Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wisdom from the late Louis Tarsitano

Reformed catholicism is both evangelical and catholic, and when we remain loyal to it, as we should since it is the original faith of the historic Church, we cannot help but be both evangelical and catholic. If we find ourselves merely one or the other, we need to refine our own understanding of the great inheritance that we have been given by Christ and his Church, through the Anglican Way .

In this present hour I sorely miss the scholarship and wisdom, as well as the friendship, of the Rev. Dr. Louis Tarsitano. In addition to being a good priest, he was also an Associate Editor of Touchstone, as well as the author of An Outline of an Anglican Life. Fr. Tarsitano wrote the following letter to a friend, and it has been sent via email by his widow. -Fr. Hart

Thought I would share a letter my late husband sent to a
friend trying to make his way in the church 8/21/2004 .....Sally

A great deal of today's opposition between the Evangelical view and the Anglo-Catholic view of almost anything is very late and rather artificial. Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism both are basically 19th century movements, and much of what happened in Anglican history and practice in the preceding 18 centuries doesn't quite fit into either mode. And this observation is still not to speak of today's Neo-evangelicalism, Charismatism, Roman Reunionism, etc.

The religion that came out of the English Reformation might best be called a "reformed catholicism." Its roots are in the Scriptures and the apostolic Church, and in the undivided Church of the first five centuries in general. What changed in the Reformation was not so much the connection to these roots (although I would argue they were made stronger, not weaker) but a re-evaluation of various additions and accretions that had built up on Western Christianity in the years between the Fathers of the undivided Church and the era of the Reformation, with an eye to removing anything that was an abuse of Scripture or of the universal faith of the undivided Church.

The place to look for a mature summary of the reformed Anglican Way is a classic edition of the BCP, either the English 1662 or the American 1928. In it we will find neither sectarianism nor denominationalism (in the current American sense), but rather the expression in the English language of what is truly common to the entire biblical and apostolic Church throughout history. Local devotions and customs are permitted, under the oversight of the bishop and the rector, but no one is required to believe what is not the common inheritance of the whole Church.

This commonality is the essence of a real "catholicism," as defined by St. Vincent of Lerins, who stated that the catholic faith consists of that which has been believed "everywhere, always, and by all." In terms of worship, the Book of Common Prayer establishes certain offices and administrations as the "regular" (the rule) services of the Church. These are the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion. The Prayer Book ideal would be to offer on a Sunday morning Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Holy Communion. At the same time, circumstances (and the customs that get built on circumstances) have not been everywhere ideal or the same.

For example, ask this question: Which is better, frequent or infrequent celebration of the Holy Communion? The answer is "both," if frequency only signifies laxity in preparation to receive the sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood, or if infrequency means that due honor is offered to this holy meal. Not so simple, huh? The best case would be, of course, what the Prayer Book envisions: all of the regular services of the Church offered on the Lord's Day. But variations on this discipline are mostly not violations of good order, but rather permissible adjustments to real-life situations (many of which continue out of sanctified habit, rather than laxity or laziness).

Even in parishes with a strong Morning Prayer tradition (which I consider a good thing, and not a bad thing--but only one good thing among others), it is simple enough to have an early service of Holy Communion, especially if the addition is approached as giving honor to Christ and as making his sacrament available weekly for the nurture of those faithful who feel themselves called to the Holy Table.

Anglican Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism were responses to perceived needs in the Church. The Evangelicals believed that better preaching and personal discipline would increase the Church's effectiveness in obeying the Great Commission and spreading the Gospel. It was the Anglican Evangelicals, after all, putting faith into practice, who gained the victory for Christ in the abolition of slavery for the first time in human history. The Anglo-Catholics were responding to what they saw as the secularization of the Church, making her only a department of government, and so they stressed the immense sacramental grace and authority that Christ had given his Church, along with the Church's history, so that it would be understood that the Church had made England, rather than the other way around.

But I'll tell you a secret. Both groups began simply as loyal churchmen with a reforming emphasis. The great Evangelical Augustus Toplady writes in his famous hymn "Rock of Ages" of "the water and the blood," the outward signs of the dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion. Anglo-Catholic clergymen died in droves, bringing the Gospel to Africa, just as their Evangelical brethren did. The modern party differences, based on secular political parties and the pursuit of power, are degenerate inventions piled onto the reforms of much greater men who simply loved Christ and his Church.

