Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Archbishop John-Charles on Unity

The following open letter from the Most Revd John-Charles, retired archbishop and metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church, has just been published on the ACC's new and very much improved website:

To all Bishops of Churches Adhering to the Affirmation of St. Louis

In the love of Christ and with all fraternal respect.


It has become a matter of urgency to me that I write to you concerning unity among Continuing Anglicans. As age wearies and I find my physical faculties diminishing, I am constantly reminded that there is less time ahead of me than behind me.

While I am now retired and no longer a Bishop Ordinary, it remains the case that by year of consecration I am the senior bishop of the Continuing Churches. This is no cause for pride or self-assertion, but I do feel that it lays upon me the responsibility of doing whatever I can in the time left to me to break down barriers between us, foster concord and repair communion.

What divides us?

Is it dogma or doctrine? Surely not, for we are all committed to the Affirmation, which in turn commits us, not to yet another confessional statement in the history of the Church, but to Scripture as interpreted by Holy Tradition, that is the Consensus Patrum and the Seven Ecumenical Councils common to East and West. Is there any dispute among us as to the great and foundational dogmas of the Creed, summarizing the eternal Gospel? Do any of us deny the doctrines of Apostolic Succession, Eucharistic Sacrifice, or the Real Presence? Do any of us reject the truth of traditional Catholic teaching on prayer for the dead, the invocation of
Saints, or the Blessed Virgin's divine maternity, perpetual virginity, immaculacy and present glory? Indeed, is there any element of the Faith we would vainly wish to filter out in the name of private interpretation, presuming to "correct" the Church Universal? Are any of us "cafeteria Catholics"?

If the answer to these questions is no, as it must be among those who lay claim to the Affirmation of St. Louis, then the way is open to reconciliation. However, there are some critics of the Affirmation that have claimed to see some customary Anglican ambiguity in it.

I would contend that their interpretation is strained and uncharitable, but let us deal with it, nonetheless.

The Affirmation states that we witness to Tradition as an "essential principle" in the following terms: 'The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by "the ancient catholic bishops and doctors," and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.' Some have said that the phrase be-ginning with the word "exclusion" qualifies in an open-ended way our acceptance of Tradition, as if we were saying, "We accept Tradition, except for the parts we deem heretical." Of course, this is hardly the natural reading, and the phrase in fact refers to ancient errors condemned by the Councils rather than any purportedly set forth by them, as implied by the reference to the Vincentian Canon earlier in the Affirmation.

Nevertheless, our assurance of this does not rest on the Affirmation alone. And it is here that our early history, despite its many false steps, mutual misunderstandings and mis-communications, despite its being marred by human frailty and pride, can provide both clarification and a common foundation.

For at the 1978 Dallas Synod, even amongst confusion and acrimony, while the Continuers were still one and newly renamed the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), a Solemn Declaration and Preamble to the Constitution were agreed to. The Preamble says, inter alia, 'This Church ... accepts as binding and unalterable the received Faith and Traditions of the Church, ... as set forth in the Holy Scriptures; the ... Creeds; the writings of the "ancient Catholic Bishops and Doctors"; and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church' [emphasis added].

Thus, barring heretical statements elsewhere in the nascent ACC's formularies, of which there were none claimed by anyone, we see that at this point the die was cast and Continuers had formally ratified unambiguously their Catholic identity and epistemology. Henceforth, whatever imperfections may have existed in the Constitution and Canons, and whatever personal errors may have later caused some individuals to advocate protestant, minimalist positions or sow discord in other ways, the ACC was irrevocably and undeniably a Catholic jurisdiction.

Therefore, it cannot be claimed that division has occurred for fundamentally theological reasons, as the only justification for separation over matters of faith is if one of the bodies formally embraces heresy. That this is not the case according to those who left the ACC is proven by the fact that there were later Episcopal co-consecrations involving them and ACC bishops. Such shared acts are inconceivable without mutual admission of orthodoxy, as is admitted by all.

