Wednesday, July 02, 2008

We Still Don't Get It, Mike Says

Thanks to Prof William Tighe for pointing out this recent post on Mike Liccione's blog, Sacramentum Vitae. Mike, someone I hold very dear to my heart, and Fr Al Kimmel, of Pontifications fame, have been beating this same dead horse for a number of years now.

In effect, though I think they would deny it, they are saying Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are each entitled to make the claim of being the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, while perhaps each throwing a consolation prize to the other in their more charitable moments, but that Anglicans cannot make the claim of being part of the OHCAC, even without choosing to be exclusivist.

I'm not a dullard, but you're right Mike: I still just don't get it.

Anyway, here is what Mike has to say:

The Continuum is a traditional-Anglican blog whose contributors have, of late, grown gloomier than ever about the prospects of salvaging the Anglican Communion. Given the events surrounding this year's Lambeth Conference, that is probably inevitable. And I am very sympathetic with the concerns of the Continuum. But as a Catholic, I can't help noticing something pivotal that they still don't get.

Consider this peroration from a recent post there by Fr. Robert Hart:

Can they not see that the confusion of sexual identity comes from the world, not from the Holy Spirit? Can they not see that if a person's sex is irrelevant to the sacrament of Holy Orders, they cannot then make it relevant to the sacrament of Matrimony? If Connie can be a priest and father to God's people, why can Adam not marry Steve? If the entire Tradition of receiving God's word as taught from the beginning, when the earliest Fathers interpreted scripture, can be overthrown for the first, how can it hold its authority for the second? In fact, for anything?

Spot on, Padre. Given how women's ordination opens the way to gay marriage, both signify rejection of the Great Tradition—not just this or that aspect of it, but the very raison d'etre of it. Thus, Fr. Hart also says what I have long argued in my own way: "[t]he issue is one of rebellion against the authority of Almighty God, and the denial of his word. But, that rebellion did not begin when Gene Robinson's consecration was approved in 2003. It began when orthodoxy went from being taught authoritatively to being merely tolerated as one option among many." As a Catholic, I see the fundamental issue in Anglicanism today as the one raised by "progressive" Catholicism too.

For Anglican "reappraisers" and Catholic "progs," orthodoxy has become just "one option among many" in the Church. The more charitable among them might fitfully tolerate orthodoxy in the name of that deracinated form of Christian charity known as "inclusivity"; but having forsworn the very possibility of anybody's teaching orthodox doctrine irreformably, they resent anybody's purporting so to teach it. That is why my experience over the last thirty-five years has been that, when I present a clear, constant, yet currently controversial teaching of the Catholic Church as irreformable, progs see me as falsely arrogating to myself and my party within the Church the right to impose certain opinions and values on the rest of the Church. Having been reduced among them to a matter of opinion, they can neither receive nor present orthodoxy as such. Many of them no longer even know what the concept truly involves. Even when some orthodox doctrines are retained by the more temperamentally conservative among them, the authority with which those doctrines have been propounded, and which extends to other doctrines too, is no longer understood as such. Such people might, for a time, remain orthodox per accidens, in a historically transitory way; some surely do; but no member of their set of religious opinions is any longer, indeed cannot be, understood as permanently and definitively normative for the Church as a whole. For such a mentality, that Great Tradition which is the proximate object of "orthodoxy" becomes, sooner or later, a mythology outliving its time. That is the mentality destroying the Anglican Communion, and would destroy the Roman too if the progs had their way.

On that much, Fr. Hart and I are probably in full agreement. Nevertheless, his basic criticism of the Anglican reappraisers (and, to a degree, the "Global-South" reasserters as well) is, at bottom, not only my own about Catholic progs, but also of any and every brand of Anglicanism—and therefore of the brand he so eloquently represents.

After the peroration I block-quoted above, Fr. Hart invokes an old standby:

I believe in the word of God, as revealed by the Holy Spirit and received and understood by the Church Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est- "What has been believed everywhere, always and by all."

That last quotation-within-a-quotation is the well-known "Vincentian Canon." Some time ago, I complained on this blog about use of the VC as "theological sloganizing," but what I was reacting to in that post is not precisely what Fr. Hart is doing. What he's doing with the VC is something I criticized in a related post a few months later.

Against an argument adduced by Orthodox scholar Perry Robinson, I wrote (emphasis added now):

The VC states: "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally." Now that is obviously untrue if taken fully literally; some qualifying interpretation of it has to be given if its original, contextual meaning is to be explained fairly, and I gave that interpretation in my earlier post. Specifically, one needs to know what counts as "the Catholic Church" in order to know what the relevant logical extension of "everywhere, always, and by all" actually is. According to Perry, what relevantly counts as the Catholic Church for VC purposes is the set of sees founded by the Apostles. Now, was it literally true in the 5th century that each and every such see was always orthodox according to the VC? Of course not. At that time, the apostolic sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as that of Constantinople, had been falling in and out of what even Orthodoxy considers heresy for at least a century. So if the VC is usefully applicable at all, it is applicable only to that communion of churches which, as "the" Church, had remained in the true Faith indefectibly. And which Church was that?

The question cannot be convincingly answered simply by an historical appeal to what this or that collection of sees, even apostolic sees, had "always" held. It can only be answered, if at all, by a theologically prior identification of what counts as "the" Church, so that the unfortunate heresies sometimes infecting this or that occupant of such sees do not weigh against identifying the relevant collectivity, the Church. But that identification, of course, is precisely what is at issue here. Accordingly, there is no convincing way to apply the VC while remaining ecclesiologically neutral. What counts as "the Catholic Church" for purposes of ascertaining how VC should be interpreted cannot be effectively addressed by interpreting and applying the VC in a manner logically independent of one's ecclesiological commitments.

Now Fr. Hart is neither Orthodox nor Catholic, precisely because he does not believe that either the Roman communion of churches or the Orthodox communion of churches is identical with "the" Church of Christ. Fr. Hart is, rather, what many theologians would call a "branch theorist"—a term he rejects because he believes his ecclesiology to be true doctrine, not mere theory. Thus he believes that the Roman communion, the Orthodox communion, and the Anglican Communion (of the good old days before women's ordination and sanctified sodomy, of course) are each "branches" of "the Catholic Church," i.e. the one Church of Christ. Correspondingly, he believes that the doctrinal content of orthodoxy is the faith of the "undivided" Church of the first millennium, which each of those branches has managed to preserve, though not always without an admixture of error. Of course, on this showing the Episcopal Church and perhaps even the Church of England are no longer part of the Catholic Church as Fr. Hart understands that term, precisely because they have abandoned the Great Tradition. Only the really traditional Anglicans, those whose position is exactly his or as close as makes no difference, still belong to the Catholic Church as that term is understood by branch theorists like himself. So in Fr. Hart's eyes, not only do neither of the two ancient communions claiming to be "the" Church count as such; only his minority party within the communion counting as the junior branch of the Church understands what the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" ('OHCAC' for short) professed in the Nicene Creed actually comprises. In effect, Fr. Hart purports to profess orthodox ecclesiology while rejecting the ecclesiological self-understanding of each of the three historic bodies he recognizes as branches of OHCAC. Even somebody who finds such a stance appealing for its irony has to see something amiss here. In my reply to Perry Robinson, I've already pointed to what's amiss.

I described the upshot in yet another post: "Like the finest vodka, this is private judgment distilled so effectively that one hardly knows when one is drinking it." As I explained in my essay Faith, Private Judgment, Doubt, and Dissent, what I mean by 'private judgment' is precisely what John Henry Newman meant. Since branch theorists believe they understand better than anybody else what the phrase 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' really means, they believe they understand what orthodoxy—i.e., adherence to the faith of said church—really entails better than either of the two ancient communions with unassailable claims to apostolic succession. Although such a position is absolutely untenable, it explains why branch theorists also merit a description that most of them believe applies to Anglicans less traditional than they: 'Protestants who think they're Catholic'.

My friend and fellow philosopher Scott Carson puts the problem better still: is the great Protestant Burden, it seems to me, to maintain two incompatible ideas at the same time. On the one hand, it must be maintained that something called "the Tradition" is not to be located in any one time or place, but in all times and places, that is, it is what has been believed by everyone everywhere. That's what "catholic" means, after all: "universal". On the other hand, it must be maintained that, when it comes to deciding what, exactly, fits this description--well, then it's confined to one time and one place: it's me. If you start to do or to teach something that is not all that consonant with what I and my cronies have been doing and teaching, clearly the only explanation is that you have departed from "the Tradition". I can prove this, too, by showing you the documents and other artifacts that constitute the evidence of "the Tradition" and interpreting them for you in the proper way, not in the heterodox way that you interpret them. If you insist, for some perverse reason, that I am interpreting them wrongly, then I will just point out to you that their meaning is plain and that you are the one jumping through hermeneutic hoops to get it to come out your way, while I am simply looking at all the data in the plain light of day, with no interpretive lens other than sheer rationality.

