Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Our Lady at the Foot of the Cross: A Meditation

Our Lady at the Foot of the Cross in the teaching and tradition of the Church Fathers:

Origen, arguably the greatest Eastern theologian of the third century, and the first Church Father to reflect on this mystery, meditates upon the presence of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross as the key to understanding the revelation of God contained in Scripture. Origen, who is given to a spiritualising of the text and an allegorical interpretation of Scripture, shows us that Mary must be our Mother if we are to receive and understand the word of her divine Son, Who is the Word made Flesh. We must be like John if we are to know and understand God’s word, and thus like John we must take Mary to be our mother. The Virgin Mother thus becomes for us the ‘Seat of Wisdom’ as we become ‘another Christ’ by receiving Christ from her:

‘We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he have lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. Such an one must he become who is to be another John, and to have shown to him, like John, by Jesus Himself Jesus as he is. For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His Mother, ‘Woman, behold thy son,’ and not ‘Behold you have this son also,’ then he virtually says to her, ‘Lo this is Jesus whom thou didst bear.’ Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, ‘Behold thy son Christ.’ What a mind, then, must we have to enable us to interpret in a worthy manner this work...’ (Commentary on John 6).

Saint Jerome uses the relationship of Mother and Son to instruct on the need for chaste and wholesome family living. In 405 AD, a monk from Gaul wrote to Jerome for his advice regarding his mother and sister, who were living separately and yet each cohabiting with a monk! Jerome calls the women to separate from their monk-housemates and at least live independently. This Saint, the translator of the Vulgate Latin Bible, beautifully describes the filial love of Jesus Christ the God-Man for His blessed Mother and foster-father. Our Lady is described as an example of faith and love in the home, the domestic church.

‘If you love each other, your conduct calls for no praise: but if you hate each other, you have committed a crime. The Lord Jesus was subject to His parents. He reverenced that Mother of whom He was Himself the Parent; He respected the foster-father whom He had Himself fostered; for He remembered that He had been carried in the womb of the one and in the arms of the other. Wherefore also when He hung upon the Cross He commended to His disciple the Mother whom He had never before His passion parted from Himself’ (Letter 117).

Reflecting upon the character of Saint John, Jerome remarks, again eloquently, about the event of John 19: ‘Jesus loved the evangelist John more than the other disciples. For it was he who took the Saviour’s parent to his own home; it was the virgin son who received the virgin Mother as a legacy from the Lord’ (Letter 127).

Defending the ancient doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin again the novel teaching of Jovinian, Jerome recalls the examples of both Saint John and the Holy Mother in cultivating a love of chastity and consecrated life. In this particular instance, Jerome describes the characteristics of the four Gospels and their writers: ‘John like an eagle soars aloft, and reaches the Father Himself, saying, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ The virgin writer expounded mysteries..., and to briefly sum up all and show how great was the privilege of John, or rather of virginity in John, the Virgin Mother was entrusted by the Virgin Lord to the virgin disciple’ (Against Jovinian I). Later again Jerome extols the virtue of Saint John by using the John 19 episode: ‘The last evangelist is John, whom Jesus loved most, who reclining on the Lord’s bosom drank the purest streams of doctrine, and was the only one thought worthy of the words from the Cross, Behold thy Mother!’ (Preface to Matthew).

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

Saint Cyril, in 350 AD, uses John 19 to teach about Our Lord’s Person as God: ‘And God’s Only-Begotten Son Himself, when nailed in His flesh to the tree at the time of the Crucifixion, on seeing Mary, His own Mother according to the flesh, and John, the most beloved of disciples, said to him, Behold thy Mother, and to her, Behold thy son: teaching her the parental affection due to him, and indirectly explaining that which is said in Luke, ‘and His father and mother marvelled at Him,’ words which the tribe of heretics snatch up, saying that He was begotten of a man and a woman. For like as Mary was called the mother of John, because of her paternal affection, not from having given him birth, so Joseph also was called the father of Christ, not from having begotten Him (for he knew her not, as the Gospel says, until she had brought forth her first-born Son), but because of the care bestowed on His nature.’ (Mystical Catechesis 7.9).

Saint Hilary of Poitiers defends the orthodox doctrine of the Nicene Creed and the First Ecumenical Council against the heresy of Arianism, which denied the Deity of Jesus Christ (instead holding Our Lord to be God’s first creature - ‘there was when He was not’) by invoking the authority of the beloved disciple, Saint John. The Johannine texts of the New Testament are interpreted by Saint Hilary in the orthodox manner, affirming that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He Who is ‘of one substance’ (homoousios) with the Father. In the course of his instruction, Hilary mentions the presence of both Saint John and Our Lady at the Cross. Notice the sarcastic rhetoric employed against Arius the heresiarch, which at the same time affirms the spiritual motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

‘A false wisdom, void of the Spirit of God, asserts that Jesus Christ is not the true Son of God, but a creature of His, Who bears the Divine Name by adoption. In what dark oracle of hidden knowledge was the secret learnt? To whose research do we owe this, the great discovery of the day? Were you he that lay upon the bosom of the Lord? You he to whom in the familiar intercourse of love Christ revealed the mystery? Was it you that alone followed Him to the foot of the Cross? And while He was charging you to receive Mary as your Mother, did He teach you this secret, as the token of His peculiar love for yourself?...For you transform all these into lies. The Apostle, by that most excellent knowledge that was granted him, speaks of the Son of God as true...While the true Son of God is eternal life and resurrection to us, for him in whose eyes He is not true, there is neither eternal life nor resurrection. And this is the lesson taught by John, the beloved disciple of the Lord.’ (De Trinitate 6.43)

Saint Ambrose of Milan comments on the scene in Saint John 19 as being both an admonition to mothers to follow the example of Mary’s love and devotion and as a true account demonstrating the piety and mutual love of Jesus Christ and His Mother. Mary STOOD at the Cross, a sign of her spiritual strength and her indefatigable, indestructible faith in her Son and His act of salvation, the perfect example for all Christians. Note how Saint Ambrose definitely rules out any doctrine of Our Lady as a ‘co-redemptrix’ or co-worker with Christ’s atoning sacrifice...

