Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anglicans and Orthodoxy: A reality check

Orthodox will never beat Rome at Rome's game, and we need to get any hint of such a notion out of our heads. We can talk all we want about past ties and chumminess between Orthodox and Anglicans, but it makes more sense for the vast majority of faithful Anglicans to go to Rome than it does for them to go to Orthodoxy. Rome has an ecclesial apparatus that can efficiently and coherently make a place for them, and it can market those efforts in a manner that Orthodox cannot come close to competing with. And the theology of most conservative Anglicans reflects the influence of Augustine and Aquinas in a manner that Orthodoxy outside of David Bentley Hart and a few of his friends does not...

...Then comes along the OCA with its wooing words. True, and thank God, +Jonah spoke about the incompatibility of WO with Orthodoxy, and the problem of the filioque, and the heresy of Calvinism. Rhetorically speaking +Jonah at least placed some serious restraints on the table. I think what is going on is that the ACNA, and perhaps other conservative Anglican groups (the ACNA is not in any real sense a traditionalist Anglican body), is in such a state of excitement and euphoria over gaining size and momentum that when Orthodox or RCs show up and speak nice and talk about their commitment to dialogue and the duty to pursue unity, etc., these euphoric Anglicans only hear that they are being courted and think themselves to have been somehow recognized to be "within" the Church and they do not hear the "fine print"-speak. What I find crass about these ecumenical gatherings (and yes, no matter how much tea and lace and crumpets, it is crass) is that, at least with what is presented of these meetings for public consumption, the hard facts that get in the way of the euphoric, urgent, union-is-just-around-the-corner metanarrative rarely seem to make it beyond "fine-print"-speak or the occasional tangent. It would seem to me that in an honest dialogue would involve as much public and forthright discussion of what divides us as it does those things we supposedly have in common. That said, I have to say that I appreciate that +Jonah at very least says some "hard" things that one rarely publicly hears coming out of the mouths of hierarchs involved in these sorts of meetings.

I have another worry about the ACNA. Many of the groups within the ACNA are made up of a lot of folks who stayed in ECUSA through WO, Spong, and outright heresy and left only after an openly homosexual bishop was ordained. The ethos of the ACNA is not traditional. It is not catholic. It is white, middle class Republican - Dobson in vestments. It is moralist. Heck, these folks promote on their own website the fact that they are "conservative" and "biblical" on the issue of homosexuality. Their ecclesial identity is tied up in the fact that they reject the Church blessing homosexual unions. Friends, that may be correct but it does not have staying power, and it does not necessarily make a person or group somehow a more significant candidate for communion with Rome or Orthodoxy than another person or group. To pursue them on the basis of their manner of conservatism is the sort of demographic association seeking that political parties make use of, but going after particular religious groups because of their cultural conservatism strikes me as a rather repugnant form of evangelism. It reeks of that peculiar pathetic display of religious forms that feel increasingly isolated culturally and so desperately want a few more friends on the playground of culture.
-Owen the Ochlophobist throwing a little cold water on the current enthusiasm for ecumenical talks with conservative Anglicans. I encourage everyone to read his post carefully. It has more than a few solid points.


James the Thickheaded said...

I'd also, to be fair and in context, suggest reading Owen's very first couple of blog posts from way back. There isn't much appreciation for things Anglican there... in fact a rather deep seated discomfort that is worth being aware of. He is not alone in this discomfort. And certainly this is not meant to suggest disqualifying his remarks... only that full disclosure is full disclosure. IMHO, much of what he says is spot on...to a point as Owen would perhaps expect and fairly suggest. Note that broad generalizations remain broad generalizations. Rhettoric often requires that we make use of short hand that well... for a congregational church unschooled in its own faith... may tend to come off a tad uncharitable and seem overly harsh when in fact my suspicion is a decision to prefer to err in cold clarity rather than maintain some mushy warm and fuzzy.

FWIW, my reading over the years is that Prof. William Tighe - though I believe an Eastern Catholic - is a better scholar of these particular things... things Anglican... and a voice I'd especially look forward to hearing. I'm not sure he'd differ one iota from Owen... but it would make an interesting follow-up.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think Dr. Tighe posted a comment on Owen's blog post.


justin said...

I can understand the questioning of what +Jonah could or should expect for his efforts and the cautious pessimism. But I also think that both sides are doing a great service by having these open dialogs, regardless of the likelihood of a mass entrance of Anglicans into Orthodoxy.

Despite the position of Anglicanism as a bridge of sorts between Protestantism and catholic Christianity, many of its member remain uniformed about the teachings of the historic church. When they see their leaders engaging with the claims and teachings of Orthodoxy, they are able to make more informed decisions - both individually and corporately.

Obviously the danger, especially to an organization like the ACNA that is perceived to be somewhat fragile already, is that some individuals, parishes, and/or larger constituent entities would find the Orthodox claims persuasive, and would therefore leave the ACNA to become Orthodox. While this is problematic for the stability of the ACNA, the alternative is neither better nor a responsible option.

The other advantage to the ACNA of entering into these dialogs is that their members who are catholicly inclined, so to speak, but also prefer the comfort of the familiar, may be satisfied that although they are not "yet" united with the historic Church, the process is under way. This could actually have a calming effect, regardless of any actual movement.

Fr. J. said...

