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Orthodoxy and Western Christianity: For Anglicans

For those Anglicans who may be looking into Orthodoxy I have here some thoughts on my experience in and study of Anglicanism. Though it was easy to read myself out of Protestantism in general, the "via media" of Anglicanism remained an attractive option for quite some time. I found it more difficult to reject.

I am aware that many godly, catholic-minded people see tremendous merit in staying a part of the Anglican communion, despite the current sad state of affairs. I myself have a great love for some of the treasures in Anglicanism. However, I believe that theologically and historically Anglicanism is indefensible, especially when the question "What is the Church?" is asked. I apologize in advance for the lack of polish on this page of my site. I have not had time to refine the contents herein, as you will see.

I offer first some of the key notes from my readings. Perhaps they will stimulate your thoughts in an Orthodox direction. I then offer a Suggested Reading for Anglicans page to take you further.

History and Formation

Nichols, Aidan, The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993:

  • Anglican church properly seen as a "bridge-church" (p. ix, 179)
  • More correctly seen as a theological justification of a political event (p. x, 43ff, 58)
  • Idea of Comprehensiveness: "creative dialectic never actualized" (p. x, 176-177); deliberate vagueness, ambiguity written into the BCP and 39 Articles [Elizabethan Compromise] (p. 175)
  • Church in England was in a very real sense the Roman church in captivity from Henry VIII's overthrow until it became its own defiant church under Edward VI (p. 14).
  • Church of England not so much a theological idea as a political compromise (p. xvii, 21); see also Knox's point that the church of England never pretended to be right. It does not regard itself as anything more than a working compromise suited to the needs of the age which produced it. Later however the people fell in love with the new creation and it became permanent (p. 449ff of his University and Anglican Sermons).
  • Key summary of his argument (p. xix-xx):

"The theology of the English Reformers was built on both Lutheran and Calvinist foundations, yet it was never systematically either Lutheran or Calvinist. Partly from conviction but mostly from political necessity their theology was poured into an institutional mould which retained large elements of a Catholic structure. As a result, when, in the reign of Elizabeth, a reflective Anglican consciousness emerges, it sees itself not as a straightforward continuation of the Continental Reformation, but as a 'via media.' The history of Anglican pluralism derives from the intrinsic difficulty of defining such a via media, and from the resultant need to leave wide open a wide latitude in the construing of doctrine. Thus the via media idea, intended as a unifiying force for Anglicanism, tended to be disintegrating in practice. It could be used in a classically Protestant direction or in a Catholic direction; or yet again in a Latitudinarian direction—on the grounds that where so much is unclear, little should be insisted on. Again, Anglicans may despair of via media and take refuge either in Anglo-Catholicism [giving it a much larger keel of Tradition for a heaving ship- PMB] or in the idea of Western [Eastern?] Orthodoxy, in each case accepting that the supreme norm for Anglican faith and practice should be provided from outside Anglicanism—either from Rome or Constantinople. Finally, Anglicans may choose to regard the incoherences (yet riches) of their own Church as simply a microcosm of those of Christianity world-wide. In this case they will argue that Anglicanism has no distinctive contribution to make to the coming Great Church [an Anglican ecumenical and eschatological idea of the Church—PMB]: its destiny is to disappear, its triumph will be its dissolution."

Faith and Order

Two Outstanding Orthodox Publications from England!

and The Shepherd

  • Cranmer's doctrine of Eucharist and the liturgical rite a real break from the historic catholicity of 1500 years (p. 14, 32).
  • No single theological orthodoxy; pluralistic; 39 Articles are merely vaguely worded signposts out of troubled waters (intentionally, due to Elizabethan Settlement, so as not to offend either Catholics or "puritans"; p. 35).
  • Problems with the 39 Articles (quoting Peter Toon): "they are patristic when speaking about the Trinity, Christology and original sin [More Western patristic on the last one: the East would disagree with Augustine's statements on original guilt/sin]; they are Lutheran when speaking about the Gospel and justification; they are Calvinist when speaking about the sacraments." (p. 33; see also p. 18). "The 39 Articles lack the central feature of any sound fundamental ecclesiology, namely, profession of a single visible Church." (p. 73).
  • no genuine identity (p. xviii).
  • the intention of the ordinal and the nature of the church are highly problematic and a break with catholicity (p.28). Defunct intent is one of the main problems in the validity question of Anglican orders. [these arguments of "validity," however, are entirely Western. On the historic and Eastern view of orders and apostolic succession see the excellent little book by Gregory Rogers called Apostolic Succession, Conciliar Press, 1994); intent of ordinal purposely vague; deliberate obfuscation of catholic intent.
  • the Faith a clear break from that of the catholic churches of East and West (thus negating any real claims to having true apostolic succession): predestinarian soteriology; sola fideism; receptionist/occasionalist view of the Eucharist (Hooker's view, the classical Anglican position, p. 49); bene esse wrt bishops (p. 50, 64, 73 wrt the 39 Articles); loss of the communion of saints and mariology, etc. [Furthermore, how can a church call itself "catholic" when it differs so widely on many important matters of the faith. Many contradictory "traditions" under one umbrella of comprehensiveness, all "in communion" together. This is "catholicity"?! Remember, the "high churchman" have always been in the minority within the C of E.]
  • Other problems with Eucharistic doctrine (p. 66):

