Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Critique of a Reaction to an Announcement

Archbishop John Hepworth has forwarded to me the following comment, written by Fr Samuel Edwards, in response to what the archbishop calls a "quite illiberal attack" on the Traditional Anglican Communion by Dr Peter Toon.

The issuance of a statement by the College of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion has incited a heated response from Dr Peter Toon that was uncommonly quick even by his standards. The operative section of the statement is reproduced below as an aid to my readers as I endeavor to evaluate Dr Toon’s response:

“The Bishops and Vicars-General unanimously agreed to the text of a letter to the See of Rome seeking full, corporate, sacramental union. The letter was signed solemnly by all the College and entrusted to the Primate and two bishops chosen by the College to be presented to the Holy See. The letter was cordially received at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primate of the TAC has agreed that no member of the College will give interviews until the Holy See has considered the letter and responded.”

Dr Toon’s article – issued on October 16, 2007, the same day the TAC Bishop’s statement was released – is being circulated on the internet under the title, “Seeking Unity with Rome: Traditional Anglican Communion's Bishops hope for acceptance.” While about a third of it is something of a commercial for a new edition of Richard Hooker’s Learned Discourse on Justification, the remainder in many particulars distorts and misrepresents the TAC Bishops’ statement.

Indeed, and ironically, Dr Toon’s response (or perhaps more accurately, his reaction) is an example of the documentary eisegesis that he has rightly condemned when it is practiced by his theological opponents: The TAC statement is interpreted not in its plain and literal sense, but according to a pre-existing set of what can only be called partisan prejudices and ad hominem presuppositions. Because of this, it should not be taken as a serious contribution to the debate (which makes it a relative rarity among its author’s writings) but instead should stand as a monument to the result of not allowing one’s first reaction to be released for public consumption until it has been considered in an objective, calm and recollected state of mind. It may be that he who hesitates is lost, but it is probably more true – it certainly not less so – that he who believes will not be in haste.

Unfortunately, Dr Toon’s prominence as a commentator does not permit allowing his reaction to pass without comment. My critique of it will progress more or less from item to item in the order in which it appears in Dr Toon’s article.


Dr Toon remarks that, in light of his reading of the teaching of Hooker, others, and the “the fundamental Formularies of the Anglican Way, with their rejection of the excesses of Romanist teaching, it is most strange that a whole group of Bishops from the Continuing Anglican Movement (having seceded from the Global Anglican Communion) should feel so confident about the orthodoxy and biblical basis of Roman Catholicism that they seek full communion with Rome-on Rome's terms and according to Rome's doctrine and dogma.”

Several things here merit comment. The first, though not the most important, is the use of the term “Romanist.” While it is still heard from anti-catholic evangelicals (who have bought into the false equation of “catholic” with “Roman Catholic”) and, more strangely, from anti-Roman high-church Anglicans (who have bought into the dubious notion that because Rome has erred through excess on certain doctrinal matters, it is no longer a catholic church), the use of this term has become almost wholly pejorative and partisan. In other words, it has become a slogan designed to elicit emotion (and thereby substitute for thought) rather than a description useful for fostering thought.

Next is the parenthetical description of the TAC Bishops (or the Continuing Anglican Movement as a whole – the exact reference is not entirely clear) as having “seceded from the Global Anglican Communion.” One is tempted to ask what GAC is being referred to here: Is it the one which looks – in an anglicized version of the ultramontane ecclesiology that it finds so offensive in the Roman Church – to communion with the See of Canterbury as its defining element? (If so, this entity hardly qualifies as a communion any more: Since clearly it has neither a common faith nor a common ministry, it is at best an association based on historical descent.) Or does he mean the nascent association rooted in the Anglican Churches of the Global South, which in the first place has not yet taken its final shape and in the second place has among its members a variance on the matter of the ordained ministry that may either prevent it from coalescing or call into question its own catholicity when and if it does so?

Next, Dr Toon alleges that the TAC Bishops are seeking “full communion with Rome – on Rome’s terms and according to Rome’s doctrine and dogma.” Presumably in support of this claim, he reproduces the full text of the official statement. The problem for him here is that there is nothing in the statement that gives a single shred of support to his extraordinary claim. (For me, this is strong prima facie evidence that this reaction was written in the white heat of emotion rather than in anything approaching scholarly objectivity.)

After helpfully supplying the reader with the text, Dr Toon then continues to attempt firmly to fix the spin he has put on the statement by wondering, “why, if these men are so sure that the Roman Way is totally superior to the Anglican Way, they are not already in the Roman Way.” But, again, the text gives no support to the assertion, and to anyone familiar with the context out of which it speaks – which, it seems to me, is a restoration of the search for “communion without absorption” begun in the archiepiscopate of Michael Ramsey and the pontificate of Paul VI – it is almost nonsensical.

The suggestion that the TAC bishops are “hanging around the periphery of the Anglican Way constantly talking of heading off” is another tendentious distortion. One might question whether anyone still in formal connection with The Episcopal Church and the Canterbury Communion, given their accelerating slide into doctrinal dissolution and institutional chaos, has a moral right to talk about peripheries at all. And so far as I am aware, no one in the TAC Council of Bishops is talking – constantly or even occasionally – about “heading off.” The talk seems to be about talking with a view toward fulfillment of the Lord’s expressed desire for unity in his truth – not Rome’s version, not ours, but his.

