Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room (III)

Here is the final part of Fr Matthew Kirby's piece on ecumenism in the Catholic world.

Now to consider the separation between Anglican Catholics and the RCC and EOC. Since I have shown above that Anglican Churches cannot be dismissed as mere sects by virtue of Pontificators Fourth Law, it remains to consider their identity on other grounds. This concluding section is another slightly modified quotation from some of my previous Pontifications posts.

Anglican Catholics contend that at the Reformation the Apostolic Succession was not lost within Anglican jurisdictions. They also note that even if it had been (assuming Apostolicae Curiae to be correct in its conclusions regarding Abp Parker’s consecration and all consecratory acts afterward dependent on it) it would have been regained at some later stage due to insertions from other (undisputed) lines of succession occurring after defects claimed to exist by the Bull could no longer be plausibly said to exist due to changes brought on in the period of the Caroline Divines. E.g., the purported defects of lack of explicit signification of the Order being given in the Form of the sacrament and of a “native spirit and character” in the Church and its permitted and encouraged teaching that denied Eucharistic Sacrifice and thus deprived the Intention in its consecration of validity.

Anglican Catholics also contend that their Church did not initiate the break in communion from their side with the EOC or RCC, or intend to depart from the Catholic Faith and the patristic consensus, though they admit material heresy was common among some Anglican teachers. We do not admit the C of E definitively committed itself to error in dogma. The C of E’s refutation of Roman Supremacy and various “Romish” corruptions was based on the belief that Rome had spoken and acted in ways inconsistent not only with Scripture, but with the Fathers and the faith and practice of the East. These accusations against Rome were directed against understandings of both the Roman claims and certain Roman doctrines that were partly guilty of confusing common opinion and dogma, partly the result of the RCC miscommunicating the true import of its doctrines through arrogance or widespread abuses, and partly the result of errors by a number of Anglicans in interpreting Scripture and Tradition.

Since that time Rome’s presentation of its doctrines of papal primacy, purgatory and ecclesiology, for example has changed in a way that these earlier problems can be seen as quite possibly based on misunderstanding and emotionally charged rhetoric on both sides. We are not, BTW, claiming the Rome has changed its dogma per se. But we do believe its own understanding of them has developed in such a way to help overcome the problems of the past.

Basically, the C of E and its daughter churches saw themselves as the legitimate Catholic jurisdiction(s) in England and its colonies, a “particular Church” as the RCC would put it. Thus Anglicans have not seen their actions at the Reformation as an attempt to re-invent the Church or start a new one. Nor have they seen them, despite the errors and excesses of the time, as a decision to reject the Catholic Faith and reject and separate from all other bishops in the world, this latter being explicitly denied in early Canon Law.

The consensus patrum was said to be normative for the interpretation of Scripture, the Ecumenical Councils authoritative, and the Church to have authority in controversies of Faith in official documents of the highest authority. Documents with significantly less (i.e., non-binding) authority tended to be less reliable, especially early on.

Although many things were said and done amiss on our side at that time and afterward, we do not see the repudiation of Roman Supremacy as intrinsically and deliberately schismatic or heretical in the historical context, given the way the Supremacy presented itself back then and the fact that one of the main Anglican criticisms was that the Pope was less Petrine than Emperor-like. They did not reject the kind of Primacy both evidenced and described in Ut Unum Sint!

As for our separation from the other great Church we have identified as Catholic, the EOC, that was inherited and not chosen. On the contrary, Anglicans appealed to the example of the East just as they appealed to the undivided Church and defended it against Roman claims it was heretical and schismatic. Friendly contacts with the East and talk of re-union has occured since the 17th Century, but really got going in the late 19th and 20th Centuries.

