Cardinal Newman 1873
In May of 2005 I received a phone call from a former APCK bishop named Robert Waggener, who was associated with FiF at the time. He had been reading Fr. Al Kimmel’s Pontifications blog (they had been friends since the days when both of them were in the Episcopal Church), and he was very much in agreement with Fr. Kimmel that Anglicans reserved for themselves a personal right to “Private Judgment” that placed them outside of the Holy Catholic Church of the creeds. He asked me this question: “So, where do you think I should lead my people to get away from the problem of Private Judgment? Rome or Orthodoxy?” I replied: “What makes you think that Roman Catholics and the Orthodox indulge in Private Judgment less than anybody else?” He had no answer to this question. (I am glad that the pope is very sound in his beliefs; but how does that save an American Roman Catholic who is not?)
At the time of his call, the Pontifications blog was endorsing the idea that Episcopalians should flee their “church” (we agree) to either one of the two One True Churches, Rome or Orthodoxy- that is, when you get to the fork in the road, take it. Since that time Fr. Kimmel has become a Roman Catholic priest under the terms of the Pastoral Provisions (as my brother Addison had done several years earlier), and Bishop Waggener has become an Orthodox priest, having taken the name Alban. I have no disagreement with the direction taken by either man, and believe that we may trust that both of them were guided to their respective homes by the Holy Spirit. Of course, neither one can say the same about the other, since only an Anglican can rejoice equally for both men. Each of them believes that the other has missed the mark just enough to have settled for something less than the One True Church in all of its fullness.
We do not agree with that. We believe that both of them remain in the One True Church, the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the Nicene/ Constantinopolitan Creed, which is the same as “the Holy Catholic Church” of the Apostle’s Creed, and that they profess “the Catholic Faith” as taught in the Creed of St. Athanasius (i.e., named after him), also called the Quicumque vult. We believe that without the sacraments that depend on the Apostolic Succession of bishops and the teaching of the True Faith, no one can claim to be in the Church as Christ himself founded it, but that with these things in place, no baptized and faithful Christian can be outside of that same Catholic and Apostolic Church. Therefore, we cannot say of ourselves, as traditional Catholic Anglicans, that we are not of the Body; and neither can they say to us that we do not belong to the Body (I Cor. 12: 15-22). Our Apostolic Succession, and our continuation of true Apostolic teaching, makes us a part of the same Church as the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, and to this Church belongs everyone who has been baptized into Christ, even though many are ignorant of the full truth of what the Church is.
Some among the Anglo-Catholics are not as bold to say this with the same degree of confidence as I. But, like the late Fr. Louis Tarsitano, I am an Anglican by conviction. I believe that it is a good option, and I recommend the Anglican Way as the best of all. That is why I have fought for the Faith against the heresies of the Episcopalians, and entered into this Anglican diaspora. It is why I carry on from here. I respect and love both Rome and Orthodoxy, but not to the point where I must decide between them, and not to the point where I have any perceived need to enter either communion.
Clarifications: Branch Theory
Two questions need to be answered by Traditional Catholic/Evangelical Classic Anglicans. First, we must answer for the “Branch Theory” and then we must answer the charge of “Private Judgment.”
The Branch Theory is error if by it we mean, or even imply, that Christ founded his Church to be divided into different jurisdictions without unity. But, this is not what we mean. The fact is the Church exists among many cultures and languages, and is meant to include people from “every kindred and tongue, people and nation (Rev. 5:9).” Therefore, it is meant to have within it divisions, since all of these cultures will have their differences as people; but these divisions are the Divisions of one army, all on the same side in the same war. However, due to original sin and its very real influence through the world, the flesh and the Devil, history has placed us within a Church that is One, but that has outward and apparent disunity. These facts do not actually divide the Church in the eyes of God, or destroy its spiritual unity. They do affect it politically, and create problems within the real world. A Branch Theory which teaches that a divine plan is the source of the apparent divisions, as organic and necessary to the Church, would be wrong. A Branch Theory, however, that simply acknowledges the reality on the ground of a Church rendered politically divided by history not of our own making, but that acknowledges the presence of the Holy Spirit within Christ’s Body the Church exactly as he has promised, is also a Branch Fact.
A man and wife are made into one flesh. This does not mean that they will get along with each other unless both of them make the effort with true commitment. Even if they obtain a divorce, they remain one flesh as long as they both shall live, since their unity through the fact of marriage is as close to indelible as mortality allows. Our unity is also a fact. Are we so arrogant as to imagine that Christ’s words “that they may be one, even as we are one (John 17: 22)” were His prayer to us. These are words spoken by a Person of the Trinity to a Person of the Trinity- the Son speaking to the Father. With those words, Christ was not in some dependent manner begging us to become one. He declared us to be one in fact, just as through human mouths he declares the couple to be one flesh as man and wife. If the man and wife set up separate houses these become facts on the ground, legal facts that indicate that the reality of original sin has had its effect on them through the world, the flesh and the Devil. It indicates their failure to get along. Neither of them can claim to be the one true spouse to the exclusion of the other.
