"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.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Position Paper on the Papacy I Can Endorse

Many of my Anglo-Catholic friends are what are commonly called "Anglo-Papalists," and they are quite eager for reunion with Rome as swiftly as possible. I am afraid that I am not cut from that cloth. While I too yearn for the day when we all will be one, as Christ and the Father are one, and I believe that the Roman see should hold a "primacy of honor" on that glorious day, I cannot now in good conscience submit to the Roman Pontiff as holding supreme jurisdiction over the entire Catholic Church (at least not in the form they presently claim to be able to exercise that jurisdiction) or as being able to pronounce infallibly on matters of faith or morals without the judgment of an ecumenical Council.

Father Thomas Hopko, retired dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York, has written a useful essay on the Roman primacy that reflects my own thoughts on this matter very well. It may be found at Orthodoxy Today. (Some of the liturgical practices Fr Hopko insists on in the essay seem adiaphora to me [i.e., the insistence on baptism by immersion], but I could go along with them if that were the cost of reunion. His swipe at Anselmian atonement seems unnecessary in such a document, but I am with him on papal authority 100 %.)

I have had my differences with Fr. Hopko on theological issues in the past, but I recommend this short essay highly.


Blogger Julian said...

... and I have had my *personal* differences with him. And he really had a thing about Anselm ... remember that time you took him on a tour of the city, we were at Noodles and he ripped into Anselm? Yikes... the granddaughter was the sweetest girl, though, wonder if she's coming to U of C after all?

2:02 PM  
Blogger Peregrinator said...

Why do you think that Rome should have the primacy. This that a convential mode adopted on account of history or is a divine mandate?

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Ian Gerdon:

Thanks so much for directing us to Fr. Hopko’s essay. I found it thoughtful
and intriguing, but (as you might guess) not quite persuasive.

While Fr. Hopko’s readiness to think about how the traditional Roman primacy
could be practiced in a manner acceptable to Eastern Orthodox Christians is
admirable, his exact notions are problematic. In fact, they are excessive.
One would not be at all surprised if he were to say that the Eastern
Orthodox should not be expected simply to accept decrees made after the
seven ecumenical Councils or on the basis of a theology different from the
Greek and Byzantine traditions; but Fr. Hopko goes much farther than this.
Again and again in his sections on doctrine and liturgy he insists that
various Eastern Orthodox positions, which have to my knowledge no explicit
Conciliar basis but which have become entrenched points of Eastern Orthodox
belief and practice, should be not simply accepted as legitimate but
proclaimed as normative by the Roman pope, to the exclusion of Latin
theological traditions that might differ from Eastern Orthodox positions
without contradicting the seven Councils.

His statement on the filioque is an excellent example of this. Rather than
claiming (reasonably, to my mind) that the filioque does not represent the
unified confession of the Church as formulated at Nicaea and Constantinople
and as such cannot to be demanded of the Eastern Orthodox nor represented
precisely as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, he rather insists that the
Latin theology underlying the term be abjured. His concern is not juridical
(i.e., who has the authority to alter the Creed) but theological, elevating
the Greek tradition to the exclusion of the Latin. And while the Latin
theology goes beyond what is contained in the Creed, it does not contradict
it – so it seems that Fr. Hopko is not defending the Creed per se but the
Greek theology built upon and justified by that Creed.

Similar moves can be seen in his demands for proclamation of uncreated
divine energies (expounded particularly, to my knowledge, by St. Gregory
Palamas in the 14th century), the Blessed Virgin’s death, the non-existence
of purgatory, and the dismissal of St. Anselm’s soteriology, none of which
is to my knowledge explicit in the seven Councils. Here again, Fr. Hopko
seems to be demanding not the seven Councils but the Greek theological
tradition at the expense of the Latin. The same can be said of his
insistence upon baptism by immersion, the end of the practice of reserving
the Eucharist, and the normativity of leavened bread.

In short, Fr. Hopko seems not to distinguish between the way in which papal
authority is practiced and the existence of a valid Christian tradition of
doctrine and sanctity parallel to his own – a distinction which you,
Randall, as an Anglican, would find absolutely essential, yes? And so
although Fr. Hopko very beautifully says that “the Orthodox would have to
sacrifice everything, excepting only the faith itself, for the sake of
building a common future together with Christians who are willing and able
to do so with them,” there is confusion precisely in the meaning of that
“faith” – whether it be the authority of the Councils or the trends of one
branch of Christian tradition.

