Ask an Anglican: Escaping Into Eastern Orthodoxy

Nathan writes:

I would be grateful for your thoughts on why you feel classical Anglicanism preserves the Apostolic faith with more fidelity than the Eastern Orthodox church, which also makes the claim to be the most Patristic, similar-to-the-the-undivided-church Church. I have been having conversations with quite a few Anglicans that, observing the turmoil in the Communion, decided that Orthodoxy is ultimately the best and “most right” place to be. What do you think about this phenomenon?

Amidst the turmoil of life in the Anglican Communion today, it is understandable that many orthodox Anglicans have been looking for a lifeboat. And it’s equally understandable to me that Eastern Orthodoxy would be the lifeboat of choice for so many. It is a tradition that is appealing on a number of levels, particularly for disaffected High Churchmen. It has a rich liturgical life, an unwavering teaching on the truth of the Christian faith and on Christian morality, a history of saints that is wonderfully impressive, and of course, a deep sacramental theology. It is outside of Protestantism and therefore outside of the unending squabbles that crop up amongst Protestants, but it is also outside of Rome, allowing converts to carry with them their anti-Roman biases and, more importantly for clergy, their wives. The problems in American Orthodoxy–financial malfeasance, power struggles, and hidden sexual scandals amongst the clergy–seem downright pedestrian when compared to the all-out apostasy that rules so much of American Anglicanism. In almost all ways, Eastern Orthodoxy seems like the perfect escape hatch.

There is a great deal more that Anglicans have in common with Orthodox than we have in common with almost any other Christian tradition. Our understanding of ministry and mission, our ecclesiology, and even our understanding of the sacraments have deep resonances with one another. It is possible for a faithful Anglican to read a book like Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way and agree with almost all of it without feeling the slightest guilt about betraying his own tradition. At the heart of classical Anglicanism is the recovery of the Catholic Christianity of the Early Church Fathers, and no tradition holds the Fathers in greater esteem than the Eastern Orthodox. In fact, it is because of such resonances that there have been so many positive contacts between Anglicans and Orthodox over the centuries. The Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius is an ongoing testament to this.

Nevertheless, despite the great wealth of things that we have in common, there are four major ways in which Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy differ from one another. I believe that these four divisions fall in favor of classical Anglicanism as being a more faithful form of ancient Christianity than Eastern Orthodoxy, although this statement must be made in humility and repentance since so little of the modern Anglican world actually practices the faith in a way that would be recognizable to our forebears. Eastern Orthodoxy is certainly preferable to modern Anglicanism in either its liberal, pentecostal/charismatic, calvinist, or papalist forms.

Holy Scripture and the Fathers

To understand any of the other differences between our traditions, we have to start with first principles. And at first glance, it seems that Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy have the same starting place. After all, we both believe in the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and we both honor the Fathers of the early Church. However, beneath the surface lies a major chasm between our two traditions in how we apply this principle.

For Eastern Orthodoxy, both Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers are part of Holy Tradition. The entire experience of the Christian community through the ages is counted as a source of divine revelation. As Fr. Thomas Hopko puts it, “Although containing many written documents, Holy Tradition is not at all limited to what is written; it is not merely a body of literature. It is, on the contrary, the total life and experience of the entire Church transferred from place to place and from generation to generation. Tradition is the very life of the Church itself as it is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.” Within this body of inspired tradition, the Bible holds a special place. Nevertheless, the decisions of the Church through the ages, the icons, the canon laws, the architecture, and even the music are in some sense inspired and must be weighed against the biblical witness when establishing doctrine.

When the Orthodox make appeal to the Fathers, the appeal is not simply to their application of Scripture but to their entire corpus of work which is authoritative on its own merits. The authority of an Ecumenical Council, for instance, derives from the active presence of the Holy Spirit guiding every single decision, including the establishment of canon law and procedure, rather than narrowly to the consistent interpretation of Scripture within the Church.

By contrast, Anglicans understand that the starting place and ending place for divine revelation is Holy Scripture. This does not mean that we lack an appeal to tradition. We take very seriously the witness of the Early Church and honor it to the point of believing that the consistent and universal witness of the Early Church as to how the Scriptures are to be interpreted must be accepted by all Christians who wish to authentically adhere to the faith once delivered to the saints. Nevertheless, all of our doctrine is based on the notion that the Scriptures themselves are where God speaks uniquely. If every single Father believed that all people should refrain from flying a kite on the Sabbath, but none of them made any reference to the Scripture to back up this assertion, then it would not be binding on Christians. The Word of God is what gives authority and life to all that we celebrate within Holy Tradition, including icons, music, and all the rest.

Does this mean that Orthodoxy is more faithful to the Fathers than classical Anglicanism? Only if the Fathers’ own witness is left out of the equation. The Fathers appeal to Scripture over and over again to prove every assertion they make. To hold the Fathers out as self-authenticating is actually to oppose what the Fathers believed about themselves.

