Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Anglican Babel?

Can an Anglican talk theology with coherency and integrity or is our theology bound to disintegrate, like language at Babel?

A while I go I made a first stab at this question by considering the coherency of Roman theology and the price it pays when subject to test, specifically the test of coping with the breakdown of marriage. I suggest the price of coherency is too high: annulments of 'marriages' are declared in order for a new marriage to proceed as a genuine marriage and not an 'as if' or 'sort of, sort of not' marriage. But the price of this theological coherency is either dissembling (many a true marriage is determined not to be so (i.e. a marriage ceremony, consummation, bringing of children into the world can be determined to be 'not a marriage')) or injustice (some people through no particular fault of their own, having ended up divorced also end up forbidden to participate in the eucharist - a matter that Pope Francis is clearly intent on addressing).

But can Anglicans do better? We are quite good (in my experience of blogging) at finding all sorts of pitfalls in our diverse attempts at coherent theology.

Evangelical Anglican theology? Pah. It either does not take Scripture seriously, or fails to define 'plain reading', or avoids engagement with the question of the 'what' and 'whose' of Scripture (what is it, who determines it, is it not the church's book more than God's book?) or lacks consideration of the role that reason and tradition play in the understanding of Scripture, or ...[name another fault]. At least that's what some commenters say here in argument against my slavish devotion to evangelical Anglican theology which is both impeccable, irrefutable and irrepressible :)

Catholic Anglican theology? What a disaster that is turning out to be! Or is it? Start commenting now and refute the following ... At the heart of catholic theology (as I understand it) is a concern for finding, forwarding and fostering common theological ground both the commonality of past and present belief. Whether we focus on tradition or on ubiquity of belief (what Christians have always and everywhere believed) that commonality is important. For the present, commonality of belief, when questions arise as belief is challenged to adapt, change or develop, means catholic theologians look for the common if not universal agreement among Christians which favours any proposed adaptation, change or development.

Within the Roman approach to catholic belief the role of the pope is crucial, both as leading upholder of tradition and as authoriser of new developments in belief. That is, the pope (again, as I understand things) is decisive for catholic theology (in Roman perspective) as the one who, finally, after all sorts of consideration, including by the magisterium, determines that from henceforth thus and so will be grafted into the tradition.

For Anglican catholics, united in respect for but not in obedience to the pope, the commonality of belief has been fostered by renewed emphasis on the days of the development of the common tradition (i.e. the works of the Fathers), by acknowledgement of the model offered by Eastern Orthodoxy (no pope, but faithfulness to the tradition within autonomous Orthodox churches) and by determination to read the gospels themselves afresh as the starting point for orthodox, catholic theology. But that approach appears to have run aground.

On the one hand, conservative catholics have largely abandoned ship, heading for Rome directly or the Ordinariate, recognising that the tradition of catholic theology within Anglican churches, revived under the Anglo-Catholic movement has no future when it abandons the tradition  in order to bring about change not agreed to by some common forum such as (in Anglican terms) the Lambeth Conference.

On the other hand liberal catholics, willing to embrace change to theology without regard for even a small commonality factor (no Anglican agreement, let alone Roman or Eastern Orthodox agreement) have effectively denied the word 'catholic' in the description of the approach. Continuing appearances of catholicity such as maintaining common robes and rituals paradoxically forms 'the Emperor's robing' as a cover for the loss of common faith.

Does that leave an unabashed liberal Anglican theology as the unexpected winner of the coherent theology stakes? Let's leave that question for another post.

Tell me my analysis above is wrong. I am desperately keen to find a coherent Anglican theology. Notwithstanding what is said above, I remain confident of the future of Anglican evangelical theology!


Kurt said...