I am not sure if Owen is reacting more to Benedict's move or to the St. Vladimir conference. These are two very different things entirely. Benedict has responded with generosity to a number of extraordinary and urgent pleas. Met. Jonah is actively courting Anglicans and soft pedaling Orthodoxy by papering over all the various difficulties that come with becoming Orthodox.

By contrast, everyone knows what becoming Catholic entails. It's all written down. There are no secrets. There are sacrifices aplenty to be made on the way to Rome. And good. There ought to be.

It is interesting to me that the Orthodox always sell themselves to Protestants by assuring them of all the things they still wont have to believe. The Catholic Church sets a high bar and does not make coming home an easy matter.

I dont think that Rome has acted hastily, or has done anything to "pursue" these Anglicans. It is they who have pursued Rome.

If Owen is criticizing the hardsell, it could only be directed to the East.

Carolyn Schuk said...

The reason the Eastern Orthodox church won't, as you say, beat Rome at the church unity game is that, quite frankly, Orthodoxy is so condescending and full of itself that few not born into it can find a home there -- as Owen the Ochlophobist (whatever that means back here on earth) illustrates so effectively.

I parted way with the Anglican church when it abandoned the traditional Book of Common Prayer, one of the jewels of the English language. I personally have no objection to ordaining women -- if God wants women priests, he'll have them. Plus, I don't find anything in the Bible instructing me to pass judgement on other people's lives --quite the contrary. My objection to Gene Robinson is that someone who leaves his family to "find himself" -- regardless of whether it's in the Fruit of the Loom with the last of the red hot lovers or in selfless service to a leper colony -- is hardly an example of loving his neighbor as he loves himself.

For nearly 15 years I've been a member of a Roman Catholic church and choir dedicated to the Latin church's liturgical and musical patrimony -- Latin liturgy, Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. Needless to say, I'm delighted by the Pope's message today. And I am not a Republican, and I loathe James Dobson and the rest of the commandants and con men of the Religious Right.

Chris Jones said...

Orthodoxy is so condescending and full of itself that few not born into it can find a home there

Oh, please. And Rome is neither condescending nor full of itself?

"for every human creature it is necessary for salvation to be subject to the authority of the Roman pontiff" is not "full of itself"? "Absolutely null and utterly void" is not condescending?

It takes a certain chutzpah to come onto an Orthodox blog and insult the Orthodox Church in such terms.

Sub Deacon David said...

And I thought the call of Christ was to love our enemies and not "loathe" them. Perhaps I was mistaken.

William Tighe said...


Yuo wrote:

"I personally have no objection to ordaining women -- if God wants women priests, he'll have them."

How can you write such stuff a sa Catholic? Pope John Paul II, in his motu proprio "Ordination Sacerdotalis" of 1994, declared quite explicitly that the Church "has not the competence" to ordain women to the priesthood, and a later statement of the CDF's head, Cardinal Ratzinger, added that the pope's declaration was a formal declaration that the Catholic Church's teaching on the subject was "irreformable" (unchangeable).

You yourself seem to take a different view than that of the Catholic Church, for as a Catholic you ought to have the same "objection" to WO that I hope you have to abortion or to
SS (homosexual sodomy masquerading as "marriage"). It is not a subject on which Catholics are free to have "no objection."

bob said...

There's certainly everything crass about ecumenical meetings. However, the ones Met. Jonah has recently attended are unusual in that he speaks directly. That is unique. I'm very glad to see it. Unity is never "Just around the corner" en mass, but can always be one at a time which is usually the way people become Orthodox or anything else; the congregational conversions that sometimes happen seem to be pretty risky things. it'll take time to see how things pan out. I hope the Orthodox are up to the task of receiving people as the convert bishops and clergy *can* sometimes be an obstacle to people. That is, you find a generation of clergy trained by Fr. Schmemann being eclipsed by younger ones who need to be more Russian than thou and close altar doors that have been open for decades and go back to silent liturgies. This is worth losing as quickly as possible. Start on the west coast.

The Ochlophobist said...

Fr. J,

If Owen is criticizing the hardsell, it could only be directed to the East.

That was my intent.

I used the Rome incident to dwell upon Orthodox issues. I wish that I had made more clear that the two should not be confused.

Anonymous said...

The Ochlophobist also brings up a point that has not been addressed at all by the cheerleaders for the OCA's outreach to the ACNA and its "COVENANT Partnership" with the Episcopal Church's Nashotah House, namely, the vast majority of so-called "traditional Anglicans" represented in these bodies are evangelicals.

It is assumed by many cheerleaders that the Anglo-Catholics are the most conservative, i.e. nearer-to-Orthodox of those that make up "traditional Anglicans" but a friend of mine who belongs to an ACNA parish (a major player in this movement) in the Washington, DC area tells another story. His ACNA parish is not only evangelical, but it is "charismatic" (e.g. speaking in tongues Pentecostal style)! Whilst the Anglo-Catholic parishes in the area are more traditional in their liturgical worship (smells and bells and beautiful singing), these parishes are also known as the gathering places for the homosexual Episcopalians in the DC area and are therefore "liberal" and not part of the ACNA.

I don't have any idea whether the same sort of scenario applies to other Episcopal dioceses in America, but the OCA needs to be careful not to assume that style equals substance, i.e. "traditional " Anglo-Catholic equals more orthodox.