The Filioque

From the Orthodox point of view, the addition to the Nicene Creed of the words “And the Son” is the most serious point of departure between our traditions. I have written previously about the Filioque controversy, and so I won’t re-hash it here. Suffice it to say, though, that our disagreement on this matter is directly related to our disagreement over how we view Scripture. The Eastern Orthodox make a fair point that our usage of the filioque is in violation of conciliar principles. But we make an equally good point that their rejection of it is in opposition to the way in which Holy Scripture actually describes how the Spirit proceeds.

Justification By Faith Alone

While Roman Catholicism flat out denies that justification is by faith alone, Eastern Orthodoxy is much harder to pin down. The most common teaching that one encounters in American Orthodoxy today about our salvation is the doctrine of theosis which asserts that through our union with Christ we become more and more like God until we are so filled with Christ that only His holiness remains within us. This is, in fact, a teaching that is compatible with classical Anglicanism. It coincides well with the theology of some of the greatest Anglican divines, like Lancelot Andrewes and Jeremy Taylor. Nevertheless, while Andrewes and Taylor understood theosis as being simply the outgrowth of our sanctification, which itself is totally dependent on Christ’s atoning for us, many Orthodox today deny the very need for justification.

Much of this denial is built upon a critique of the way in which western Christianity describes God’s wrath. From the Orthodox perspective, substitutionary atonement seems to make God the Father into a giant ogre, ready to beat His Son into a bloody pulp in order to satisfy some hidden urge within Himself for revenge. This is a reasonable critique of the way that some western Christians have portrayed the atonement through the ages, encouraging us to grow close to Christ out of fear of His Father. But this sort of violence is foreign to the teaching that Anglicanism embraces. Scripture teaches that Christ gave Himself up not to appease the Father’s irrational anger but to ensure that God’s justice is equal to His mercy. For whatever else His purposes might be, many of which remain veiled to us, a god who built a world in which evil need not be met with justice would be a cruel god indeed. God’s wrath is not a quality that needs to be balanced against His mercy; His justice is His mercy, all of which is part of the deep mystery of the Cross.

In any event, the Scriptures are clear that justification is necessary for us, that it comes to us only through Christ, and that our own works contribute nothing to the process. Orthodoxy is at best vague about this. Many Orthodox say that it is impossible for the Church to speak to this since the Ecumenical Councils are silent about it. But what is plainly spoken of in Scripture need not be denied simply because there was not controversy about it in the early Church, particularly given the strong antecedents in many of the Fathers for understanding the Atonement in just this way.

The Need for Reformation

Eastern Orthodoxy claims to be the Church of the apostles, never having needed to undergo reformation because she has always remained true. Anglicanism, on the other hand, only exists because the Church of England recognized her need to reform in order to return to her true glory. This is often a point that Orthodox apologists bring up when asserting the superiority of Orthodoxy. Why go with a tradition that only exists out of brokenness when you can have one that has never been broken at all?

Some Orthodox even go so far as to claim that the Orthodox Church has never experienced a schism, a patently absurd claim that is disproved not only by the Great Schism itself but also by the defection of the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox five centuries earlier. The fact of the matter is, all churches need reform because all churches are filled with sinners, and it is preposterous to believe that the effects of sin will never touch the core of the faith itself. This is not to make the error of radical Protestants by suggesting that the Church of the middle ages was totally corrupted, to the point of disappearing until the Reformation restored it. Anglicans certainly believe that the true Church exists and has existed in every age, even amidst and mingled with errors, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Nevertheless, in every era there will be heresy in the Church that will need to be corrected through reform, through returning to first principles, through returning to the Scriptures and the mind of the early Church.

Conclusion

None of this is to say that Orthodoxy is without merit or that we should not count the Orthodox as our brothers and sisters in Christ. On the contrary, I believe we have more fertile ground for renewal and reunion with the east than perhaps with almost any other body of Christians. But these issues that divide us are real and substantial, and frankly, many of the Anglicans who convert to Orthodoxy never really deal with them, either because they see them as unimportant or because they never actually accepted the classical Anglican position on these things in the first place. If we can begin to recover a sense of who we are as Anglicans, we will be much better equipped to have meaningful ecumenical dialogues, with the Orthodox and with others. But that will not happen until we stop looking for an escape hatch and start to realize just what it is about this ship called Anglicanism that made it worth boarding in the first place.

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Your average traditional crunchy Christ follower with a penchant for pop culture, politics, and puns.
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72 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Escaping Into Eastern Orthodoxy

  1. Father Thorpus says:

    Hurrah! Well said!

  2. MichaelA says:

    “If we can begin to recover a sense of who we are as Anglicans, we will be much better equipped to have meaningful ecumenical dialogues, with the Orthodox and with others. ”

    Very true. Recently, an increasing number of people all over the Anglican world seem to be feeling this way. It is heartening to watch and be part of this great effort.

  3. Pete says:

    YES YES YES! I love this post, and have been waiting for something like it for a long time. Was it ACNA’s ecumenical efforts with Metropolitan Jonah before he was ousted that prompted it? Great job Fr. Jonathan, love it.

  4. G.R.M.Anderson says:

    A great article Father! Rather interestingly, (and somewhat off the topc, sorry) Professor Phil Jenkins points out that due to the rapid numerical growth of Anglicanism in the Global South and the decline of Eastern Orthodoxy in its Eastern European heartlands, that the Anglican Communion will pass Eastern Orthodoxy as the second biggest body of Christians on the planet within the next couple of decades.