For me, Peter, support for Anglo Catholicism and for modern views of gender and sexuality are not contradictions. (And I know a number of RCers—including Jesuits, and even a few Eastern Orthodox folks—who feel similarly.) We are living in the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth or seventeenth centuries. The Anglo Catholic/High Church ethos continues to evolve for most of us. A high view of the Sacraments; of the Ministries of both the ordained and the laity; of the Communion of Saints; of the significance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, etc. does not, in my mind, in any way conflict with support for women and gay priests and bishops, same sex marriage, etc. And, of course, there are also some modern Evangelicals who are comfortable with women and gays in leadership roles in the Church, etc. The Anglicanism of 2014 is not identical to that of 1914, or 1814 or 1714, etc. Nor should it be. The same can be said for the Roman and Eastern Churches, though they evolve much more slowly in many areas.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
There is nothing evolutionary about being 'catholic' - that is a commitment to maintaining the common life of the universal church.

To evolve away from that common life may be the right, proper and relevant thing to do (pace ordination of women, same sex marriage etc) but it should not pretend to be a 'catholic' development.

Father Ron Smith said...

"..... Continuing appearances of catholicity such as maintaining common robes and rituals paradoxically forms 'the Emperor's robing' as a cover for the loss of common faith." Dr. Peter Carrell -

This is a wee bit below the cincture, and not worthy of you, Peter. Still, I guess the internal deficits of multi-disciplinary evangelicalism must have got you-into this mode of critical comment on the traditional Anglo-Catholic tendency to 'semper reformanda', a feature of Faith, Hope and Love which cannot be said to blossom in 39-Articular obscurantism.

Jesus has not withdrawn His advice (as even 'liberal' catholics still understand it) to celebrate His Presence (in celebrating the Mass) - until He comes again. No amount of evangelical preaching can replace this constant coming together of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

By the way, 'obedience to the Roman Catholic Pope is not a necessary ingredient for orthodox Christianity. However, we do admire this Pope's following of his famous predecessor. John XXIII, in his liberalising ethic, which includes his eirenic non-judgementalism towards LGBTI people, among the disenfranchised.

Peter Carrell said...

Respectfully, Ron, you have said nothing about why catholic Anglicans do not revise the robing and ritual of the church while also revising the theology of the church?

What is it about the robing and ritual (e.g. use of incense, crossing one' self etc) which deserves to remain constant while the theology does not?

Father Ron Smith said...

I might ask the same about the 'Hymn Sermon Sandwich' of the evangelicals, Peter, remembering that Liturgical celebration was not unknown in the ancient Jewish community - who were our forefathers in the Faith.

The use of symbols is very evident in the Old Testament - as well as in the traditional Churches of East and West. Both Roman & Anglo Catholics & also Eastern Orthodox Churches (the vast majority of Christians) manage to follow the essential drama and symbolism of sacramental use, which is part and parcel of mainline Christianity - being the 'outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace' that is omnipresent therein. - "Do this.."

The Big Band Youth Culture of many con/evo congregations is counter-productive and a novelty - leaving very little space for deep and personal reflection on the Christ within. The Liturgy, at its best, reflects the beauty and the glory of God - its essence being to glorify God - not humanity. Most human institutions have their own outward dress to mark their uniqueness - academic hoods, team colours, the old school tie, etc.

I remember a leading Presbyterian Minister living in my parish on the Hibiscus Coast, who took the trouble to attend the liturgical ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter with us At St.Stephen's Anglican Church, Whangaparaoa. He expressed his delight and joy at what he described as the deep spiritual experience of the tradition, which he had never known before. It has made him reflect more deeply on the Passion of Christ and the relevance of the Eucharist.

What does change, in the catholic tradition - as is evidenced in the refreshing attitude of the present Pope Francis - is our need to address the ecclesiastical lack of humanity in entrenched attitudes towards injustice & institutional prejudice that can blight people's lives, and threaten their very existence - evidenced in countries like Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, where many of God's children are criminalised for their intrinsic generic make-up.

"Take from your Treasures something old and something new". This is what energises authentic Catholic and Orthodox Christians who have taken the best of the Old as accounted important to the tradition; discarding that which no longer expresses the original intent; while yet moving with the times, in terms of human justice and the flourishing for society.

Right Worship and Service of both God and Humanity are two sides of the same spiritual coin.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Thank you for your account of catholicism - I like the idea of treasures old and new!

I agree that theologising along the lines of 'right worship' and 'right service' could be a consistent method of doing theology.