Dr Toon goes on to insist that, “If these Bishops believe that there is no integrity to the Anglican Way and that its only future is in the Roman Way then by all spiritual, rational and decent principles they ought surely to cross the Tiber now and find on the other side rest for their souls-and we wish them well in their voyage.” Again, his premises are assumptions grounded neither in the plain words of the text that has provoked him nor, indeed, in any official utterance of which I am aware by any bishop of the TAC. If the diagnoses – that the bishops believe that the Anglican Way has no integrity and that there is no future outside the Roman Way – are incorrect (and they are) then the remedy proposed is, at best, inappropriate.

The suggestion that, if they had any integrity, the TAC bishops would swim the Tiber forthwith and cease troubling those are portrayed as real Anglicans is interesting to me as one who has been around the Anglican church wars for thirty years: It contains clear and loud echoes of the “go away and God bless you” attitude long expressed toward traditional and conservative Anglicans in The Episcopal Church by hard-core revisionists such as Barbara Harris and contemporary TEC corporatists (including some who are soi disant conservatives, such as the current TEC bishop of Central Florida). It makes one wonder whether similar tactics might be adopted at some point by those who agree.

A relevant postscript

For some time, and at least in two articles circulated on the internet, I have made reference to what I call a fundamental difference of perception between what I call “mainstream Continuers” (those who adhere to the Affirmation of St Louis, such as TAC) and “new traditionalists” (such as the AMiA and the majority of the Common Cause Partership) on the nature of the Reformation, both in general and in its Anglican form. It is my belief that these differences go a long way toward explaining the matters which have exercised Dr Toon’s concern.

Simply put, the difference is this: Dr Toon, together with a significant body of opinion among those new traditionalists who have given the matter any thought, at least implicitly regards the English Reformation as being a completed work. Seemingly on account of this, the Church of England’s formularies – in particular the 39 Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer – have assumed a hermeneutical authority which sets them on a par with, or even above that of the Ecumenical Councils. By contrast, mainstream Continuers regard the Reformation as a work still in progress. In this view (which I believe accords with the mainstream of classical Anglican practice), it is the Articles and the BCP which need to be evaluated in light of the Councils and of Scripture rather than the other way ‘round.

(The reality of the situation is actually a bit more complex and confusing than one which simply sets the new traditionalists on the one side with the 1662 BCP and the Articles and the mainstream Continuers on the other with the 1928 BCP and the Seven Councils. Within the institutional camp of the new traditionalists are a number of people whose core convictions naturally place them in the ecclesiological orbit of the mainstream Continuers. Specifically I am thinking of those FiFNA dioceses, parishes, and people who make up a significant, albeit a minority, component of the Common Cause groupings.)

When responding to Dr Toon’s allegation last year that to accept the authority of seven rather than four Ecumenical Councils (and particularly that of the Seventh) was to go beyond genuinely Anglican principles, I expressed what I deem to be the mainstream Continuum position as follows:

… I think that the Reformation – including the English Reformation, which was far and away the most reforming and least revolutionary of the group – was an unfinished business, an opus interruptus, if you will. There are few things more frustrating than the movement which largely succeeds, yet remains incomplete in important respects, mostly having to do with the practical application of the triumphing principles (as my fellow Reagan revolutionaries in the political arena can testify). That being so, I do not believe that the Elizabethan Settlement of religion, for all its genius, is something the restoration of which ought to be pursued, not least because it is no longer possible to do so, since the idea of Christendom which it took for granted has long since passed from the status of a living reality to that of a poignant memory. The upheavals involved in the Great Rebellion (1637-49), the Commonwealth, and the Restoration Settlement (which produced the 1662 BCP) effectively stalled the completion of the English Reformation, and the process was not effectively re-started until the ecclesiastical reform movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Even then, it was a matter of “fits and starts” that had to await the collapse of Post-Constantinian Christendom to have a hope of fulfillment. …
[Samuel L. Edwards, “Dr Toon, the Anglican Churches,
and the 7th Council” (1 August 2006).]

In the end, it may be that only when the varied attitudes toward the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church are confronted – with specific reference to whether its objectives were or were not attained by 1662 – that both new traditionalists and mainstream Anglicans can sort out what it is they really want and with whom they have the most genuine affinity. In the meantime, (as Bishop Jack Iker) is fond of quoting, the challenge is to remember that, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” A major component of “the main thing” is this: “Ut unum sint.” No one’s arms are long enough to box with the one who makes that prayer.

Fr Samuel L. Edwards, SSM
Waynesville, North Carolina
18 October 2007


Michael said...

I didn't know until reading this that Fr. Edwards was now in the TAC. It is tremendously good to have him around; he writes well, and argues well for what we are doing.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely enjoy his clarity as it relates to the position of Dr. Toon and some of the "New Traditionalists."

Fr. Edwards joined our beloved SSM in late September. I'm glad he's with us!

Charles+ SSM

Fr. Michael + said...

What he said!

Michael+ SSM

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I am on record as saying that the most we can expect in Rome's response is the potential restoration of purposeful discussions with the See of Rome on the part of some large body of Anglicans. That, however, is no small matter. And, I hope that a purposeful discussion may come about to resume what was going on between Anglicans and the Orthodox. In 1976 women's "ordination" killed those talks in both directions; oh yes, they continue, but without purpose. Now we may see something worthwhile start afresh.

Obviously, the need for discussions presupposes that none of this is going to be strictly on Rome's terms- that is, not on their current terms.