And so we come back to the question, what divides us?

Is it liturgical churchmanship? Hardly, for all our jurisdictions contain many parishes which use the Missal and some which prefer the simpler BCP Mass, the latter being in our eyes no less Catholic due to its simplicity than is Novus Ordo. Is it differences in standards of discipline? Unlikely, since all of our Churches aim for high standards but must admit to having licensed, ordained, or even consecrated men who we have belatedly discovered to be of questionable character or stability.

Many years ago, I was asked in a public forum if I could explain how Christians in general had come to be so divided. I rose, went to the microphone and said one word: "Sin." I believe this answer also holds the key to our present state of disunity.

Yet I am far from implying that the fault lies only with those who have left the ACC. An unbiased investigation of our history as Continuing Anglicans does not allow any of us to escape blame. Nor do I wish to pretend that every division or schism has been due solely to clashes of personality, power-seeking or trivialities.

No, all of us must frankly examine ourselves and admit where we may have failed the tests of charity or straightforwardness. We must also all remember that, in the absence of a solution to the initial ECUSA descent into heresy authorized and imposed "from above", Continuers were forced to solve the problem themselves by voluntary association. While this was unavoidable in the emergency situation they faced, and thus actions normally impermissible and irregular were covered by the doctrine of economy, there can be no doubt that such a beginning made later divisions
much easier. (It may well be that only by re-establishing communion with other branches of the Catholic Church, and so making ourselves more directly accountable to a wider Communion, will this flaw that was present ab initio be overcome.) And we must face up to the one issue of genuine substance that remains to keep us separate.

I refer to our different policies on the limits of communio in sacris. While this is not an area of difference in dogma strictly speaking, it is an important area of what we might call "applied ecclesiology" that makes closer relations difficult by its very nature. It has become increasingly clear to us in the ACC that the only way for those Catholic traditionalists still in the Anglican Communion to be fully faithful to their beliefs is to make a clean and public break with it.

Vague statements about "impaired communion" are not enough: public, clear, and complete repudiation of heresy and sacramental communion with heterodox Anglican provinces is what is required at the very least. Better still, all except unavoidable historic association with the Canterbury crew should be rejected. Rather than encouraging those left in the mire to retain some attachment to it, we must confront them with the need to make a choice.

Quite apart from questions of sacramental integrity, there is the matter of providing an honest witness to the world. Similarly, it is surely important that Continuing Anglican Churches which can lay claim to the doctrinal heritage of the Affirmation and the jurisdictional continuity of the "Chambers Succession" avoid establishing full communion with bodies of vagantes or heterodox origins until we are quite sure, with moral certainty, that these bodies have abandoned earlier errors and, if necessary, had their Orders regularised.

I beg that as fellow Pastors of the flock we set our house in order, discuss and overcome any theological differences that might remain, make the necessary apologies and present a unified and forthright position to Anglicans who remain in the chaos.

My own experience, having remained in ECUSA longer than was tolerable, assures me that providing them an escape route back to the Church is our duty. Leaving them where they are is simply not an option.

Yours in Christ,

Archbishop John-Charles, F.O.D.C.
The Province of The Anglican Catholic Church


ACC Member said...

AMEN to this letter. Maintaining ties to Lambeth is just not an option.

Making a clean break is necessary.

Those who aren't willing to make a clean break with the Lambeth communion cannot truly be Continuing Anglicans.

Brian McKee, nO/C.G.S.

poetreader said...

Thanks, Father, for posting this. This is what I posted in response on AngloCatholic Central:

I could quibble over details (I am notably capable of that), but I won't. ++John-Charles has given a succinct and warm-hearted statement. We have sinned, all of us, and continue to sin so long as we maintain these stupid divisions.

If matters dividing us are of no substance, we just need to drop those issues immediately.

