Sunday, May 14, 2006

Anglican and Orthodox Differences in Ecclesiology

I found this helpful statement, which I think captures the heart of the issue, in an article by Fr. John Daly, a former Episcopalian turned Eastern Orthodox. The link is provided below:

"...While we agree that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, we are not agreed on the account to be given of the sinfulness and division which is to be observed in the life of Christian communities. For Anglicans, because the Church under Christ it is the community where God’s grace is at work, healing and transforming sinful men and women; and because grace in the Church is mediated through those who are themselves undergoing such transformation, the struggle between grace and sin is seen as characteristic of, rather than accidental to, the Church on earth. Orthodox while agreeing that the human members of the Church on earth are sinful, do not believe that sinfulness should be ascribed to the Church as the Body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit."

(Problems of Ecclesiology between Anglicans and Orthodox in the Dublin Agreed Statement, 1984. See


Mark said...


I'm still trying to piece all of this together. Are you saying that Anglicanism's "centrifugal" understanding of catholicity, in contradistinction to Orthodoxy's more exclusivistic, "centripetal" definition, is chiefly attributable to the fact that, unlike Orthodoxy, Anglicanism refuses to exempt the Catholic Church from the possibility, at least, of falling into sin and error, and because she accepts the development of doctrine as legitimate?


lexorandi2 said...

As a quick preliminary answer to your question I would have to say yes, that's certainly a great part of it. Recall the earlier thread on the dialogue with Barth and the claim to ecclesial ultimacy. If I'm reading Joseph correctly the "maximal" approach of Rome and Orthodoxy is essentially a claim to ecclesial ultimacy (although in all fairness Rome has since V2 accommodated enough ambiguity in her ecclesiology to be able to admit to varying degrees of catholicity outside of her bounds. With Orthodoxy it is all or nothing.)

Also, I think we have to be careful with how we understand the concept of the development of doctrine. To my way of thinking, doctrine develops in the sense that the same faith "once delivered" is contextualized in every generation, and with each moment of contextualization comes greater maturity and better articulation of the essential of our faith, even (dare I say) new insights.

An Anglican, like myself, can revere St. Athanasius as among the most important, if not the most important, of the formative theologians of the patristic age. But at the same time I suggest that, in some ways, Karl Barth's thought represents a distinct improvement upon Athanasius' thesis. (That's only an opinion, not a pronouncement of course. I think one day the history of doctrine will bear me out though.)

joseph said...

Does your development of doctrine differ from Newmans? If so, how?

lexorandi2 said...

I like Newman's general thesis. Always have. I don't see that I differ from him except in context.

David+ said...

I'm sorry if I am not following all that is being stated or asked here very well, but let me take a stab at it via a question of my own. To run the risk of mixing theological metaphor, Is it not simply that Orthodoxy's exclusivistic vision of THE Church is actually predicated upon or likened to a sort of "positional" sanctification over the all important issue of Apostolic Fellowship? In this way, isn't ecclesial "utimacy" a species of thought tied to the past witness of the Holy Spirit's guidance via ecumenical council and, at the same time, recognizing, or taking account, of the special intimacy of the present earthly Church's relationship with the Church triumphant in heaven and the age to come (both a Pneumatological and deeply eschatological bent)? It reminds me of the debate of those accused of having an "over-realized" eschatology; but rather than see it as an issue of individual and particular sanctification that it is here leveled on ecclesiastical grounds where corporate sanctification is rightly or wrongly understood as claims of ultimacy - or, rather, an Aristotelian sort of 'single end' or 'exlusive teleology'?

Mark said...

You know, after thinking through the ramifications that have arisen in this fascinating discussion, I can see how Anglicanism's "centrifugal" catholicity, which begins with the creed as the non-negotiable heart of catholicity and then reaches out to enclose "different pieties", whose legitimacy is determined on the basis of conformity to the essential catholicity of the creed, is utterly baffling from an EO perspective.

Whatever advantages the centrifugal view may have, it is also conducive of and, thus, directly responsible, for the phenomenon of Anglican "comprehensiveness".( Hence, Anglicanism is, indeed, "a glorious mongrel"; "a many splendid thing" ). In fact, I'd imagine that in terms of Orthodoxy's "centripetal" approach, Anglican catholicity might appear as a "dumbing down" of sorts- since Anglicanism has long and venerable tradition of:

1) Subordinating Apostolic order to Apostolic doctrine.

2) Seeing Apostolic doctrine, in its most concise, essential and doctrinally sufficient form, as expressed in the Nicene and Apostle's creeds.( Hence, the Anglican principle of "doctrinal sufficiency" and CLQ ).

The fact that the two traditions view catholicity through rather different presuppositional lenses might mean, sadly, that between Anglicanism and Orthodoxy lies an impasse of insurmountable proportions.


Dan, you alluded to the tendency of the Roman church since Vatican II to tone down the implications that follow from its own pretensions to ecclesial ultimacy ( I'm thinking for example, of a document like Domine Iesus ). To what degree, if any, is this attributable to the fact that the West admits the development of doctrine. (I ask this because inspite of its ecleticism, I believe Anglican ecclesiology is basically Western in contour ).

Joe, does the EO church have an official position with regard to churches that are viewed as outside the pale in terms of catholicity? (Domine Iesus, as to be expected, reserves the fullness of catholicity for Rome herself; but next to Rome there are "particular churches" that remain united to her "by the closest bonds", or by the possesion of "Apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist". [ I am doubtful that Anglicanism is among these "particular churches" ]. Then there are also "ecclesial communions". Not churches in the proper sense of the word, they nevertheless have an importance "in the mystery of salvation... For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as a means of salvation, which detrives their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church" ).

lexorandi2 said...


To answer your question, I think it has everything to do with the fact that Rome admits to the development of doctrine. This is clearly demonstrated in Rome's attempt to give a positive spin to Cyril's dictum "outside the church there is no salvation." Look up para. 846 in the Catechism.


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