"The difficulty in [Lancelot] Andrewes' argument for the continuity of the Church of England with the pre-Reformation Church lies in the fact that the retention of an orthodox view of the Eucharist as presence, sacrifice and foundation of the Church does not in itself guarantee that one will have an 'orthopraxy'—a pattern of rightful action relating one to the rest of the Church's communion—to match one's words."

  • view of Tradition is problematic. Disconnected from a solid ecclesiology (see Florovsky's Bible, Church, Tradition or Congar's Tradition and Traditions. Dipping buckets vs. jumping in the stream, or to use Ronald Knox's analogy of "raking up old dead documents" vs. obeying a living voice of Tradition ... having no authority for itself which can claim to properly and divinely interpret scriptures and expel heresy it will cease to be a church." (p. 68, 77; for the most devastating treatise on the relation of Scripture, Tradition and the Church see Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions, Macmillan, 1966); fullness of the faith vs. vestiges. [Fr. David Ousley of St. James the Less: no ability to discipline the Church or the clergy. Church can't purge herself from heresy]. Note comments by Bishop Kallistos Ware in the 1963 edition of his The Orthodox Church, pp. 318-319:

Yet there is one field in which diversity cannot be permitted. Orthodoxy insists upon unity in matters of the faith. Before there can be reunion among Christians, there must first be full agreement in faith: this is a basic principle for Orthodox in all their ecumenical relations. It is unity in the faith that matters, not organizational unity; and to secure unity of organization at the price of a compromise in dogma is like throwing away the kernel of a nut and keeping the shell. Orthodox are not willing to take part in a 'minimal' reunion scheme, which secures agreement on a few points and leaves everything else to private opinion. There can be only one basis for union—the fullness of the faith; for Orthodoxy looks on the faith as a united and organic whole. Speaking of the Anglo Russian Theological Conference at Moscow in 1956, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, expressed the Orthodox viewpoint exactly:

The Orthodox said in effect: "...The 'tradition is a concrete fact. There it is, in its totality. Do you Anglicans accept it, or do you reject it?' The Tradition is for the Orthodox one indivisible whole: the entire life of the Church in its fullness of belief and custom down the ages, including Mariology and the veneration of icons. Faced with this challenge, the typically Anglican reply is: 'We would not regard veneration of icons or Mariology as inadmissible, provided that in determining what is necessary to salvation, we confine ourselves to Holy Scripture.' But this reply only throws into relief the contrast between the Anglican appeal to what is deemed necessary to salvation and the Orthodox appeal to the one indivisible organism of Tradition, to tamper with any part of which is to spoil the whole, in the sort of way that a single splodge on a picture can mar its beauty." ['The Moscow Conference in Retrospect', in Sobornost, series 3, no. 23, 1958, pp. 562-3.]

In the words of another Anglican writer: "It has been said that the faith is like a network rather than an assemblage of discrete dogmas; cut one strand and the whole pattern loses its meaning.' [T. M. Parker, 'Devotion to the Mother of God', in The Molher of God, edited by E. L. Mascall, p. 74.] Orthodox, then, ask of other Christians that they accept Tradition as a whole; but it must be remembered that there is a difference between Tradition and traditions. Many beliefs held by Orthodox are not a part of the one Tradition, but are simply theologoumena, theological opinions; and there can be no question of imposing mere matters of opinion on other Christians. Men can possess full unity in the faith, and yet hold divergent theological opinions in certain fields. This basic principle—no reunion without unity in the faith—has an important corollary: until unity in the faith has been achieved, there can be no communion in the sacraments. Communion at the Lord's Table (most Orthodox believe) cannot be used to secure unity in the faith, but must come as the consequence and crown of a unity already attained. Orthodoxy rejects the whole concept of 'intercommunion' between separated Christian bodies, and admits no form of sacramental fellowship short of full communion. Either Churches are in communion with one another, or they are not: there can be no half-way house.

