Saturday, September 19, 2009

Anglicans and Councils

Perhaps it should go without saying that the Anglican Communion has a mixed history with the seven ecumenical councils. Like the Orthodox, Anglicans cannot accept Rome’s reduction of “ecumenical council” to mean a general synod called by the pope. Yet I suspect that most Anglicans — including many who call themselves Anglo-Catholics — remain deeply suspicious of claims to “infallibility” about councils, even when, regarding the seven, such a notion is held consistently in both East and West.

This suspicion is unfortunate—or so I hope to show in this brief essay. It is unfortunate first of all because it ignores the grammar implicit in calling something an ecumenical council. A council becomes ecumenical not because, crudely, everybody was there, but because it was eventually received as having proper dogmatic authority in the whole world. (Paragraph 68 of the Windsor Report admits as much.) The trouble with this simple definition is, as is probably apparent, the constitution of the oikoumene, since the “whole Church” that accepted Chalcedondid not include some of the Eastern churches, just as the “whole Church” that accepted Vatican I did not include any of the Eastern churches. So much for the perspicuity of the vocabulary.

What any conception of “ecumenical” takes for granted, then, is that in order to call something ecumenical one must be part of the Church. It is the Church itself, as the Body of Christ, that reveals its wholeness, not some external secular principle. Accordingly, we cannot seek to judge the councils from some neutral ground. That, in Vladimir Lossky’s words, “would be to judge Christianity from a non-Christian standpoint: in other words, to refuse in advance to understand anything whatever about the object of study. For objectivity in no wise consists in taking one’s stand outside an object but, on the contrary, in considering one’s object in itself and by itself” (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976], 12).
Read the rest here.
Hat tip T-19


The Archer of the Forest said...

Sadly, I think this is more likely than not. I know several Anglican churches (granted they be Anglican churches who would proudly define themselves as Protestant straight up) that openly reject the Creeds and Councils. There are some that go so far as to not even use the Creeds in the main Sunday liturgy. Belief in the creeds is largely viewed as optional or tangential to Christian belief. (For reference, I direct you to the writings of one Bishop Spong, who in his various and sundry writings systematically denies every part of the received truth found in the Ecumenical creeds.)

I would take a bit of an issue with saying that Anglo-catholics like myself reject or have issues with the ecumenical nature (the correct definition this article gives for it) of the 7 Councils. On the contrary, many of us believe they are essential if we are to have any legitimate claim to being part of the Holy Catholic Church.

This is one of the reasons why Anglo-catholics within the Anglican Communion are contemplating leaving (or have already) left for Rome or Orthodoxy. When we get to the point where the church openly supports heretical "blowing off" of the creeds in the name of theological diversity, then Anglo-catholics have to come to one of two mental justifications. Either that Anglicanism has chosen to irrevocably sever its ties to the Catholic faith, or else do some form of mental gymnastics to justify how we are in any sense of the term still a conciliar church with any sort of claim to the Holy Catholic faith.

Dcn. Carlos Miranda said...

Anglicans come various flavors, but how these flavors live together is unexplainable. We have the primary flavor throughout the world which is Anglo-Catholic; yet, Anglo-catholics come in three kinds: Orhtodox, Papaist, & liberal. Then we have the Evangelical flavor; these also come in 2 flavors: either Calvinistic, or Charismatic. To top off the mix we have the liberals, they come in as many different styles as one can conceive. The whole communion is made up of multiple religions, united by similar liturgies and ecclesial governments.

I for one am convinced that we have arrived at a point in history when the groups will no longer choose to live together. I am equally convinced that if it were possible to enter into communion with the Orthodox Church as an Anglican branch, or a Western Orthodox branch of Orthodoxy, there would be a flood of Anglo-Catholics into Orthodoxy. Rome has a Byzantine Catholic order that works this way. How wonderful it would be if Orthodoxy had something like that to offer the Anglo-Catholics who hold to the truth and practice of Holy Orthodoxy.

Grace & Peace

William Tighe said...

If I may make a historical comment or two, (1) the reason why Anglicans have traditionally held the first four ecumenical councils to be more important than the rest is because, when the final break with Rome happened in 1559, one of the Acts of Parliament that effected this break(at the same time that these bills were going through Parliament, the Convocation of Canterbury, the nearest thing that the Church of England had at the time to an organ of self-expression, rejected both rejected in advance the Royal Supremacy and upheld Papal Supremact; it was ignored) declared that in the future only that was to be held to be heresy which contradicted the determinations of the firt four general councils, or what Parliament should hereafter declare to be heresy; (2) that the fifth and sixth councils seem largely to have been ignored rather than rejected in the post-Reformation Church of England, although some Anglican divines, like Lancelot Andrewes, held them to be "workings out" of Chalcedon; (3) John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury 1560-171 and one of the most influential Elizabethan divines, rejecte the Seventh Council with contempt, as upholding and mandating idolatry, and in this he had many followers. The "Homily on the Peril of Idolatry" which was authorized to be read in churches by ministers who wwere unable to preach, roundly condemned all iconographic depictions of Christ, angels and saints. Even some later "high-churchmen" shared this view. John Johnson of Cranbrooke (1662-1723), whose *The Unbloody Offering and Sacrifice Unvail'd and Defended* (1713) upheld a somewhat eccentric view of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, insisted that the iconoclastic Council of Hiereia of 754 better deserved the title of the seventh orthodox council than did Nicaea II; (3) the best modern "Catholic Anglican" defense of the Seventh Council, C. B. Moss's *The Church of England and the Seventh Council* (1957), while it defends Nicaea II and advocates that the Church of England indicate its acceptance of its conclusions, asserts the "right" of the Church of England to accept or reject the decrees of any ecumenical council on its own authority.

