Tuesday, November 28, 2006

a blog challenge!

This is what I would like to see from Jefforts Schori, or really any liberal / reappraiser who is on board with the New Religion: I would like to see a theologically coherent account of what sort of catholicity they have in mind when, Sunday by Sunday (or twice daily if they say the Office), they affirm that they believe in a (single) Church that's catholic. (For that matter, I wonder what sort of apostolicity, what sort of sanctity, and what sort of unity they have in mind... but first things first.) What does "catholic" mean to those who, for example, want to drive Bishop Schofield out of ECUSA?

Remember I said I want a "theologically coherent" account. "Catholicity means radical inclusion," doesn't count as an answer.

The winner will receive a "Help us Kait Shoree we r catliks" coffee mug.

This challenge is prompted by Father Thorpus' comment below, which deserves to be read entire. But if you're not that ambitious, here's a highlight:

Interesting reading from Zechariah this morning: "Thus said the LORD my God: Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter." It continues with the taking of two staves, one Grace, the other Unity by name. Both end up getting broken...


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid such an answer doesn't exist.

Garland said...

I'm not sure the prize is a proper incentive to your challenge. Perhaps a free cycle of birth control or prophylactics would be more appropriate, so that conscientious adherents can continue to "steward" the earth.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't come as an attempt to answer to your challenge, but merely as a question from a recent convert to Anglo-Catholicism who is, additionally, quite liberal. My question is, what do you mean when you say "catholicity" or "catholic"?

When I was growing up Presbyterian, we affirmed belief in the "holy catholic church" every Sunday in the Apostles' Creed. I was taught that catholicity meant not Roman Catholicism, but rather the worldwide body of Christians who, despite our differences, could affirm our membership in the church because of our agreement with, say, the Creed we were reciting.

Does your question, rather, refer to the "catholic faith" as defined in the Athanasian Creed? Or, perhaps, to another understanding of the word catholic with which I may be unfamiliar?

father wb said...


Well, thats kind of what I'm asking. What do LIBERALS mean by "catholic"? I know what I mean, but we must mean different things, since my understanding of catholicity precludes ECUSA type behavior. I mean mainly, how do ECUSA apologists justify disregarding the sensus anglicanae -- disregarding, that is, the mind of the rest of the Anglican Communnion on a given doctrinal matter, whatever it may be. Which is to say nothing, of course, of their apparent disregard for the sensus fidei more broadly speaking -- the mind of the WHOLE Church, of which Anglicanism has always considered itself to be but a part.

I'm not even mainly talking about gay issues. What about, more significantly, Schori's very public assertion that "truth, like God" is something bigger than just the person of Christ. I mean that runs blatantly against the very clear teaching of the Apostles and of the Church ever after the Apostles... right down to the 20th century. I don't know of ANY (theologically informed) person who would have said that until very recently... apart from Unitarians.

The Reformers justify their reforms by claiming that they were returning to the faith and practice of the primitive Church. This assumption was mistaken. (We know rather more about the primitive Church now than they did in the 16th century.) So it seems to me that even to remain a Presbyterian is to be the wrong sort of conservative... the sort that is more committed to real or imagined Reformation principles than to a continuity of faith and practice with the primitive Church. The incoherence, to my mind, is in that the Reformers themselves, from whom modern reformed people draw their principles, developed those principles out of a desire for continuity with the primitive Church... itself a catholic urge (though misguided through historical ignorance for which they can't be blamed).

I think the error of people like Schori is in thinking that what the Reformers wanted was an emanicipation of reason, simplicter. Whereas in fact, they mistakenly saw Roman doctrine and ceremonial as impediments to true catholicity... i.e. as impediments to continuity with the primitive Church. For Schori (and those whom she represents) this Reformation-impulse has been reduced merely to a French-Revolution-style enthronement of Reason as sovereign over all.

My challenge, put another way: how is fidelity to the Anglican Communion (and through it to the One Church) schismatic? That is what Schori has claimed, for example, of San Joaquin. But I'd prefer it put in positive terms: how can a repudiation of a doctrine and dicipline held by Christians at all times, everwhere, since the Apostles, be in any sense catholic?

father thorpus said...