Moreover, since Fr. Hopko lists as essential Christian doctrine issues that
were to my knowledge not fully explicated during the era of the seven
Councils, even in Greek theology (“uncreated divine energies,” most
pointedly, but also the death of Mary, etc.), he seems to be tacitly
admitting that Christian doctrine does develop normatively over time, thus
conceding an essential Roman Catholic point. But in his scenario, this
normative development has taken place without the guidance of any ecumenical
council or any authority parallel to the Roman papacy, an entirely
unacceptable situation.

Finally, two other concerns jump out at me immediately upon reading this
essay. Although Fr. Hopko displays some excellent historical consciousness,
it is curiously limited. After mentioning St. Ignatius and St. Irenaeus,
his depiction of the growth of papal authority from the third century on is
negative. But in fact the authority of the Roman pope and of all the
patriarchs continued to develop throughout the first eight Christian
centuries, and that development is encoded in the seven Councils. It is in
the last of these Councils, III Constantinople and II Nicaea, not in the
first centuries of Christianity, that we should look for the fullest
expression of papal authority. On these Councils, Fr. Hopko says nothing.
He also says nothing regarding the track record of the Roman pope for
orthodoxy as defined by the seven Councils, as opposed to that of the
Eastern patriarchs, which was sometimes questionable.

Second, Fr. Hopko’s depiction of the way in which the Roman papacy would
exercise its primacy, in a “ministry of intercession and reconciliation”
almost devoid of real authority, sounds suspiciously like what I understand
to be the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The divisions wracking
the Anglican Church suggest the difficulty this model has in dealing with a
major crisis; and the fractured nature of Eastern Orthodoxy, especially in
America, indicates the limitations of the unity it can provide. If, as Fr.
Hopko writes, the Roman pope is the de facto head of worldwide Christianity,
it is perhaps due to the Roman Catholic Church’s very strong and
comprehensive notion of ecclesial unity, centered around the papacy’s
universal jurisdiction.

This is certainly not to say that the way in which the Roman papacy
currently practices its authority is immune to criticism. It is one thing
to place immense power in the hands of men like Popes John Paul and
Benedict, another entirely to so institutionalize it that every pope will
possess the same power. The failings of one man can sway the Church, and we
need to ask very serious questions about how far our understanding of
ecclesial structure can be guided by our notions of God’s providence, and
how far we must institute human measures to defend against human inadequacy
(a secure political principle, but what role does it have in the Church?).

In short, it seems to me, Randall, that the views expressed by Fr. Hopko are
on the one hand insufficiently historically rooted (re. the late patristic
era) to meet either the demands of his own tradition or the expectations of
me and you; while on the other hand they are rooted in a general view of
Latin Christianity hostile to our beliefs. Given this, I don’t see how he
can express a position on the papacy that you find acceptable. Could you
perhaps clarify what parts of his position, and why, you feel express your
own beliefs?

Thanks for posting the link to this fascinating essay, a worthwhile effort
at ecumenical dialogue, as a contribution toward your own thoughts on the
matter. I hope all is well in Texas.


P.S. For my part, the more I study history, the more I become convinced of
two things: that there is great room for variation in the exercise of papal
authority, and that the patristic testimony on this and all other topics
cannot be taken without its culmination in the 6th-8th centuries. Finally,
two further points perhaps explain my in fact increasing commitment to Roman
Catholicism: 1) that the RCC seems in the twentieth century to have learned
humility, especially in the figures of Popes John Paul and Benedict - as Fr.
Hopko notes, the popes have been leaders in exemplifying repentance; and 2)
my thought that Roman Catholicism can incorporate into itself the good of
Eastern Orthodox doctrine and sanctity, while the Orthodox seem at times
uninterested in recognizing what is good in the Latin tradition.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we take seriously the claim that the Roman pontiff rightly execises presidential leadership over the church, aren't we dishonoring him and his authority by remaining in a denomination that does not recognize his authority? Don't we have an obligation of conscience to enter into formal communion with the bishop of Rome?

We often hear arguments like the one put forward by Fr. Hoko about why we should not become Catholic (even though the pope is rightly the head of the church). The implication of these arguments is that it is better to remain in the Anglican communion (or some oher church denomination) than to join the Roman church. But no one ever seems to focus on this fact. After proving that the Catholic church doesn't meet every single expectation we have for it, we think we've succeeded in showing that we don't need to join the Roman church.

