"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Classical Anglicanism and Me

I just received word that a friend of mine from the University of Chicago is going to be received into the Roman Catholic Church in Colorado in a few weeks. This young man was once a youth minister at an Episcopal parish in his home state, though while in Chicago he joined Moody Memorial Church (a keystone of the American evangelical movement). I haven’t really been in touch with him since I returned to Texas fifteen months ago, so I don’t know exactly what took him from Moody Church to Catholicism. I certainly wish him well, and I rejoice that he is joining a branch of the Church that teaches the apostolic Faith, values the great Tradition of the Church, and cherishes all the Sacraments. May God bless him on this new path.

This news has made me pensive. He is not the first friend of mine who has “swam the Tiber” during the last two years. One friend (whose wife is still an ECUSA priest, btw) was received into the RCC a year and a half ago. I think it was the philosophical heritage of Roman Catholic theology that attracted him more than anything else. A young U of C undergraduate friend, whose father was an Episcopal priest all her life, was received into the RCC last Easter with the rest of her family. A third dear friend of mine in Chicago--I have heard through the grapevine--is close to taking the plunge any time. (It is possible that he has already made up his mind to do so and is holding back from telling me.) All of these people were Episcopalians until the events of General Convention 2003. And they all no longer felt at home within ECUSA. After having spent seven years living in the diocese of Chicago, I certainly understand that feeling. It is very difficult to maintain “the faith once delivered to the saints” under present conditions in much of the Episcopal Church. But why have they all left but I have not?

I am first and foremost a Catholic Christian, dedicated to the one Faith of Jesus Christ as revealed in the two Testaments of Holy Scripture, summarized in the three great historic creeds, defined by the first four Ecumenical Councils of the Church during the first five centuries of the Christian era. I want to live and die in the undivided Truth of the Church as it was taught before the sad division between East and West.

I personally stand within western Catholic tradition because it is the western expression of the undivided Truth (i.e., Augustine, Gregory the Great, Anselm, Bernard, Thomas) that resonates most strongly in my heart (though I certainly honor those who find the eastern expression of our common Faith more compelling). I am an Anglican rather than a Roman Catholic today largely because I do not agree with present RCC teaching on the papacy. I do not find the claims to infallibility that the First Vatican Council made on behalf of the Holy Father in Rome to be consistent with the practice of the ancient Church (or of the undivided Church at any time in her history). To my knowledge the East has never accepted the claims to papal infallibility that arose in the West in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Also, I believe that the present configuration of the Pope's "universal jurisdiction"--especially the claimed right to appoint every bishop in the Church (or even just the western portion of the Church)--is a further innovation that is inconsistent with ancient practice.

This hesitance to accept universal papal jurisdiction or infallibility in no way implies a lack of respect for the present Pope as a man of faith and a Christian leader. (Readers of this blog have no doubt noticed that I hold Pope Benedict in very high esteem). Rome clearly has a strong traditional claim on a “primacy of honor” within the worldwide Church, and the bishops of Rome deserve great respect for the fine work they have done in preserving the orthodox Faith down through the centuries.

Please do not mistake my reservations about the powers and claims of the papacy for "anti-Catholicism." I have carefully studied The Catechism of the Catholic Church and could happily affirm all but five or six paragraphs in that hefty compendium as my own understanding of the Christian faith. That would, I suspect, make me a more enthusiastic son of Rome than 80% of the Roman Catholics who attend Mass on a normal Sunday in the United States. And I long for the day when classical Anglicans and Roman Catholics are once again reunited in the visible Church on Earth. But I cannot in good conscience affirm a power of infallibility in the successor of St. Peter as an individual. (I feel this power would reside only in a genuine ecumenical council of the Church, not an individual bishop no matter how venerable his see.) I certainly understand why many people find comfort in papal infallibility in the face of so much doctrinal division today, but I am afraid that I cannot concur.