Scott recognizes, of course, that such a game is not limited to Fr. Hart and his allies. A lot of people play it for very serious purposes. What must be kept in mind, however, is the mentality according to which neither of the two ancient communions with unassailable claims to apostolic succession can cogently claim to be the OHCAC, and therefore cannot rightfully demand adherence to their authority as necessary for orthodoxy, i.e., for adherence to the faith-once-delivered. According to said mentality, only certain people who have made a sufficiently careful study of theology and church history know what OHCAC, and with it orthodoxy, truly are. This kind of Protestantism is the opposite of unthinking fundamentalism and emotional pietism. But it is Protestantism all the same. The tragedy of it is how effectively it prevents its adherents from knowing that. It's why they still don't get it.


poetreader said...

I'm not going to venture a detailed response here. Merely to comment that the author has been listening to Anglican words, including those of Fr, Hart, but that he shows no signs of having any idea what is being said. It's like a different language altogether. Perhaps that's inevitable when one is committed to a mechanically exclusivist viewpoint. I believe that way of thinking is a product of the Roman legalist mind, and not applicable in any substantial way to the Gospel. The Roman and Orthodox views BTW are not the same at all, but arise from substantially different presuppositions. I won't go into that at the moment, but will say that I find his "reasoning" to be decidedly unhelpful.


Anonymous said...

I think the heart of this argument - buried as it is in many paragraphs and quotes - is the old question of magisterium and identifying the church. To wit, the Vincentian question "what is the faith believed always and everywhere by the Church" is a question that (as this article puts it):

can only be answered, if at all, by a theologically prior identification of what counts as "the" Church

... and the article goes on to argue that this "identification" is only properly found in the bishop of Rome.

The problem with this logic -- a problem implicit in the very existence of the Councils to which it refers -- is that that is NOT how the Early Church itself answered this question.

Yes, there were various opinions. Yes, different patriarchal sees fell at time into error (I notice that the article does not mention the pontificates of Liberius or (though a weaker example) Honorius). All quite true.

But how did the Church itself -- East and West -- when confronted with these theological differences, resolve the issue? Did everyone across the Empire and beyond turn to Rome and ask "what do you say, oh infallible one?"


Rather, they called an Ecumenical Council.

That's how the Early Church answered the Vincentian question which this article proposes. Not by the papacy. Not by Rome. But by the Councils.

Which is why I, like Fr. Hart, consider myself a "catholic" Christian, because I look for normative authority and the teaching of the Church in Scripture and in the Ecumenical Councils.

Not in the pope.


Anonymous said...

Michael Liccione PhD is eminently qualified to understand matters Anglican. His message is well argued (however unwelcome it may be), intelligent and credible. Lightly dismissing him as a typical unimaginative Roman robot says more about the prejudices of the commenter than the author.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, the people who believe in the two One True Churches have this advice to give: "When you get to the fork in the road, take it."

Poor Mike. Obviously, he has not been reading my posts consistently. He rejects the Vincentian Canon because of Newman's 19th century innovation, his ridiculous theory of Doctrinal Development. This theory was rejected by Rome, but began to be reconsidered more and more after 1870 to justify their official and even newer innovation, papal infallibility.

In the last year I have answered every argument Mike has made before he made them. It began with my two posts on "Non-Anglican Difficulties."

Vitae Scrutator said...

Speaking in my capacity as the "Scott Carson" mentioned in Mike's post, and being someone who is in substantial agreement with Mike in what he says in that post, I will say that, having begun as an Anglican, upon my conversion to Catholicism I don't think I experienced any genuinely significant changes in the language being used, though I do take the point that in many cases of theological disagreement there truly is this sort of "talking past" one another.

When I was an Anglican, I engaged in many of the same sorts of controversies that one finds current these days in the blogosphere, though I'm speaking here of the early 1980s and of course there was no blogosphere then. But upon my conversion I did not need to learn, or re-learn, the meanings of any theological terms, or be inculcated into any particular hermeneutical Weltanschauung. I'm not altogether sure what is the best way to describe what happened to me, other than to say that I simply changed my mind about some things. Does this mean that now, when I attempt to discuss these matters with Anglicans, I can no longer do so very meaningfully, because I no longer "speak their language"? It's certainly true that I no longer agree to certain propositions that I used to agree to, but presumably I still understand what they mean.

I suppose the question then is, "Well then, why don't you agree to these propositions that you used to agree to?" In short, what made me change my mind? This is a difficult question to answer (especially as it was all 25 years ago now); I suppose it is due in part to my learning some data that I did not know before, in part to thinking things through in different ways than I had done, in part to my desire to find an ecclesial communion that (at least in my own judgment) seemed less likely to suffer the difficulties that the PECUSA seemed doomed to suffer as it progressively discarded one traditional teaching after another. In the end, for whatever reason, I made the change, but I don't see any evidence here of "a mechanically exclusivist viewpoint". Perhaps having such a viewpoint prevents one from being able to see that one has it, but if so it certainly raises the question of what happened to my old viewpoint, why wasn't it mechanical in its own way (thus preventing me from seeing the normative superiority of other viewpoints?), and how does one go about exchanging one such viewpoint for another.

It is, perhaps, rather easy to describe things we don't like in terms that reflect rather poorly on the object of our deprecation; thus a view like Mike's (and mine) becomes a "product" of something called the "Roman legalist mind", and it is said to be so alien as to be "not applicable in any substantial way to the Gospel". Indeed, when talking about our opponents' reasons we may go so far as to put words like "reasoning" into quotation marks in order to make it clear that we don't think they're really reasoning things through very well at all, not nearly so well as we ourselves are doing. That this is being said about a point of view that says virtually the same thing about the point of view of the person making the disparaging judgment here is perhaps rather droll in its own ironic way, but the amusements of irony will hardly convince the author here of the ultimate silliness of what he is saying--indeed, how could it, under the circumstances?

Quite frankly, in spite of what some might think about "mechanically exclusivist viewpoints", I myself have always retained a deep respect and admiration for those Anglicans who continue in the tradition that is consistently defended here in this forum, and I myself see the difference principally as one of ecclesial polity, not theology. I doubt very much that I would disagree in any substantive way with the authors of this blog on just about any issue other than Papal Primacy. Even there we might agree far more than some might suspect. So I fail to be persuaded that arguing for the sort of position that Mike has argued for entails that one will necessarily have a theological language so orthogonal to every other as to fit the description being given to it here.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

If Mike Liccione is really so knowledgable about Anglicanism, as JAT says, he certainly fails to demonstrate it in his article (though I agree with JAT, that Michael is "imaginative"). Does he think we shudder at being called Protestants? Of course, in the sense that they meant it in Queen Elizabeth's time, we are Protestants, because that is the only way to be genuinely Catholic.

Obvioulsy, I don't feel like repeating everything I have already said since first writing "Non-Anglican Difficulties." Neither do I want to repeat the many points I have made in the series of posts that were called "anti-Roman tracts." They are still all here to be read (though they were not anti-Roman. They were simply my effort to convert Anglicans to Anglicanism).

Scott Carson:

It appears I have indeed spoken past Michael Liccione; but, he has not spoken past me. I understand him perfectly. My answers have been written already, again beginning in "Non-Anglican Difficulities," and other posts that came after.

I do reject Newman's Doctrinal Development, and hold to the Vincentian Canon. My friend Al Kimmel's red herring arguments about "private judgment" remain a house of cards.

Private judgement indeed! Scripture, Reason and the Authority of the Church (Tradition)leave no more room for "private judgement" than does the Catechism of the Catholic Church and every Papal document ever written, icluding those written after the Magical and Innovative year of 1870.

John A. Hollister said...

"So in Fr. Hart's eyes, ... only his minority party within the communion counting as the junior branch of the Church understands what the 'one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church' ('OHCAC' for short) professed in the Nicene Creed actually comprises."

By George, I think he's got it!

And the reason that Fr. Hart and those who think as he does do actually understand what the OHCAC comprises, while some large and conspicuous remnants of that same OHCAC do not, is precisely because the Hart Party has no dog in the race to be "the" Church.

Both Rome and Constantinople are blinded to the historical facts by their partisan stakes in the outcome of that contest which should never have been waged in the first place.

As to the rest of the original posting, it reminded me of one of my first employers, a delightfully insightful gentleman who would remark to someone who was being particularly silly, "I can see your mouth moving but I can't hear what you're saying".

John A. Hollister+


Canon Tallis said...

Bravo, Father Hart.
And what is the Bishop of Rome's opinion, if not private judgement. The facts of the Councils is still there. They simply don't or won't see them. The facts of the New Testament and how they were interpreted by a clear majority of the Fathers are still there, but they refuse to accept their judgement either. So what are they willing to accept? The myth of Peter and the petrine claims which have over and over again been demonstrated to lack historicity as well as acceptance by all those who hold to the Vincentian Canon, the Councils and the writings of the fathers and bishops of the first five centuries.
Now that is real Protestantism!

poetreader said...