My understanding of the historical roots of the term 'catholic' is this: it had two aspects. If you wanted to be recognized as a part of the Church (back when there was considerd to be only one) you had to 1. hold Apostolic doctrine, as defined by the Apostles themselves and expressed in the New Testament and the Creeds; and 2. fit your church into the visible structure of Apostolic leadership - i.e. the historic episcopate, or Apostolic Succession. Those two things were it: apostolic doctrine, apostolic leadership. Nothing about liturgical standardization, nothing about customs and practices. Apostolic Doctrine and Apostolic leadership. These two things were shared throughout the Patristic Church and were the basis for differentiation between the true Church and all the spin-offs, gnostic and otherwise.

In the Reformation, Calvin wanted to be able to say he was Catholic while still excoriating Apostolic leadership. So he just dropped that part. For Calvin, all you need to be Catholic is the Apostolic Doctrine. Anyone who believes and can say the creeds (and we may assume, is baptized) is considered a Christian and part of the great mystical unity that includes both Church militant and Church triumphant. A convenient strategy for Calvin's purposes, but it's not at all what the Fathers meant when they created the term and put it in the Creeds.

Most Protestants today haven't studied church history, so they just take the Calvinism they're fed and run with it. That's why they don't mind receiving Communion anywhere at all: our broken visible unity isn't a hurdle they think they have to jump. No one acutally has to be unified with anyone else, no one actually has to obey a church leader. You can start a church whenever and wherever you feel like it without reference to any historical reality dating later than 33 AD. Don't worry about visible unity, you're all part of the big Church-in-the-Sky.

Worst of all, this results in a spineless, impatient ecumenism that puts the cart before the horse or, even worse, doesn't think it needs ecumenism at all.

Ok, 'nuff of the soapbox. I could write about this all day. I only mention it here so that someone like jm who wants to know what the 'catholic' means that he's been saying all his life (a telling question) and not actually believing.

The Creeds are much more challenging than most of us know. You can't believe the creeds honestly and not take the historic succession seriously.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Fr Wb and Fr Thorpus for addressing my question. It is, yes, very telling that I don't have a thorough understanding of the word "catholic" and its historical meanings; it should also, however, be telling that I left the Presbyterian Church in favor of a tradition that (putatively) pays more attention to catholicity and apostolicity.

That said, I still will not offer an answer to the challenge. I think, despite what are I'm sure our vast differences in matters of praxis, our initial commitments--such as our belief in the singularity of Christ as mediator and Savior--are very similar, and so I'm as interested in what the answer may be as you are.

father wb said...

Thanks, JM, for your forthright engagement. And I applaud your move from Presbyterianism to Anglicanism. It strikes me as honest, in a real sense courageous, not to mention correct.

father wb said...


I concur. What you say seems very "mere Christian" in a robust, patristic way. But isn't that more what we mean by "apostolic"? I suppose the question facing us now is: how do you know if your leadership is apostolic? I mean, ostensibly ECUSA has bishops in succession from the apostles who are teaching something they claim is apostolic (or do they claim that? if not, that might be the root of the problem). But I understand catholicity, practically speaking, to be a guarantor of apostilicity. How do you know your apostolic? Well, look at everyone else - i.e. across the world geographically speaking (that would mean looking at the rest of the Anglican Communion, as well as at Rome and the East, and to some extent, perhaps, at the Reformed and Lutheran bodies), and down the centuries temporally speaking (that would mean looking at the great Councils and at the writings of the Doctors of the Church). Are you teaching, believing, and practicing, what THEY are / were teaching, believing, and praciticing? If so, you're set. If not, you've got a problem.