I am encourgaged that under Pope John Paul II, and now perhaps under Pope Benedict XVI, there is a new willingness to rethink how the Petrine office can be more effectively used to serve the unity of the Church. There is, for example, some practical value in having a "court of final jurisdicition" available to settle doctrinal disputes, and one can easily foresee such a ministry for the bishops of Rome in a future reunited Church. In light of the present pontiff's express desire to heal the breach between Rome and the East, one can imagine a future where the reservations of traditional Anglo-Catholic Anglicans (which closely parallel those of the Orthodox) have been sufficiently addressed for organic reunion to occur between our branches of Christ's Body. But under the present circumstances, classical Anglicanism is the expression of western Christianity that I find most consonant with the ancient heritage of the Church.

Another aspect of classical Anglicanism that I find appealing is its traditional ability to reconcile Catholic and evangelical viewpoints within a single orthodox body, both constituent parties of which are devoted to the veracity of Scripture, the validity of the Sacraments and the unity of the Body. This is the true meaning of the Anglican Via Media, and I believe that at its best it enriches our Catholic heritage with a zeal for the Gospel that honors our Savior highly. I am an Anglo-Catholic by conviction, but I honor my evangelical Anglican brothers and sisters sincerely for their dedication to the Truth.

These are the reasons I remain an Anglican. But let me be clear—I am a Catholic Christian standing in the tradition of classical Anglicanism. Increasingly it is becoming difficult to find this kind of Anglicanism in practice in North America and Great Britain. Many Episcopalians in the US are in fact liberal Protestants by conviction. They just happen to prefer a “fancy” style of worship, with esthetically appealing worship spaces, vestments and music. Many liberal Episcopalians could care less about the authority and integrity of Scripture or Tradition. Classical Anglicanism has been marginalized within ECUSA. A dozen dioceses, a few dozen embattled parishes in heterodox dioceses, a couple of seminaries—that is about all that remains today. I have to admit that if I were not in a solidly orthodox diocese with a faithful bishop and presbyterate, I might despair of a future for classical Anglicanism. Under the circumstances that prevail in much of ECUSA the Tiber might beckon to me as well. I therefore wish those who have already left the Episcopal church Godspeed. But the Anglican Communion Network gives me hope that classical Anglicanism may not perish from our continent, and my diocese remains steadfast. May God have mercy on us and preserve our Anglican heritage, if it is worthy of being preserved. If it is not, may He take what is worthwhile from its wreckage and pass it along for the good of the Universal Church. As for me, I will stay the course and follow the lead of Bishop Iker, my reverend father in God.

I wish all my friends who have been received into the Roman Catholic Church well and assure them of my prayers. I also pray for the day when we all may be one as Christ and the Father are One.

The image above is Canterbury Cathedral, looking down the sanctuary from the site of St. Thomas Beckett's tomb.


Anonymous Mimi said...

Randall, i'm praying for you. may it is a good idea to talk to these friends of yours and hear their story out. personally at the moment my parish priest is an anglican convert for 11 years or so. I commend his intellectual status and also his love and devotion to the liturgy but at times i am frustrated in his choice of liturgical music.... anyways thats beside the point. Keep up the search for God in all Truth and Sincerity. He will show you where he wants you.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These thoughtful comments were sent to me by a reader via e-mail, and I have been given permission to have them posted here anonymously. I think others may benefit from reading them. (Thank you very much, dear reader, and do please keep dropping by!):

"Thank you for your beautiful and supportive column about Classical Anglicanism. I am one of the (now-ex) Episcopalians you were describing, and believe me, I hear you loud and clear. Every word.

A couple of years ago I could have practically written the exact same sentiments myself. However, when you are in a local situation where the "liberal Protestants" are in firm control, there really is no alternative but to look elsewhere. You know you cannot with integrity continue to enable the sort of thing that is passing for Christian faith in the ECUSA these days.

All of us also have to confront the possibility that our local situation can change dramatically the minute a given orthodox bishop either dies or retires.

