading, see, for instance, Creedal Christian.

29 comments:

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, good sir. Let me offer a slighr clarification, as I think what I said in my brief "thought" has been misunderstood.

I am very far from suggestion that Anglicanism has no doctrine. What I am saying -- to echo the founders of Anglicanism -- is that our doctrine is not unique or individual to us, and that we proclaim as doctrine only the essentials of the faith, founded in Scripture and elaborated in the Creeds. I join people like Wm Reed Huntington and C.S. Lewis in this view.

Is this Anglican "minimalism" part of what makes us who we are -- I think so. But it is not the content of the doctrine, but the way of working that I think is what we have to offer.

My other point was a reaffirmation of the autonomy of the national or particular church within a fellowship of churches, not bound by a common canon law but by "bonds of affection." The drift towards conciliarism (in which each church submits to some higher Council) is, to my mind, a significant departure from the earlier model in which, for instance, the Church of England felt itself free to reject the "errors" of Councils, and to adopt church disciplines at odds with most of the rest of "conciliar Christendom" (e.g., episcopal celibacy, vernacular liturgy.) This is not to say that conciliarism is wrong -- just that it is not "classical Anglicanism."

Bryan Owen said...

The fact that we argue and disagree with each other on such basic questions as "What is Anglicanism?" and "Is there a unique Anglican doctrine?" is perhaps itself revelatory about the "nature" of Anglicanism.

In the midst of such questions and debates, I'm reminded of a passage from Arthur Michael Ramsey's The Gospel and the Catholic Church:

"For while the Anglican church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to the Gospel and Church and sound learning, its greater vindication lies in its pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and the travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as 'the best type of Christianity,' but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died. Hence its story can never differ from the story of the Corinth to which the Apostle wrote. Like Corinth, it has those of Paul, of Peter, of Apollos; like Corinth, it has nothing that it has not received; like Corinth, it learns of unity through its nothingness before the Cross of Christ; and, like Corinth, it sees in the Apostolate its dependence upon the one people of God, and the death by which every member and every Church bears witness to the Body which is one."

Paul Powers said...

I don't think there's a specific doctrine that is unique to Anglicanism. However, Anglicanism's ongoing (and sometimes contentious) attempts to weave together various strands--Catholic, evangelical, Calvinist, charismatic, Orthodox, etc.--into a more or less coherent whole may be unique.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Bryan, the Ramsey quote illustrates something of what I was getting at: it is our "messiness" and lack of a strong central authority, our very "weakness" that is our hidden strength.

I tried to lay out some of what I see as distinctive (I won't say "unique") about Anglicanism in a blog essay of some years back, The Anglican Triad. I commend it to you and welcome your thoughts...

Fr. J said...

This conversation is now happening on so many blogs at once that I'm beginning to forget what I've said where!

I agree with Tobias that our doctrine is not original to us. If it were, then Christians should ignore us because what we're doing has little or no historical basis. The Anglican Reformers and Divines believed that what they were doing was simply returning the Church of England to the doctrine of the early Church, a doctrine that can be seen in the scriptures as interpreted by the Fathers. But what I would argue is that the very approach we take to scripture, tradition, and the essentials of the faith, is unique in the Christian landscape that emerges post-Reformation, which is still the landscape that we work from today, though the matter has been complicated by the rise of ever increasingly self-referential kinds of Protestantism that do not have much of a historical leg to stand on.

I believe that the Anglican Reformers and Divines were right that Anglicanism is simply a recovery of the doctrine of the early Church. I believe this because I am an Anglican. Calvin and Luther both claimed that they were recovering the early Church as well. Later radical reformers, like the anabaptists, believed that they were doing the same thing. Orthodox and Roman Catholics claim that they have maintained the doctrine of the early Church without interruption. Everybody claims to be the Church of the New Testament. The question is, if this is so, then why are we not all in one unified body? The answer is that while all of us claim to be the inheritors of the faith of the early Church, not all of us are right.

