Saturday, April 11, 2009

Answering Fr. Jeffrey's Questions

Despite the fact that I posted it almost two months ago, my last entry - "My Parish's Disaffilication with the ACC" - generated quite a lot of discussion of late. I thought I might see if we could continue the discussion in a new thread. My friend and former student, Fr. Jeffrey Steel, SSC entered the dialogue rather late in the game, and he has seen fit to take his old teacher to task. What follows are the questions he asked in his last response:

"Has heresy only become for you anything that is substantially denied in the Creeds?"

No, and I'm not certain where you got this idea. Certainly not from anything I have said on this blog or anywhere else. But note the distinction that I made in my last response to you between heresy and apostasy. In light of that distinction, perhaps a better question to have asked me is whether I think it possible for a church to be tolerant of heresy or even be formally in error at certain points of its teaching and STILL be regarded a true church. I think the self-evident Anglican answer to that question is: YES. This is essentially how Anglicans, since John Jewel and Richard Hooker, have regarded the Church of Rome, and in recent times, how those who deny the ordination of women somehow manage to remain in the Church of England.

"What sort of theological criteria do you use to define something as heretical?"

My theological criteria are very much like yours, I'm sure. My first appeal is to the consensus fidelium. This has been my approach for years, and is what I taught you in the classroom. In one of his responses to my earlier entry, Andy B. went so far as to issue a call for me to return to my "roots." Ironically, I've never left them.

"How far do the goal posts need to be moved before one is on another pitch?"

This is where that heresy/apostasy distinction comes in. I have stated on many occasions that something along the lines of a formal denial of the Trinity would indicate an irreversible departure from the faith and an indication that TEC was no longer a Christian church. It may not be an answer that satisfies you or Andy B., but it is an answer, and it's logically consistent with everything I have ever said on the matter.

But here's the rub: I at least have given an answer with a theological rationale. Apart from hearing the rhetoric that TEC has finally "gone too far," where are the goal posts for those who have or are anticipating leaving TEC?

Is apostasy merely a matter of how much heresy one is willing to tolerate before it becomes unbearable? Is TEC apostate because it has a gay bishop? Or because those who have left over Bishop Robinson simply cannot live in a church that has a gay bishop? Is TEC apostate because some heretical elements have gone so far as to endorse and/or authorize blessings of same sex relationships? Or is it that some simply cannot live in a church that is tolerant of those who endorse and/or authorize such blessings?

And when did/will the Church of England fall into apostasy? Over women priests? Over women bishops? Over gay priests/bishops? Over the official policy of the CoE that turns a blind eye to homosexual lay people who live in committed relationships? Over priests who undergo surgery for a sex-change? Over priests and bishops who are allowed under law to enter into "celibate" same sex unions? When? Where are your goal posts, Jeff?


NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to visit Father Jeffrey's excellent blog De Cura animarum.


The young fogey said...

Sorry but to Catholics TEC and the C of E are heretical: Protestant. All the recent rows about sex and the sexes are symptoms of that. (The big question: the church, fallible or not? That one set up the goalposts, the pitch and the final score of the match before the first English vicar lost his faith during the 'Enlightenment', æons before the first woman priest or gay wedding.) But unless/until TEC and the C of E formally declare they no longer believe what's in the creeds, they're still Christian. So on that I agree with you. If they do that - and I wouldn't rule out the Episcopalians so doing one day - they will have left Protestantism for Unitarianism which is officially not a Christian church.

(Episcopalians' nearest neighbours/competitors in the mainline market are the UCC and Unitarians.)

ISTM in your journey you've kept both the creeds and your principle of authority, again Protestant (historically the Reformed Episcopal Church is if anything that!), all along. I see and respect your consistency even though I have a different principle and on this earth we're out of communion.

That said as I believe Orthodox Metropolitan Platon of Kiev said the walls of our divisions don't go up as high as heaven.

A holy Easter to you.

Anonymous said...

What if a church does not "formally deny" in the sense of issuing a statement that "the doctrine of the Trinity is false" but admits to communion or ordains clergy who knowingly and publicly deny the Trinity or declare it to be an adiaphoron and not core doctrine?

The young fogey said...

