Thursday, August 28, 2008

A 450 year old experiment indeed!

The following is a word for word quotation from a public address by a Continuing Anglican clergyman, whose identity I am not at liberty to divulge at this time (except to say, it was not-as in not-Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC). All that we can gather from this quotation is that the man who said this is aware of a case that some people can make, and we cannot conclude that he believes the case himself. I will add, not only can the case be made, but some people have been making it for years. First I will provide the quotation, then comment, then open the question for discussion.

"The ongoing collapse of the Anglican Communion and the concurrent inability of conservative Anglicans outside that body to get their act together suggest that these groups may share a fatal flaw. Anglicanism may arguably be seen as a 450-year experiment to determine whether a separated part of the church can remain fully catholic, keeping its apostolic ministry and grounding its teaching and practice in Holy Scripture and the Sacraments, but replacing the authority structures of the main body of the Church with a sort of democracy in which no single leader has complete authority, and in which clergy and laity gathered together in Synods and Conventions take the place of Church Councils. A strong case can be made for the premise that the experiment is concluded, and it has failed."

My first point would be to say that the second half of the quotation applies equally to the Orthodox Church, except that we must replace the 450 year time span with a 2,000 year time span. By this reasoning, "A strong case can be made for the premise that the experiment called the Orthodox Church is concluded, and it has failed." They too have "a sort of democracy in which no single leader has complete authority," and that relies on cooperation and the Conciliar process to a degree impossible in the Roman Communion (no matter how much they may protest that it is possible).

My second point begins with a hypothetical question: What is wrong with a properly balanced kind of democracy? The objection may be made that it is all too often a bit messy. In the Church that means that pastors and teachers must always clean up doctrinal confusion; but, then again, is that not simply our calling anyway? Part of the work priests are ordained to do is to teach, and bishops are consecrated with the charge to banish strange doctrines. If we want to see an example of tidiness and efficiency we may look to the German government under Hitler, the trains that ran on time in Mussolini's Italy, and the Soviet or Chinese Communist methods for maintaining an orderly society. But, who wants that much efficiency?

In the Roman Catholic Church the authority of one man is not producing everything truly needed by faithful members. But, if we want to see where the efficiency of the Roman Catholic beauracracy was quite effective, we need only look to the clericalism that shielded pederast clergy, hiding their crimes and relocating them to inflict their brutality on fresh unsuspecting children. We need to see that the absolute authority of the papal office created this abuse over centuries in which required celibacy has forced them to accept a standard far lower than "the cream of the crop." The idea that this kind of system can be trusted to relay the guidance of the Holy Spirit is simply impossible to believe.

My third point would be to ask if indeed the stronger and well-established jurisdictions of the Continuning Church really share a fatal flaw with the apostate bodies in the Anglican Communion. I see very real evidence to the contrary among the legitimate Continuing Church bodies. It was rejection of heresy and apostasy that led the pioneers of the Continuing Church to produce the Affirmation of St. Louis, in which we have embraced a truly Catholic and Apostolic standard.

If the imperfections and sins of Continuing Anglicans are weighed against the imperfections and sins of the First Century Church, which required (as you may have read in scripture) more than a few corrective directives from St. Paul, it would appear that we are not better than that first generation of Christians; nor would I expect that a church full of sinners ever could be (including the Roman Catholics too). Perhaps the solution is to quit and join a Pentecostal church where only saints are allowed to be members -just ask them if you don't believe me; they are all saints.

But, to say that we share a fatal flaw that is only 450 years old, instead of the same fatal flaw that has "made many sinners" since the Fall of Adam, is outrageous. It suggests that this flaw was not to be found in any significant degree in the Roman Communion. I think that point need not be argued further.

This brings me to my fourth point: The principles that led our fathers to seek an obedient reform of a disobedient Church was no rebellion. It was faithfulness, a good response to consciences quickened by the word of God to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Furthermore, over the centuries the true effect of Anglican scholarship and the witness of our patrimony has helped Rome to correct its own abuses and its neglect in matters theological. Our own Fr. Matthew Kirby laid this out very well in one of the earliest posts on this blog. (Hit that link when you are done, and read it for yourself.)