Some might ask where Scripture comes in. I would say that Apostilicty is, in part, a Scriptural thing, in that the teaching of the Apostles is laid down in Scripture. But also an examination of catholicity is an examination of the authoritative interpretive tradition. What many called Holy Tradition (tradere = to hand down), what those whom we know to have been "apostolic" said about their own apostilicity. That might be where the water gets murkey. How can the One Church, East and West, agree on this? What of Augustine or Thomas Aquinas (whom the East don't accept), or what of Gregory Palamas (whom the East doesn't accept)? But that might be taking things too far afield. The real point is: what about Kate Schori? NOBODY accepts her teaching, except a tiny, dwindling backwater of the One Church (if ECUSA is even THAT).

father wb said...

Excuse me. The WEST doesn't accept Gregory Palamas.

The young fogey said...

Many thanks for bringing this up, Father. For a long time I've observed that alongside Catholicism, Broad Churchmanship presents itself as a catholicity, a counterfeit one: radical inclusion, which includes everybody except those who won't be radically inclusive of wrong doctrine and behaviour (so Catholics like +San Joaquin are right out). Nothing therefore everything (except things with exclusive truth claims like Catholicism) is true. So you can believe that ordination is purely man-made and thus completely changeable* and that Jesus didn't really found a church but have Communion with incense every week. And such people, taking seriously the idea of communing the unbaptised (which I know TEC technically doesn't allow as it makes no sense), even call themselves Anglo-Catholics, which historically they're really not.

Another thing that strikes me is how liberals in the Episcopal blogosphere have appropriated Catholic ways of speaking ('leaving the Church') to describe what the three Catholic and four or five conservative Central Church Episcopal dioceses want to do. If the late Fr Leonard Feeney of extra ecclesiam nulla salus fame were still with us and believed that the gospel of having gay weddings for mostly affluent whites were the criterion of catholicity I'm sure he'd blush in appreciation.

*I'm not a misogynist by any means but the arguments so far for women's ordination, such as this one, simply do not work in Catholicism.

The young fogey said...

So you can believe that ordination is purely man-made and thus completely changeable and that Jesus didn't really found a church but have Communion with incense every week.

And I think most people are presented with the choice of something like this or no church and choose the latter. I've read that most kids born Episcopal end up doing that. Lying in on Sunday makes more sense!

A minority 'get religion/find Jesus' and turn hard-core Protestant, which if you accept those premises makes more sense than the Broad Church way.

C. Wingate said...

Having crossed over from the Presbyterian through the "old" broad to the central zone, perhaps I can elucidate this a bit.

Back in my presbie days, we only used the Apostles Creed. Note that it uses less words at the key point ("the holy catholic church"). We knew the church to be universal, but we didn't assign any more meaning to the word than that. We were not all that theological anyway; by that point the Calvinism in mainstream Presbieland had gotten quite dilute.

When I became an Episcopalian it was in the old, consciously Anglican, socially active, theologically astute but not adventurous variety. Again, we understood "Catholic" fairly strictly in the sense of "universal", if for no other reason that there was no reason in the Creed to subsume "apostolic" into it. Behind all this, of course, was the need to NOT read "catholic" as "Roman"; room had to be made for a distinctive Anglican theology, which had a number of decided disagreements with Rome on some presenting issues (e.g. birth control, and shortly, ordination of women).

In particular the subtext I see popping up here, of an unchanging infallibility, was rejected. I think they might understand in "catholic" the obligation to read the Church Fathers, but not the obligation to agree with them.

Hoosierpalian said...

Drive him out? Whaaaat...? I thought he was desperate to be rid of us!

The young fogey said...

Long story short, Hoosierpalian, +San Joaquin is making moves not just to leave by himself but take the diocese with him and go under another Anglican primate (don't know who, maybe ++Southern Cone) and so Dr Jefferts-Schori is threatening to take him to court to seize the diocese's buildings. As I now understand it (source: Fr Tobias Haller) she, or more properly the national church, has a claim to them but what she's proposing still doesn't seem decent (not everything lawful is good): leaving many entire congregations homeless or forcing them to stay in a denomination that wants to do things they oppose, like have gay weddings. (It's not at all a matter of one man trying to steal property for himself!) What she's doing seems like coercion and spite from where I'm sitting. If I understand +San Joaquin correctly he doesn't want to take parishes' churches away, even parishes he and I don't agree with, and if so he's right. (What he literally said: anybody who wants to go may do so and take what's theirs.)

