Monday, July 30, 2007

Why I "Migrated" to The Episcopal Church

For as often as I have been asked this question, I'm sure that there are five times as many people who haven't asked but still would like to know. Recently someone emailed me about this question. This was in part my answer:

I came to the conclusion some years ago that "Anglicanism" was not primarily about doctrine or formularies, but about connection to and continuity with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church as mediated through the Church of England. So it seemed foolish to me to identify with Anglicanism on this level while aligning myself with a church or movement that almost entirely identified Anglicanism with doctrine (39 Articles) and formularies (1662 BCP).

While this response will surely not satisfy everyone, perhaps leaving more questions in its wake than answers, it is at least a start. Also, I in no way question the commitment to the Anglican Way of anyone or any group that is not part of or connected in some way to the Anglican Communion. These are serious times, and I respect those of serious mind who see things differently than I. I also applaud all efforts to re-connect the various pieces of the Anglican jig-saw puzzle.

I welcome your comments.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

On the whole, I find your assessment to be correct ( reclaming one's heritage in doctrines and formularies cast aside long ago- as part of a grand scheme to expunge the lingering malaise of sacerdotalism, et al-is a daunting and, at times, brutal undertaking).

At any rate, to what extent do the formularies play a role in being connected to and in continuity with "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church as mediated through the Church of England" ? Do you believe that this connection is simply more vital within the Anglican Communion than without-even in a reasonably healthy continuing church where Anglican identity is not reduced to doctrines and formularies?


Brett said...

The Anglican Church predates the 39 Articles..and hence it really doesn't work to "define" Anglicanism by them in the manner that the Reformed Churches are defined by their Confessions. Yet some (not all) in the Realignment camp appear to be pushing for this very approach to them.

Frankly, I am also not altogether sure that the 39 Articles, and the historic Prayerbook are in complete agreement. One example being that the Prayerbook gives confirmation an essentially sacramental character and definition, as it also does with Holy orders..while the Articles assert only two Sacraments. Well, which is it? And This is only one example in order to make my point. There are others.

The Formularies do not seem intended to stand on their own apart from the Church they were formulated within..the Church of England, or Ecclesia Anglicana. If they were..they would be something entirely different, less broad and more along the lines of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Can a group of of disenfranchised american citizens run off with the Constitution to a remote island, set up shop and call themselves the true "America" and have it be so? Can the Constitution be interpreted apart from the land in which it was written? Would a realigned United States of America really be "American" in ethos?

All of this doesn't mean I'm renouncing the Realignment just means I am alot less sure of the convictions I held a couple of years back on how to save Anglicanism. I am seeing various shades of gray, where as before I only saw black and white.

I guess I stay where I am, and pray.. Right now, that is as a confirmed member of the Reformed Episcopal Church. I try to read a variety of opinions in the blogosphere these days. Both from reasserters and realigners. Continuers outside TEC, and Centrists inside TEC.

I guess if Anglicanism is indeed Catholic..then the gates of hell will not prevail against her, as Christ promised. I pray that Anglicanism will indeed be vindicated as Catholic.


Anonymous said...

Well, for one, the Church of England is not a "confessional" Church in the sense of one having to "subscribe" to its formularies as if there is no improvement upon what was written in them. To do so is to keep the Church from growth and understanding on important theological issues. What may be needed for today is not so much a subscription clause placed into Anglicanism as possibly a declaration of Articles on "issues" of our own day such as sexuality and sexual orientation.

The C of E is not a "Reformed Calvinist" church and it never has been. The absence of too much detail in the Articles was intentional and only speak against the "abuses" in the Church, e.g. the Mass--the Articles are not absolutely against the implications that within the Mass there is a propitiatory sacrifice that is offered to the Father as one example. One only need to read the Caroline Divines and non-jurors to see that this is the sort of way that these particular divines interpreted the Articles' authority.

Third Mill Catholic said...

In my view, formularies are repositories of practice and belief as received, understood, and passed on to subsequent generations. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. In this sense, their importance lies in the role they have in the transmission of the apostolic faith, not as "unalterable" symbols, but as witnesses to how our church has understood the deposit of faith in their many generations.

Cynthia R. Nielsen said...

Dear Dan,

First, I want to say that I greatly appreciate your tone in this post, and though a good deal of the questions/comments below are not directly related to your post, my reading of your post caused me to reflect on some other relevant and important issues/questions with which I have been wrestling.

I have a number of close Anglican/Episcopalian and Roman Catholic friends and we talk about these kinds of issues regularly. A good Anglican friend of mine has made a similar statement to what you write in your post, viz., that Anglicanism is not primarily about doctrine but connection with the one catholic and apostolic church. I have also heard it said that Anglican and RC churches find their unity in participation sacraments and not in doctrinal confessions. One the one hand, this is very appealing to me especially in light of some of the negative effects of confessionalism within certain Reformed circles (which ends up being in my opinion extremely sectarian). However, at the same time, I wonder whether it is really possible to make an either/or distinction here (which you seem not to be doing with your qualifier “primarily”) or whether it is possible for doctrinal convictions not to play a fairly significant role with regard to unity.