  5. Thanks for this post! I often enjoy listening to programmes on Ancient Faith Radio, but sometimes come away with a bit of an inferiority complex! This has been a good remedy for that.
    The discussion of the Reformation was particularly interesting. I think that in some ways that can be Anglicanism’s strength in weakness, if you will. Acknowledging our brokenness and sinfulness is crucial. I say in all humility that it sometimes seems to me that some of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches have more faith in the saving power of their church and Apostolic Succession than in the saving power of God’s Grace.
    I sometimes wonder if the apostasy that you mention could spring from some kind of Anglican lack of self confidence?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I am also a fan of Ancient Faith Radio. I really think that Anglicans need media outlets like this that will present classical Anglicanism in a straight forward and winsome way, utilizing new media. I would love to see an Anglican internet radio station.

      And I think you’re right that a great deal of Anglican apostasy comes from lack of confidence in Anglicanism by its adherents, although in many cases it seems today that Anglicans are completely ignorant of what their tradition teaches. It’s hard to have confidence in your tradition when you’ve always been taught that your tradition was just a way station on the path to some other destination.

      • Pete says:

        I know that not everyone will enjoy the low-church, informal feeling of the program, but there is a (mostly) weekly internet news site on Anglicanism. It’s at Anglican.tv, and you can also visit the sister site, anglican ink. It mostly focuses on ACNA specifically, but in relation to the rest of the Communion.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Anglican.tv is a great resource, particularly given the videos they air unedited from various conferences. But their focus is mainly on the day to day minutia of Anglican life, the ins and outs, the ecclesiastical politics and so forth. There is an important place for that, but it’s not the only thing we need.

        The beauty of something like Ancient Faith Radio is that you hardly hear any of that same sort of minutia of life in Orthodoxy. And there are the same strains, ins and outs, scandals and outrages that you find in any church body. There are scores of blogs and Orthodox news sites that cover that stuff. But AFR makes what seems to be a conscious decision to focus mostly on telling people what’s good about Orthodoxy, making Orthodox theology accessible to every day people, and answering people’s deep and heartfelt questions. Anglicanism needs that kind of media, focused not on the day to day wrangling but on the heart of Anglican theology and practice. Otherwise we become this insular little club where we’re always talking about ourselves and never talking about Jesus. If anyone is going to be drawn to Anglicanism, it will be because of Him, not because of us.

      • I would love to see an Anglican internet radio station too! The closest I have come is listening to some lectures from Oxford University and to whatever speeches and sermons I can find from Archbishop Rowan Williams.
        I would nominate yourself, Father Michael from Interrupting the Silence, and the fellows at haligweorc and catholicity and covenant to have regular shows!
        The internet has been great, with all these wonderful blogs to read. A lot of the folks in my parish are senior citizens, and I’m not sure how comfortable they are with computers. I suspect this might be the case in many other parishes. It would be nice if there was some way to put out a quarterly publication with some of the postings from various Anglican blogs to spread some of this knowledge around to those who don’t access the internet that much.
        I think you are right about ignorance of Anglican tradition. I also think the model of videos, music and dancing is not enough not going to work. It’s cheesy and inauthentic. It makes the church seem like yet another product or service. What you and the other bloggers I’ve mentioned are doing, is to show that Anglicanism is authentic, profound and true.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        The Prayer Book Society puts out a nice publication four times a year that explores themes of classical Anglicanism. You can find a link to them in the sidebar. There’s also a newer group called the Secker Society, made up mainly of lay people, that is trying to put together print materials. Jordan from the “Hackney Hub” is among them.

      • Fr. Jonathan,

        I cannot tell you how refreshing and nourishing your blog has been to me. I so long for a vibrant classical Anglican apologetic to make its voice heard. You are really making the points that need to be made, and are doing so in an engaging manner. You are rock solid classical Anglican right down the line!

        Your comment about an Anglican internet radio station piqued my interest. I drafted and co-hosted a year’s worth of radio programs which aired on a local station here in Houston, but I would like to see an internet broadcast, as I think that would be more effective. I would love to talk to you about the possibility. If you are so inclined, let me know. I can be reached at inkling1016@yahoo.com.

        God bless your endeavors,
        Fr. Jonathan Trebilco
        Curate, Saint Francis Anglican Church (Reformed Episcopal)
        Spring, TX

    • Pete says:

      “I say in all humility that it sometimes seems to me that some of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches have more faith in the saving power of their church and Apostolic Succession than in the saving power of God’s Grace.” This one quote really hit me. Very eloquent.