‘Mary, the Mother of the Lord, stood by her Son’s Cross; no one has taught me this but the holy evangelist Saint John. Others have related how the earth was shaken at the Lord’s passion, the sky was covered with darkness, the sun withdrew itself; that the thief was after a faithful confession received into paradise. John tells us what the others have not told, how the Lord fixed on the Cross called to His Mother, esteeming it of more worth that, victorious over His sufferings, He rendered her the offices of piety, than that He gave her a heavenly kingdom. For if it be according to religion to grant pardon to the thief, it is a mark of much greater piety that a Mother is honoured with such affection by her Son. ‘Behold’ he says ‘thy son’...’Behold thy Mother.’ Christ testified from the Cross, and divided the offices of piety between the Mother and the disciple. The Lord made not only a public but also a private testament, and John signed this testament of His, a witness worthy of so great a Testator. A good testament not only of money but of eternal life, which was written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God Who says: ‘My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.' Nor was Mary below what was becoming the Mother of Christ. When the Apostles fled, she stood at the Cross, and with pious eyes beheld her Son’s wounds, for she did not look for the death of her Offspring, but the salvation of the world. Or perchance because that Royal Hall, the Virgin, knew that the redemption of the world would be through the death of her Son, she thought that by her death also she might add something to the public welfare. But Jesus did not need a helper for the redemption of all, Who saved all without a helper. He received indeed the affection of his Mother, but sought not another’s help...Imitate her, holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of maternal virtue; for neither have you sweeter children, nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another Son.’ (Saint Ambrose of Milan, Letter 63).

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Note the practical teaching of Saint Augustine in relation to the commandment, ‘honour thy father and thy mother.’ He also utilises John 19 as an instrument for teaching about the fact of the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ is God and Man. ‘This without a doubt was the hour whereof Jesus, when about to turn the water into wine, has said to his mother, 'Woman what have I to do with thee, my hour has not yet come.’ This hour therefore He had foretold, which at that time had not yet arrived, when it should be His to acknowledge her at the point of death, and with reference to which He had been born as a mortal man. At that time, therefore, when about to engage in divine acts, he repelled as one unknown, her who was the mother, not of his divinity, but of His human infirmity; but now, when in the midst of human sufferings, He commended with human affection the mother by whom He had become Man. For then, He who had created Mary became known in His power; but now, that which Mary had brought forth was hanging on the Cross. A passage, therefore, of a moral character is inserted here. The good Teacher does what he thereby reminds us ought to be done, and by his own example instructed His disciples that care for their parents ought to be a matter of concern to pious children: as if that tree to which the members of the dying One were affixed were the very chair of office from which the Master was imparting instruction...Of this most wholesome precept, therefore the very Master of the Saints set the example from Himself, when, not as God for the handmaid whom He had created and governed, but as Man for the mother, of whom He had been created, and whom He was now leaving behind, He provided in some measure another son in place of Himself.... But what was this ‘his own’ unto which John took the mother of the Lord? For he was not outside the circle of those who said unto Him, ’Lo we have left all and followed thee.’ That disciple therefore had an hundredfold more than he had cast away, whereunto to receive the mother of Him who had graciously bestowed it all...’ (On the Gospel of John 119).

Saint John Chrysostom, the Golden-Mouthed preacher, also examines the event theologically in reference to Christ as God and Man. As proof of the Perpetual Virginity, the Archbishop of Constantinople urges upon his readers the event of the commendation of the Virgin Mother to Saint John. The use of this text as a support for the doctrine of Our Lady as a virgin ‘before, during, and after the birth’ of the Saviour is a common penchant of the Church Fathers.

‘For if Saint Joseph had known the Virgin, and had kept her in the place of a wife, how is it that Our Lord commits her, as unprotected, and having no one, to His disciple, and command him to take her to his own home? (On the Gospel of Matthew 5.5)

St. John echoes St. Augustine in seeing John 19 as an axiomatic principle of respect for parents; more deeply, he perceives Our Lord’s commendation of Our Lady to Saint John as symbolic of the unity of the Church, and of our unity as Christians with each other and with the Virgin in the bond of charity: ‘But Christ on the Cross, committeth his mother to the disciple, teaching us even to our last breath to show every care for our parents. When she indeed unseasonably troubled Him, He said, ‘Woman, what have I do to with thee...’ But here He showeth much loving affection and committeth her to the disciple whom He loved...And He, having committed His mother to John, said, ‘Behold thy son.’ O the honour! with what honour did He honour the disciple! when He Himself was now departing, He committed her to the disciple... to him He saith, ‘Behold thy Mother.’ This He said, knitting them together in charity; which the disciple understanding, took her to his own home... And by these words He silences the shamelessness of Marcion; for if Jesus were not born according to the flesh, nor had a mother, wherefore taketh He such forethought for her alone? (Homily 85 on the Gospel of John).

Saint Gregory the Great reflects upon the fact that it is the human nature assumed from the Blessed Virgin that makes it possible for our Saviour to offer His life in redemption for the world. Mary’s flesh, taken-up by God Himself in the Incarnation, enables the God-Man to die upon the Cross for us. In his teaching, Gregory gives us an excellent interpretation of the enigmatic words of Christ in St. John 2 which seem at first sight to rebuff and denigrate the Mother of God, but rather refer to the ‘hour’ of Christ’s death and glorification on Calvary. Mary clearly plays the role here of the New Eve, who participates through her God-bearing flesh in the mystery of her Son’s redemptive act.

‘God, made man, knew the day and the hour of the judgement through the power of His Deity; as also at the marriage, when the Virgin Mother said that wine was wanting, He replied, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come (St. John 2.4). For it was not that the Lord of the angels was subject to the hour, having, among all things which He had created, made hours and times. But, because the Virgin Mother, when wine was wanting, wished a miracle to be done by Him, it was at once answered her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? As if to say plainly, ‘The ability to do a miracle comes to me from my Father, not my Mother.’ For He who of the nature of His Father did miracles had it of His Mother that He could die. Whence also, when He was on the Cross, in dying acknowledged His Mother, whom He commended to the beloved disciple, saying Behold thy Mother. Then he truly says, Woman, what have I to do with thee. Mine hour has not yet come. That is: ‘In the miracle which I do not have from thy nature, I do not acknowledge thee. When the hour of death shall come, I shall acknowledge thee as my Mother, since I have it of thee that I can die.’ (Saint Gregory the Great, Epistle 39)

The Holy Fathers use the commending of the Virgin to Saint John, the beloved disciple who represents us, to transmit to us the pure doctrine concerning the Person of Our Lord as the eternal Word. For them, this episode, like all events relating to Mary, points through Mary, the Mother of the Lord, to the Lord Himself. Mary’s example and faith serve to show us Jesus, the end, object and finisher of our faith. Mary’s person and role function to defend the truth of Our Lord’s Incarnation.

