Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bp. Steenson's Unfortunate Remark

"...which ought to raise for us the disturbing images of continuing Anglican churches where prelates seem to outnumber people."

Albion mused on why Bishop Jefferey Steenson, in offering his resignation from the position of Ordinary of the Diocese of the Rio Grande (The Episcopal Church), expressed no interest in Continuing Anglicanism. First of all, I do not blame any clergyman for going to Rome or Orthodoxy, and Bp. Steenson is going to Rome- judging from his letter. I assume that means he is going there, as my brother did, under the terms of the Pastoral Provisions. If anyone truly believes in the claims of the Papacy, he should go to Rome because of his conscience. If someone does not believe those claims, as I do not believe them (as defined in our time), he should not go to Rome. Furthermore, it is risky to enter our Continuing Anglican world unless one is sure of his financial health should the ministry fail to provide a living, which is often the case. Nonetheless, the only reason for a clergyman to join us is because he actually believes that the Anglican Way is right and good, and worth saving from the wreckage of the Cantuarian apostates. If Bp. Steenson believes, as it seems he does, in the claims of the Roman Magisterium, then I can only be happy for him to find a place among that branch of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

However, I must take issue with Bp. Steenson's understanding of just who and what we are. In particular, with things that he wrote in his 2005 paper, "The New Donatists." I was prepared to write about this last night, and have been trumped by Fr. John Hollister of the ACC, who wrote a very good comment about this same paper on another thread on this blog. Therefore, I have little left to write about before simply quoting Fr. Hollister (I assume his permission, inasmuch as he wrote it as a comment right here). All I have left to comment on is one very unfortunate remark. As a passing observation, referring to a historical episode that we would classify with the term episcopus vagens, and that the Catholic Church at that time called episcopus sine populo, Bp. Steenson wrote: "...which ought to raise for us the disturbing images of continuing Anglican churches where prelates seem to outnumber people."

With all due respect for this man, and for the fight he has been through as he has tried to wage a battle for what he believes, I must cry "foul." Having been in the APCK, where we had at that time five bishops and thousands of members; being in contact with bishops and other clergy of the ACC and the ACA, and serving here in my original jurisdiction where we have only one bishop in the whole state of Maryland and Delmarva area, the Continuing Anglicanism I am most familiar with usually manages to provide one and only one priest for every church. Here in Easton, Maryland I serve under a bishop in his own church (which makes it, technically, a cathedral), in a situation where we are quite busy as it is.

I have remarked before that it is not our fault that freedom of religion allows for a lot of imitation. To blame the crazy antics of the imitators on honest, often overworked, almost always underpaid (when paid at all) Continuing Anglican clergy, is as out of place as blaming the See of Rome for those "Catholics" who "ordained" women on the river barge last year, or the Orthodox church for the imitation Orthodox (like "the Celtic Orthodox Church"), or the Polish National Catholic Church for the "Old Catholic" vagante "Archbishop of all North America" whose church was in his garage. Bp. Steenson's remark is an unfortunate caricature, not a true picture. It has no more accuracy than any other prejudicial stereotype (if you will forgive the repetitive redundancy). Again, with all due respect for the man, I hope he will withdraw it.

For the rest of this post, I will bring Fr. John Hollister's comment out from the comment box, and repost it here. It is quite a fair critique of the paper by Bp. Steenson, and is in the nature of an erudite disagreement such as is quite normal in the polite world of academia:

Bp. Steenson, in his paper "The New Donatists", falls into two serious errors.

First, he stated that "Donatism did not represent a significant departure from creedal orthodoxy. But ... this is exactly what is happening in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA.... [These are] the creedal questions: for instance, same-sex blessing held out as marriage is a doctrinal not a disciplinary matter. When a local church acts unilaterally against the counsel, indeed the pleas, of the rest of the Christian world, who is the schismatic?"

What is significant here is that while Bp. Steenson is willing to see male-female marriage and the maintenance of chastity as doctrinal issues, he apparently does not see the purported "ordination" of women as an equally communion-breaking matter. Yet the question is the same in both cases: whether the present, temporary stewards of the Church have the authority to alter the received, and therefore presumptively revelational, truths that the Church has always taught.

Second, he assumes that traditionalists question the sacramental validity of ECUSA and its allies on the ground of the personal unworthiness of ECUSA's leaders. This would be true Donatism but it is in fact a false depiction of the reasons for that question. Instead, those of us who doubt that ECUSA today either possesses or can confer valid Orders, and therefore doubt that it can validly confect and administer those Sacraments that depend upon an Apostolic ministry, do so not because of the manifest unworthinesss of ECUSA representatives such as Vickie Gene Robinson but on quite another ground. That is because we question the sacramental intention employed by an organization that pretends to ordain women to the same Order to which it attempts to ordain men and that thereafter holds those women out to the public as true Apostolic ministers -- such as the ineffable Dr. Jefferts Schori.

These are failures that render utterly worthless his implicit criticisms of Continuing Anglicans.

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