  6. Michael says:

    Praying Anglican Layman,
    In response to your thoughts on Roman Catholics (I will only speak for them, for I am one) having faith in the saving power of their church. This is true. However, this in no way conflicts with the saving power of God’s grace or even begins to displace the necessity of God’s grace for salvation. The reason it may seem confusing is because in Catholicism there is a well developed ecclesiology of God’s graces being given through the Church. This occurs through the sacraments. This is, of course, the most fitting way for God to give his grace; through his visible Body here on earth. This isn’t to say that the action of God is limited to his Church, but it is to say that this is the ordinary means of salvation. So, for a Catholic, faith the Church is the same thing as faith in Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ, and although its member err (yes, even the Pope!), the Church itself prevails. This can be explained by way of analogy to our Lord himself, who was fully human and at the same time fully divine.

    I suspect that this ecclesiology would be acceptable in Anglican circles as well? I used to maintain it when I was one, but then again, I converted.

    Happy feast of the Assumption,
    Michael

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Michael,

      Your description of the role of the Church in salvation is perfectly compatible with Anglicanism and is reflected in the writing of a number of great Anglican thinkers, particularly the Caroline Divines. I’m not sure, however, that PrayingAnglicanLayman was attempting to make a point about ecclesiology as to make a point about grace and an unhealthy fixation on institutional structures that sometimes crops up in Roman Catholicism (although, to be fair, the same fixation crops up fairly often in the Anglican Communion as well). But I’ll let him speak for himself. Good to have you commenting!

      grace and peace,

      Fr. Jonathan

    • Hi Michael,
      I agree with everything you said, and Fr. Jonathan was right in what he thought I was saying. I should have included Anglicans as well! I’m sorry if my comments were hurtful at all.
      For myself, I find Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy very attractive (I think I tend to lean towards Orthodoxy more) because of their long histories and claim to unbroken Apostolic Succession. There is also a rich mystical tradition in both RC and EO churches that is inspiring and enlightening.
      I do feel however, that one benefit Anglicans do have, is this lack of confidence. We are sort of the “poor sister” to the RC and EO, and on the other hand we are not claiming the church has been apostate since Constantine legalised Christianity as some protestants do. Therefore, we have to continue on, waiting patiently and with humility for direction. The fact that both the EO and RC churches think our Orders aren’t really valid keeps us humble or it can lead to this sort of morally relativistic secularization of the church that we now see.
      I had a very happy feast of the Assumption (I call it the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and I hope you did too!

      • Michael says:

        Not hurtful at all, dear sir. I suppose it was your link of “apostolic succession” to what Fr Jonathan calls “institutional structures” that caught my eye. To a Catholic, the apostolic succession is the basis of unity in the Church; it is God given, scriptural, and as such, indispensable. I recall now that there is quite a bit of debate amongst anglicans as to whether the episcopate is 1) necessary or 2) merely beneficial but not necessary to the fullness of the church. Here is where the difference might come to the fore.

      • MichaelA says:

        Michael, why would you want “difference to come to the fore”?

      • Michael says:

        MichaelA, that is merely a clarifying statement.

      • MichaelA says:

        “The fact that both the EO and RC churches think our Orders aren’t really valid keeps us humble or it can lead to this sort of morally relativistic secularization of the church that we now see.”

        For myself, it is the fact that I am sinful human being that keeps me humble (when it does!). Along with probably most of the 80 million Anglicans in the world, I can say that the fact that some other churches do not think our orders valid does not concern me in the least!

      • I was meaning ecclesiastically humble, for the most part, when I was referring to the validity of Anglican Orders. I certainly agree with you it is our own personal sinfulness that we need concern ourselves with first of all!
        I

      • I do agree that humility before God is more important than all else. I would personally say that Anglicanism identity crisis comes not from orders, but from wanting to be both Catholic and Protestant at the same time.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Just a note of clarity. The RC Church considers our orders invalid. It’s an open question in Orthodoxy. The Ecumenical Patriarch declared our orders valid in the 1930s, but other patriarchs disagreed. Moreover, the problem has been exacerbated since the ordination of women in the 1970s. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that “validity” is a particularly western concept which the Orthodox have not historically spent a lot of time on. Your validity as a priest comes from being in communion with the Church, not from ontological change. I think this would be one place where we would do well to learn from them, especially those of us who consider ourselves Catholics.

      • To be frank, for a lot time I was considering Orthodoxy, upset at the refusal to take the liturgical seriously among so many Roman Catholics. Even though they are Eastern rite churches in union with Rome, that have the same.

        I could not because, I am a Western thinker. In the West theology has always been based on logic. In the East it’s more mystical.

        I was able to study RC claims from this perspective, since bias can cloud one’s judgement. I realized that that the end of the day there’s a need for someone to check private interpretation, or it can lead people astray.

        For example. the Apostles disagreed with each other, so did the church fathers.

        If nobody is the Pope or Magisterium everybody ends up becoming their own Pope or Magisterium, leading to sola-ego over who is inspired by God.

        Critics cite that this is equal to surrendering your brains, but it’s not so. Informed conscience, is based on examining the evidence available. Refusal to do so and rely on the Holy Spirit as so many people claim to do, would in fact be an act of blind faith and not reason.