Actually, Mr. Carson, ny remarks which you've commented on were not aimed at all RCs or, for that matter at all RC apologists. They are probably not aimed directly at Mr. Liccione either, but they are an attempt to figure why his comments, as posted above, show so little evidence of having heard what Fr. Hart has been repeatedly saying. His rebuttals are no more than marginally related to anything Fr. Hart has said. That's what puzzles me. He is an obviously intelligent writer (PhD and all (as JAT kindly points out), who has taken the trouble at least to try to understand Anglicans, but yet shows so little evidence of actually understanding what we are saying, that I wonder who he has been reading. It leads me to wonder how much of the "mechanistic exclusivist viewpoint" and "Roman legalism" - which are well-known phenomena of some, but far from all, RCs - he himself has accepted. Perhaps there's another explanation - I'm not sure what it would be.

Yes, we do make propositions and interpretations at variance with the Roman Church. These are certainly open to discussion, and we may or may not be able to end up with some kind of agreement, but if we are not discussing the same issues, that will never happen.


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

One of the things that I've seen make an Orthodox rather angry is the Roman Catholic (in speaking on behalf of the Orthodox) saying that the Orthodox believes just as he does, save for that business about the Bishop of Rome.

I also love the old Roman claim that whenever you bring up historical points (councils, rather than popes being consulted on doctrine, the Romans crying out long ago that they never taught infallibility of the Bishop of Rome--that this was a Protestant invention--until they actually started teaching it; you see, it was false until it was true; bishops of Rome being heretics, etc) about Roman doctrine you are being "anti-Roman Catholic."

Lisa Carson said...

Robert Hart:

You're starting to sound rather like a caricature of one of your brothers, though I'm not sure which one. Probably the Orthodox one. When you write

Scripture, Reason and the Authority of the Church (Tradition)leave no more room for "private judgement" than does the Catechism of the Catholic Church and every Papal document ever written, icluding those written after the Magical and Innovative year of 1870

it is, of course, quite easy to agree with you (well, except for all that tendentious stuff about magic and innovation). I would have agreed with you 25 years ago when I was an Anglican, and I agree with you now as a Catholic. What I see now that I did not see quite so clearly then is the rather slippery character of the referents of certain key terms in that assertion. We agree that there is no place for "private judgment" in the determination of what is true, and we both look to "Scripture, Reason and the Authority of the Church", but while we may agree on what "Scripture" refers to (though possibly with different views about which books are canonical), we evidently do not agree about what "Reason" and "the Authority of the Church" refer to. Or, to put it more clearly, we do not fully agree about where "reason", rightly understood, will lead, nor do we fully agree about the essential nature of "the Authority of the Church". I assume that we are both "reasonable", at least insofar as we are both capable of following a deductive or inductive inference, and I assume that we both love the same God and his Annointed One, but the difference remains. We cannot both be right. I suppose you think that you are. That's only natural; what seems less natural (at least to me), is the attitude displayed in such claims as "It appears I have indeed spoken past Michael Liccione; but, he has not spoken past me. I understand him perfectly". This is really a conjunction of two different claims, but it seems improbable to me that you could really know both conjuncts to be true at the same time. Possible, I suppose, but given that we all approach every question from within a given context, highly unlikely. (Try to remember that believing very strongly that a proposition is true is not the same thing as knowing that it is true.)

Ed (Poetreader)

Now that I understand a little better what you are saying (at least I think that I do), I find what you have to say far more congenial, and I apologize for having mischaracterized what you were trying to say; I can plead only that I was trying to apply the principle of charity to both sides, and found certain expressions in your earlier post difficult to square with how I imagined such a process would move forward.

But let me address a minor point you make in your more recent comment. You write that you find it difficult to understand how someone as well-educated as Mike Liccione could fail to understand Robert Hart's arguments or, perhaps, the position of a certain kind of Anglican. Two things in this are of interest to me, one minor, one less so; let me begin with the more minor thing first--the issue of education. I would not assume that someone with a good education would necessarily immediately see all of the virtues of a given argument, or indeed all of its vices, either. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I also have advanced degrees (I hold a PhD in philosophy from Duke University and a PhD in classics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and I will be the first to admit that I don't always understand what people are talking about around here. In particular, I will say that I agree with Mike Liccione's assessment of Robert Hart's position, even after having looked at Robert's own arguments. I also agree with the arguments Al Kimel has made, which Robert has characterized as "red herrings" or as a "house of cards". I don't know what Al Kimel's education is like, but I assume he has at least the equivalent of a Master's degree in something or other; I also don't know what Robert Hart's educational background is, but again, as a priest, he must have some kind of graduate degree. So I think it is fair to say that we have four people here who are all very well educated, yet they don't agree on certain very important issues, even after hearing one another's arguments. It would be silly to conclude that everybody on "the other side of the debate" (depending upon which side one finds oneself on) is either stupid or vicious, and yet that seems to be the dichotomy you are suggesting here. It seems to me that there is some tertium quid available, something that has nothing to do with education.

This brings me to the less minor point that I wanted to make (though it is still somewhat minor). You write that Mike seems to you not to understand what (some) Anglicans are saying and, given his education, you appear willing to attribute this to something like a "mechanistic exclusivity", which at least has the appearance of avoiding the dichotomy suggested above (and after all, how else could we explain such a failure to understand something that Robert has so successfully made so clear?). It begins to look as though you think that, if anybody understands Robert's argument, he will necessarily agree with it; or, to put it another way: anybody who does not agree with Robert's argument, necessarily does not understand it. This seems highly suspect to me. Forgetting, for the moment, about Anglicans vs. Romans, and speaking strictly in my capacity as a college professor, I would say that, if I were listening to a debate, or a panel of scholars discussing some arcane point, and if I found that several very bright people were all "failing to understand" a given text, and yet they were all interpreting that text in a similar way, I'm not sure I would be tempted to fault the interpreters as much as the text. Possibly the text does not make its case as well as its author thinks it does. Sure, the author finds it compelling, and those who are antecedently predisposed to agree with his conclusions do too, but the best test of an argument's soundness (as opposed to its mere rhetorical effectiveness) is the extent to which it can compel the assent of even those who are predisposed to reject its conclusion. If these latter folks can't even be counted upon "to understand" what it's saying well enough to be so compelled, then it falls short. I certainly would not interpret disagreement with an argument as nothing more than failure to understand an argument, even if I myself thought that the argument was a sound one. I would be much more likely to think that, though I believe the argument sound, I also believe it possible that I may be mistaken.

I have, indeed, been mistaken on occasion. It's very rare, of course, but I can't say that it's impossible.

Vitae Scrutator said...

Just to make things clear, let me apologize because when I posted my last comment I was using my wife's computer, and did not notice that I was using her Google account instead of mine.

So kindly direct all of your ire (or good wishes, if any), not to LISA Carson but to SCOTT Carson. If you write to her, she will have no idea what you are talking about.

Of course, her not understanding you does not mean that you aren't making any sense....

Vitae Scrutator said...

I'm sorry to keep pestering everyone, but I would like to add to my previous apology/explanation that my wife, Lisa, would never in a million billion years end a comment with a joke about never making mistakes--she is far too civilized, decent, and sophisticated to engage in the sort of Three Stooges humor that I find so congenial.

If you're waiting for me to apologize for the content of my comment, keep waiting. Try holding your breath as you do.

Strider said...

I would like to respond to poetreader's two comments. I understand the Anglican position quite well. I understand it from the inside, from the heart, in the heart. It simply will not do to assert that Michael Liccione is speaking a different language and does not understand the arguments advanced by Anglo-Catholics. I believe that Mike has accurately identified a critical weakness of Anglicanism--and particularly Anglo-Catholicism, and particularly the Anglo-Catholicism that is embodied in the Continuum.

Will Mike's arguments persuade a convinced Anglo-Catholic. Of course not. They will not persuade a convinced Lutheran or Baptist either--and for very similar reasons.

Mike has invoked John Henry Newman's analysis of private judgment and his critique of the Vincentian canon. Unlike Fr Hart, I find Newman quite compelling and convincing on this issue. Newman's reflections do not grow out of a Catholic legalism; rather, they express what it means to belong to a living community that dares to dogmatize irreformably. Newman, of course, was Roman Catholic and so his argument is formulated in a Catholic way; but his point can be equally stated in an Eastern Orthodox way. I reference in particular Florovsky's critique of the Vincentian Canon and Khomiakov's critique of Anglicanism. Khomiakov puts it this way:

"Many bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of it? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. Ussher is almost a complete Calvinist; but yet he, no less than those bishops who give expression to Orthodox convictions, belongs to the Anglican Church. We may, and do, sympathise with the individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathise with a community which interpolates the Symbol and doubts her right to that interpolation, or which gives communion to those who declare the Bread and Wine of the High Sacrifice to be mere bread and wine, as well as to those who declare it to be the Body and Blood of Christ. This for an example — and I could find hundreds more — but I go further. Suppose an impossibility — suppose all the Anglicans be quite orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled to something very near Truth. If we admit this, all is lost, and Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question. Protestantism, most reverend sir, is the admission of an unknown [quantity] to be sought by reason; and that unknown [quantity] changes the whole equation to an unknown quantity, even though every other datum be as clear and as positive as possible. Do not, I pray, nourish the hope of finding Christian truth without stepping out of the former Protestant circle. It is an illogical hope; it is a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love. Were you to find all the truth, you would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain — the assurance of truth."