Bernard Brandt said...

I suppose that it all depends on how liberals define catholic. If they define the word catholic in the sense that Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty does (i.e.: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."), then, like Humpty Dumpty, they can make the word catholic mean whatever they want it to. Of course, we can play the same game, and define TEC and its presiding bishopess as duplicitous, or mendacious, or hypocritical. Oh, what fun!

Of course, if they define the word catholic in the way that St. Vincent of Lerin did (Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditur), they have somewhat more of a problem. One can then ask for answers to simple statements of fact, such as: was it always believed that homosexual activity was tolerated or beloved of by God? was it everywhere believed that abortion was a proper choice of action by Christians? was it believed by everyone that contraceptive methods were approved of by or for Christians? and so on.

If the word catholic is defined from its first etymological meaning (kath 'olos, or universal), then they have yet more of a problem. How can they claim that a church of several million who have adopted beliefs found nowhere in Christiandom until the twentieth century, and even then only by a small minority, can in any way be considered universal? The question, of course, is rhetorical: they can't.

And of course, there is the second etymological definition of the word catholic as complete, which has been espoused by some Orthodox theologians. But in the case of some of the statements by Schori, this definition would be applicable only if the word complete were the descriptive adjective to the following phrase: complete nonsense

father thorpus said...

Nice work, BB.

C. Wingate said...

The Vincentian canon only "works" as an internal reinforcement of one's own faction; between factions, it would set off a "mere Christianity" sort of catholicity, and since the people who invoke the canon don't generally agree to that, it really doesn't do much for the discussion. It's useful as a stopgap against local eccentricities, but not against larger disputes. The issue isn't really that, anyway: it's that Catholicity is being used as an excuse for not really engaging these people seriously.

Hoosierpalian said...

As I said on my comment to the post above, I am a big-time "broad and hazy" liberal. I arrived here by clicking on a link from another blog that I regularly follow. I personally think that making a "theologically coherent" statement on any point of Christian faith is like herding cats. We can't do it. Those of us pewsitters on board with the "New Religion" take pride in the fact that we listen to many different points of view. If you wanted to nail the "broad and hazy" contemporary Episcopalian down and ask him what they think "catholic" means in the creeds, he would give you a one word answer--"universal." And then he'd get impatient and bored if you wanted to define it further. Maybe he might say that "catholic" means all people throughout time and space who have believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and in the two sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
I love these folks. I'm one of them. But if you want to make the charge that we've become intellectually lazy or lukewarm in our religion, I can agree. We need to crack open our Bibles, read the current and past Books of Common Prayer, become serious about actually living a life of prayer.

mmbx said...

I say BB wins the cup! (Just like the one I took out of my dishwasher today. Oops!) The Humpty Dumpty quote alone is enough for my vote.

Hoosierpalian said...

No, no. According to the rules of the contest, BB cannot receive the mug. This contest is only open to liberals/reappraisers!

mmbx said...

Oooo. I missed that point! You must win then, H! I'll asert my influence on the blog leader! =) Oh, wait! jm says he/she is "QUITE liberal." That certainly puts jm in the running too. When is the winner going to be announced, Fr.? This is so exciting!

Anonymous said...

I am "quite liberal." So far as this particular blog is concerned, I'm probably very liberal. But I don't claim to belong to the "New Religion," so I could offer no answer to the initial question. I'm afraid I'm out of the running. :)

mmbx said...

And so the winner is... !!! Wigh jm's disqualification, I think Hoosier has it, Fr. WB.

Bernard Brandt said...

That's fine, just fine!
Who wanted your silly mug anyway!
It would probably say: I defended the Faith, and all I got was this silly mug."

Seriously, though, my thanks to all for their good language concerning my entry. As Boris Badinov would say: It's the thought that counts.