Recent discussion of a Statement of Faith of the Anglican Catholic Church (written by the late Abp Stephens, then Primate) led to disagreement over whether individual members or churches of the TAC could agree to it in good conscience. It was claimed that acceptance of Roman Catholic dogma, as has been signalled recently by the bishops of the TAC, was incompatible with acceptance of the Abp Stephen's statement. I support the position that there is nothing in the ACC's statement manifestly contradicted by RC dogma, since, in regard to the main purported contradiction, the ACC accepting Seven Ecumenical Councils is not, according to a strictly literal and grammatical interpretation, contradictory to also accepting other, later Councils as Ecumenical (unless the qualifier “only” is added to the “Seven”, which it was not).
However, during this discussion a more substantial point was made, namely, that one could not accept the authority of the Council of Trent and be faithfully Anglican Catholic. Given that, at the very least, I do not perceive Trent as anything like an insurmountable obstacle between us and the RCC, I thought it was important for me to explain why.
What has puzzled me about these claims of Tridentine error and offensiveness is how entirely non-specific they have been. That is to say, no actual example of doctrinal error has been given, instead we are told to have “no truck with Trent”. This echoes the approach of C. B. Moss, a famous High Church theologian, who made Trent the dividing line between Anglican and Roman Catholics, but only seemed to give one specific reason for this. And that reason was that at Trent the RCC had taught that dogma did not need Scriptural support, but could rely on extra-Scriptural Tradition alone. While this is certainly inconsistent with Anglican formularies and the Patristic Consensus, the RC theologian Tavard has shown that it is not a necessary interpretation of the Tridentine decrees. Indeed, at Trent it was actually suggested that it be said the Church derived its doctrines “partly” from Scripture and “partly” from Tradition. This suggestion was rejected, so the belief that binding doctrine is to be all derived from Scripture as interpreted by Tradition (i.e., the Anglican Catholic position) is not excluded by Trent. It is also worth noting that Newman maintained and defended this view of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition even after he transferred from the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church, and without censure. So, no insurmountable obstacle there.
Is the Tridentine way of expressing this and other teachings entirely felicitous, or always the most suitable? Probably not. But even RCs are not obliged to say it is. All that is asked is that the parts of the Council's statements that are binding and de fide be accepted as without error. Not every part of these statements are binding in the same way or to the same degree, by the way. Many were disciplinary only. The dogmatic Canons with anathemas attached are binding, whereas, as I understand it, the long doctrinal Chapters of Decrees are to be accepted in their general sense (and in conformity with the Canons), with not every sentence necessarily infallible. So, to complain of Anglo-Papalists supposedly having to affirm all Trent's statements unreservedly (as wholly and absolutely infallible) would be attacking a straw man.
Now, it is pretty clear that much of the rest of Tridentine teaching is entirely consistent with Anglican Catholicism. We too affirm 7 sacraments, Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Invocation of Saints, the relative honouring of images, etc., etc. The areas I can see where apparent obstacles may be claimed are as follows: first, the Canon of Scripture; second, Purgatory and Indulgences; third, Transubstantiation; fourth, the legitimacy of withholding the chalice from communicants; fifth, the strict necessity to forgiveness of mortal sins of sacramental confession or the desire for it; and, sixth, the definition of Justification.
The first obstacle is very small indeed once one realises that the Tridentine dogma on the Canon of the Scripture does not say whether different parts have different levels of authority, as I think Pusey also noted. Since we include all the books the RCC does, though giving the Deuterocanonical books less authority (though they are quoted as the word of God in the Homilies of Article XXXV), there is no contradiction.
The second issue I have dealt with here, and resolution of apparent differences is possible.
As for the third issue, there have been a long line of RC theologians in good standing, both pre- and post-Tridentine, who define Transubstantiation, in non-materialistic ways that eschew pseudo-scientific accounts, as a real transformation of the fundamental identity and being (the “quidditas”) of the Elements into the Body and Blood through a spiritual presence, while acknowledging the persisting reality of the Elements in their material properties, this position being perfectly Patristic and compatible with Anglican Catholicism, as argued persuasively by many Anglican theologians, including the great Bishop Forbes of the 19th Century.
The fourth item on the list refers to Trent's affirmation that the Church had good reason for withholding the chalice and that denial of this is sinful. While it is hard not to criticise this position, the fact is that it is not really a dogmatic decree but a condemnation of those disagreeing with a past disciplinary, prudential decision. Dissenting from the Tridentine statements that the “holy Catholic Church” had “just reasons” to do this might involve the view that since the East never did this, the “holy Catholic Church” did not do it either, so the relevant canon defends an act which we do not condemn because we do not believe it ever occurred in the way claimed! Or, we might simply say that we differ on the justness of this disciplinary action (as we do on the justness of non-vernacular liturgies for so many centuries in the mediaeval Western Church), but in doing so merely dissent from a non-infallible, non-dogmatic decree and canon. (Trent's dogmatic argument that the communicant is not absolutely commanded by divine precept to communicate in both kinds is not a doctrinal barrier, since Anglicans have never condemned those communicating only in one kind for medical or other reasons.)
The fifth issue dissolves once one discovers that Trent also stated that the requirement for sacramental confession in particular circumstances was due to “ecclesiastical usage”. In other words, in itself it is not a matter of Divine law. (However, Scriptural, Anglican and Patristic teaching would imply that normally reconciliation of notorious sinners does intrinsically require sacramental confession and absolution for the sake of the Body. And the Council of Trent does say that the specific confession of all remembered mortal sins, public or not, is mandated by Divine right within sacramental confession, this position having roots in the Canons of the undivided Church.) Therefore, the relevant Tridentine statements on the necessity of sacramental confession for those conscious of mortal sin, no matter how contrite, before partaking of the Eucharist are actually historically conditioned disciplinary decrees, strictly peaking, not dogmatic, and thus are not irreformable.
As for the definition of Justification, and soteriology in general, I hope to write more on this issue soon and to do so in an eirenic context. However, there is certainly nothing in the Anglican formularies that absolutely forbids allowing the word “justification” to have impartational connotations as well as imputational ones. Indeed, one of the Homilies referred to in the Articles, “For the Rogation-days”, says: “To justify a sinner, to new create him from a wicked person to a righteous man, is a greater act, saith St Augustine, than to make such a new heaven and earth as is already made.” But it is only such a complete rejection of impartational connotations that is anathematised by Trent! As I have noted before, the intrinsic (and even, in some sense, causal) connection between the forgiveness and renewal aspects of salvation is explicitly taught in the Book of Common Prayer, when we pray that the baptised “may receive remission of sin by spiritual regeneration”. This is consistent with the Tridentine description of sanctifying grace as the “formal cause” of justification. (Ironically, Calvin himself, as I learned recently, taught that there was for Christians such a thing as a non-imputational aspect of salvation that could be termed “righteousness” or “justice”, which was conceptually and really, though not verbally, distinct from imputational justification. Hooker did the same, using the terms “first justification” and “second justification”.)
In conclusion, I contend, along with respected Anglo-Catholics of the past, that Trent is not so terrible after all (though far from perfect) and, if understood in the light of the larger Tradition, is entirely capable of Orthodox interpretation and as such neither proof of Roman heresy nor an insuperable barrier to reconciliation.