Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Two rights don't make a wrong

"The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance and Unction of the Sick, as objective and effective signs of the continued presence and saving activity of Christ our Lord among His people and as His covenanted means for conveying His grace. In particular, we affirm the necessity of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist (where they may be had) -- Baptism as incorporating us into Christ (with its completion in Confirmation as the "seal of the Holy Spirit"), and the Eucharist as the sacrifice which unites us to the all-sufficient Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the Sacrament in which He feeds us with His Body and Blood."

From The Affirmation of St. Louis

"Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

From Article XXV Of the Sacraments."

About five years ago I had an interesting conversation via email with Dr. Peter Toon concerning the above quoted portion of The Affirmation of St. Louis. Whereas he had no interest in refuting the number seven for sacraments, he believed that the Continuing Anglican document demanded too much and in doing so exceeded the limits of what Anglicans may be required to believe. He believed the same about the portion that says we hold to

"The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by 'the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,' and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern."

Even though he had written a defense for the Second Council of Nicea (787 AD), which was the Seventh Ecumenical Council, he also found fault with the Continuing Church for affirming all seven of these ancient Councils. This, he believed, exceeded what was required by the formularies of Anglicanism, and therefore we were not continuing, but rather requiring more, something altogether new. Anglicans had always affirmed the first four in no uncertain terms, but had not said much about the latter three. His disagreement was not with the count of seven, but with affirming that as the definitive Anglican position.

Needless to say, it was challenging to have a mind as astute as that of the late Dr. Toon to engage in friendly debate, as his erudition and intellect were deserving of the excellent reputation that has outlived him. A superficial knee-jerk answer would stand no chance against his ability. Therefore, I took time to think on a deeper than surface level. Fortunately, I had already taken the time to think these matters through to some extent, and this conversation provided the occasion to complete those thoughts. At the end of the conversation he still saw it his way, and I still saw it my way, only I had a better perspective.

Looking back, however, it has become quite apparent that any disagreement about the count of Sacraments or Ecumenical Councils, as such (rather than about what may be required of any man, that it should be believed, in order to be "authentically Anglican"-whatever that is supposed to mean), is a surface issue entirely. It lacks depth. If we are to make a case for our position as Continuing Anglicans who hold to The Affirmation of St. Louis, we need to go below the surface, with its endless distraction of mere nominalism, and its unending opportunities for knee-jerk reactions and labels, and ask the question that is found just a few leagues under the sea.

That question is, in genuinely Anglican terms, are we discussing contradictory ideas or are we discussing complementary ideas? If we look no deeper than the surface we will assume that the ideas clash in opposition, and we will answer only according to partisan positions. Such shallow debate has been carried on in Anglican circles between different factions, such as between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. But, theology cannot be decided along party lines. It must be measured by the truth, both from revelation and from history.

To this day I recall my first Church History professor, Aristeides Papadakis, taking a puff on his cigarette in the hall of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (U.M.B.C.-imagine that, smoking a cigarette inside the university building), and saying to me, "Remember, Robert, you can never be a theologian unless you are a historian." So, we must measure the question before us in terms of theology and history.

Counting the sacraments

To ascertain if the two quotations, one from the Affirmation and one from Article XXV, clash or blend, we need to consider sacramental theology in light of the sixteenth century. Furthermore, we must interpret Article XXV in the light of another portion of that formulary we call the Book of Common Prayer, namely the Catechism. In answer to the question, "How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?" is written the following answer: "Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord."