Let me give a recent example and one that is not without strong feelings for all parties involved, viz., the recent CDF document issued by the RCC. (This is not meant at all as an anti-RC statement, as I have great respect for the RCC and I have many close RC friends). As I am sure that you are aware, the document states that the “Christian Communities born out to the Reformation” cannot be called Churches in the proper sense. As they “do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense” (emphasis added).
Here the RCC seems to have a very specific (doctrinal) understanding of what marks out the Church “in the proper sense.” In other words, genuine ecclesial unity (as well as full union with Christ by way of the sacrament of the Eucharist—the two are of course interrelated) seems to be based on whether or not one accepts the RCC teaching/doctrine in its details with regard to apostolic succession. I certainly am not criticizing the RCC for making clear her teaching, and the recent CDF document does not strike me as a departure from past documents, (though I do have to say that I prefer the “tone” of Vatican II). I believe that true ecumenical dialogue must be both sensitive and must make clear the genuine differences between the various expressions of the Christian faith. Nonetheless, if I am properly understanding what is being said in the CDF document, it seems to more or less deny the validity of the Eucharistic Mystery in all Protestant churches (perhaps I am reading more into that than I should and I welcome correction here). I should also add that to be consistent I would also have to criticize my own tradition, viz., Presbyterian/Reformed who have made significantly worse claims about the RCC both in their confessional documents and other writings—these are things that I personally find lamentable and in need of correction.

What I’ve said above, of course, addresses the RCC and not the Anglican Church (AC). I would imagine that given the AC’s view of open communion (which is also the case with the Reformed Church), that the AC has a different take on apostolic succession and what constitutes a “proper” church. If you happen to have the time/desire, I would be interested in understanding how the AC views its relation to the various expressions of the Christian faith (RC, Eastern Orthodox, other Protestant Churches). Or if you do not have time, which I totally understand, perhaps you could recommend some literature on the topic that I might read.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

In the sense that our formularies are "respositories of practice and belief as received, understood and passed on to subsequent generations", and because their importance lies in "the role they have in the transmission of the apostolic faith", rather than as"unalterable symbols", I believe we may properly regard them as charters of a "local orthodoxy": intramural symbols of belief which are helpful, so long as they are placed in subordination to Scripture and the faith of the undivided Church, and are understood as conveying the same.

Forgive my verbosity, but I felt it was necessary to restate your views for the sake of clarity and in light of the questions Cynthia has raised, namely the validity of an either/or approach to unity, or the possibility of negating the role of "doctrinal convictions".

On the one hand, I am very sympathetic with your views ( which resonate with the opinions of eminent churchmen, such as Abp. Michael Ramsey and the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse ); but there is a danger in maintaining too broad an elasticity in doctrine ( as per Cynthia's observation about the concreteness of the RCC's definition of what constitutes a church "in the proper sense" ).

The Anglican formularies are not confessional symbols like the Three Forms of Unity, nor are they "unalterable" standards of faith ( thanks be to God ); but within their acknowledged limitations they have an authority that cannot be denied ( otherwise, their stated purpose in "transmitting the apostolic faith" is incomprehensible ). The formularies, then, must have a hand in determining continuity with "the holy, catholic and apostolic church as mediated through the Church of England" to some degree. But since a diversity of opinions exists in the Anglican Communion concerning their use and authority, how is this determined?


Third Mill Catholic said...

Hi Cynthia,

I'm not surprise in the least that your keen brain picked up the word "primarily" in my statement. And I think you're correct to point out the pitfalls of an either/or dichotomy in this case. I echo Mark's fine analysis of my earlier statements in this regard.

Brett made the point earlier that the Anglican Church predates the Reformation. It is our continuity with the pre-Reformation CoE, not merely via historic tactile succession (of bishops), but also canonically (as a juridical body), that forms and continues to inform the Anlgican identity. Clearly the Reformation is an important part of the Anglican tradition, yet not as its constitutional basis, but rather as an important watershed in its ongoing history.

But back to my point. To my mind, what makes extramural Anglicanism (i.e., Anglicanism existing outside of the Communion) an anomaly is that even while retaining historic succession, such branches have nonetheless pruned themselves from the nourishing life of the main tree. So while they remain dependent on the main tree to nourish their separate existence and identity (at least a certain "ideal stage" of the main tree), they must simultaneously assert an ultimacy of hereditary pedigree over against the errant body from which they departed. This is easily done in a confessional church (where all one has to prove is fidelity to the unalterable standard), but not so easily done in a church where continuity of canonical order is arguably a more important consideration (and certainly a longer-standing one) than a context-driven and time-bound "charter of local orthodoxy" (as Mark described the Reformation formularies). Multiply this scenario many times over and over, and you get the picture of the Anglican diaspora looks like.

