Saturday, February 10, 2007

alexei khomiakov on anglicanism and private judgment: and some thoughts-out-loud: what is catholicity? or: quo enim recedam?

Many bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of it? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. Ussher is almost a complete Calvinist; but yet he, no less than those bishops who give expression to Orthodox convictions, belongs to the Anglican Church. We may, and do, sympathise with the individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathise with a community which interpolates the Symbol and doubts her right to that interpolation, or which gives communion to those who declare the Bread and Wine of the High Sacrifice to be mere bread and wine, as well as to those who declare it to be the Body and Blood of Christ. This for an example — and I could find hundreds more — but I go further. Suppose an impossibility — suppose all the Anglicans be quite orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled to something very near Truth. If we admit this, all is lost, and Rationalism is the supreme judge of every question. Protestantism, most reverend sir, is the admission of an unknown [quantity] to be sought by reason; and that unknown [quantity] changes the whole equation to an unknown quantity, even though every other datum be as clear and as positive as possible. Do not, I pray, nourish the hope of finding Christian truth without stepping out of the former Protestant circle. It is an illogical hope; it is a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love. Were you to find all the truth, you would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain — the assurance of truth.

From Mind in the Heart, via Restorative Theology, via Pontifications.

Okay. I take his point, in a sense. However: were I (or anyone else) to convert to a non-Protestant (in the way Khomiakov seems to be using that term) church, would not "rationalism" still be sitting in judgment over catholic doctrine? Would not the "mode and process by which" this convert attained a catholic creed yet be "a protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding, by which the tradition and writings of the Fathers have been distilled..."? Would not Rationalism, or better perhaps would not rationality, or the reason, yet be "the supreme judge of every question" in such a case? In other words, is it not in fact the case that converts convert because the doctrine of the ecclesial entity to which they are converting makes sense to them? Concomitantly, then, is not their reason the arbiter of (Scripture and) Holy Tradition? Khomiakov finds in Anglicanism "a remnant of that pride which thought itself able and wished to judge and decide by itself without the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love." But here, precisely, is the paradox: does not the act and possibility of conversion, which surely Khomiakov admits, entail the very possibility of that which he here denies: namely that an individual outside the Spiritual Communion of heavenly grace and Christian love (which is the Church) may "judge and decide" rightly, by an inscrutable process of intellection and affection, that catholic doctrine is true and therefore ought to be assented to? And once he has converted, does not the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian, by the quotidian renewal of his resolve to remain within the Roman or Orthodox communion, just continually ratify the sovereignty of his reason as the arbiter of truth?

This question is related to that paradox raised by Augustine in the narration of his own conversion, a paradox which my intuition tells me has its roots in Platonism and also has to do with prevenient grace: how can you call God to help you when his help is necessary for you even to call out? Augustine also puts it another way, in terms of exteriority and interiority: how can you seek something (or Someone) that is already and has always been inside of you? Quo enim recedam extra caelum et terram, ut inde in me veniat Deus meus, qui dixit, caelum et terram ego impleo? Loosely: Where might I withdraw beyond heaven and earth that my God might come into me, when my God has said "I fill heaven and earth"?

In the excerpt from Khomiakov we see an assumption regarding the differentiation of Protestantism from Catholicism. And I here mean both of these terms in the kind of way that they are often used, for example, at Pontifications: such that "Protestantism" includes Anglicanism (but not Orthodoxy), and "Catholicism" includes Orthodoxy (but not Anglicanism). The basis of differentiating between Protestantism and Catholicism is by an examination and judgment of what Khomiakov here calls the "faith of the Community." This assumption is also manifest in such dicta as one sometimes hears: e.g. that Anglicans believe they are catholic because they have valid orders, whereas (Roman) catholics believe they have valid orders because they are catholic. When cited by Roman Catholics, the former belief is implicitly false and the latter implicitly true. But with regard to a determination of catholicity it is obviously question begging. What is it for an individual or a community to be catholic?

And by the way, the Vincentian Canon is a non-starter. If to be catholic, as St. Vincent says, is "to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all," the question instantly arises: by all of whom? Roman Catholics? Christians? If it is Roman Catholics, then the Orthodox are ruled out as "catholic" insofar as they do not as a body believe, for example, the universal ordinary jurisdiction nor the situated infallibility of the bishop of Rome, nor the Immaculate Conception of our Lady. And if we mean " all Christians..." then probably Southern Baptists and Nestorians are ruled in.