There are, moreover, numerous Evangelical Anglicans who to this day reject the title "Theotokos" and "Mother of God;" I myself have seen this in the English quarterly *Churchman,* and the fact that this title was "dogmatized" by the Fourth Council cuts no ice with them at all.

sam said...

Archer, I'm not saying that Anglo-Catholics reject the authority of the councils; but I've met several who equate any language of "infallibility" with Vatican I terms, and so have a knee-jerk reaction to it.

Dr Tighe's historical notes are very helpful. (I wish I could have included more in this piece but it had to be short for publication.) I'd add, on the subject of Theotokos, an anecdote from Lambeth 2008. After Cardinal Dias' presentation to the bishops (available here), one bishop asked, "Do you think Anglicans can call Mary 'Mother of God'?" I think that the question was asked more in ignorance of church history than in heretical theology, but Cardinal Dias was clearly a little surprised, as were many other bishops in the room. It was, to me, a prime example of the way that evangelical Anglicanism has marginalized the ecumenical tradition.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Fr. Carlos,

I would agree wholeheartedly if Orthodoxy could create some legitimate form of an Anglican Rite Orthodox liturgy/eparchy like the Catholic church has with various groups, I think the Anglo-catholics like myself who are a bit gun shy of Anglo-papists would eat that up.

Nikolaus said...

How is it possible to contemplate an Angliccan Rite or Western Orthodoxy for even the briefest moment when the Church can't even address its existing American jurisdictions?

Anonymous said...

It would be very kind if you could post a link to our blog on your blog:

God bless you!

St. Conleth's CHA

Chris Jones said...

if it were possible to enter into communion with the Orthodox Church as an Anglican branch, or a Western Orthodox branch of Orthodoxy ...

Of course, there is such a thing as "Western Orthodoxy" (mostly in English-speaking countries), within which the Anglo-Catholic liturgical tradition is respected. But despite what one might think, there has not been "a flood" of Anglo-Catholics into Orthodoxy. Not that there have not been many A-Cs who have become Orthodox; there have been, but they are more likely to join regular Byzantine-rite Orthodox parishes than to form Western-Rite parishes, even in jurisdictions (Antiocn, ROCOR) that have a Western-Rite option available.

In my opinion -- not an uninformed one, given that I am a cradle Anglo-Catholic and sometime Orthodox, both Eastern and Western Rite -- it is not the availability (or not) of an Anglican-style liturgy that is a barrier to Anglicans becoming Orthodox. It is the fact that Orthodoxy requires a uniformity of confession and a high degree of obedience to the bishop, while Anglo-Catholics are used to "doing their own thing" both doctrinally and liturgically, either ignoring or outright defying their bishops. That is not the Orthodox way.

Dcn. Carlos Miranda said...


It seems to me that there is a difference between becoming a Western rite Orthodox Christian, and the formation of a Western Orthodox Church. I have been looking into the Western rite, & the most part it seems to be an anomaly within Orthodoxy, and most Orthodox seem to have serious concerns about it. What I believe would really open the door for Anglicans who are Orthodox, would be the equivalent to the Byzantine Catholic church but in reverse; a Western Orthodox Church. Wikipedia explains the Eastern Catholics this way:

The Eastern Catholic Churches are autonomous particular Churches in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. They preserve the centuries-old liturgical and devotional traditions of the various Eastern Christian Churches with which they are associated historically. While doctrinal differences divide these other Eastern Christian Churches, the Eastern Catholic Churches are united in doctrine with each other and with the Latin or Western Church, although they vary in theological emphasis, forms of liturgical worship and popular piety, canonical discipline and terminology. In particular, they recognize the central role of the Bishop of Rome within the College of Bishops.

If there were to be a western Orthodox Church, made up of autonomous particular Churches in full communion with the hierarchy of worldwide Orthodoxy; allowed to preserve the centuries-old liturgical and devotional traditions of the various western Christian Churches, yet united in doctrine with each other and with the Orthodox Church, then we would have the kind of Orthodoxy that would be inviting to most, if not all Anglo-Catholics.

Can this happen? I believe it can! Is the Orthodox world ready for such a thing? I truly don’t know. In any case, I believe that anything short of this will prevent Anglo-Catholics from making the jump to Orthodoxy in any significant numbers.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Carlos,

A "Western Orthodox Church" such as you describe -- an autonomous Church alongside other Orthodox Churches on the same territory -- would be inconsistent with the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. In principle, there should never be more than one distinct Church in the same place. The current multiplicity of Orthodox jurisdictions in the so-called "diaspora" is uncanonical and hopefully temporary (though for the Orthodox a "temporary" situation means that it only lasts for a small number of centuries). But to set up a "second Church" deliberately and intentionally would make no sense.