Saint Cyril of Alexandra’s teaching codified by the Third Ecumenical Council (431 AD) summarises the truth...

If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel is in truth God, and that the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos), because she bore according to the flesh the Word of God when He became flesh: let him be anathema.

Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is God
Mary is the Mother of God

The role of the Virgin Mary is to point us to Christ. All Marian devotion, to be orthodox, biblical, and therefore genuine, must be Christ-centred. The Virgin directs us to her Son that we may worship, love and serve Him. The wisdom of the Church Catholic throughout the ages dictates that honouring the Virgin does not detract from Christ, but rightly understood and practised, deepens our love and devotion to Him Who is both Son of God and Son of Mary. Tragically, those Christian bodies which have abandoned the right veneration and honour due to the Lord’s Mother have lost sight of essential Christian truth and have often fallen into heresy by rejecting the Incarnation and the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the true Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, ‘one of the Holy Trinity,’ the Second Person of the Godhead made Man. Mary is rightly called by the Church Fathers the ‘Touchstone of Orthodoxy.’

‘He who honours the Mother worships the Son; he who neglects the Mother forgets the Son’ (attributed to Saint Ambrose).

‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ - Christ did this perfectly, honouring His earthly Mother perfectly; if we are to intimate Christ and be perfect, we must honour our earthly parents and honour Our Lord’s own Mother, who received such filial love, affection and devotion from her divine Son. Our Lady at the foot of the Cross, she who is our Mother, guides us to Jesus, our one Mediator and Advocate.

Mary says very little in the New Testament: these are her most important words:
‘Whatsoever he saith unto you do it.’ Let us follow her instructions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Polish National Catholic Church Declaration

Funnily enough, I had never even heard of this text until today. Many thanks to Father Robert Bader for introducing me to this...

Declaration of Scranton

This is the Declaration of Scranton, approved by the Bishops of the Polish National Catholic Church.

A Profession of Faith and Declaration formulated by the Polish National Catholic Bishops Assembled at Lancaster, New York April 28, 2008

We faithfully adhere to the Rule of Faith laid down by St. Vincent of Lerins in these terms: “Id teneamus, ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; hoc est etenim vere proprieque catholicum.” (We hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and of all people; for that is truly and properly Catholic.) For this reason we persevere in professing the faith of the primitive Church, as formulated in the ecumenical symbols and specified precisely by the unanimously accepted decisions of the Ecumenical Councils held in the undivided Church of the first thousand years.

Therefore, we reject the innovations of the First Vatican Council that on July 18, 1870 promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility and the universal Episcopate of the Bishop of Rome, which contradict the Faith of the ancient Church and which destroy its ancient canonical constitution by attributing to the Pope the plenitude of ecclesiastical powers over all dioceses and over all the faithful. By denial of his primatial jurisdiction we do not wish to deny the historic primacy which several Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the ancient Church have attributed to the Bishop of Rome by recognizing him as the Primus inter pares (first among equals).

We also reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception promulgated by Pius IX in 1854 in defiance of the Holy Scriptures and in contradiction to the Tradition of the first centuries.

We further reject the dogmatization of the Catholic teaching of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pius XII in 1950 as being in defiance of the Holy Scriptures.

We reject the contemporary innovations promulgated by the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. We also regard these innovations as being in defiance of the Holy Scriptures and in contradiction to the Tradition of the first centuries, namely: the ordination of women to the Holy Priesthood, the consecration of women to the Episcopate and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Considering that the Holy Eucharist (Holy Mass) has always been the central point of Catholic worship, we consider it our duty to declare that we maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and the Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine. The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered once for all upon the Cross, but it is a sacrifice because it is the perpetual commemoration of the sacrifice offered upon the Cross; and it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews 9:11,12, for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Hebrews 9:24). The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is at the same time, a sacrificial feast by means of which the faithful in receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior enter into communion with one another (1 Corinthians 10:17).

We hope that Catholic theologians, by maintaining the faith of the undivided Church, will succeed in establishing an agreement in regard to all such questions that have caused controversy ever since the Church became divided.

We exhort the priests under our jurisdiction: to teach the essential Christian truths by the proclamation of the Word of God and by the instruction of the faithful; to seek and practice charity when discussing controversial doctrines; and in word and deed to set, in accordance with the teachings of our Savior Jesus Christ, an example for the faithful of the Church.

By faithfully maintaining and professing the doctrine of Jesus Christ, by refusing to accept those errors that have crept into the Church by human fault, and by repudiating the abuses in ecclesiastical matters and the tendency of some Church leaders to seek temporal wealth and power, we believe that we will effectively combat the great evils of our day, which are unbelief and indifference in matters of faith.

Most Rev. Robert M. Nemkovich
Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Gnat
Rt. Rev. Thaddeus S. Peplowski
Rt. Rev. Jan Dawidziuk
Rt. Rev. Sylvester Bigaj
Rt. Rev. Anthony Mikovsky
Rt. Rev. Anthony D. Kopka
Rt. Rev. John E. Mack

Monday, August 24, 2009

Letters on the Priesthood

A first in a series of letters to a friend, an older gentleman and protestant minister considering the Anglican Priesthood. He was subsequently ordained...

I am delighted that the thought of priesthood has crossed your mind. I greatly admire and respect you and your many excellent accomplishments achieved over a lifetime of faithful service to Our Lord and the Christian community. It is because of this high esteem that I have waxed so bold as to suggest that you may have vocation to the priesthood - all of the requisite qualities, consecration of life, and commitment, are there. Please know that I am not trying to place any pressure on you. I do believe, and have believed since our first meeting, that a vocation to the priesthood belongs to you. But, the one who has to decide that, is, of course, you! I offer a few reflections based on your statements. I hope they will be edifying and not off-putting....