In the end I think the status of an individual Christian as truly "catholic" is indeed in some sense a function of the submission of their volition, a bending the knee of the heart, to the Church. And yet the submission must come about as (at least in large part) recommended by the intellect. I've never heard of anyone going over to Rome (or the East) because it didn't make sense to do so. Thus I don't think the excerpt above from Khomiakov is helpful. Anglican Christians can just as much hold their beliefs because those beliefs come to them recommended by the One Church as can Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christians. And it is just as necessary for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians rationally to differentiate the visible body to which they owe their submission -- to differentiate the One Church from other "ecclesial communities" -- as it is for Anglicans. Perhaps (perhaps) its true that more RC and Orthodox Christians go through this process per capita as a matter of positive fact than Anglicans. But even that is not obvious, and I tend to doubt it. We can see in this why disunity is a scandal. Were the unity of the Church visible, then catholically bending the knee of the heart would be considerably simpler, and that Christianity is a matter of obedience (as opposed to a lifestyle choice or a self-identity) would I imagine be more robustly manifest to the world, for the sake of whom the grace of unity is bestowed (John 17.21).

Why am I an Anglican? Because I am doing my best to obey the Lord's summons to his service. Because I want, more than anything, to be a slave for the sake of the Name. Lord knows it would in a very real sense be much easier for me to be Roman Catholic or Orthodox. Obeying the call I discerned to the Anglican priesthood has been, hands down, the most costly and painful thing I've ever done. I knew that it would be, and I was brought to my knees in tears in the face of this knowledge at Evensong before my ordination. When I asked the Lord why I should be an Anglican priest, I clearly discerned the answer: "because the essence of priesthood is sacrifice, and here you will be closest to the sacrifice of my Son." In my heart I accepted this, and it has been born out in my priestly vocation. I know that the Christian priesthood cannot be merely an exercise in private devotion, and I have faith that mine is not, though its hard for me to see the fruits of my ministry in the Body. But I believe that God actualizes his particular plans even though the actualization may be invisible or counterintuitive (1 Cor. 2.9).

Catholicity may be born out in the lives of individuals in complicated and inscrutible ways, but it is at least an act of obedience. And while I appreciate the good intentions of former Anglicans who perpetually exhort those whom they have left behind to climb into the Barque of Peter (or Andrew), they must also recognize that the Holy Spirit may answer Anglican prayers for conversion of heart in ways, or on timeframes, that they might not have expected. Michael Liccione, at Pontifications, has written:

One cannot cease to be Protestant by thinking like a Protestant. The way out of that box is to use all means available, chiefly prayer and ascesis but also study and meditation, to decide which principle of authority one shall submit to. Only the reformation of will made possible by such means will enable one to receive the gift of faith in its fullness.

I couldn't agree more. But what must be acknowledged is that many Anglicans have sought to submit, have sought to "believe one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," and what's more have sought to "believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ," through prayer, ascesis, study and meditation, and who yet find themselves in the Anglican Communion -- not because they appreciate the free-thinking or free-willing it seems to afford, nor because it seems a pleasant and easy-going, non-papal brand of catholic Christianity, but rather out of obedience. What is difficult to bear is the implication (not necessarily Liccione's) that if catholic-minded Anglicans were really sincere or really obedient, they would go immediately to Rome. Once more I can assure you: I am doing the best I can, and I am still an Anglican.


Jody+ said...

Unfortunately I don't have the time right now to deal with this very deeply,(I'll have to revisit Monday) though I think I agree with what you've said Fr. I suppose the question I would pose, right off that bat, is this: did the reformers really think like "protestants" in the sense that term seems to be fact, aren't much of the criticisms leveled at "protestantism" in general simply criticisms of its miscarriages, just as many of the criticisms of Rome are criticisms of its miscarriages? The difference seems to me that a Reformed perspective can admit the miscarriage while the Roman Catholic cannot. Put another way, a friend told me of a Jesuit he knew who used to teach at one of the pontifical universities in Rome who joked that he could tell him the first line of the Encyclical that would allow married clergy: "As the Church has always taught and some have misunderstood..."

wyclif said...

