Tuesday, June 07, 2005

more on evangelicals and anglo-catholics

This is from the Directorium Anglicanum, to which I commend your attention in general. It is by J.D. Treat. His main interlocutor is Fr. Harmon from Titusonenine.

Evangelicals' ability to embrace the ordination of women while simultaneously expressing horror at the consecration of Gene Robinson is incomprehensible to catholic Anglicans. To many Anglo-Catholics, the former is a matter of ontology and represents a fundamental change in the understanding of the appropriate matter of a sacrament while the latter is a matter of morals. While many Anglo-Catholics might find the selection of Gene Robinson troubling, none who have been properly catechized can doubt the validity of his consecration. To the catholic mind, any sinfulness in Gene Robinson's lifestyle is a personal moral matter more closely akin to Fr. Harmon's serving breakfast before mass than it is to attempting to confect a sacrament with novel matter.

Read the whole thing here.

Now I don't consider myself and evangelical, but I think this article is a little too polemical, a little overzealous, a little too self-consciously effete anglo-catholic. There's plenty that anglo-catholics can learn from evangelicals. We could stand a little of what is often called (with marked disdain) "sentimentalism". The Holy Spirit can operate within the psyche of the individual, thank God, and the catholic life is full of consolations and emotion. Granted, the catalyst is usually not electric guitar-driven, but its there nonetheless.

Anglo-Catholicism is a wonderful aesthetical experience, but too often anglo-catholics get wrapped up in the aesthetical experience, to the neglect of the charity. We can become arrogant, condescending, perfectly content to congratulate ourselves for how many decades we regularly pray, for the strictness of our observance of the Kalendar, our avoidance of breakfast before mass, and our never-failing to avoid sherry after mass. But to dwell on such things, wonderful as they are, is to take the first steps down the road that leads to the high-church veneer covering a "broad" church rotten to its core. Bp. Griswold, I'm told, likes incense too.

I agree that Bp. Robinson's lifestyle is a "personal moral matter". But evangelicals are right in their recognition that it is not just a personal moral matter. The main problem is not Bp. Robinson's lifestyle, but the ECUSA's corporate consent to his election, given his lifestyle. Anglo-catholics and evangelicals should be on the same page on this point. ECUSA's false teaching is far more problematic than any individual's sexual sin.

Finally the notion that the Bible ought to be read by "the Church" and not by individuals is ridiculous given Anglicanism's painful lack of any magisterial function. Its true: left unchecked, people read the Bible and come up with nutty, nutty stuff. The Church properly sets the interpretive boundaries. But the ECUSA hierarchy has made it perfectly clear that the last thing they are interested in is the setting of interpretive boundaries. When one's Church provides no guidance, or what's worse, when its own teaching is far beyond the pale of Catholicity, what is the individual believer to do?

I think the thrust of this article is right. I think most evangelicals have a rather impoverished ecclesiology. They have no notion of the prerogatives of apostilicity. But then, neither do the apostles' heirs in ECUSA.

9 comments:

The young fogey said...

While of course I agree with my friend J.D. in opposing a Donatist view of the apostolic ministry, on the rest you're exactly right. Defending Robinson sends the message, 'We're a gay church just like the mainstream today but we're discreet and cool about it'. Unacceptable, and different to the Catholic position of 'tolerant conservatism' where individual sexual sins are indeed nobody's business except in the confessional but the parish and clergy don't let the side down re: teachings.

The Ranter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Ranter said...

I dont think the validity of the consecration is really an issue. The man was consecrated a bishop. It's a done deal. Now if you asked me if he was a real Christian, I don't know what I would say. But he's a bishop, Christian or not. As followers, we should probably respect the office of Bishop far more than any of the individual sinners who hold the title. The fact that the consecration was able to take place is what is so troubling to me. Yes, the man can administer sacraments... but the holy spirit works through sacraments, and somewhere in the back of the BCP it says that 'the unworthiness of the minister heeds not the effect of the sacrament' or some such. If I was dying on the side of the rode and Gene came up and unctioned me, I suppose it would be as valid as unction performed by any other cleric. The holy ghost can work through some of the most lowly, scumsucking individuals; this is not the first, nor will it be the last time the church has to deal with unworthy clerics. It just needs to be put into perspective.

Paul Goings said...

Now I don't consider myself and evangelical, but I think this article is a little too polemical, a little overzealous, a little too self-consciously effete anglo-catholic.

