of Bulverism and Infallibility
The approved modern method
Drawing analogies from the current political scene is risky, inasmuch as the real point may be interpreted as essentially political in nature and intent (for, it is only in issues where politics and morality are unavoidably intertwined, most obviously abortion, that we must speak directly to political matters). Nonetheless, I shall, in this introduction, take a path that angels fear to tread. Right now, in the United States, the never-ending debates go on about the same old issues, some of which are taxes and the size of government, especially the Federal Government. Such debate is, no doubt, healthy for a free people, and disagreement is a required part of the process. However, in the ongoing discussion, certain individuals have decided to cheapen the quality of the debate. Contrary to the principles and spirit of honest intellectual exchange, these persons have decided to accuse their opponents of racism. The "argument" they use, or rather the excuse they use to avoid argument altogether, runs as follows: "The current President is black, therefore the only reason why conservatives or republicans (or tea party people, etc.) oppose his policies is because they are racists." The fact that conservatives and republicans used the same arguments against identical policies for decades becomes irrelevant.
It reminds me of a kind of racism I encountered often on the mean streets of Baltimore in my days as an investigator: "I can tell you are a bigot by the color of your skin." To people who "think" in racial terms, such a comment makes perfect sense. We have experienced much the same kind of non-argument, or accusation, in a religious context.
For example, in recent months, this blog has presented criticism of the movement by TAC/ACA bishops and apologists to sell their interpretation of Anglicanorum Coetibus. This we have done by presenting facts about the new constitution itself drawn from its contents, and in the context of Roman Catholic Canon Law. Also, we have presented theological grounds for remaining separate from Rome in our polity, for the foreseeable future, as Continuing Anglicans. For the most part, the answer we have been presented with, sometimes in comments, sometimes by members of the opposite blog, boils down to their accusation that we are simply "Anti-Catholic" by which they mean to accuse us of either irrational fear or just plain mean old hatred, accusing us of bigotry against Roman Catholicism. My answer to such people is, "don't you wish it were that simple?" If only they could avoid the content of our arguments, the theological and historical facts, the studied analysis, the logic and reason with which we have proceeded. It is ever so effective to shout "hate!" or "prejudice!" It is, after all, the approved modern method.
In his essay, Bulverism, (1) C.S. Lewis described this modern method by using satire and humor:
"You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it 'Bulverism'. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — 'Oh you say that because you are a man.' 'At that moment', E. Bulver assures us, 'there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.' That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century."
So, in reply to the Bulverists, we say, the inconvenient truth is that hate has nothing to do with it; prejudice has nothing to do with it; and our presentation of facts and logic are not mere expressions of anger. If only they were, just as if political disagreements were about the President's race rather than the same old clash of political ideas, how easy it would be to cut to the chase and ignore the opposing view.
Infallibility of the Church: Ours or theirs?
Currently, we have more potential to unify the Continuing Anglicans who remain faithful to The Affirmation of St. Louis than we did before this new Roman constitution. A few matters stand in the way, and this blog is just the place to bring them out into the light, for so it has ever been a stated purpose of The Continuum to promote unity in Continuing Anglicanism. I have tried to bridge an old divide between partisan Anglo-Catholicism and (if I may choose a way of saying it) the more Protestant side, or Anglican Evangelicalism in the classic sense. Of course, this is an over simplification inasmuch as Classic Anglicanism includes varying degrees of churchmanship under an orthodox umbrella.
The fact is, The Affirmation of St. Louis was drawn up by Canadian Anglicans and American Episcopalians who represented those varying degrees within the acceptable framework of orthodox belief and practice. To go forward, into better and more perfect unity, it may be helpful to decide one point about the Affirmation right now.
Under the subheading, "The Essentials of Truth and Order" which is the second subheading of Principles of Doctrine, our Affirmation lists "Holy Scripture," "the Creeds," "Tradition", "Sacraments," "Holy Orders," etc. The section on "Tradition" affirms the Seven Oecumenical Councils in what was believed to have been the logical conclusion of Anglican thought and principles, and also seven sacraments. The whole subsection concludes with these words:
"The Use of Other Formulae
Different interpretations are possible. One is that we must interpret Anglican statements and liturgy in accordance with "these principles" whether or not those statements and liturgy were the intended meaning of those who gave us the Book of Common Prayer, The Ordinal and the Articles of Religion. By this interpretation we subject the Classic Formularies to our take on them. Another view, which is better, is that in so doing we submit our own heritage, as Anglicans, to the judgment of the Universal Church. The third approach, which is mine, is that it really means that we are bound to the Classic Formularies by the Affirmation of St. Louis (which is part of the ACC Constitution and Canons, and is an accepted standard of both the UECNA and the APCK), but within the safe assurance that adhering to the judgment of the Universal Church was the objective of our Anglican fathers in the first place (therefore including the second view, but removing the option to reject our own way).
That is to say, though the Classic Formularies do not mention the Seven Oecumenical Councils, the logic of Classic Anglicanism must lead us to accept them once all the issues have been clarified, and we see them in their historical context, and read them in light of their own intended meaning. If under the subheading, "The Use of Other Formulae," we were affirming some Anglican statements and liturgy, namely whatever statements and liturgy we, in a given jurisdiction, determine to be conformable to "these principles," our job would be easy. But, if we hold to the Affirmation, we are given a more difficult challenge: For if, as it says, "all Anglican statements of faith and liturgical formulae must be interpreted in accordance with them," then it becomes our duty to recognize that "all" of the classic Anglican statements and liturgy can be so interpreted. Furthermore, if they can be so interpreted, we must be affirming that they are so interpreted when properly understood. The only other conclusion is a cynical one: That the early Anglicans intended rebellion against God and His Church, meant to create a new "Protestant religion" and that we are going to clean it all up by gratuitous revisionism.
