Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pro and Con testantism

It is time to come clean. I must confess to indulging myself; I take a perverse delight in etymology (you can keep a secret I hope). Perhaps my attraction to linguistics goes back to my tongue-speaking Charismatic youth in the 1970s, having prayed oft in a tongue not understanded by myself. Oh, but how I love etymology; if it could be bottled I fear I would drink too much.

The etymology of the word "Protestant" clearly demonstrates St. Paul's point about the need for interpretation. Protestant is, most certainly, a word spoken in an unknown tongue that cannot edify the Church without the addition of five words with the understanding. Speaking this word into modern ears, without the gift (though not necessarily the χάρισμα) of interpretation, cannot be done decently and in order. Doesn't Protestant mean un-Catholic? Doesn't it mean "protest?"

One of the ironies of etymology is that sometimes, over centuries, a word may be used to mean or imply the very opposite of its root. When people today say (using it in the fashionable way) "protest," my vicious addiction to etymology provokes me to respond: "They ought to say Contest." This is what happens when an addiction dominates you, and you cannot break free of it. A sober man could just accept that "protest" means you are against it, perhaps the way that Professor Wagstaff summed up what some might call the quintessential protestant attitude:

I do not care what they say
It makes no difference anyway.
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it;
I'm against it.

The habit of etymology, from which I cannot escape, sees the irony, recognizes horsefeathers for what they are, and protests loud and clear: That is not the way of the Protestant, but rather of the Contestant. You bet your life it is.

One of our critics, urging us to fore swear our Anglican patrimony and denounce our Fathers in favor of the Tiberian path, asked the hypothetical question: "what are you protesting?" My answer is, "I protest the Gospel." I certainly do not contest it. You see ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs and cats, Jews and Greeks, pro means you are for it, and con means you are against it. To protest something in law was to sign a declaration of affirmation, that you were for the matter in a given document, or that you verified it, whatever the matter may be. I am for the Gospel, and for the Testaments of Scripture. This is pro-testamentism.

The Reformers of the 16th century used the word "Protestant" to declare that they believed in the Scriptures, and that they sought to be more Catholic than the Papists who obscured the Scriptures, failed to proclaim their meaning, and hid the Gospel under centuries of superstitious rubble. The phrase "more Catholic than the pope" may sound like an unfriendly challenge, a red flag waved in the face of a bull. But, the whole purpose of being a Protestant (and I believe the English did it best, by far) was exactly that: To be more Catholic than the pope and his religion.

Today we are more polite and ecumenical, and so are the people on the other side. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, the noblest German of them all, whose works I have long respected since the days when we called him Cardinal Ratzinger, is one of the finest Protestants to be published in modern times. Clearly he favors the Gospel and the Scripture just as we do (I wish I could say the same about his rather large denomination). Because he is such a Protestant, it is not easy to be more Catholic than he is.

I hope this gift of interpretation will help many to gain a historical perspective, opening that strange tongue we call English, and the language of that foreign country we call the past. The problem with too many Anglicans in our Continuing churches is the very opposite of the lady in Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much." We protest too little.


charles said...

Thank you for this post. This is an ongoing polemic which Anglican Catholics need to embrace-- namely, to reappropriate the word "protestant".

I believe when we make the mistake of promulgating the RC propaganda, "the Protestants destroyed the church", there are a number of necessary qualifications:

1. At the time of the reformation the Protestant camp did not technically include Radicals. Radicals were not part of the original magisterial reformation but were ejected by Protestants and Romanists alike.

True Protestants are not Radicals. Unlike Radicals, we have a continuity with both the medieval and especially the patristic church against the innovations of Rome. WE also share a rather high view of church order/discipline, especially the civil sword, which Radicals lacked.

2. What passes for 'protestantism' today is a far cry from the Magisterial Reformation. Sadly, the Magisterial protestants have suffered much harm by the rise of liberal and enlightenment forces in the realms from which we belonged.

3. The 39 articles and Prayer book was one of many "middle way" Reformation documents. Middle way does not mean somewhere half-way between error and truth. It means marked by the boundaries of RC and Anabaptist errors. We are neither. Similar confessions/articles stemming from the reformation are those belonging to the Augsburg family. When these are read, their catholicity is refreshing and stands out compared to waves of revivalism and Anabaptism which later prevailed.

I believe Anglicans ought not be afraid of the word "protestant" but teach its original catholicity and reapprehension of Fathers. I also think this is especially true in a country which calls itself "protestant".