You're correct to point out the ecclesiological differences between the RCC and the AC. I have written on this in the past, and suspect that I will take up this discussion again in due course. But on the point of apostolic succession, the differences are not as great as you may think. Leo XIII's bull pronouncing Anglican orders null and void was a sorry piece of theologizing, and many an honest Roman theologian will admit this. Nevertheless, it should be a moot point in that Anglican orders have cross-pollinated many times with orders of unquestionable integrity (in Roman eyes) since the issuing of Leo's bull (not that this changes much in official policy towards us). But I digress.

As I've argued many times, Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican ecclesiologies are very similar, yet at the same time crucially different from each other, and these differences affect how they look at each other and other (mainly Protestant) ecclesial bodies. Rome claims an ecclesial ultimacy for itself (grounded in the Petrine Supremacy) that nonetheless admits, to certain degrees, a legitimacy of certain necessary elements of sacramental life and faith outside of her bounds (e.g., E. Orthodoxy). In contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy make no such admissions, its ultimacy being (more or less) absolute. Anglicanism makes no exclusive claim for itself, and thus is even charitably open towards fellowship with bodies that have lost or discarded apostolic succession.

Take care,

Cynthia R. Nielsen said...

Hi Dan,

Thank you for your extremely helpful response!

A few quick questions: In light of the fact that the Anglican Church predates the Reformation, does Rome (with the CDF document in mind) then recognize your Sacrament of the Eucharist as fully valid and would Rome consider the Anglican Church a "Church in the proper sense" and not simply an "ecclesial community?"

Best wishes,

Third Mill Catholic said...

In my estimation, Rome has a schizophrenic view of Anglicanism. Leo XIII's 1896 Bull "Apostolicae Curae" declared Anglican orders to be "absolutely null and utterly void" based on lack of proper intent (conferring of a sacrificical priesthood). The argumentation, based on a reading of the 1550 ordinal, is rather flimsy, but it is the law on the books, so to speak, and continues to dictate Rome's dealings with Anglicans. As a theologian, I would have preferred a different judgment. As a historian, I admit that this was the only judgment possible given the political context of the day.

Rome had just "restored" its English hierarchy as late as 1850, and feelings were still quite raw. But in a brilliant public relations move, the papacy did not appoint its bishops to historic English sees and dioceses, a tacit acknowledgement, some would say, that Rome considered these to be "filled" in some capacity. Nonetheless, a positive ruling by Leo may have had the political fall-out of calling into question the restoration. Also, some Anglicans feel that Leo did the CoE a favor in his ruling, as scandal certainly would have ensued (on both sides) had he ruled that Anglican clergy were valid "massing-priests."

The ARCIC dialogues have produced much fruit and raprochement, though, alas, no reversal of Leo's ruling. The ecumenical highwater mark between the two bodies happened when Paul VII gave his episcopal ring to Archbishop Ramsey, a tacit acknowledgement that Canterbury continues to have some sort of pastoral ministry to the CoE (and in the worldwide Anglican Communion). Anglican priests who convert under John Paul's pastoral provision may be priested (even if married). Graham Leonard, former Anglican bishop of London, was received into the Catholic Church back in 1994. His ordination to the priesthood was conditional, rather than unconditional, which is a hugely significant step in the direction of reversing Leo's bull.

Rome even has an "Anglican-use" rite approved for former Episcopalians.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Historically, what has made Anglicanism a distinct and discrete form of protestantism (that is non-papal Christianity which can still be Catholic is (1) the Authorized Version of the Bible, (2) the traditional editions of the Book of Common Prayer, (3) Common Orders subscribing to the 39 Articles, and (4) generally English Ceremonial. These four guide posts leave a lot of leeway, but when a church has got them all, then you know that church is Anglican.

But, as each guidepost get jettisoned, so does Anglicanism's distinctiveness. Today, on the Romish side, some Anglicans look very much like Sedevacantists or SSPX types, others more like Old Catholics; and, on the Prot side, others look like Presbytarians, Methodists, Pentecostals, or non-demonintional Evangelicals.

But today, very few so-called Anglican churches would be quickly and surely recognized by a unChurched film buff as Anglican.
Oddly enough, the support for an Anglican Church that is distinctively Anglican is very weak. Indeed, those who adhere to the four guide posts -- the AV, BCP, 39 Articles and English ceremonial are few and far between.
It is as if every Anglican wants to be and do something other than that which is historically Anglican yet still claim the title Anglican.

To my mind this is very strange. It's perfectly OK to be an English Catholic or Methodist or Presbyterian. No law against it. It's not a social disastrous. No one will look at you funny in the street. So go ahead and jump ship instead of pulling it apart.

Cynthia R. Nielsen said...

Thanks, Dan. This was another very helpful comment!

Kind regards,