If Anglicanism is just a shell into which Calvinism, Lutheranism, Catholicism or some other form of Christian teaching can be poured, then there isn't really any such thing as Anglicanism and we all ought to find other homes. But the mere fact that Anglicanism has room within it for some degree of variation on certain questions while still holding other things up as absolutely essential should be a sign that Anglicanism is not just a shell, that it has real content.

Father Ron Smith said...

"The drift towards conciliarism (in which each church submits to some higher Council) is, to my mind, a significant departure from the earlier model in which, for instance, the Church of England felt itself free to reject the "errors" of Councils, and to adopt church disciplines at odds with most of the rest of "conciliar Christendom"

- Tobias Stanislaus Haller -

I think Tobias has expressed the nitty-gritty of the situation - re the political, if not precisely the doctrinal, uniqueness of original Anglicanism - that our doctrine is 'catholic and apostolic', without the accretions of Romish authoritarianism.

I would have thought that any Anglican worth the name would have picked up on that reality long ago. To believe that Anglicans are taken in by the push towards the magisterial view of conciliarity, consonant with the Roman view, is to mistake the need for the Reformation. 'Semper reformanda' is, or should be, our watchword.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for great points and substantive debate. I don't have time to engage with all, but want to make two observations:

(1) Who decides which period of Anglicanism is better than others?

(2) Please remember, o doubters of Anglican conciliarism, that Cranmer (or, as I prefer, 'the great Cranmer') was a conciliarist, though not, obviously, of the Roman kind.

Suem said...

Anglicanism has its doctrines and its unique elements; I would not say it has any doctrines which are unique to it -if so, could someone name one (in a few succinct words.)

As for "Who decides which period of Anglicanism is better?" - nobody does, that's part of the point of Anglicanism! What do we mean by "better" anyhow - better for what or for whom?

The fact that Anglicanism is many things to many people is one of its strengths and one of its vulnerabilities. There seem to be a lot of self styled "Anglican" groups at the moment, such as ACNA which are keen to be officially recognised as "Anglican" - but then (ironically) would be very quick to denounce established Anglican entities as not truly Anglican. Many people at the moment seem to want to recreate Anglicanism in their own image, package, define it and use it as a weapon to make others conform. I think this fails to truly recognise Anglicanism for what it is - a bit of a many headed beast in truth!

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Peter. As to your questions,

1) I don't think "better" is so much at issue as having a good historical understanding. I am not a "progressivist" in that I think sometimes things take a turn for the worse. But an accurate representation of "classical Anglicanism" -- the particularly formative period from Cranmer through Hooker -- and in each of our provinces, in my case the era of Seabury and White (who had very different views, and out of whose conflicts the American polity was formed) is a good standard to go by.

2) Could you define what you mean by "conciliarist." Fr. Jonathan has posted a definition on his blog, which, had I known his take beforehand would have moderated our discussion a bit. He means by it something quite other than what I took the word to mean, and I think you may be adding yet another definition. Just to play fair, I will say I understand "conciliarism" to mean: the belief in (and consequent church polity supporting) the authority of Councils for rendering final decisions in matters of doctrine, discipline, and worship. I take this to refer to councils beyond (and superior to) the synods of the local or provincial church.

Thus there is no doubt in my mind that Cranmer was "conciliar" or "collegial" within his own province -- and even consulted the Continental reformers, and dug back into the Fathers (selectively, of course!) but I don't see him as particularly enamored of, or submissive to, any decision of a council that in his mind strayed from fidelity to Scripture, which appears to be his touchstone for truth. And as I've observed, that for me is the test case for a conciliarist (in my definition). So if you could describe what you mean by conciliar I'd be greatly helped, as I have by Fr. J.'s comment.

(This may be another case of being divided by a common language: I know, for instance that both "consult" and "collegial" have different ranges of meaning in England and the US, in the former being much more formal, in the latter much less so. "Collegial" is particularly slippery, as the English mean "speaking as a college -- that is, univocally" while in the US we tend to mean "working together as colleagues." A very different sense, no? and confusing when communion documents are being put up for adoption!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
My point about 'who decides' in respect of better or worse periods of Anglicanism is that (e.g.) here on this thread Tobias Haller talks about 'classical Anglicanism'. Why privilege that period? Why say that period stretches from Cranmer to Hooker (and, not, say, from Cranmer to ... Cranmer!)?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,

By 'conciliar' in respect of Cranmer, I understand him to be open to calling councils together. His life was cut too short to know exactly where he might have ended up as a conciliarist, but I suspect that were he contributing to this thread he might say: councils do err, the touchstone is Scripture, but when Scripture is disputed (as in the urgent case in the 16th century English and Continental Reformations of understanding the eucharist), a council would be a way forward to resolving such dispute.