If human pride be an issue (as I am convinced it is in all cases), it needs to be publicly confessed and renounced.

If there are issues of substance (I'm unconvinced that there really are, but I recognize that many would not agree with me), they MUST be addressed honestly, with an open heart, and with a determination that they be solved forthwith. All jusrisdictions are at fault.

All need to repent. All need to learn true Christian charity.

++John-Charles has made the single best official statement of what needs to be since the sins of division began to occur. He deserves the hearty thanks of all traditional Anglicans.


Albion Land said...

Interestingly, though, when it comes to doctrine, he refers to "immaculacy," presumably of the BVM, as being something affirmed by St Louis. I don't recall every seeing that mentioned, and I certainly don't subscribe to that doctrine.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Albion wrote:
Interestingly, though, when it comes to doctrine, he refers to "immaculacy," presumably of the BVM, as being something affirmed by St Louis. I don't recall ever seeing that mentioned, and I certainly don't subscribe to that doctrine.

"Immaculacy" need not refer to "the Immaculate Conception" dogma declared late in time by nothing more than the new and novel idea of "papal infallibility." Even so, I find the doctrine theologically justifiable by the strictest kind of Thomistic reasoning. For Anglicans, however, it is not a dogma.
+ + +

As to the substance of Archbishop John-Charles' statement, I am very glad to see so prominant a voice added to our own chorus here at The Continuum: For he is taking the very stand we have taken all along. We are not divided by any substantial point of theology or, for that matter, of doctrine, discipline and worship. Therefore, it is sin that has caused the divisions. And, one very dominant theme in all of this sin is the deadly sin of pride.

This is not news, I think. Several months ago I was speaking with Archbishop Robert Morse, and he gave me his own account of what divided the first four CC bishops.
"Four of us were consecrated. I am the only one left. I am not a Protestant." I believe we know who he was contrasting himself to. "One was a papist, and he paped, and the other was an English Romantic, an 'England's mountains green' type." This was not a sharp criticism, as I could tell, because he continued, "But, I have no theological difference with the ACC. Of course, if they're the original province, we're the original, original province."

It was not possible to talk with the Archbishop without feeling genuine respect and affection. But, I was left, nonetheless, with no reason to account for the division; at least none that helped me make any real sense of it.

Anonymous said...

My presdiding bishop is in the "Chambers Succession", and has asked in public for intercommunion, and I am not aware of a response.
I, as a board member of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, implore SOMEONE to make a move !!

The Rev'd W E Bauer (EMC)

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

The immaculacy of the BVM is clearly taught in (if not by) the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which repeatedly call her immaculate. While not the subject of formal definition and therefore in the category of obiter dicta, it is clearly an accepted part of the Tradition.

poetreader said...

The following is extracted from an email I sent to a friend. It expresses why I can agree with what ++John-Charles said without necessarily accepting what he and others would see as the implications thereof.

It is the very concept of undefined and undefinable mystery that seems to me the heart of a truly Catholic Christianity. The RCC and Protestantism have in common the typically Western desire/need to define the life out of everything. The East has, quite simply, never even understood that there might be such a need. One comes to the point where apparent contradictions are accepted as both true, recognizes the awesome mystery of it all, and goes on.

To me the matter of the Trinity illustrates both the necessity of dogma, properly conceived, and the futility of 'explaining' dogma. In the Pentecostal circles where I used to minister there was constant agonizing by those who rejected the various Unitarian schemes and wanted to 'explain' just what the Trinity is and how it works. Every 'explanation', without exception that I ever heard advanced was formal heresy of one sort or another, as it emphasized some truth at the expense of some other.
God is one - that's absolute. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct one from another - this is beyond Scriptural question. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each God - that also is inescapable. 'Substance', 'Essence', and 'Person' are terms to which no rationally comprehensible meaning can be assigned, but are rather 'bookmarks' to hold the aspects of the mystery far enough apart so they can be seen, thus eliminating the possibility of most heresies. But they do not and cannot explain the inexplicable.