If you can dig up a copy of E. Clowes Chorley's "Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church," published in 1945, take a look at the excerpts from various sermons before the development of today's silly partisanship. The sermons of the Evangelicals are catholic, and the sermons of the High Churchmen and early Anglo-Catholics are evangelical. Reformed catholicism is both evangelical and catholic, and when we remain loyal to it, as we should since it is the original faith of the historic Church, we cannot help but be both evangelical and catholic. If we find ourselves merely one or the other, we need to refine our own understanding of the great inheritance that we have been given by Christ and his Church, through the Anglican Way.

As to the Holy Communion, what does the Church Catechism in the BCP say? It says that the inward grace of the Holy Communion is "The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper." This is exactly what the Scriptures teach (see for example, St. Paul in 1 Cor.). This is exactly what Aelfric, an ancient English churchman, taught in his Anglo-Saxon homilies, written around the year 1000. This is basic Christian doctrine, not the property of any religious party or movement, and demanding that any Christian believe more or less than this is morally and doctrinally wrong. We receive our Lord's Body and Blood, according to his Word and by the power of God the Blessed Trinity. Philosophical debates about how God accomplishes this fact may be interesting to some folks, but they are not relevant to a saving faith and a loyal Christianity.

Anglican comprehensiveness isn't license or a catch-all. It is, rather, a principled belief in the truth revealed in Scripture and applied in the formularies, principally the Book of Common Prayer, that allows a certain patience with others. That patience permits what is permissible within the Faith and Practice of the Church, even if we wouldn't do things exactly that way. That patience requires the calm, charitable effort to correct those who have gone beyond what the Faith and Practice of the Church permits.

Whatever kind of Anglican parish or jurisdiction that you might serve in, as long as that parish or jurisdiction is loyal to Christ, to the Scripture, and to the Anglican formularies, you can be the same sort of loyal, decent, catholic, and evangelical Anglican Christian that you could be anywhere else, even if the ceremonial or the vestments change a bit from place to place. Except as a part of your general pastoral knowledge, you can let the various parties go, and you can concentrate your efforts on knowing Christ and bringing him to those in your care in the fullness of the Anglican Way. Then you can serve with honor wherever it pleases God to place you.

With best regards in Christ,

Louis Tarsitano

19 comments:

Unknown said...

I appreciate you sharing this letter, Fr. Hart. Having come from the independent charismatic movement to Anglicanism, I found in the very beginning I was trying to leave behind some of the evangelical ideals I grew up with.

Now, after several years, I have come to the understanding that I need to pull from both the evangelicalism of my past, and the catholicism of my present, and combine them for the Anglicanism of my future.

I know that sounds corny, but I have found a deep love for what has been provided for me in the Book of Common Prayer and the Scriptures. I don't have to jettison one in order to embrace the other. Its very freeing.

Thanks for sharing that.

George said...

You can purchase a copy of An outline of Anglican Life from the Reformed Episcopal Church at this site:

http://rechurch.org/recus/ID25b7a9542b0da8/?MIval=/recus/er.html

I have copy from them. It is nice printed version soft cover. It is $15. Great read for anyone who wants to understand Anglicanism.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Interesting that the REC makes the book available, inasmuch as it rooted firmly in the Affirmation of St. Louis. I hold out hope for them and pray for them, that they will turn away from the ACNA and move in our direction.

poetreader said...

Fr. Steve,
I appreciate what you say. I was a Pentecostal preacher for years. I have not rejected what I learned and received in those years, but have reinterpreted it in the light of a thoroughly Catholic understanding.

To be "Catholic" or "Evangelical" without the other is actually to be neither.

ed

Cherub said...