Orthodox and Catholics can be infuriating when they speak like this. I suppose it really does reduce to, in the words of Fr Hart: "When you get to the fork in the road, take it." But of course Orthodox and Catholics have no option but to speak like this, because both are firmly convinced that the ecclesial community to which they belong is the infallible, truth-speaking Church of Jesus Christ. Catholic truth cannot be know apart from catholic Church.

And here is the critical problem for the continuing Anglo-Catholic. He desires to profess the fullness of catholic truth, yet he cannot ground this fullness in the living authority of the Church, whether magisterial (Catholic) or experiential (Orthodox), for both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are, Anglo-Catholic must dogmatically insist, wrong in their respective ecclesiological self-understandings. He cannot even appeal to the authority of the Anglican Communion, from which he is sacramentally separated. The Anglo-Catholic knows that being catholic is the direct opposite of all forms of congregationalism and sectarianism, yet he finds himself belonging to a tiny denomination that is in communion with hardly anyone. The Anglo-Catholic feels keenly the anomalousness of his position. If he doesn't, he is no true catholic.

The competing claims of Orthodoxy and Catholicism are troubling and difficult. I can well understand someone simply throwing up his hands in despair, saying, "I do not know how to decide between these claims and so I must stay where I am." But I cannot believe that Fr Hart is right and that *both* Catholics and Orthodox are wrong. Something is very uncatholic about such a picture.

Fr Alvin Kimel

Fr. Steve said...

I got through about half of that before his apologetics for Rome began to make me gag. The arrogance of that article oozes out of it like thick molasses. But I see others have addressed that issue, so I'll leave it alone.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


The rumors of your death have been exaggerated! You are still alive on the internet.

You should know by now what i will say about Khomiakov. He was not aware of Formularies, the basis on which I argue for the Via Media, and have always done so. What some Anglican down the street believes is not enough to dismiss those formularies.

Furthermore, since when does that description of the Episcopal Church apply to the kind of Anglicans over here? What is our Affirmation of St. Louis if not the very kind of dogmatic and uniform statement you say we aren't able to have?

I entered this blog for the main purpose of stating a defense against your blog, without always having to repeat myself.

To that end I call everyone's attention to "No checks and balances here," and to "Right Reason"- previous posts of mine.

I have tried to be impressed by Newman, but I simply can't be. Sorry, but he was very much overrated. The holes in his logic are so wide and gaping I could drive a truck through them.

Scott Carson:

You wrote: when I posted my last comment I was using my wife's computer, and did not notice that I was using her Google account instead of mine.

Good, because I would hate to have to punch a lady.

If you look at the two posts I mentioned above, you will understand me better. Nonetheless, I still say that I spoke past Michael, but he did not speak past me. I know what he meant, but I can tell he did not know what I meant. You may blame my text if you want to. i think, rather, that it is a different kind of lack of communication.

Roman Catholics cannot understand the Church unless it is organized and unified in its earthly structure. We understand the need for structure, but see the only head of the Body as Jesus Christ. The Church, called out from every kindred, tongue and nation, was never capable of quite the tidiness Roman catholics seem to need.

You said: You're starting to sound rather like a caricature of one of your brothers, though I'm not sure which one.

Frankly, we all three sound a lot alike, and we think almost identically. Let that worry certain RCs and Orthodox all it might. But, we are real patristic guys.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

But I cannot believe that Fr Hart is right and that *both* Catholics and Orthodox are wrong. Something is very uncatholic about such a picture.

What I believe is that both the RCs and the Orthodox are right, and so are we, about everything that matters.

He desires to profess the fullness of catholic truth, yet he cannot ground this fullness in the living authority of the Church...

Living authority other than the bishops? We don't need any other. Do you mean a living authority that has new dogmas and revelations? We really, really don't need that. If you show me new dogma, I will call it heresy.

I want to ask you this:

In order to believe that the RCC is the The One True Church, with an infallible Magisterium, do you not use your private judgment? Not even a little?

When you were judging between Rome and Orthodoxy, did that thinking never make use of private judgment?

Does your continued adherence to the RCC not involve your own private judgment?

If it does not involve your own judgment, how can you say, "I believe..."?

Vitae Scrutator said...


Speaking for myself, and signed in to the correct Google account to prove it (I'm even using my own computer for once), I have two things to say.

First, I think I understand you perfectly well when you say that you and your brothers think alike, and that you are "real Patristic guys". That's what I like about you and your brothers (well, I confess I only know what I read here and in First Things, but so far so good). It seems to me, at least from my own perspective, that we have a lot more in common than not, even though I do happen to agree with Mike and Al.

Second, the unity that you describe, one of a Church "called out from every kindred, tongue and nation", is nevertheless also a unity of earthly structures. As mystical as the Body of Christ may be, here on earth it consists of real live human beings forming real live relationships; these relationships are essentially "earthly structures". Needless to say, you, your brothers, and I appear all to agree on the essential nature of the mystical part of the Body; it's the less mystical part we appear to disagree about. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems to me that our differences over the less mystical parts matter a lot less to people like me than to--well, some people. You write, in your reply to Al:

What I believe is that both the RCs and the Orthodox are right, and so are we, about everything that matters.

I find this very congenial, but I would be willing to bet that it is congenial to Mike and Al as well, since its truth seems to me to hinge upon the clause "about everything that matters." What, in the end, does matter? Papal primacy? Accepting such a doctrine is a form of unity, but it is only one form. Does it matter more than other forms? I doubt it. While I myself yearn very deeply for a reunification of sorts with Anglicans and Orthodox, I'm realistic enough to know that it's not going to happen--certainly not in my lifetime, perhaps not before the eschaton (though this sort of thing encourages me to some small extent--call me a Romantic). When I was an Anglican the custom was to invite all Baptized Christians to receive Holy Communion; that, too, is a form of unity. Accepting the licitness of such an invitation is to accept the idea that unity of praxis is, in some sense, more important than unity of belief. Catholics and Orthodox do not make similar invitations--they appear to believe that unity of belief is a deeper sign of unity than mere unity of praxis. Does it come as a surprise to me that, within a communion in which unity of praxis trumps unity of belief, there should be umbrage taken at the suggestion that folks submit to a centralized teaching authority (here, of course, "authority" must mean "institution charged with the definitive interpretation of the deposit of faith")? No, not at all.

If different communions (and here we're talking about only three such communions) can have such markedly different commitments to the notion of what are the necessary and sufficient conditions of unity, how can there be any real unity? I confess that I don't know the answer to that, even though I believe that you are right to say that some differences may not matter.

You chide Al (perhaps "tease" is a better word) about the notion of "private judgment", but surely you are far too intelligent to think that "I believe" entails such a thing (ignoring for a moment the fact that it is a mistranslation of the original anyway). The difference between you and Al surely must be grounded in something more substantive than a disagreement over what it means to submit oneself to an interpretive "authority". Since it is so obvious, I must assume that you know full well that Al's view is that to accept the authority of Rome is not an act of private judgment at all, but on the contrary a decision to surrender one's private judgment to the authority of another. The decision to do this is not itself a private "judgment" at all but a private "intention". As such, it ought not to be grounded in a rational judgment to the effect that "this authority is right, according to my private judgment", but is rather an intuition that one is called so to submit. It is precisely because such a decision is not an act of judgment that it is characterized instead as an act of faith, and one aided by supernatural grace at that. But surely you know all of this already. And just as surely you engaged in precisely the same kind of private intention when you decided to submit yourself to whatever sort of authority you now submit to. As long as you refrain from engaging in any judgments about the truth of any doctrines handed to you by this authority, or about the validity of the authority to which you submit, then it is clear that you, too, are not guilty of putting private judgment before authoritative teaching. So it seems to me that the whole issue of private judgment is quite off the mark here.

Well, that was rather long winded, wasn't it. But as it happens, although I said there were two things I wanted to say, it turns out that there were really three. Don't assume that just because you're not punching my wife you're not punching a lady; she happens to agree with me, Mike, and Al.

Well, except for the part about me not being mistaken very often. She disagrees with that one quite a bit. I could write a book....

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Just a few things come to mind
about all that. This is how it strikes me, so I might as well just say it.

