Friday, October 15, 2010

Serving their generation

Anglicanism is difficult to understand because people want to approach religion and theology in a manner that is simplistic. Therefore, inasmuch as understanding what Anglicanism is, in essence, begins with overcoming a neat and tidy categorization, namely that "Catholic" and "Protestant" mean opposite things, the lazy and easy option is to ignore its basic nature. It is too much to think about. Having already explained the matter (i.e., here), I do not wish to repeat my efforts.

Therefore, I would prefer to offer a very brief and direct summary of how we reconcile seeming contradictions, that are in truth not contradictory; they are complementary. To use the most extreme examples within our own history, how do we reconcile the teaching of the English Reformers with the Oxford Movement? Inasmuch as the real Anglo-Catholics, most of the men who wrote the Tracts, considered themselves children of the English Reformers as well as the children of the Universal Catholic Church, it behooves those who call themselves Anglo-Catholics not to dismiss the same English Reformers. It behooves those who call themselves Reformed catholics not to dismiss the Tractarians.

Each era, each generation, faces its own battles, and speaks to some degree in a language all its own. For example, parts of the Thirty-Nine Articles are hard for modern people to understand because they were written in a specific period of history in which various practices that are mentioned in parts of the Articles automatically come across to modern readers as something different from the religious practices and beliefs of that time. Instead, contemporary practices and beliefs, and then only as perceived, appear to be the target.

Emphasis is also a major factor, as we view theological issues in the light of the times in which they were discussed. To be very simple about it (but, not simplistic), it was necessary to emphasize doctrinal matters in the sixteenth century that freed people from a wrong approach, or rather lack of approach, to the sacrament of Holy Communion; and yet, in the nineteenth century, it was necessary to restore the dignity of the sacrament, and even to protect the doctrine of the Incarnation by doing so. The inheritance we have received is to own both of these emphases, which serve as an example for our present purposes, and to hold the truth of each in balance.

And so on.


Fr. John said...

Father Hart,

Many thanks to you for taking the time and effort to explain, and provide a venue for others to educate on, the complexities of church history and the finer points of dogmatic theology.

I hope that every priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, as well as other continuing bodies, have read Francis Hall's books. If not, they should do so as soon as possible.

"Only to a simple mind is everything perfectly clear."
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder, Fr Hart.

And does anyone know who coined the following phrase: "The opposite of 'Catholic' is not 'Protestant', but 'heretic'; and the opposite of 'Catholic' is not 'Protestant', but 'papalist'"?

Doubting Thomas

(veriword: butgloma)

Anonymous said...

The term "catholic" (which we sometimes use with too much aplomb) is a slippery word. It has been and still is used a the antonym to a variety of things. Its earliest usage referred to the whole world-wide ("ecumenical") Church, contrasted with local assemblies, so "catholic" was the opposite of parochial. That is how main-line Protestants explain the word as it occurs in the Apostles' Creed.

So the "Catholic" epistles of the NT are addressed to the Church at large, rather han to particular local churches.

Almost equally ancient is the use of "catholic" to describe the Church as multi-racial, the opposite of ethnic (i.e., Jewish). So it can be said the Church became Catholic at Pentecost, when Gentiles were incorporated into Israel.

In the time of the Councils and perhaps earlier, "catholic" became an antonym to heretical. Catholic became an adjective not only for the Church but for the Faith. In the Patristic period, the "Catholic Faith" referred mainly to the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, as the Athanasian Creed so explicitly states, "The Catholic faith is this...."

That usage, emphasizing above all the Trinity and rhe Incarnation, remained the case up to and through the 16th century Reformation. Whatever their errors may have been, Luther and Calvin and their followers made a perfectly bona fide claim to be defenders of the Catholic faith and adduced tons of Patristic quotations to support their positions. They knew the Fathers far better than any of their modern despisers.

For Rome, since Trent, "Catholic" has meant papal. The Catholic Church is the world-wide community in obedience to the Vatican. Not exactly what St Athanasius had in mind.

For Anglicans in conflict with Puritanism, "Catholic" came to mean a certain doctrine of the Church, Sacraments and Worship. The Puritans also, be it remembered, made a robust assertion of their own Catholicity, in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

For many 20th century Anglo-Catholics, "Catholic" means mostly "semi-papal," not exactly swimming the Tiber but just wading in it. So a "Catholic Churchman" is known by his vestments, and one type of chasuble is more "catholic" than another. And we have the strange phenomenon of the "Affirming Catholic" who abandons the Faith of the Church to preserve liturgical frou-frou.

What a sad devolution this has been!
Athanasius went into exile so that some may debate the merits of the biretta versus the Canterbury cap.

So will the real Catholic please stand up?


Donald said...

Doubting Thomas:

I came across that great phrase
in an old book I'm reading right now entitled "The Religion of the Prayer Book" by Rev. J.G.H Barry and Rev. Selden Peabody Delaney

I second your thanks to Fr. Hart for the Encouraging Work he does on The Continuum.