The term "protestant" also came from the 1529 2nd Diet of Speyers, from a document which the German Lutheran princes signed called, the protestio. The protestio dealt with a handful of specific issues addressed to the Emperor:

1. the protestio insisted upon the Emperor's public vow to hold a free general council of the entire church.
2. it reminded Charles V's public vow to allow the prince's faith to be the faith of the given realm. Here is the origin of the national church.
3. it pledged to assist in the enforcement of the 1521 Bull against Radicals or Anabaptists.
4. it explained the Mass would be adminsistered in both kinds and the abuses belonging to private masses/indulgence system, would end in protestio signatories' lands.
5. it promised future assistance and fidelity to Charles V who needed military aid or otherwise against the Turks.

So, that's sums up the formal origin of 'Protestant'/. Not Radical at all, and it intrinsically recognized a Christian hierarchy and order by the very nature of the appeal and the precedent of prior Diet (Speyer I and Worms I).

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article.

We have too many Anglo-Catholic priests who view the word "Protestant" as an insult, who take offense at the use of the word, who insult those Anglican laity who are educated enough to realize that the English Reformation was needed, etc.

Educational articles like this are so needed in the continuum. Poorly educated men are ordained to the clergy simply by attempting to squeeze the word "catholic" into a sentence as many times as they can, to try to impress vocation committees and some bishops equally lacking in education.

Too often in the ACC the word "catholic" (in its imitation Roman form) is embraced, and the word "Anglican" is forgotten about, as is Anglican liturgy. This is manifested by those ACC clergy who make public statements that they want to use the Novus Ordo, as it is better than BCP, etc.

ACC Member

Sean said...

I always thought the word radical was misused popularly. Doesn't it mean "to the root/center"? As in Radish, Radius, Radiant?

Perhaps self-named radicals intended that whatever the result.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

ACC member wrote:

This is manifested by those ACC clergy who make public statements that they want to use the Novus Ordo, as it is better than BCP, etc.

I have never heard anyone say this, and I cannot imagine any priest getting away with this in any congregation. Such a one might be better off in Cornwall in 1549.

Are you commenting from England?

Bishop Mead said...

There are no advocates for 'the Novus Ordo' among the clergy in the ACC in the United Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Such statements about preferring the Novus Ordo were made by ACC priests in America, on the ACC's own Yahoo group a few years ago.

I was absolutely shocked.

But I have also heard ACC priests say this in person, here in the US.

This is part of the problem when you ordain people based on their constant use of the word "catholic". Sadly when many of them say "catholic" they really mean "Roman Catholic." They just aren't firm enough in their convictions to give up wives to be Roman.

There are mostly good priests in the ACC, but we do have some that are only in the continuum for the right to marriage. They want to be Romans, they just lack the conviction to agree to chastity and celibacy.

Some of our bishops need to start listening in interviews for the word "Anglican" and if it is used, and whether the candidate really beleives in Anglicanism.

ACC Member

Fr. Robert Hart said...

But I have also heard ACC priests say this in person, here in the US.

Then I assume they are unhappy in the ACC. The ACC simply has no room for such silliness, and never has.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart:

They didn't seem to be unhappy.

They seemed to think that they were needed to "reform" the ACC and start using the "Novus Ordo".

Sadly, when this whole subject came up on the ACC Yahoo Group, none of the clergy even wrote any kind of rebuttal against it.

I worry for the future of the ACC that perhaps, among the clergy, such notions are secretly being planned.

Perhaps this doesn't exist in your dicoese. In our diocese, I think there are a lot of wanna be Romans.

ACC Member

charles said...

it's a sentiment, perhaps, and is cured by reapprehending Anglicanism. I would add, Bishops should likewise listen to the word 'protestant'. We are protestant, but we need an apology against the Radical wing of Reformation which we opposed. We also have a number of cousins from the early Reformation who we probably have more in common with (confessionally and historically) than either Rome or Orthodoxy, e.g., Old Catholics and Swedish Lutherans. In fact, there is a bishopric line in the Missouri Synod called the English District which has episcopate succession. We could benefit by being more discerning: there are high liturgical movements in many old protestant denominations. Protestantism isn't just one homogeneous, Anabaptist body. There are movements which approximate our own, recovering their own catholicity and magisterial protestantism, that we could encourage. This is also true with ACNA. I read 22/28 dioceses in the ACNA oppose ordination of women to the priesthood. Not perfect, but finally there is something to work with! But first Continuum merger..?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Charles wrote:

We are protestant, but we need an apology against the Radical wing of Reformation which we opposed.
Do you mean in addition to Richard Hooker's work? His Laws Of Ecclesiastical Polity address the extremes of certain other Protestants of the time, and his observations still apply now, perhaps, in some ways, more than ever.
I read 22/28 dioceses in the ACNA oppose ordination of women to the priesthood. Not perfect, but finally there is something to work with! But first Continuum merger..?
A merger at this time would kill our witness by swallowing it and digesting it. We need to remain separate in order to have any opportunity for discussion that could have real potential to help them come fully to their senses. We are 32 1/2 years ahead of them, and we started with a better foundation.

