Sunday, July 20, 2008

Al Kimel's Comments on My Recent Entries

Below is a portion of a post written by Al Kimel over at Per Caritatem. This entry was excised from the discussion of my recent brief essays "Personal Reflections for Remaining in TEC," "The Problem of Confessionalism," and "Restating a Third Mill Catholic Prophecy." Biretta tip to Cynthia Nielsen for bringing these posts to the attention of her readers, and for maintaining the best theological blog in the blogosphere bar none. See link for the discussion below.


I don’t believe that most who are really struggling with the present direction of the Episcopal Church will find Fr Daniel Dunlap’s reflections very helpful. Basically he seems to be saying, Episcopalians are all over the place theologically, but the TEC and Anglican Communion still formally retain catholic creeds and catholic orders, so there’s no imperative to break communion. As Fr Dunlap writes, “the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is the Church’s credo, not our individual “credos,” and endeavoring to live into it.”

This, of course, has been precisely the line advanced by most orthodox Episcopalians during the past thirty years. It is a failed strategy, and it ignores the political, theological, and ecclesial and seminary realities now confronting the “orthodox” (however one draws the lines of “orthodoxy”).


First, I'll make a concession. Yes, Episcopalians are all over the place theologically, but then so are Roman Catholics. The difference? The Romans have in place a magisterium and a very nuanced rationale for doctrinal development that, when taken together, have so far managed to cover over centuries of theological missteps and still leave room for an infallible definition or two from time to time. However, they also make good hiding places for the "existentialist-expressivists" for whom Fr. Kimel apparently has no liking, and whom Fr. Kimel apparently would rather pretend did not exist within the Roman camp.

Be that as it may, the magisterium-doctrinal development thesis is so ingrained in the Roman psyche that to deny its catholicity (which I do) seemingly places its detractors on a playing field slanted in favor of those who affirm it. Okay, fair enough. I accept the premise that an "Anglican magisterium" would make Anglican life so much easier. But would it make Anglicanism more "catholic"? Would it solve the issues that so divide the Anglican Communion today? Or, rather, would it solidify for all time certain theological innovations in the name of "Anglican doctrinal development"? I believe the latter to be more likely, and I believe that supposedly "infallible" Roman dogmas (e.g., the Immaculate Conception) make the point better than I ever could.

Such a scenario, of course, is nonsensical. An "Anglican magisterium" is about as oxymoronic a term as one can imagine. However, my point should be obvious: the Anglican way of being "catholic" (or living into catholicity) is different than the Roman way. So why is it that Roman apologists (many of them ex-Anglicans, I might add) only come out to play when they have homefield advantage? Obviously it's futile to argue for the catholicity of Anglicanism on Roman terms. So I won't. I will be content to argue for the catholicity of Anglicanism on Anglican terms.

At first, it may appear odd to my readers to hear me suggest that Anglicanism has its "own terms" or definition of catholicity. But it shouldn't. I have argued on a number of occasions that each of the three major apostolic communions (i.e., Roman, Byzantine, Anglican) operate on quite different understandings of what it means to be "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." Romanism and Byzantinism both make claims of ecclesial ultimacy. But their respective claims are mutually exclusive, as the former insists on papal supremacy and the latter on the received faith of the ecumenical councils. Thus, despite whatever superficial similarities Rome and Byzantium may have, they are different ways of understanding what it means to be catholic. In contrast, Anglicanism has never made a claim of ecclesial ultimacy, and so defines itself not as the Catholic Church, but rather as a catholic church, and thus recognizes the other two communions as legitimate branches of "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." Unlike Fr. Kimel, I see this as Anglicanism's greatest strength, not its weakness. And if it survives the present struggles, then it will only be that much stronger.

You see, believe it or not, I still believe in "common prayer catholicity," which, contrary to Al Kimel's reductionism above, is more than just the formal retention of ancient creeds and apostolic orders. Neither is my position merely a "strategy," failed or otherwise, for the orthodox to stay put in TEC/Anglican Communion. I don't need a reason or a strategy to stay in TEC. Indeed, the burden of proof is STILL on those who insist that I should leave! Rather Anglicanism is a way of being catholic, or living into catholicity, that has proven itself very effective and extremely resilient over the last nearly 500 years of this independent Anglican experiment. I still believe that Anglicanism is a movement of God. I may be wrong. But why should I give up on it now?

Per Caritatem


Death Bredon said...

The distinction between a jurisdiction's de-facto shortcomings and its de-jure formularies is well taken. Indeed, the classic Anglican formularies are quite orthodox and catholic.

Also, the present Lambeth pronouncements condemn abortion, have strict contraception policy similar to Orthodox praxis, condemn sexual perversity, and only accept women's ordination provisionally.

But the question arises: can a jurisdiction even entertain a period of reception (which more and more looks concluded in favor) of women's ordination and remain catholic?

Dan said...

