Friday, September 24, 2010

Less schism in Schism I?

John Henry Newman aside, I’ve always had profound reservations about the RCC and the proposed Ordinariate that was pursued by The Anglican Communion, one of the major Schism I Continuing Anglican groups and one of the few with a significant presence outside the US.

Thursday David Virtue posted a pastoral letter from Rt. Rev. Daren Williams, one of the bishops of the Anglican Church in America (the US affiliate of TAC). His major points as I read them:
  • In 3 of the 4 ACA dioceses, the bulk of the laity today do not want to exercise the option offered by the Ordinariate and become Catholic.
  • Even discussing this option has created great confusion and turbulence in the ACA, with three parishes in his diocese defecting to other Continuing Anglican groups.
  • Rather than Swim the Tiber, the ACA should be working to repair the historic and regrettable schisms among Continuing Anglicans, staring by entering into communion with the Anglican Province of America.
To the last point, Bp. Williams wrote:
It is my conclusion that before we can enter into significant communal relationships with larger bodies of Catholic Christendom, we need to make another effort to unite with those near to us who share the same goals in Anglicanism.
Amen! This is remarkable sanity for a Schism I bishop, given that a major problem for 1928 BCP groups has been the proliferation of purple shirts — with a widespread suspicion that egos and powers have more to do with this fragmentation than any significant theological issues.

Perhaps the most surprisingly honest passage in the letter:
Anglicans in the ACA are comparatively small in number and we often struggle to make ends meet.
Bp. Williams seems to be much more honest than the Schism I “bishops” and “primates”. Together, all the Schism I parishes probably have less than 50,000 members across all the “denominations” or “provinces” — less than a single large TEC diocese.

Personally, I think we have been long overdue for a reunification of the Schism I, 1928 Prayer Book Anglo-Catholics that began with the 1977 Congress of St. Louis and the 1978 Denver ordinations. Whether or not we bridge the gap to ACNA/Schism II — or win more allies jumping from the TEC ship — fixing this historical accident is one move that is possible today, if the clerical hierarchy will let us.

As one of the commenters on the Virtue Online site put it:
The retirements of some of the old Continuum bishops seems to be leading to this opportunity to come back together. The personalities that used to get in the way seem to replaced by younger more reasonable men, without the baggage of old grudges. My prayers are with them.
Let’s pray for this sane path forwards for Continuing Anglicans everywhere.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our precarious Anglo-Catholic heritage

As Protestants, we high church Anglicans live in a very fortunate time in history. Much of our rich liturgy would have been unavailable (or confined to library books) a few centuries ago.

In America, we owe a lot to the hard work of C.W. Douglas, and all the plainchant that he provided for Hymnal 1940. But most of all, Anglo-Catholics benefit from the Oxford Movement of 1833-1841, the basis of our modern Anglo-Catholicism.

The movement brought an awareness of many medieval traditions and principles that had been long-forgotten by the English Protestants. Among other things, it inspired and enabled the success of John Mason Neale with Medieval Hymns and Sequences and the many medieval or ancient hymns in our modern hymnal.

Last week, I learned a lot about the Oxford Movement from a series of podcasts about the life of John Henry Newman (1801-1890). With John Keble, Newman was the key leader of the Oxford movement and the most active of the Tractarians.

Newman has been both an inspiration and cautionary tale for Anglo-Catholics for the next 150 years. On one hand, the former vicar of Oxford's University Church was one of the intellectual leaders that created Anglo-Catholicism.

On the other hand, Newman's efforts to reconnect with his historic roots led him in 1845 to join the Roman Catholic church, creating a national scandal. In the final tract of the Tractarians, Tract #90, Newman showed how the 39 Articles — nominally the loosely controlling statement of Anglican doctrine — could be stretched to subsume Catholic doctrine.

Pope Benedict’s visit to England this week will beatify Newman, the next to last step en route to sainthood.

The podcasts are from the series “Cardinal Newman at 2000,” broadcast a decade ago in anticipation of the Newman bicentennial. The podcasts at the EWTN website appear to be from TV interviews with Catholic experts at that time.

While I learned a lot from the interviews, it was difficult to sit through some of the later portions of each show, as the Catholic host and guests talked about the onetime leader of the Anglo-Catholic movement as their late cardinal and future saint.

On EWTN, in the New Advent Encyclopedia and elsewhere, the Catholic view is that Newman has done what every doctrinally sound Protestant should do: abandon his or her church and become Roman Catholic. We have an echo of that today in the decision by some Anglican clergy (especially those in TAC) who now want to become Catholic priests via the personal ordinariate.

What about Newman’s contribution to Anglo-Catholicism? The podcasts captured some of the efforts by Newman and others to offer Anglo-Catholicism as the Via Media, a middle way between Reformed and Catholic. However, this movement and theology have been rejected by ECUSA and (it appears) the CoE as well.

So is the Via Media an inherently unstable and infeasible effort to capture the best (and reject the worst excesses) of both the Reformed and Catholic traditions? Do we Anglo-Catholics have a future, or are we just a minor eddy in the river of Christian history?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Discipleship in perspective

This has been a depressing summer here in California for us Continuing Anglicans, and not just because of the abnormally cool summer. At least one parish has given up its court fight (to save its sanctuary) rather than spend more money on lawyers, and another conservative parish has been wracked by artificial controversy intended to tear the parish from its roots.

At times I find that following the Schism II news — whether from friends or via websites — drains all my energies from thinking about other church activities, whether it be researching hymns, reading the Bible, inspirational books, or anything else that I might productively do.

And then there was this morning’s (RCL) Gospel reading, which reads in part:
[Jesus said] “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”
Tied to this reading, the sermon recounted the autobiography of Lucette, a French girl who was raised by atheists Communists who hated the church with passion: when she committed her life to Christ, her father struck her and her parents disowned her. The memoir, A Memory for Wonders, talks about how Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard became a Clare nun in Algeria and eventually founded two monasteries in North Africa.

The moral of the story: no price is too high to pay for our Christian beliefs.

It would be easy to be cynical about the messenger: the speaker was a somewhat conservative Episcopal priest who either sees nothing wrong with the current direction of TEC or is unwilling to sacrifice his appointment or his pension or his status to join the Continuing Anglicans.

But then that’s the real point. Who benefits by cynicism over clerical hypocrisy, petty infighting among lay leaders, gossiping, court fights, misrepresentation of one’s true theological beliefs? It’s not the faithful, the seekers or Christ’s Church: it’s those that seek to destroy the Church, which is the work of the Devil himself.

Let’s put things into perspective. Yes, we have lost a few buildings, plaques, organs and books. Yes, we have to meet in industrial parks, do church-in-a-box, or sublet from sympathetic established churches.

But we are not going to lose our lives if we follow Christ, or even (except in unusual cases) our livelihoods. This is not Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan or any of the dozens of other countries where Christians are openly persecuted.

It’s past time to move past being anti-revisionist, anti-heretic, anti-apostasy. The people who have walked away from TEC and their buildings had the right idea: spend the time and money on saving souls — particularly inculcating the faith in the next generation — just as we were told to do almost 2000 years ago.

So yes, we do need to understand our mistakes — whether theological, personal or tactical. As cultural Catholic George Santayana said a century ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But our own salvation, and that of the generations to come, depends on how we use that learning to be better disciples of Christ.