We are an elder brother; but I trust not like the elder brother in the Parable. If they will give some amount of respect to what we have to say, we can help them. It is not pleasant to keep our distance, but in terms of full sacramental communion it will remain necessary until they cleanse all the modern ECUSAn errors out of their system.

In the meantime, following the lead of our bishops, I see no reason that we cannot talk with them in some formal capacity. But, to have any good purpose, it cannot be after a merger.

poetreader said...


I'm puzzled by your reference to the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, the very body in which I grew up. In the English district, as in all the other districts, the custom is for a new pastor to be ordained by whatever pastor the ordinand should request, along with whatever other pastors might attend. The district president (or anyone else who could conceivably be considered a bishop) is not necessarily involved at all. I'm not at all sure what you could mean by "episcopate succession" in this case. There simply aren't any bishops, and that is a major factor in my leaving that group years ago.


charles said...

Are you sure it was the English District within LCMS?

BTW. by 'merger', I meant the Continuum not merger with ACNA! :)

Meanwhile, I will check with the pastor I know from the English District. He left another jurisdicition within the Missouri Synod for the English District because of his belief in a epsicopacy (probably historically conceived, not sacramentally real). Thank you Ed. You would likely know better given you said you were in the English District? No doubt it's very irregular, but less so than the remainder of the synod? Anyway, my point is to avoid broad brush strokes of disregard. Otherwise, our immediate future lay with Rome or Orthodoxy?

Fr. D. said...

"This is manifested by those ACC clergy who make public statements that they want to use the Novus Ordo, as it is better than BCP, etc."

Let me begin by stating that I have been a full time ACC priest for nearly 20 years and am currently the archdeacon in the undoubted spikiest diocese in the ACC.

NEVER have I ever heard anyone in the ACC express anything other than absolute disdain for any aspect of the R/C novus ordo!!! Equally repugnant among us is any aspect of Vatican II !!!!

I can not imagine where you ever heard anything like your claim in the ACC!!! Proof positive please!
Fr. D.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I wonder if sarcasm was mistaken for serious reflection, the danger of humor when it is subtle. Some clergy may have joked in such a way, and their joking may have been misunderstood.

Canon Tallis said...

I make no secret of the fact that I am unhappy with the current 'popular' meaning and understanding of the word 'Protestant' but only as it is almost always understood to be the opposite of 'Catholic.' In the popular mind it is impossible to be both 'Catholic' and 'Protestant,' but as Father H. so correctly points out the orthodox prayer book Anglican is and must be both. This is one of the reasons that we must both know our Latin and also Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes, Laud, Bull and a number of others. I will never forget being in St. Julian's in Norwich when another priest asked me if I were Catholic or Anglican. I replied that I was Catholic but not a papist.

At about the same period I met a young English priest in the company of Auburn Traycik who admitted that his parish used the Novus Ordo because the Church of England had no authority to order its own liturgy. As Ed might surmise, I was not nice to him as I take oaths and particularly those made to God extremely seriously. I think he was very surprised that I did not recognize what a good 'Catholic' he was in spite of his wedding ring and lack of clericals, but instead suggested that if he thought the bishop of Rome actually had such authority he really needed to submit immediately.

Now, if you read the New Liturgical Movement carefully, you catch hints that Ratzinger is unhappy with the NO and wants Rome to find or invent the equivalent's of our prayer book English for their next attempt at a liturgy in a language understood of the people. It must be very confusing to the ordinary RC, but Cranmer and crew could probably give the pope some very excellent advice. He might even find it wise to imitate some of the Western Rite Orthodox and do his own version of the Book of Common Prayer.

But as for me, since I intend to continue "testify for" Holy Scripture as understood by the Catholic fathers and earliest bishops and councils, it seems I will have to remain an Anglican Catholic/Protestant or Protestant/Catholic caring not whom I confuse so long as God understands.

Anonymous said...

Wow this is great stuff! Ok I cant even compete here but you guys just made me proud to be Anglican Catholic. We are unique in the world because of our history and nobody can change that.
As a lay person, I dont think anyone is thrilled with NO and I would liken it to "Liturgy lite" like we're on a diet or something. Everyone ive asked misses the true richness of the Latin Mass. I agree and I dont understand half of what I hear. But what I dont understand I can FEEL intensely and its the catharsis of feeling the presence of the Lord. How I feel after mass cant be analyzed.

We Anglicans are truly unique in the world because of our history and nobody can take that away from us. I personally dont consider us as protesting against the Pope, or the Catholic Church. Not that much conflict, but there is always going to be someone who is going to split a hair on some point. I do not believe it will bring them closer to God.
Thanks for reading!