Thursday, March 03, 2011


The following is an updated version of one of my old essays, updated to fit the current times.

There is not much that was new in Anglicanorum Coetibus. Except for the manner in which it was announced and reported, the only new thing about it was that local RCC bishops lost the option to refuse to have the Pastoral Provisions affect their own dioceses. Back in the Summer of 2008 we saw news about clergy in the Diocese of Fort Worth, when it was still part of the Episcopal Church (TEC), who wished they were Romeward Bound. This caused an e-mail list to be generated, and a great deal of e-ink to be wasted, about the wonderful process of conversion to the One True Church (well, one of the two that is). In some of these e-epistles well-meaning Roman Catholics openly addressed "the basic flaw of Anglican ecclesiology," and used other insulting phrases designed to put us in our place.

It really does get tiresome. In our churches we have people who possess varying levels of education, and unfortunately that can include members of the clergy. With bloggers and e-tome authors attacking Anglicanism itself--not the state of apostate bodies like the Episcopal Church, but Anglicanism dating back to the 16th century--it behooves some of us to come to the aid of those whose consciences are damaged by their words. Many of the fiercest attackers are Roman Catholics, and others on the opposite end who believe in "the Geneva Discipline." From their opposite perspectives they make the same arguments. The ignorance they demonstrate is cloaked by wordiness. They take thousands of words to prove that they don't know anything, and in the process look very clever to unsuspecting minds.

These writers use the same old worn-out talking points.

"Anglicanism is Protestant," they say. Of course, they have no idea what the word "Protestant" has always meant to Anglicans. The opposite of "Catholic" is not "Protestant" but rather, "unbeliever." As I have written before:

"The effort to embrace and continue the Catholic Faith was the motivation for embracing Protestantism in the time of the Reformation- or, rather, the Reformations. We believe that the efforts on the Continent of Europe threw away the baby with the bathwater, which is why Anglicans early on debated with Calvinists and Lutherans, sometimes more vigorously than with Rome. Anglicans debated as well with Puritans in England and Scottish Presbyterians...the definition of 'Catholic' should be based on its Credal use, as we use it in the Book of Common Prayer where either the Apostle’s Creed or the Creed called Nicene are part of all the major services (Article VIII). Combined with that other Creed, Quicunque Vult, or the Creed of St. Athanasius, we say we believe the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith...I would indeed place the 'P' of Protestantism back in 'Anglicanism' to the via media degree required to make it truly Patristic, and so truly Scriptural and truly Catholic."

These polemicists argue that the Church of England was a confused mess with no clearly stated beliefs, filled with everything from High Churchmen to Puritans. This is a very popular bit of misinformation, too easily believed even by many Anglicans themselves. How can they possibly imagine that the leaders of the English Church ever tolerated the excesses of the Puritans? Don't they know that Richard Hooker's famous Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was written primarily to defend Anglicanism against Puritan sedition and heresy, and against Calvin's ecclesiology in general? Hooker wrote as an official representative of the Church, not as an individual with an opinion to be weighed equally among many others. The fact that Puritanism was always at odds with the Church authorities, always tried to overthrow each new version of The Articles of Religion as they were developing, and finally resorted to a revolution by civil war and the execution of a king, all seems to go right past them. The Puritans were the opponents of Anglicanism until after the Restoration, when they finally faced defeat and the rejection of the English population by and large.

The polemicists demonstrate that they cannot understand Anglican Formularies, trying to fit them into either a purely Calvinist (i.e. Genevan) or a purely Lutheran system, like a square peg into a round hole. They notice the same theological terminology in Anglican Articles that they see in the Continental Reformations, not appreciating two important facts: 1) This terminology was not new to anybody at the time, and 2) what matters in the Articles is not their similarity to either Calvinism or Lutheranism, but their divergence from them at just the point necessary to avoid the extremes inherent in those systems.