In respect of myself, I am a conciliarist inasmuch as I would like to be in a Communion which took its councils at least seriously and treated (e.g.) Lambeth 1998 with more respect and fairness. But I would go further and hope that the Anglican Communion as a Communion would embark on a change whereby it instituted a grand council (I would have no problem with it being the Lambeth Conference) to make Communion-wide decisions. That would simply be an analogous step on from the general synods and conventions of member churches.

It escapes me how we can be 'conciliarist' at the member church level of governance and 'a-conciliarist' at the Communion-level of governance.

I have no doubt that if the Lambeth 1.10 vote had gone the other way, that fact would have been trumpeted to the skies in the lead up to (say) the ordination of Gene Robinson.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Peter. Though it would be a departure from the earlier models -- and the express concerns of Archbishop Longley, who called the first Lambeth Conference, explicitly not to be a doctrinal council.

As to the "when" of "classical Anglicanism": My point has simply been historical: Anglicanism has never had a central international decision making body from the beginning, and rejected the external councils as it chose, from day one. It still doesn't have such an international structure, though there is movement towards it. But the very fact of a desire for change indicates that it is change, and regardless of what period of Anglican history you look at, the answer is the same. So that is really all I was trying to say. I am not saying a move to a more conciliar international model is necessarily bad (though I am wary of such a move for the reasons I've laid out elsewhere, which are the reasons laid out in the Articles, i.e., human fallibility). A World-Wide Anglican Congress with the authority to lay down rules for the member churches of the Communion -- whether one thinks it good or bad -- would be a new thing. If that is what is wanted, people should present the case -- but it must be a case that rests on the merits of such a model, and not an appeal to "Anglicanism" as such, which to date has been innocent of that model.

In answer to your question about the apparent dilemma and the limits of conciliarity, I have reflected elsewhere -- in particular in the post on the Anglican Triad that I referred to above. Part of it has to do with architectural scale: some things simply can't work at a certain scale because no building material is strong enough to sustain the size of the building. In "Anglican engineering" we are experiencing those tensions even now. The genius of the national church model is that it can limit innovation even as it allows it, at the local level. (Much has changed with the advent of modern communication media, of course.) Frankly, I would hate to see us lose this, and it may be -- in light of the Internet, etc., -- even more needful in our day: as it is to my mind what gives Anglicanism its spark and health.

I don't think your speculation about Lambeth 1.10 is accurate -- but as it is a speculation I can't prove it. Suffice it to say that the process by which it came to pass was deeply flawed, and many of those who voted Yes on it have gone on to disregard one or more of its sections -- as, of course they are free to do, since they are presented as recommendations, not laws.

Thanks for the conversation...

Kurt said...

“But an accurate representation of "classical Anglicanism" -- the particularly formative period from Cranmer through Hooker -- and in each of our provinces, in my case the era of Seabury and White (who had very different views, and out of whose conflicts the American polity was formed) is a good standard to go by.”—Fr. Tobias

Well said, Fr. Tobias. As I have pointed out here before, as originally constituted in 1789 the American Episcopal Church was, theologically and liturgically, a middle ground between the Low Church Latitudinarians typified by Bishop William White, and the High Church Catholics typified by Bishop Samuel Seabury. Evangelicals were largely out of the picture, since the great bulk of them had broken with Anglicanism in 1784 to form the independent Methodist Church, or had joined the Presbyterians. While they had differences among themselves, sometimes quite substantial differences, the White and Seabury schools were united in their anti-Calvinism, and both were suspicious of Evangelicalism (“enthusiasm”) in general.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tobias,

I fully concur with you that an international level of Anglican conciliarism is an innovation which, at best, can appeal to a few straws floating in the winds of history, and thus needs to be established on the basis of its present and future merits.

