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?