  7. Javier says:

    Father Jonathan, deep congratulation on this words of you! I come from the Orthodox Church and was accepted into Anglicanism by 2006 and never being happier! What you point out Fr. Jonathan concerning tradition is widely true. The Orthodox path is mysterious, beautiful, but for me it became too over disciplined. I was looking for a church with more freedom, so I found all of that in Anglicanism. Of course, I am still very liturgical(I was a candidate for becoming and orthodox deacon once) and traditionally conservative, but I am starting now to feel very happy with the Broad Church. What I found? Peace, Joy and lots of freedom. Finally I was liberated from the word dogma after more that two decades of it. Khristos Anesti!
    P.D.: Thanks to the Anglican Church I am now a candidate for the Holy Orders in the TEC diocese in Puerto Rico. . . . DEEPLY HAPPY, GLORY BE TO GOD!

    • Andrew says:

      Good words, Fr Jonathan.

      I too have come into traditional Anglicanism by way of Orthodoxy. I share Javier’s sentiments about freedom, although I would locate that freedom not in ‘liberation from dogma’ (we must be anchored to the historic, catholic faith), but in the life-giving word of the cross that declares God’s gracious pardon for sinners, a word that can only be received and grasped by faith.

      Samuel Johnson, in his prime, once reflected on salvation thusly, and it is remarkably similar to how I once thought as an Orthodox:

      Consider, his hope of salvation must be founded on the terms on which it is promised that the mediation of our SAVIOR shall be applied to us–namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance. But what man can say that his obedience has been such, as he would approve of in another, or even in himself upon close examination, or that his repentance has not been such as to require being repented of? No man can be sure that his obedience and repentance will obtain salvation.

      But as most probably know, he did not die in this faith. As his biographer James Boswell noted — on the authority of Johnson’s spiritual director who communed him for the last time — he died believing in the apostolic, evangelical faith:

      For some time before his death, all his fears were calmed and absorbed by the prevalence of his faith and his trust in the merits and propitiation of JESUS CHRIST. He talked often to me about the necessity of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, as necessary beyond all good works whatever, for the salvation of mankind.

      I treasure Johnson’s final prayer, as it is a sober, yet hopeful, reminder of the manner in which I want to die:

      Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now, as to human eyes it seems, about to commemorate, for the last time, the death of your Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits and his mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance; make this commemoration confirm my faith, establish my hope and enlarge my charity, and make the death of your Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption. Have mercy upon me and pardon the multitude of my offenses. Bless my friends, have mercy upon all. Support me, by the grace of your Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

      There is much that is beautiful and true in Orthodoxy. I learned much about the life in Christ in my time as an Orthodox. In do not wish to disparage the Orthodox Church. But the evangelical message — which, I believe, Orthodoxy obscures — is too glorious to remain veiled by lack of clarity.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Andrew, thank you for sharing these thoughts. Was there any particular doctrine or practice that drew you towards Anglicanism more than any other?

      • Andrew says:

        Fr Jonathan,

        Following the former Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, I believe that ‘[t]he Anglican Communion has no peculiar thought, practise, creed, or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ’s Church from the beginning.’ It is a sacramental faith, a liturgical faith, and an evangelical faith — in short, it is the catholic faith. This is its own self-understanding, and this is what attracted me to it.

        It is true that the forces of modernism have ravaged Anglicanism, but in that we are not alone. The same could be said for Roman Catholicism. Obviously, due to historical circumstances Orthodoxy has been preserved from much of this, and I know that some are attracted to it precisely for this reason, but Orthodoxy cannot remain unscathed forever. In fact, it has not remain unscathed. One has only to look at the darker underbelly of the Orthodox Church in America. No one can or should be triumphalistic. We must pray, seek repentance, and ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.’

        My transition from Orthodoxy to Anglicanism was basically seamless. As an Orthodox I understood my faith to be grounded in the weekly Divine Liturgy, fortified by private prayer, fasting, works of mercy, and, when necessary, private confession. Nothing substantial has changed as an Anglican. The liturgical rites have changed, but my faith is still grounded in weekly Holy Communion, fortified by private prayer, fasting, works of mercy, and, when necessary, private confession.

        But as I said above, I believe the evangelical focus to be sharper, more pronounced, in Anglicanism, and I am thankful for that. I think it was Dom Gregory Dix who said that the Book of Common Prayer gives liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone (e.g. the ‘comfortable words’ and the Prayer of Humble Access) and I have found that to be true, and of immense value.

        I know there are those who think that some of the teachings of the Magisterial Reformation are incompatible with the catholic faith, but I gladly defer to Jaroslav Pelikan on that issue: ‘Every major tenet of the Reformation had considerable support in the catholic tradition. That was eminently true of the central Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone.’ Our Anglican forefathers believed this, and some even gave their lives for this. I proudly stand with them.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Andrew, what a fantastic witness! I appreciate you sharing it here.

  8. Shelton says:

    A wonderful post. I think all introspective Anglicans end up asking themselves why they are not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox instead, especially when our our church seems to betray its own orthodoxy so many times in so many ways. I literally believe more Anglicans have read Ware’s “The Orthodox Way” than any other group. Nevertheless, we have such a strong argument that the Anglican Way is truly orthodox, but we almost never hear it. Thanks for putting this out there as a reminder.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Shelton. I don’t know about “The Orthodox Way,” but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that more Anglicans have read Zizoulas’ “Being as Communion” than Orthodox. Modern Orthodoxy has certainly produced some incredible and inspiring theologians. But we do well to remember the great twentieth century saints of Anglicanism as well. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all happily quote C.S. Lewis, and yet so few ever recall that he was an Anglican. And I think all of the Christian world could gain something from reading Michael Ramsey.