Not to speak for Mr Treat, but I rather think that was the point. Too many anglo-catholics are kidding themselves when they make common cause with certain evangelicals (i.e. crypto-calvinists) and don't expect there to be long-term repercussions. After we've gotten our "Network" province in the U.S. how long will it be before we're hearing accusations of "idolatry" and "bread worship" from some pulpits? This is a real concern to some anglo-catholics who are seeing these new structures rapidly emerge with little or no discussion about differences in belief and practice.

Paul Goings said...

There's plenty that anglo-catholics can learn from evangelicals.

You're right. But the wonderful thing is that all of the examples which go on to cite are already present in the catholic church. It's only the prissy anglophilia of some anglo-catholics which has prevented them from embracing some aspects of spirituality often associated with evangelicals. Surely S. Alphonsus would be no stranger to the idea that "the catholic life is full of consolations and emotion."

Paul Goings said...

Anglo-Catholicism is a wonderful aesthetical experience, but too often anglo-catholics get wrapped up in the aesthetical experience, to the neglect of the charity. We can become arrogant, condescending, perfectly content to congratulate ourselves for how many decades we regularly pray, for the strictness of our observance of the Kalendar, our avoidance of breakfast before mass, and our never-failing to avoid sherry after mass.

And not only charity! But so what? All pious, devotional, or ascetic practices carry the inherent risk of pride. Our Lord said so explicitly, and his counsel has been reiterated by every master of the spiritual life since. Shall we then abandon them all? God forbid! I would also like to see some clarification about what it means "to dwell on such things" as you reckon it. Are they not to be discussed at all? Or is it that fasting communion is mentioned in the same breath as sodomy?

Paul Goings said...

When one's Church provides no guidance, or what's worse, when its own teaching is far beyond the pale of Catholicity, what is the individual believer to do?

I think that it's better in this case to look to the interpretations of Holy Scripture which we have from classical anglicanism, roman catholicism, and eastern orthodoxy than to start from scratch.

father wb said...

P. Goings et al.

I am making this a new post in the blog, as my comments became book-length.

J. D. Treat said...

Wow, you miss a lot when you go on vacation.

WB,

Thanks for the mention. The piece was meant to be a little over-the-top to make a point with which you seem to agree: that Anglo-Catholics need to think about what exactly it means to be an Anglo-Catholic. As Mr. Goings and the Young Fogey well know, I’m one who constantly harps on the danger of advanced practice in the absence of solid teaching and ongoing catechesis. Pretty things without hard truths lead to trouble.

The example I use of Evangelicals accepting the ordination of women while condemning the consecration of Gene Robinson is intended to illustrate that we have incompatible theological methods. For the present we have any number of shared theological concerns, but these are concerns that either group would share with any number of other Christians. Advanced Anglo-Catholics, whether they are of a seven-councils or an Anglo-Papalist stripe, believe that the historic church has a theological method for ascertaining truth, which is ultimately incompatible with the Evangelical’s more heavily sola scriptura approach.

There are any number of areas in which contemporary Anglo-Catholics compare unfavorably to Evangelical Anglicans: in witness, mission, and openness to the communities around us, we see much in evangelical practice that should shame and inspire us.

Your point about what alternative do we have to reading scripture in the absence of a functioning teaching office within the church goes to the heart of the matter: Evangelicals go to the Bible for themselves, Catholics that they go to the Councils and the tradition, which have read the scripture authoritatively. You seem to say that our only alternative is to go to the Bible given the crisis within Anglicanism whereas I would say that the Catholic tradition is broader and deeper than ECUSA or the Anglican Communion and that the past experience of the church and the present practice of other Catholic Christians offer much to guide us.

I think that where we differ is that I don’t view the Elizabethan Settlement as a good thing. It was an apt political compromise to keep unity within a national church. It had political value, but it also created a moribund state church that only began to show signs of life when early Tractarians and Evangelicals found it to be an insufficient basis for being church and began looking elsewhere.

The Network may well prove to have temporary, pragmatic value but once this initial crisis has passed, I don’t think that there is any guarantee that Catholics and Evangelicals will find themselves on the same side of the fence in the next dispute, whatever it may be. By removing the broad church from the Anglican mix, the party of the via media and the Elizabethan Settlement whose bland tolerance held the mix together, I’m afraid we end up with two incompatible parties. To my mind, the Network seeks to hold the line for the Anglican status quo circa 1980, a period when the cracks in Anglicanism were already visible and when many A-Cs had already left out of conscience feeling it was clear that the Elizabethan settlement was no longer workable, at least within ECUSA.

Best,

Treat