Not to speak for Third Mill but I agree with you it's really pushing it. But with the good doctor I'd agree it's not enough grounds to declare something apostate. After all the holy Catholic and apostolic Roman Church (I'm not being sarcastic) consecrated Talleyrand. What matters in Catholic sacramentology is not if the celebrant believes a word of it but if he means to do what the church does. So with our host I'd say as long as the creeds are in the books and assent to their teachings is required, even though there have been scads of unbelieving Anglicans including clergy (as well as America's founding fathers BTW) as far back as the 1700s ('Don't believe in that cr*p? Neither did they!'), it's still a Christian church.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

From the Elizabethan Settlement on, Anglicanism has de facto tolerated large numbers of people who did not agree with it distinctive formualries. For example in Elizabeth I's day, conforming Puritans were not considered orthodox churchman even though, as a matter of practicality, many of them were allowed to be clergy. Consequently, Anglicanism's claims to Catholicism have always been based on its historically constitutive formularies, which have always had some sort of juridical claim to defining Anglicanism even if only in their breach. Only Archbishop Laud and King Charles actually tried to rigorously enforce the Anglican formularies, and it cost them their heads and almost resulted in the end of Anglicanism.

In sum, historically speaking, Orthodox and Catholic minded Anglicans have always appealed to the Anglican formularies. They rightly do not believe that they do deny the infallibility of the Church (just the Papal claims) nor endorse capital-R Reformed theology.

In any event, for Catholic Anglicans, the "goal posts" are the Formularies, not the actual "state of play" in the various Provinces. If those are amended contrary to the consensus fidelium, then the proverbial shit hits the fan.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Thanks, Young Fogey. Blessed Easter to you as well. I appreciate you chiming in with a well thought-out and reasoned response. And your answer to "idrathernotsay" is right on target.

I agree that the big question is whether or not catholicity requires an affirmation of the infallibility of the church. I still fluctuate on this point. On the one hand, I don't think any *particular* church can claim infallibility, least of all the Anglican Church. But claiming infallibility for the Church as a whole, perhaps say when meeting in ecumenical council, is something I'm more inclined to concede.

However, from my perspective, the problem with the conciliar model is the lack of a priori conditions that would identify when the "whole Church" is represented in council apart from the often elusive "consensus fidelium" (i.e., standing the test of time). That being said, the issue can only be considered in the abstract anyway since the feasibility of a truly general council happening in the foreseeable future is virtually nil.

Obviously, the Roman Church does not see itself as a "particular" church, but rather the fullness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and thus claims for itself infallibility. While I respect this position and those who hold it, I obviously do not agree with it. If I did I could no longer be an Anglican.

And this is my beef, if I have a beef, with Fr. Jeffrey. (Please correct me if I'm wrong here, Jeff.) It seems that in claiming to hold to the entirety of the Catholic faith "across the board," Jeff and others end up conceding the entire argument to the Romans. Yet they remain Anglican. While I understand their passion for reunion with Rome, and even share in that hope (though see it as fading), I cannot identify any substantial ecclesiological point (though perhaps there are plenty of sentimental and practical ones) which compels them to remain in the Anglican fold. Perhaps they would agree with me here, and it's just a matter of time. (I invite Jeff to speak for himself!)

In the end, however, it's hardly worth taking someone to task for being consistently Anglican within an Anglican context.

Third Mill Catholic said...

"In any event, for Catholic Anglicans, the "goal posts" are the Formularies, not the actual "state of play" in the various Provinces. If those are amended contrary to the consensus fidelium, then the proverbial shit hits the fan."

Yes, I'm glad you said this. I meant to say something similar earlier in the dialogue when "bare-minimalism" and "creedalism" were thrown out there. Well stated. Thanks.

Id rather not say said...

"What matters in Catholic sacramentology is not if the celebrant believes a word of it but if he means to do what the church does."

Agreed. But does a bishop who is also a Buddhist and uses lessons from the Koran in a liturgy or the Dean of a seminary who declares that abortion is a blessed event or a bishop who says that anal sex is sacramental actually mean to do what the church does? If they do, then it seems that the line between heresy and apostasy can never, in fact, be crossed, so long as the individual declares that he (or she?) is doing "what the church does."

The young fogey said...

Thanks, Third Mill.

