Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday night ecclesiastical wrestling

In a behind the scenes email exchange, of the kind I generally ignore, someone turned the subject from a discussion of history to an assertion of who is and who is not really in the Church. Once again, somebody confidently declared the Absolute Nullity and Utter Voidity (to coin a phrase) of his fellow Christians. I forget if he was Eastern Orthodox unchurching the whole West, or a Roman Catholic unchurching all Anglicans from the 16th century on, or someone else suffering from the all too common delusion that the Two One True Churches have formed a consensus about Anglican Orders. Whatever it was that caused his erection of confidence, it was my brother Addison who answered with the charism of holy sarcasm:

"I just love it when these big, beefy guys get all macho, flex their ecclesiastical muscles, and start unchurching each other with head-cracking dogmatic smack downs, anathemas (or is it 'anathemae'?) flying all over the place; bully boys in neon vestments 'kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer'. Beats 'Monday Night RAW'".

Shortly afterward, someone who was oblivious to the gift my brother had exercised, and the impartation of wisdom his words contained, took up the macho role of declaring again our Absolute Nullity and Utter Voidity, no doubt because dogmatic doctrinal development provides a perfect understanding of who to unchurch, who to anathematize, and who to hate, based on true Christian convictions (and, when in doubt, anathematize everybody, including yourself, just to play it safe. Better to condemn the innocent than to let one invalid sacrament seem to convey any grace).

So the wrestler wrote: "Anglicanism, like all other Reformation creations, originated outside the visible Church, and obviously remains outside the visible Church today."

I responded, "Could we get back to discussing the lyrics of 'A boy named Sue' Please? I find them far more enlightening."

Having written many essays over the years (many of which you can read right here) I find "smack down" discussions to be immensely boring. I prefer the short sarcastic "get a life" response when someone has written a long tome, filled with all the same old gobbledygook about why the Pope is the Big Cheese in the Church, the same old stuff we have been through a zillion times. Recently, someone sent me that same old stuff, writing to me personally about our recent post, Nailing it to the Door. He told me that he hoped I would read his remarks carefully, and consider them. What again? I glanced, I saw, I yawned. To him I say, if he is reading this, read my essays, and read the links on our Anglicanorum Coetibus page. Oh, and also, get a life. If you do not agree with my essays, too bad. But, don't expect me to rewrite the same things all over again in some private correspondence. I have a real congregation to care for, and only so many hours in a day.

Gospel Priority

St. Paul got straight to the point in his writings, reminding us of simple facts like, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." When I read fussy effeminate arguments about some ontological reality supposedly missing from our sacraments, so that the magic doesn't work or the medicine is bad, I have two immediate reactions. The learned half of my brain says, "that is wrong because..." as it recalls the arguments. As far as my learned half is concerned, the debate has been won by the catholic, evangelical and traditional (excuse the redundancy) Anglican side, absolutely and without doubt.

The practical half of my brain responds a little differently (perhaps other brains are divided in some other way). The practical side asks what kind of God would place so high a priority on fussy little legalities that He would give the "fullness" of grace only to those who have some alleged formal and legal tie to the Bishop of Rome. How does that work anyway, if between that Bishop all the way over in Rome, and the local Bishop and Archbishop, a great gulf of disagreement exists? Does the magic work anyway because of the legal and formal paperwork details? Why would God give this alleged "fullness" under conditions described by one Roman Catholic writer as follows?

"...something ontologically present in a progressive, praise-band parish in a scandal-ridden Roman Catholic diocese that is lacking in Anglicanism’s greatest shrines, because, contrary to what may seem to be much visual evidence to the contrary, the former is a constituent member of the body in which the fullness of the Catholic Church subsists while the latter is not."

So, individuals in the constituent member parish are better off because of "something ontologically present" even if the scandals include...? well, you know what the scandals include. This is better, even if boys are treated to...well you a demented priest, and even when the diocesan bishop has been covering it all up, reassigning the predators, and hiding it from law enforcement officers? If so, constituent membership of such an organization has no practical benefits, except that the "ontological presence" operates, if this theory is true, in the same exact way as elemental magic in an amoral universe. Is that Christianity?