  9. These arguments make Anglicanism seem like just another form of Protestantism. I do agree that not everything in tradition is binding, but this is no justification for the scripture alone theory, since Sola Scriptura is not mandated as the only rule of faith in the Bible.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I’ve been meaning to write something about “sola scriptura” and perhaps will shortly. But I think it’s important to note that Anglicanism approaches the Bible differently than many other Protestant traditions in that the Bible is the sole source of dogma but must be read and interpreted through the lens of the Councils and the Early Church Fathers. In other words, while the Church is under the authority of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture is the responsibility of the Church. It is not simply a matter of individual interpretation. Moreover, in matters not related to our salvation, there is nothing wrong with believing in those things that come to us from Tradition even if they do not have an antecedent in Scripture, so long as they do not contradict Scripture.

      • Fr. Jonathan,

        Catholics would not disagree with anything you have written above. The Catechism states:

        113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”).

      • Cadog says:

        Friend, I suspect Fr. Jonathan is well aware that “Catholics would not disagree with anything you have written above.” That is why he and we are Anglican! We are here to dialog and learn from (mostly) shared perspective in the Anglican tradition and (occasional) healthy debate. We understand that you don’t like what we think but we really do like it, else we would not believe it! No “identity crisis” here!

        Are you consciously or unconsciously struggling with your own Roman Catholic positions? Or is it that you want to educate (?) others as to those positions? I actually enjoy hearing and learning of RC belief; it is interesting and more often than not enlightening because of the many ways in which we DO agree. Do you have similar openness to learning from Anglican people and belief?

        If you are in such hearty disagreement with so much of what is said here … isn’t it sort of frustrating to endure all of our, to your way of thinking, misinformed dialog?

        Just wondering …

      • Thank You for your response. Yes, I am open to learning from Anglicans, which is exactly why I raise questions about things I am trying to understand.

      • Cadog says:

        Awesome, another point of agreement! There is SO much I do not understand. I am grateful to Fr. Jonathan and others who put so much time into thoughtful and effective communication that helps me, because I am not a theologian, cleric, or scholar.

      • MichaelA says:

        Fr. Jonathan, such an article would be helpful as a focus for debate.

        Unfortunately, as seen even in comments on your recent article entitled “the Pope is Satan”, too many people have an erroneous understanding of what “sola scriptura” actually means.

        They also often don’t seem to know where the doctrine came from – most seem to have forgotten that it was a term being taught and expounded in detail by e.g. Robert Grosseteste, St Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and by later theologians in the 14th and 15th centuries, and that the 16th century reformers wrote in this context. Too many people indulge in heated critique and argument about the idea, without knowing what it means! No doubt an article on it will be a good time to discuss – I hope readers do some homework beforehand.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Don’t be too excited, MichaelA. I am generally dubious of the term “Sola Scriptura” as an accurate description of classical Anglican teaching. It is entirely possible this article, whenever it is finished, will turn us into sparring partners. :-)

      • MichaelA says:

        Fr Jonathan, we have been sparring partners before, and no doubt we will be again. I am sure we will both get over the experience, as we have before … :o)

        I have suggested that those who critique “sola scriptura” ensure that they first really do understand what it means, and where it came from. If they won’t take the hint, then I can do no more at the present time, since I am not going to rise to attempts by some others (not you!) to turn threads about eastern orthodoxy and sacraments into a debate about sola scriptura and goodness knows what else!

      • Michael A,

        None of these people held the view that scripture was self-explanatory in the sense that it could be understood apart from the church.

        Interpret your own Bible was not what they subscribed too.

        The evils of popery do not compare to the thousands of wanna be popes invoking scripture for their conflicting doctrines.

      • MichaelA says:

        Read my words above LTTG:
        “…since I am not going to rise to attempts by some others (not you!) to turn threads about eastern orthodoxy and sacraments into a debate about sola scriptura and goodness knows what else!”

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  12. PJ says:

    Catholics certainly do believe that man is justified by grace: “Justification has two aspects. Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, and so accepts forgiveness and righteousness from on high” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). We just recognize that grace is always accompanied by good works, or at least the desire to perform good works (death might frustrate the desire, as in the case of the Good Thief). The Catechism furthermore declares that man’s merit is ultimately attributable to the Holy Spirit: “Man’s merit is due to God.” Please stop spreading falsehood.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi PJ. I’m not sure what falsehood it is that you think I’m spreading. I would not deny that Roman Catholics believe that we are justified by grace, although our definitions of grace differ. But given that anyone who claimed that justification by faith alone has been anathematized by Rome since the Council of Trent, I think it’s fair to say that Rome does not teach sola fide. In fact, most Roman Catholics I know are rather proud of that.