(By the way, "I believe" is the correct translation of the Creed as it was first used when adapted as liturgy, rather than when it was written in the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople. The purpose is different.)

Turning off our brains to submit to authority sounds very pious, but it is exactly opposite what the Bible commands us to do. "Prove all things." I Thes. 5:21. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Rom. 14:5

Learning is an intellectually active affair, not a matter of turning off the mind. Such a version of Roman Catholicism is too much like Fundamentalism at its worst. It seems very opposite to the wisdom that Proverbs tells of. St. Thomas Aquinas would not have respected disregard for Right Reason.

Those who actually believe in Roman Catholicism do not need to buy into this disregard for private judgment. The papal documents are written with the intention of proving their position by presenting the very things we speak of: Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition. Just read any papal document. None of them say, "throw away your private judgment and trust us." Neither do they say: "You have to accept this because we say so." Instead, they seek to persuade the mind by Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition.

Mike and Al do the RC Church a terrible disservice and misrepresent its mind. The RC Church is not run by Bob Jones type Baptists. It is a lot like Traditional Anglicanism at its core.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Mike’s argument may be fairly summarised as follows:

1. Anglo-Catholicism has these two theologically characteristic positions:
1a. Anglo-Catholicism accepts the standard of the Vincentian Canon and is thus committed to the authority of the consistent consensus of the Catholic Church in interpreting Scripture and formulating doctrine and dogma.
1b. Anglo-Catholicism does not accept the claims made on behalf of either the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) or the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) to be exclusively the One True Church (OTC) and, as a corollary, makes its own claim that its particular jurisdictions are part of that OTC.

2. Whether one limits one’s survey (i.e., one’s search for Catholic consensus) to the Catholic Church of the First Millenium before the schism between East and West, or the RCC since then, or the EOC since then, or even a hypothetical combination of the EOC and RCC, in each case there is a consistent dogmatic consensus that the unity of the OTC is always outwardly visible and thus that any outward separation of jurisdictions cannot possibly leave more than one of the separated bodies inside the OTC. That is, East and West always have asserted and still do assert a doctrine of manifest unity (DMU) of the OTC.

3. Given that orthodox Anglican Churches, even if hypothetically included as relevant to such a survey, have made such a small proportion of any so identified Catholic Church (and did not exist as entities distinguishable from the RCC for much of the past), their non-acceptance of the DMU could not overturn or significantly affect any achievement of consensus posited in 2.

4. Therefore (2 + 3), the DMU satisfies the Vincentian Canon according to any plausible application of it to historic and present ecclesial reality, including an Anglo-Catholic one. That is, the standard purportedly accepted by Anglo-Catholics in 1a is contradictory to any denial of the DMU.

5. 1b denies the DMU.

6. Therefore (4 + 5), 1a and 1b are implicitly contradictory and Anglo-Catholicism is thus intrinsically logically incoherent.

The argument as it stands is a valid and powerful one, granting all its factual premises (1 to 3 and 5). The problem is that premise 2 is simply false. There is no binding DMU and there never has been. The DMU, at most, has been a common opinion or sometimes has been asserted or assumed in official but non-infallible teaching contexts. But the actions of the Church (using any of the hypothesised identifications above) and the statements of various of its theologians and bishops (in good standing) in the past have often been manifestly inconsistent with such an absolute position. And I have made this very point before and given the relevant evidence on this weblog in 3 parts. However, that essay may be found concatenated more conveniently here: Since writing that essay I have come across further similar evidence, such as the fact that at the first mediaeval “re-union” Council between East and West, neither side treated the other as properly schismatic or outside the Church.

What is undeniably asserted as dogmatic fact by the RCC is that it is the True Church. It is the same for the EOC in its self-understanding. However, neither of these churches has dogmatically declared that every person or institution outside their visible canonical boundaries simply must be, in some sense, separated from the Catholic Church, the OTC. In other words, they are each absolutely sure where the Church is, but not absolutely sure where it is not. Again, more detailed discussion of this may be found in my earlier essay.

Finally, allow me to point out that Dr Liccione’s rendering of the Vincentian Canon is in danger of being reduced to a useless tautology, and one that Catholics could not accept inasmuch as it would imply all past appeal to this principle was an invalid circular argument. That is, if it is true one cannot appeal to the Vincentian Canon to judge a controversial doctrinal issue without first successfully determining exactly who or what churches are definitely orthodox and Catholic (so that their consent counts), then one must determine who is on the “right side” of any disputed matter before one can use consensus to determine which is the right side! That really would be incoherent. Indeed, the numbered argument I have given above as, I think, an accurate summary of our friend’s position does not use the Vincentian Canon in consistency with this tautological interpretation. Instead, it attempts to show that, even without knowing a priori who is the OTC, one can use the principle of St Vincent of Lerins to conclusively reject Anglo-Catholicism. Hence, any polemical attempt to deny the right of Anglican Catholics to appeal to the Canon in support of their teaching and identity, such as Manning’s infamous reference to the treachery of an appeal to history or his glorying in the triumph of dogma over history, is unreasonable. So is Khomiakov’s similar effort, especially since he ignores the fact that the Church of England at the Reformation did not claim to use St Vincent’s principle to reconstruct doctrine or the Church ab initio, but to correct certain abuses in faith and practice in their particular jurisdiction. There was a self-conscious, official and explicit avowal of essential continuity, however imperfectly things were done.

Vitae Scrutator said...


Here are a couple more thoughts, then.

When you say something like "turning off our brains", I am reminded of the old canard "Catholics have to check their brains at the door". Is this something that you actually accept as a fair interpretation of what it means to submit to an authority? Surely not, else it would mean that, in submitting to the authority of the Gospel, you are shutting off your own brain. "Ah," you may object, "But the Gospel is the Word of God, not the command of man." But this, of course, begs the question, since to submit to the teaching authority of the Church is to submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church, as you well know--and agree!--you only disagree with what constitutes the teaching authority of the Church. So let's not be silly by saying question begging things like "Catholics have to check their brains at the door".

Second, is it really true that papal documents intend to "prove" what they teach? I think that depends upon what you mean by "prove". Certainly they intend to lay out the background and supporting documents, but they do not necessarily do this as a matter of presenting a proof. If you will permit me to stray into the boring domain of my own profession for a moment, let me mention what I think of as a parallel sort of case, the text of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. In this text, Aristotle discusses the nature of definitions, first principles, and scientific reasoning. For a long time scholars were puzzled by this text, because in his own scientific treatises (the Physics, for example, and the various works on biology) Aristotle does not appear to follow the guidelines he himself lays down in the Posterior Analytics in terms of how one ought to go about proving scientific theories. What most scholars these days think about this issue is that Aristotle is not giving guidelines for how to discover and prove scientific theories, but how to present theories to an audience, that is, how to lay out the evidence and background materials in such a way that the audience can be lead to understand what the theory says. It seems to me that papal documents fall rather into this category than the category of persuasion that you seem to want to assign them to. A papal document lays out what the Church has always taught, and shows how it is best to be interpreted in light of the deposit of Faith. It need not attempt to prove that any of this is true: if the Church is indefectible, the truth of the deposit of Faith is not at issue. Rather, the document explains the deposit of Faith in such a way as to lead people to believe in more clearly articulated statements of that deposit.

Why should we believe the Pope's own "private judgment" about what the deposit of Faith is? Well, the answer to that depends upon what you think the referent of the term "pope" is. If you think that all that the word pope refers to is the man "Joseph Ratzinger", then of course we shouldn't just hand over our brains to him. But if you think that "pope" refers to a teaching office of the Church, then handing your brain over to that office is nothing more than submitting to the authority of the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the agency of men.

Of course I understand full well that not everyone accepts this picture, I offer it only as an anodyne to the rather poor representation of my point of view that is showing itself in your comment.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It is evident that papal documents lay out their case in detail for both teaching and apologetic purposes. Furthermore, it is evident that they understand, as do we, that learning requires an active use of the mind (and only a mind with Right Reason can understand).

For the purposes of teaching, it is obvious they do not want to have people check their brains. My criticism of the "private judgment" charge (if not obsession) is exactly what I said before. It reduces acceptance of teaching from the Magisterium to this very thing. It reduces the practice of Roman Catholics to "pray, pay and obey," when, in fact, that is quite obviously not what the Magisterium is trying to produce.

Never do those documents make their case from the argument of authority. Never do they say, "because I told you so."

The fact that these documents are also detailed for the sake of apologetics is simply reasonable. The men in Rome know that they will encounter debate, because not everybody says "credo" automatically to whatever the pope says.

But, in so doing they place their teaching on the table for debate among Christians. No matter how much authority they claim to possess, their facts, reason and logic come under scrutiny; and they prepare for that the best they know how.

What do I think about the pope's office? Unlike some Roman Catholics and some Orthodox, Traditional Anglicans never say to other members of the Body of Christ, "I have no need of thee." Does the pope have a teaching office for the whole Church? Actually, I say yes. No one else has been nearly as diligent and faithful as Rome in applying Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition to every new ethical challenge created by the times.

