Symptomatic - Robert Hart

david at david at
Fri Jul 9 17:18:08 EDT 2010


by Robert Hart 
July 8, 2010

Writing for the mis-named blog, The Anglo-Catholic (known here as The Former Anglican blog), a Pastoral Provision priest who pastors an "Anglican Use" Roman Catholic parish, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, has offered an apologetic for his point of view. Oddly enough, the piece is titled, Then. Now. Not Much Difference. I wish I had said that-in fact, I did (but, when I said it, it was, apparently, not very nice).

Fr. Phillips' little piece is symptomatic of the kind of thinking that prevails among those who are "shocked, shocked" that any Anglicans, including those who have been for years committed to The Affirmation of St. Louis, would fail to jump at the opportunity to become Roman Catholics. As such, it is instructive to us of the kind of reasoning that exists among those who are enthusiastic about Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the lack of realism in their logic. About his conversion in 1983, when he led a congregation of Episcopalians and tried to take them into the Roman Catholic Church, Fr. Phillips wrote:

"What was a fairly healthy number of potential converts dwindled down to eighteen people in those last few months before our reception and my ordination. I had no idea there were those in our little group who had been harboring some rather anti-Roman feelings, and when the time drew closer to 'sign on the dotted line,' they bolted, and tried to affect a scorched-earth policy in their wake. It was downright depressing at the time, and when I heard those who stayed behind chortling and saying, 'We told you it would never work,' I had never felt so discouraged."

The line "We told you it would never work," of course, is not relevant. By the low standard of numbers, it may well have worked; what is on the the table now could become large, for all we know, at some future date. Or, not, as the case may be- we shall see. Whether or not anyone "told you so" is hardly worth pointing out. The issues of truth and of principles are what matters, not whether or not something has "worked" by anyone's standards.

Having no firsthand knowledge of his 1983 congregation, I cannot say what constitutes "anti-Roman feelings" from the author's point of view. But, I can say that it does not take anti-Roman feelings, and certainly not feelings of hostility, to prevent individuals from wanting to join the Roman Catholic Church. It can be something as honest as a difference of belief, and therefore a sincere response to the demands of conscience.

The position taken by Fr. Phillips appears to be that the claims of the Roman See have an obvious rightness that only a cold heart could withstand. In fact, the claims of Rome constitute the prosecution, that is, the charge that everyone else is wrong, beginning with the entire body of churches under all the other Patriarchates in 1054, which became known as the Orthodox Church. The prosecution has the burden of proof under our law; and Rome has failed to persuade us of its case. We have reasonable doubts about their claim against everyone else.

It will not suffice, therefore, to categorize dissent from Rome's position as "anti-Roman." We are not persuaded by the case they have made against the rest of us. Why are they anti-Anglican? Why are they anti-Orthodox? Why are they anti-Protestant? It is they who claim to be the One True Church, an obvious statement against the rest of us. In fairness, we point out that Orthodoxy has brought a counter-prosecution against everybody else. This is a great burden that both of the two One True Churches have carried as a basic dogma for centuries. But, we stand with St. Paul: "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." (I Cor. 12:21) They have no need of us, they think.

Fr. Phillips wrote this as well, thus revealing some unreality that clouds the minds the Anglicanorum Coetibus enthusiasts:

"To those who recoil at 'becoming Roman Catholics' - for heaven's sake, why? To be in the same visible Church as are the great saints throughout the ages, as well as such men as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI is a marvelous blessing."

How telling it is that he can write "for heaven's sake, why?" not as a genuine question, but as a hypothetical question. He means, "What? Can there be a serious answer? Why, shouldn't every Anglican jump at the chance to be a Roman Catholic?" Clearly, it has not dawned on Fr. Phillips and company, that his title, "Then. Now. Not much difference" answers what ought to have been, for him, a genuine question. If every Anglican was eager to become a Roman Catholic we would have done so already. Nothing has stood in the way.

