Thursday, June 10, 2010


In years past I was known for my defense of the 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus, inasmuch as it affirms the universal mission of the Church in an era when Christians have been accused of grave evil for daring to free people from the superstition and fear of pagan systems, bringing the light of Christ and his salvation by their missionary endeavors. The essential message of the document was expressed in a passage of Scripture, which it quotes: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Also, it affirms in no uncertain terms the inspiration of Holy Scripture, stating ever so frankly about the Books of the Bible, "These books have God as their Author." Indeed, there is much in that one document that expresses our common ground with the Church of Rome on dogmatic matters, and concerning the necessity of Christian mission to all peoples, tongues, tribes and nations (Rev. 5:9).

True to their beliefs, however, they could not discuss the mission of the Church and salvation without reference to their particular views on the See of Rome and its Bishop as the universal Patriarch, with his primacy over the whole Church throughout the world. According to their beliefs, this role is almost sacramental in essence, and it affects the validity of everyone else's sacraments. In modern times they present the idea with a positive approach, emphasizing that they believe, as the document says (itself quoting earlier documents stretching back to Vatican II), "they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

In their defense, they did not create this document in order to dismiss the validity of other churches, and neither can they make a formal statement of doctrine without respect to what they firmly hold to be the truth. In fact, they cannot discuss salvation in its fullest sense without explaining the Catholic Church as they understand it (and neither can we, as we understand it). I criticized then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, for reacting to the document as if the Church of Rome had produced Dominus Iesus just to insult the Church of England and the Anglican Communion even as it is, in its current, modern state of chaos. In fact, the Vatican document was more gentle to the Anglican Communion than any of us who write for this blog, and did not mention it at all by name.

Carey's big mistake

The one "pull quote from Dominus Iesus that received all the attention, largely due to Dr. Carey, was this (loaded, as it is, with words that came long before in Vatican II):

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.

Aware of the conclusion of the 1896 Bull, Apostolicae Curae, that Anglican orders are "absolutely null and utterly void,"1 Dr. Carey was right to interpret these words as meaning that Anglicans belong to something less than the Catholic Church as Rome defines it. That the Archbishops of England (Canterbury and York), in their 1897 response Saepius Officio, answered the 1896 Bull to the satisfaction of educated Anglicans everywhere, should be sufficient for anyone who holds to the Affirmation of St. Louis as a Continuing Anglican. We are confident that Rome was wrong in 1896, and we need not belabor this point again, having covered it quite well, all these years, on The Continuum.

In light of the words that were in Dominus Iesus, which words were by no means new and shocking, Archbishop Carey should have responded to this effect: Inasmuch as Rome has again declared, "The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches," we stand by our conviction that they ought to regard Anglican churches as "true particular Churches" at the very least. We know our Apostolic Succession and all other sacraments to be valid.

(In saying that, I have not forgotten the position of the Anglican Catholic Church as expressed in our own edition of the Affirmation of St. Louis, attached to the following section:

The Continuation of Communion with Canterbury

We affirm our continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion.

To this we attach:

Note: Because of the action of General Synod of the Church of England, Parliament, and the Royal Assent, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Catholic Church is obliged no longer to count the See of Canterbury as a faithful part of the Anglican Communion.)

Members in particular

The issue for Continuing Anglicans, however, is that the defense by the Archbishops of England is our defense, that we have valid sacraments to the fullest. More so, membership in the Church is membership in the Body of Christ, and therefore membership in Christ Himself. St. Paul wrote:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (I Corinthians 12: 12-18, 27)

The teaching of St. Paul does not give room for such concepts as "true particular churches" that possess less than "the fullness" in Christ. When Anglicans say the Apostles Creed, the words "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," are not the expression of our deepest aspiration, but rather of our faith in an accomplished fact. So too, the words of the Creed called Nicene (really the Creed of Constantinople I), "I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." To be in the Catholic Church is to be "in Christ" by baptism, living a life of faith that is nurtured by God's word and His holy sacraments.

Though I have defended the Church of Rome for producing Dominus Iesus, and have praised the merits of that document, it is important that Continuing Anglicans reject any notion that we could be in merely "an ecclesial community," and just as important that we reject the notion that what we are part of is "a true particular church" merely united to the Catholic Church and its "fullness" even if "by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist." The phrase "ecclesial community" is meaningless, inasmuch as the community called in the New Testament the Ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) is what is identified in the Creeds as the Catholic Church. And, any "true particular church" is merely a local expression of the Catholic Church, and as such is the Body of Christ, making each member of it a member in particular of the Body of Christ, His Bride, His Church.