Dear Father
I hope you will not mind this rather late response to an earlier posting by you appearing on this post. I have been unwell.
Re the FiF (UK)approach to Rome in the 1990s. After the ordination of women measure passed the General Synod of the Church of England, an approach was made to Rome for an ecclesial solution on the uniate lines. Because of the intransigence of the English Catholic Bishops in particular, the answer received by those who were driving the Roman Option was one which entailed personal conversions. There the matter rested until the TAC made its historic approach. Rome has responded to this request for an ecclesial solution with the AC, which is an ecclesial solution. FiF (UK) have graciously acknowledged this good work and many of their number may now seek to avail themselves of this ecclesial solution. FiF came into offical existence after that early move, the main protagonists of which were the then Bishop G Leonard, Fr Peter Geldard, the then Fr John Broadhurst, and others. Two of those three great leaers of the Catholic movement in the C of E took the pathway offered, personal conversion. I hope this helps clarify the matter.

Alice C. Linsley said...

It seems to me that both 19th century movements should be weighed against the whole history of the Church and against the holy tradition received by the Church from those who gave us the Bible.

Dr. Peter Toon would have appreciated this letter. May his memory be eternal.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Alice Linsley wrote:

It seems to me that both 19th century movements should be weighed against the whole history of the Church and against the holy tradition received by the Church from those who gave us the Bible.

I assure you that the movements were led by scholars who were more than capable of doing that very thing, and indeed that is exactly what motivated them in the first place. The assumption that anything "Protestant" must be contradictory to the Catholic Faith is a completely false assumption, and the Anglicans of that period were better qualified than anybody anywhere to examine the Fathers of the Church and the Patristic period in general. Their understanding of the Latin Fathers was a bit better than what Rome was able to accomplish then; their scholarship concerning the Greek Fathers was unique in the West, far superior to anything either Romans or Continental Protestants were doing, and equal to the best scholarship of the Eastern churches. In that era the level of scholarship among Anglicans shined brilliantly.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Cherub:

Yes, it is out of place in this thread, and full of gaps.

Rome has responded to this request for an ecclesial solution with the AC, which is an ecclesial solution.

A solution to a non-existent problem, and not an ecclesial one exactly; more of an individual solution.

I take it that this letter from Lou Tarsitano does not interest you.

Cherub said...

Dear Father

You say: "A solution to a non-existent problem, and not an ecclesial one exactly; more of an individual solution." Look, I was just trying to be helpful. No need to be so defensive all the time. Those who have applied to Rome have a problem even if you don't. In the 1990s many Church of England priests and laity felt they could not stay in a Church which, among other things, ordained women thereby putting an end, as they saw it, to their ecumenical aspirations. The same with members of the TAC. The TAC recognised that a small group such as they are (in terms of world Christianity) had to be in Communion with someone. Their convictions drew them to Rome. They had a problem and sought a solution. There are no "gaps" in what I have said. Also, you may not take it that I am uninterested in this thread. It's just that it came to me where there was a gap between your remembrance and my knowledge. I am saying your remembrance fits in with what I know happened and I felt I should tell you that.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr, Hart, I agree with you that "their scholarship concerning the Greek Fathers" was outstanding. That is not my point. It also may be true that their scholarship was "equal to the best scholarship of the Eastern churches". That is not my point. The question is not one of scholarship, but of cultural context. While the Gospel is universal, the context of Christianity is essentially eastern and Afro-Asiatic. About this cultural context the Anglican Fathers, as brilliant as they were, seemed to have little interest. We do not have that luxury today as the West must engage the East. Further, we live in the golden age of Biblical research and can't ignore the available information about the faith of those who gave us the Bible, our spiritual ancestors.

Anonymous said...

"While the Gospel is universal, the context of Christianity is essentially eastern and Afro-Asiatic."

I had thought it was strictly Hebraic, trusting our Lord's statement, "Salvation is of the Jews." Silly me.

Both Asia and Africa are fairly large continents. And what does this trendy expression "context of Christianity" mean anyway? Stretching from the Sahara desert to the Siberian peninsula is quite a broad context, so broad as to be a meaningless statement.
LKW

Fr. John said...

Alice C. Linsley wrote: "The question is not one of scholarship, but of cultural context. While the Gospel is universal, the context of Christianity is essentially eastern and Afro-Asiatic. About this cultural context the Anglican Fathers, as brilliant as they were, seemed to have little interest."

The descriptors "eastern and Afro-Asiatic" as a cultural context are vague since they are geographic terms, and not cultural in and of themselves.