To my mind that would still leave open the question whether change to the doctrine of marriage could be justified as a 'new' treasure, when seeing it (the doctrine, as given through Scripture and maintained through tradition) as an 'old' treasure could arguably be as faithful to Jesus as the things you cite above as being faithful in the right worship of our Lord.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Peter, I do recognise your concern that Equal Marriage might threaten the stability of what has been the 'norm' up until today.

However, Marriage - the union of two persons, monogamously, with the intent to be faithful to one another as long as they both shall live - has now been extended in some parts of the world, in the belief that monogamy is better than profligate relationships -that tend to destabilise societies

It is not marriage that breaks down society, but promiscuity. If society is strengthened by marriage, it should surely be encouraged - whether for opposite or same-sex couples. Of course, if you believe that same-sex couples do not deserve such equity, then you would naturally oppose it.

My own opinion; in both instances, of heterosexual and homosexual relationships, it is better to marry than be free to indulge in promiscuity, which militates against social stability.

Same-sex relationships are a reality. How best does one deal with this reality? Not all people are called to celibacy. This remains true for everyone, not just heterosexuals.

The Church used to hold that Marriage was indissoluble. Whereas the reality is that relationships break down - for various reasons. The question is, does God want a couple to live in constant enmity with one another? Or, does God offer a chance for a more stable and congenial relationship to thrive? The Church has answered that dilemma by allowing 'just cause' divorce, and the ability to form a new relationship - where there is evidence of repentance for a mistake made.

"Where charity and love are - there is God".

Kurt said...

“There is nothing evolutionary about being 'catholic' - that is a commitment to maintaining the common life of the universal church.”—Fr. Carrell

Peter, with respect to the Creeds, the Historic Episcopate, etc. I would agree with you. But I can’t agree with you if you think of “Catholic” as being completely static and frozen in time, either in terms of beliefs or ceremonial.

The “common life of the universal church” evolves/develops/unfolds both socially and theologically, albeit at different rates in different communions. Support for slavery (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ”) is no longer something that the “common life of the universal church,” would affirm, is it? And core Christian doctrines (including the development of the concepts of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, etc.) didn’t simply drop from Heaven fully formed, but rather developed (“evolved”) over centuries, didn’t they? What’s non-Catholic about those evolutionary realities, Peter?

“Respectfully, Ron, you have said nothing about why catholic Anglicans do not revise the robing and ritual of the church while also revising the theology of the church?”—Fr. Carrell

But such practices HAVE developed and evolved over time, Peter, and reflect the changing understandings of different schools of Anglicanism. The ethos of 2014 High Church or Evangelical Anglicanism is not that of 1914, which is not that of 1814, which is not that of 1714.

In 2014 there are Evangelical clergy, as well as High Church clergy (at least in America), who not only celebrate a weekly Sunday Eucharist, but who will vest in chasubles or copes on occasion. At the very least they will wear cassock, surplice and colored stole. In 2014 America some Evangelicals will even use incense once in a while (e.g., Trinity School for Ministry). In 1914 only Anglo Catholics vested in chasubles and used incense, while Evangelicals wore either “magpie,” or—if they were “daring”—cassock, surplice and colored stole. In 1814 High Church priests vested in cassock, surplice, hood and tippet to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, while Evangelicals generally celebrated in white linen bands and black gown, with or without a cassock. In 1814 the employment of incense on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean had fallen out of favor in Anglicanism (though its usage would be revived to some extent in America beginning in the 1820s). In 1714 High Church clergy would now and again vest in copes to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in cathedrals, college chapels and in some of the Great Churches of the towns; in some places, such as Ely Cathedral, incense would also be used during important Church Festivals.

The use of signation has evolved as well. From Elizabethan times until circa 1850 and the beginnings of the “Ritualist” phase of the Oxford Movement, the sign of the cross was made with the thumb on the forehead (or lips, or breast, etc.). Only High Church clergy blessed the people with the sign of the cross. After the 1850s and 1860s, the late medieval form with the full hand from forehead and across the shoulders, became dominant, and today this form is used by many Evangelicals as well as Anglo Catholics.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

At Joshua Bovis' request I am editing a mistake out of his initial comment in order to present a correct version:

"Hi Peter,

The criticisms of Evangelical Anglican Theology I think are a caricature. However gently may I suggest that the forms of Evangelical Anglican corporate worship have become rather generic and the richness of Anglicanism is lost.