My answer's the same as earlier, Id rather not say. Those real-life examples are outrageous and at least heretical but as long as those people are going through the motions from a book that follows the teachings of the creeds, when they baptise with water in the name of the Trinity they mean to do what the church does, even if like Talleyrand they don't believe a word of it (again many Anglicans have been that way since the 18th century), and they are in a Christian group (not a church in the Catholic including Orthodox sense but a Protestant 'ecclesial community'). It's not unitarian - yet?

Anonymous said...

I fear that, properly understood, Orthodox is also "Protestant" under (incorrect) Fogey's criteria of infallibility. And, in such case, Anglicanism certainly has no chance to be Catholic.

But Fogey is simply wrong about the Church's historic claim of infallibllity. Indeed, the historic position, as manifested today by the majority of Orthodox theologian, as well as Catholic Anglicans, is that infallibility is charismatic -- the Spirit manifests the truth over time through various institutions of the Church and likewise, over time, the Church as a whole is led by the Spirit to noetic recognition of the same. Sometimes the authentic witness to the historical Christian Revelation is upheld in Councils, but not always; sometimes Patriarchal writings, but not always; sometimes in the liturgical and ceremonial praxis of the Church, but not always; etc. And the only thing approaching a mechanistic litmus test for manifestations of infallible truth is the consensus fidelium over the all time.

In contrast, a small minority in Orthodoxy have attempted to set up the Ecumenical Council as an a prior institutional organ of infallibility as a counterpart to the Roman Papal Claims. The problem with this approach, apart from being ahistorical, is that it is beset with the same group of coherence problems as the Papal Claims.

Indeed, Scripture tells us that the Spirit listeth where it will. It cannot be attributed in perpetuity to whomever happens to sit in the Throne of Peter anymore than it can be attributed to Robber's Councils, which bear all the external indicia of Ecumenical Councils as those counted as such.

In sum, Anglican claims to catholicity are same as the perennial, authentic Orthodox in sum and substance -- intentional formal adherence (through the constitutional formularies and recorded statements of intention of the framers of the English Reformation) to the consensus fidelium, not any institutional infallibility model.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Thanks, D.B. Very well stated.

I've argued for a long time that the Eastern Orthodox concept of catholicity should not be thought of as identical to the Roman concept minus the pope.

Often in these polemical arenas the Catholic Anglican is made to defend his position over against a supposed "Roman/Orthodox consensus fidelium." But in fact the Romans and the Byzantines have as many differences with each other as each respective communion has with the Anglicans.

Todd Granger said...

As long as we're bringing the Orthodox into the discussion, it might do to remember that at least some of them - not having the same response to the the sacramental acts of schismatics and heretics as the Augustinian West - would not be quite so sanguine about the (otherwise rightly-ordered) sacramental acts of a heretical bishop or priest.

Third Mill Catholic said...

It might also do to remember that a Catholic Anglican looks neither to Rome nor to Eastern Orthodoxy as the gold standard of catholicity.

The young fogey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The young fogey said...

This conversation seems to be over but has taken some interesting recent turns so here goes.

ISTM DB = formulary/classic Anglican = conservative Protestant; Third Mill = right wing of the Episcopalians today = liberal Protestant but not extremely so (via media!). Same creeds, same principle of authority, but a battle royale on different conclusions got from that principle, which makes liberals' exasperation with conservatives understandable (in principle they're on the same team!).

One thing that strikes me is the Anglicans' recent Protestant innovations on the sexes and sex flunk the Orthodox 'charismatic infallibility' test. In the Catholic world including in the East, agitation to adopt the modern Protestant positions and practices on these come from a minority in the church as a whole, a minority not coincidentally living in Protestant countries. (For example there is no massive grassroots movement in the Russian Orthodox Church to ordain women.)

So whether you like a Rome-like institutional infallibility based upon the ecumenical council or not, trying to have an Orthodox-like communion but of Protestants doesn't work, as the Anglican break-up (no more British Empire, no more communion) shows IMO. (The old gentlemen's agreement to at least give lip service to the creeds and more or less follow the Prayer Book is history.)

Todd Granger: touché! Well done. In Orthodoxy, in principle things not in communion, whether they have lots in common with the church (as Rome does) or not (most Protestants), are a great undefined unknown, which is nice in a way as the bishops don't presume to judge either way things and people outside their jurisdiction.

