Evensong, Forward-in-Faith/North America.
15 July 2015. Fort Worth, Texas (copyright retained by the author)
Psalm cxxii, verse 3 – Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I was trained to believe that sermons are not meant primarily to prove or to instruct, much less to argue. Rather sermons are primarily meant to proclaim: to proclaim the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection of our Lord. I hope this idea animates my Sunday Mass sermons. But Evensong or Evensong and Benediction are somewhat different from Sunday morning. We read in a delightful miscellany on the Church and clergy by A.N. Wilson of a priest who for forty years ‘preached on a variety of themes at his morning Mass, but thought it inappropriate, at…Benediction, to preach on any subject other than the Empress Josephine.’ (A.N. Wilson, ed., 1992, p. 240) I don’t plan to be quite that bad. But when Bishop Ackerman invited me last year to this event I told him that I would have to address what seems to me the central problem with most of the efforts of Forward-in-Faith and its precursors and now also with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). I was invited nonetheless, so here is something with a bit of polemic in it, as promised. I will not say with Trevor Huddleston that I have naught for your comfort. But neither will I speak smooth things.
The central problem of which I just spoke is a lack of theological clarity and consistency and, to be blunt, catholicity. That is a rather provocative assertion. Let me offer an initial qualification, if not apology. I know that the religious world is filled with huge problems which are of much greater apparent importance than the intramural fusses of soi-disant Anglo-Catholics. In a world of resurgent and violent Islam and a secularizing America, our intramural differences may seem minor. I do not wish to indulge in the sadism of small differences. But then I happen to think that Anglicanism is central to the fate of the West, and that the near collapse of orthodox Anglicanism since the mid-20th century is at least indirectly tied to our wider troubles. So, back to the question of theological clarity, which I do not think is in fact a minor problem.
The Anglican alternative to the paths taken by Forward-in-Faith and ACNA is Continuing Anglicanism. Despite all of our checkered history and with all our failures, I think we Continuers have theological integrity. That integrity is not a subjective or personal matter, but rests on an objective theological base, expressed clearly in the Affirmation of Saint Louis. This foundation situates us irrevocably within the central Tradition of Catholic Christendom. All Anglican formularies are seen by the Affirmation through the lens of the central Tradition. Anglican formularies are not a kind of Occam’s razor to limit what is acceptable in Catholic tradition for Anglicans. Rather the Catholic consensus and central Tradition are the lens through which we read and appropriate our Anglicanism. This central Tradition is found in the Fathers and the Seven Councils and in the consensus of East and West, ancient and modern and living still. For us, the central problem of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion is not Gene Robinson or an error concerning any particular person or issue. Rather the fundamental problem was an implicit assertion, decades ago, that the central Tradition of Christendom is at the disposal of Episcopalian Conventions or Anglican Synods or Lambeth Conferences. It is not. The Affirmation and my own Church’s formularies firmly, decisively, and forever reject doctrinal ambiguity, comprehensiveness, or the attempt to make our peculiarities decisive and determinative. We are not Anglicans first and Catholics second. We are members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church first, and Anglicans second. We will vigorously pursue unity with all others who share this central belief. No unity, at least no full or Eucharistic communion, is possible or desirable with those who do not share this starting point.
I congratulate the ACNA for leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada. Every one of you who made that change did a good thing and one, I hope, that you do not regret. But that departure can only be a good first step. For ACNA is really not a Church but a coalition of dioceses. The coalition is for some purposes only, and the communion of the dioceses is impaired and imperfect. The ACNA has retained the central flaw of the recent Lambeth Communion because it permits member dioceses to ordain women to the three-fold ministry, and therefore implicitly claims that the central Tradition is not decisive and may be set aside. ACNA is not a return to orthodox Anglicanism, but only a return to the impaired state of the Lambeth Communion that began in 1975 and 1976.
Continued ambiguity or confusion about the central tradition and women’s ordination is very dangerous. It is very dangerous because it encourages Catholic churchmen to compromise themselves in a variety of ways. Perhaps just as bad, fine, bright, and consistent Catholics will perceive that there is no certain trumpet, no clear ecclesiology, and no real future in a world of such compromises – and so you will continue to suffer the death by a thousand cuts, as people go to Rome or Orthodoxy or the Continuing Church or just stay home.
