Friday, August 14, 2009

Root Theory and grand sweeping themes of "History"

The burden of educating Anglicans and converting them to Anglicanism is one that I accept. Nothing demonstrates the need for this work more than the reasoning of "converts" to that great big denomination headquartered in Italy, infected with its missionary zeal to reach all other Christians with peculiar claims to Universal Primacy. When someone says, as a writer did recently on another blog, "Before I was a Roman Catholic or even an Anglo-Catholic..." we can be sure that some basically flawed concepts will manifest themselves. Normally, those flawed concepts will reveal that the person making these statements never did understand Anglicanism, even if that same individual has more degrees than a thermometer.

The basic flaw is simply this: They let Rome define all the terms. They learn everything they think they know about Anglicanism from the Roman Polemicists whose agenda it is to save souls from Henry and Elizabeth's Kirk. They let Romans tell them what Anglicans really believe, they let Romans tell them why it must be wrong, and they let Romans define for them the true meaning of all things Catholic. Just as one comedian learned everything he needed to know in Kindergarten, some "Anglicans" have learned everything they care to know from The Catechism of the Roman Church. This course of action is far more easy than actually learning Anglicanism, which takes a lot of reading; and it seems more secure because that Italian denomination is really, really big. And, it is old, almost as old as the Church itself.

Root Theory

Now, when these "Before I was a Roman Catholic or even an Anglo-Catholic..." types confront the evils of modern apostasy on the part of post Anglican sects and cults (such as the Episcopal "church"), they use the modern stylish heresies to support what I have come to call The Root Theory. Basically, it goes like this: The fact that some Anglican bodies are apostate only proves that the whole thing was wrong from the start. By this theory, due to the break with Rome, in and of itself, the entire course of modern apostasy was inevitable, predestined by rebellion against the Petrine See. And so, writing for the Blog, Sub Tuum, Brother Stephen O. Cist could not confine his justified criticism of modern heresies within the parameters of reality. Instead, he mixed various generations and systems of thought together, in a fantastic and surreal mis-match, all caught up in grand sweeping themes of pseudo-history.

"I say it because strains of Anglicanism as old as Cranmer and the Enlightenment are moving the American Province of the Anglican Communion toward a clarity of identity and mission previously unknown in the Episcopal Church. Since her election at the last General Convention, the Presiding Bishop has consistently articulated her vision for the Episcopal Church in the 21st Century and, as of this month, she and others have moved TEC a step closer to consensus around that vision."

My first reaction is to ask, which is it? As old as Cranmer, or as old as the Enlightenment? A difference of a mere two hundred years may seem like nothing to a writer caught up in the emotional thrill of word-smithing, but it seems like a pretty long time once sobriety sets in. Even worse, to name Cranmer in the same breath as "the Enlightenment" provokes a reaction in my inner historian, and my inner theologian, not unlike a reaction to nails squeaking on a chalkboard.

And, it gets worse.

"From the time of the Elizabethan Settlement, there have been a large number of formidable broad church thinkers who have believed that Anglicanism is a Reformed tradition, confident that in the Anglican via media, unfortunate doctrinal and disciplinary accretions have been stripped away and that God-given reason gives men and women the competence to confront and engage with changing circumstances in every generation."

Unless he means "Reformed" strictly as some use it, to mean "Calvinism" (as they use "Evangelicalism" to mean "Lutheranism"), the only answer is, "so what?" Yes, the English Reformers were, well, Reforming the Church. And, herein lies a problem that will only get worse and result in more "Anglo-Catholics" leaping into the Tiber for completely false reasons, unless someone gets their attention before they make their fateful plunge. Anglo-Catholics need to stop reacting like idiots very time they are reminded that they are in a Protestant Church. Anyone who knows anything about Anglicanism knows that the words "Protestant" and "Catholic" are complementary terms in our patrimony. Using them as opposites, as inherently antithetical, is for the ignorant, not for us. So too, "Reformed." The English Reformers were stripping away Roman innovations to recover true Catholic Faith, and to reform the Church in a truly Catholic manner. As Fr. Louis Tarsitano once wrote in an email exchange: "The only reason to be Anglican is to avoid innovations; both the innovations of Rome and the innovations of Protestants." That is, our kind of Protestantism is true Catholicism, truer by far than that of Rome.

