Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ecumenical Ice Age and the Middle Way

In the Church Times Archive you can read the April 2007 article by Canon Gregory Cameron, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, for an overdose of understatement. This came up recently because Alistair McGrath wrote a response in the online edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette that was published Friday, October 17th. With all due respect for the learned Rev. Mr. McGrath, and for the English canon, both of these columns are truly amazing for their irrelevance and confusion.

Cameron begins his piece with a clear reference to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which has been the official Anglican statement on episcopacy and the nature of the Church since the 1880s, a statement consistent with the only form of Church structure that has existed among Anglicans. Anyone who has read Book I of Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity knows better than to accept the new conventional wisdom that he considered episcopacy merely a good idea, or that he defended it simply as a state matter. In fact, he made it clear, in his apologetic against Calvin's Geneva Discipline and the Puritans, that the form that the Church of England continued to hold was the only one found both in scripture and in the Patristic period, namely the Apostolic Succession of bishops and the universal Catholic structure as it had existed in the Church since the earliest times. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral brought nothing new to the Anglican table, and it was formulated to tell the only way forward for earnest ecumenical relations that would not compromise something of essence to the Church itself. That they merely followed the thinking of those earlier Church of England officials who gave us our Ordinal is easy enough to demonstrate. Nonetheless, in the 1880s a very firmly convinced Low Church party in the United States decided to stop trying to convert the Episcopal Church away from its Catholic episcopal structure, and so they started the Reformed Episcopal Church based on a "Declaration of Principles" unlike anything ever known to Anglicanism, except when such doctrines were refuted in apologetics. This was not the first Continuing Church, as some have tried to insist, for the REC broke away from the Episcopal Church when it was solid and healthy based on their rejection of Catholic principles that our Continuing Church movement has held since the writing of the Affirmation of St. Louis. The REC began as a very anti-Catholic defection from Anglicanism, reducing episcopacy to merely a human convention.

Nonetheless, McGrath considered Cameron's mention of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral to be "remarkable," and wrote a piece about the Protestantism of Anglicanism, its Reformation heritage and its proper designation as a "denominational family." His article reached its peek with this line:

"Yet historians such as Diarmaid McCulloch have rightly pointed out that the ‘middle way’ developed in England in the late sixteenth century was between Lutheranism and Calvinism – two quite distinct versions of Protestantism. The ‘middle way’ which resulted was neither Calvinist nor Lutheran – but it was certainly Protestant."

First of all, the words "Catholic"and "Protestant" should not be used by any Anglican as mutually exclusive. About Anglicanism, "certainly Protestant" is only as accurate as "certainly Catholic." Rome does not define what is "Catholic" for Anglicans; and "Protestant"- a merely 500 year old designation- is not the antithesis or opposite of "Catholic." Furthermore, McGrath's (or rather McCulloch's) thesis is based on a very subtle use and selection of every extreme and deviant position he could find from the sources, never placed against the self-evident facts of history. The idea that Anglicans were trying to achieve a balance between Calvinism and Lutheranism fails to take into account how much they rejected from both sources, and it fails to notice the obvious. It fails to notice the entire Ordinal with its Preface, and the facts of what the Church of England actually did in maintaining Episcopacy against the efforts of Presbyterians. It fails to notice the obvious fact that the Church of England took care to preserve, always, the unbroken Apostolic Succession of Bishops.

Earlier in the piece McGrath wrote:

"Some point to Charles I as the classic representative of this ‘Anglo-Catholicism’. Yet they too easily overlook the awkward fact that, on the evening before his execution, Charles told his thirteen-year old daughter, Elizabeth, that he was to die for 'maintaining the true Protestant religion', and urged her to read the works of Lancelot Andrewes and Richard Hooker 'to ground [her] against Popery'".

Well, there was no such thing in those days as Anglo-Catholicism, and it is unlikely that anyone has ever so presented King Charles I. But, we call him a martyr because he did have the opportunity to save his life and keep his crown as a Constitutional Monarch if only he would abolish the episcopate. He refused, and chose instead to die. "Popery" was not, in the terms of that day, "Catholicism." At that time a Christian could be a Protestant Catholic or a Papist Catholic; the idea of having to be either Catholic or Protestant, or that rejection of "popery" was to reject the Catholic Church and Faith of the Creeds, simply did not enter their thinking. And, in Anglicanism such a choice has never existed. The modern usage of these words, applied retro-actively by McGrath, is unfortunate and misleading.

However, just because I reject the points raised by Alister McGrath, do not imagine that I found Canon Cameron's ideas to be palatable either. The Deputy Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion treats the last three decades of moral and theological decay as if they have been simply a part of the process towards Reunion that has followed a progressive and positive development. He treats the "ordination" of women as a minor doctrinal obstacle, when in fact it has destroyed all the past efforts at Reunion with Rome, and unity with the Orthodox. He treats the merely polite, but futile, ongoing discussions with those ancient communions as if between each of them and the Anglican Communion, in recent years, there have been steady ecumenical gains. And, in a very telling way, he treats the ecumenical relations with mainline Protestantism as something of equal importance to the Reunion of the Catholic Communions. The title of his rosey picture is "Ecumenical Spring is already here." He concludes his cheery little fantasy with these happy and inspiring words:

"...the concept of what ecumenism is has become richer. It is no longer about doctrinal recognisability, but about shared mission and worship, reconciliation on the personal and political, as well as the ecclesial, levels. It is no longer conceivable for any one Church of the Christian oikumene to go it alone. Despite late frosts, in the continuing reality of an ecumenical spring, genuine partnerships are forged, and deep friendships are founded."

So, the fact that everything with both Rome and Orthodoxy is frozen, despite meaningless chatter that still goes on; and despite the fact that strong ties with certain mainline Protestant Churches are based on a shared commitment to non-commitment, and a shared dogma that dogma is unimportant, it is really an "ecumenical Spring" because of all the new friends who will drink tea together.

Looking at both of these articles makes me very glad to be a Continuing Anglican. Almost everything that comes from the Cantuarian crowd these days is based on some sort of distortion.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Distortion is evidence of spiritual confusion and confusion is the price of innovation.

Continuing Anglicans will one day be the single truly balanced expression of the Anglican Way in the USA.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Yes, there is the common mistake in McGrath's article of failing to distinguish between "protestant" as meaning protesting papal/'papist' abuses and "protestant" as meaning denying the necessity or authority of the consensus patrum and the infallibility of the consensual teaching of the Universal Church. The former was the meaning clearly used by many in the reformed C of E from Elizabeth's time onwards. The latter was, on the other hand, radically and explicitly inconsistent with the C of E's official doctrinal position and most of its official apologetics. But it is the latter meaning used by most protestant theologians today. So McGrath is guilty of equivocation.

And Fr Hart is also right to point out that the revisionist historians ignore not only the above important distinction, but vital contrary evidence, evidence I have given before:

I have found further relevant evidence since then, which I suppose I will have to summarise in an article soon.

Suffice it to say that the distinctively Catholic commitments were apparent from 1559 onwards, from the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, as were notably Catholic clergy. (Don't forget Blessed Lancelot Andrewes was her chaplain.) And other protestants, especially those who knew the English Church best, were aware of and resented or stridently condemned these factors, including the Patristic dependence.