1. Please don't allow your age (which is not so old!) to deter you from consideration of a vocation to Holy Orders within the Church Catholic. I personally know, on one hand, of the case of a young RC man who was ordained, by special dispensation from his bishop, to the holy priesthood three hours before his death. At age 28, he had terminal cancer, diagnosed while in seminary. He was ordained to the diaconate before his condition worsened to the point of no return. Because his life was entirely consecrated to Our Lord, he was allowed to be ordained on his death-bed. His only priestly act was to give a blessing, a sign of the cross on his friend's hand, before he died. On the other hand, I know of several gentlemen over the age of 60 who, within Anglicanism, have discerned a vocation to the priesthood and have pursued it all the way to ordination. Many of these men had secular careers for their entire lives, although the call to the priestly life had chewed away at them for decades before they finally gave in.

It matters not what one's age may be, so long as one is able to exercise the ministry with energy and dedication, or even one's capacity for certain kinds of ecclesiastical work - all that truly matters is the vocation from God, which ultimately becomes expressed through the call of the Church in the person of the bishop. 'It is the Mass that matters.' The greatest dignity of the holy priesthood, apart from the pastoral, sanctifying and teaching office which is of supreme importance, is the offering and celebration of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the priest does what no one else can do, even angels. No president, politician, scientist, philosopher, or king can take bread and wine, offer them in persona Christi in the name of Christ's Church before God the Eternal Father, and transform them into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Only a Catholic priest can consecrate and offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the sacramental making-present or re-presentation of the one all-sufficient Sacrifice of Christ, and administer thereby the true and objectively-present Body, Blood, soul, and divine nature of the God-Man in Holy Communion. This mind-boggling dignity alone calls men to the priesthood. I am sure you have contemplated this great dignity, and that you continue to do so. The Catholic priesthood is the most profound gift and highest dignity ever conferred on man.

2. The ministry you now have, I believe, would in no real way be affected. In fact, ordination in the historic Succession would certainly enhance and fulfil many elements of the ministry you already joyfully possess and successfully live-out. Priestly ordination at the hands of an Apostolic Bishop would give you the ability to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in a way that you have not been able to do so before, and would enable you to do such things as hear Confessions, and anoint the sick with the sacrament of Unction. The people you serve in an Anglican parish would therefore have access to Catholic sacraments. Your relationship to your former protestant congregants would, in all likelihood, have to change significantly. That would be a very difficult and painful sacrifice, I am sure. And, yet, the priesthood, because it sacramentally configures the ordained to the Crucified Lord of Sacrifice, requires in turn sacrifice of its own most deeply personal and painful kind. These are the sorts of changes you would have to consider if you actually contemplate a priestly vocation.

3. One in your position has only to receive Anglican formation since you already have a Master of Divinity degree from an accredited seminary. In this scenario, you would most likely be required more 'hands-on' preparation: serving Mass, layreading, preaching, independent reading, liturgical practicum, distance and online study, all under a priest-friend and mentor.

4. About your presbyteral ministry in a protestant community, I can say that I agree with you wholeheartedly, as does the Anglican Church, which would never seek in any way to bring your ministerial orders under negative scrutiny, or to 'un-church' you, your ministry, or your personal experiences. Anglicanism does, of course, believe in the necessity of Apostolic Succession for a regular and universally-recognised Ministry, an unbroken line and succession of episcopal consecrations and ordinations directly descending from the Apostles themselves and the Apostolic Church. As such, the orthodox Anglican position is exactly that of the undivided Catholic Church of the first millennium, summed up by the third successor of Saint Peter at Antioch, Saint Ignatius (d. 117 AD), who writes such things as 'Where the bishop is, let the congregation be - just as where Jesus Christ, there is the Catholic Church' and 'Where there is the bishop, there is the Church' and 'Where the bishop, priest, and deacon are not present, there the name "Church" is not given,' etc.

The Anglican position is that the threefold apostolic ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon is essential to the life, communion and unity of the Catholic Church as instituted by Our Lord, for the apostolic ministry is the organ and living instrument of Christ in His Body the Church, and has been so transmitted, handed-down to us, by Christ Himself. In other words, Anglicans believe the Sacrament of Holy Orders in its three grades or levels is of divine institution and of necessary government for the Church of Christ. The Catholic priesthood is thus the extension of the Apostles' commission in history and geography. All that said, Anglicanism has never sought to judge the 'efficacy' of non-episcopally ordained ministries. The Anglican Church simply requires that those who minister within her fold receive episcopal ordination to the diaconate and/or priesthood. She does not seek to condemn ministries outside the Catholic sphere. Quite the opposite, in fact, is true. The fathers of the 1920 Lambeth Conference issued an Appeal to All Christian People in which the Anglican Communion, in calling all Christians to visible unity in the Catholic Church based on the historic episcopate, said 'these ministries [of non-episcopal churches] have been manifestly blessed and owned by the Holy Spirit as effective means of grace.'

If you ever decided that you, in truth, have a vocation to Holy Orders within the Anglican expression of the Church, you would never have to renounce your prior ministry or question the spiritual efficaciousness of any sacraments or rites previously administered. You would simply embrace the historic ministry of the Catholic Church, the sacrament of Orders, as being of the fullness of the ministry commended to the Church by Christ and the Apostles - a Ministry which possesses a universally-recognised character both in time and space in the Christian world, which exists as a covenanted means of grace, a sure and certain sign and sacrament that what Our Lord promises in the sacraments through the ministry will be conveyed ex opere operato. Sacramental ordination guarantees Christ in the sacraments.

5. And, of course, the first and most necessary step in the journey that would lead to diaconal and priestly ordination in the Anglican Church would be joining the Anglican Church! I suppose I have been putting the cart before the horse. If you ultimately decide that you have a vocation to the Catholic priesthood, the first and irreplaceable step would be to have you confirmed by the Bishop of the Diocese, and then have you present yourself before the Board of Examining Chaplains of the Diocese, our commission on Holy Orders. From there you would have to be approved to begin the formation process which would probably last one to one-and-a-half years. Nothing gets started like getting started. So that is how things would proceed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What Would Father Luther Do?