First of all, Broad Churchmen most certainly do not go back to the days of Elizabeth. Furthermore, the popular and time-honored Anglican usage of the word "reason" or Right Reason, has nothing to do with giving individuals "the competence to confront and engage with changing circumstances in every generation." As used by Richard Hooker, Reason is the wisdom spoken of in Proverbs. Its function is to provide solutions where God has not commanded various details on how to accomplish good and necessary tasks, to help the Church establish good polity, and to help those who must care for the Church's pastoral needs. Reason, in this sense, is not in any way a source of doctrinal authority, since it cannot equal what is known only by revelation. Reason, in this sense, is not simply an individual exercise, but the mind of Christ in the Church (I Cor. 2:16).

Hooker never gave us a "three-legged stool." In fact, he mostly emphasized only two things. One was, of course, Scripture. The other was the Church with her authority, by which he meant both what has been handed down in Tradition (which word he did, in fact use, positively in this connection), and also good, right and just polity. Reason, as such belongs to the Church as the Church, not simply "to men and women" as individual thinkers. The closest he ever came to mentioning Reason of individuals, or to mentioning anything even remotelty like a "three-legged stool," was in a context wherein he taught that individual reason must be subject to the Church:

"Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after this the Church succeedeth that which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” (Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5.VIII.2)

And, the obedience owed by every individual to the Church is brought out further in this passage:

"Is it a small office to despise the Church of God? ‘My son, keep thy father’s commandment,’ saith Solomon, ‘and forget not thy mother’s instruction: Bind them both always about thine heart.’ It doth not stand with the duty we owe to our heavenly Father, that to the ordinances of our mother the Church we should show ourselves disobedient. Let us not say we keep the commandments of the one, when we break the law of the other: for unless we observe both we obey neither." 3.IX.3

Concerning Reason, most of what Hooker wrote speaks of that reason that governs the Church in accord with Scripture, and with what is handed down from ancient times.

Guilt by what association?

Nonetheless, Brother Stephen O. Cist lists Hooker among those who, despite their brilliance and good intentions, have only furthered the cause of modern apostasy, no doubt because the roots of rebellion against the papacy must bring forth evil fruit. So he writes:

"The current positions of the Episcopal Church on a variety of issues and its evolving self-understanding have clear antecedents in the ground laid by Hooker, the 18th Century deists, F.D. Maurice, Percy Dearmer, and William Temple to name a few."

So, priestesses in the church, blessing of same-sex unions, and bishops who live with homosexual lovers, are now based on the writing of Richard Hooker? And, we should list 18th century Deists with Percy Dearmer and William Temple? And, we should blame the ECUSAn General Convention of 2009 on such men, even though each of them would have thundered against modern apostasy like the prophets of old? By this kind of Root Theory, we must blame the Arian heresy on all who came before Arius, including the Apostles Peter and Paul, Justin Martyr and Ireneaus, etc. (The sad thing is, much of the Brother's analysis is quite good; and this Root Theory simply ruins, by its awkward mis-matched grand sweeping themes of pseudo-history, an otherwise fine essay).

By all means, we must blame godly men of old for the sins of a new generation.

"And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim." Judges 2:10,11

I guess we should blame that on Moses.


Canon Tallis said...

Why is it that these people always seem to forget that there were Catholic Christians in Britain before the first Italian missionary arrived? That St Hild and St Theodore managed to bring the Celts and the Saxons together served both until Rome became more the servant of earthly monarchies, the first being that of Charlemagne in his competition with the Byzantine empire, than that of the king of heaven. The results I think we all know though many of us will not discuss them for fear of offending the papists among us. They would have us believe as they prefer also to do that all was absolutely perfect with the Roman See and those to adhere to it. But to do so would be to insult St Paul and, indeed, all the writers of the New Testament.

I greatly appreciate as I have written over and over the mission of this blog to explicate Anglicanism and defend it from those who can not or will not accept it on its own terms. And just as I would prefer that we Anglicans live up to our own standards, I will hope that such critics as this are able to bring Rome and the Churches of that obedience close to the standard which they claim.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Father Hart.

Too many of our clergy and lairy in the continuum try to judge catholicism from Rome, and Rome's standards. This is why many, who don't know the whole history, swim the Tiber.

Indeed, St. Joseph of Arimathea took Christianity to England before St. Peter arrived in Rome.
The church was alive and well in England long before Rome sent its first "missionary" to England.

Thank you, Fr. Hart, for pointing out these things. If only more people were to read them, and more continuum clergy include these things in their sermons.

