Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Toward an Anglican definition of "Catholic": my attempt


In my short definition in an earlier post I described Anglicanism as the British expression of the catholic and apostolic faith as manifested in and mediated through the Church of England, et al. I realize that the two terms "catholic" and "apostolic" beg further clarification.

The second term is the easier of the two to define and to demonstrate historically. To be "apostolic" is to possess a demonstrable and continuous historical link of faith and practice from the time of the apostles onwards. Anglicanism recognizes herself as apostolic, while not denying it of others, claiming the ancient roots and uninterrupted history of Christianity in Great Britain from apostolic times as her own unique story.

On the other hand, "catholic" is harder to nail down for Anglicans, particularly because of how the term has been employed in the post-East/West schism era (i.e., since 1054). Hence, Rome and Byzantium employ the term "catholic" more or less exclusively of their own respective communions, identifying both their pre- and post-schism development co-terminously with it. As a result, Rome and Byzantium since the schism have developed quite disparate understandings of what it means to be "catholic" that are mutually exclusive. We all know, at least in broad strokes, the end result of this sad millennium-old game of semantics between East and West: e.g., for the Roman, there is no "fullness of the catholic faith" without papal supremacy and infallibility; for the Orthodox, no catholicity without, say, full-blown Eastern iconology (just to name but one obvious example).

Anglicanism, on the other hand, did not come of age as a separate and independent tradition until the constitutional changes took place in the 16th century that made its "going-it-alone" posture inevitable. This is the most important factor that must be taken into account in understanding the Anglican definition of catholicity. Simply put, prior to her independent existence, the Church of England possessed at least two shared catholic identities: (1) pre-East/West schism -- a catholic identity in common with the undivided church; and (2) post-schism / pre-Reformation -- a catholic identity in common with the pre-Counter Reformation Roman Church.

For better or for worse, Anglicanism at the same time appropriated into its apostolic life and witness a strong Protestant character, which, on the positive side of things, meant a conscious return to the biblical witness in the reformation of its life and witness. (We could talk a lot about the negative side of this, but we won't here.) However, the Church of England did not go the sola Scriptura route of its continental counterparts in defining the terms and parameters of her perceived catholicity. Rather she consistently defined catholicity in terms of the Church of England's conscious continuity and identity with the understanding and practice of the undivided church (i.e., the first shared identity above) where such was consistent with the witness of Holy Scripture. This was the natural course for the newly liberated Church of England to go, for in leaving the moorings of Rome, she admitted to the deficiencies of the second shared identity.

This perception of catholicity was expounded by her first apologists -- Jewel, Hooker, and Field -- and has remained an indelible characteristic of Anglican identity ever since. Were the opinions or judgments of these men, or of the Church of England, or of her most eminent divines down through history, or of the worldwide Anglican Communion of subsequent generations, always "catholic" or even correct on every specific issue addressed? No, of course not. No Anglican would ever make this claim. The strength of Anglicanism is that, unlike the Roman and Eastern Orthodox bodies, it admits of no system of distinctively Anglican theology that is co-terminous with what it means to be "catholic." What is catholic within Anglicanism is what is shared with the undivided Church of the first millennium -- EVEN IF ONLY IMPLICIT. This means that catholicity within Anglicanism is something that is self-consciously lived into and realized in each generation of Anglican faith and practice, with each generation ideally contributing to a further and better explication of, and yes, even a discovery of, what it means to be catholic.

Of course, this task would be much easier if it were done in relation to all those who claim the name "catholic."

17 comments:

Mark said...

Say, Dan, could you expand a bit on this notion of "implicit" catholicity? To say it is something " self-conciously lived into", as an inheritance from the faith and practice of the undivided church, isn't particularly troubling; but what to make of this qualifier "implicit" ?

-Mark

lexorandi2 said...

Thought you might pick up on this. I plan to in a later post.

lexorandi2 said...

Hi Mark,

I don't know when I'll get the chance to answer more fully, but the term "implicit" in my post is but the frank admission that the Church of England, in striking out alone to reform itself by itself (an inevitability of the time and context), will surely have to live into the full manifestation of its catholicity over time.