While the cultural context of the Old Testament revelation is certainly Chaldean, Babylonian, Egyptian (not in the Arab sense), it could be described overall as Indo-European, but the uniqueness of Hebrew culture and religious belief, in my estimation, overrule much influence by those cultures except in a negative sense of the false religions they practiced.

The New Testament era's "cultural context," is part and parcel of the great Pax Romana and is heavily influenced by the dominant Greco-Roman culture of that time.

I submit that, while it is popular to lump Christianity in as an "Eastern" religion, Christianity's "cultural context" is a Latin one with heavy Greek overtones. Every artistic medium in Western Civilization has been put to service in the positive presentation of the passion and exaltation of Christ. This is the lens through which the world views Christianity.

We also have to admit that through the rise and dominance of the British Empire large parts of the world have been imprinted with the Anglican context of Christianity, from India to North America, to Australia and New Zealand, and to Africa as well.

"Come thou redeemer of the earth, come testify thy Virgin-birth, all lands admire, all times applaud, such is the birth that fits a God."

Alice C. Linsley said...

"Salvation is of the Jews" since the promised Son of God would be born of Abraham's descendents. Abraham's people weren't Jews, but they clearly expected fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. I've written extensively about this and you may read what interests you here: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com.

Abraham's people, both his ancestors and his descendents, were rulers in the Afro-Asiatic dominion which stretched from weat central Africa to the Indus River Valley. Their unique kinship pattern insured that the Son of God would be born of their priestly lines. He would be born a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek, Priest of Salem (also not Jewish).

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Alice:

I really do not understand what picture you are painting. The Anglican scholars understood the people of the Middle East rather well, in fact, amazingly well. Nonetheless, What has that to do with knowing the meaning of God's revelation to the Church? The truth has not been isolated to one culture, not even the culture of Abraham. Furthermore, that culture is gone. The Jews are modern, and the Arabs are early Medieval-eastern.

As for Abraham, the promise was to his Seed, ultimately as of one, which is Christ. It came by way of Isaac, in whom his seed was called, not through Ishmael. Then Jacob was chosen, and Esau rejected. The covenants and the whole revelation that followed was not to the middle Eastern peoples, but to one nation only, B'nai Israel.

To require a cultural grounding for true understanding of the Catholic Tradition, however, does not require me to be a Jew; but, it does require me to learn from the Jewish Fathers, the prophets who foretold the Messiah, and the Apostles, all Jews to the man.

But, from there the Church has spread among all nations. So, I really do not see your point. I say, again, the Anglicans of the 19th century were the best scholars of world wide Christian Tradition. No one else had quite the overall global perspective, which may have something to do with a sun that never set.

Anonymous said...

"That is not my point. The question is not one of scholarship, but of cultural context. While the Gospel is universal, the context of Christianity is essentially eastern and Afro-Asiatic."

I am baffled. What this has to do with the original essay eludes me and Alice's point escapes me altogether. What she means by "cultural context" is far from clear. And since "essentially eastern and Afro-Asiatic" takes in over half the inhabited earth, the statement seems strangely unfocussed.

Each time we say the Nicene Creed, we say "according to the Scriptures," a phrase lifted from 1 Cor 15. In context, that means "in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy." Our Lord Himself claimed as much (see Lk 24:44).
John 4:22 (John's only use of soteria, btw) is Jesus' firmly uncomnpromised statement of the authentic Jewish origin or matrix of the Gospel, addressed as it it to the Samaritan woman.

Christianity has had many different cultural contexts, in different historical periods. By the end of Acts, its cultural context had moved out into the Greco-Roman world. By the time of the Fathers, it worked well with the Greek philosophical tradition. By the 20th century, it had become well-nigh universal, with the Gospel well establshed on every continent.

I originally went ballistic over this "eastern and Afro-Asiatic" remark because it contradicts the stern OT resistance to religious syncretism, which issues from the First Commandment.
For all the ANE cultural influences (even the Hebrew alphabet was Canaanite in origin!), the Israelite prophetic tradition from Elijah to Malachi was one long protest, sealed with many martyrdoms, against what Alice appears to be saying. Taken at face value, it might mean we can read the Hindu or Moslem Scriptures in lieu of the Old Testament (but surely Alice does not mean that). But what was the point, anyway?
LKW

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr. Hart, the promise preceeded Abraham, how else would he and his Horites people believe? It was not a special revelation to Abraham. It was his received Tradition, and the same one we have received, only now more fully, as Christ has been made Man.

