ACNA, Newman and Unity

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a new Anglican body which promises to be ‘united and faithful’. You can read more about their formation here. I must confess, I have lost track of all the different breakaway Anglican groups, all I know is that there are now about 120 of them, (A partial listing is here) and guess what…they all say they are ‘united and faithful.’

The big question is: united with whom and faithful to what? It is very difficult to say just who this new group is united with. They seem to be mostly Evangelical former Episcopalians. Who, then are they united with? Themselves I guess, but not with the other 150 some Anglican schism groups? Certainly not with the Eastern Orthodox or the Catholic Church. So I guess they’re ‘united’ like every other Protestant group is ‘united’; that is to say, they are united within their own denomination.

The other question is: faithful to what? Not faithful to the Catholic faith that ‘comes to us from the apostles’, faithful to Anglicanism? Only as defined by the group itself. Faithful to the Scriptures? Only as interpreted by themselves. Faithful to Christian morality? Only as defined by themselves. Faithful to ‘Mere Christianity’? Who defines what that is?

Cardinal Newman said of church unity that without an infallible authority any group had to either sacrifice unity of form for unity of doctrine to preserve unity of form or will sacrifice unity of form to save unity of doctrine. As such, they would fall into either the latitudinarian error or the sectarian error. What this means is that any non-Catholic group will either lose formal unity in order to be on the same page doctrinally–in which case they breakaway to form a sect, or they sacrifice unity of doctrine (you can believe what you like) in order to preserve unity of form or structure. This is the classic Anglican position. “Believe whatever you like–just don’t form a schism.” For lovers of long words, this is called latitudinarianism.

What we are seeing is the disintegration of the classic latitudinarian position of the Anglican Church, as Anglicans decide that they would rather sacrifice unity of form for unity of doctrine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a German theologian to figure out that as soon as you form a new sect you are soon faced with another issue which will force your people to ask themselves again whether they wish to retain unity of form or unity of doctrine. They choose and either water down their beliefs (to retain unity of form) or they break away and form yet another sect.

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  • Alphonsus Rodriguez

    The Traditional Anglican Communion is perhaps the largest of these groups, and it seems to be unable to decide what it believes.From the homepage of the Anglican Church in America (TAC):“As faithful stewards of the Catholic Faith in the Anglican tradition, our teaching and practice is based solely on the Holy Bible as interpreted by the universally accepted Ecumenical Councils held by the whole Christian Church before any divisions took place; and the traditional Book of Common Prayer, which demonstrates both our Catholic Faith and Evangelical witness.” an interview with Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC:VOL: It has been reported that, at the gathering of all TAC bishops in England [in October 2007] at which the TAC formally petitioned Rome for union… all the bishops signed a copy of the Roman Catholic Catechism on the altar as an expression of their complete acceptance of Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine. Others have reported that this was not the case, that they signed the petition to Rome but not the Catechism. Did the bishops all sign the Catechism, and is there complete acceptance by the TAC of Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine?HEPWORTH: First. We not only signed the catechism, we also signed the compendiumwhich is the Q & A section of the catechism, on the altar, and a video of the signingwas made for the Holy See and we state in the letter that it is the faith we aspire to hold and teach. We all signed it on that altar in the middle of a Mass for Christian unity.

  • Andrew

    Quote from Bishop Duncan at the formation of the ACNA:"for those who believe the ordination of women to be a grave error, and for those who believe it scripturally justifiable – reflecting Global Anglicanism – that we should be in mission together until God sorts us out. It is not perfect, but it is enough."Try this on for size:for those who believe the ordination of practicing homosexuals and gay marriage to be a grave error, and for those who believe it scripturally justifiable – reflecting Global Anglicanism – that we should be in mission together until God sorts us out. It is not perfect, but it is enough.

  • Andrew

    Re: Alphonsus's commentOn the contrary, the TAC knows exactly what it believes, and has chosen the course of unity, not of further schism. This should be the model for the ACNA! Indeed, many in the Dioceses of Ft. Worth and elsewhere would be much happier pursuing reunion with Rome than starting (yet another) continuing Anglican body. We need another continuing Anglican body like we need a hole in the head.

  • torculus

    Excellent summary Andrew! Your apt comparison is entirely instructive.The concern raised by His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah earlier in the day, for example the obstacle to unity between Orthodox and Anglicans posed by the ordination of women, was glossed over in an almost flippant manner in Archbishop Duncan's sermon tonight.Archbishop Duncan began his sermon tonight with an interesting tidbit, which he then tossed aside as mere coincidence. It was this day 500 years ago that Henry was crowned King. Many comparisons leap to mind.