I think a case can be made for it. I won't outline that case here, save to note that I do wonder if ++Longley envisaged (e.g.) diaconal presidency, and multiple claimants to Anglican jurisdiction in the one geographical area; thus we have no idea what the bishops of 1867 would have done to embrace or reject such developments.

I agree that there is every possibility in building a superstructure that the top stories of it will exceed the capcity of the foundations to bear it. But is that an insuperable difficulty in the e-age, or a challenge to 'Anglican engineering'? (I ask that not for you to answer, but as a question I think will remain with us as we move forward).

Fr. J said...

Tobias, you mention in a couple of places your belief that the autonomy of national churches is better equipped to safeguard the faith than a global body would be. Your statement above fascinates me: "The genius of the national church model is that it can limit innovation even as it allows it, at the local level." I wonder if you could elaborate on that, here or elsewhere.

Bryden Black said...

1/2 I am intrigued; it’s intriguing because there are, as Fr Jonathan says, some fascinating assumptions being played out here. And FYI, Tobias, I came across your “Triad” quite some time ago (for which thanks, BTW!).

One assumption - and this goes for both those who consider themselves Evangelicals and many others as well - is surely that the canon of Scripture is just that, canonical. In which case - and this addresses one ‘mark’ of Tobias’s “Triad” - I am not sure it is at all helpful to use the index of “humility” as a tool for displaying “Anglicanism’s” distinctiveness (or otherwise). Unless there truly is distinctive testimony of God’s revelation-cum-redemption, against which we may ‘measure’ (via a council for example) any contemporary set of views - whether e.g. Arian vs Athanasian, or marriage is for heterosexuals vs for any committed pair of persons - then indeed, all we are left with is polity. But the Classical English Reformers surely thought they were engaging in something far more than just a political exercise - even if there were surely some dimensions of “polity” involved. To use a contemporary notion: the Church is not a mere ‘voluntary association’, even if many a secular sociology would render us as such; and of course, associations, even global ones, have political dimensions too (I shall return to this soon enough). No; what causes Christians to associate - and in our better moments we even acknowledge this, as in the Covenant’s Introduction and Section 1 - is the Holy Spirit, whom Christ Jesus shares with God’s People, who themselves are to corroborate, by embodying the truth of Holy Scripture, the ongoing mission of God’s revelation-cum-redemption as testified to in that Scripture. I.e. there are some core doctrinal features to who we are: there is no other adequate description of what ‘marks’ us off as a body of human beings.

Then there’s a second step to be advanced, once we’ve acknowledged there is indeed the need for a uniquely theological one of the Anglican Church: which doctrines? Well; there’s the one I have already mentioned - that the collection of books we term the NT is canonical. Then there’s a second arising in relation to this first: the Creeds interpret these very Scriptures in a definitive fashion: we do not need to rake over old coals - despite many a novelty today that what would seek to reinvent Christianity’s ‘true’ identity! Then - yes; to follow the Lambeth Quad - two, as opposed to seven, or twenty five (say), material forms of communicating and participating in Christ Jesus’ mission of redemption sufficiently stand out to warrant exceptional mention, namely, baptism and Holy Communion (Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, whatever). The one initiates, and the other continues or maintains, our being “in Christ Jesus”.

Bryden Black said...

2/2 And lastly, there is indeed a political-cum-doctrinal feature, since it has to do with the ordering of our unique ‘society’, the Church, namely, episcopacy, as opposed to say either Presbyterianism or Congregationalism. And surely, if we were to take this characteristic feature of Anglicanism seriously, then Tobias’s “Provincialism” too would fall away, or at least be seriously modified. For it’s just historical happenstance that the CoE expanded via the English Empire as the nation-state notion also began to gain wings. There is absolutely nothing that binds these two things, Church and states, together - theologically! While there is something deeply theological that binds the likes of dioceses together: it’s called catholicity, a creedal mark after all. And while the Reformers were quick to jettison the Roman form of such catholicity, Anglicanism has, by maintaining bishops, at a bare minimum, proffered the need to institutionalise catholicity in some form: we do not hold to a gnostic belief at this point either. In which case, denying necessary state national provincialism while adhering to episcopacy, at a bare minimum the present Covenant exercise unfolds a possible historical way forward for the Anglican society of churches, given their contemporary global nature. And I would venture, any federal view of autonomous churches that does not seek to be in some form of intentional interdependent association (my language tries to echo RCD Sect 3 somewhat) in effect denies such catholicity; it makes it institutionally vacuous, and so indeed gnostic.