The philosophical abstraction by which people may be in Christ by degree is not consistent with the doctrine taught from the beginning, that our baptism makes us full members of Christ, and that since we are in Christ we have the fullness of grace given already, as well as the fullness of obligation to live by that grace. Furthermore, sacraments are either valid or invalid, not more or less full depending on how much we agree with one Bishop of one See, no matter how ancient that See may be, and no matter what its historical origin. To be in Christ has nothing whatsoever to do with the historical claims of any See or Patriarchate. We cannot possibly lack "the fullness" of grace simply because we have not submitted to one Patriarch and his alleged primacy. The Church's polity exists rightly to serve our membership in His Body. Our membership in Christ does not exist to serve polity. At its best, even with the most positive and polite language that caters to modern ecumenical sensitivity and etiquette, Rome's position "unchurches" everyone who is not already under the pope.

1. The statement by Rome ("absolutely null and utterly void") is actually heresy. Even when we must declare sacraments to be invalid, it is only in relation to our responsibility, as human beings who perform the ministry, to do all things after the pattern shown to us on the mount in Galilee when the Risen Christ commissioned His Church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16f). We must perform all things correctly, but never imagine that we can set limits to the grace of God. For this reason, we may speak of sacraments as invalid, but never dare presume, as Rome has presumed, to declare any sacraments "absolutely null and utterly void." For, if they are invalid, that is not to say that we may be certain that they are lacking as means whereby God has given grace, for they may well have been used by God in such a way as to be neither null nor void. Invalidity of sacraments means only that, if given the opportunity, we must make sure that a possible deficiency is set right by valid sacraments, not trying to know for sure what may be null and void, but doing what we know to be valid, and therefore certain beyond doubt. The difference between the classic ancient Christian approach, and Rome's arrogant conclusion in 1896, is as obvious as night and day.


Anonymous said...

As so frequently the case, Fr Hart's take on Dominus Iesus is the same as mine. It was not intended to speak negatively of Anglicans and Protestants, but simply reiterated well known Biblical positions of long standing in the wider Church. The main thrust of Dominus Iesus was to correct some ideas rampant among RC revisionists, e.g., all the world's religions are just different pathways to the one true God or Goddess.
There was (or probably still is) the notion that the Jews may be still saved through the OT covenant. Dominus Iesus asserts what we should all assert, that there is no other name given under heaven whereby men may be saved than the name of Dominus Iesus. Carey's 0objections simply threw a red herring into the discussion.

Canon Tallis said...

It seems clear to me that if all the Roman nonsense were what Rome says it to be that it would have been made absolutely clear by the writers of the New Testament or by the writings of the "earliest bishops and Catholic fathers, found a clear place in at least one of the great Catholic creeds or set out clearly in the canons or dogmatic decrees of the universally acknowledged General Councils, but it is not. And what really should be our attitude to an ecclesial body that has, without question, added items without scriptural authority which it demands that one accept and believe in order to be part of what they consider to be the "one true church?" On that basis alone, how can one consider them to be "according to the whole?"

The positive teaching of what the Church is supposed to do and be we accept because we have never believed nor taught anything else but as the rest directly contradicts St Paul's teaching should make us very leary of what else comes from that source.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It is not a new problem. It has been the basis of Rome's division from the Orthodox Church for a millennium.

Canon Tallis said...

Of course it is not a new problem, but the root of it remains the same, the acceptance of an authority other than Holy Scripture. St. Paul in Timothy and Titus tells us one thing about the qualifications for the offices of bishop, priest and deacon but the Church, beginning with Justinian, chose another. Once you make that choice and refuse to face the consequences of it, things are only going to get worse.

The Roman Church's position is "our way or the highway," but as long as their way in any of its details can not be squared with Holy Scripture it can not be of God. What is it that our Lord says in Matthew vii. 21? Do we really think that He will give them a pass? And especially when it has over the last thousand years created the scandal for which both JP II and BXVI have apologized, but done absolutely nothing to correct. They have not even handed over the priests and others wanted by the police in various countries and especially ours, but continue to shelter them in the Vatican.