In the light of the actions this week taken by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which have propelled it in the same apostatised direction as that taken by The Episcopal Church, I invite any Lutheran readers to consider...

this option, this option or even better yet, this option.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sacraments and Human Nature

The term Sacrament derives from the Latin word sacramentum which means 'oath' or 'covenant,' a word used of soldiers and government officials in the Roman empire who swore an oath of allegiance to serve faithfully in their offices. The Latin word Sacrament, which itself is not found in Scripture, just as the words 'Trinity' and homoousios ('of one substance with the Father' in the Nicene Creed) are not found in Scripture, is first invoked in the postapostolic Church of the second century to describe the sacred rites instituted by Our Lord in the Gospels which convey divine grace and are therefore 'oaths of Christ,' covenanted means of grace which communicate divine life by the promise and power of Christ. Such Western Church Fathers as Tertullian, Saint Cyprian, and Saint Augustine freely use the word Sacrament to describe what are today reckoned as seven mystical rites conveying the grace of Jesus Christ. The original word for a sacrament as a means of divine grace, or as an effectual sign of grace causing what it symbolises, is 'mystery' or in Greek, musterion. Mystery is translated from Scripture as Sacrament by the Western Church, although in the Eastern Church to this day, the Sacraments are called the 'holy Mysteries.' Saint Paul himself uses the term musterion in reference to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony -'Behold, I tell you of a great mystery, which is of Christ and the Church' (Ephesians 5.32). In union with the Eastern Tradition, the Book of Common Prayer refers to the Holy Eucharist as the Holy Mysteries par excellence (BCP, Page 83, Thanksgiving).

The Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, ordained by Christ himself, as means whereby we receive the same, and pledges to assure us thereof. The principle of the Sacraments is found in the whole Bible, and in its fulness in the New Testament, that is, in the Incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. God becomes man so that man may become one with God. God assumes human nature in the Incarnation, all that pertains to man, human body, mind, soul, and spirit, so that human nature may be redeemed, sanctified and glorified by God to share in the divine life. The Sacraments are the extension of the Incarnation - they communicate the divine life of Christ to our human nature, and thus to our whole persons. We cannot be saved or redeemed or glorified apart from our own human nature as human beings. We must be regenerated and transformed, as human beings, into the children of God. And so God, in wonderful condescension and love, takes on our human nature and unites it to the Person of the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity.

God takes our human nature, divinises it, and gives it back to us in the Sacraments, so that we may, in our human nature, partake of God Himself. As the Fathers love to say: 'we become by grace, what God is by nature.'

The Incarnation and the Sacraments are two expressions of one reality: God the Son becomes man, and then takes that hypostatic union, human flesh united to the Divine Word, and conveys it to the members of his own Incarnate Mystical Body, the Church, in the Sacraments.

This is why the Catholic Tradition teaches that the pre-eminent Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist are 'generally necessary to salvation': Baptism as the Sacrament of New Birth mystically unites us to the crucified and risen Christ and regenerates our human nature into the nature of the Son of God (St John 3.3-7, Romans 6.1-11, Galatians 3.22-29). We become children of God and members of Christ's Body in Baptism.

The Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood, nourishes us with the human nature and divinity of Christ unto everlasting life (St John 6.53-59, 1 Corinthians 10.14-22, 11.23-34). Our Lord's Body and Blood are really given and eaten in the Lord's Supper after an heavenly and supernatural manner so that we may partake of Christ's human nature and be recreated by it.

Ours is a 'body religion,' the Church as the Body of Christ, a religion of the Incarnation, which is made a reality in us sacramentally.

Thus, man is a sacrament. Man is a composite being of body and soul, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality. Man's outward sign or reality is his body; man's inward and spiritual reality is his soul and spirit. Mankind is a living Sacrament: he simultaneously exists as both material and spiritual, physical and supernatural, united together in one cohesive entity. When the soul leaves the body, death occurs, which is for man an unnatural state not intended by God in His first creation of us. Man was created to be forever alive, forever immortal in a sacramental state. I often remark that any religious view or teaching which downplays the role of the body in the Christian dispensation is really gnostic or docetic; as such it rejects the essential goodness and role of the human body in salvation. The Church from the beginning has been attacked by these heresies of docetism (which held that Our Lord only appeared to man as a phantasm or ghost and had no real human nature) and gnosticism (which teaches that man is saved by cerebral intellectual knowledge, which frees the spirit from the prison of the body and of created matter, which thing is held to be itself evil). Man is a sacrament of body and soul. The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the Great Sacrament: being God and man in One Divine Person with two natures, human and divine. Jesus is perfect God and perfect Man, perfectly both at once in the Incarnation. God becomes Incarnate, a Sacrament, to redeem and glorify man, a sacrament, and gives us His nature to be ours in Sacraments. The link between Jesus Christ and man, whom he came to save, is His own Incarnation, which is extended, given, and received in the Sacraments of the Holy Catholic Church.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Our Blessed Lady on 15 August

Whether one calls it the Assumption, the Dormition, or the Falling Asleep of Our Lady, or as we are styling it, 'Saint Mary the Virgin', may all have a truly joyful Feast of the Blessed and Glorious Ever-Virgin Mary, the Most Pure Mother of God.

From the 1962 Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada

O GOD Most High, who didst endue with wonderful virtue and grace the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord: Grant that we, who now call her blessed, may be made very members of the heavenly family of him who was pleased to be called the first-born among many brethren; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Lesson. Acts 1. 12.

THEN the Apostles returned unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day's journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and James and John and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Jude the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

The Gospel. St Luke 1. 39.

AND Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; and she spake with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said,

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me;
And holy is his Name.

From the 1929 Book of Common Prayer of the Scottish Episcopal Church

O ALMIGHTY God, who didst endue with singular grace the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Lord: Vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to hallow our bodies in purity, and our souls in humility and love; through the same our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Lesson. Genesis 3. 9—15.
The Gospel. St. Luke 11. 27, 28.

From the 1954 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of the Province of South Africa

O GOD, who as on this day didst take to thyself the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thine only Son: Grant that we who have been redeemed by his blood may share her glory in thine eternal kingdom, through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The Lesson. I Samuel 2. 7

THE Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.

The Gospel. St. Luke I. 46

MARY said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Metropolitan Jonah on Anglicanism

The Ancient Faith Radio website now features an interview with His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, entitled Conversations with Metropolitan Jonah, in which he discusses his recent meetings with two different groups of Anglicans, one of which was the clericus meeting of the Diocese of Mid-America of the Anglican Province of America. In this enlightening interview, His Beatitude extols the faith and fidelity of orthodox Anglicans and encourages them to submit to the theological and canonical Tradition of the Church Fathers and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. He seems to affirm the continuity and transmission of the Apostolic Succession in the Anglican Episcopate but summons Anglicans to embrace the fullness of the Apostolic Faith as found in the canonical Orthodox Tradition, the wholeness of Apostolic Succession of Faith as well as of Order. A 'must listen' for philorthodox readers! The segment on Anglican dialogue begins at 17.18.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Priest or Minister?


