Friday, April 20, 2007

Greetings, With an Appreciation

Published by permission:


I wanted to commend you for your blog, which has been a source of great help and information over the past several months as I have considered joining the Continuum. The "robust, if polite" tone of you and Frs. Hart and Kirby, as well as the poetreader, have been a refreshing change of pace from the somewhat belligerent triumphalism of most Roman Catholic blogs I once frequented.

After nearly ten years in the "dark wood" I have found my way, with the help of our Father, into Catholic religion. Having more or less recovered from my sectarian, fundamentalist upbringing, I have come to appreciate the Way; "Quod Ubique, Quod ab Omnibus." I had intended to become a Roman Catholic but decided to cease RCIA classes in January, for various reasons, one of which was the atrocious liturgical practices of the contemporary Roman Church. I attended my first Anglo-Catholic mass last Sunday, in Indianapolis, Indiana at St. Edward the Confessor, cathedral seat of Bishop Starks, whom you recently visited in the sceptred isle. I was profoundly moved by the serious joy apparent in the liturgy and intend to attend once again this Sunday. It is a bit of a drive, but worth it, methinks.

While it is truly unfortunate that the various continuing Anglican groups have not found it necessary to unite at this time, it seems to me that there is a possible strength to be found in such disarrary. While I pray for some kind of union, I think it important to recognize the possibility that the future of traditional, Catholic, Christianity may just reside in such small cells of faithful witnesses. My decision to become a Catholic was born of a serious distaste with the secular and all its trappings. The progressive temptation, so prevalent in this post-Christian world, is to see numbers as somehow indicative of faith. There may be one billion or so Roman Catholics on earth, but if the West is any indication, many of them are actually Protestant (or, if you prefer, gnostic) in their faith and ecclesiastical practice, preferring private judgment to authority. Pope Benedict XVI has often written and spoken of this possible future, wherein a faithful remnant hold fast to the faith once delivered in the midst of overwhelming indifference and outright persecution, even from those who may think themselves Christian. It is my opinion that the age of Christendom is officially over and that all traditional Catholics and Orthodox must begin to adjust to the minority role, re-catechising the faithful and resisting the overwhelming pressure to adapt one's faith to the dominant secularism that has entrenched itself in Western Civilization.

Forgive this uninvited email; I merely wanted to applaud you and your blog and thank you for the witness it has provided. I pray for the acceptance of your application to become a postulant for Holy Orders, and that you will maintain a faithful witness in Cyprus.

God Bless,
Christopher McNeely


ACC Member said...

Welcome to the ACC, Christopher. The Cathedral Church of St. Edward is a wonderful parish in which to worship. It is worth a drive of quite a distance, to be sure. The Anglo-Catholic Litrugy is superbly done there (not to mention the absolutely gorgeous stained-glass windows!!) May God bless you, and, again, welcome. Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

poetreader said...

Likewise welcome. Your sentiments are almost precisely mine, with the one proviso that traditional Catholic Christianity rejects without a qualm the Protestant notion that the unity of the Church is something less than visible. While that may not entail precise organizational union, and the concept of several cells carrying the Tradition into a new era may indeed be a viable one, we believe in ONE Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. If those various 'cells' are not in Communion and friendship with one another, true Catholicity is not being expressed. Any 'cell' that is not in communion with other Catholic jurisdictions is not fully expressive of Catholicity. That, regretably, means all of them unless one accepts the exclusive claims of one and deies all the rest. Yes, there is one church, but we are bound, by Our Lord Himself, to express that unity in this visible world.

ed pacht, ACA, lay member, Rochester NH.

Anonymous said...

Christopher is right. This blog is different, not least because Albion, Ed and the Fathers don't forget what it's all ultimately about. It's a great witness not only to Continuing Anglicanism but also to the Christian faith and Christ Himself, and I hope Bishop Starks is reading this.

Anonymous said...


I didn't mean to imply that I am satisfied by various Catholic "cells"; it is my hope and firm belief that all "Catholic" believers will eventually overcome their differences in the future and truly become ONE, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. We have no disagreement. I simply think that looking at numbers of parishoners is a red herring and that if there is one thing to learn among the continuing Anglican groups it is that the world is too much with us and that a little diminution may lead to better, more robust, fruits somewhere down the line.

The Lemonts said...

Is Continuing Anglicanism, Catholicism without the Roman Catholic heresy (merit of the Saints, purgatory, etc.)?

Albion Land said...

Dear Lemonts,

For a short answer, have a look at the Affirmation of St Louis.

poetreader said...

We are certainly on the same page. I just find that certain things need to be said clearly and often to avoid the false assumptions so easily made in a society that so values 'pluralism'.
Actually, I have no problem at all with the existence of various 'cells' so long as they are fully in communion with one another. Anything less is sinfully schismatic. And I do agree entirely with B16's view that the Church just may need to become smaller in order to grow.

Mr. Lemont,
I would not want to make such a characterization. I do not find official RC teaching to be grossly heretical on such matters, though much in popular piety has been sadly distorted. Though I am highly influenced by my Lutheran and Pentecostal and Evangelical background (it's been a complex pilgrimage), I find that I have a lot more in common with Rome than I do with Protestantism. There have been, and probably still are, those who would make such a statement, but I don't believe any of the four of us nor our various jursidictions would do so.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Answer to "the lemonts":

Remember these words from the Service of Holy Communion, that so beautifully summarize an important point in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"ALL glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."

So, to answer the first part of your question, the very idea of "merits of the saints" comes from the error of Supererogation. Our theology rejects this idea, because God does not owe mankind credit for extra righteousness on the part of saints. The idea is outrageous. Rather, we thank God that through Christ, "the one man," we do not receive what we "the many" deserve. The saints are sinners saved by grace, who, through grace, attained to holiness of life, but never to "sinless perfection" while they were in the Church Militant.

