Saturday, June 04, 2005
fractures in the alliance? anglo-catholics and evangelicals as bed-fellows one of another
In the end I think Catholics and Evangelicals have more in common with one another than either have with Liberals. The question (as many have acknowledged) is really one of authority. The traditionalists (of both flavors) identify the source of ecclesial authority as definitively outside the constituency of the Church Militant. Both would perhaps agree that ecclesial authority is found in the person of Jesus Christ, but Evangelicals tend to find the primary locus for that authority in the Word of God, the Bible. Catholics, while tending often to have a high regard for the Bible, tend also to have a high regard for what they often call “Holy Tradition”, or the historical teaching of the Church, particularly in its undivided, pre-reformational, and even more particularly its first-millennial manifestations. Catholics like to accept the authority of the Bible as binding absolutely, yet accept it because it comes recommended as such by the Catholic Church, the Holy Tradition.
The Tradition of the Church is therefore the arbiter of the Bible’s authority. We must distinguish, however, between the Church’s role of arbitrating Biblical authority and the erroneous view that the Church is herself the source of the Bible’s authority. We accept the authority of the bible, we acknowledge its binding us, because the Church RECOGNIZES that authority, because the Church ACKNOWLEDGES that authority, and not because the Church BESTOWED that authority to begin with. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is therefore a locus of our Lord’s own role as “our only mediator and advocate”.
This, by the way, is the reason why there is no salvation apart from the Catholic Church. That is, because it is the Catholic Church who says to God, with the Blessed Virgin, “Be it done to me according to your word,” and it is the Catholic Church who asks, with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We ride on the coattails of the Communion of Saints in their acceptance of the hegemony of the prerogatives of God in Christ. It is their testimony that mediates for us the story of the unique salvation from sin and death found in the cross of Christ.
It is at this point that I begin to wonder about the long-term prospects of the current alliance between Evangelicals and Catholics. This is from a recent piece from the Institute on Religion and Democracy (thank you Fr. Harmon) about the commentary and involvement of Roman Catholics in the current Anglican mess:
Over the past two years, the debate has moved from fundamental disagreement over interpreting scriptural teachings on human sexuality, to fundamental disagreement over church polity. Arguments over the latter have been at least as heated as arguments over the former.
It is in the area of ecclesiology, however, where many orthodox Anglicans will find the Roman Catholic advice less helpful. It is no particular surprise that the Vatican would endorse a stronger "supra-provincial authority" to secure unity in doctrine and discipline. But there is a raft of questions that arise.
Would the strong-handed approach work in the Anglican Communion? Does the Archbishop of Canterbury wish to become a mini-pope or patriarch? How many Anglicans wish to have such a powerful figure seated in Canterbury? The proposal runs counter to 450 years of Anglican history.
The question, though, regarding the controversial recommendations of the Windsor Report, is not whether the Archbishop of Canterbury ought to have this or that power. The question is really whether he ought to exercise this or that power. For ultimately to be Anglican means to be in communion with the See of Canterbury, and the See of Canterbury decides with whom it is in communion.
This is where the recent ARCIC agreements become illustrative, as the IRD paper acknowledges:
Preliminary summaries of the [ARCIC Marian] document indicate that Catholic dogmas such as the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of Mary are defended by an appeal to the silence of Scripture on such matters. The dogmas are not directly justified; instead they are said to be not incompatible with biblical teaching.
Orthodox Anglicans are rightly suspicious of such double-negative formulations based on silence. They have heard them frequently from Anglican liberals, whose favorite debating point is that "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality." This kind of argument offers a very weak basis for altering long-settled teachings.
But notice that in the case of the Roman Catholic marian dogmas, the scriptures as a whole are silent, and that the tradition of the Church, from rather early, is anything but silent. As noted in the IRD paper, regarding the traditional teaching on homosexuality, the liberal refrain is not that the scripture is silent, but that Jesus is silent. The point is that, as everyone knows, the scriptures are not silent on the issue of homosexuality, St. Paul was not silent, and neither is the Holy Tradition, which has spoken loudly and unequivocally on the matter. The teachings of Jesus are shaped for us by, among other things, the teachings of St. Paul about the teachings of Jesus. Both Catholics and Evangelicals acknowledge that they are bound by the teaching of St. Paul in the Bible as much as they are bound by anything, and Catholics acknowledge the added constraint of Church Tradition.
The questions of authority dividing Evangelicals and Catholics are therefore about where, outside of themselves, the locus of authority is to be found. Ultimately, however, they agree that authority is located outside of themselves. They agree that it is to be found in God, in the person of Jesus Christ and the initiatives of the Holy Spirit. Catholics, however, discern the action of the Holy Spirit in the magisterial functions of the Church, whereas Evangelicals do not. The point is this: whereas Evangelicals and Catholics acknowledge that their belief is arbitrated by authority outside themselves individually or collectively, Liberals do not. Time and again Liberals appeal to the third leg of the “three legged stool” (which, by the way, is a misreading of Hooker); they appeal namely to their own reason and experience. When Bp. Griswold talks about “new truth”, all he is really saying is that our reason and our experience mediate the claims of both the scriptures and the tradition. He might say that Christ is the source of all authority, but that it is Christ-within-us who is the ultimate arbiter. That is just to say: we are the authority. We sit in judgment over the Church and the Bible. When our reason and experience run counter to the Bible and the Tradition of the Church, the Bible and the Tradition must bend the knee to our reason and experience. We will not serve.
But the Liberal position is untenable, for it posits not just our reason and experience as the foundation for authority, but our reason and experience AS CHRISTIANS as the foundation for CHRISTIAN authority. The fallacy is just this: WE HAVE NO IDENTITY AS CHRISTIANS APART FROM BOTH SCRIPTURE AND CHURCH TRADITION. Were there no Tradition or Scripture, there would be no Christians. We have no claim to the name of Jesus, and therefore no claim to a Christian identity, apart from the Communion of Saints from whom we learned that the Savior’s name is Jesus, and from whom we learned what it is to be baptized in that name, what it is to be a Christian.
Posted by gwb at 11:33 AM