Great post; I liked the way you brought out the "escape from reason" subtext in this style of apologetics. The last paragraph really hit home for me.

Salome said...

People who dismiss the Vincentian Canon overanalyse it. Heresies were never believed always and everywhere and by all, so heretics don't count. Southern Baptists haven't always existed (let alone everywhere), so they don't count. I would say that in Anglican usage, the Vincentian Canon is code for 'the faith of the undivided Church as expressed in the seven oecumenical councils'. At times it works better in the negative: 'never and nowhere and by no-one'--or only occasionally by heretical sects (who therefore don't count). It's a good way to spot an innovation. As to whether the Roman or the Eastern view re the authority of the Bishop of Rome is right, or as to the position of the doctrine of the immaculate conception (about which I have heard it said (not on particularly good authority) that the Orthodox attitude is that it hasn't bothered to analyse the faith to the point of finding the doctrine necessary, but might if they did), perhaps these are questions which still have to be worked out. The former probably doesn't pass the 'always' test in the first millennium. The latter doesn't appear to be inconsistent with the deposit of the faith, and I have no objection to it. If you have a choice between the Vincentian Canon, which is referred to in the Affirmation of St Louis, and the bigoted ravings of Mr Khomiakov (there are, fortunately, many Orthodox who are a lot more enlightened and accepting of orthodox Anglicans), I'd stick with the one closer to home. Beside all of which, to the extent that the Orthodox protest the Petrine claims, that makes them every bit as protestant as the Anglicans.

Pontificator said...

A small matter perhaps, but Alexei Khomiakov was Russian Orthodox.

timothy said...

The whole issue of private judgment has always troubled me a great deal and it did especially at the moment of my "embarkation" with St. Peter and you have put your finger on the very issue, as usual. In choosing to enter the RCC, how was I not using the same mechanism (if not the same criteria) that I could have used to remain and affirm being Protestant? The resolution of this problem, as you also point out, does not come from within the mechanism--as in fact perhaps Khomiakov inadvertently argues--in other words, reasons cannot be borne out by Reason. Catholicism (with either a big or little 'c', as I am not interested in THAT argument here) may be a rational thing to hold, but the Protestors argue, and no doubt rationally, that Protestantism is equally or more rational. Reason alone always leads one to this impasse, which is why I believe I stopped giving so much attention to this issue: it's an interminable circle. And the core of our Faith is not, fortunately, reason, but faith, that is, trust in God.

I'm tempted to say that THIS is what separates and defines the church catholic from non-catholic manifestations, that is, the recognition that the Christian submits himself wholly and unreservedly to the will of God. To do so is not irrational, but it is an act that is not dependent on reason. Which is the beauty and simplicity of it, since Satan and our sinful selves so often use reason to make sin more attractive.

As to our Protestant brethren: I know many who desire nothing less than this total submission to God's will. But I wonder if Protestantism in its latter-day manifestation has not revealed something of its essence in the lives of its adherents who preserve for themselves a small domain of autonomy from the work of God in their personal lives. The very rationality of their beliefs allows them this. (And this could take all kinds of forms, but the example in my mind is birth control.) Likewise, most of the Catholics I know are not more than protestants-in-catholic-clothing, paying no more than lip service to our doctrines and pastors and Pope while claiming that all these matters are really issues of "conscience," which is an excuse for them, of course, to be guided by their own lights in all matters.

But more importantly how is this submission accomplished? As you have already said, mainly by prayer--and I would emphatically add to that confession--which prepares and allows our cooperation in the work of the Holy Spirit within us. In retrospect, many of the things that led me in to the RCC were in fact no more than my private judgment on the matter. And it's the grace of God which is able to use our frailties of this sort to our benefit. But now as I seek to go deeper into it, I discover that much more--much, much more--is being asked of me to bring that work to completion. When the church as a whole recognizes this, then we truly will be universal.

axegrinder said...

Fr. WB,

Is there any escaping the issue of private judgment in the West? We have choices about what church we will attend. We have to make the decision, even if we are cradle something-or-other. There are certainly a myriad of issues to deal with regarding ecclesiology, but the accusations of rationalism carry no weight. I think the practical alternative for many is an unthinking lemmingism, but even that has the element of hearing and deciding upon.