      • Joshua says:

        That is true! When Roman Catholics say that we are saved by grace through faith and not because of what we do, they only mean that it is by grace and not because of our works that we begin the process where we earn/keep our salvation because of what we do. One of the many problems with this theory is that good works do not earn or keep our salvation. They are not a means of grace! Faith is imputed it is not merely infused.

      • Joshua,

        Please take a look at my response to Fr. Jonathan. Works are simply faith in action.

        Faith as an object would be intellectual faith in the creeds, etc. Faith as an act, would be making this manifest through works.

        We have free-will and choose to reject to do this. The idea that we cannot sin once we we believe, is denying the presence of free-will.

        Lutherans have come closer to the Catholic understanding of justification.

        http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jun2000/feature2.asp

      • Joshua says:

        I agree!

      • MichaelA says:

        “The idea that we cannot sin once we we believe, is denying the presence of free-will.”
        Sure. Who teaches that?

      • The council of Trent was a response to the Protestant definition of faith. We do hold to justification by faith, but disagree on definition of faith. The Protestant definition of faith is just intellectual belief. For Catholics it’s the whole deposit of hope, love, and charity.

        The Bible nowhere uses the expressions “justification by faith alone” or “salvation by faith alone.” The first was directly the invention of Luther; the second his by implication. Luther inserted “alone” into the German translation of Romans 3:23 to give credence to his new doctrine.

        In John 3:36 we are told, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.”

        This expands on John 3:16. It is another way of saying what Paul says in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

        Although we cannot earn God’s unmerited favor by our good works, we can reject his love by our sins (that is, by our evil works) and thereby lose the eternal life he freely offers us in Christ.

      • Joshua says:

        If you read the article below it will clear things up. We (Anglicans) do not agree with the Roman Catholic position because it places us before a holy God trusting in our own righteousness. It is suicide!

      • There has been some misunderstanding on this issue. We do not deny that grace is a free gift and we agree that we cannot win God’s favour on our own. We merely hold that we can reject this, through our own free will. The victory has already been won. It’s up to us to accept or reject this.

      • Joshua says:

        I agree with you on all of that! Although I do not think what you are saying fully explains how this happens according to the Catholic Catechism. http://www.rsanders.org/Justification,%20the%20Reformers,%20and%20Rome.htm

        Does this article improperly define the Catholic potion?

      • Yes, I would say this is a misunderstanding. Luther excluded charity from faith.

        It would be unintelligible for God to forgive the godless and call him godly if he remains godless in reality. Rather, God forgives the sins of the godless whom he makes godly (Eph 2:1-5), obedient from the heart (Rom 6:17).

      • It goes back to the definition of faith. If faith is just intellectual belief in something. Then even an atheist would qualify, but if it’s also an act that is nourished by hope, charity and love, like a plant needs water, and sunlight, in addition to soil to grow it’s stem.

        This is why conversion is not a one-time event, but a life long process, with many tools such as the sacraments to help us along the way.

        This is different from the view that some Protestants hold that belief alone saves, and that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. Liberals now use this to promote spirituality without morality.

      • Joshua says:

        Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream
        is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by
        good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they
        speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they
        say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.”
        They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working,
        creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I
        believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because
        this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything
        from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this
        `faith,’ either.

        Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives
        new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us
        completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits,
        our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with
        it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this
        faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t
        stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone
        asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without
        ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an
        unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good
        works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are.
        Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many
        words.

        Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of
        God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.
        Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy,
        joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The
        Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you
        freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve
        everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who
        has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to
        separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from
        fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard
        against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough
        to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools.
        Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without
        faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do. (Martin Luther)

      • In Catholic teaching, one is not capable of doing supernaturally good works outside of a state of justification because one does not have the virtue of charity in one’s soul–the thing that makes good works good. Consequently, the Council of Trent taught “none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification” (JD 8).

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I know of no Reformation tradition which posits that faith is merely intellectual assent, although I do think this aptly describes a good deal of modern American Evangelicalism. For Anglicans, as Reformed Catholics, faith is a trust that arises in the heart, given by God Himself. Faith is not a choice or a decision but a gift, and it is entirely possible to receive this gift even if you do not have the intellectual capacity to understand word one. This is one of the reasons why we have hope for babies who die in the womb, for instance, because if their mothers have been hearing the Word of God, it is entirely possible that God used that Word to create faith in them, a faith that is every bit as saving as the faith of you or I.

      • I do understand that both sides have been talking past each other on this issue. Lutherans have been suspicious for a long time that the Church’s discussion of good works means that one must do good works in order to enter a state of justification. But the Catholic Church has never taught this. Since one cannot do this unless one is in a state of justification to begin with.

        Consequently, the Council of Trent taught “none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification” (JD 8).

      • Joshua says:

        What makes me nervous about Roman Catholicism is how they seem to believe our good works apply to salvation. The Roman Church was the Church of me teenage years and most of my family is Roman Catholic. When I ask them about what happens after death, they always say that,”we do not know but they hope they will go to heaven”. To me that is like saying Jesus did not do enough and that it depends on me and how I cooperated. You can indeed fall away, but I understand the ultimate enemy as a loss of faith and not about our good deeds verse our bad deeds. Granted some sins can pull us further away than others and persisting in sin can result in the loss of faith. However I believe the biggest problem is the loss of faith and not our good deeds verses our bad deeds and lets hope we have more good so it can be seen that we cooperated with Justification. I think the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to cooperate with our sanctification because He is working in us. But our Justification is complete and totally dependent on what Jesus has done and not what i am doing. So if we have faith(trust) given as a gift from God then we are saved and being made one with God through sanctification.

