Monday, June 25, 2007

Donatism and Old Beef

Saint Athanasius: my choice for Patron Saint of the Continuing Church

In a recent comment a reader named John coined a phrase that I want, shamelessly, to steal: “Donatism and Old Beef.” It has a ring to it, like Arsenic and Old Lace; and, like the Brewster family of that play, in which insanity gallops, the CC has a few crazy aunts and brothers to hide in the attic as well as some bodies hidden in the basement.

By now it should be clear that the contributors to The Continuum respect the authority and sacramental gifts of the pioneer bishops who, like St. Athanasius of old, have chosen exile from the official Anglican Communion over heresy, and have refused to lay down their calling to ordain and consecrate men, and to establish churches that preach the true Gospel. It should be clear, as well, that we lament the divisions between true Anglicans whose causes of division have nothing to do with charges of unrepentant sin or heresy, which are the only two legitimate reasons for the kind of disunity we see.

"Donatism" refers to the error of those who were all too harsh, unwilling to welcome back into the fellowship of the Church those who had lapsed out of fear during the early centuries of persecution. They lost the necessary idea of forgiveness, and lost their compassion as well. “Old Beef” about, for example, certain consecrations at a place called “Deerfield Beach” somewhere, whether they were right or wrong, are no proper grounds for a new Donatism that keeps schism alive and well, as if it is a precious thing to be nurtured and protected for all coming generations.

Unless people are in a state of unrepentant sin, or heresy, rather than in a state merely of disagreement, it is time to put away Donatism and old beefs. Frankly, what I mentioned above (Deerfield Beach) is an example of nothing more than disagreement: It is wrong to demand that people repent of something they believe to have been right (unless it is proved by scripture, objectively, to violate a commandment- which is most certainly not the case). Unless the charge can be made of unrepentant sin or ongoing heresy, drop it.

From the very beginning of the CC movement the Continuing Anglicans were going their own way, each of the original bishops deciding that the others were not good enough, and would not build a pure and perfect sort of “Anglican” Church. Despite that failure, and despite the divisions into jurisdictions, and despite the many imitators who have taken advantage of religious liberty to create their own “provinces,” the CC movement has grown and flourished. In reply to the many who want to write our obituary, we are alive and constantly growing larger.

The reason is simple: the basic idea of maintaining orthodoxy as Anglicans is right and good, and a better alternative than staying loyal to Canterbury where ever that means being part of churches that teach and practice heresy (about which I quote the words of Saint Maximos the Confessor concerning the then heretic Patriarch of Constantinople: “We are not in communion”). And, for us it is a better alternative than swimming the Tiber, as if we could accept Vatican I or other Roman innovations. As the late Fr. Louis Tarsitano put it in an e-mail to me, “the only valid reason for being Anglican is rejection of innovation, whether it is Roman innovation or Protestant innovation.” It is also a better alternative than becoming Orthodox, and pretending that the latest version of ancient Christianity is perfect and pure, while rejecting basic Christian doctrines such as Atonement (which is absolutely necessary and in the Bible, like it or not) in order not to be “western”- even if being "un-western" amounts to a denial of genuine Orthodoxy itself.

Not for us all this. We are Anglicans by conviction, believing it to be the best way to be both Catholic and Evangelical without any double-mindedness. We see the truth and prophetic power of The Affirmation of St. Louis. There is no getting rid of us. What some of the older bishops need to understand is this: coming up behind them is a generation of future bishops who will not cherish and defend the old divisions. They will throw away old beefs, and choose forgiveness over Donatism. The little kingdoms of men will vanish away. We respect the sacramental power and the authority of their office; but as the CC moves into the future, the younger bishops will leave behind Donatism and Old Beef.


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Anonymous said...

Deerfield Beach the facts: Bishop Mercer of the ACCC of Canada crossed into another country and Diocese of the South without permission from the ACC Diocesan Bishop, the late Archbishop Lewis, a Bishop with whom Bishop Mercer was in full unimpaired Communion. He then proceded to "reconsecrate" Bishops (some of which Mercer was already in full Communion IE: Falk, Chamberlain) into no Sees and for no purpose other than to attempt a backdoor unity scheme with Clavier's AEC and the destruction of the ACC.
Deerfield Beach is not an issue that is all that difficult to overcome however. Just that all parties aknowledge its errors and a solid understanding that such vagan actions must not be repeated.
Oh, and how do you think ++Morse would have reacted if they tried that on him?
Fr. Joseph DeHart, ACC

Anonymous said...

Of course, if people keep dredging up the past and bandying it about like Roman Catholics taking personal umbrage because some of their number were killed by Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, we'll never get any closer to each other.

I'm on the FiF/TAC cusp sliding fast in the TAC direction. Now, I'd probably be too much of a tare to be left standing in the pure and perfect ACC(OP) wheat field. It just happens that they're the people I find myself among, that's what's available to me by way of orthodox Anglicanism.

