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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Episcopal bishop takes a $75,000 pay cut to become Catholic

Dr. Jeffrey Steenson
The National Post story is here. His "The Causes For My Becoming Catholic" is a must-read; I can't emphasize that enough given the conversations I have had with many of you who are regular readers of this blog. Here are some excerpts:

It all begins with the conviction that the Catholic Church simply is. She is not one option amongst many. People who become alienated from their own churches will sometimes think that the next step is to go down to the marketplace and see what is on offer: which church is going to give me the best deal? Those people seldom find the Catholic Church because they have missed the essential point – the fullness of Christ's blessings is not distributed across the ecclesial landscape but flows from the one Church. "The one Church of Christ, as a society constituted and organized in the world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him." This is the ecclesiological North Star. On the other hand, Anglicanism’s branch theory of Catholicism cannot be located on the map because it is a utopia, ou topos, a place of nonexistence. This is a difficult truth, but the idea that Catholic Anglicanism exists sui generis is an illusion that must be let go of in order to experience the fullness of Catholic life. Many Anglicans have intuited this, but it is hard to overcome the notion we were taught, that Catholicism is simply the sum of all the Christian churches, kath’holos, according to the whole. The Catholic Church has a different understanding: "Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome, which presides in charity.'"

Anglicanism has for the last quarter century proceeded quite intentionally from the principle that truth not only is discerned primarily in the experience of the Christian community but also that the community itself has priority over truth. This approach has produced a very meager and inconsequential harvest, and the great legacy of Anglican theological scholarship has been lost. The contrast with the Catholic mind is striking. As an Anglican I would take in hand, for instance, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and ask, could my church have produced a work so penetrating and comprehensive? No, it has neither the capacity nor the confidence to speak its mind in such a way. Why? Because it has deliberately cut itself off from the tradition.

How could an individual person hope to comprehend and understand everything that the Catholic Church teaches? To think that one must do so before giving assent is a very Protestant exercise of private judgment. People come to the Catholic Church not because they have worked out every point of doctrine but because they trust that what the Church teaches is true. This is no blind act of faith but the conviction that the Church of Rome is the principal witness to the apostolic tradition. The early Church Fathers were very much aware of the unique vocation of the Bishop of Rome to speak with the voice of Peter in matters of faith.

And lastly:

It is no small matter to be taken to the woodshed by the Vicar of Christ at a carefully organized ecumenical event, and it demonstrates how seriously the Pope regards the disintegration of Anglicanism as a communion.


Ann said...

He still receives his very substantial pension from his days as an Episcopal priest and bishop.

Eric Telfer said...

As Bryan has pointed out, (1) one can employ private judgment and try to determine every issue from Scripture, comparing the different groups to decide who one agrees with, or (2) one can try to find the apostolic line of authority through a study of (a) biblical and extra-biblical Church history or (b) Bible history or (c) both.
Or, (3) one can do both. I think many do in fact do both, but in the process of doing so realize just how much more significant (2) is, in the end.

But note the deep link between sola scriptura and private judgment in Protestant thinking. And note how this sort of Protestant thinking actually discourages (2a) and (2b), in a sense. Why would a Protestant ever look for an extra-biblical authority? The Bible is the only authority, on that view. Why would a Protestant look out of the Bible and into extra-biblical Church history to find a line of authority? Everything one needs is in the Bible, on that view. I would suggest that Sola Scriptura and private judgment, in the hands of some, are mechanisms intended to keep people from pursuing these matters more broadly. After all, if one really employs it and is true to it, one's odds of finding the line of authority go down tremendously because the line of authority from the Apostles to modern times is not in the Bible, just as the history of the Church between Acts and modern times is not in the Bible. One who sticks only to the Bible to answer all of these extra-biblical matters will have a much more narrow and limited view, which is precisely what Sola Scriptura is about- narrowing and limiting the view, narrowing and limiting the research that can and ought to be done when approaching such issues. If we abandon Sola Scriptura we are abandoning one of the key foundations of Protestantism. Protestantism survives, in part, and gets traction, in part, by being shelled in like this, by being narrow, by making it a rule not to look out of the Bible for any authority or for any answers to any possible dispute, including questions about the Church. This is ironic because we know the Bible had to be canonized and was canonized by the Church and we know the Bible itself points outside itself to the Church, as the pillar and bullwark of truth. This inhibitory rule of Protestantism is intended to keep people from looking for the historical, authoritative Church spoken of in the Bible. Why? Because once you find it, Protestantism is no longer an option because one is no longer left with the Bible alone and no longer left with a need to be trapped in the Bible alone with respect to every issue, and no longer left with a need to practice a religion which ignores or otherwise tries to transcend the visible, authoritative Church that Luther rejected and tried to convince others to no longer look to or for. There was the Church and there was the Bible that the Church canonized. Luther rejected the Church and told everyone to only look so far as the Bible. Some Protestants have been preaching that method ever since. But if you want to know the truth about the Church and about the Bible, you do not have to stop with the Bible or think that you cannot look outside the Bible. Logically, you can look to church history and bible history and to what early Christians were saying and doing. Doing so is a slap in the face of Protestantism, but one must ask why the Protestant wants to enforce that rule, that limited view, and why it is that one should not look at the history of the church and/or the history of the Bible in trying to find the true Church spoken of in the Bible, when in fact we know that the Bible is not a full history of the Church and that it does not answer all questions about Church history or Bible history.

Again, why would the in the know Protestant insist on the narrow view? It is beccause he knows that 'to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant' (paraphrasing from Karl Adams, I think). Chesterton speaks similarly: 'The essential of being a good Protestant is having a bad memory.' He also says: 'Protestants have carefully protected [themselves] from any knowledge of Christian History'. These statements should not be taken too far, but there is truth in both: Protestantism, in part, gets by by ignoring or not knowing about a whole lot of history. It does this, in part, by only looking at the Bible for answers, though I would argue that when it looks at the Bible it has to ignore (or insulate itself from) certain key biblical passages which point to a visible Church with authority and a heirarchical arrangement. But it is easier to do this if one is not also looking at the history, searching for the line of authority. Once one has the Bible open in one hand and the church or bible history book in the other- something pure sola scripturalists would not like- the view is quite a bit different. The dots start to connect. A real, non-abstract Church comes into view that claims authority and that canonized the Bible and that sustained Christianity for nearly 1500 years prior to Luther.


Anonymous said...

I am torn between sadness at the dissolution of this Christian community and joy at the homecoming of so many catholic-minded Anglicans. Thanks for posting Fr. Steenson's paper.