Jason Kranzusch

PS When you switched over to the new Blogger I lost your RSS feed in Bloglines. I thought the move and new ministry responsibilities had curtailed your blogging. I look forward to catching up on the last few months of Whitehall ruminations.

Acolyte4236 said...

I think there is a difference between rationalism and the use of reason. The former seems to go well with the idea that people using reason as the de facto final arbiter and maker of doctrine. Consequently doctrine becomes a human construction. This is what accounts for the diversity among Anglicans. This is as far as reason can go or that some justification can be had for many positions, so we permit all of them. So we have to be careful not to make a levels confusion here. It is one thing to think that we use reason to get in to the house and another to think that reason constructed it.

On one level everyone uses reason to judge that such and so church is correct. But that is not the same as thinking that reason, using the matter of scripture or tradition or both is what produces doctrine. In any case, the diversity seems to imply that there is something fundamentally wrong with Anglicanism. It is a contrived mixture of things too unlike to have been of divine origin and warrant.

From the Orthodox perspective since both Protestantism and Catholicism are driven by Hellenistic dialectical thinking in their theology and both consequently believe in the development of doctrine and other such things, Catholicism is just as rationalistic, though under a metaphysical realism rather than nominalism. The difference between Protestant and Catholic dialectic is that the Catholics have a single referee and Protestants don’t. They both depend on pagan metaphysics for the conceptual content of their theological terms and this is why for example the Platonic distinction between sign and reality drives their sacramental debates and neither have come to any clear resolution on any other dialectically framed issues, not the least of which is predestination and freedom.

The Vincentian Canon refers to all apostolic sees since in them the deposit of faith was made personally by the Apostles. Rome then isn’t Catholic any more than the Anglicans.


As for the Immaculate Conception, it is impossible for the Orthodox for the same reason that Thomistic or Calvinistic Predestinarianism is impossible. God cannot contradict the freedom given in the imago dei. Personal justice is acquired so that there is no "original justice" in Orthodox theology. Humans were created good and innocent, but not given personal justice apart from their choice-this is their likeness that they lost.

If original justice were true, then either people existed prior to their body (Origen) and made a choice then or sin becomes natural in which case even babies are guilty (Augustine). Both views depend on a confusion of nature and person. Mary is Panagia or All Holy becaus she is the end product of her ancestors being purified by the law and by her personal and free choice to obey God. Even still she dies, which is not possible on a Latin view of original sin, since death implies guilt. She still inherited the corruption of Adam and still had to be personally purified.

To protest against unCatholic innovations like the Papacy doesn't make one a Protestant-if it did, Athanasius' complaints against Arius would have made him one too, which is absurd.

Pontificator said...

Trackback Pontifications

J-Tron said...

An absolutely outstanding post, WB. You succinctly explain the problem with certain Roman (and it appears Orthodox) apologetics as they relate to Anglicanism, while also raising excellent questions that Anglican Catholics need to consider.

I had a much longer post that got eaten by my computer. So for now I will simply say that I especially identify with what you said about your own prayer life and God's leading you into the Anglican priesthood. Most meaningful and helpful to hear that I am not alone in these questions or these leadings of the Spirit.

father wb said...

JT -

"...that got eaten by my computer."

You should convert to Apple. His Pancomputational Holiness Steve Jobs is a true shepherd of the sheep.

BC said...

When you say, "and who yet find themselves in the Anglican Communion -- not because they appreciate the free-thinking or free-willing it seems to afford, nor because it seems a pleasant and easy-going, non-papal brand of catholic Christianity, but rather out of obedience", I have to ask, obedience to whom?

MM said...

BC -

Obedience to God.

BC said...

But every heretic claims to be obeying God. So the "we do X because we are obeying God" defense is inadequate. How do you know that God wants you to do X? From your own interpretation of Scripture? From your interpretation of the Spirit's still small voice in your heart [what the Mormons call the "burning in the bosom"]?

father wb said...

BC -

Anglicans use ouija boards.

C. Wingate said...

Trackback from Tune: Kings Lynn: Another Look at Catholicity and Reason

"In tracing back a bit further from the posts which prompted my just-previous entry, I found a post by Fr. WB in his blog in response to a passage from Alexei Khomiakov discussing Anglican legitimacy. I find myself largely in agreement, but I think there is one point which calls for further elaboration."