Some Old Journal Reflections

"If we as Anglicans believe and confess 'one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church' what do we mean by this? ... When we Anglicans speak of 'Scripture, Tradition, Reason', or when Peter Toon [one of my professors at seminary during this time] speaks of 'the Tradition of Holy Mother Church' I am often left wondering just what is meant by this. It seems to me that Tradition within Anglicanism has always been a very slippery and ever-changing entity. Aren't I correct in stating that within Anglicanism there is really no consensus on just what this Tradition is except the general concept of "via media" towards all things? Is our Tradition supposed to be Elizabethan, Classical, Anglo-Catholic, Low, High, Broad, Liberal . . .? Furthermore, when I read about the Holy Tradition of the Eastern Church it is often vastly different from how we would define Tradition. In matters of soteriology (Calvinism!), spirituality, the Eucharist, sacramental / cosmological worldview, and ecclesiology (just to name a few!) we are often very far from them. Ours seems to be a Tradition that is, in the main, clearly Protestant and greatly weakened at its very foundation by the EIizabethan Settlement, among other things. If we claim 'Tradition' as our guide it seems to me that we don't mean the same thing as the undivided Church did, and the catholic churches of East and West still do. So who is right? Furthermore, can Anglicanism sustain itself as a viable catholic 'branch' of the Church (given one accepts the so-called "Branch Theory" at all, a 19th century invention) if there is no consensus on what defines Tradition? ... Even if we are able to return to the Anglicanism of the Caroline divines what is going to stem the same heretical tide that has so distressed our Church in the recent decades, or keep it from rejecting its catholic identity all over again?

"I have to ask myself a hard question: why are we trying to keep Anglicanism alive? I mean, why not return to our Celtic roots when we were essentially the British Orthodox Church? The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) publishes a little booklet entitled 'Saints of the British Isles.' Does ECUSA [Episcopal Church, USA] have anything like this?! The official calendar of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America commemorates the likes of Joseph of Arimathaea, Alban, Columba, Aidan, Patrick, Brigid, and David of Wales, as well as Aristobulus, the first Bishop of Britain whom the English have long forgotten but the East still remembers! Though we do differ greatly in many areas there is much continuity between us as well. It appears to me at this time in my inquiry that Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of the highest Anglican ideals: evangelical and catholic. Did not Archbishop Ramsay say that the Anglican Communion was 'provisional' by nature? Is it not accurate to say that the Anglican Church is more a 'series of [historical] movements' (Terwilliger) rather than a viable catholicism? The 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, stated at the 1989 Conference of Cathedral Deans that 'our vocation as Anglicans was to put ourselves out of business.' Do you agree? Is there anything wrong with seeing ourselves as a part that should be seeking to return to its whole, its true roots? Are we justified in continuing to build a separate 'branch' of the Church rather than joining hands with the Orthodox? Is not schism a grave sin, one that the Early Fathers wrote about extensively? What are we trying to hold onto that we can't find in Orthodoxy? Are we staying away because of matters of personal taste, cultural differences, etc.? Why not join the Orthodox and bring with us the best of Western culture? It seeems there is much room for a distinctive "Western Orthodoxy." Are we really staying away for the right reasons? I can't get away from the question of whether or not it is valid, or worthwhile, to try to build up yet another continuing Anglican branch like the Reformed Episcopal Church [I was a member of the Reformed Episcopal Church at the time]. I think about the ESA [Episcopal Synod of America, a conversative affiliation within ECUSA that is attempting to bring about reform and stem the tide of heresy]. Though a noble cause, four years after their 1989 convention what has that Synod produced? Though many of the faithful within Anglicanism appreciate their godly efforts they have had no perceptible influence on ECUSA or the Anglican Communion, both of which continue to head down the path to destruction. Furthermore, the ESA seems to have no clear sense of direction, and has never [at this date at least] broken communion with those whom they are in disagreement! (Heresy is not merely holding to a certain unorthodox belief but also being in communion with those who do) What does the ESA plan to do? Is traditional Anglicanism without Canterbury even viable? Despite their good intentions is the ESA destined to become what Bishop Terwilliger warned of years ago: a splinter group that begets only more splinters? How catholic is that?! How does this speak to the REC's (or other Anglican spin-off groups') situation? How catholic is it for groups like these to bring in some outsider who has 'valid orders' (but is not, and often will not be, after the consecration, even in communion with them), and have this person 'plug them in' to the apostolic line and 'grant succession'? This entire 'mechanical' understanding of succession (typical esp. amongst Anglo-Catholics) is foreign to the early church and the East today and seems to me to be a real distortion of true catholic practice.