BCP Catholic

poetreader said...

A couple of more-or-less random observations:

1. It seems a bit disingenuous for Anglicans to treat the undeniable fact that Rome has been overly influenced by politics as something which distinguishes us from them or makes us a superior way. The record of the Church of England pledged to the civil ruler as "supreme governor" and often looking much like a department of the civil authority isn't one to brag about. This is not so much a problem of "them" as it is a common problem of all historic churches.

2. While I do believe that Rome has made several errors in teaching and practice, particularly in the area of its pretensions to supremacy, it is interesting to note that it is Rome that has refused to accept is as Catholic, and has excommunicated us, and not the other way around. The classic Anglican stance has always been, yes, to point out wherein Rome has erred, but nonetheless to assert that, so far as we are concerned, we are the same church as they, and any barriers that exist are ones that men have erected. One may criticize brethren, bit it is never appropriate to treat them as aliens, even if that is how they regard us.

We are one, and, please God, shall be visibly one through eternity.


Brad Evans said...

I notice that you don't mention the Orthodox.
Are you just ignorant about them? Much less likely to meet them in the West and so don't feel the need to discuss them? Less historical 'baggage' from English history-no Ukrainian Armada, no Greek Edmund Campion, no Russian Recusants?
Because the Orthodox are at least as convinced as the Catholics that the Episcopal church has made serious errors. The Russian church, for example, cut off official ties to TEC when Gene Robinson was chosen bishop. And the pressure for female ordination is much weaker with them than with the catholics.
There is a YouTube of Elizabeth II saying that she will uphold "the Protestant/Reformed religion, as established by law". I'd guess that refers to the Church of England, and so means that episcopalians are Protestants.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Brad wrote:

I notice that you don't mention the Orthodox. Are you just ignorant about them?

I say, have you ever heard of David Bentley Hart? I taught my baby brother everything he knows, of course.

The Russian church, for example, cut off official ties to TEC when Gene Robinson was chosen bishop.

Oh, they finally got around to it, did they? We cut off all ties with the Episcopal Church in 1977.

I say, Brad, do you have any idea where you are? I suggest taking a look at the resources on this page.

Canon Tallis said...

During the course of the day I remember that on Tuesday I had wandered into the local Methodist book store and found an interesting little cheat sheet on the various Christian denominations. The listed Rome first and gave the straight Roman line about Peter, Rome and the bit but never noticed that the Councils defined Rome's primacy as a matter of its being the Church of the imperial city. They wrote of the Orthodox Church as if it had been founded by the emperor when he moved the imperial capital to Constantinople and that was the reason for the split between East and West.

For Anglicans they gave the classic tale of Henry VIII without ever mentioning that the earliest fathers asserted the possibility that St Paul had even completed a missionary journey to Britain and that there were bishops, priest and monasterys in Britain when St Augustine arrived to claim it for Rome. And this is what most people know about the origins of Christians before the Reformation.

As for the Orthodox, they are glad to take advantage of the failure of establishment Anglicans and claim many of us for their own, forgetting that when they were persecuted in many places it was England and the US that moved things to protect them. So much for gratitude.

And Brad, when Her Majesty refers to the Protestant Reformed religion she is using a British legal term that originated when James II was to come to the throne and parliament knew that he would misinterpret the ancient oath of English monarchs = so they created a new one that means something to classical prayer book Anglicans but which those outside seem unable to understand. Read Father Hart on the Anglican understanding of the word "Protestant."


Brad Evans said...

In fairness to myself, you do seem to have more of an animus against the Italians than, say, the Greeks, Romanians or Russians.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


I don't have animus against anybody. But, after years of watching RC polemicists bully insecure and ignorant Anglicans, who in turn kowtow to all things Roman as if begging to be beaten and humiliated again rather than ignored, I have chosen to speak with strong words. Enough is enough. I want Continuing Anglicans to survive, and that means they must learn so as not to vanish away.

Most of our relations with the Orthodox, however, have been very pleasant.

Sandra McColl said...