Purgatory is a separate question. If we think of it as punishment and believe we can count it by earthly time, then it becomes hard to defend. But, if we are purged after this life, not as punishment, but in, order to enter into God's presence with more purity, it is a welcome idea. Who wants to enter a king's court smelling bad and wearing soiled clothing?

Nonetheless, counting it in terms of time seems to make no sense. After all, the Last Day shall come suddenly and to a degree will be unexpected. The dead will be raised, which makes it hard to explain what happens to those still "serving time" somewhere in the spirit regions.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Re: Purgatory and time,

When RC indulgences refer to a certain quantity of time being "taken off" a souls stay in purgatory, the lengths of time given are, I believe, in terms of "remitting" the equivalent canonical disciplinary period of exclusion from the Sacrament ON EARTH which might have been given in the Ancient Church. They are NOT meant to necessarily correspond to a literal amount of time in purgatory. As for what happens to souls still being purified when Parousia and Last Judgement occur, it should be remembered that the fiery trial of Christians spoken of by St Paul in 1 Corinthians actually refers, strictly speaking, to this end time in the original context. Whatever needs completion then will thus be completed.

Re: the treasury of merits and indulgences,

There are ways of interpreting these RC doctrines which are consistent with the practice and teaching of the Early Church, but they require putting aside supererogation (understood literally) and the mathematical approach of "transferring merit". Even the RCC teaches that the treasury of merits from Christ's work on the Cross is strictly infinite. This leaves the saints' merits with "nothing to do" of course, as you cannot make any infinite quantity larger simply by adding a finite amount of "more of the same". (It is possible to progress from "smaller" to "larger" infinities in a sense in Mathematics, but this consideration is not relevant to the example we are describing).

Note that the saints' merits (i.e., "reward" for good works or "reaping" as they have "sown", in biblical langage) were never said to remit sin in the proper sense but were thought to be available to cancel out "debts" of punishment still remaining after forgiveness. If a Christian had done enough to completely cancel out their own debt, the rest could go to cancelling somebody else's, it was reasoned.

But there is no evidence merit can be simply transferred thus, as it must relate to the heavenly reward for each individual, quite apart from any consideration of its effects on the Intermediate State. Since no RC, to my knowledge, has claimed that Saints have a choice between "extra reward" in heaven and giving away a surplus to those being purified and since Christ's surplus of righteousness is infinite and the merits of the saints are said to rely radically on Christ's righteousness anyway, it is clear the common or popular approach to the RC doctrine cannot be taken too literally even in the RCC. Too, the RCC in its Catechism has stated that in the strictest sense no human being can earn merit and oblige God (since all merit proceeded from his unearned grace in the first place and is due reward because of merciful promise not because of just parity). Which is why modern RC scholars have tended to re-interpret both Purgatory and Indulgences/Merit in 2 main ways.

Firstly, they emphasise the image of Purgatory as a disciplinary purification and preparation dealing with inward sanctification, rather than as retribution dealing with an outward debt of punishment. Even the present Pope has spoken this way. Secondly, they seem to connect "merit" to reduction of this discipline via intercession, not as a direct transfer. That is, since "the prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5.16b), more active holiness means more powerful intercession and supplication both on earth and in heaven.

Similarly, in this context, supererogation is irrelevant, properly speaking, except in the case of Christ who really did give more than he owed, so to speak, and infinitely so. Instead, we can think of the merits of the saints as subsisting in Christ's merits, rather than being additive to them, and consider "indulgences" to be an "extra" mercy on top of forgiveness, proceeding from Christ's life and death, and not a reduction in debt paid for by this merit. That forgiveness does not mean "no consequences" is biblical, traditional and common sense. That the full weight of those consequences can also be bypassed through the "love that covers a multitude of sins" operating through the prayerful communion of saints was accepted in the early penitential discipline of the Church and is perhaps implied in 2 Cor. 2.5-11.

IMO, the real problem with the RC teaching in this area has been that everything front and centre -- words such as "merit", "remission" of punishment, "treasury", etc. -- has given a strong impression of "works for salvation" theology. Everything that would undermine this impression has been left to the "fine print" of theological qualifications and speculations which, even when condoned or supported by authority, have made little impact in the pews. For example, how many RCs know that indulgences applied to those in Purgatory only avail by supplication, not binding judgement of the Church, as the Church Militant has no jurisdiction over the Church Expectant or Triumphant?

Anonymous said...

Hello Christopher,
Welcome from the southernmost part of the Diocese of the Midwest, ACC. St. Edward's is quite a trip for us (3 hours). But we have a mission here in Lexington, Kentucky, now and St. John's in Dayton, Kentucky (greater Cincinnati area) the mother parish is a little over an hour north. I hope your drive to church does not pose a problem for you. And, perhaps, you can find a parish in the diocese closer to you.


Anonymous said...

d bunker,

Thanks for the welcome. As for finding a closer parish, I'm afraid St. Edward's is more or less the closest to me, in terms of time, if not mileage. I intend to attend the ACC parish of St. Andrew's in Franklin, Indiana sometime, but it is country roads almost all the way, as opposed to speedy interstate driving. I'm located in Bloomington, Indiana, so driving to Kentucky or the Greater Cincy area is not really a good option. Thanks, though.


Anonymous said...

Hello Christopher,
I hope your schedule will allow you to worship at St. Edward's on a regular basis. Although I'm sure Fr. Coyner at St. Andrew's would love to have you join them. He, quite graciously, came to the mission here as visiting priest on the first Sunday in Lent.