I don't even know where Deerfield Beach is. I certainly wasn't there. It seems that a mistake occurred. It was probably well intentioned. My limited knowledge of the early Continuum suggests that there were a lot of probably well-intentioned mistakes. So, WOULD PEOPLE PLEASE STOP GETTING ANGRY ABOUT DEERFIELD BEACH!!! An ecclesiology that's excessively precious, that breaks communion and takes and retains umbrage at every minor disagreement, is the ecclesiology of a church on the way to disappearing up its own fundamental orifice.

As far as I understand things, I'm 100% with Fr Hart on this one: we've got to sort out what's essentially communion breaking from what isn't and learn to play nicely with each other. And yes, there will be tares among the wheat--and it's not our job to weed them out.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

Beautiful and moving words, Father. I couldn't agree with your post more. We continuing Anglicans not only are here to stay, we are the true inheritors of classical Anglicanism.

R. Toad said...

I wish I could say that Fr. Hart took the words right out my mouth, but I never would have managed such an eloquent and succinct statement. The stakes are now far too high for neo-donatism, and there is the potential for us simply to become a footnote to ecclesiastic history, if history is kind to us. (Witness, for example, the shrinkage of the APCK, once hailed in some quarters as the most stable jurisdiction, over these last few years.)
I'd add here that many of us are weary of the ghost of Dearfield Beach. Many of the dramatis personae in that act of the continuum's tent show are dead, dying or retired, and, respectfully, what Abp. Morse or anyone else might have done isn't relevant to the challenges we face now. It is well-past past time to exorcise that spectre with mutual forgiveness, humility and cooperation. Again, thank you, Fr. Hart, for reminding us of our need to lay aside old beef.

In Christ,

Fr. Charles Nalls

poetreader said...

What a bunch of squabbling little children we look like. "Mommy, he hit me!" "But she made me do it!" "It's all his fault!:" "No! Ot's all hers!" Frankly, it makes me ill. The imperative is to live the Faith here and now - to love our brethren, even if they show evidence of being fallen human beings by hurting us along the way. If we can't do that, we have no business at all pretending to be Christians. I honestly don't care who was right or wrong at Deerfield Beach. This isn't then. This is now, and we need to get along and present the same Gospel and the same sacraments or we simply don't have the favor of the Lord of the Church.

Incidentally, Father, we also need to stop sniping at the RCC and the EOC. If there are differences (and there are, though rather less than we sometimes think) they are to be seen as things to be resolved, not as permanent barriers.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Joseph DeHart

You may be right, inasmuch as I assume anything that involved Tony Clavier was probably a mistake. But, how long do things like this stand in the way of untiy?(I chose the example I did because it is such an obvious one.) Should we nourish, cherish and pass on our beefs, or the Faith? The ACC and ACA belong to the same family, and believe the same theology. Continuing an old grudge only hurts the cause of growth and the people in the churches.


I get along well with the REC ministers that I know. I believe that the only way forward in that case is what we have both agreed on before: an honest look at their orders in light of their theology. As part of Touchstone I am quite able to appreciate ecumenism within reasonable limits, since I am accustomed to working with RCs, Orthodox, and many kinds of Protestants.

I am confused however about what the EOC is, unless it stands for the Eastern Orthodox Church, which I assume it does not, in this case.

poetreader said...

EOC was meant to be Eastern Orthodox Church. I felt your comments about atonement were a bit sharper than was warranted, and a lot less nuanced than the differences in emphasis as between Eastern and Western Theologians.

With regard to REC. Yes, it comes down to a situation where real unity can't happen until at least conditional ordination does. I look for that to come to pass.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Actually, my criticism is not directed at Orthodoxy, but at a new, and quite innovative, version of it that dominates the thinking of too many American converts. The real Orthodox theologians I know, my brother and Fr. Reardon especially, agree with my criticism of the new version.

Real Orthdoxy, on the other hand, has my respect and affection.

poetreader said...

misheard you on that one


ACC Member said...

Let us not forget that A.C.A., A.P.A., and R.E.C. are all members of F.A.C.A.; who also has members like AMiA who "ordain" women.

Doesn't the Bible say not to be "unequally yoked"?

If we make union with those who ordain women and those who are in communion with them for F.A.C.A., aren't we endorsing their actions of ordaining women?

A truly Orthodox church needs to be careful about who it enters these agreements with, and what they practice.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

poetreader said...


AMiA does NOT ordain women, at least not to the priesthood, and the two women who came aboard as 'priests' have laid that aside.

Be that as it may, FACA is not an ecclesial body, but merely a cooperative association for non-sacrmanental and non-ecclesiastical concerns.

Even so, while not considering it essentially wrong, I do tend to think it unwise for my jurisdiction to have entered this body, as it is altogether to easy to see an impropriety (whether real or not)in it, as you bear witness.


ACC Member said...

AMiA does ordain women to Deacon, and once you do that, the priesthood will eventually follow. Deacon is how it started in ECUSA. Give an inch, and revisionists will take a mile.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Ohio Anglican

It depends on the limits of what you have called "union." Should we not unite with them in, e.g., the pro-life battle (as well as with others), and other matters that do not bring us to the crisis point of having to decline sacramental communion? Just because we are not, and cannot be, in communion with someone's church, must we treat them as enemies? There is room here for difference of opinion without any grounds for charging heresy or unrepentant sin.