If Fr Hart has an animus against anyone, it's against the Anglicans who insist on being what they are not. I sympathise. Those who insist on being what they are not tend to lean in the Roman direction. If Anglicans who insist on parading around like Eastern Orthodox and telling us it isn't Easter when it is pop up in large numbers, we'll probably develop a bit of an animus against them, too. I am concerned, however, that the tone of some of dear Fr Hart's posts does appear to be developing something of a sense of animus against the Romans. Ignorant Anglo-papists, bigoted and ignorant Roman bloggers, none of them actually express the Roman edition of the faith according to the Romans' own rules. What is believed and taught by the Roman Pope, according to the Romans' rules, is the very measure of the Roman version of the faith. And, with a couple of minor adjustments to his ecclesiology, some English elocution lessons and a new wardrobe, Dr Ratzinger would've made a great Archbishop of Canterbury. Ecclesiological differences aside, I see nothing in what emanates from his mouth that does not deserve to be called orthodox or catholic--although I am first to notice that it doesn't always coincide with what the local Romans believe and do. By all means lay into the ignorant who base their arguments on grotesque caricatures of both Anglicanism and Romanism, but let's try to avoid ghetto triumphalism.

highchurchman said...

The Anglican Church never used the term Protestant in any of its foundation documents and when asked to by William of Orange refused outright! And that in spite of the fact that William had an army of some 10,000 Calvinist and Romanist Europeans to enforce his wishes! The only Catholic Communion to use the term as self description were the Trentists in 1791 in a letter to the English Government.

Regarding the term Protestant Reformed Religion, it was a political term used by parliament to justify a coup against the descendants of James 11nd, It was not used by the Church. I was taught that the term Protestant was only used by Anglicans to describe their position against the political interference of Pope Pius the Fourth,[/] in his attempt to interfere in English politics 1570 by bringing in a Romanist Monarch!

highchurchman said...

"Developing something of a sense of animus,"

Quite right too,if only because of the extra-ordinary
output of lies , half truths and distortions that the Romanists have poured out since Trent. Neither has this campaign finished! When a local anglo catholic priest joined Rome, he was welcomed and applauded for finally becoming a catholic after some 40, or so years as an Anglican priest! This was by the local Roman Bishop!! Certainly in England it never stops, this brainwashing!

I think Father Hart should keep this educational matter up just as long as the Romanists alloww their wilder bretheren free reign!

Mark said...

From the Roman/Papist perspective:

I know some former Anglicans, Episcopalians, and others, who have made that fateful swim across the Tiber, and in my admittedly anecdotal experience, they generally don't discuss the other bank. None of them strike me as seething with animus toward the Churches they grew up in.

As far as the world of political power having undue influence on the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church:

I think just about any reading of this history forces the conclusion that many earthly powers, from the beginning, attempted and continue to attempt to influence, if not outright control, the RC Church. It must also be admitted among us Catholics, that sometimes inside and local collaboration with these powers did and does take place. However, I would also argue that at best some of these attempts at control succeed only on a local scale to a degree, and temporarily.

The most recent and very serious attempt at such domination came, of course, from the communists. Let us reflect on the fact that the communists will at times tolerate a certain amount of Catholicism among their subjects (temporarily, of course), provided that the local Bishops and laity sever their ties with Rome... (as is the case in China to this day).

A current attempt at this domination also comes from the progressive forces within our own ranks - an inside job. You, Continuing Anglicans, are in this as well. While this problem will be with us for some time, let me remark that due to the resurgence of Orthodoxy and appreciation of Tradition, plus the demographic situation (fruit of Humanae Vitae), we will not be shipwrecked. But we may lose some ballast.

I would say that the Roman Catholic Church was granted resilience when dealing with various earthly forces throughout Her history.

Canon Tallis said...

And he would not be the only one, Sandra. One of the great tragedies of Anglicanism is that it is most undervalued and under-appreciated by those who think themselves most loyal. Our job is to educate them and give them something to cling to in the very hard times ahead. We are to prepare the George Herberts and Nicholas Farrers of the next generation so that there will remain a real Anglicanism on the other side ready to leap into life just as the English Church did at the end of the Cromwellian interregnum.

Canon Tallis said...

And I forgot!

Happy Lady Day in Harvest to All!!

The feast of our Lady's Dormition.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


Perhaps my purely subjective definition of two terms, as presented in the following categorization, will provide clarification.

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) is a Catholic. But, the numerous polemicists are Romans-indeed a legion marching off to battle.

And, when I say "Catholic," I mean people like us.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

By the way, I think Hooker's exact words, "congruity of reason," are very interesting. Congruity is a word related both to "congress" and "congregation." "Congruity of reason" suggests conciliar reason, not independent reason, as that which "overrule[s] all other inferior judgments whatsoever.”