The Eastern labeling of Mary as 'spotless' and as 'ever-virgin', and their belief that she is glorified in heaven, like their reference to the Eucharistic Presence as a 'change', is fully in accord with this Patristic impulse. It locates these doctrines in the place where they may be seen properly, without attempting to explain them. This is a thoroughly different way of thinking from the attempt to define an immaculate conception, a bodily assumption, or a literally celibate life of Mary or to explain just how bread 'becomes' Body. All of these may be theorized, but all of them raise conceptual problems when put up against the fulness of historic dogma and Scripture.

God will not be neatly packaged in man's theorizing.

Where do I come down on these issues in my own theorizing?

Well, I accept Mary's sinlessness, but, since I question the developed Western way of trying to define 'original sin' I lack comprehension of what her Immaculate Conception could even mean, and I find distinct problems in relating it to the incarnation or to the nature of atonement/redemption. She is sinless. I do not recognize her conception as being other than that of all men.

I tend to believe that Mary was a lifelong celibate. It just sits best with me emotionally to think this. I tend to feel (with some of the Fathers) that the 'brethren and sisters' were Joseph's by an earler marriage. However, I see no reason that I have to be right in this. Some of the Fathers seem to have accepted the possibility that the 'brethren' were hers. Some of the wording in Scripture works well with such an idea, but it is not proven. In many societies, possibly including that of the Jews, there was seen to be something virginal about a faithful wife and mother, in a way that doesn't fit modern logic well, but there it was. 'Ever-virgin' thus may or may not exclude normal relations with her husband. If, as Scripture clearly teaches, sexual congress within marriage is a blessed gift of God, then it is wrong to teach that this possibility would somehow have left Mary less holy.

Though it cannot be 'proven' I have no problem in seeing Mary as having been taken, body and soul, into Heaven. After all, it is recorded at least twice in the OT that this happened to others - Enoch and Elijah. There are no extant relics of her, even though the early church certainly preserved and cherished relics. I, however, prefer the Eastern term 'Dormition' or 'Falling Asleep' as it does not attempt to assert the unprovable.

The bread and wine have 'become' His Body and Blood with as much objective reality as inheres in any physical presence, but it's plain wrong to dogmatize an attempt to 'explain' this mystery in philosophic categories that themselves may or may not be true. I, for one, do not accept the Aristotelian/Thomist division of existence into 'substance' and 'essence' on which it depends, abnd therefore transsubstantiation, to me, is not so much false as meaningless.


Laurence K. Wells said...

Fr Hart writes: "Even so, I find the doctrine theologically justifiable by the strictest kind of Thomistic reasoning."

This seems rather odd, in view of the fact that the Angelic Doctor himself did not accept IC. It needs to be stressed that believing in the "immaculacy" or sinlessness of Our Lady is not identical to believing that she was immaculate from the moment of her conception. St Thomas, along with St Bernard of Clairvaux and other scholastics believed that Mary became sinless at some point or other (possibly at the moment of the Fiat mihi, although as I recall Aquinas pinpointed her own birth as the moment). Many, including C.B.Moss, object to IC since it gives back-door dogmatic status to Augustine's doctrine of original sin. (Personally, I consider that a point in its favor.) But be that as it may, it is simply unacceptable to those who believe that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. It also fails the Vincentian Canon since a minority of RC's, particularly Dominicans, rejected IC right up until 1854. This is hardly "ab omnibus." The usual quotations from the patristic era prove nothing, since they do not specify when Mary became immaculate, or whether immaculacy means sinless.

Concerning the Assumption of Our Lady, a learned RC priest once pointed out to me that the Assumption is the ultimate destiny of every Christian. We only disagree as to whether Mary's Assumption is in the past or the future.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The immaculacy of the BVM is clearly taught in (if not by) the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which repeatedly call her immaculate.