My fifth point is that many of the problems of the Roman Catholic Church really are experiments that have failed, and failed big. Do we really need to ask why they have such few clergy that men like Cardinal Law shielded child abusers in recent times? In the Lutheran Augsburg Confession the same problem was clearly alluded to as common knowledge, and that was written in the 16th century. Do we really need to ask why they have such a problem of homosexuality, alcoholism and the drainage of good priests who simply leave the ministry? Is there not a glaring experiment of Rome's that has failed, but one they cannot admit to? What a burden it is to have to be an infallible Church; it prevents solutions to obvious problems if mistakes and errors of the past cannot be admitted to and repaired. It confuses every precedent with the Tradition itself.

I am not anti-Roman Catholic, and I know that we are no more perfect and holy than any other body of Christians seeking to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. But, our own patrimony is not an experiment, rather a return to Catholic principles that had been abandoned by the Church of Rome. "Also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith." This was obvious to the English Reformers in the 16th century who saw it as their duty to have done with errors that obscured the Gosepl of Christ, and laid on men heavy burdens, grievous to be borne. Were those Reformers infallible? Of course not.

Neither is the "Successor of Peter."


Anonymous said...

I was taught that it is a terrible sin to use violence against a priest.

Nevertheless, every time I hear one say 'the Anglican experiment has failed', I am very sorely tempted.

"Anglicanism may arguably be seen as a 450-year experiment to determine whether a separated part of the church can remain fully catholic . . ." He is asking, and therefore answering, the wrong question here. The question is whether any church that remains out of communion with other churches with authentic faith in the Creeds and valid sacraments, or which, in the knowledge of existence of those other churches, proclaims itself the One True Church, is itself fully catholic.

Anonymous said...

One can make a similar argument that Christianity itself is a failed experiment. We all know Chesterton's remark that Christianity has not been tried and found wrong, but found hard and not tried.

The problems I find in this statement:
(1) who is the timekeeper? (2) who is the judge? (3) and what is the definition of success?

As I read the statement over again, it sounds like a man who passionately wishes for the Anglican "experiment" to be a success and still holds a tiny bit of hope that it will be.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

My very first response welling up inside me was "What about the Orthodox?!?" when I finished that snippet--I'm glad to see that Father Hart got there first. Why (oh why oh why) do these self-loathing Anglicans ignore the fact that Orthodoxy functions rather well within much the same constraints that Anglicanism used to have. Why? There is freedom within certain limits (there is the Western Rite, English here but not there, some theologians closer to Rome, others who sound Anglican, others who hate anything western, etc., etc.,--many many jurisdictions in the US but in communion and federation with one another) but the limits are those of the 7 Councils. If anyone goes outside the limits they effectively stop being Orthodox and are treated as such. If any one group started ordaining women or some such they'd be out (period, end of sentence). Anglicanism became so elastic that nobody could be kicked out of the family. The Continuum (perhaps save for TAC/ACA) endeavors toward the effective and working model of the Orthodox. It can be done. However, the Romeward bound Anglicans avert their eyes from the Orthodox and the lessons we can learn from them and say, simply "Ah, it cannot be done, let us end this unworkable experiment--for we have ignored where it has worked--and renounce the attempt."

I second Sandra's affective reponse to such stuff.

Anonymous said...

I agree heartily with everything posted here.

Rome has indulged in a 1,500-year experiment to determine whether a a single bishop can claim dominion over the entire church catholic, somewhat keeping its apostolic ministry and grounding its teaching and practice in Holy Scripture and the Sacraments, but replacing the authority structures of the main body of the Church with a dictatorship against which no which no bishop, council or theological argument can oppose. A strong case can be made for the premise that the experiment is concluded, and it has failed.

Thanks a lot, Gelasisus I.

Canon Tallis said...

If I were forced into a guess, not as to the identity of the priest or bishop because that doesn't interest me, but as to his party and liturgical practise, I would guess almost immediately that he would be a missal using, Tridentine Rome aping Anglican. Why? Because since the beginning of that party with the publication of the Directorium Anglicanum in 1858 it has contained at its heart a loathing for even the most faithful and orthodox (high) church Anglicanism. And that in turn as produced a feeling of both Anglican inferiority to Rome and the Roman product which has seeped into the whole of the English speaking world and has had political and other repercussions far beyond what anyone might dream.

When I look at the successes of the countries whose founding and culture has been Anglican compared to those who have remained the daughters of the Roman obedience, there is no comparison. The Anglican countries are freer, richer and more developed that anything or anyplace of which Rome can boast. Unfortunately as this sort of rot seeps out from us into the general culture and our countries become less and less Anglican in belief and practise, we also seem to be in the process of becoming less and less free.