I went on and took the plunge into the Tiber on Easter of this year, one week before Pope John Paul II passed away. I was therefore able to watch the funeral, the interim, the conclave, and the election of Benedict XVI as a newly converted Catholic.

Surprisngly, I found myself literally in tears at the sight of all the flags and banners waving merrily in St. Peter's Square. Flags and banners from practically every nation on the face of the earth. Until then, I had never really comprehended the meaning of the word “Catholic.” To me, “Catholic” was a denomination, not a state of being.

It was an amazing experience, and my reaction to it all was a surprise, even to me. All of those well-articulated 'concerns' about the papacy - so clearly described in your column - that had haunted me for years were (to use the words from the old hymn) "a thousand ages in thy sight - like an evening gone." Vanished - completely.

Where did they go? Only afterwards was I able to process it. I now realize what it is: I feel myself to be a part of "the Church" in an all-new way. Before my conversion to the Catholic Church, the concept of the "Church Universal" was sort of a dry and academic thing for me. Sort of like looking at pictures in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. You see the images of all these people from other cultures, and yes it is colorful and interesting, but it is not a part of you. Now the whole thing is so real, so vibrant, so alive.

I believe that it is only within the context of this sort of organic feeling about the "Church Universal, the Church Catholic” that the papacy makes any sense at all. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult thing to explain to people on an intellectual level. It has to be experienced from the inside.

May God’s Blessing be upon you as you continue to witness to your faith in Jesus Christ.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous The Common Anglican said...

I am exactly where you are on these matters. I plan to re-read this later on, to really contemplate it. Well done, sir!

Meanwhile, please vote for the best in Anglican/Episcopal blogging and please spread the word to others to vote also!

~ The Common Anglican

9:55 PM  
Blogger The Don said...


I am very moved by this post. It is very well-written and sincere.

I have some thoughts...Although I do not understand the issues you have with the Papacy, I pray that this will not be a boulder on our path to unity, a path to unity that seems to be coming ever-closer to its destination. I find the Papacy to be very unitive in a world such as ours. I think that the Holy Spirit allowed for it to develop as it has precisely to confront what we have today. I may be wrong about the Holy Spirit's actions(and certainly do not support a Hegelian reading of development to a greater future), but I see in the Roman Catholic Church one of the only bastions our civilization has left to counter this ant-Christian world of ours. We need to counter this world in communion with one another, not as single cells detached. We need to be united in Faith and Governance, ecclesiological terms upon which we must reflect. (Read my article on my blog on the recent crisis in the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, a crisis in governance.)

I believe that you are indeed closer to me as a Catholic than most of the parishioners I meet everyday who have no clue of the treasure that they have. I am saddened that people like you are not officially a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Though I am by no means a canonist, I hope that something can be done to make all traditional Christians unite in one official body because only in unity can we be strong. I hope this can happen under the Holy Father, specifically His Holiness Benedict XVI. After all, Christ did not send his disciples in pairs merely for the aesthetic appearance!

Only God knows how this will turn out...In the meantime, let us pray.

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Many Episcopalians in the US are in fact liberal Protestants by conviction. They just happen to prefer a “fancy” style of worship, with esthetically appealing worship spaces, vestments and music."

And what exactly is so bad about liberal Protestants who prefer a fancy style of worhsip? ;)

Your friend- Becky Jo

10:56 AM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Amen, Francesco.

Becky Jo, I guess it depends on how "fancy" their worship gets ;-) . I draw the line at big puppetry and pastel spandex! (I've seen both, and it wasn't pretty in either case. A Mother Earth puppet giving birth to the hand of God--honest!) Take care, my friend.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Athanasius said...

I wrote a reply to your entry but it became a bit too long to leave here, so I've posted it on my [brand new] blog: http://seminarynotes.blogspot.com/2005/09/hope-and-future.html

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Zeb said...

Mr. Foster,

Thank you so much for the very timely, sincere, and kind reply.

