Friday, December 22, 2006

Why Not Leave?

From William Witt's Blog

"If I were ever to leave Anglicanism, it could only be with a sense of loss, that a noble vision of what it meant to be Christian had been tried for a few centuries, had produced some remarkable successes, and had brought much good to the world. Sadly, it had come to an end, and its loss would be much like that of those parts of the Byzantine Empire that were obliterated by Islam, or the Celtic Christians who faded after Augustine of Canterbury. For me, this would mean that the Church of Cranmer's liturgy, and Hooker's theology, and Donne's preaching, and Herbert's poetry, and Traherne's meditations, and Shakespeare's plays, and Butler's keen intellect, and Jane Austin's novels, and Wilberforce's and Gore's social vision, and Westcott's and Hort's and Hoskyn's biblical scholarship, and Arthur Michael Ramsey . . . . and Evelyn Underhill . . . and . . .C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrer . . . This Church would be gone forever. But wasn't it a glorious thing while it lasted!

So why not leave? I can only give my own reasons.

So, first. Leave for what? Rome or Orthodoxy would be the obvious choices. At least they are the ones that are usually offered. When as a young man I left the Evangelical denomination in which I was raised, I became an Anglican because I believed that the Reformation was a reforming movement in the Western Catholic Church, and I was convinced that Anglicanism had come closest to getting that job done right. For the Roman Catholics, Vatican II was successful just to the extent that it incorporated many of the changes that had taken place at some time or another in Anglican history. Liturgy in the vernacular? Check. Communion in both kinds? Check. Renewed emphasis on Scripture? Check. In good critical translations? Check. Religious liberty? Check. Focus on salvation by grace alone and reconsideration of justification by faith? Check. Married clergy? Well . . . Vatican II didn't do everything.

At the same time, one thing has not changed. As I have always understood it, one only has two choices about the Roman Catholic Church. One either must become a Roman Catholic, or one can not. There is no maybe about becoming Catholic. To become a Catholic, one is required to accept all of that Church's claims, including its claims about itself. If one accepts those claims, then one has no choice but to convert. But if one does not, one also has no choice. In that case, one cannot become Roman Catholic. And the Roman Catholic Church itself says that one cannot.

I am unable to bring myself to believe Rome's claims. Without going into details for now, as someone trained in theology (at a Catholic University, no less), I am convinced that the choices here are between Newman's understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and Barth's. And I think Barth was right, and Newman wrong.

Well, then? What about Orthodoxy? I want to claim the Greek Fathers for my own, of course—Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians. I am even excited about learning from such lesser known lights as Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus the Confessor. And I recognize that the Eastern Church never accepted the authority of the bishop of Rome in the way in which Rome came to understand it. And I think they were right in that.

However, as with Rome, there are a number of things that Orthodoxy demands that I cannot quite bring myself to accept. Some are doctrinal niceties, for example, the somewhat abstruse distinction between the divine essence and energies. Or the doctrine of the filioque. I think the Western view is correct on both points. But at bottom, as I said above, I became Anglican because I believed Anglicanism was a reforming movement in the Western Church, and I
am a Western Christian.

Mine is the tradition of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but also of Hooker, and Luther, and Barth. A Western Orthodoxy that was able to embrace and incorporate this Western tradition (including the Reformers) as well as its own would be an Orthodoxy that I would find attractive, perhaps irresistible. But, to the contrary, Orthodoxy often seems rather to be suspicious of this entire Western tradition, including Augustine, and all who followed him. And, of course, such a Western Orthodoxy would look a lot like . . . historical Anglicanism.

As for leaving Anglicanism for another Reformation Church . . . what would be the point? All of the mainline Protestant churches are struggling with the same issue as is Anglicanism. The Episcopal Church is just ahead of the parade. The non-sacramental free church Evangelicals alone have stood their ground, and I admire them tremendously. But I left that tradition for a reason."

Extract from http://www.willgwitt.org/blog/index.cfm/2006/12/21/Why-Not-Leave

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Global Anglican Communion as we know it is only a little more than a hundred years old--but as you say, Anglicanism flourished much longer, and will continue to do so. If you think about it, the only thing that really unites the Communion is the Lambeth Conference--a nice tradition for bishops only (and their spouses)--that otherwise doesn't affect what we do in the parish, and is certainly not binding. The Churches in Virginia that separated gained nothing by joining Nigeria to become Anglicans: they were legitimate Anglicans as Episcopalians. The only thing they will gain is the experience of spending a lot of money on legal fees and probably losing their property. I suspect more and more that "Anglicanism" is a congregationalist polity with bishops as paradoxical necessary adiaphora that in a narrow sense legitimates the Church as apostolic. Perhaps we need to broaden the sense. Enough rambling for now. Peace,
George+

Danny Garland Jr. said...

Shakespeare was Catholic, not Anglican. ;-)

Jeremy Bonner said...

You're stretching it a point, Danny, when you consider that Shakespeare was born five years after the promulgation of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, which, though less favorable to the Reformers than the 1552 edition, was certainly not a return to the state of affairs that prevailed under Mary.

Of course, if you're arguing that most ordinary people (including playwrights) remained 'catholic' at heart until after the Puritan Revolution, that's more plausible, but some scholars would still dispute such a statement.

Kvöldvaka said...

Danny Garland, they don't have to be antithetical!