By the Reverend JGH Barry, DD (From 'The Religion of the Prayer Book')

In thinking about the Christian religion we should remember that what we really need to know is the facts. The point is not what kind of ministry we would choose if we were running things, but what kind of ministry Christ instituted in His Church. The story is told of a man who heard an old-fashioned Presbyterian minister preach on a Hell of literal fire and brimstone, and complained to the preacher that people would not stand for any such Hell.

The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. It is a Kingdom where God is both King and Law-maker. We may not like that, but that is how it is. The real question is, What kind of a ministry has God chosen for His Church?

From the start, as we learn in the Acts of the Apostles, Christ's followers tried to continue not only in the 'Apostles' doctrine,' but also in the 'Apostles' fellowship.' They submitted only to ministers who were in succession from the Apostles of Christ. 'Apostolic Succession' may sound forbidding, but the idea is simple. The Father sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, and the Son sent His Apostles with His Divine authority. And He promised to be with them 'all the days, even to the end of the world.' The powers He gave them, such as to ordain ministers to celebrate the Eucharist or absolve from sin, were given to them by Christ Himself. They gave the same powers to their successors. Their successors were the Bishops, and the Presbyters or Priests, whom they laid their hands on when they gave the powers. No one dared to exercise those powers in the Church, unless he was ordained by a Bishop. This is the line of 'Apostolic Succession.'


Apostolic Succession really is more like a net than a line. Each Bishop is consecrated by at least three other Bishops. Each loop in a net adjoins several other loops. If the Apostolic Succession was only a line of Bishops, and it could be proved that one Bishop in the line had never really been consecrated, the line would be broken. A net is different from a line. One imperfect loop in a net does not destroy the net. One counterfeit Bishop cannot weaken the authority of the whole succession of Bishops throughout the world. It is not hard to show historically that the Bishops of the Church of England and the Anglican Church in the Twentieth Century are in direct succession from the original Apostles, and the same is true in the Roman Church and the Greek Church and some others.

The episcopate and the priesthood get their authority from our Lord Himself through the Episcopal Succession. The authority to minister has come down from Christ through His Apostles to the clergy of every age. Protestants hold that their ministers get their authority from the congregation. According to their theory there is no need for a man to be ordained by the laying on of a Bishop's hands. It is enough if he is commissioned by the congregation.


If we study the Acts of the Apostles, we see that the laying on of the hands of Apostles is always insisted on. This was regarded as proof that the man had a mission from Christ himself. The early Christian Fathers, such as S. Clement of Rome, S. Ignatius of Antioch, and S. Irenaeus, testify to the continuance of this in the age immediately following. The early heretical sects, like the Montanists, the Novationists, the Donatists, and the Arians, never departed from the principle of Apostolic Succession and always had the three-fold apostolic ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Until the Reformation the same idea of continuity was held everywhere. This shows there was powerful authority behind it.


The Book of Common Prayer holds fast to this historic ministry tracing back to Christ Himself. The Prayer Book provides for making, ordaining, and consecrating Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. These are the only kinds of ministers who are ordained to minister to our people. The Preface to the Ordinal states plainly our Church's conviction that these three orders of ministry date from the time of the Apostles (Prayer Book, p. 529).

Article XXIII (Prayer Book, p. 607) forbids any kind of minister to officiate in our churches who has not been properly ordained by lawful Bishops. When a priest is instituted in a parish, the following is the opening sentence in one of the prayers which the Bishop is authorized to use (Prayer Book, p. 572):

O Holy Jesus, who has purchased to thyself an universal Church, and has promised to be with the Ministers of Apostolic Succession to the end of the World.

The General Canons declare that no person may officiate in any of our congregations without sufficient evidence of his being duly ordained to minister in this Church, and they expressly provide for the admission to our ministry of ministers of other churches who have already been ordained by Bishops not in communion with this Church. These are Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Old Catholics, and other Catholics.


Some people may be surprised that the Prayer Book is so definite on this subject. Perhaps the Church's attitude may appear to some to be bigoted or even arrogant. But it is simply a question of whether a man has been commissioned to represent Christ and His Church. And it is not a question of moral character or intellectual ability, or even of spiritual attainments. A minister who has not been episcopally ordained may be a good man morally, a wise and educated man and an eloquent preacher, well equipped in spiritual discernment. But he has not been given our Lord's authority to make the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ, to bless in His name, or to absolve a penitent sinner. The ministers of non-episcopal churches do not even claim these powers. All they claim is that they have been given by the Holy Spirit the power to preach, to be spiritual leaders and moral teachers, to baptize and to administer a rite which merely commemorates the death of our Saviour. We should not wish to deny that these powers have been given to them by the Holy Spirit. Their ministry is often blessed, and has led many to forsake sin and to become earnest followers of Jesus Christ.


Our Church has held to the historic, three-fold, Apostolic ministry because it has always been the ministry of the Holy Catholic Church. We wish to feel that we are connected with the unbroken channels of grace flowing from Christ Himself. Our government at Washington deals with foreign nations only through their accredited representatives. If a man came from London and tried to conduct official business with our President and proved that he was a better and wiser man than the British Ambassador, and more suited to voice the real sentiments of the British people, it does not require much imagination to see how that man would be received. The President deals only with the authorized representatives. We cling to the ministers of Apostolic Succession, because we want to be certain that our ministers are indeed authorized ambassadors of Christ.

This view as to what is essential for the continuity of the Christian ministry is the view that was held throughout Christendom for fifteen centuries after Christ. We may call it the Catholic view. There have been two famous attempts to destroy or pervert this view. In the Sixteenth Century the Calvinists and other Protestants abolished the Episcopate and taught that Christian ministers derive their authority from the congregation. Roman Catholicism in the Nineteenth Century taught that the Pope is the supreme ruler of the Church, and the source of all ministerial power and jurisdiction. Both of these theories are many centuries too late to be true.

The Preface to the ordinal, quoted above, shows that the ministry of the Apostolic Succession which our Church adheres to includes the order of priests, which the Protestant bodies generally have done away with.


Whatever men may think about the necessity of having priests in the Church, there are probably few modern Christians who would refuse to believe in the Priesthood of our Lord. That He is our great High Priest is the clear teaching of the New Testament, and especially of the Epistle to the Hebrews. One could scarcely deny it without rejecting the authority of the New Testament.