After all, anyone who believes the claims of Rome has no choice, and never has. Once a person believes all that stuff, it is no longer about what he likes or dislikes; it is not about Elizabethan English (which they seem to confuse with the substance of our Liturgy), or married clergy. If a person believes Rome is right, but has not joined their big denomination already, such a person obviously has no real interest in obtaining eternal life.

Why? indeed

If only "for heaven's sake, why?" had been a real question, we could answer it.

We could point out that we cannot accept the papal claims, inasmuch as they are not and never were the clear and obvious meaning of Scripture. If the claims of Rome were so evidently true, Rome would not have been alone, among all the Patriarchates, to have believed its own advertising in 1054. In the Orthodox view, Rome left the Church at that time just as certainly as Monophysite churches (or those so accused) left the Church after the Council of Chalcedon.

Nonetheless, Fr. Phillips confuses the Roman Catholic Church with "the same visible Church  the great saints throughout the ages." What a terrible charge to lay on everybody else. The rest of the Church is every bit as visible as they are. And, this Roman claim includes an exclusive claim on all saints who came before 1054, as if they know with certainty that the Apostles and Martyrs of the ancient Church thought of themselves, quite obviously, as loyal papists. This exclusive claim also carries a rejection of a fact we know beyond doubt: There are plenty of saints who did not and do not believe the claims of Rome, very many of whom have died as martyrs.

The answer to Fr. Phillips' "gee, golly, why not?" position has been given in countless theological statements over the last several centuries. We could speak of many writings outside of Anglicanism, such as the Augsburg Confession (which is worth reading for its theological clarity and historical importance). But, let us stick to Anglican statements, for purposes of countering the specific target of his essay.

Fr. Phillips writes as if there were no Thirty-Nine Articles that summarize with clarity the mind of the English Reformers about the Gospel, Articles that free the minds of readers from Medieval corruptions and abuses so that the light of Christ may break through. He writes as if the Caroline Divines had never written a word. He writes as if the Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholic contemporaries of J.H. Newman had agreed with his rejection of their portion of the Church, as if they all had joined him. But, they, Pusey and all, remained Anglican.

He writes as if Hall, Dix and Mascall, as friendly to Rome as possible, and very much in agreement on more issues than most other Anglicans ever have been, had followed Newman in his conversion. But, they lived and died Anglicans. Indeed, the so-called Anglican Use Society tries to confuse modern readers about this essential fact: None of them became a Roman Catholic. And, they have tried to add C.S. Lewis to the list of those who somehow meant to, but never got around to, accepting Roman Catholicism. The fact is, they did not join it; they remained Anglican one and all. The Anglican (?) Use Roman Catholics suggest that all of these great Anglican thinkers really wanted to be Roman Catholics, as if anything could have prevented them from "converting" if they ever had meant to do so. In fact, in their writings, each gave his reasons for not becoming Roman Catholic, never stating that any one reason stood out as a single issue.

The reasons we are not interested in joining the Roman Catholic Church have been stated over and over again as matters of doctrinal conviction.

We do not accept their papal claims. We see no reason to regard the Bishop of Rome as possessing Primatial status that gives him Universal authority over all Christians. We find their doctrine of Papal Infallibility to be incoherent at best, and to the degree it possess any coherence, a modern innovation as groundless as the "ordination" of women.

We find their peculiar doctrines of Purgatory and the Treasury of Merits to stand in sharp contrast to the Gospel itself, in which we see that Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, the one Mediator between God and men, has paid in full (John 19:30 ĵ»sÉ ) the price of all human sins. Their doctrine contradicts the meaning of those words, which summarize well the revelation of God in Scripture on the issue of Atonement, that describe the work of Jesus Christ as "(...his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."

We find their position on revelation to contradict the consensus of Antiquity, that the canon of Scripture is both complete and closed, and that it contains all things necessary for salvation. Though they have yet to announce it, Rome recognizes clearly that the only logical defense of their position is Newman's Theory of Doctrinal Development, which contradicts the "Vincentian Canon" In St. Vincent's actual writing this boils down to belief in those things the Church has recognized as having been recorded already in the Bible, about which all true believers agree.