"The key question that must continually be brought to fore is, 'What is the Church?'. A reasonable corollary question is, 'What are the nature of the sacraments and how does Eucharist define the Church? How is the Church constituted and expressed?'. It seems to me that it is chiefly done so through the Eucharist (the sacrament of both the Christological and pneumatological aspects of the Church). If 'Eucharist makes the Church' then the necessary corollary is that bishops are of the esse of the visible Body of Christ, the Church; for only lawfully ordained and authorized men (those truly sent by Christ through the Apostles: bishops and priests, connected to a visible 'community of believers', who have apostolic succession of Faith and Order; on this see Rogers' excellent book) can "eucharistize" the elements and preside over the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful. The bottom line is this: do Anglican communions have legitimate reasons for claiming to be a part of the Church Catholic, based on the criteria of apostolic Faith and Order? To my judgment, on both aspects of succession it would appear not." You decide, with the help of God.

Note: many of the ideas contained in paragraph two above came from "The Anglican / Orthodox Pilgrim" newsletters (Vol. 2, No.1 and 4; Vol. 3, No. 1).

On the Lambeth Quadrilateral: Concerning Ecumenism

From The Panheresy of Ecumenism, by Metropolitan Cyprian (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1995), pp. 10-11. What follows may seem to be worded in an unnecessarily strong way, especially for those Anglicans just beginning to look into Orthodoxy. I encourage you to not see this as Orthodox hatred of Anglicans per se, but a love for the truth and a desire to protect the Orthodox faithful in the face of the ever-increasing problem of ecumenism. To see how the Orthodox view heterodox Christians see my paper "On the Status of Heterodox Christians." The more you read in the Orthodox faith the more you will see how far from the truth much of the Anglican tradition is. I love my Anglican friends, many who are committed to staying with it to the dying end. Yet it remains that I strongly disagree with them and cannot see the Anglican communion in any other way than a heretical body—being a clear departure from the Orthodox faith.

In the year 1888, the would-be bishops of the heretical Anglicans gathered in the "Lambeth Conference." In this infamous "Conference," they examined the issue of Ecumenical union and adopted the so-called "Four-Point Statement." This was called a "four-point" statement because it established four basic points of incorrect belief as the essential prerequisites of false Ecumenical union: 1) Holy Scripture—as the heretics have received it, but not according to Holy Tradition; 2) the so-called Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed—as the heretics reckon them, but not as they are understood by the Ecumenical Synods; 3) the two Mysteries [or sacraments] of Baptism and the Lord's Supper—as the heterodox accept them, and not the other Mysteries; 4) the acceptance of various bodies of heretical bishops—according to the demands of each nation and people! But even these few things the Ecumenists acknowledge only in name and superficially; for as heretics, they deny the truth, as shall become subsequently obvious.

The Ecumenists understand their four points in light of the following three principles of unbelief: 1) dogmatic minimalism; 2) inclusivenss; and 3) the branch theory. What do these three new principles of incorrect belief mean? The profanity which is called dogmatic minimalism calls for a unity of faith based on the barest of Christian dogmas, that is, the barest of truth. This, however, is not faith, but a lack thereof. Because if one is unfaithful "in one point, he is guilty of all" infidelity (St. James 2:10). The principle of inclusiveness entails the impiety of requesting toleration for and compromise with heretics; that is, not struggle against heresy, but cooperation and union with heresies. Thus Ecumenism, as a great and inclusive heresy, accepts and embodies every heresy. And the branch theory constitutes the following false teaching. The Church is seen as a tree. According to the deluded Ecumenists, the trunk of the tree is the one, undivided Church and ecclesiastical truth. The branches are the various heresies, the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and different false beliefs. All of these are supposedly equal to one another, united like the branches of a tree, and constitute the manifestation of the one Church, no single one being the Church and none having the entire truth of the Church. In short, Orthodoxy is not the Church, is not the truth, is not different from the heresies, but is itself one of the heresies of the world.

With the foregoing Anglican misbelief about Ecumenical unity and union, the belief of the ninth article of the Symbol of Faith [the Creed] "in One, Holy, Catholic [Orthodox], and Apostolic Faith" is abolished. The "Four-Part Statement of Lambeth" is a fourfold Ecumenical delusion. Dogmatic minimalism is a form of anti-dogmatic infidelity. The branch theory is a many-branched tree of falsehood and nonsense. And Ecumenical inclusiveness is the "wide . . .gate and broad . . .way, that leadeth to destruction" (St. Matthew 7:13).