ACC Member said...

The F.A.C.A. rules and regulations, which I have read, claim not to be sacramental communion. But if it walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it is a duck.

The agreement sure reads like communion to me. If it isn't communion, then it sure tries to imitate communion.

I agree that just because we have differences we should not be enemies. But by the same token, we need not cooperate to the point that it appears to the world that we endores what they do.

AMiA does not ordain female priests, but it does ordain female deacons. Give revisionists an inch and they'll take a mile. Ordaining female priests won't be far behind.

I'm very glad that the church of which I am a member has not joined, and will not join, F.A.C.A.; which is part of this whole scheme to try to get recognized as the U.S. Branch of the Anglican Communion to replace TEC. I for one, and I think others would agree, am glad NOT to be part of the Anglican Communion, which ordains females all around the globe.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

poetreader said...

I agree with Fr. Hart, however, a reading of the FACA website does not leave me happy about my own jurisdiction's involvement. It appears to present a degree of involvement of the bodies with one another and with the Canterbury Churches beyond what it actually says. The wording is carefully constructed NOT to say those things, but is written in such a way that those of a non-legal mind are bery apt to read it otherwise. I know at least one person who found it sufficient reason not to enter ACA.

On AMiA, one could hope that they would eventually do with female deacons as they have with femakle priests. Initially they accepted female priests. They backed away from that but 'grandmothered' the two who had joined. Thise two subsequently withrew from the priesthood. If they can take as diffricult a step as that, perhaps they can do likewsie with deacons. However, that is not the major objection I have to AMiA. They are a deliberately Protestant group whose sympathies, at least at this juncture, are far less favorable to AngloCatholicism than even the historically Protestant REC, which seems to be moving in a Catholic direction.


Unknown said...

I am an RC layman, a convert from evangelical Protestantism, with an affection and respect for authentic Anglicanism. I have been following this blog for some time now without commenting on anything. As a "friendly outsider," I must say that Fr. Hart's comments touch directly upon those elements of the CC that are most off-putting to someone exploring the movement for the first time. The tendency to define oneself by what one is NOT - as opposed to what one IS - is contrary to being either authentically evangelical or historically confessional. It seems to me that the spirit of mutual recrimination is the main thing keeping the CC from being a dynamic presence on the theological & spiritual landscape.

ACC Member said...

Unity acheived among jurisdictions that have valid Holy Orders, and orthodox, traditional Anglican faith and practice is a wonderful goal to strive to acheive. The A.C.C. and the U.E.C.N.A. have made a wonderful first step towards such an orthodox, traditional union.

However, ecumenism at the price of sacraficing orthodoxy, and all agreeing to the most liberal common denominator such as the liberal mainline Protestants are doing, is an abomination.

The present scheme of various Anglican groups acheiving "unity" (the most liberal common denominator type) so they can replace TEC as the American province of the Anglican Communion is an example of bad eceumenism. Are these groups THAT desperate to get an invitation to Lambeth and sip tea with the liberal, revisionist Archbishop of Canterbury?

The "Royal Peculiars" (churches and chapels in England owned by, and under the complete authority of Her Majesty - not the ABC or any other Anglican bishop) have nothing to do with the rest of the liberal C of E, or the Anglican Communion. A visitor to England attended Morning Prayer at a Royal Chaple recently, and tells me there a wonderful sermon on the need to preserve traditional Anglicanism, reject priestesses, reject liberalism and revisionism, retain the traditional 1662 BCP, etc. All services in the "Royal Peculiars" are conducted from beautiful copies of the 1662 BCP engraved with the Queen's Coat of Arms.

If the Queen, Herself, realizes the revisionism and liberalism of the Anglican Communion, and for all intents and purposes, is operating Continuing Churches, why in the world do some member churches, who claim to be part of the Continuum, want to unite with those who continue to use the apostate 1979 Liturgy book, embrace female ordination to Deacon, etc.?

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

poetreader said...

Why indeed?

However, I hope, Brian, that you are not making the claim that ACA has any such desire. That is radically untrue. I'm very unhappy with this FACA thing - not because of our intent in our involvement, which intent extends only to practical matters and most emphatically not to intercommunion or union. My objection is rather to the false impression it gives through the deceptive wording of the documents themselves.


ACC Member said...

Indeed, I mean no disrespect to the A.C.A. In fact I feel that the A.C.A. and A.P.A./R.E.C. are being used by some of those now exiting the Episcopal Church to over-represent their numbers to try to take the place of TEC as the Anglican Communion's Official Province in the U.S.

Personally, I think ++Rowan is so liberal he'll never part ways with TEC. I do feel that many of these organizations being formed by global south bishops are trying to use those continuing churches they can suck in through F.A.C.A. to over-represent their numbers to Lambeth.

I also think the wording of F.A.C.A. is deceptive. It makes a good effort to make it look like a communion agreement.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.