We reject Rome's belief that the Pope has the authority to define new dogmas. In fact, we find the whole idea of new dogma to be absurd and dangerous. It is absurd, because the fallacy of retroactive Apostolic Faith is historical non-sense. It is dangerous because it differs in no real way from "Progressive Revelation," that God may yet reveal essential doctrines never before known to the Church as dogma. It has the potential to turn the Papacy into the ultimate Oracle, as if we had not heard from God through the Apostles and Prophets, as if the Bishop of Rome may rise above the common episcopal role of Defender of the Faith to that of a Buddha.

Loss of moral credibility

Furthermore, it is astonishing that enthusiasts for the Roman position can be insensitive to Rome's tragic loss of credibility. By that I mean its loss of moral credibility. It is obvious that Rome, in protecting its failed experiment of required clerical celibacy, a policy that began in the twelfth century, accepts its unacceptable condition of forcing its faithful members to live with a severe clergy shortage, a shortage all the more tragic for being entirely man-made and unnecessary. It survives by hubris and error.

This tragic clergy shortage has led to the scandal of Roman Catholic bishops hiding clerical predatory sexual abusers of children from law enforcement officials in several countries, hiding them also from the public, and knowingly reassigning them to inflict their destructive abominations on new victims. Because they cannot be replaced with good priests, due to the difficulty imposed by Roman foolishness that results in most of the best men being excluded from ordained ministry, the predators have been protected and allowed to unleash their horrors afresh on innocent victims. This preserves the status quo at the expense of souls for whom Christ gave his life. We see in these men wolves devouring the sheep, not shepherds feeding Christ's lambs. It may be considered bad form to remind anyone of this current state of affairs (now Ireland is learning of the severity of this evil); but, it must be done.

Yes, it may be argued that both the Pastoral Provisions, and their extension by Anglicanorum Coetibus, present something of a solution for the Roman Catholic mess. But, Anglican priests who know their current pastoral responsibilities are not likely to sacrifice the souls under their care simply to patch up a huge wound with a little band aid. Having one life to live for the Lord, the cost of helping Rome heal its self-inflicted gaping wound, is too high. Sadly, the Pastoral Provisions, even as now extended, apply only to convert clergy; as such they are powerless beyond one generation (no matter what the Most Rev. Mr. Hepworth may tell you).

At the very least one could expect, not unreasonably, that those who advertise so loudly for Roman Catholicism would do so with acquired humility. The loss of moral credibility is not the fault of Anglicans, Orthodox and Protestants. Therefore, the person who prosecutes for Rome appears, to the rest of us, to be doubly arbitrary and presumptuous. Who are these dubious fellows who presume to lecture us? How dare they throw stones from within their glass house?

Frankly, the clerical child abuse scandal says quite a lot about Rome's competence to exercise its alleged Universal Primacy. If such a doctrine be true and revealed by God, then we would have to question His wisdom and justice in a manner that would be both honest and morally justified. Really, would He require us to subject ourselves to a system so incapable (if not unwilling) of protecting even our very children from its own ravening wolves? How can we believe that the Lord our God, the Shepherd of our souls, the One who said "suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me" would require all of us everywhere to hand them over to such a convoluted system?

Theoretical and legalistic muddying of the water, such as "Papal Infallibility is only about doctrine, not discipline," is no answer. St. Peter's discernment when facing Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) sets a true standard of Apostolic authority that makes a lie of all such delicate and intricate, if not tortured, logic. If the Bishop of Rome is sitting in Peter's chair, where is Peter's prophetic insight concerning individuals with whom he associates? Where is Peter's simple moral clarity?

Are these hard questions? Will I be accused of harboring anti-Roman feelings? Will I have to put up with more Bulverism about "hate" or "anger" instead of sincere and honest discussion? I am sorry to have to inform some of you Roman Enthusiasts, that this is not the time for silly essays that posit absurd hypothetical questions such as that put forth by Fr. Phillips. "For heavens sake, why?" he posits. He may be "shocked, shocked," to hear the answer.

----Robert Hart is Priest in Charge of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, NC, Contributing Editor of Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, and frequent contributor to the blog, The Continuum

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