Third Mill: So if I follow you it's the old argument that the two one true churches cancel each other out so might as well be a Protestant. I may just be ignorant or a wishful thinker but I believe the differences between the two can be explained away... except the foundation and scope of the papacy. Both have an infallible church but how is that infallibility applied? Orthodoxy of course is a far cry from Jack Chick: early Popes are venerated as Popes. The question is: divinely instituted office channelling the church's infallibility or man-made rank of the divinely instituted episcopate for the good order of the church?

Good point about classic high churchmen not appealing to Rome or the Orthodox for legitimacy. That, I think, leads to the good argument for WO for example, that it's a matter of discipline not doctrine and something the entirely independent Anglicans have the power to do and hope the larger, Catholic churches will follow. Obviously I'm not sold on that but I understand. Protestants believe one fallible, fungible and not necessarily literally apostolic church; Catholics say 'I can't change that. (I'm only the Pope!)'

That said as one RC priest recently wrote, I don't accept the branch theory but was glad the Anglicans did; it took a few Oxford dons and their followers to point out how much the Catholic world has in common and remind us that this ecumenism with corporate reunion as the goal is possible. (The scope of the Pope remains the unsolveable spanner in the works though.)

The trouble for us in the late, great Anglo-Catholic Movement (a long time ago in England I spent part of an afternoon with somebody who was at the Congresses) was that corporate reunion couldn't include us. So individual conversions with some structures set up to preserve the culture, from Western Rite Orthodoxy to my idea of more RC national parishes for ex-Anglicans, are the way for Catholics to go.

(Given that's my conclusion I understand why Fr Steel doesn't talk to me even though we seem to have so much in common. I agree with the good doctor that ultimately his position is untenable in Anglicanism.)

Martial Artist said...

You asked "where are the goal posts for those who have or are anticipating leaving TEC?"

I can only answer for myself. The goalposts for me were passed when I realized that TEC does not abide by one of the most heavily touted of its baptismal vows, to wit, "to respect the dignity of every human being." In fact, it fails doubly.

First, it does not "respect the dignity of every human being" who is an unborn infant. It does this by expressing [emphasis mine] "its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision." This objective has been advanced both via the quoted General Convention's Resolution 1994-A054, and more recently by its public membership as a body in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), whose stated position and aim is indistinguishable from that of the resolution. Please note that the resolution brooks no disagreement.

Second, with very few exceptions, it does not "respect the dignity of every human being" who offers his or her treasure to a parish in TEC and believes the use of any portion of that treasure which might go to the RCRC, or any other outreach having an operationally identical objective is a violation of that contributor's conscience.

My question to you is, how can anyone who calls himself a Christian approve, actively or tacitly, such a barbaric and, I would suggest, frankly unChristian stance?

Blessings and regards (and, if you agree with the stated resolution, may God have mercy on your soul),

Keith Toepfer

Anonymous said...

"1930 Lambeth Conference
Resolution 16

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

The Conference further records its abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion."

* * * * *

Lambeth Conference Resolutions trump TEC resolutions regarding the content of Anglican moral teaching.

Martial Artist said...

Death Bredon,

Resolution may trump resolution, but scrupulous diocesan compliance with askings from TEC seems always to trump parishioners' consciences, even when the latter are in full accord with Anglican moral teaching. TEC is a member of RCRC, ergo, some funds are necessarily devoted to the latter organization and its thoroughly immoral efforts, even if one simply considers the time of paid staff in corresponding or attending meetings (in person or via telephone).

Ergo, if your comment was an attempt to refute my assertion, you have ignored the substantive part of my objection in favor of the nonsubstantive. Further, my comment solely and explicitly addressed Episcopal practice (and teaching if that is what you consider GenCon resolutions), saying nothing about the vaguely amorphous* topic of Anglican moral teaching.

But even if Anglican moral teaching were relevant, in what sense can you validly assert that "Lambeth Conference Resolutions trump TEC resolutions regarding the content of Anglican moral teaching," i.e., in what way are the former efficacious over the latter? The history of the past 40 years would suggest that they are of no measurable practical effect. Consequently, I am obliged to regard your concluding comment as irrelevant to the point of my comment.