But, I do not need to believe in Universal Primacy or Papal infallibility to appreciate the truth when I hear it.

Also, I believe that Joseph Ratzinger is as close to being infallible as any one man can be, whether he had been made pope or not.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Amen, Father Hart.

Strider said...

Hi, Bob. You write: "Furthermore, since when does that description of the Episcopal Church apply to the kind of Anglicans over here? What is our Affirmation of St. Louis if not the very kind of dogmatic and uniform statement you say we aren't able to have?"

Bob, I don't believe that I mentioned anything about the Episcopal Church in my comment. Regarding the St Louis Affirmation, I certainly do not deny that Anglicans can issue confessions of faith and regard them as true and authoritative, just as I do not deny that Lutherans can issue a confessions of faith and regard them as true and authoritative. But issuing a confession of faith is different from making irreformable doctrine that binds absolutely the conscience of believers. This is the point, I think, that Khomiakov is making in his 3rd Letter to William Palmer. Even if, he says, all Anglicans are orthodox in their beliefs, even if their creed and faith are in full accord with the creed and faith of the Orthodox Church, still they necessarily lack that which only the Orthodox Church can give, namely, "the assurance of truth." Why can only the Orthodox Church give this assurance? To answer this question is to see the essential difference between being the Church and being a Protestant denomination--and it is to see why Anglicanism, including those churches that define themselves by the St Louis Affirmation, is essentially Protestant. Of course, as a Catholic I disagree with Khomiakov in his exclusive identification of the Orthodox Church as the Church; but I think he is correct in his discernment of the critical difference between Church and all forms of Protestantism. I do not know the best way to formulate this difference, but it is a difference that Catholics and Orthodox, and especially converts, understand and experience. When asked what it felt like to become Catholic, Rusty Reno replied, "It felt like being submerged into the ocean." He goes on to explain:

"The ocean needs no justification. It needs no theory to support the movement of its tides. In the end, as an Episcopalian I needed a theory to stay put, and I came to realize that a theory is a thin thread easily broken. The Catholic Church needs no theories. She is the mother of theologies; she does not need to be propped up by theologies. As Newman put it in one of his Anglican essays, 'the Church of Rome preoccupies the ground.' She is a given, a primary substance within the economy of denominationalism. One could rightly say that I became a Catholic by default, and that possibility is the simple gift I received from the Catholic Church. Mater ecclesia, she needed neither reasons, nor theories, nor ideas from me."

Becoming Catholic, and I presume Orthodox, is different than joining a denomination. It is coming into a community that possesses true authority. Hence the profession made by those who are received into full communion: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." The convert is confronted with the present-tense, concrete reality of a Church that authoritatively teaches in the name of God and is invited to subject himself to this Church. This Church is neither a theory nor historical construct. She is just offensively, irreducibly "there," proposing to us teaching she claims to enjoy divine authority. Hence Henry Cardinal Manning critique of the Anglican appeal to antiquity:

"The doctrines of the Church in all ages are primitive. It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? No individual, no number of individuals can go back through eighteen hundred years to reach the doctrines of antiquity. We may say with the woman of Samaria, 'Sir, the well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.' No individual mind now has contact with the revelation of Pentecost, except through the Church. Historical evidence and biblical criticism are human after all, and amount at most to no more than opinion, probability, human judgment, human tradition. (The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost [1881], p. 227)

Whatever else one might say about this, it certainly represents an apprehension of the role and authority of the Church in the mediation of the apostolic deposit of faith that is very different than the Anglican.

You ask: "In order to believe that the RCC is the The One True Church, with an infallible Magisterium, do you not use your private judgment? Not even a little? When you were judging between Rome and Orthodoxy, did that thinking never make use of private judgment? Does your continued adherence to the RCC not involve your own private judgment?"

I take it that you are asking me if I had reasons to become Catholic and if I have reasons to remain Catholic. And of course the answer is yes. As Newman explained to Mrs. Helbert: “Private judgment must be your guide, till you are in the Church. You do not begin with faith, but with reason, and you end with faith.” What does it mean to end with faith? I think Scott Carson rightly describes this faith as a kind of abandonment, a surrender of one's private judgment to the authority of another. The person who becomes Catholic has decided to trust unreservedly the community of the Catholic Church and her definitive teaching. Does this make me a fundamentalist, as you accuse? I suppose. If fundamentalism means assenting to the teaching of God because it is taught by God, then I gladly accept the designation. But I reject the intimation that this kind of "fundamentalism" means mindlessness. Catholics are always wrestling with the teaching of the Church, always seeking to understand, always seeking to apprehend and appropriate the truth. This means that there may be times when the Catholic will find himself in a position of disagreement with the teachings of specific bishops and theologians, perhaps even the majority of bishops and theologians. For one thing, there is always debate in the Catholic Church on what constitutes the definitive and irreformable teaching of the Church. These things are not always clear. Discussion, deliberation, and vigorous argument are necessary for the Church to achieve clarity in her discernment of the apostolic revelation. But even when apparent clarity appears to have been achieved, the individual believer may find it difficult to embrace in good conscience the proposition in question. At these painful moments, it is the duty of the Catholic believer to "to remain open to a deeper examination of the question. For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail" (Donum Veritatis). Is this fundamentalism?

poetreader said...

Ahn now the discussion is taking on some reality. My objection to Dr. Liccione's statement was not that he disagreed with Fr. Hart. That's the purpose of this kind of board. It was very simply that I did not recognize the statements of Fr. Hart, nor the assertions of other Anglicans, myself included, in what Liccione presented them as saying. Fundamentally my snaswre to his article would have to be, "But we didn't say that." and I'd be at a loss to answer it for that reason. I like what is happening since enough that I was going to let those comments lie -- but came to feel that this kind of non-discourse is so common in disputation berween various traditions as to be sometimes paralyzing.

I will stick with my labeling of trndencies of thought I often see in RC apologists, and admit cheerfully that Anglicans undoubtedly have similarly deficient mindsets that we may not always be aware of. Seeing these background phenomena, recognizing them, and taking them into account is an essential part of this kind of discourse.

Apologetics akways begins with listening, deep listening, and more listening, and thast is what I missed at the outset here.

Long enough.


Vitae Scrutator said...


You write:

What do I think about the pope's office? Unlike some Roman Catholics and some Orthodox, Traditional Anglicans never say to other members of the Body of Christ, "I have no need of thee." Does the pope have a teaching office for the whole Church? Actually, I say yes. No one else has been nearly as diligent and faithful as Rome in applying Scripture, Right Reason and Tradition to every new ethical challenge created by the times.

But, I do not need to believe in Universal Primacy or Papal infallibility to appreciate the truth when I hear it.

Also, I believe that Joseph Ratzinger is as close to being infallible as any one man can be, whether he had been made pope or not.

If there were an electronic form of giving a high-five, I would give it to you now. I have no disagreement at all with what you write here, though I would nuance one thing.

What does it mean, exactly, to say that one does not "need" papal infallibility or papal primacy? You say that you do not need them because you recognize the truth when you hear it: if some pope were to teach something false, you, using your own God-given faculty of reason, would soon enough see through it. That is, of course, a possibility: some people are capable of that sort of insight. The difficulty lies not so much in recognizing that such a possibility exists, but in recognizing a further possibility: the possibility of being in error oneself without knowing. Suppose you were living in the 1st century, and you were confronted with any number of different versions of the course and meaning of the life of Our Lord. Some of these versions will be orthodox, others heretical. How will you be able to tell the difference? In the 1st century there were no canonical texts to settle the matter--you would have had to trust in one or another human messenger. Later, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the texts existed, but in varying forms; even within single communities using a single form there were rival interpretations of what the texts were trying to say. Here there are only two ways to know which is orthodox and which heretical. One way is to put your trust in a human teacher whom you believe to inhabit an office that is authoritative; the other way is to trust in your own capacity to determine what the texts mean for yourself. Clearly the latter option is nothing other than "private judgment". You can, of course, use your private judgment to navigate around among competing explanatory theories about the meaning of scripture--who doesn't do that? And of course you would need to follow your conscience in this, assuming that your conscience has been properly formed. But you cannot use your private judgment to determine which interpretation is true--that is arrogating to yourself a faculty that has been granted exclusively to "the Church", whatever we wind up deciding that phrase is going to refer to. Instead, you use your private judgment to make a personal choice.

You also write:

But, in so doing they place their teaching on the table for debate among Christians. No matter how much authority they claim to possess, their facts, reason and logic come under scrutiny; and they prepare for that the best they know how.