For example, look at Article X:

X. Of Free Will.
THE condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.

This is, of course, standard catholic theology about the weakness of fallen man, and of sin as a devastating and helpless condition. Many go further than saying we need the grace of God; they deny that freewill exists at all. Anglicanism goes right up to that line, and refuses to cross it. The divergence shouts very loudly, but the polemicists notice only the similar terminology with Calvin. They fail to see that the terminology is equally Augustinian, Thomist and Dominican, all of which systems are essentially western, and constitute the very things they attribute to Calvin as if it was all new at the time.

Look at how close Article XVII comes:

XVII. Of Predestination and Election.
PREDESTINATION to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feeling in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.

This comes to the line, but again does not cross it. It may encourage some of the clergy to preach Predestination only in terms of the "perseverance of the saints;" but more so, it teaches mortification and raising the mind to heaven, teaching the need to follow the expressed general will of God. It is not, strictly speaking, some innovation in a system called Calvinism (which, in reality, included no innovations except the Geneva Discipline). And, besides, the rule about similar terminology is that it makes divergence all the more significant, if not the main point.

They say that Anglicans rejected the Real Presence (as the term is used today). Article XXXV lists homilies that are to be considered Formularies. In the Homily Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we find these words:

"But thus much we must be sure to hold, that in the Supper of the Lord, there is no vaine Ceremonie, no bare signe, no vntrue figure of a thing absent (Matthew 26.26)...Whereas by the aduice of the Councell of Nicene, we ought to lift vp our mindes by fayth, and leauing these inferiour and earthly things, there seeke it, where the sunne of righteousnesse euer shineth (Council of Nicene, Concilium). Take then this lesson (O thou that art desirous of this Table) of Emissenus a godly Father, that when thou goest vp to the reuerend Communion, to be satisfied with spirituall meates, thou looke vp with fayth vpon the holy body and blood of thy GOD, thou maruayle with reuerence, thou touch it with the minde, thou receiue it with the hand of thy heart, and thou take it fully with thy inward man (Eusebius Emissenus, Serm. de Euchar.)."

Nonetheless, they will provide theories about the personal views of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer near his life's end, saying that he must have rejected the Real Presence; as if any one man's private view was official, and alone what matters. Of course, they do not understand Cranmer anyway, nor credit him with the vast and superior knowledge of the Fathers that he so clearly demonstrated.

And so forth.

In the massive e-mailing was a link to an article by my friend David Mills, former editor of Touchstone, A journal of mere Christianity (now with First Things). I have long been a contributing editor for this magazine of ecumenical orthodoxy, with several articles published over the years. David was one of the first to recognize my writing and to promote it. He had long been a fighter within the Episcopal Church, trying to call it back to Christ. In 2001 he became a Roman Catholic. The linked article (which was on a blog) contained superb news analysis about the official Anglican Communion (you know, those otherAnglicans who don't recognize us), but then made this rather astonishing statement.

"The Anglo-Catholics can forget trying to move the new GAFCON body (if there ever is one) a quarter-inch closer to Catholicism. They will live in an ecclesial body less liberal but no more Catholic than their old one. The price of their being rescued from liberalism is a kind of dhimmitude.

"Which might not be a bad thing. It might help them see more clearly just what that 'Anglo' means, and accept that Anglicanism is a Protestant movement. Then they can see that the polarity they thought they'd transcended is marked by its two poles for a reason, forcing them to choose one or the other. I pray my former comrades choose Catholicism, but if they don't, I think they would be happier and more fruitful were they better Protestants. And thereby, oddly enough, closer to the Catholic Church than they are now."

I do not expect the average Roman Catholic to understand that to classic Anglicans like us, Protestantism and Catholicism are not opposites, and not at all two poles. But, David Mills understands it, though he clearly disagrees. Our kind of Protestantism is meant to be a pure and better form of Catholicism, and so David would be wrong if his words were applied to those of us in the Continuing churches of the Concordat (though they fit the Canterbury Communion in its current state). For us there is no choice to be made between these two things, Protestantism and Catholicism, for they do not conflict. But, we are spared the usual song and dance of the polemicists, because David is above all that sort of thing.