What I have tried to do here is merely advance the four elements of the Lambeth Quad, with some additional commentary, interacting with some of Fr Jonathan’s and Tobias’s ideas. I could and no doubt should say far more: there’s the role of the early Church Father’s to be considered, in either their 16th C form or their 19th C revised form; there’s the serious impact of western secularism’s rendering of any religious faith to be essentially “private” to be considered; there’s the fascinating effect of this secular impact cross-culturally between the so-called First world and the Two-Thirds world, where ‘religion’ remains still very corporate, to be considered. This just raises three “traditional” traits any due assessment of Anglicanism’s identity-and-doctrine might have to examine. Thanks for a great conversation folks: to be continued - ? Especially with reference to Fr Jonathan’s BCP claim - ?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden,

Thank you for what you say here - I concur.

If being Anglican is to be part of God's one holy catholic apostolic church, then 'catholic' is a challenging word whereever 'autonomy' is asserted in an absolute way. You put your finger on that weakness in Haller's (and others') attempt to foster the line that the Communion is a fellowship of self-governing churches which do not interfere in each other's business.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Fr. J., I've reflected a great deal on the theme of "comprehension" -- and if you click on that label in the sidabar of my blog, you'll see a slew of posts touching on it.

I would, however, first direct you to a sermon on the feast of Richard Hooker, which lays out my thinking in a particular way, and which you might find of interest simply for its emphasis on the role of God in all of this. ;-)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Bryden, you make some interesting points, and on much of this I think we are not so far apart as it might at first seem. I do want to push back on two things that you say -- first about the voluntarism of the church versus the work of the Holy Spirit. I think it has to be seen as both: a voluntary association (even those baptized as infants are brought to that through the willed agency of other Christians!) even though the inner call finds its source in the Holy Spirit. And to reflect on the suggestions about gnosticism -- the Holy Spirit never works apart from the people moved by that Spirit, no? And they are not mere puppets, so some voluntary will is essential, "for force is not of God," as the hymn puts it.

Secondly, I think you downplay too much the role of the nation in the formation of the church. Of course in the apostolic era it was more the city-state than the nation-state; but it was precisely the bounds of the civil society that formed the -- I will not say natural but nonetheless real -- bounds for the jurisdiction of the bishops. I think that the point of Anglican polity is that the catholicity of the church is bottom-up rather than top-down: that is, the church subsists in its local -- and yes I will use the word -- incarnation. I think this is precisely what is intended by Article XIX, reflecting the language of Jesus himself concerning two or three being gathered together in his name. If anything this is far less Gnostic than a notion of some kind of "church of all outdoors" that has no real subsistence in a concrete form. Rome, of course, says the true church subsists in and through the chair of Peter and the bishops in communion with him: that's the top down model. But for us the catholicity is engendered through the common faith, common baptism, "binding all the church in one" on the only Foundation that can be given -- which is not Peter the Rock, but the Rock of Ages!

Thanks for the continued discussion! Though, might I suggest to Peter that he switch to the floating window form of comment --- as it makes commenting on long threads such as this far easier!

Peter Carrell said...

Good suggestion, Tobias!

The spirit of interdependence between poster and commenters engenders a positive embrace of your intervention in the life of this blog and enhances our common life :)

Anonymous said...

Bryden writes:
"For it’s just historical happenstance that the CoE expanded via the English Empire as the nation-state notion also began to gain wings. There is absolutely nothing that binds these two things, Church and states, together - theologically!"