To say that the promise comes through Isaac is misleading. The Genesis genealogical information indicates that the descendents of Cain and his brother Seth intermarried, as did the desendents of Ham and Shem, as did the descendents of Abraham by his 2wives, Sarah and Keturah.

The ancient Afro-Asiatics held a rather consistent cosmology and understanding of the Creator. There was also great consistency in the office of priest from west central Africa to India. I wouldn't regard this as syncretism, but the cultural seedbed of the Faith we have received.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Alice wrote:

It was not a special revelation to Abraham. It was his received Tradition, and the same one we have received, only now more fully, as Christ has been made Man.

What are you referring to? Abram was a pagan, a worshiper of idols, until God revealed Himself to him, and revealed His purpose through him. The text is clear that he had, until then, worshiped his father's gods.

But, if you refer to a sacrificing priesthood, the evidence is that idolatry had corrupted this, and we see Noah as a priest upon leaving the ark. If you get to Melchizedek, you see no offering but bread and wine, a type of what was at that time very far off. Psalm 110 (western count) was likely the coronation Psalm, and the King in Jerusalem was a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, because he succeeded the man who King of Salem-Jerusalem.

"In II Samuel 8:18, we find a statement so strange in meaning that no English Bible has ever translated it accurately, possibly to avoid confusing the readers. The final sentence, as translated in the KJV, says: “and David’s sons were chief rulers.” Other translations say such things as “chief ministers,” etc. The line, in Hebrew, (r-l) says, “…וּבְנֵי דָוִד, כֹּהֲנִים הָיוּ.”, which translates literally, “…and the sons of David were priests.” It is not possible for the sons of David to have been priests in the sense that the sons of Aaron were priests who served in the temple. Remember the punishment inflicted on Uzziah, when in his pride he presumed to take upon himself the ministry of the priests in the temple, and was instantly stricken with leprosy. 28 But, what was it that caused Uzziah to think, however confusedly, of his role in this double sense, king and priest? It is likely that the writer of the Book of the Kings, when making this astonishing remark about the sons of David, was thinking of the kings in Jerusalem as successors to the ancient figure Melchizedek, whose name (Melchi-tsadok, ק ד צ - י כ ל מ ) means “king of righteousness” or “king of justice,” and who was described in Genesis both as “king of Salem” (the same city that was later renamed from Jebus to Jerusalem by David), and as “priest of the Most High God.” Because Melchizedek had been both a king (ך ל מ, melech) and a priest (ן ה כ, kohan), the family of David, now ruling in the same location, Jerusalem, was believed to have both kingship and the priesthood of a different, older and more mysterious order than that of the Levitical priesthood. The 110th Psalm (109th Psalm in the Orthodox Church) may have been composed originally as a Hymn of Coronation. Therefore, these words were addressed to each new king in Jerusalem: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”29 If this is correct, the writer to the Hebrews may not have drawn his Christological meaning of the mysterious figure, Melchizedek, strictly from his own reading of scripture without the help of historical knowledge extant among the Jews of his day."

-From my upcoming book.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Hebrew sentence above got rearranged by computer technology. It reads,

וּבְנֵי דָוִד, כֹּהֲנִים הָיוּ

Anonymous said...

"The ancient Afro-Asiatics held a rather consistent cosmology and understanding of the Creator. There was also great consistency in the office of priest from west central Africa to India."

In a recent re-study of Genesis 1, I was reminded of Karl's Barth's insight that with the creation of light on the first day followed by the creation of the sun on the fourth day, we have the Israelite polemic against sun worship. That polemic lurks in every verse if Genesis 1 and 2.

Really, Alice, are you going to tell us that Yahweh and Moloch are the same deity? The priests of Baal and the Aaronic priesthood are identical? Your remarks about Melchisedek show an unawareness of Hebrews 7:3, "He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life...." So your categorical statement that Melchisedek is "not Jewish" suggests that you claim some special knowledge that he was of some ethnciity or other.

What do you make of numerous OT statements that the People of God, the covenant nation of Israel were a "peculiar people"?
LKW