But we never answer the other question: is it better to remain
an Anglican than become a Catholic; do we really believe that the Anglican communion contains the fullness of the truth? Put another way, does anyone think that to join the Anglican communion (or some other communion) is to join the Church founded by Christ, and that all churches should be moving towards Anglicanism as the fullest expression of the gospel? I doubt it; or at least I've never seen it. This, for me, is the problem we've got in any of these discussions about Catholicism. We argue all the time about "not becoming Catholic," but we cannot really come up with a convincing argument that the best choice is to be an Anglican.

Protestants seem to have a second best approach to faith. We'd rather be in union with Rome and united under the successor of Peter, but we can always find reasons not to join. So we end up in whatever is left over after Catholicism, which for me is Anglicanism.

I'm tired of having a second-best approach to faith. For me, it is clear that Rome is supposed to be superior to other churches, and it doesnt' make sense for me to hang out in this denomination while I'm waiting for Rome to get everything worked out to my satisfaction.

3:28 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Dear Anon

"do we really believe that the Anglican communion contains the fullness of the truth?"

Of course not. If you think you have found such an institution, I recommend that you join up immediately. (I gather from your tone you now feel that you have found it in the form of the Holy Roman See.) I for one do not believe any earthly manifestation of the Church possesses "the fullness of the truth" in the sense you appear to mean. Certainly no visible church I have ever looked into impresses me as possessing it. We shall have to wait until that glorious day when "we know even as we are known" in order to taste of such a "fullness of truth," as I see it.

I am an Anglican because I am a deeply Western Christian in most of my theological thought processes and attitudes, but one who believes that the ecclesiology preserved by the Eastern Orthodox Churches best represents that of the ancient Church. (Since I do not buy John Henry Newman's arguments about the development of doctrine, Rome after the development of the imperial papacy and the Counter-Reformation is out for me, I'm afraid.) For me Anglicanism comes closest in the West to preserving that ancient paradigm. If only the East didn't have such a visceral negative response to SS Augustine and Anselm swimming the Bosporos might be a lively option for me [I have long had strong phil-Orthodox tendencies], but I am afraid those worthy Western Doctors (along with SS Bernard and Thomas) are part of my theological marrow now. I will even own up to admiration for some of the Reformers! Clearly Anglicanism is the best fit for me, Anon.

Best wishes on your journey across the Tiber. God bless.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Julian said...


Anglicanism is, IMHO, more than a welcome mat.

Yes, it is better for *some* people to be Anglican rather than RC: those who aren't here to avoid some other tradition. And, yes, I think there is a sense in which all churches should be moving towards Anglicanism - not it's particular traditions or origins, but its principles of grasping the essentials but allowing freedom in adiaphora - I think all churches should move towards that, and that includes Anglicans, who often make the mistake of overemphasising the English heritage. I believe Anglicanism is an important factor in the hoped-for reunion of all Christians, and that only then will the one Church have the "fullness of truth."

You are understandably tired of the "second-best approach"; I am too - as an Anglican I am tired of being surrounded by people who settle for what they think is "second-best" simply because they are not yet ready etc. to submit to Rome. I am tired of being seen as just another RC-wannabe who just doesn't have the guts to submit to authority. So I applaud your willingness to follow your conscience even if it means making hard choices.

As for me, I do not buy the Roman claims to authority, and I'm here in good consicence because I think Anglicanism preserves an important *piece* of the full truth that should not be lost, and that I personally am able to be as fully a Christian as I can here.

It's all too easy to be "Anglican" not because of conviction, but out of convenience, and though I am patient with people in that situation, I am sick of it.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Ian Gerdon:

Thanks for the remarks in your response to the Anonymous comment re.
swimming the Tiber. I noted especially your comment that “the ecclesiology
preserved by the Eastern Orthodox Churches best represents that of the
ancient Church” and “Anglicanism comes closest in the West to preserving
that ancient paradigm.” You’re probably right, granted that “best” and
“closest” – the gaping absence in both cases being, as Fr. Hopko would say,
the primacy of Rome, which was an integral part of ancient ecclesiology.
Granted that such an ecclesiology is no longer anywhere present, would it be
fair to say that, in your view, the RCC represents and over-accentuation of
that primacy and the EOCs represent the remnant of the general ecclesiology,
lacking the Roman primacy? And would it further be fair to say that,
granted the incompleteness of both in your view, the latter is preferable to
the former since a loss is preferable to an addition?

Also, I noted that the point at which you feel the papacy deviated
definitively from the ancient ecclesiology was the “imperial papacy”
(Innocent III and such?) and the Counter-Reformation, rather than Vatican I.
Do you mean that’s when the trends began, or that the objectionable
elements where from that point set in stone?

Thanks - I hope all's well.

7:59 PM  

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