I would also disagree that Anglicanism is only a 450 year experiment. The prayer book tradition may only be that long, but the differences which the English Church had with the Roman See did not begin then. Henry VIII did not have to pass new legislation to make his break with the papacy, but only to enforce two statues which had been part of English law for the longest time. It was not a church entirely obedient to Rome which led the Baron's revolt and secured the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, but one which from the beginnings of the papalist movement in the middle of the eleventh century found it had serious issues with the institution.

I agree with Father Hart that it is the papacy which is the failed experiment. I also agree that one part of that failure has been its encouragement of homosexuality among the clergy in its decision to end clerical marriage. Now if I could only remember the name of the French scholar or the name of his book in which he detailed the ways in which the papacy encouraged homosexual practise, especially among the higher clergy, as they attempted to stamp out clerical marriage. Perhaps Father Wells or Father Hart will know it.

I was going to write that the latter half of Father Hart's post was "spot on," but the truth is that there is nothing in it which is not absolutely correct and with which one can make cause for an argument. So what we all need to do now is to recommend this blog to all of our Anglican friends as required daily reading. But more than the enjoyment of reading this, we need to be aware of the real necessity of going out into our own little portion of the world and being the very best Anglican Anglicans we can.

poetreader said...

Canon Tallis,

I am "a Missal using, Tridentine aping Anglican" in your endearing phrase, and I am in entire agreement with Fr. Hart's article here. Anglicanism is not a mere experiment. Classic Anglicanism is an attempt to avoid the disatrous experiments that the Ropman Church has superimposed on the Catholic Tradition. The very fact that an Anglo-Catholic can use the rites and ceremonies of Continental Western Catholicism as what they really are, the expression of authentic Catholicism as opposed to unacceptable accretions, is ample evidence of the weakness of Rome's position.

We may disagree over what is acceptable liturgical practice, but, please don't tell me that my use of a somewhat different Catholic use means that I automatically cleave to a theology that is not expressed by my usage.

Can we not be allies instead of picking at each other?
Fr. Hart,
This was a needed statement on your part. Thank you sincerely.


Elijah said...

G. K. Chesterton says "Cristendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died." Not only has Anglicanism failed, it is on the verge of a death from age and disease, and may already be clinically dead. However, those who wish to gloat over their fallen foe should beware. "As a ghost is the shadow of a man, and in that sense the shadow of life, so at intervals there passed across this endless life a sort of shadow of death. It came at the moment when it would have perished had it been perishable. It withered away everything that was perishable." "If our social relations and records retain their continuity, if men really learn to apply reason to the accumulating facts of so crushing a story, it would seem that sooner or later even its enemies, will learn from their incessant and interminable disappointments not to look for anything so simple as its death. They man continue to war with it, but it will be as they war with nature; as they war with the landscape, as they war with the skies. `Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'" We can freely concede the death of Anglicanism without defeat. We simply point to its resurrection with the Affirmation of St. Louis.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Without that last line I would have jumped on the previous comment to wrestle it to the floor.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting observing the cultural differences in the world. In Australia (and I think I'd say safely in England as well), use of the English Missal is no longer regarded as Rome-aping--it's often advertised as 1662 BCP! The threat here is clergy who, on the Forward in Faith side of the fence especially, seem to think that you just aren't being Catholic unless you're using the latest edition of what my (thoroughly thoroughly excellent (apart from a small lace addiction) and solid 1548ish) TAC parish priest calls the Nervous disOrder.

Indeed, on an earlier post it was suggested that in the USA the Anglican Use clergy crumbled and simply introduce vast tracts of ICEL into a strange composite liturgy because they thought Rome wouldn't let them get away without it. If that were here, it would be: 'let the people in the pews sing along to the old familiar translations of Mrs Cranmer's husband [yes, I've heard him called that as a means of disparaging everything culturally Anglican and demonstrating the biretta-and-lace wearing clergy's intellectual and aesthetic superiority over the ignorant and sentimental laity], but when it comes to my bit I'll make sure its the Real Thing'.

Aesthetics aren't everything, but they are essential to mental and spiritual health (I know from wide experience, including the years I spent thinking I was in the right place in a modern Roman Rite parish and the mental and spiritual mess it left me in--probably not all its fault, but I reckon it contributed), and pastiche or just plain bad and clunky translations (and the new Roman ones still are, just a wee bit more accurate) simply don't feed the people.