Quite so - and the key word is "theologically". It is quite wrong to seek to make a theological point about a political line in the map. rome has maintained its theological homogeneity, and Orthodoxy similarly (but with lerss success) by insisting that spiritual unity takes precedence over local autonomy - which in any case could only be about local matters, ceremonies, adiaphora and nothing touching on the Gospel and Christian obedience. There is nothing in the Creeds about the 'Holy Catholic and National Church'.
A Happy Fourth of July to all readers. Tec is now beyond redemption, but ACNA arises in its ashes, and I still think America was Britain's best gift to the world. Put out the Grand Union Flag!
"Palaiologos"

James said...

Thanks, gentlemen, for some very interesting thoughts here. I'm with Bryden on the importance of catholicity for the "association" (whatever it is we'll end up calling the Communion).

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for your time Tobias in “pushing back”; appreciated! If I too might do the same ...

“Voluntary associations”. As I recall the sociology of these things, they are rather different to the endemic theological hoary chestnut re Grace/Freedom. And as you paint the picture, I think I see in sharper relief where we might actually differ, and why - well; one reason perhaps - why there is the sort of strife we (collectively) are encountering. Once more, traditional culture seems to be the default.

If we assume (that word again) the Church to be, as you suggest, modelled after a voluntary association, then our theology will be effectively pelagian: we signs up, pays our dues and gets the rights and privileges, duties and responsibilities of the ‘club’. In which scenario, of course the ‘club’ is an ‘autonomous body’! Even when it wishes alliances with other such ‘clubs’. All of which too we ‘somehow’ assign to the work of the Holy Spirit, whom, as you say, is “ever the gentleman” (CS Lewis), not forcing his way in. But I don’t see the Church that way myself.

While I myself do not subscribe exactly to the continuation of the Incarnation view, there is nonetheless an inextricable link between Head and Body; I even subscribe to Augustine’s view of totus Christus pretty well [Émile Mersch has done us all a great service with his two major works here; and Robert Jenson’s views on the Church’s ‘polity’ are especially helpful, IMHO]. What this ecclesiology does I sense is to seek a form of visible wholeness (I too shall check out your “comprehensive” material later; thanks in anticipation!) that is driven neither from above nor from below - which is to say, it is neither Roman (in our Anglican eyes, that is) nor ‘democratic’. Though I hear your ‘reading’ of Art XIX, I think.

Here I have especially been helped (I confess!) by the likes of Oliver O’Donovan’s On the Thirty Nine Articles (1986), ch.7, on Art 19, and his recent The Ways of Judgment (2005), esp. Part III, where I sense you will see how I might reply to your talk of (present) nations and (classical) city-states, notably ch.15. For in the end, there have to be forms of “communication” (O’Donovan’s word, one which also invokes the Holy Spirit) among the Church’s visible form(s), which establish the desired dialectic of “household” and “city”, the contours of which will allow the four creedal “marks” to flourish and interpenetrate as “word-and-sacrament” are duly performed and our bodies and minds “conformed” (Rom 12:1-2 again) to the Gospel. And all this (and this is not O’Donovan’s pitch but my own vis-à-vis the Book of Revelation, yet which ties in implicitly with his Part III) established as a City, that of Zion, those worshippers of the triune God, over against another city, Babylon, which is naturally worldly. But I shall let you (and others) do the reading direct: enjoy! And while you digest his fare, I think you will see why I cannot agree at all that there is anything resembling the “voluntary association” in the Church catholic - which nonetheless is indeed that happy ‘place’, the confluence of divine grace and human freedom!

James said...

Perhaps part of our problem is dogmatic adherence to the "traditional" notion that a polity must give itself the law in self-determination? Perhaps Anglicans, despite our claim to being a "via media" and ecumenical, have been so profoundly "self-determining" we're becoming incestuous or onanistic? Throughout history, healing sometimes comes to bodies of persons terribly wounded though the acceptance, for a limited period of time, of a mode of governance determined by others.

Perhaps we do better to recognize the body of Christ, and our own unfaithfulness - and allow, to some significant extent, for the body of Christ to help us determine some of our guiding questions regarding polity, and then to help us in coming to such answers?