My take is that this stems from us doing the thinking for non-Christians for them and assume that if they experience, see, feel, or hear anything that they
1. don't like
2. don't understand
3. don't agree with
4. don't find funny/entertaining
5. don't find cool
when we gather in Word and sacrament then they will be innoculated against the Gospel.

So we throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes Anglican distinctives (which differentiate the Anglican Church from other denominations) in the name of contextualisation and church growth.

This is butressed by the unspoken fear that we must not give unbelievers the impression that our faith is over 40 years old and anything Ancient is either Roman Catholic or uncool or both (ie. Ash Wednesday; Lent; Greeting of peace, Holy Communion more than once a month)
So we end up with a bland generic evangelicalism where the crown jewels from men like Cranmer are not even missed anymore as younger Anglicans don't even know who Cranmer or what the BCP is.

A good example of coherent evangelical theology is the works of Gerald Bray. His Book God is Love, a great example.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
A significant amount of change to ritual and robe you mention concerns the evolution of Evangelicals, not Anglo-Catholics!!

Anglo-Catholics, after all, made a particular virtue out of reaching back to the pre-Reformation Church in England (and further back) in order to revive ancient custom, so the general move of the movement was not towards evolution but away from it.

My point about 'ethos' changing is that it should be questioned as to whether it is the ethos of catholicity which is changing or another ethos. My strong suspicion is that it is the liberalism which has (in historic terms, somewhat surprisingly) grafted itself onto Anglo-Catholicism which is ever changing.

MichaelA said...

Hi Peter,

My view is that the posts by Kurt and Fr Ron are a brilliant illustration of the truth that liberalism is not a "theology" at all, just an excuse to avoid the particular bits in the bible that the liberal doesn't like ... :)

Now, getting back to your article, I don't have an issue with coherent theology - I think Classical Anglicanism is alive and well, and very coherent.

In so far as the evangelical/anglo-catholic spectrum matters, I think one of the very positive things to emerge in the last ten years is a convergence between a/c Anglicans and evangelical Anglicans – hence why so many of both were represented at the Jerusalem Conference in 2008. Of course, this is mainly an issue which affects the western provinces, who are a relatively minor part of world Anglicanism – the African and Asian provinces seem to be a bit above the old divide.

Anyway, I think it would be fair to say that the vast majority of Anglicans today belong to churches who subscribe to statements of faith which are the same as or very similar to Canon A5 of the Church of England:

"The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal."

liturgy said...


I have stated repeatedly the limitations of creating artificial, hermetically-sealed church subgroups. Especially when those subgroupings cannot be clearly delineated except for claiming to belong to the subgroup.

I struggle to see the value, beyond quaintness, in a historical survey of the abandonment amongst many of the maniple, or the transition from crossed stoles to wearing the stole vertically, or the abandonment of cincture and/or amice, or the loosening attitude towards the requirement of a cassock under the alb, or the trend towards stoles over the chasuble rather than under it, and on and on… Or debating whether a priest wearing a chasuble and using incense is an “evangelical” evolving, or a “catholic” evolving…

But in the midst of these distracting trees I think people may be missing Fr Ron’s wood April 2, 2014 at 10:58 PM. I have regularly, here, seen people ask for a succinct clarifying expression of Fr Ron’s understanding. Should I be surprised when he presents it that it is not seen, and the call is rather for more about those maniples?



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco / Ron

Thank you Bosco for pointing out what a good comment Ron made at 10.58 pm 2 April. It is a good comment and it illustrates what I am trying to say well as I note that Ron both honestly expresses his 'opinion' at one point and talks of the 'church' making a decision at another point.

'Opinion' does not make for catholic doctrine but the 'church' can do that - the question for Anglicans then being how widespread the agreement of the church is for the decision to be catholic.