The Book of Common Prayer was put together by an Archbishop of Canterbury whose grasp of the Church Fathers, and of the Faith of the ancient Church, was second to none. Archbishop Cranmer's writings, whether you like him or not, prove that his knowledge was as thorough as that of any individual before or after. The classic work that sets us apart, that gives us our special message to the rest of the Holy Catholic Church, and that informs our Faith, is the Book of Common Prayer. The emphasis of this book is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unless and until we grasp the message of Scripture that our Book of Common Prayer drives home on every page, intricate theoretical formulations that childish minds are so proud of, mean nothing. And, when we do grasp that Prayer Book message, many of those intricate theoretical formulations mean nothing still; but, at least we know it.

The Lord Jesus gave a simple promise to His Church, based on the condition that we work to fulfill the Great Commission:

"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt. 28:18-20)

To have Him with us is the presence that matters most. That presence is, in the New Testament sense, charismatic (χάρις). It is experienced sacramentally; it is applied spiritually. It does not depend, as if by amoral elemental magic, on being a constituent member of some worldwide legally defined organization. However, as long as they are part of the Church that tries to fulfill the Great Commission, the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch belong to the same Church we do. Whether you want to describe the Divine Presence in the Church, including His sacramental Presence, as an ontological reality, or as fellowship (I John 1:1f), it is not for us to unchurch, smack down, and declare Absolute Nullity.

"The servant of the Lord must not strive," said St. Paul, "but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient." (II Tim. 2:24) That is, he must not, to use the Greek word, machomai (μάχομαι). The Two One True Churches have their fill of wrestlers, having fought each other for a millennium. One of the liberties of being an Anglican is that we do not have to waste our time giving a second thought to their struggles. We have enough to do just fighting the world, the flesh and the devil.

We have the Gospel to preach and a fallen world to preach it too. We have no time for even the most refined ecclesiastical sort of "kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer".


David said...

What really, really annoys the heck out of me even within Orthodoxy is the people who exercise their ability to unchurch people all the while absolutley neglecting sharing the gospel and welcoming people into their own church. I once sat through a seminar given by an Orthodox Deacon. It was very interesting and at the end he asked for questions. I asked what you would think was a softball question (intentionally), how does one who is interested in becoming Orthodox or learning more do so? He stammered for a few seconds and then said call the church secretary. I did and she told me she thought I just needed to show up maybe and that she could ad me to the mailing list. The seminar was forty minutes of how great Orthodoxy is compared with the flawed West. It spot lighted why someone should not be Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, etc. But offered no solution. On the other hand in another jurisdiction I have found that the Antiochians are much more friendly towards Anglicans and Copts also, even communing Copts and in some cases even Anglicans upon a profession of faith. I know that it is technically wrong but economia is being exercised by some Orthodox clergy.

This may sound liberal to some hyper traditionalist Orthodox and even naive by some Anglicans but I am really much more interested in the missionary work of the churches than over marking my territory with ecclesiastical pee.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


Vladimir Soloviev would sympathize with you.

John A. Hollister said...

"Kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer"?

Certainly not, unless it is the best quality microbrew, made in strict conformity with the Reinheitsgebot of 1516.

What's the point of being God's Frozen People if we have to travel Second Class?

Canon Tallis said...

But the hardest part is getting our own Anglican people who love the Church and prayer book dearly to ask their friends to join them at worship, especially when our present circumstances are less than the glories which they once enjoyed.

I have always personally gloried in the story of the Orthodox bishop confined to one of Stalin's death camps who managed to celebrate the Eucharist from memory using his own chest for an altar, wine made from stolen reconstituted raisins and scraps of bread stolen from the dining hall. It must have been something like that for Saint John the Evangelist in the mines to which he was confined by the first Roman persecution.

Our major problem in the Continuum is to learn to be obedient to Holy Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer, every bishop, priest, deacon and lay person among us, and when we have learned to do that, the rest may come a little easier. I would also like us to hear, believe and obey the words of St Polycarp who was taught by St John: "Children, love one another." We keep acting as if we and not our Lord had the solution, if we and not Jesus were the way, the truth and the light. And when I write "we" I mean all the members of God's One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and not just "we Anglicans" or "we continuers."

One of the real glories of the Book of Common Prayer is that it has never allowed us to pray just for the Church of England or for any local manifestation of her daughters but has required us to pray "for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life."

Anonymous said...

Just in case anyone cares, the plural of anathema is anathemata.