This is, of course, quite true, but it does not cut any ice against the position I was outlining. If the texts are designed to present the authoritative interpretation of the Deposit of Faith rather than to prove some element of it, then the failure of the text to make its case does not affect the truth of the claim. The fact that a particular scientist cannot convince a creationist that evolutionary theory is true does not show that the theory is not true, it shows only that this particular scientist did not do a particularly good job of laying out the evidence for it, or that this particular creationist is particularly dimwitted. So one may accept your characterization of the content of papal documents without accepting your characterization of their essential nature.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

To my friend, Fr. Alvin Kimmel- using the handle Strider:


The reason all of your arguments cannot phase me is simply this: Everything you say about the Catholic Church, and that K- says about the Orthodox Church, I say is true of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which Church we also belong to. We are in the same Church as you, divided by nothing but man made polity.

And, everything you say about mere denominations is no more true of us than it is of the Roman Catholic Church. That too is a matter of man made polity interjected on the Church which the Lord has promised never to forsake. Its current teachings are not perfectly consistent with the Apostolic Faith. Because we see differences between some (not many) portions of Roman Catholicism with both the Scriptures and the Fathers, we see that the Church of Rome hath also erred. That is not the private judgment of Anglicans, but the manifest truth that we gain from Scripture and Tradition, and to which our fathers bore witness.

I don't expect you to agree. But, we exercise no more private judgment in this observation than you do by submitting in like manner to the Magisterium in Rome.

Yes, I am a Protestant, and that is because I am a Catholic. That is Anglicanism.

But issuing a confession of faith is different from making irreformable doctrine that binds absolutely the conscience of believers.

We have no need to make doctrine at all. If the Pope makes a doctrine, he exceeds the authority given to the whole Church. I assume you mean teach or define, or even pronounce. But, since our churches bend to the full authority of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, not due to any Anglican doctrine, but to due to the authority of the Church as something larger than our portion of it, your entire criticism has no relevance to us.

You write as if you never heard that "Anglicanism has no distinctive doctrine of its own, but only that of the Catholic Church." That is what the Affirmation of St. Louis is all about. It is a confession of faith, yes (so is the Catechism of the catholic Church). The Affirmation of St. Louis is also, for us, absolutely binding as are the Formularies.

It reaffirms the Anglicanism of past generations. That is, the religion you never experienced, and the likes of which you never saw, in the Episcopal Church.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Scott Carson:

I will answer you first of all by quoting scripture.

"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
20: But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21: I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
22: Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23: Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
24: Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father." I John 2:19-24

Acceptance of heresy is a moral issue, a manifestation of being separated from God. If you belong to Christ, the Holy Spirit gives you knowledge of the truth, and no false teacher can lead you away from Christ.

When the Arians had their brief period of political dominance, driving St. Athanasius into heresy, what really made the orthodox Christians able to reject the heresy? It was not the pope, because during that crisis the Bishop of Rome was an Arian heretic himself. It was not even any organized help, because the churches were suddenly dominated by the heretics.

No, it was the Holy Spirit. He made the distinction between true believers and those who did not remain in the Church (though they possessed its assets and real estate for a time). It was like Goshen and Egypt.

It is not private judgment to know the truth, but the property of all faithful people, even when they don't really know why they know. Those who bend their ears to hear, though they may take long detours as they learn, will not follow a stranger, for they know not the voice of strangers.

The idea that we can create so perfect an earthly structure that we will not need the Holy Spirit anymore, is an idea that runs afoul of the New Testament.

About your second point: if a papal document is true, it is not because it is a papal document, but because it just happens to have stated correct doctrine (and obviously, we reject the one from 1896 that embarrasses Roman Catholic scholars no end). It is not private judgment, but rather the judgment of the Universal Church, that rejects error. We say, Rome has produced both over the centuries: It has taught both truth and error, but has never fallen into error. That is, it remains a true church.

dianonymous said...

Something is very uncatholic about such a picture.

You can say that again.

Even Father Hart's clarification fails to convince. Who, after all, gets to decide "what really matters"?


Anonymous said...

Fr. Robert Hart,

You said....

It has taught both truth and error, but has never fallen into error....

Is it not that to teach error is to fall into error? Our Lord promised that is Church would not err. Was Christ wrong in His promises?


Fr. Robert Hart said...


I hardly expect yo convince you of anything, since to you "Catholic" means only the Pope's church and none other. To me it includes the Pope's church, and it includes us as well.

Who, after all, gets to decide "what really matters"?

Who dares not learn what truly matters? It is my office as a priest not only to identify the essential doctrines, but to teach them with authority. I make no apology for doing what Christ through his appointed Apostolic minister, the bishop, ordained me to do.


By falling into error, I mean becoming a heretical sect, or losing the graces that must be in the Church for it to retain both the Gospel and valid sacraments. Rome never lost these things, and neither did Constantinople. We also have retained them by the grace of God.

You may call that the branch theory if you want. It is the power of life given by God's Holy Spirit, and it cannot be destroyed by men or demons.

Anonymous said...

Father Kirby,

As ever, I appreciate your analysis. I am wondering, however, whether your argument concerning DMU, as presented in the essay to which you referred in your comment (above), does not involve an equivocation.

Before submitting my particular concern for your consideration, I take the liberty of re-presenting (what I take to be) the gist of your argument here:

"Al Kimel, in his Pontificator’s Fourth Law states that 'A church that does not understand itself as the Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is not the Church but a denomination or sect.'"

This "Fourth Law," as you point out, is not axiomatic but based upon an implicit arugment, the crucial premise of which is:

"1. Any truly Catholic ecclesiology must not only teach that the Church is visible and one, but that it is visibly one."

As you further observe, this premise (1), which supports the Fourth Law, "has the following corollary for historical interpretation":

"1* Any break in communion that discontinues the visibility of unity between one Christian body and another, if the two groups were previously united within the Catholic Church, must leave one group outside the Catholic Church until that breach is visibly healed."

You go on to point out that the existence of manifestly Catholic and Orthodox interpretations of historical circumstances, which interpretations are contrary to
1* (constituting "C-1*"), would in turn undermine both 1 and the Fourth Law:

[C-1*] "Thus, if any historical circumstances exist that have very commonly been interpreted by theologians with undisputedly Catholic ecclesiologies in ways that conflict with this corollary, then it must be accepted either that the corollary is oversimplified and requires denial or modification or it must at least be admitted that its denial does not prove a theologian is an ecclesiological heretic!"

You then cite the historical evidence for C-1*, on the basis of which you conclude:

"Hence, it is clear that C-1* obtains, the corollary 1* is deniable without automatic loss of Catholicity, thus the foundational premise of Pontificator’s Fourth Law is false as stated. There is thus no reason to apply the Law in its present form automatically to define as unCatholic Anglican Churches because they claim to be a part of the Catholic Church and recognise the RCC and EOC as also belonging to the Church, refusing to see the visible disunity between these bodies as proof of true, fundamental disunity."

Now to my concern:

It seems to me that 1 and 1*, which undergird the Pontificator's Fourth Law, are propositions about ecclesial ontology (what the Church is), and not ecclesial epistemology (how the Church knows what, and where, she is).

Yet C-1* appears to be an epistemological claim, in which case it is not contrary to 1* after all (i.e., to be is not the same as to know). This reading of C-1* seems to be supported by the historical examples you cite, which, with the possible exception of the first, seem to be cases of uncertainty about whether or not visible unity had been maintained, not as to whether visibly disunited bodies were yet (invisibly?) part of the Catholic Church.

Obviously, there are visible differences within the Catholic Church, but the question is one of visible disunity. I can believe, with perfect consistency, that the Church is always visibly one yet claim not to know, in particular cases, who is visibly united to her. We might not, at a given moment, see what there is to see.

It might be argued that visible unity which may, in some circumstances, be hard to see is not particularly "visible" at all. However, to be visible is not to be at all times apparent to all people. I think that the evidence you cited illustrates this dilemma, which I maintain is an epistemological one.

But the Pontificators Fourth Law, together with 1 and 1*, are ontological claims. The fact that in some cases (by no means all) it is difficult to estimate whether visible differences
constitute "visible disunity" (which I would not contrast, as you do in the essay, with "true, fundamental disunity") is an epistemological dilemma and does not imply that visible unity is not of the essence of the Catholic Church (the ontological claim).

Such epistemic dilemmas, though not laudible in themselves, do create a space for ecumenical discussion between Catholics and the Orthodox which can dispense with the dichotomies (e.g., East and West "cannot reunite without one of them denying its identity," and "who is coming back to whom?") which you suggest are endemic to the ecumenical movement given the ecclesiologies of these two bodies.

I appreciate your concerns vis-a-vis the catholic Anglican's place at the table, and you may have created some space for discussion pertaining thereto, but I do not think that you made your case with respect to the ecclesiologies of Orthodox and Catholic Christians.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


I think you fail to understand that we agree with Pontificator's Fourth Law. Furthermore, we identify ourselves as part of "the Church, outside of which there is no salvation."