Blessings and regards,
Keith Toepfer
*—By "vaguely amorphous" I mean only that you have not specified what constitutes authentic Anglican teaching.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Third Mill: So if I follow you it's the old argument that the two one true churches cancel each other out so might as well be a Protestant.Call it "old" if you wish. But I think it self-evident that Roman Catholicism and Byzantinism represent two VERY different conceptions of what it means to be catholic, and Anglicanism represents a third. If you throw Protestantism into the mix, then there are a multitude of different conceptions. I'd rather focus my attention on the three Chalcedonian communions that have maintained apostolic succession.

I understand where you are coming from, though we don't always agree. But I admire your consistency, and I feel you have something worth saying. It is, however, a matter of perspective. To you I'm a Protestant. I'm okay with that, given your perspective. But, from my perspective, I think it's an oversimplification and generalization to lump Anglicanism in generally with Protestantism. Historically, we may be "Protestant," but our apostolic pedigree sets us apart from other Protestants.

...I may just be ignorant or a wishful thinker but I believe the differences between the two can be explained away... except the foundation and scope of the papacy. Both have an infallible church but how is that infallibility applied? Orthodoxy of course is a far cry from Jack Chick: early Popes are venerated as Popes. The question is: divinely instituted office channelling the church's infallibility or man-made rank of the divinely instituted episcopate for the good order of the church?Most Romans minimize the differences between themselves and the Orthodox, and I can understand this especially when a Roman is debating an Anglican. But to the Orthodox the minimizing of differences is wishful thinking. To the Orthodox, Rome is not only in formal schism with the "one holy catholic and apostolic church," it is in a state of formal heresy in the perpetuation of filioquism. I have conversed with an Orthodox theologian or two in my time, and, to a man, they have told me that they see Rome and Protestantism as essentially two sides of the same coin.

Again, it's a matter of perspective.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Martial Artist,

If you are interested in my answer to a related question, see my answer to Andy B. under the entry "Answering Todd's Question" (the next entry).


Martial Artist said...


I understand and accept your points. But that still does not address the issue of the essentially coercive actions of the church in misdirecting a portion of that over which God has made me a steward toward a purpose which, I am convinced, is totally antithetical to God's will.

Once I became aware of the actions of TEC, continuing to offer my tithe to the organization makes me morally complicit, albeit passively, in their evil conduct. The fact that my bishop does not provide an alternative for that portion of my tithe directed outside the diocese which does not violate God's will and my conscience, leaves me two options:

(a) Cease to pledge (cash or tangible goods) to my parish, or

(b) Depart TEC, thereby departing my diocese and parish.

I see no morally acceptable means of choosing (a), because I cannot claim to be a part of a parish community which I do not support. And tithing in kind rather than in cash, would simply be countered by the fungibility of cash. Therefore, the only morally acceptable alternative available was to leave TEC.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church does not handle charitable outreach in the same fashion. All outreach is handled by appeals to parishioners separate from their pledges. Pledges go to support the work and expenses of the Parish and the portion of them that goes to the diocese is used to defray the expenses of the diocese and the costs of its support to the parishes.

I am reasonably convinced from the rhetorical tone of the progressive elements in TEC that what I understood as a sign that I was to leave is yet another symptom of the heretical nature of TEC, as stated by The young fogey. My principal reason for commenting on non-Catholic blogs is that my wife currently remains within Anglicanism and one of us needs to keep somewhat abreast of what is happening within that tradition—an objective which is frequently not met by communications from that hierarchy, at least not within TEC. However, she has now left TEC for an REC parish, and if they do a better job of keeping parishioners informed, I may be able to focus elsewhere.

Blessings and regards,
Keith Toepfer

Anonymous said...

I have seen some clever acrobatics by parishioner seeking to assure that their tithes never reach TEC diocesan level -- everything from in-kind giving to tithing to Anglicans for Life instead of letting a penny pace through the plate. Some parishes have even set up clever mechanisms to support C.O. parishioners.

No don't remaining in the TEC in the hopes of making an effectual orthodox witness, or awaiting relief from the larger Anglican Communion, is indubitably a difficult and tenuous path. But, I still cannot bring myself to make a blanket and unqualified statement that Anglicanism is not Catholic, as I think the case is not beyond a reasonable doubt yet. (

Moreover, I compelled by Christian charity, I must employ the demanding reasonable-doubt standard before I unChurch anyone. Remember, the Lord shall judge use by the same rigorous standards as we judge others. So, throw around labels like Prot in a pejorative manner at your own peril.