Death Bredon asks whether a jurisdiction can entertain ordination across sexes. The answer would definitely have to take into account the statement for the Orthodox sectors - in the joint Anglican and Orthodox statement called _The Church of the Triune God_, I think - in which the Orthodox state that while they won't allow it, they refuse to say that it can't happen or that it's not part of the movement of the Holy Spirit. As one traditionalist Anglo-Catholic priest has said, he's heard priests who are women confess the lordship of Christ, which by any biblical rule confirms the work of the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Fr. Dunlap

You once stated, on a post at Cynthia Nielsen's fine blog, Per Caritatem, that early post-Reformation Anglicans, like Jewel and Hooker, succeeded in positing a catholic and apostolic ecclesiology for the CoE- a local or national instantiation of the Catholic Church in relation to other apostolic churches -and that it served the CoE well as long as she remained a distinctively national church ( i.e. before her expansion into a world-wide communion ).

I think it obvious that our Anglican patrimony includes both the claim to catholicity and the rejection of ecclesial ultimacy- which means that Anglicanism ought not to imagine that invoking the authority of a magisterium, in the RC sense, is the solution to its current woes.

But, if it is true that the relative autonomy of churches in the Anglican Communion is a leading cause of the Anglican crisis in maintaining a truly catholic ecclesiology, how can this problem be rectified in a way that will not violate Anglican identity ( catholicity and the rejection of ecclesial ultimacy )?

IOW, how can Anglicanism's "living into catholicity" be implemented on a global scale?


Roberto said...

"they also make good hiding places for the "existentialist-expressivists" for whom Fr. Kimel apparently has no liking, and whom Fr. Kimel apparently would rather pretend did not exist within the Roman camp."

I think you misunderstand Fr. Kimel's position. He certainly would not deny that "experiential-expressivists" exist in the (Roman) Catholic Church. They do (in perhaps a more extreme form, they are exemplified in some of the Modernists at the turn of the century). Still, the question is not whether they exist or not, but whether they determine the belief and doctrines of the Church. It seems to me that the magisterium of (Roman) Catholicism has a much better way of dealing with theological opinion; in many cases, wherever a certain plurality is legitimate, it leaves them be (as in the de auxiliis controversy on grace). In cases where they come dangerously close to subverting doctrine and life, then it makes a pronouncement. However you look at it, this has its advantages: there is an authority that makes a decision. How that decision is made could be critiqued and criticized. But there is an authority that makes the decision and is held responsible for it. There is less room for the confusion that seems to afflict the Anglican communion and what it is all about.

The Anglican Communion very often runs the risk of a being a parliament with different factions, but with the power to arrive at compromise. It wants to have its cake and eat it too, i.e., it wants to tolerate deviations in doctrinal matters but it also wants to keep everybody in the house. In minor matters, that is an excellent proposition. But in more weighty and controversial points, then a breaking point is inevitably reached. That breaking point is now dangerously close. The Anglican Communion must think seriously about authority. This has always been the weakness of Anglicanism: it wants collegiality without an office of unity. Where is Anglicanism's Vatican II?

Dan said...

Roberto, you'll have to forgive the following ramble. I'm trying to get all this done during the precious nap time.

I don't think Fr. Dunlap misunderstands Fr. Kimmel at all. After all, I pointed Kimmel toward prominent theologians in TEC and the AC at large, and his response was to say that most of TEC falls into Lindbeck's Existential-expressivist category. He says: "We are, after all, talking about a denomination whose dominant theological approach is accurately described as experientialist-expressivist, to use George Lindbeck’s terminology. Experientialists can be notoriously difficult to pin down on theological matters. But clarity can usually be achieved by focusing on the nature of deity and the question of the salvific necessity of Jesus Christ. It was, after all, the refusal of the Diocese of Maryland back in 1991 to affirm Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life that generated the Baltimiore Declaration. 17 years later I think it is safe to say that Episcopalians are more confused and heterodox on the identity and work of Jesus Christ, not less."

So, I point Kimmel toward the decision makers, and he point instead to the faithful. Thus, Fr. Dunlap's point is valid: there are existentialist-expressivists in both groups. And as for whether the magisterium is free of that camp, I seriously doubt that you could make that case any less strongly than you have. Not only have lodged all the decision making power in the magisterium, over which many of your bretheren would take you to town, you've completely missed the point of lumen gentium's deepening of the understanding of church that encompasses, not excludes the world. Your understanding of the magesterium would have the leaders of the church, clerics, protecting the church from the laity. But that begs the question of who.what the church really is.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Dan, thanks for chiming in with your very excellent response (despite your apparent fatigue).

Mark, you are asking the question of the century if not the millennium. Far be it from me to presume to be able to answer this definitively.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that "global Anglicanism" is a rather new commodity on the market. The Anglican Communion is not even a century and half old, and has been evolving throughout its short history. Undoubtedly, we are at the crossroads. Personally, I still have much hope in the Covenant process despite the efforts of some (apparently not all -- e.g., Venables) of the GAFCON primates to scrap the process even before it has a chance to begin.

It would seem to me that we have two existing models (Romanism and Byzantinism) to learn from, both positively and negatively, i.e., we can learn from their mistakes as well as their strengths. I'm already on record in saying that the establishment of a magisterium-style authority for the Anglican Communion would be a huge mistake (btw Dan's entry above contains some excellent observations here, imo). So this would be a case of learning from a Roman "mistake."

The EOs, on the other hand, seem to be able to live out their autonomy (not that there aren't problems) while remaining mutually accountable on issues pertaining to the faith. I suspect that the Anglican Covenant will in the end exemplify this model much more than the Roman model.

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