Friday, August 17, 2012
How is that “Catholic” exactly?
The word “Catholic” is so misunderstood that I removed it from the parish road sign and website some time ago. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, because after that we began to grow in number again. People in this part of North Carolina assumed that “St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church” just had to be tied to Rome. After some newspapers first reported the whole Anglicanorum Coetibus scheme in September 2009, and the public gained some sketchy knowledge of that in some vague sort of way, we had several visitors; but none of them were potential members. If anything, we appeared to them to be guilty of bait and switch, using the word “Catholic” without being in communion with Rome.
Of course, Anglicans have always used the word “Catholic.” We have never accepted Rome’s claims to a monopoly on it. Neither have the Eastern Orthodox. When we say the Creeds, and mention the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith, we are not speaking about somebody else. Retired Abp. John Hepworth of the TAC was completely wrong when he insisted that Anglicans “aspire” to be part of the Catholic Church. He, personally with a few others, “aspired” be Roman Catholic, apparently without having to follow all their rules. How that will all end up is not our problem (and it looks pretty bad for them). But, we use the word "Catholic" simply to mean that we believe the whole faith, and that we belong to the One Church established by Christ through His apostles. For, when all is said and done, that is what it means: According to the whole - the whole Faith and the Universal Church.
But, the confusion that led to the sad spectacle of Anglicans “aspiring” to something they already possessed is a danger that still lurks beneath the surface. And, so it will until we have a firm and confident grasp of genuine theology, and can properly understand the Gospel and the Church. What I am about to write is not an exhaustive effort at that, for what I have written in my “Essays on ClassicAnglicanism” has set forth my humble efforts to that end. I will, however, in this spot challenge assumptions that endanger Anglicans who take too seriously the doctrinal developments of the See of Rome.
1. The Patriarchates are not essential to the Church.
It was stated in Canon III of the First Council of Constantinople, in 381 AD: “Because it is new Rome, the bishop of Constantinople is to enjoy the privileges of honour after the bishop of Rome.” Many things were in those canons, some of which no church endeavors to keep because they lost their relevance after a period of time. Yet, for some reason, many Anglicans believe that the political structure of the Catholic Church is somehow static, not subject to change. This is spite of historical developments, such as the establishment of the Patriarchate of Moscow, or of Rome’s establishment of a Patriarch of Venice, and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Both of the Two One True Churches have had no qualms about adaptation to the ancient structure.
2. So Rome has no special authority
The reason so many people think there is something “Catholic” about trying to fit into the ancient structure of Patriarchates is simply because the Two One True Churches continue to make bold claims, as if there was something sacramental about Patriarchates. But, the claims they make are for purposes of exclusion, not evangelism and not edification. And, Rome’s claims exceed the others for sheer boldness and audacity. The system worked in ancient times, but has no revelation supporting it. If it keeps some order today, then it serves a purpose for parts of the Church, maybe. But, there is no evidence that part of the dogmatic doctrine of the Catholic Church is that every church must be under one of the five Patriarchates - or is it six?
The Church has bishops and Apostolic Succession, both for valid sacraments and for order. This includes the need to be faithful to “the Faith once delivered to the saints.” It does not require adherence to some Patriarch in an ancient city just because, well, that’s how it was in the days of the Roman Empire.
3.The order of Priest is bigger than celebrating the Eucharist.
That’s right. I hate to shock, shock the religious sensibilities of closet Romans who lack the will to convert; but, the reason our ordinal puts everything back into balance is because priests are not ordained only to celebrate the Eucharist; in fact not even primarily to celebrate the Eucharist. E.J. Bicknell wrote truly and in perfect consistency with the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church and every ancient Ordinal used by the Church in the Patristic period, the following: “As we have said, the English word priest by derivation simply means 'presbyter'. But it has acquired the meaning of 'sacerdos'. The Christian presbyter in virtue of his office is a 'priest'. Priesthood is one of his functions.”
You cannot be more “Catholic” than to be faithful to the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, and every Ordinal used by the Church in the Patristic period. You can, however, be more Roman and more Medieval. I prefer to be truly Catholic. So, I see the priesthood as not only the office that includes valid celebration; it is also a pastoral and teaching office, and requires exercising authority for the good of the people.
The real problem, of course, is that some Anglicans allow Rome to set all the terms, and that some of our people think we must “aspire” to “Rome or Orthodoxy.” I think we see less of that fantasy thinking, with its unrealistic romantic assumptions, and its bullying assertions, than we did a few years ago. Partly, we have helped to clear up the confusion on The Continuum. But, until we realize that our beliefs and way of life are founded on Christ and the Apostles instead of doctrine humanly developed (at best) , the danger is not over. The real message of the Oxford Movement, over all, was that Anglicanism already is Catholic, to the full extent that it should be. How did that idea become corrupted?
1. A footnote in A Theological Introduction to The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, E.J. Bicknell took up the matter of Anglican orders when writing about Article XXXVI.