So, many inconsistencies and imperfections, yes. A complete break in continuity with and connection to the One Church, no.
However, what started happening in the 1970s was a different matter. Tradition was effectively trashed and the sacraments endangered. Anglicans in the places first affected appealed to the ancient canons of the Ecumenical Councils and, through the assistance of orthodox bishops in the Anglican Communion, ensured continuation of orthodoxy and episcopal jurisdiction, their mother Church having ecclesially self-destructed. Thus we had the ACC, APCK and ACC-Canada. The messiness of the situation and lack of subsequent support from other orthodox Anglicans, inter alia, led to lack of unity. Later complications from other Anglican Communion defections to liberal Protestantism created more jurisdictions, many of them one-issue groups, not people trying to uphold the Catholic Faith in its fulness.

One of the benefits of this turn of events of the 1970s is that the original Continuers dumped ambiguity and more explicitly and insistently announced their adhesion to Holy Tradition. This allowed a better focussed self-understanding and a more manifest crystallising out of Catholic essence and identity. Before, Anglican Churches possessed the Catholic Faith, but did not mandate it in practice. Fr Hart and I have the joy of being clergy delivered from that undermining vagueness. Our Churches represent not merely a continuation but a fulfillment of Anglican Catholicism. But we know that this fulfillment is not manifested completely while we are out of communion with the EOC and RCC. Let all be assured that this represents no refusal of communio in sacris on our part.

Indeed, before the fall of much of Anglicanism into destructive innovations, it was not uncommon for EO to be admitted to Anglican altars to receive Communion with the permission of their bishops if they were unable to get to their own Church. And this was only possible because of the previous multiple decisions by EO churches to recognise the validity of Anglican Orders. So, sacramental communion between Anglican Catholics and EO, even if under the limited aegis of “economy”, did exist to some extent in the Twentieth Century.

Therefore, if it can be successfully argued that the division between the RCC and the EOC has never been absolute or definitive and that it was initiated by unjustified excommunications and prolonged by mutual misunderstanding and pride, then the division can be characterised as incomplete, such that neither Church is outside “the Church”. It is a schism based on neither heresy nor rebellion and can be resolved, God willing, by much prayer and by turning implicit into explicit doctrinal agreement and mutual submission. Also, since the Anglican Catholic-Roman Catholic and Anglican Catholic-Eastern Orthodox divisions are unilateral, and not deliberate refusals by us to be in communion with them, and since the latter division, like the RCC-EOC one, has not been sacramentally complete, orthodox Anglican Churches are not excluded from the One Church either. And so we dare to believe we too can be incorporated into the prayerful resolving of differences spoken of above.


poetreader said...

Father Kirby,

I waited until I could read the whole piece at one sitting before commenting. This is indeed a nice piece of theoretical/historical work. It didn't present me with any ideas I hadn't thought, but it certainly did present them in a better way than I could have. Thank you. I'm looking forward to a yet further development of these ideas.

I have two comments to add.

1/ I do not believe Kimel is correct in his observation that all Catholics believe that one must be orginizationally part of 'my' church to be saved, but rather that there are always some who are unobservably a part of the one visible church, but, for one reason or another do not appear to be. I see this line of thinking hinted at in St. Paul and expressed to some degree right down to Vatican II which made it explicit.

2/ The concept of a single visible world-wide church is, quite simply an anachronism, as it was quite impossible, before the modern era, to observe such a thing, due to the state of communication. Visibility was a concept applicable only to the local, and every wider unity was, of necessity, more-or-less invisible.


Fr. John W. Morris said...

The problem with your argument is that all Anglicans do not agree with your definition of Anglicanism. Some Anglicans are outright Calvinists, who reject the authority of the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils and do not consider Apostolic Succession necessary. Others are extreme liberals who reject most traditional Christian beliefs. If all Anglicans believed what is outlined in this document it would be possible to enter into a successful dialogue leading to Communion. However, we Orthodox have learned to our horror that there is a great deal of doctrinal diversity within Anglicanism. Orthodoxy insists on complete agreement of the Faith of the ancient undivided Catholic Church as a precondition for Communion.

Archpriest John W. Morris