So, from my perspective, Missal (being English Missal, or, I expect, American Missal) is an acceptable species of BCP. I am one of those who know what's ours and don't want to be denied it.

Sorry for the rant. It's just that in a recent article it was noted that the Oxford Movement took off faster among the clergy than among the laity. Well, I and my lay friends would like to announce that we've caught up with the Oxford Movement, but that we look ascance at those clergy who appear to have taken off in an entirely new direction, which cocks the snook at everything culturally Anglican (except, of course, for those capable of enjoying them, clergy wives).

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...


While advertising the English Missal as the 1662 is a bit like advertising the Anglican or American Missals as the 1928, it is closer to truth than using the Nervous disOrdo and calling it "Anglican." The notion among the English FiF folks that you need to use the newest thing from Rome to be "Catholic" (based on the notion that the English didn't have the right to revise their own rite, only the pope can do that) is indeed one of the most offensive things an Anglican can do while still claiming to be Anglican. Why stay Anglican at all if you don't even want to use one of our own liturgies (be it English Missal/1662 or Anglican Missal/1928 or the 1549)?

Canon Tallis said...


In case you haven't noticed, we are more than allies, but if St Paul could pick a little at St Peter and St Augustine of Hippo and St Jerome do even more than that in letters which they published but probably never sent, I think a little picking at those from whom I have spent almost a lifetime hearing a very shrill assault upon the Catholicity of the prayer book and its users just might be in order. I can remember years ago when I had a Roman missal done for the laity published by the Abbey of St Andrew in Louvain, if I remember correctly. It was a gift from Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago and the photographs in it agreed in almost every detail with what you might have found in something done by Dearmer, the Wareham Guild or the Alcuin Club. And somewhere shortly after that I came across an edition of Fortescue and O'Connell's The Rites of Sung and High Mass whose illustrations were also more clearly 'high Anglican' than anything every published by The Church Union or the Society of Saints Peter and Paul. As those were the models to which Ritual Notes supposedly asspired, I have always wondered why they got trapped in what Fortescue himself called "Roman bad taste?" I still don't understand it, the more especially since a good number of the leading Roman liturgical scholars and liturgists found its use in their own church as off putting as some of do at altars and in churches which tell us they are Anglican.

But since the apostle's doctrine is much more important than any of the frills or lack of them, and you have made it so plain that your theology is absolutely orthodox, I am willing to tolerate it right up to the point that those doing so express the opinion that anything else is less than Catholic and attempt to make it the standard for everyone.

One last remark, it has always seemed to me that those most willing to denigrate the Book of Common Prayer and its tradition are those who have never really used it for any time. No one here falls in that category or even come close, but many are the Anglican priests I have known in too many years who never attended or participated in a strictly prayer book service after being ordained.

Canon Tallis said...

Sandra Mccoll wrote:
" . .it was noted that the Oxford Movement took off faster among the clergy than among the laity."

Yes, but the Oxford Movement was not about liturgical changes or anything except teaching what was already in the Book of Common Prayer and taught be the fathers of the English as against the continental reformation. The liturgical figit (fully justified by the rubrics of 1662) came later with the first public celebration of the eucharist in which the ancient vestments were worn, incense was used and everything sung which the Cramner's Prayer Book Noted and the rubric in Elizabeth I's book of 1559 authorized being organized by a group of laymen. It was an experiment which they did not expect to see repeated as Pusey was not to wear eucharistic vestments until almost the end of his life and that in the chapel of one of the sisterhoods.

Newman went to Rome in 1845 or so, but he Directorium Anglicanum was not published until 1858. The Oxford Movement ended with the publication of Tract 90 in 1841. it was the second generation of the Church revival which really caught the liturgical buzz.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Unfortunately the cat is out of the bag about the identity of the man who said these words because of David Virtue's report, and no longer can I protect the ACA's +George Langberg from embarrassment. I just wish he had not said these distressing things.

Anonymous said...

there is an old saying falsely attributed to Ben Franklin but which any historian could see him in fact saying. "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep, voting on what to have for dinner." This is exactly who the United States of America was not founded as a democracy, and the more it becomes a democracy the worse things get.

Orthodoxy is not and has never been a democracy, if anything it could be compared more to republicanism (The philosophy not a political party.)

The structure of Anglicanism VS the structure of Orthodoxy is vastly different. I would suggest that those who think it is the same look up the difference between Classical Republicanism vs Absolute Democracy.