The Anglican definition of "catholic" as holding to the understanding and practice of the undivided church is more of a *principle* upon which the church grows into the realization of its catholic fullness, rather than a complete manifestation at any one time of its existence.

It might be helpful to recall Barth's objectivist theology with regard to the catholicity of the church. Objectively speaking, the Church in Christ is catholic in its fullness already, though, existentially, catholicity is a reality that we must live into. This is a natural paradigm for Anglicans.

joseph said...

"What is catholic within Anglicanism is what is shared with the undivided Church of the first millennium -- EVEN IF ONLY IMPLICIT."

Dan,
This definition seems to me to be too ambiguous and non-distinctive.
For example, if I replace the word Anglican with Orthodox or Roman Catholic in your definition would it not fit within them as well? (Granted Rome and Orthodoxy would not limit catholicity in that way but both certainly would not exclude it.) In other words, would not Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism claim that icons or the universal claims of the papacy are neccesary first millennium characteristics of the undivided church? Are you saying that Anglican catholicity consists of the shared non-controversial issues of the first millennium undivided church? How about the undivided part that characterizes the first millennium understanding of catholicity? What determins what is and is not the essentials of the first millennium undivided church?

lexorandi2 said...

"For example, if I replace the word Anglican with Orthodox or Roman Catholic in your definition would it not fit within them as well? (Granted Rome and Orthodoxy would not limit catholicity in that way but both certainly would not exclude it.)"

On this point I do see the same affinity that you have detected. However, there is an important difference which can be detected in the statement itself: "What is catholic within Anglicanism is what is shared with the undivided Church of the first millennium."

There is no presumption within this statement (taken in context) that Anglicanism and Anglicanism alone is the sole heir of the undivided Church of the first millennium, or that she and she alone possesses the fullness of that same catholicity - both claims that Rome and Orthodoxy make of themselves to the exclusion of each other and of all others. Anglicans *share* in the catholic character and identity of the undivided Church, and intend in their local expression of faith and practice to live into that catholicity, however imperfectly that may be on this side of the resurrection.

joseph said...

Part of the "character and identity" of the undivided church was in fact that she was undivided. You seem to aknowledge this identity in the first millennium but deny that it is part of the identity of Anglican catholicity. What kind of criteria is to be used to determine what is and is not catholic "character and identity?" The problem I am having with your definition is that you claim that Anglicanism has the character and identity of the undivided church but this identity and character is never explained so I believe this leaves your definition too ambiguous.

joseph said...

"The strength of Anglicanism is that, unlike the Roman and Eastern Orthodox bodies, it admits of no system of distinctively Anglican theology that is co-terminous with what it means to be "catholic."

This seems to be a strength only if the definiton of catholic is shown to be non-exclusive. Let me give an example. Christianity claims to be the exclusively true religion. The Unitarians had a problem with this exclusivity of Christianity and claimed that their church included not only Christianity but also all theistic religions (now all religions). The strength of the Unitarian is that she includes Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Deism, etc. But the problem is that while including Christianity in theism she denies the essentials of Christianity by denying the Holy Trinity and the deity of Christ. So is her inclusivity really a strength? I would say no because while claiming to include everyone she ultimately excludes everyone. I believe that Orthodoxy and Rome would have a similiar problem with Anglican catholic inclusiveness. While claiming to include everyone she ultimately includes no one.

lexorandi2 said...

That's keen insight. However, it falls short of the mark because of the false dichotomy between inclusivity and exclusivity. Even in Orthodoxy there is a degree of inclusivity. So, for instance, if I changed my statement to read, "There is no system of distinctively Russion Orthodox theology that is co-terminous with what it means to be Orthodox (or catholic for that matter)" I'm sure you would concur, because the alternative would cancel out the Greeks, Serbians, Antiochians, etc.

joseph said...

