The Branch Fact
In the past I have made it clear that we must not realign with either of them, but rather, we must remain Anglican. The Enthusiasm of the TAC bishops does not require an equal and opposite reaction, or any kind of rebound to that other large communion of churches. My point was that it is only as Anglicans who are both firm and intelligent in our commitment to our principles, that we could actually serve any cause of universal Catholic unity. The Orthodox Church has strengths, but also weaknesses, and even dangers; in this way it is to be approached as being very much like the Church of Rome. We respect her, and recognize her as a part of the Holy Catholic Church, but we have unresolved theological issues worthy of serious discussion.
I have called these two communions "the Two One True Churches," if scorning anything, scorning only that attitude of exclusiveness by which they cannot recognize us or each other. But, I hope I mean it as an expression of our disagreement, rather than as scorn (sinner that I am), with their shallow dismissal of what has been called "the branch theory." Simply, put, despite their reading into that phrase all sorts of dark erroneous notions about God planting His Church as wild and unruly by design, all it means is that, as various branches belong to one and the same tree with one and the same root, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has expressions of various peoples each with an ethos and history, each unhappily divided in polity and appearance from the others. If this is a theory it is like the theory of gravity; that is, it is a theory that expresses an undeniable fact. The Church is politically divided, but it is, nonetheless, one Church.
Against this fact the Two One True Churches treat it as some sort of dogma that the Church cannot have such a political division, and that therefore only one party can be the Church, and the others schismatic. But, when and where and how was that idea ever revealed? It has never been revealed, having no support from Scripture, and no support from any declared dogma in Antiquity. It has no universal consensus, and by its nature cannot; for, all it has is opposing parties throwing it at each other like a weapon, while comforting themselves by it without so much as the possibility of universal consensus once it has been invoked.
What has been revealed if not the following? The Church is entered through baptism into Christ, governed and taught by bishops in Apostolic Succession, and derives it life and power from the word of God and from his holy sacraments. In any given locality, to find the Church one need look only for this: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same (opening to Article XIX)." To look for anything more requires a talent impossible for any person, a certain knowledge that this Catholic Body with sacraments and the word of God is the True Church, and that one not, though they have alike the necessary visible marks as Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
You may ask, "what about 'One'?" Why have I omitted that "mark of the Church?" The context has, in terms of what can be used as a measure in any practical way, given the hard reality, ruled that out. But, in terms of "One," in that each of these congregations is Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, what is visible, at least to all who possess Right Reason (which seems to be Anglicans exclusively in this matter), is that they are all One Church, just as the red-headed freckle-faced O'Toole children are all one brood of siblings in one family, no matter how much they scatter from each other once they leave the house. They all have four marks: Red hair, freckled faces, the last name O'Toole, and the same parents. Which one is the real O'Toole, if not the real McCoy? That seems, at least to the Reasonable Anglican mind, a silly question.
Nonetheless, among the things that divide stands one that must be dealt with honestly and objectively. That is, doctrine. Modern Anglicans have been forced to take a stand among all of those who use the same name. That is why we have The Affirmation of St. Louis, and why we have to treat it as equal to the formularies in importance, inasmuch as we live in a time of open and unashamed errors that threaten to destroy the life of the Church from within. It is why we insist on reading Scripture with the mind of the Church as expressed from the very beginning, with the Vincentian principles of Universal Consensus and Antiquity.
Unfortunately, we have some who confuse Medieval innovations with Universal Consensus, and with doctrines that date to Antiquity. Some people have confusion about the place of Scripture, forgetting that in Ecumenical (if you prefer, Oecumencial) Council the Fathers used the Scriptures to prove or disprove doctrinal ideas. They saw in the Scriptures the mind of Christ by his Apostles recorded in a public record, and were certain that no essential doctrine was established that was not written in them and drawn from them. They saw, too, that the Scriptures were given by God from within the Church, and were therefore inseparable from the teaching of the Church as handed down from the beginning. The Universal teaching of the Church cannot be, therefore, merely what any one See or Patriarchate declares by its own authority; nor can it be found by the knee jerk reaction of modern Catholics, be they Roman, "Anglo-" or Orthodox. Universally accepted doctrine must be determined by evidence on an objective level, not by what feels right according to taste.
Therefore, to be both firmly and intelligently Anglican requires us to base our Faith on Scripture as understood within the Tradition of the Church in its first millennium, before the Great Schism divided the Church into camps (at least for all practical purposes). We must interpret Scripture according to Universal Consensus and Antiquity. This is why we have formularies: Not to create our own standard, but to eliminate any standard other than what we know to be true and reliable, and ultimately, to have been revealed to God's holy Apostles and Prophets as the faith once delivered to the saints. On one hand we must avoid innovation, on the other we must let nothing slip or be lost.
Specifically, we see in Rome innovations that we cannot accept as true doctrine, including their doctrine concerning the papacy itself. In Orthodoxy we see what appears to be a possible omission, if not in their formal doctrine, in popular perception. Part of this can be drawn, as unsuitable as it feels, from one of the documents in which Anglican Orders were recognized as valid by the Patriarch of Alexandria in 1930, in the footnotes:
" We transliterate the term, thusia hilasterios, and do not translate it by propitiatory sacrifice, or expiatory sacrifice, because, as generally used, these terms present conceptions which are not attached by the Orthodox to thusia hilasterios. The words used by the Anglican Bishops in their discussions with the Orthodox Delegation, as recorded in the Resume, and endorsed by the Lambeth Conference are: '… that the Anglican Church teaches the doctrine of Eucharistic Sacrifice as explained in the Answer of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Pope Leo XIII, on Anglican Ordinations: and also that in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Anglican Church prays that "by the merits and death of Thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in His Blood, we and all Thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His Passion," as including the whole company of faithful people, living and departed.' Lambeth Conference Report, 1930."
Gratifying as those words are, for setting straight any notion that our view of Eucharistic Sacrifice is not in accord with the mind of the Church Universal, it begs the question of whether they rejected the Medieval western view of "propitiatory sacrifice, or expiatory sacrifice" merely as belonging to each Mass as separate sacrifice, or whether this suggests an overall dislike of the Gospel truth that Christ on His cross offered the propitiatory and expiatory sacrifice. Sadly, a trend among some Orthodox writers in our time, that is very unorthodox, is to treat the sacrifice Christ offered of his own death to atone for the sins of fallen mankind, with embarrassment, as an invention of St. Anselm, or as peculiarly western.
Where we find this trend, we must, in any serious discussion, ask for an accounting. The Bible uses the language of sacrifice when speaking of Christ's "once and for all" offering of Himself on the cross, the One for the many, the Suffering Servant whose soul was poured out unto death for the sins of the whole world. It reveals that he offered Himself willingly to satisfy the demands of perfect and eternal justice, without which God Himself would have violated His own righteousness, and therefore compromised His own holiness, if He were to forgive the fallen children of Adam.
"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 8:23-26)
We see this trend, to reject atonement and sacrifice, as no inherent or necessary part of Orthodoxy, but as an issue cropping up in modern times, and needing resolution. We see it also as involving a necessary doctrine without which there is no Gospel.