Yes, but because of the formal Roman declaration of dogma, this is too easily confused with the Immaculate Conception.

This seems rather odd, in view of the fact that the Angelic Doctor himself did not accept IC.

However, using his method of reasoning, which was a standard form of argumentation, we can conclude that the IC is true. I simply have not chosen to demonstrate this in a comment. Nor do I want to distract further from the excellent letter from ++John-Charles.

Alice C. Linsley said...

So here we are again...arguing! We all agree that the Blessed Mother of Christ our God conceived without stain. We don't agree that she herself was so conceived, and we don't have to. Didn't Fr. Hart tell us in the piece posted above this that Anglican Catholics don't accept everything from the Vatican, yet hold all marks essential to being regarded as a "sister" church?

Being in the fight with ECUSA has made us too contentious. May we learn charity.

Anonymous said...

I have a honest question for all. What is a traditional Anglican? We have FiF Priest's saying the Novus Ordo Mass, is that traditional Anglicanism? +Ackerman's (Chairman of FiFNa) Franciscan Order uses the 1979 BCP is that traditional Anglicanism? I know of of a Bishop in a respected Continuing Jurisdiction who can trace their links back to the Affirmation of St. Louis, who used to regularly use the Novus Ordo Mass (daily) and use the modern Roman Breviary for the office. Is that traditional Anglicanism?

Also can Anglo-Papists rightly be called traditional Anglicans? For if Rome is the be all and end all for these folk why don't they just submit to Rome as Lay folk? Is it that they do not want to give up their livings? I would lay that same charge at Fif Priest's why not leave ECUSA or Canterbury and join the Continuum? Are you too, afraid of losing your livings and privleges? Are not these key issues to be addressed, before union can be achieved? I am honestly thinking it is all empty rhetoric and a joke. Help!!!



poetreader said...

Well said, Ian!

To be an Anglican is, well, to be an Anglican. It's not the same thing as to be a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox. There is a difference.

Yes, Catholic is Catholic is Catholic. However, there have developed flavors of Catholicism, and there is much about Traditional Anglicanism that is quite distinct from either Rome or the East. How does one define it? That is a difficult question, but one thing that would, it seems to me, be at the core of Anglican identity is Anglican Liturgy. There is an Anglican liturgical tradition, which is distinct from the Roman use, either Tridentine or NO. If we slavishly abandon this tradition in favor of either Roman use, are we any longer really Anglican, or have we become disenfranchised Romans. If it be the latter, why do we not move on and become Romans indeed?

OK, those clergy who are convinced that they are validly ordained may be unable conscientiously to accept reordination, even conditionally, but why is that a barrier? Where is it written that one has to be a cleric? Yes, God does call, but it is a Protestant notion that my hearing that call requires someone else to ordain me. Recognizing a call and bringing it into reality is the job of the church, not of the aspirant, and one can serve God as faithfully as a layman as he can as a priest.

Guess I'll quit for now.


Albion Land said...

Dr Peter Toon has posted this on his site in response:

If my old friend, the Australian Bishop, John-Charles, who taught with me at Nashotah House in the early 1990s, is correct in what he states, then the Continuing Anglican Church(es) are not really Anglican in any historical meaning of the word, for they have rejected the classic, historical formularies of the Anglican Way and adopted other formularies which take them into a kind of half-way point between The Anglican Way and both Rome and Orthodoxy. But not all the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions actually have the Affirmation of St Louis in their constitution--e.g. the APCK-- and so committment to it is not required of clergy. in all continuing bodies. In former times--when I was young-- those who were known as anglo-catholics accepted the classic formularies and added to them what were seen as doctrines and ceremonies which were optional and extra, and these were not made compulsory for others. For John-Charles the optional and extra are a necessary part of the foundation and so it comes about that many high church evangelicals and old fashioned high churchmen and even Prayer Book Catholics have no place in the Continuing Movement as he describes it.