  • Shaughn

    A few brief points:1) God love Newman, but not everyone agrees with him about the requirement of a single person to be an infallible authority — The East, for example. I understand why he came to that conclusion, and it reminds me a bit of St. Anselm's ontological argument, which amounts to "God exists because God has to exist." I understand the desire for such an authority, but I think the only infallible man (in any sense of the term, not just the dogma in question) is, was, and will be Christ Jesus.2) Ordination of women and ordination of homosexuals are both at the same time very related and very different. They are related because, the argument goes, if gender doesn't matter for ordination, then it doesn't matter for marriage, and if gender doesn't matter for marriage, then orientation doesn't matter for marriage, and so it shouldn't matter for ordination. They are different because one is a matter of ontology and metaphysics– whether it is even possible for a woman to receive the that sacrament. The other is a matter of whether a) a given act is sinful, and b) whether someone in an unrepentant state of sin can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.3) The trouble with Anglicanism is – there is a very clear thread of solid theology through such writers as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, C.S. Lewis, and even Bp. Grafton of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, who first started serious dialogue with the East back in the 19th century. That thread has very precise, very metaphysically clean theology. (Unlike, say, Luther's Eucharistic theology — what slop.) There's also a lot of mess from other writers, usually where they've gotten tangled up too much in Continental Protestant theology. But the messiness could be said of theologians prior to the Reformation – Duns Scotus' 'univocity of meaning' leading to Christ being sacrificed again and again and again and again and Gustavo Giutierez' wedding of Marxism and Roman Catholicism being just two small examples.But seriously. I encourage anyone, Anglican or Catholic, to read Richard Hooker's Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie Book V and Lancelot Andrewes' correspondence with Cardinal Perron. The latter is, if anything, a sterling example of how two opponents can spar fervently and still be respectful and courteous. :>

  • Fr Longenecker

    Shaughn, your mindset is v. Protestant…as if it was all a matter of individuals 'figuring it out' and 'choosing' which theology works best.A couple of points: I think you don't quite get what Catholics believe about infallibility. Perhaps you should read the Catechism on this. We believe that Christ is the only infallible person, but that he grants a measure of his infallibility to the Church which is his mystical body, and that measure of infallibility is focussed in the bishops as successors to the Apostles and their authority is focused in the ministry of Peter amongst them.The question of homosexuality and women's ordination are connected most importantly not in the issues at all, but in the authority of any church which chooses to ordain women or marry homosexuals.I became a Catholic not because the Anglican Church ordained women, but because she thought she had the authority to do so independently of Rome and the East. That is the core issue–not women's ordination or homosexuality per se.There may be 'clear' theologians who were Anglican, but who is to say they are the ones you should follow? Again we have the authority issueAll best,FD

  • Shaughn

    Fr. Dwight,I think we agree more than we disagree. Our authorities are Scripture and Tradition, which must never contradict, and Reason, which mustn't contradict the other two– not experience, which causes silly innovation. All else, as Cardinal Ratzinger argues in Credo for Today is interpretation. If it is Protestant to call a spade a spade and say Duns Scotus wrote some crummy theology, so be it. That hardly makes it non-Catholic. Anglicans, and particularly Anglican Catholics, will argue and demonstrate that they are Protestant precisely because they are Catholic, rather than in contradistinction to it.As for authority, I wish you could point me to an apologist who doesn't assume said authority is valid, but rather articulates why it is valid. I read the Catechism, and I wasn't persuaded. Why? It doesn't even attempt, ever, to persuade, which is very peculiar in a catechism. Most engage in a sort of question-answer process through which the subject under discussion is defended. Nothing is taken for granted–not even the Lord's Prayer. I have trouble recognizing the authority being claimed here, and not for lack of trying. Persuasion via apology is a perfectly fair request from those who disagree. Paul had to do it. Peter himself had to do it. Sts. Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and many other martyrs had to do it. Augustine had to do it. And none of these people, when they did it, argued from any sort of infallibility, nor did they say "The Trinity is XYZ. The end," because they frankly couldn't. They were in the minority, and they had to engage in the act of persuasion. Mere Christianity is so glorious because it actually endeavors to persuade people of something that isn't inherently obvious or true, but rather contrary to what The World suggests to be true. Again, help a fellow understand! :>