The question was not, how many sacraments are revealed in the Scriptures, but specifically, how many hath Christ ordained in his Church? The question is about what Jesus Christ Himself instituted on the earth while physically present as the Incarnate Word in a particular location in measurable history. For this reason, Baptism and the Lord's Supper are called Dominical Sacraments inasmuch as they were instituted by the Lord Jesus (Dominus Iesus). For this reason, Article XXV also calls them "sacraments of the Gospel." As I have written elsewhere:

"Only these two sacraments have been established by Christ in the Gospel. Of the other five, those sacraments that are not 'generally necessary to salvation,' and some of which are not meant for everybody (e.g., marriage and orders), the New Covenant has empowered them with deeper and richer meaning; but everyone of those five are in the Old Testament, beginning with marriage during the time of Man's innocency. 1 Moses gave the Hebrews laws for the ordination of the Levitical priests, and did himself ordain Joshua prefiguring Apostolic Succession. 2 When Samuel anointed David, the shepherd boy and future king was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to be a prophet, prefiguring Confirmation. 3 Absolution belonged to the Levitical priests who heard confession and made atonement. 4 It was prefigured also by the Prophet Nathan. 5 Healing is a constant theme in the Old Testament, with Levitical priests who cleansed the lepers by washing, sacrifice and anointing (leaving after Baptism nothing for the Church to follow except the anointing and prayer), 6 as well as the miracles of Elijah and Elisha."

In fact, both the Catechism and Article XXV are abundantly clear in not referring to the Sacraments of the Gospel as the only sacraments, and by using the expression, "commonly called,"7 Article XXV affirms the other sacraments as such. The Catechism does not answer a question about the total number of sacraments, but about the two that "are generally necessary to salvation," being the same two that are Dominical Sacraments, that is, Sacraments of the Gospel. Article XXV does not say that the other five (also called sometimes by Anglican teachers the "minor sacraments") have not the nature of sacraments, but rather says very carefully, that they "have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God" (emphasis mine). "Like nature" as in like what? The answer is provided, as you see plainly, in the sentence itself. They are not like Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Each of these two has an ordained sign and ceremony, established by Jesus Christ Himself. 8 Such is not the case with the five sacraments the Church inherited from the people of Israel under the Old Covenant, which lack these Divinely ordained details, are not Sacraments of the Gospel instituted by Christ in His Church, and are not generally necessary for salvation. 9

So, then, depending on how we are speaking of Sacraments, it is correct to say there are seven, but also correct to emphasize the two that everyone, generally speaking, needs to receive. The insistence on seven and the emphasis on two, do not contradict, but complement each other. It is correct to say Christ established these two in His Church, while believing also in all seven of them.

In history, we cannot find ancient authors counting the sacraments. We do not see a narrowing of the sacraments to an exact count of seven until the early Middle Ages. The Bible does not reveal anywhere a specific number, or provide a list of things called sacraments. Rather, the Church has recognized from Scripture that seven mysteries share certain characteristics. Man acts with a Form (a ceremony that involves words), with Intention to carry out a specific act for a specific purpose, uses the Matter of God's good creation, and because of this, God Himself responds in a manner that is predictable fulfilling a promise, and thereby imparting grace.

Later, in the Church of England, we find Richard Hooker, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, calling ordination a sacrament in Book III of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, while writing only about Baptism and Holy Communion in Book V when discussing Sacraments as growing from the Incarnation, and as a means of saving grace. He did not contradict himself, but merely wrote as an Anglican, that is, as a reformed catholic who passed on the teaching of "the ancient Catholic doctors and bishops."

Clearly, we may see the complementary nature of using both numbers in the same manner as Article XXV and The Affirmation of St. Louis.

Counting the Ecumenical Councils

The number of Councils presents a less complicated question, and can be explained only as Dr. Papadakis taught me long ago, by Theology and History. The study of Theology requires much time going over Nicea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus and Chalcedon, and does not give equal emphasis to the last three Ecumenical Councils (Constantinople II, Constantinople III and Nicea II). This is because the student of Theology must be grounded in the Biblical doctrines that were defended in the first four Ecumenical Councils. For the simple, and rather obvious, fact, is that all of the formulative work of clarification, definition and even credal formulae, was accomplished in the first four Ecumenical Councils. The last three of the Seven Ecumenical Councils performed an easier task, which was to defend the work of the first four. For example, the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) merely drove home the major work of the fourth Council (Chalcedon 451 AD), applying what it defended and clarified about the Incarnation to the heresy of Iconoclasm. It has equal authority, but not equal significance.


