Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Roman Catholic monk writes about the Episcopalians

Via T-19
Brother Stephen (a Cistercian monastic) has written what I believe is one of the better essays on the the current situation in the Episcopal Church. I encourage the reader to visit his blog, which unfortunately does not allow comments.

I suppose I should say a word about the recent General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Anaheim. And that word would have to be “Bully for you!”

Why, you might ask would, a Roman Catholic monk and former Anglo-Catholic say that? I say it because strains of Anglicanism as old as Cranmer and the Enlightenment are moving the American Province of the Anglican Communion toward a clarity of identity and mission previously unknown in the Episcopal Church. Since her election at the last General Convention, the Presiding Bishop has consistently articulated her vision for the Episcopal Church in the 21st Century and, as of this month, she and others have moved TEC a step closer to consensus around that vision. It is not the outcome I spent many years praying for, but, at long last, the stalemate has been broken and a decisive victory won.

Anglican traditionalists and sympathetic outside observers cast these developments as a story of departure and betrayal, but to understand what is happening, I think it is important to look through the eyes of many of the deputies at Anaheim, who see the events there as progress toward long cherished goals. Before I was a Roman Catholic or even an Anglo-Catholic, I was once just such an Episcopalian. Maybe I can still explain to those who have never lived in this world what a progressive Episcopalian sees, because it is very important to understand that these folks aren’t cardboard cutouts. They’re mostly bright, thoughtful, conscientious, and likable people who happen to hold a worldview that is drastically different than that held by most Roman Catholics who read this blog.

From the time of the Elizabethan Settlement, there have been a large number of formidable broad church thinkers who have believed that Anglicanism is a Reformed tradition, confident that in the Anglican via media, unfortunate doctrinal and disciplinary accretions have been stripped away and that God-given reason gives men and women the competence to confront and engage with changing circumstances in every generation. These reappraisers, to use the term coined by Kendal Harmon, grounded in the classic Protestant heritage and the confidence of the Enlightenment, at last have a church that speaks largely with their voice and is able to move proactively.

Glancing at the news stories yesterday and today, it is clear that sex dominated the headlines—after all, it’ sex—but I think the resolutions dealing with ecumenical and interfaith relations are much more significant for seeing where Episcopalians are moving.

Resolutions were reaffirmed or approved that allow sharing of the Eucharist with Methodists and Presbyterians. When full communion was reached with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 12 years ago, it was with the understanding that, over time, the Lutherans would adopt apostolic succession through the presence of Episcopal bishops at its consecrations and irregularities in orders would be overlooked in the meantime. This is never likely to be the case with these two bodies. In effect, the Episcopal Church, its load lightened by the departure of the last large blocks of Anglo-Catholics, is free to adopt a sacramental theology consummate with the theology of its own Articles of Religion and the theological orientation of a majority of its current members. The bonds of charity—and I mean this genuinely—prevented rapid moves in these directions when there were larger, vocal numbers of traditionalists. Today this is no longer the case. A Catholic (and I here mean capital “C” as in Roman Catholic) understanding of the sacramental priesthood has been set aside in favor of a contemporary ecumenist’s understanding of the nature of church order built on a familiarly Anglican interpretation of a patristic frame. Seemingly archaic and divisive theological nuances—fights of centuries long past—need no longer trump what is seen to be the larger good of Christian unity.

A second statement on interfaith relations significantly presents the idea of salvation through Christ in terms that are intended to be more palatable to dialogue partners of other faiths. Here again, the idea of unity in the service of love overrides dogmas that divide.

For as long as traditional Anglicans—a broad term encompassing many agendas—have mourned what they see as apostasy, broad church progressives have chafed at what they see as the alien incursions of the Evangelical movement and the Catholic revival inhibiting and retarding the theological developments of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. The current positions of the Episcopal Church on a variety of issues and its evolving self-understanding have clear antecedents in the ground laid by Hooker, the 18th Century deists, F.D. Maurice, Percy Dearmer, and William Temple to name a few. These names may not be familiar to non Anglicans, but they represent some of the most distinctive and respected Anglican theological thinking of the last century in particular.

Roman Catholics believe that at the heart of the church there is the Deposit of Faith—a collection of divinely revealed and unchanging truths that stand beyond the tides of culture. We believe in the limits of human reasoning and in original sin that muddles our desires and impulses. Anglicanism has never had an agreed upon locus for core dogma perhaps beyond the statement in the Articles of Religion that, “the Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary for salvation.” It is a tradition profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment’s optimism about man’s power to discover truth. And, as for original sin, Pelagianism, which is the repudiation of the idea of original sin, was always also known as the English heresy.

Anglicans have increasingly emphasized that “God saw the world and it was good” and have, following Temple, adopted and incarnational theology stressing that creation was hallowed a second time when the word was made flesh. In short, the recent General Convention did little more than take a few more steps forward in embracing an essentially Anglican and essentially optimistic view of the human condition. To see Anaheim as a tipping point or a radical break is to ignore the good-faith efforts of many people over more than two centuries. Instead, the promise in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s Baptismal Covenant to “respect the dignity of every human person” has, at last, completed its slow march to become the de facto core doctrine of the Episcopal Church.

Read the rest at the source. (It gets better.)

1 comment:

Dcn. Carlos Miranda said...

This is the perfect time to begin the restoration of the western Orthodox church that most Anglo-Catholics embrace; who will lead the way?