The historical perspective is a most necessary perspective as well. I agree, and without it, we have not perspective, as scripture would not make much sense without it.

I agree on the possibility of Cardinal Newman's concept of "The Development of Doctrine." Although not having read the book yet, I am pretty familiar with Newman, and what the concept is. I look forward to reading it.

When you and I read references to Peter, primacy, and "papacy," you and I derive similar, but different opinions. I guess I simply see that none of it makes sense without taking a semi-literal sense of Mt. 16:16, as Catholicism does. Either he who is in the position of the see of Peter has the power to loose and bind on behalf of the church, or he does not. I guess I do not see any room for an "in-between" position. To me, it does not make sense.
I am sure you know this, but we do not believe the pope is impeccable, nor is personal opinion on all matters a part of his infallible jurisdiction. Only ex-Cathedra, and only in matters of faith and morals. I guess I would also call for an examination of historical evidence: Which church has been able to stand the test of time, which church does not falter on matters of natural law, apostolic succession, clear teaching on sacramentalism, scripture, and ultimately standing as the pillar against the onslaught of liberalism, modernism and relativism? The Eastern Orthodox have apostolic succession, and certain aspects of the other items I mentioned, but are inconsistent on many points of the others...abortion (what does this say regarding their consistency on their take of natural law, for example) among other problems. I know you are a throwback within the Anglican church (I wish it we could be reconciled and the Anglican wing would be re-opened), and surely recognize the whole host of post-reformation doctrinal matters. These matters occur even when scripture and individualistic bishops, with no other authority (Easter rite) occur. I have much respect for general conservative Evangelical Protestantism's respect and love for Christ, and reverence of scripture, but 450 years of their "invisible" churches have created a most unfortunate multitude of many embarrassing theological goofs.

I am in no means saying Catholicism (Western rite) is filled with better people, or some popes, bishops, priests and laity are not corrupt or incorrect. What I am trying to illustrate is the comparison of what the effects of embracing Papal infallibility (properly understood) contrasted with each individual - as ultimately this is where the buck stops when Papal primacy is denied - ends up. There is not a more consistent scriptural, historical, or logical church. Contrasting Catholicism (Western) and non-Catholicism, is to point out the difference between objective truth, and subjective truth. Ultimately, subjective truth is an oxymoron. What a wild claim...objective truth. But it is the only thing that makes sense.

I guess the last thing I have to say is in two parts. 1) Ultimately it is none of my business what you believe, but I am glad to have this dialogue with you. Again, thanks for your reply.
2) What attracted/baffled me most was when you were describing on your blog how you investigated, and embraced pretty much - literally all of - Catholicism except the infallibility of the Pope. What is so intriguing about this, is you have left the entirety of Protestantism doctrinally. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide (properly understood), you understand and believe in sacramentalism, purgatory, auricular confession etc., etc., and on and on. You have essentially become a Catholic in 4/5 of you belief on the Papal position, and the rest of Catholic doctrine you are squared with. You have much respect for Protestantism, but find it lacking, or maybe truncated. Essentially, you embrace much, much more of Catholicism than Protestantism. This is what baffles me. I find it amazing you stop at this one point, when so many are overcome, and supercede the Protestant position.

Maybe you do not need the full, absolute, self-authenticating concrete proof you are looking for regarding the Infallibility of the Pope. Maybe you just need a little more faith, in this one small area. Everything else you embrace is pointing you here.

Perhaps then your perspective will begin to change regarding the scriptural passages and historical indicators pointing towards this doctrine. Perhaps they'll then spell out that which I see.

If you are still open to this consideration, I'll pray that Christ give you the next nudge, if he decides it to be necessary.

Take care,

Zeb zc@mn.rr.com

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Zeb said...

1) Pardon my typo - I meant "Eastern" instead of "Easter."
Also, I think this is a very good, quick thorough compillation of scritpure and early fathers on Papal primacy and infallibility.
Cut and paste to your address bar.


1:06 PM  

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