  • Fr Longenecker

    Shaughn, I refer you to my latest post and to the essay in my volume Path to Rome, which does just what you ask: in that essay I ask what sort of authority do we require, and what might it look like, and where (if anywhere) is it to be found. You might also like to read my book More Christianity which discusses these matters in more detail. Also, keep watching this blog as I will be writing on this question later today.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Shaughn, To pick you up on your point. We agree that our authority is Scripture and Tradition.Yes, so far so good, but then the question remains, but which interpretation of Scripture and which interpretation of Tradition?In the debates now confronting the Anglican Communion both sides use Scripture and Tradition very effectively to come to totally opposite conclusions.Another authority is needed, so where do you find that authority?

  • Shaughn

    Fr. Dwight,Historically, I'd argue that we've relied on ecumenical councils for just these sorts of things. Nicea I, for example, hammers home the question of women's ordination: there are deaconesses, it concludes, but it is exclusively a lay order without any sacramental character. (The trouble is quite simple, really — if a woman can be an ordained deacon, she can be an ordained bishop. The language in 1 Timothy is too parallel to give a meaningful defense otherwise.)Most of us (of which my church is happily a part) can agree on the first seven of these, but I realize there's some debate on those that follow. In addition, there's the much touted Vincentian canon–That which was done everywhere at all times by all people.It seems to me that Newman was reacting against modernism and, probably, hoping to pre-empt post-modernism. If we are to live in a modern or post-modern world, then we need, he would argue, an infallible authority. Otherwise, we risk relativism, unnecessary dialectical tension, and obliteration of any metaphysic, among other concerns. On matters of faith, I'm pretty firmly stuck in the 5th and 6th century with a few exceptions that don't, really, contradict that period. (I can never do without C.S. Lewis and Thomas Aquinas). The battles against Arianism, Gnosticism, and Pelagianism were waged without infallible authority and won back then. It's a battle we're fighting again now, in all parts of Christianity, infallible people or not.I see the point. I just choose rather to avoid being a modern or post-modern Christian and obviate the issue altogether.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Shaughn, there are some serious problems with your analysis: It is great to rely on the Ecumenical Councils, but who calls the council and who decides which councils are binding? You see the problem: why just the first seven councils and no further?Second point: you wish to be 'stuck in the 6th century, but why the 6th and not the 13th? Who decides? And you are not really in the 6th century you are in the 21st. Where is the authority that is at once ancient and yet current to the age in which we live?Third point: You say the battles against early heresies were fought without infallibility. This shows a misunderstanding of our belief in infallibility. It was not invented in the nineteenth century, it was defined then. The action of infallibility was active in the church from the point that Peter said, "You are the Messiah the Son of God" and Jesus said "It is not flesh and blood that has revealed this, but the Father in heaven."

  • Peter Brown

    Fr. Dwight,I like your exposition of Newman. Where do you see the Orthodox as fitting in to Newman's understanding?Peace,–Peter

  • Shaughn

    Fr. Dwight,Those were:Nicea – ConstantineConstantinople – TheodosiusEphesus – Theodosius II.Chalcedon – MarcianConstantinople II – JustinianConstantinople III – Constantine IVNicea II – Constantine VI.Logic follows that our invoker should either be the POTUS or the Sec. General of the UN. What fun! :>

  • The Archer of the Forest

    As an Anglican priest who does occasionally dare to post a comment or two on your blog, I do share your assessment of the ACNA. Exactly with whom they think they are in communion with (other than the other people sitting in the room) is a bit disturbing to me. I wish them well, and I pray that their disgruntled energy might be channeled to something more productive in the Kingdom of God. I have to scratch my head though at the groupings in the ACNA. On the one hand, you have the Forward in Faith Anglo-catholic crowd and on the other you have groups like the Reformed Episcopal Church which is more Protestant than Calvin. My question to them, which I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer, is when a substantive theological issue arises (from Women's ordination to Eucharistic sacrifice to the meaning of Eucharist…the list is endless), given the respective backgrounds of the various groups, I don't see what will keep them from splintering again as they splintered from TEC. It seems to me they have created the mechanism which is really the Reformation writ-small. I am somewhat disturbed by these turns of events. Again, I wish them well and pray for them, but I don't see how with any intellectual integrity that they can say they are anything other than another American Protestant denomination.