"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Church of England chooses the way of Protestantism

The vote Monday night by the General Synod of the Church of England to permit the consecration of women as bishops means that the Church of England, as an institution, has made its choice, toward the way of Protestantism, and away from reunion with the Catholic Church. This comes one day after the Telegraph's story of Anglican bishops in a secret Vatican summit.

Fr. Longenecker is right when he says

Large scale ecumenism with the Catholic Church is definitely over. There's no point talking with the Anglican Communion. They spit in our face every time. Furthermore, there is no way a unified body could be identified to talk with even if we wanted to. Ecumenism will now be with individuals and smaller groups. Finally, the other thing that is certain is that the fuss in Anglicanism will bring a good number of people to the banks of the Tiber, and for that we should rejoice and continue to pray.

What exactly is happening? A separation is happening, as is quite clear. What principally characterizes the two sides? The essence of the position of the 'liberal' side is what is called 'modernism', which Pascendi Dominici Gregis condemned one hundred years ago. The Catholic encyclopedia entry defines 'modernism' as "the critique of our supernatural knowledge according to the false postulates of contemporary philosophy". The fundamental error of modernism is that it raises human reason above divine revelation. Thus, its fundamental error is a form of the chief of the seven deadly sins, the one through which Satan himself fell, pride. Faith and pride are immiscible, for the former is a trust in God, and the latter is a distrust in God and a trust in oneself.

In contrast to the 'liberal' side, the essence of the position of the 'traditional' side is a subordination of human reason to divine revelation.

Those who subject divine revelation to human reason cannot be truly united to those who subject human reason to divine revelation. "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Cor 6:14) Hence, wherever such persons are mixed together, they will necessarily eventually separate, as oil naturally separates from water. And that is what is happening with Anglicanism.

I believe that this fundamental separation will continue to take place all over the world, as I have argued in a little essay titled "On The Imminent and Final Conflict between the City of God and the City of Man", which I wrote in April/May of last year. [Of all that I have written on this blog, I believe that that and "The Gnostic Roots of Heresy" are the two most important (insofar as anything I have written here is important), for they describe the end and the beginning, respectively, of the story of unity and disunity.] The good ecumenical news out of this Anglican split is that those who subordinate human reason to divine revelation are, in a way, now more free to pursue reconciliation and reunion with the Catholic Church. It is among those persons who subordinate human reason to divine revelation, no matter what their Christian tradition, that ecumenical activity is and will be most fruitful, for such persons have the most important thing in common, i.e. humility before God and divine revelation. That is why I hope and expect to see a continued reconciliation between traditional Anglicans and the Catholic Church.

Two related articles on the prospects of traditional Anglicans reuniting with the Catholic Church are: "Anglicans to Catholics: Ready or Not, Here we Come" and "Church of England bishops coming home to Rome?"

Let us continue to pray for "the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers".

UPDATE (July 8): Two Anglican bishops seek to lead traditional Anglicans to reconciliation with the Catholic Church. (See here) Fr. Longenecker comments on this development here. Taylor Marshall comments here.


Joseph said...

The sides are visibly coalescing. The Church and all the bodies that make up the anti-Church (the twisted mirror image). There are clear and definite moves to unity towards the Church and clear, definite, and obstinate moves away from the Church at the same time, yet at the same time making the claim to be the Church.

We stand on the precipice, the final battle may be at hand. Come, Lord Jesus.

Eric Telfer said...

Individuals, I suspect, will go one of two ways, up the ladder or down the ladder. That is, to Rome (up the ladder) or to some form of Protestantism that does not at this time permit female ordination, some less historical Protestant type. Or, some may go further down the ladder and choose a form of Lone Ranger Christianity, where the individual remains a Christian in some sense, but rejects all organized groups at least in some sense which the individual judges to be strong enough to prevent full unity with any particular group, though not necessarily worship with that group. For some are still willing to worship with groups with whom they disagree on this or that point, which means that we have a lot of Lone Ranger Christians who are still willing to go to this or that church for the worship, but not willing to be unified with any particular group fully, putting their own doctrinal conclusions above the conclusions of any particular organization.

Barrett Turner said...

I doubt that committed Anglicans will "go further down the ladder" and become ecclesiastical buckaroos since they're accustomed to liturgical worship and (most) to weekly communion. That's hard to break As for becoming "less historical" Protestants, do you mean non-denominational evangelical or Lutheran/Reformed/Presbyterian? I see both groups as more or less "historical" since they exist in time. You may be using the word "historical" to connote some normative idea and I just don't know what that is. Lutherans have just as much claim to being "historical" as Anglicans, for example. I suppose the Reformed and Presbyterians would be one rung down on the "historical" ladder. Please clarify what you mean by "historical." Would liberal Protestants be more historical than conservative ones? I don't understand.

Eric Telfer said...

Hello Barrett,

My comments employing the ladder metaphor were mostly focused on some of the obvious *possibilities*, not so much on the probabilities of this or that move. I agree that some are unlikely to make the move you describe. With that said, disagreement can 'cut deeply' for some and with respect to some matters, such that we could reasonably imagine some not ever going to church again, moving to an largely different style of worship, etc. Of course, as you implied, an evaluation of this or that move and its likelihood would depend, in part, on the level of commitment, with your comment applying to 'committed Anglicans', whereas we might also include those who are less than fully committed prior to this or that positional change.

Regarding the use of the term 'historical', it is certainly true that each and every group has a history and is rooted in time. In as much as there are general distinctions to be made between certain Protestant groups in terms of history or level of formality, people sometimes attempt to make the distinction with terms like 'historical', 'main-line', 'liturgical', 'traditional','high-level', 'high-order', 'more historically rooted', etc., denoting some difference between older and younger, more or less liturgical, more or less directly associated with Reformation times. Some also have in mind whether the group at hand broke from the Catholic Church itself or relatively soon after the Reformation, as opposed to groups that are clearly recent developments or distal branches within Protestant circles, breaking from other Protestant churches. I agree that the term 'historical' leaves a lot to be desired as used in trying to make a distinction such as this, with both the term and the idea behind the distinction both being somewhat ambiguous, at least in common usage, especially informal usage. I think that other terms can also be questioned in the way you have wondered about the term 'historical'. All of these terms fail to convey, in themselves, what is probably meant, and, again, the types of questions you raise regarding the use of the term 'historical' here could be raised with respect to these other terms as well. This is because the employment of these terms largely has to do with attempting to make a distinction in a short-hand sort of way, hoping that the reader will take the necessary steps to bridge any gaps that the term itself might leave. Further, there are probably many things that are oftentimes being lumped together when most people use the terms, i.e., proximally rooted in Reformation times, more liturgical, etc. I have not yet appreciated a single term to make the distinction in short order and there are a great many senses in which a distinction cannot be made (or should not be made). Moreover, to end, I would add that when making *general* distinctions between Protestant groups, short of mere label distinctions or name-based distinctions, it is difficult to find great terms to use because there are so many different Protestant groups and so much variety within Protestantism. Exceptions to any particular attempt to cleanly categorize the various groups into clear-cut categories tends to be the rule. For these reasons, it may be best to use any such term in quotation marks, as I have done before but did not do in the quick, informal note posted here.