The main section of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which has been called the Epistle of Priesthood, is concerned with setting forth the universal and sovereign High Priesthood of Christ, and the fulfilment of His priestly work. The idea is familiar in the New Testament that the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people, is a priestly body. Christ is still carrying on His priestly work in Heaven and on earth through the Church, which is His body. Therefore all the faithful share in His priesthood. This is what is meant by the 'priesthood of the laity,' of which we hear so much in some quarters.
Like the human body, the Church, which is the Body of Christ, acts through special organs or members. The function of priesthood is the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the celebration of Holy Communion. It is the continual remembrance, through re-presentation, of the Sacrifice of the Cross. It is offered through the ministerial priesthood. Those who have been set apart through prayer and ordination to carry on the priestly functions of the whole priestly body, are naturally designated as priests.


Belief in the priesthood is what distinguishes the Catholic theory of the ministry from the Protestant theory. It is a general principle that wherever we find priests we are in a Catholic church, and wherever we do not find them we are in a non-Catholic church. For some reason Protestants in general dislike the idea of priesthood.

Thus we perceive the Catholic flavor of the Prayer Book. We find that the second of the ordination services (page 536 and following) is called 'The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests.' Elsewhere in the directions in the Prayer Book printed in italics (called 'rubrics'), and especially in the Order for Holy Communion, there are many directions that the priest shall do or say certain things. The term minister is also used in the Prayer Book, but always it is used only for such functions as may be performed by a deacon or a lay-reader as well as by a priest. It is also used as a general term in order to include the bishops and deacons as well as priests. According to the Prayer Book, the second order of the ministry are priests. So the Prayer Book places itself among the liturgies and service-books of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


An intriguing perspective on the recent goings-on in The Episcopal Church by a former Anglo-Catholic Roman Cistercian monk. Let us not forget the Anglican Province of America in the list of Anglo-Catholic bodies...

I suppose I should say a word about the recent General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Anaheim. And that word would have to be “Bully for you!”

Why, you might ask would, a Roman Catholic monk and former Anglo-Catholic say that? 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. It is not the outcome I spent many years praying for, but, at long last, the stalemate has been broken and a decisive victory won.

Anglican traditionalists and sympathetic outside observers cast these developments as a story of departure and betrayal, but to understand what is happening, I think it is important to look through the eyes of many of the deputies at Anaheim, who see the events there as progress toward long cherished goals. Before I was a Roman Catholic or even an Anglo-Catholic, I was once just such an Episcopalian. Maybe I can still explain to those who have never lived in this world what a progressive Episcopalian sees, because it is very important to understand that these folks aren’t cardboard cutouts. They’re mostly bright, thoughtful, conscientious, and likable people who happen to hold a worldview that is drastically different than that held by most Roman Catholics who read this blog.

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. These reappraisers, to use the term coined by Kendal Harmon, grounded in the classic Protestant heritage and the confidence of the Enlightenment, at last have a church that speaks largely with their voice and is able to move proactively.

Glancing at the news stories yesterday and today, it is clear that sex dominated the headlines—after all, it’ sex—but I think the resolutions dealing with ecumenical and interfaith relations are much more significant for seeing where Episcopalians are moving.

Resolutions were reaffirmed or approved that allow sharing of the Eucharist with Methodists and Presbyterians. When full communion was reached with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 12 years ago, it was with the understanding that, over time, the Lutherans would adopt apostolic succession through the presence of Episcopal bishops at its consecrations and irregularities in orders would be overlooked in the meantime. This is never likely to be the case with these two bodies. In effect, the Episcopal Church, its load lightened by the departure of the last large blocks of Anglo-Catholics, is free to adopt a sacramental theology consummate with the theology of its own Articles of Religion and the theological orientation of a majority of its current members. The bonds of charity—and I mean this genuinely—prevented rapid moves in these directions when there were larger, vocal numbers of traditionalists. Today this is no longer the case. A Catholic (and I here mean capital “C” as in Roman Catholic) understanding of the sacramental priesthood has been set aside in favor of a contemporary ecumenist’s understanding of the nature of church order built on a familiarly Anglican interpretation of a patristic frame. Seemingly archaic and divisive theological nuances—fights of centuries long past—need no longer trump what is seen to be the larger good of Christian unity.

A second statement on interfaith relations significantly presents the idea of salvation through Christ in terms that are intended to be more palatable to dialogue partners of other faiths. Here again, the idea of unity in the service of love overrides dogmas that divide.

For as long as traditional Anglicans—a broad term encompassing many agendas—have mourned what they see as apostasy, broad church progressives have chafed at what they see as the alien incursions of the Evangelical movement and the Catholic revival inhibiting and retarding the theological developments of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. 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. These names may not be familiar to non Anglicans, but they represent some of the most distinctive and respected Anglican theological thinking of the last century in particular.

Roman Catholics believe that at the heart of the church there is the Deposit of Faith—a collection of divinely revealed and unchanging truths that stand beyond the tides of culture. We believe in the limits of human reasoning and in original sin that muddles our desires and impulses. Anglicanism has never had an agreed upon locus for core dogma perhaps beyond the statement in the Articles of Religion that, “the Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary for salvation.” It is a tradition profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment’s optimism about man’s power to discover truth. And, as for original sin, Pelagianism, which is the repudiation of the idea of original sin, was always also known as the English heresy.

Anglicans have increasingly emphasized that “God saw the world and it was good” and have, following Temple, adopted and incarnational theology stressing that creation was hallowed a second time when the word was made flesh. In short, the recent General Convention did little more than take a few more steps forward in embracing an essentially Anglican and essentially optimistic view of the human condition. To see Anaheim as a tipping point or a radical break is to ignore the good-faith efforts of many people over more than two centuries. Instead, the promise in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s Baptismal Covenant to “respect the dignity of every human person” has, at last, completed its slow march to become the de facto core doctrine of the Episcopal Church.

* * *

Now it’s very easy for one who’s moved on to pompously expound that time has proven that the Oxford Movement was really only a fly in the ointment in the larger Anglican story. I’m not that sort of person, however bombastic and unmonastic I may sometimes be. The idea of a resurgent catholic party that would reclaim Anglicanism from the excesses of Luther and Calvin was a beautiful dream or, as one writer put it, a “vision glorious,” and I cherished it. Even as its influence as a force for change fades in the Episcopal Church, it leaves behind an appreciation for tradition and an understanding of the practical value of ritual that were absent from the Protestant ethos into which it was born. Anglicans understand with great sophistication that the manner of their praying shapes the form of their believing and maintain a unique respect for mystery and beauty.