Even if such a thing were possible I do not think that it is necessary. Anglo-Catholics are accustomed to being a liturgical anomaly within a larger Church body. Being "western" within a largely eastern body is no more strange than being "Catholic" within a largely Protestant body. Less strange, if you ask me.

William Tighe said...

also, to add to Chris Jones's remarks, to ser up a "Western Orthodox Church" as hypothecated, would be "uniatism," clear and simple. History has its ironies, but that would be a considerable one.

Dcn. Carlos Miranda said...


While the set up I suggest may indeed be a temporary one (several centuries), I do believe it can be an effective way to begin to reunite the Orthodox in the east and in the west into a kind of body that can in due time be in accord with the Orthodox principle of ecclesiology.

Most Anglo-Catholics I know are indeed Orthodox (big O), & they greatly desire unity with the catholic church (little c), however, they equally love their spiritual heritage that dates back to the first millenium of the British Isles. Coming under a Russian, Greek, or Antiochian rule is not high on the list of goals precisely bcause it is foreign to their Anglo-Catholic heritage. In the structure I proposed, I believe that both east and west could live together & grow much closer than at present, and eventually be able to have the fullness of communion we all dream of.

Nashotah House is hosting a conference next month on Orthodox-Anglican unity. Met. Jonah will be there, along with others of consequence. I have high hopes for this event, and I ask your prayers for its outcome.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Since we are on the topic of various Orthodox jurisdictions and there appear to be people here in the know, can I ask a question?

I have often been baffled by this element of American Orthodoxy. There are so many branched of Orthodoxy in this country, how do they inter relate? Are they all in Communion with each other? Can a priest switch jurisdictions? I have never understood how the various branches relate.

As I understand it, the Communist takeover in Russia made the Patriarch of Russia suspect, and so Orthodoxy reverted to various groupings along ethnic lines. Is this accurate? Perhaps someone would be kind enough to give me a coherent answer.

Chris Jones said...


Perhaps someone would be kind enough to give me a coherent answer.

It is hard to give a coherent answer about an incoherent situation. If you are "baffled," you are in good company.

In any case, as you might suspect, it would be impossible to give your question an adequate answer within the scope of a weblog comment-box. I can only give the briefest of sketches.

In historically Orthodox lands (Greece, Russia, etc.) there is only one Orthodox Church in each place. There are no "branches." The Church in one place is administratively independent from the Orthodox Churches in other places, but all of these Churches are in full communion with one another, and have the same faith and practice.

Outside of historically Orthodox countries, the situation is quite different. There are multiple Orthodox Churches in the same territory, organized (mostly) along ethnic lines. These distinct Churches originated as foreign exarchates ("overseas branches") of one or the other of the old-world Orthodox Churches. Many of them continue to exist as exarchates, administratively subordinate to their old-world "mother Churches," though some of them have become independent or autonomous to one degree or another. As exarchates, the purpose of these Churches is less to evangelize in their Western countries or to proselytize the non-Orthodox, than simply to provide for the spiritual needs of Orthodox immigrants to the West from their respective countries.

In general, the Orthodox jurisdictions in America are all in communion with one another, because the mother Churches to which they belong are all in communion with one another. A priest (or even, sometimes, a whole parish) can switch jurisdictions, although it does not happen often. A priest who goes to a new jurisdiction must have a canonical release from his bishop in the old jurisdiction and be received by the bishop in the new jurisdiction.

As I understand it, the Communist takeover in Russia made the Patriarch of Russia suspect, and so Orthodoxy reverted to various groupings along ethnic lines. Is this accurate?

This is a point of considerable uncertainty and controversy even now in American Orthodoxy. The Revolution in Russia upset the apple-cart of American Orthodoxy considerably, but the situation was a good deal more complicated than your summary would suggest.

It is true that the hierarchy of the Russian Church was viewed with great suspicion by many emigré Russians, and that was a cause of division among Russian Orthodox in the West in the twentieth century (a division now thankfully mostly healed). But more momentous for all Orthodox in America (not just Russian) was not the politics of the Church back in Russia, but the fact that the fall of the Czar meant the end of financial support from Russia for the Orthodox Church here in America. This increased (though it did not start) the tendency of ethnic Orthodox to appeal to their mother Churches back home to send clergy to minister to them, rather than to depend on the existing Russian diocese in America.

As I say, this can only be the briefest of sketches. At every point that I have touched upon there are fuller explanations, nuances, exceptions, and points in controversy that I simply cannot treat in such a small compass; and I have tried simply to present the facts of the case, without analysis from either an historical or ecclesiological perspective.

If you are interested in probing deeper into the historical aspect of your question, I can recommend the website of the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas for more in-depth information.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Thank you, that's quite helpful. I am glad to know I am not the only one befuddled by the structures of Orthodoxy in America.