I bother to defend Anglicanism against polemical attacks because those attacks damage the consciences of sincere believers. The attacks usually boil down to an attempt to make Anglicans doubt the validity of our sacraments, which is quite proper for TEC, but not at all true for us. The arguments are based on half-truths that distort the history of Anglican doctrine and the meaning of Anglican Formularies. They create ignorance rather than knowledge. Eventually, they always attack the validity of our orders, so that the poor soul who is ensnared by these arguments fails to learn the truth, and gets confused trying to learn it. Because he comes to doubt the validity of the sacraments he has been receiving, and therefore fears that they have no efficacy, he begins to doubt that his soul can be saved unless he flees to Rome (or Orthodoxy). That is based on fear, not on faith and not on learning, since learning would disabuse him of doubt.

The troubled, less-learned Anglican, attacked by bullying polemicists, needs to be taught by those of us who care to take the time to write or speak the necessary apologetics, and provide the instruction that he needs. Hear me: Anglican priests always have had the authority to forgive sins; and what you eat and drink at the altar rail of the church is truly, in the words of the Anglican Formulary, "the holy body and blood of thy God."


charles said...

Hello Fr. Hart,

Your points against Calvinism are well taken. In retrieving "Protestantism" one thing I've been trying to press is early Protestantism was really the "northern catholic" church(es) splitting from the southern or Italian one. But what is Protestantism, and are Anglicans the only church worthy to be called northern catholic?

A better definition of Protestantism has been argued before, e.g, speyer 1529, the Wittenberg Articles, Henrician Settlement, et al. And, each is an attempt to harness 16th century humanist methods for the better restoration of ancient and orthodox doctrine, usually following a marker like "five centuries" for reliable fathers and councils...

But one problem was the very fractured nature of Reformation in the continent. What was Lutheranism, for instance, before 1577? For one thing, it wasn't very coherent, there being many kinds of church orders. Nor was there a single interpretation of the Augsburg and many variatas circulated.

But the period 1535-1560 is worth checking out as northern catholicism did try to articulate itself. Amongst all those articulations, probably the 39 articles took center place, and unlike the Reformed and Lutheran churches, really remained comparatively stable and unchanged. While Lutherans were expelling Philipists and Reformed were finding new doctrines to excommunicate each other over, the 39 needed no additional forms or substandards for definition. By 1517 it was largely finished, and, in fact, it would remain the oldest Articles of Faith to survive the 16th century. So, I would say the 39 articles turns out to be pretty representative of a northern catholic opinion, preserving the restoration that was accomplished in the 1530's-60's before confessionalism itself hardened.

BTW. Let's not forget the Swedish Lutheran church. They kept their bishops and king, rejected RPW, and held fast to Augustine w/ out speculations on predestination. I would contend, until their engagement with modernism, the Swedes were closer to England than the East, i.e., 'northern catholic' or true-protestant.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The word "Calvinism" is often invoked with little or no appreciation for any true definition. A brief summary of debatable points that are associated with Calvin himself would be 1) a very pronounced Thomist/ Dominican take on Predestination that goes beyond anything the Anglican Article affirms to what is called "Double Predestination"--that God wills the damnation of those who are lost. And, 2) the Geneva Discipline.

What the English Reformers did believe, quite correctly, was Augustine's understanding of St. Paul, that we have no power to save ourselves. Freewill, which does exist in every human being, is severely limited. We do not have the power to will ourselves into a state of righteousness or holiness. Without faith even the best of good works, even the same action that is pleasing to God if done with faith, has no grace but only the nature of sin. Predestination is "unspeakable comfort" to true believers, etc.

None of these were new doctrines. None of them are creatures of the 16th century. All of them are acceptable catholic doctrine by any definition. But, the average modern person calls them "Calvinism," and then proceeds to pronounce them heresy.

By what standard?

Anonymous said...

Good article and good discussion!

Doubting Thomas