      • Joshua,

        Yes, Jesus has done it all, but this does not mean that we can sit on our butts and do nothing. Charity is the response to faith in us, which is to go out into the world and do as Jesus would have us do. We must “endure until the end” with our faith. (Heb 11:6)

        But what about Romans 10:9-10? Doesn’t the Bible say if you believe in your heart and confess Jesus with your mouth you shall be saved? Yes it does, but that doesn’t mean we need only confess faith in Christ one time. The Bible uses the same Greek word for confess, homologeitai, in multiple places and emphasizes we must continue to confess Christ if we are going to be finally saved. For example, in Matthew 10:22, 32 Jesus says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.. . . Therefore everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my father who is in heaven. . . .” (NAB). The context here is one of holding fast to our confession until death (see also 2 Tm 2:12 and Heb 4:14; 10:23-26).

        Finally, confessing Christ is done not only in word, but also in deed: “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tm 5:8).

        Notice, the man who neglects his family for selfish pursuits denies Christ in his actions. And as we have seen, the Bible records in many places extensive lists of sins whereby we can deny Christ, such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

        Scripture never says the saved can do these things and still go to heaven.

      • Joshua says:

        I am not sure were understanding each other. I already explained how works are an outgrowth of our faith. If our faith does not show itself in works then it is not faith at all, but we should not rely on these works to save us. Jesus victory is my victory by faith. There is nothing we can do to add to it. I am not disagreeing with what you are saying but your emphasis makes it about you and not about the cross. You separate faith and works but they are two sides to the same coin.

      • I do agree that they are the two sides of the same coin, which is why charity is a response to faith in us. Even proclaiming the gospel is an act of faith. Faith is an action. What exactly are we disagreeing on?

      • Joshua says:

        Amen!

  13. Joshua says:

    Do the Old Catholics who we are in communion with believe in Sola Fide?

  14. doyleodom says:

    Great article! I am an Orthodox American. My church is Antiochian. I was in a relationship with the daughter of an ‘orthodox Anglican’ Bishop(of his own particular branch). He is a former Assemblies of God missionary minister, but decided to be ‘orthodox’ and chose Anglicanism. Ultimately the relationship with his daughter did not work out, because she did not want to be chrismated into the Eastern Orthodox Church. Her father and I got along great because of our shared love for ancient Christianity, but after the split, he told me that the Orthodox church is too exclusive. -This is simply NOT TRUE. The Orthodox Church is open for every race and nationality. The Church even accepts all people regardless of their particular sins (as we all sin). Variances of faith, false teachings, rouge behavior of priests/bishops, degredation of Liturgical rites, ARE however, not included in Orthodoxy. My fear is that these were the things in which some anglicans wish could be ‘included’ into ‘orthodoxy’.

    Some of the many things He included into his ‘orthodox’ Anglican liturgies were: charismatic pop music with modern electric instruments (near the alter), and open Communion for all baptized ‘believers’. Well, I don’t know about you, but not every individual Christian (from various experiences) has the same belief system. In fact, there are so called ‘believers’ who claim Christ wasn’t the Son of God, or that Mary was not a virgin. Others reject St Paul’s instructions to the Church. Honestly, I think he mostly practiced open communion because if not, he wouldn’t be able to serve his own wife and Children (none of which wants to be properly received even into Anglicanism. Submission is really the problem here. Most modern western ‘ADD’ minds refuse to submit to the orders of elders, even to the Apostles themselves.

    Christ’s path is narrow! And, What is the Anglican Church? While I know that Anglicanism is well intended and that is has many saints(God willing), but who created the ‘anglican church’ and where is it going? Unfortunetely the answers are: 1. Henry IIX 2. in every direction each bishop takes it: more branches on the supposed ‘tree of the Church’. The Orthodox church hasn’t needed reformation because it was founded by the Apostles, AND it holds fast to the Traditions, both by WORD and epistle. Christ is Risen! With love, ICXC.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Doyle. Thanks for your comment. The modern landscape of Anglicanism can be very confusing, but there is a core of teaching and practice that lies at the heart of Anglicanism which, depending on your circumstances, you may never have encountered. I would invite you to spend some time on this blog, as I’ve spent a lot of time trying to bring that teaching and practice to light. There are also links in the sidebar that you may find helpful. Not that any of this will convince you to become an Anglican, but it will give you a sense of where the division actually lies. To say that Henry IIX created the Anglican Church is about as absurd as saying that Michael Cerularius created the Orthodox Church. It is, of course, true that many Anglican bishops have gone off on their own, creating their own little fiefdoms where anything goes. But it isn’t hard to find examples of Orthodox bishops and priests doing the same sort of thing, especially in America.

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