We must admit:
1. We can't even get our Primates to be honest - even when speaking about themselves, at Communion-determining points of history; even when their words are "vetted" by bishops and other church officials paid $200,000 to do so - and what's more, we don't even call them out on such deceptions when they've been exposed; i.e., we can't even hold a proper election, or be trusted to engage in secular-style decision making in governance (link)

2. We can't get our Primates to commend to faith the most utterly basic teachings of the gospel, nor even prevent them from even teaching the contrary; thereby bringing down upon ourselves anathema (link - nb, to avoid consternation - this is my article - I'd be thrilled to link to another one if someone wishes to take the care of writing a similar careful analysis - especially a faithful Episcopalian who sees the problem here)

So if we fail at #1, one of the most basic foundations of secular practice, and #2, one of the most basic foundations of our espoused religion, Trinitarian Christianity - and must even recognize that in some way we have anathematized ourselves and are a cursed body - why must we assume we won't fail at providing answers regarding our polity if we insist on doing this "on our own" - which is a complicated issue reaching far beyond the mere "basics," and requires persons of honesty, virtue, and faith to answer?

Couldn't we perhaps find some churches which are much more faithful to Christ than ourselves, to teach and guide us on such matters, helping us, in humility, to find a solution, if what we want is to remain Trinitarian Christians?

What if we, as I suppose a "first" in history, were as a large church body to find a way to submit to the discernment of the larger body of Christ? Instead of shouting, "We're Anglicans so we're free to re-define the word 'honest' and nobody can tell us whether we're to be following Christ or not!"

Would this not be a profound affirmation of our generous ecumenism, our dedication to the whole body of Christ, and the humility of Tobias's triad?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Dear Bryden, thanks for the thoughtful response. I fear you are pressing me into a position I don't advocate, however. I do not believe the church to be solely a voluntary association. My point, which I may not have made clearly enough, is that the church has a dual nature, much as does our Lord himself! nothing happens without the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit, "inspiring the will and the deed" --- but neither does anything happen without the -- if I can re-emphasize the mystery of the incarnation -- "Marian" response of "Be it to me according to thy word." So I essentially agree with your sense of a "confluence" and perhaps misread your rejection of the voluntary aspect as absolute, as you seem to have read my support of it. The church is "both/and" and not "either/or."

So this is not at all Pelagian, but rather a middle position that seeks to respond to a kind of overly spiritualized notion of the church. The Article emphasizes "visible" for a reason. When Oliver's book becomes available over here (due out in October) I'll be happy to take a look at his reading.

Beyond this, my reflection on the polity of Anglicanism is meant to focus on that physical reality of the visible church as actually constituted. The catholicity of the church (or any church) lies in its Fidelity to the creeds, as you seem to suggest. In response to Palaiologos, it is certainly true that the Nicene Creed does not refer to "one holy national church" -- and yet that Creed was composed by representatives of just such churches. Furthermore when we Anglicans say those words we do not, unlike our siblings in Rome or Constantinople, imagine for a moment that "Catholic" only refers to us. that in itself indicates where our thinking points in relation to the meeting of "Catholic." He has misunderstood me on the polity question as well, as I've tried to be clear this is not a matter of doctrine but discipline -- it is ecclesiology, not theology -- about how the church works, not what it believes. I also do not share his pessimism concerning the Episcopal Church, but that's another matter altogether...

Father Ron Smith said...

Stanislaus, welcome to your gentle, eirenic, thoughtful, and scholastic input on this site. We do need to introduce a critical catholic perspective - such as yours - into the largely protestant, evangelical and Calvinist ethos of the 'Sola Scriptura' School of theology that tends to be predominate here. This is not typical of N.Z. Anglicanism.

The very word 'catholic' often has implications of an adversarial Roman Catholic culture which, on an avowedly protestant site, tends to down-play our authentic Anglican claim to a revised continuity with the Early Church in Britain.

It would be a very good idea if Bryden, for instance, could be introduced to some of your excellent writings on how the American Province of the Anglican Communion has enhanced the cause of the Gospel - by it's pro-active welcome to ALL, in Christ.

Brother David said...

Wow, James, you do keep the obsessions going. You got most of them in that post!

James said...

Thank you, Brother David. I'm humbled by your kind words.