We have then three positions before us:
1) That the judgment of the Universal Church gives us the option to choose which Anglican Statements we like.
2) That we must revise the intended meaning of the English Reformers and Anglican Divines.
3) That the English Reformers and Anglican Divines were catholic men whose goal was the same as ours: To submit the Church of England (and, by extension, Anglicanism) to the true judgment of the Universal Church.
Obviously, I go with option 3 as the correct way to interpret The Affirmation of St. Louis, and as the understanding that best fits the overall efforts of Anglican theology and scholarship from the earliest days. This requires of us harder work, but I have spent the last few years building a body of essays intent on this very purpose. In that body of essays I have intended to lay a groundwork in which Anglo-Catholics and classic Anglican Evangelicals may find agreement. I believe my efforts have been free of Revisionism, have been free of efforts to sanitize the Reformers of the reactionary elements of their work that was made necessary by the times in which they wrote, that puts those most reactionary elements of their work into the larger context of the catholic faith they aspired to and believed, that shows its fundamental catholic orthodoxy and why their Biblical and Patristic scholarship was second to none in their own generation.
However, the fundamental question remains. Are we to interpret the works of our Anglican fathers in the light of their own stated goal of reestablishing catholic orthodoxy, or are to see them as innovators and react against our own heritage? I believe that the Affirmation of St. Louis holds us to the former. And, in so doing it is not cynical or dishonest; we need not engage in Revisionism in order to pursue this goal. In fact, we will arrive at the logical conclusion of their efforts.
The question of Infallibility arises when we speak of the judgment of the Universal Church. To the Roman Catholics the whole question is made utterly simplistic: It is reduced to "Simon says." The need to inform the mind and conscience requires absolute trust in an office held by one man. To many Protestants it means standing only on the Bible and nothing else. But, we have something else; we have the Bible, and we have the catholic faith of the Church without adherence to the Roman theories about the papacy; we have the Bible and the judgment of the Universal Church to which and through which God gave it.
In his own time, Richard Hooker wrote the enduring apologetic for holding both to the Bible and to the Church, not as if each were weighed against the other, but in needing both as if speaking to us with one voice. In so doing, he exemplified the Anglican stand on eternal and Universal principles. This Anglican mind and approach was, however, larger than one man. As I wrote elsewhere:
"The English Church established a carefully maintained balance between Rome, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Zwinglianism, criticizing and rejecting various ideas in each of these systems. This in turn kept the Anglicans in a state of at least some amount of opposition to everybody all the time. Each of these camps saw the Church of England as accepting error by adopting or maintaining some of the ideas and practices of Rome, or some of those belonging to Calvin, or some of those belonging to Luther, but never to the satisfaction of loyalists in any of those parties." 2
What then assures infallibility? If we say, "the Scriptures," we are left with endless interpretations and innovative "magisteriums" for which we reserve the label "cult" to some. Left to itself, the Bible can justify, or even require, anything. This is a fact that has been demonstrated so many times, and so tragically, that we need not argue it. But, we know that the Universal Church in Antiquity believed that all the necessary doctrines of the Apostles, the full revelation given to the Apostles and Prophets, is recorded in the canonical Scriptures. 3
So we come to what St. John said about error in his own day, and how to defend one's mind against it:
"But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father." (I John 2:20-24)
St. Paul assures us that "We have the mind of Christ." (I Cor. 2:16) He also told his son in the faith, St. Timothy, that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15). And, the Lord Himself promised us that the Holy Spirit, that is the Spirit of Truth, would guide the Apostolic Church into all truth (I John 16:13). These Scriptural quotations speak of the Church, of dependence on the Holy Spirit, and seem to make their promise for each immediate generation.
That is, to see in these passages an unfolding of truth that allows for new dogmas to be revealed as some sort of "Doctrinal Development" would have made each of the promises a lie in its own generation, a promise not fulfilled until all revelation would unfold over centuries (as St. John wrote, "that which ye have heard from the beginning"). On the other hand, to see these passages without respect to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to make these timeless truths fully known in each generation, would have the same effect for everyone else-for even with the Scriptures, our minds are closed to both their strength and meaning without His grace alive and operating in us ("For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."-Heb. 4:12).
Therefore, we need that unction, that power, and the written word through which God speaks the same timeless message to and through His Church in each generation. That is about all we are given when it comes to the promise of infallibility; but what more could we need, want or have a right to expect?
1. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper (Editor), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Reprint edition (October 1994; original copyright 1970 by the Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis).
2. Anglican Identity- a paper delivered in 2009 to the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen and Anglican Guild of Scholars conference that took place in Delaware (Friday Sept. 19, 2009).
3. Concerning which, St. Thomas Aquinas had given us the phrase sola scriptura long before the Reformation era. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:
Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt.
-Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.
Translated into English: ""It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that canonical Scripture alone is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John 21)
The emphasis is on the word "canonical" as opposed to just anything written and preserved, and held up as valuable or true.