I agree, Bosco, that what I have posted runs the risk of the criticism you make about hermetically sealed sub-groups etc. However I have no particular interest in defining sub-groups but here I have an interest in exploring the consistency of Anglican theologising.

What I am discerning thus far is that arguably some sense of 'classical Anglicanism' may provide the way I am seeking. In various ways it could be said that the hard-to-define sub-groups are attempts to forge an Anglicanism when one is not satisfied with classical Anglicanism!

Father Ron Smith said...

"My view is that the posts by Kurt and Fr Ron are a brilliant illustration of the truth that liberalism is not a "theology" at all, just an excuse to avoid the particular bits in the bible that the liberal doesn't like ... "
- Michael! -

Michael's opinion here, is, like any other opinion on this thread, just another opinion.

However, he tends to denigrate other people's opinions (in my case, based on 84 years of baptismal experience as part of the Body of Christ, 3 years as a Franciscan friar, and 33 years as a priest) as less theologically-based than his own. This can be very self-deluding, and not at all helpful in the present arguments.

"Where charity and love are, there is God" - I'm trying to be more loving, but often fail!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron / Michael

Let's feel the love here!

But it could help Ron if you laid off commenting on evangelical bands :)

laudable Practice said...

Peter, thanks for a piece which certainly has made many of us carefully reflect!

I wonder, however, if both evangelical and catholic Anglican theology is showing a lot more vitality than your post might seem to suggest? Whether it is the catholic Anglican vision of John Milbank and Radical Orthodoxy or the evangelical theologians connected with St Mellitus London (e.g. Graham Tomlin, author of this year's ABC Lent book), there is a lot of positive theological reflection happening.

It might also be useful to think about how a catholic understanding of Tradition 'develops' and allows for theological innovation. Both +Rowan and Ratzinger have given persuasive accounts of how Tradition cannot be 'frozen' but must allow for the emergence on newer, deeper insights into the Revelation.

Once again, thanks for making us think!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi BC,
Nothing I am saying is intended to deny vitality, least of all in Milbankian or Tomlinian theologies.
But I am raising questions about consistency and coherency, as well as catholicity where I am connecting catholicity to commonality of belief and not to connection with tradition per se.

If catholicity concerns the tradition and its development without worrying about whether everyone is following along, then, yes, Milbank and Williams offer interest. But is the whole church following them?

MichaelA said...

"Hi Ron / Michael
Let's feel the love here!"

That is interesting, coming from someone who has just written an article inviting argument and comparison between liberals, evangelicals, anglo-catholics, broad church persuns, affirming catholics, supralapsarians and sedevacantists.

"...and not at all helpful in the present arguments"

That, Fr Ron, is a matter of opinion.

MichaelA said...

"But is the whole church following them?"

Errr, is that the criterion for relevance to this thread - really?

Let me illustrate with a dissertation from a book which the Church doth (well, maybe) read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply it to establish any doctrine:

"Really, Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I'm afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time," said Dumbledore, now peering sternly over his half-moon spectacles. "Not a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven't had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it. But what should I do? Barricade myself in my study and refuse to talk to anybody?"

"Yeh — yeh're not half-giant!" said Hagrid croakily.

"Hagrid, look what I've got for relatives!" Harry said furiously. "Look at the Dursleys!"

"An excellent point," said Professor Dumbledore. "My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course, I'm not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery...."

Kurt said...

“It might also be useful to think about how a catholic understanding of Tradition 'develops' and allows for theological innovation. Both +Rowan and Ratzinger have given persuasive accounts of how Tradition cannot be 'frozen' but must allow for the emergence on newer, deeper insights into the Revelation.”—BC

Well said, BC!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
In response to two most recent comments:

A. We can argue in such a way that we respect one another and we can argue using words which can be disrespectful to other debaters. I am reminding of the importance of that respectful tone in what we say.

B. My point re some kind of universality is not a point about popularity but about the desirability of Christians everywhere believing what has always been believed.

Your impressive knowledge of the Potter oeuvre is noted! (Have never read these works myself and have no desire to do so).