Nor does Anaheim necessarily make it plain that the only road for those who do not embrace this clarified vision of the Episcopal Church leads to Rome. Anglicanism has never been primarily a body of doctrinal statements and theological propositions. Anglicans of most stripes are more likely to look for truth in common prayer and poetry than in Scholasticism. To leave Anglicanism is, in a very real sense, to leave your tribe and to become a stranger in a strange land. It is to leave the prose of the Prayer Book, the greatest hymns in the English language, a body of great architecture, T.S. Eliot, the adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey, the C. S. Lewis, and the characters who make up coffee hour at Trinity Church, Any Town. This may sound trivial, but they are as real, grounding, and dear to the average Episcopalian as Flannery O’Connor, Notre Dame football, Fulton Sheen and Camelot are to American Catholics. Of course, I pray fervently for more of my former brethren to see that, with a little looking, they will find kindred spirits in the American Catholic Church who look to the world of Byrd, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Pugin, and Waugh, for the Catholic Church was their home country too. (And fairness requires me to say that I knew these folks existed in significant numbers because they were always turning up in the back pews at St. Clement’s in Philadelphia .)

The lights have not yet all gone out on Anglicanism, nor are they likely to. There will still be able expounders of the Anglican tradition working from a small “c” catholic perspective. The great hymns will still be sung along with Anglican chant and Renaissance polyphony. Marriages will be blessed, babies christened, and thoughtful people will be impressed with the tradition’s tolerance, good will, and frank discussion of difficult questions. And, for all the very genuine concern about peace and justice, the Episcopal Church is likely to remain a good address. There will be many new developments that some or many who remain will find distasteful and ignore, just as a many American Roman Catholics do with any number of the teachings of our own church.

Episcopalians are people who usually have a good time and the majority are likely to continue to do so. Yes, the Episcopal Church is graying and shrinking, but it remains an attractive option from those moving out of more restrictive traditions. As long as there are college towns and book clubs, there is likely to be a demand for the Episcopal Church.

Anaheim does not mean that the Episcopal Church is now a unified whole. There will be those who will want to boldly press forward and those who believe that now that things are settled it is time to rest for a bit. New fractures and caucuses will develop along a political continuum of those who remain. There will be fights over gender and power language in the development of new liturgies. Heated discussions will arise over the permanence and the number of partners to a marriage. (No, I’m not trying to say something flippant or sensational. It’s a discussion that’s already happening and, I think, a quite logical one if you accept some of the basic premises I’ve tried to sketch out above.) Contextual theologians and their more traditional counterparts will continue to wrestle over the boundaries of interfaith dialogue.

As the Episcopal Church lives more fully into its search for radical inclusion and deep engagement with the multiple cultures from which it draws its members it is highly unlikely that TEC will be a dull place. Those who previously thought of themselves as holding the middle ground will find themselves to be the new right of the church. Many who prided themselves on being progressive will suddenly find themselves to be the new voices of moderation.

I expect that for the next year or more the action will move to the international stage where the global Anglican Communion will wring its hands over what to do about the Episcopal Church. Don’t expect much of consequence. While the majority of the Anglican provinces in the developing world are opposed to TEC’s stands on a variety of issues, TEC has its supporters in Canada, South Africa, New Zeeland, Japan, Brazil, Scotland, Wales, and large sections of the churches in England and Australia. There may never again be a Lambeth Conference where everyone gathers together at one altar, but TEC will remain an important part of a truly global fellowship of one sort or another.

Naturally, many will see Anaheim as an opening for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), inaugurated this June in Texas from dioceses and parishes that have left TEC as well as some continuing Anglican bodies. I am sure that there will be some short-term gains and the evangelical wing of this body in particular may see some healthy initial growth, but I am not optimistic about the long run. As a body that allows the ordination of women to the priesthood but not the episcopate and recognizes the “integrities” of various viewpoints on various issues, the Anglican Church in North America has essentially recreated the Episcopal Church of 1989, when another large gathering of Anglican traditionalists was held in Texas to organize the Episcopal Synod of America. In 20 years, or less, it will be 2009 again for these well-meaning folks. The constituent bodies of the ACNA agree on a traditional definition of who can be married, but divorce, contraception, the ordination of women, the nature and number of the sacraments, the place of the historic liturgies, and the authority of the Articles of Religion all remain up for grabs. In Episcopal Church, the tolerance of the majority broad church party could keep these warring factions from ripping church apart, but now there will be no filler to balance all of the spice. Expect the alphabet soup of continuing Anglican bodies to continue to grow.

Standing aloof from this latest attempt at traditionalist unity are the Anglo-Catholic bodies who made their exit from the Episcopal Church in the 1970s, including the Anglican Church in America, the Anglican Catholic Church, the Province of Christ the King, the United Episcopal Church, the United Anglican Church, and others. The sheer size of this list tells you that there is not even unity to be found among traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, but discussions are happening here. If there is any hope that some coherent vision of a catholic and reformed Anglicanism can be put together, I’d put my money here, but even if this were to happen, the resulting body would be quite small.

Any of these groups—whether it be the global Anglican Communion wrestling with the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in North America trying to pitch a tent that includes charismatics and Anglo-Catholics, or the older Anglo-Catholic bodies who have now spent more than a generation outside of communion with Canterbury—will have to wrestle with the locus of authority: Where and what is the Anglican deposit of faith? For its part, the Episcopal Church seems to be moving beyond this Anglican bugaboo as it moves closer to a framework of legal positivism undergirded by theologies of liberation. Increasingly, the goal will be to create a climate that maximizes liberty and the freedom of expression rather than the agony of the last thirty years of trying to craft doctrinal statements that everyone can live with or that at least keep things patched together until the next meeting of the General Convention.

Foreign prelates may continue to threaten, separated traditionalists at home may continue to cry heresy and doom, and new fissures will open within the Episcopal Church over emerging issues, but for all of that, I expect that the Episcopal Church is entering its smoothest sailing of the last two generations. The only question is now is whither this newly lightened ship will choose to sail.

The headlines have not seen the last of the Episcopal Church.

May 2024 Comprovincial Newsletter

The Comprovincial Newsletter for May 2024 -