Friday, August 7, 2009

Anglo vs. Roman

Updated 5pm Aug. 10 based on two comments from reader Nicholas below.

Since the Oxford movement, many Anglicans have been so enthusiastic about Catholic-style liturgy — to the point that many of Anglo-Catholics claim (post-Vatican II) to be more Catholic than the Roman Catholics.

A few Anglo-Catholics even want to be Catholic. Over more than a year, the Traditional Anglican Communion (and their US affiliate the Anglican Church in America) has been exploring how it might get into communion with Rome and the Pope (who I guess they would then call the Holy Father). Rumor has it that the plan has some support in Rome, and the TAC’s archbishop still hopes to achieve such a result. (My impression is that the ultimate result would be to become another Anglican-rite Catholic church, but the Vatican seems to have said nothing official yet).

I’ve always wondered, however, what doctrinal issues lurked under the surface — not the obvious authority ones, but ones about our conception of God and man’s relationship to him. Clearly there must be some doctrinal questions that enter into borrowing between various Christian denominations and groups, unless the lyrics are such pablum as to encompass everything from Opus Dei to the Unitarian Universalists. (When I took a Hymnal 1940 hymn (#55) to sing at my local LCMS church during a midweek Lenten service, the rightfully pastor insisted on seeing the hymn first.)

I was reminded of this when driving down the road listening to EWTN (aka the “Global Catholic Radio Network”). On the show, the host made reference to a line from the Easter Vigil (which Wikipedia helpfully describes thus: “In the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, the Easter Vigil is the most important Mass of the liturgical year…”).

I didn’t have a pen, but one key phrase stuck in my mind that allowed me to look up the passage using Google®:
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
Now I understand the broad point, but the happiness and necessity of The Fall — which my reader Nicholas points out is “Felix Culpa” in the Latin — seemed alien to any Protestant teaching I’d ever seen. I checked a few sources:
  • Reformed. Because Anglicans “both Catholic and Reformed,” I started with the Westminster Confession. Not surprisingly for Calvinists, The Fall was pre-ordained, while Adam, Eve and their descendants are “dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.”
  • Lutheran. The Small and Large Catechism mention sin in terms of repentance, forgiveness and redemption of sins, but I didn’t see any discussion of Original Sin in any form. I don’t have the 55 volumes of the printed Luther’s Works (from ELC/LCMS) in printed form, or the searchable CD-ROM. (Now on sale!)
  • Anglican. Looking at the 39 Articles, Article X has Free Will and XI has Sola Fide, Article IX is the most directly relevant:
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation.
Given that, I can’t see any Protestant singing “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” I’d appreciate pointers to any hymn (from any source) that incorporates this theology, particularly if it’s an official hymn in any Protestant hymnal.

As reader Nicholas points out in the comments below, the theology of “Felix Culpa” is very similar to that of the 15th century English carol Adam Lay Ybounden — although that would clearly be pre-Reformation, pre-Anglican.


Nicholas said...

I don't suppose Isaac Watts was actually saying "O felix culpa!" (O blessed fault!), but in "Jesus Shall Reign" he does write,

Where He displays His healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more:
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.

The evangelical blogger John Richardson discussed the idea recently, and saw both sides of the argument, something you might find interesting (

I've enjoyed reading your blog since I discovered it a few weeks ago. Keeping our traditional hymns alive is tremendously important.

9.West said...


Thanks for the additional thoughts. I certainly agree that many Christian theologians (and thus hymnwriters) might decide, ex post, that the final outcome of being redeemed after original sin is better than never having sinned at all. The citation to "Jesus Shall Reign" (one of my favorite hymns) is consistent with that.

But I see Felix Culpa as one step beyond that: of asking, begging, celebrating the pride and defiance of Adam and Eve. God asked our forbears to do one thing (that we know of), and they defied his commandment. How can we celebrate that?

I realize there's a nuance here, perhaps something that could keep theologians busy for another 1000 years. But it does seem as though this is one of those issues where different Christian denominations might have different positions.


PS: Rev. Richardson raises the question of Felix Culpa, but I'm not sure he ever took a firm position on either side.

Nicholas said...

The charming 15th century English carol Adam Lay Ybounden has it,

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our ladie,
Abeen heav'ne queen.

Blessed be the time
The apple taken was
Therefore we moun singen
Deo Gracias!"

As I understand it, the Catholic Catechism #412 reads it as Watts does. God did not stop man from sinning, because he knew he would bring out blessings greater than the evil done.

I'm sure Aquinas would say that "necessity can be seen in two ways", and that here it was necessary for Adam to sin for additional grace to come in the way that it did, i.e. through incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, and not some other way. (See ST IIIa Q1 A3, where he refers to the Easter service.)

The Catholic Catechism quotes Paul, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more". I suppose the risk is falling into "shall we sin, then, that grace may abound?". By no means!, as Paul would say. Maybe there's grounds for consensus somewhere here?


9.West said...

Another excellent point, and one I wish I’d thought of since I’ve sung (or heard) that carol many times in ECUSA or Anglican services.

I'm not sure what sort of precedent it sets, since it is clearly English Catholic rather than CoE (“both Reformed and Catholic.”).

I checked, and it’s not in more than a century of CoE hymnals (1869, 1906, 1931, 1986) nor in Hymnal 1940 or Hymnal 1982. But that may be because it’s seen as a carol (used as an anthem) than as a pew hymn.

Shoot. I thought I’d found a case of something that was beyond the pale for Protestants, but right now the evidence is ambiguous at best. I need to find some sort of Catholic hymn (other than one of Marian excess) that is too Catholic even for the Anglo-Catholics.