There are excellent reasons to be both Catholic and Anglican. Anglo-Catholics enjoy the great strengths of the Anglican patrimony. We have the Authorized Version of the Bible and the classical Book of Common Prayer. Together these are not only compelling literary and cultural monuments, but also provide us with a well-balanced spirituality. In some Christian bodies the Bible is loosed from tradition and from the praying Church. Of these bodies Richard Hooker wrote:
When they and their Bibles were alone together, what strange fantastical opinion soever at any time entered into their heads, their use was to think the Spirit taught it them. (Laws, Preface, VIII.7)
The Prayer Book tradition in contrast provides an anchor, an objective interpretative lens, and a prayerful setting for traditional and orthodox interpretation of Scripture. In other Christian bodies the sacraments have been loosed from Scripture and its constant fertilizing influence. Scripture is neglected and the jewel of the Eucharist is pried loose from its golden setting in a round of offices centered on the systematic reading of Psalms and Scripture. But for Anglican Catholics the sacraments are truly Scripture so prayed and read and presented as to be a large part of the very sacramental forms through which God pours forth his grace into our hearts. In short, our tradition has an almost perfect balance of Bible and sacrament. We begin with the Bible as presented in and with Common Prayer, but then add our Anglican patrimony of architecture, music, literature, spirituality, and theological method. Those are formidable strengths. How sad that so many neo-Anglicans have jettisoned the bulk of this patrimony by abandoning the classical Anglican liturgical tradition.
Dear friends, if you compromise with the ordination of women, and if you abandon the largest part of our Anglican patrimony by adopting modernist liturgy rooted in the Novus Ordo or, worse, in the Anglo-Baptist ideas of Sydney, there is little to hold people. Then you can only trust in a kind of slightly more decorous imitation of Charles Stanley or the already-fading mega-churches. You’ve given up both your Anglican past and also any future that can be meaningfully described as Anglican.
We must abandon all sectarian, provincial ideas that separate us from the central consensus of the Tradition of the great Churches. We must take this duty seriously by systematically rooting our doctrine and practice in Catholic agreement. Seven Councils, seven sacraments, invocation of the saints, objective sacramental efficacy, the Real Eucharistic Presence, clear moral teaching, male episcopate and priesthood and diaconate: those are all matters of Catholic consensus. That is what we must believe if we take seriously Archbishop Fisher’s assertion that we have no faith of our own.
The Catholic Movement in the Church of England began as an attempt to call all Anglicans back to the fullness of the Catholic Faith. The goal was nothing less than the wholesale conversion of the entire Church to the fullness of the Faith. The partial success of the Movement may have been its downfall. When Anglo-Catholics became too successful to ignore or suppress, and were invited to the table to enjoy a share of the spoils – a percentage of the mitres and deaneries and professorships and plum parishes – Anglo-Catholics too often lowered their sights and quieted their voices. From the conversion of the whole, we became satisfied with a slice of the pie, with a comfortable status as a recognized party. But half-Catholic is as unreal as half-virgin.
If you still are in the Episcopal Church: get out. Get out today. Anything else threatens your soul’s state. Dear friends in ACNA: you must present a clear and unmistakable demand. The ordination of women must end, soon and completely, for it is directly contrary to Catholic doctrine. No grand-fathering – or grand-mothering is possible – because such compromise leaves intact the central, revolutionary, and false implication that the deposit of the faith is negotiable and at our disposal.
Until there is such clarity, there will be no unity among those of us who like to think of ourselves as Catholic and Anglican Churchmen. There will be no unity because you cannot be a pure cup of water in a dirty puddle. That is the simple, basic message of the Continuing Church to the neo-Anglicans. You have gone a very long way down a very wrong path, and that is true even if all the time you were avoiding a still worse path. You have a journey home to make, things to unlearn and to remember and recover. We want to welcome you at home. But there can be no restored communion with us without hard decisions and firm actions from you.
Glory be to the Undivided Trinity. Glory be to Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in heaven and in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. All honor to the glorious and ever-Virgin Mother of our Lord. Peace be to the Holy Churches of God. May God forgive us our sins, which are many and great. May God give us wisdom to discern a safe path forward. May God grant us true humility and unshakable fidelity and great love. May God bring our Church to glorious days and may he bring us to unity with all his holy people, so that Jerusalem may be as a city that is at unity in itself.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.