The numbers remain seven and seven respectively, but all things are not equal in their importance (just as anointing for healing is not as important as baptism, or the Third Council of Constantinople as important as the first Council of Nicea). If we must choose battles, let us choose real battles; and if we must debate, let us restrict that debate to genuine contradictions. Two rights do not make a wrong.

1. Gen. 2:21-25. See "Grace and Sacraments" part I.
2. Deut. 34:9, John 20:21-23, I Tim. 5:22, II Tim. 1:6; 2:2, Titus 1:5
3. I Sam. 16:13, Acts 8:14f
4. Lev. 1:4, and all of chapter 4.
5. II Sam. 12:13
6. Lev. 14:17-19 in context.

7. In that other essay I said also:

I have been criticized on other blogs for my perfectly correct understanding of the simple phrase 'commonly called.' To modern ears, and so to careless and slothful readers, it comes across as a negation: "This is what people have said." But, the phrase was understood as an affirmation, and this we see from its usage throughout titles in editions of the Bible (e.g. The First book of Samuel, Commonly called The first Book of the Kings), the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (THE SUPPER OF THE LORDE AND THE HOLY COMMUNION, COMMONLY CALLED THE MASSE), or the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-day of Christ, Commonly called Christmas-Day). That this phrase, 'commonly called' should be seen as an affirmation in all these usages, but as a negation only in Article XXV, is simply absurd. Nonetheless, here we have Hooker as our witness, that such a phrase would have been understood only as affirming rather than negating: '...for in the writings of the ancient Fathers all articles which are peculiar to Christian faith, all duties of religion containing that which sense or natural reason cannot of itself discern, are most commonly named Sacraments.' (Emphasis mine)

8. Also from that essay:

"That these five are sacraments, but not sacraments of the Gospel, is not difficult, therefore, to understand. Neither is it a problem that "they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.'The Church may administer them with ceremonies that are established lawfully from Right Reason. But, in Baptism we have been given a ceremony that Christ himself established, if only by commanding the use of a Form: 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' Also, though the Church was given the Right Reason to establish valid Forms, the Supper of the Lord was established to be carried out with at least as much ceremony as Christ himself used, by blessing the bread and the Cup, by breaking the bread, and by giving it to his disciples as his Body and Blood. '...this do in remembrance of me...this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.' What is this that we do? The bread is blessed and broken, then it must be taken and eaten with appreciation of what it has become by the word of God. The cup is blessed, and then we must drink from it, mindful of what the word of God has made it. And, as Cranmer and Hooker both emphasized, unless and until the bread is eaten, and unless and until the cup is received, the ceremony is incomplete, Christ having established at least these minimum standards of words and action as a ceremony with Form, Matter and Intention.

9. Also from my previous essay:
"... 'a corrupt following of the Apostles' does not mean corruption in a moral sense, but in the sense of a corrupted manuscript, mistranslated or suffering deletions. What except for 'a corrupt following of the Apostles' could have turned the Anointing for Healing into Extreme Unction? Yes, the Bible gives a basis for anointing the dying, in that the sacrament carries with it the grace of Absolution, and in that the greatest healing will be the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day."


Fr. John said...

It's great to have this piece on the internet. I hope many people read it. Do you object to it being posted on other blogs?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I would be very happy for the essay to be carried on other blogs.

Canon Tallis said...

Papadakis should be proud of you and I, for my case, am extemely thankful for you.

But also, for my part, I was always told that the reason for the break between the seven and the four was that in the last three the disciplinary canons diverged in very significant ways from the teaching of the New Testament. In short, the disciplinary canons had to be rejected while the theological teaching was accepted as being in accord with that of the Old Testament and the New.

In this time of exceptional crisis, I hate to divert your attention from the more critical issues, but would certainly appreciate it if you might find to comment.


Anonymous said...

Let me add my words of appreciation for this fine essay! Thanks, Fr Hart for another 'good word'.

Doubting Thomas