Because we see it this way, his law says nothing against our ecclesiology.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Something I meant to say early on, and forgot:

The Continuum is a traditional-Anglican blog whose contributors have, of late, grown gloomier than ever about the prospects of salvaging the Anglican Communion.

If he knows so much about us, what makes him think we are trying to salvage the Anglican Communion? Doesn't the very name of this blog give some indication about who we are?

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


I'm afraid you are missing the point. Visibility of unity is precisely both ontological and epistemological, and is posited as such. If the DMU is true, justifying the commonly taught (but not dogmatically necessitated) exclusivism that says "If your jurisdiction is not within our visible communion, it is definitely not in the Church", then the exclusivists are making a claim about the nature of the Church as to its essential recognisability as a manifestly and outwardly unitary body. They are saying not only that the Church is One in essence, but that that unity is of such a kind that it must, without exception, correspond to an identifiable institution whose internal integrity is maintained by full sacramental communion, such that those outside that integral communion are properly not part of the Catholic Church.

The cases I gave (and others of similar import can be adduced) are not merely cases where there was doubt as to visible unity, but where outward sacramental and/or jurisdictional disunity existed and was visible, yet there was strong evidence that orthodox Catholic Churches and/or theologians came to interpret those outward divisions inconsistently with the view that only one side or the other constituted the Church. If you were to say that this showed unity was visible after all, you would be ignoring the fact that the unity perceived was not outwardly, contemporaneously and institutionally identifiable, yet this is precisely what most exclusivists present as the guaranteed accompaniment of inward unity. Otherwise, for example, the claim by many Eastern Orthodox that the Roman Catholic Church must be outside the true Catholic Church because it is obviously not in full communion presently with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is the One True Church, could not be maintained with the simplicity and certainty it normally is. And the same goes, mutatis mutandis for the standard Roman Catholic claims about the Eatern Ortodox churches.

Anonymous said...

Father Kirby,

I can appreciate the point that the DMU has epistemological connotations. It is, after all, a doctrine of "Manifest" unity. My point about visible unity and the ontology of the Catholic Church is intended to highlight the possibility of making an illicit judgement with respect to that which appears; in the case at hand, what appears to be "sacramental and jurisdictional" disunity. I am not suggesting that appearances themselves can somehow be non-veridical. I am suggesting that we do on occasion make illicit judgements with respect to appearances (e.g., as when a straight stick appears to be bent when held underwater, and we form the illicit judgement: 'this is a bent stick').

So it is possible, even if unlikely, that there are at least a few analogous cases regarding visible unity and the Church, especially if, as you suggest, sentences of excommunication are not necessarily infallible (e.g, they may be illicit judgements).

And this possiblity, however slight, does create some space for ecumenical dialogue between bodies who each believe that visible unity is of the essence of the Church. Obviously, such an approach must take a close look at the theological, historical, and canonical data available. We cannot proceed on the basis of a hopeful uncertainty alone.

Another thing: I wonder whether the case you make in the essay, as measured against the Vincentian Canon, does not fail to meet the criteria of the latter, vis-a-vis whether or not visible unity is of the essence of the Catholic Church.

Your appeal to the judgement of a few ecclesial historians and theologians is important and possibly useful for non-Anglicans, but if it estabishes the logical compatibility of Anglicanism and the opinions of some few among those of impeccable orthodox and catholic standing, it nevertheless falls short of your own criteria for genuine Catholic doctrine.

So you may have made a point which you did not intend to make.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

especially if, as you suggest, sentences of excommunication are not necessarily infallible (e.g, they may be illicit judgements).

And this possiblity, however slight...

Have not both Rome and Constantinople, as early as 1964, declared that the mutual excommunications of 1054 were invalid on both sides? (Of course, they were invalid anyway, because neither patriarch was under the jurisdiction of his equal- oh, I forgot. That was the issue.)

the opinions of some few among those of impeccable orthodox and catholic standing...

The word heresy means opinion, so to be opinionated may disqualify one from impeccable orthodox and catholic standing.

It is not possible to persuade us that our own orthodox and catholic standing is less than impeccable.

That's my opinion.

William Tighe said...

"Have not both Rome and Constantinople, as early as 1964, declared that the mutual excommunications of 1054 were invalid on both sides? (Of course, they were invalid anyway, because neither patriarch was under the jurisdiction of his equal- oh, I forgot. That was the issue.)"

Neither the pope nor the patriarch declared them "invalid" in 1964; rather, they both "withdrew" them. If that implies anything, it implies that both sides were unwilling to doubt the validity of their respective predecessors' excommunications.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


The question is whether easily visible disunity can coexist with a remnant of not-easily-visible unity such that the bonds are not completely severed that join real parts of the One True Church and yet that a majority but mistaken opinion exists at the time of the disunity that a true and proper schism based on real heresy or rebellion obtains. And the answer is yes, it can, as I showed. The DMU, as commonly presented, effectively denies this.

Your appeal to the Vincentian Canon completely inverts the application of the principle. The Vincentian Canon is a standard binding and certain doctrine must reach. Permissible opinions do not have to reach this level, and never have. The point you are missing is that it is the DMU that must be shown to satisfy the Canon in order to dogmatically exclude Anglican Catholic self-understanding or to assert that Roman and Eastern self-understandings are necessarily and absolutely incompatible. If it does not satisfy the Canon, then the contrary opinion is permissible, and may even later come to dominate. This has happened with minority opinions in the past. For example, the view that torture and executions are valid instruments for the Church to use to protect the Gospel was once not only a majority opinion in the Western Church, it was authoritatively backed. No longer. It was, even more relevantly, once clear majority opinion backed up by authority in the Roman Catholic Church that shared prayer with Protestants was forbidden by divine Law. No longer.

Finally, your characterisation of this ecclesiologically nuanced approach as limited to a few orthodox theologians is false anyway. The Churches themselves have acted in a way consistent with this approach and inconsisent with the DMU by liberally canonising saints on the "wrong side" of outward separations and occasionally treating the "others" even at the time of the "schisms" as part of the Church. And the opinion about the non-infallibility of excommunications is in fact virtually universal, it's just that its ecclesiological implications are seldom considered.

Anonymous said...


My purpose in making these comments is not to convince you that your ecclesiology is defective. I hope that what Fr. Kirby says in his initial comment is true:

"What is undeniably asserted as dogmatic fact by the RCC is that it is the True Church. It is the same for the EOC in its self-understanding. However, neither of these churches has dogmatically declared that every person or institution outside their visible canonical boundaries simply must be, in some sense, separated from the Catholic Church, the OTC. In other words, they are each absolutely sure where the Church is, but not absolutely sure where it is not."

Something like this is what I refer to as a "hopeful uncertainty." And, as the historical evidence you both cite suggests, there is some precedent for that hope, as well as grounds for a more nuanced DMU than, per Fr Kirby's claims, exists among some Catholics and Orthodox.

So I agree with Fr Kirby's opening paragraph in his last comment. I am unaware of how the DMU is commonly presented. But I suppose that everyone interested in evidence and in forming one's beliefs in a proportionate manner, even if we disagree as to what is the weight of some bits of evidence (e.g., papal teaching), will want to hold an appropriately nuanced DMU, if they hold that doctrine at all. Again, not knowing exactly what the un-nuanced, or commonly held, DMU is, I prefer to speak of essential visible unity, which seems to be a corollary of the doctrines of the essential visibility and the essential unity of the Church.

Once again, I did get the point that you are trying to establish the acceptibility of the non-essential visible unity opinion within the pale of orthodoxy (as measured by the VC). I was merely pointing out that the line you take is itself not binding (by VC criteria); I suppose you are not trying to claim that it is.

As to my "false" characterization of your non-essential visible unity position being limited to a few Catholic and Orthodox theologians: I make a disctinction between how the Churches themselves act, and how theologians judge of the theological significance of those actions. Thus, your invocation of how the Churches themselves have occasionally acted, unless they were acting to define non-essential visible unity as dogma, is not evidence contrary to my statement unless you can show that those actions have been commonly understood to establish a doctrine of non-essential visible unity.

The question of whether or not any common consent that exists among the Churches on this crucial matter of doctrine is up to the VC standards of dogma is left, of course, to the judgement of competent scholars.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


It seems that we agree on the substance. I object to nothing you have said in this last post, and I now see that we were somewhat at cross-purposes on the truth of the DMU, which I was giving the common maximalist connotation and rejecting, but which you were asserting as true, while allowing it might be presented in a nuanced way that was not subject to the same objections.

The only thing I would add is that "acts are facts", and potentially "dogmatic facts", so that if the Church has commonly acted in way that contradicts an absolutist or maximalist DMU, or its theologians have taught in ways that contradict it without being censured, then it becomes dangerous to claim such a DMU is binding dogma. After all, the Church's indefectibility and infallibility are supposed to encompass more than dogmas overtly defined.

Anonymous said...

Father Kirby,

I appreciate the interaction and the instruction. As I re-read your essay, the substantial agreement between us became more apparent.