The apparent and political divisions of the Church existed between the Roman Patriarch and the Orthodox Patriarchs long before the Church of England was jettisoned out (by excommunication) from Rome’s communion in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, for the “heresy” of not starting a civil war and murdering the monarch. Furthermore, in a given locality we may find the jurisdictions of more than one Orthodox bishop, and also of more than one bishop who answers to Rome. In the same place we find Catholic bishops who can be from any number of the Byzantine Catholic churches, usually keeping their distance from the local Roman (as in Latin Rite) bishop in order to avoid strife. In the same city we find Orthodox bishops who are OCA, Greek, Russian or Antiochene. Yet, add to this one Continuing Anglican bishop, and we are told that the man espouses a Branch theory, and so represents disorder. What is wrong with this picture? Can anyone blame us for not taking the objection seriously?
There is a branch fact, if not of divine making, nonetheless operating within God’s providence and economy.
The Myth of Private Judgment
The man we most associate with the charge that Anglicans reserve a right to “Private Judgement” is Cardinal Newman. When John Henry Newman converted to Roman Catholicism, he wrote quite a lot about his past affiliation, comparing the two. It would be wrong to say that he did not make valid criticisms that we can lay to heart, and it would be wrong to deny his brilliance (and the power of his prose). But, it would be wrong to conclude that his apologetics were self-evidently true. He rejected the Vincentian Canon, that we must hold to that which has been believed “always, everywhere and by all" (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est) for the simple reason that Rome was headed in the direction that finally produced the novelty of "Papal Infallibility” in 1870 (a hitherto unknown doctrine, rejected in the official Catechisms of the Roman Catholic Church only a few years before). His theory of Doctrinal Development boils down to a simple formula. Christ’s promise that the Spirit of Truth would lead the Church into all truth (John 16:13), means that revelation itself may progress as perceived by the Roman Magisterium, and must be accepted as dogma. He would not have worded it that way; but, it is the reasonable definition both of his theory, and of the teaching of Vatican I.
Against this we say that the Church received the fullness of revelation from its earliest times, and all that has developed is the application of this revelation, and the need both for definition and clarification; and that these were the products of the Ecumenical Councils as they were, in fact, guided by the Spirit of Truth.
We do not claim that we have “no need” of that part of the Body that is called the Magisterium in Rome; indeed, we respect the Petrine See, especially in their boldness and sense of pastoral responsibility when they take on the ethical challenges of the modern world with diligence to produce clarity in all issues of morality; no small consideration in practical pastoral theology. They are part of the Body, and this moral teaching authority may be one of their gifts from the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, in their work they apply the clear teaching of scripture to the matters at hand, a tool available to all of us. Does this really fit Newman’s theory of Doctrinal Development? They could not depend on his theory anyway, since it was never accepted as the official teaching of their communion, which prefers to base its papal claims on what they perceive to be in the Bible and in a consistent Tradition of the Church from earliest times (claims that the Orthodox Patriarchs rejected long before the sixteenth century).
So then, what of Private Judgment? St. Paul taught “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind (Rom. 14:5)” about less than essential issues. And yet, how can we imagine that he did not have a double edged intention in the use of these words? Consider that faith in the word of God must reach a level by which we so truly believe the doctrine of Christ, that we are “fully persuaded” just St. Justin Martyr was. Before his death, the saint was asked by the magistrate, “do you suppose that [if you die for your Christ] you will be granted some recompense of reward?” Saint Justin replied: “I do not suppose it. I know, and am fully persuaded of it.” And so, he yielded his life in service to the Lord. This is the level our faith must reach. If we allow ourselves a right to Private Judgment we can never be the stuff of which martyrs are made. And, frankly, that is the stuff that must be the substance of a Christian. Our own judgment must yield to the teaching authority of the Church so that we hear the Spirit of Truth; not our interpretation of scripture, but "that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." And thus, by His grace we become so fully persuaded that His truth becomes the very fabric of our thinking.
Can an Anglican do this? Of course he can. We do not rely on private opinions any more than our Eastern Rite Catholic, Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends. And, sadly, many of them do not rely on private opinions any less than the same Episcopalians for whose escape and salvation we earnestly pray. We mortify our Private Judgment with the weapons of Scripture, and the Right Reason of The Church (or Tradition), that is, Scripture and the Universal Consensus of Antiquity- on the whole quite sufficient. Yielding to these as our authority is not "private judgment." It requires that we say credo to what God has revealed, and that we live by it.