I would not deny the Orthodox inclusivity that you mentioned and even Anglicanism has the same kind in the sense of the American, African and Canadian Churches are within the one Anglican Communion but I think my example still applies to this discussion because just like Unitarians have to deny Christian essentials in order to include everyone so does Anglicanism have to deny Orthodox and Roman Catholic essentials to include everyone. As a matter of fact, Anglicanism actually is exclusive in trying to be inclusive because any Anglican definition of catholicity is exclusively her own definition and she is asking everyone to submit to her own exclusive catholic definition.

lexorandi2 said...

Surely you are correct to point out that there are three definitions of catholicity, which was the gist of my original point many comments ago under another thread. So, for instance, you must deny Roman claims to catholicity just as forcefully as you deny Anglican claims of catholicity in order to maintain the integrity of the Orthodox position. The Roman must do the same, as well as the Anglican. So, indeed, in the abstract we are talking about three mutually exclusive intellectual positions. There's no denying that. However, as concrete realities there is also no denying that my Anglican catholicity admits both the Roman and the Orthodox as part of the catholic family, while neither the Roman or the Orthodox will admit each other (fully) or the Anglican. Where the rubber meets the road is where exclusion/inclusion really counts.

joseph said...

"However, as concrete realities there is also no denying that my Anglican catholicity admits both the Roman and the Orthodox as part of the catholic family, while neither the Roman or the Orthodox will admit each other (fully) or the Anglican."

This tends to beg the question since there has not been a catholic definition presented here which includes Rome and Orthodoxy. You have said that you include them both but how? What are the charicteristics and identity of the undivided church? Shouldn't the "undivided" characteristic be included? If not, why not?

lexorandi2 said...

My assumption throughout has been that the faith and practice of the undivided church of the first millennium is something that Rome and Orthodoxy have in common with Anglicans by virtue of a common apostolic inheritance. Another assumption I have been making, though perhaps I haven't yet expressed it outright, is that since the sad East / West divide no one communion has lived into this catholicity consistently or perfectly.

Now lest I be misunderstood as a patristic fundamentalist or, worse, a romanticist, I should stress that there is a danger in romanticising the "undivided church of the first millennium," making it into something that in absolute terms it was not. Our description of the church in the first millennium as "undivided" is relative to the very tragic divisions that presently exist during this post-1054 era. In other words, it is a characterization of convenience, not a real state of affairs as the various schisms of the first millennium demonstrate. Let's face it, what we are defining as the "undivided church" really only applies to Chalcedonian Christianity, to the exclusion of the non-Chalcedonian bodies, and even under that definition there hasn't been complete unity (e.g., the Photian schism).

However, the relative unity that existed in and between the Chalcedonian churches prior to the Great Schism is cohesive enough to use as a benchmark of what it means to be catholic (which is precisely how the Orthodox, and increasingly the Romans, use it in their unity talks with each other in recent times).

joseph said...

Dan,
I am afraid if I keep pushing then I am going to get into more than I have time to give to the issue right now since I am in the midst of packing for Santa Fe, NM. I appreciate you putting up with my questions. I hope more Anglicans will chime in on this issue since there are many angles an Anglican can take on this issue. Michael Ramsey's book "The Gospel and the Catholic Church" is the best attempt at defining Anglican Catholicity that I have read. You might be interested in reading it again. He does give about two pages to praising and criticizing Barth. A good example of Catholicity from a Orthodox perspective can be seen here. http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/catholicity_church_florovsky.htm . My prayer and hope is that one day Anglicans and the Orthodox will one day be able to share Eucharistic fellowship together. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

lexorandi2 said...

I thrilled that you are moving out the Sante Fe, which must mean that you are getting ready to begin your studies. Godspeed and may he protect you and your family in the journey ahead.

Rev. John Campbell said...

Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, can we not say that the Lambeth Quad is as good a statement as any to describe what comprises the essentials of catholicity? Since it clearly establishes what Anglicans accept as the minimal (if not minimalistic) requirements of catholicity for ecumenical purposes, it must also be self-referential and hence, at least a good stating point for defining what it means to be both Anglican and catholic.

lexorandi2 said...

Sounds good to me...for starters anyway.

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