Biblical Catholicism: Battling Newman’s Ghost

Image via week, I had the privilege of visiting Nashotah House Seminary for the first time. While there, I was told that there is a coffeehouse on campus that has an old Anglo-Catholic joke worked into its menu. If you want to order a cup of coffee to drink inside the coffeehouse, it is called a Pusey, after the great Oxford Movement Father Edward Bouverie Pusey, but if you want to leave with that same cup of coffee in a to-go cup, it is called a Newman, after that other great Oxford Movement Father John Henry Newman who famously left the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. I snickered when I heard about this, though I also very quickly thought of some of my friends who have made the same journey that Newman made and how they would not care for the joke. It implies that Newman left the Church, when in fact, my friends would argue, what he did was to wake up from the dream of a Church that never was and join the only true Church that has ever existed. The funny thing is though, from a classical Anglican perspective, neither one of these ideas is quite correct. Newman left the Church of England, but not the Church of Christ, because from our perspective, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is to be found in both the Roman and Anglican Communions.

The Newman Effect

Ever since Newman’s conversion, Anglican Catholics have been in a state of perpetual embarrassment. We criticize Newman’s motives for leaving (or at least some of us do), but at the same time we worry incessantly that he might have been right. “I saw my face in that mirror and I was a monophysite,” Newman famously wrote in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, giving the reasons for his conversion. Newman came to believe that if there is only one Church, then the Roman Catholic Church is really the only contender. While the Church of England was a mess, the Roman Catholic Church offered the surety of unbroken history and unassailably clear lines of authority. Anglicanism has many treasures to offer, but absolute certainty is not among them.

Absolutely Fabulous

Of course, if absolute certainty is what you crave, Roman Catholicism is not the only game in town. The exodus of Anglicans to Eastern Orthodoxy in the last half century is well documented and includes many of Orthodoxy’s leading lights in the English speaking world, from Kallistos Ware to Frederica Mathewes-Green and many more. Plenty of Protestant confessions also have their own “one true church” seal of approval, but Rome and the East have always been the places that have attracted the most attention from nervous Anglo-Catholics. It is not hard to see why. All three of our traditions share a common ecclesial structure, a common view of history and the importance of continuity in the Church, a common emphasis on the Sacraments as central to the Christian life, and an awareness of the importance of the Church herself as the locus of salvation that is absent from many (though not all) forms of Protestantism. To put the matter plainly, if you want to be a Catholic with anything approaching authenticity, you really only have three options, and when two of those options claim with absolute certainty to be the Catholic Church in her fulness, staying in the one theoretically Catholic body that cannot make the same claim can feel awfully uncomfortable.

Ignoring the Obvious

Yet the very fact that Anglican Catholics are able to bear witness to the brokenness of the Church may in fact be our greatest asset and our most holy charism. I realize even as I say this that there is a danger here of either seeming like I am trying to make a virtue out of a vice or painting a caricature of Rome and the East, neither of which I wish to do. The brokenness of the Christian Church is not something to be celebrated, but rather something to be lamented. It is a crisis that continues to weaken the witness of Christians around the world and thereby to give the enemy comfort in his quest to keep souls from finding their true rest in Christ. But while Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox join us in that lament, their apologetic claims place certain limitations on their ability to see the scope of the problem. There is a cognitive dissonance that comes with acknowledging that the Church is one even though Christians are massively divided. The solution for most Christians has been to tell a story that erases the dissonance. For Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, that story is that they represent the true Church in its entirety, and that the unfortunate reality of other Christians – “separated brethren” – in no way diminishes the Church’s oneness, tragic though the separation may be. For many Protestants, the answer is an invisible Church that unites all of us who hold true faith even if we are divided by denomination or jurisdiction.

Come on, come on, do the Institution with me

The Anglican understanding of the brokenness of the Church is at the same time both painful and beautiful. Unlike many other Protestants, we have no invisible Church to fall back on. “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same” (Article XIX). We believe that the Church is by necessity and design one, and that this oneness cannot be reduced to an abstract idea or a feeling of connection. Many people lay the charge against Catholics of all sorts that we are too institutional. I will not disagree that there are times when Catholics have made our institutions into idols, but strictly speaking, there is no other way for the Church to be than institutional. The Church is an institute, as Calvin himself so famously pointed out. The Church is alive. She has structures. There is meat on the bones. We move away from that reality at our own peril.

Yet, at the same time, unlike other Catholics, Anglicans are able to acknowledge, with a heavy heart, that the Church is broken, that in fact Anglicanism itself would have no need to exist if it were not so. I do not suggest that this is by design. In fact, it is quite by accident of history, though such an accident as has proven to be providential. Anglicanism was meant to be a temporary refuge for the historic Church of England until such time as the Church in Europe was prepared to repair herself. Cranmer and Jewel and Hooker could never have dreamed that a global Communion would arise, or that the missionary efforts of the English Church would bring millions to know Christ. All the same, even as they defended the catholicity of the Church of England and her settlement of doctrine and practice, they recognized with great distress just how deeply the Church has been wounded by division. They also recognized a calling for Anglicans to seek unity, not on a false or platitudinous basis, but on the basis of humility and, if necessary, at the cost of our own continued existence. It is one of the reasons why, though most of the great Anglican figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries affirmed that episcopacy was given by God as necessary for the life of the Church as a whole, they never denied that the Protestant churches on the continent were truly churches but rather held out the hope that some day episcopacy would become a gift that the Church of England could give back to them. It is also why the Elizabethan prayer book does not contain the condemnations of the pope as antichrist that can be found in some Protestant confessions, and why Hooker insists that the Roman Church is wrong about justification but that this does not invalidate their existence as a true Church.

Anglicanism of the Gaps

It is not easy to live in the dissonance of a broken Church. But there is a kind of holiness that is imparted through honest suffering. The Anglican Catholic accepts both that the Church is one and visible, and that the Church is currently messy and wrought with divisions. That truth is painful to bear, but it also spurs us to work for the healing of the Church, to rise above mere polemics and truly seek to engage our brothers and sisters in Christ, to learn over and over again to see Jesus. When Newman looked in the mirror, he saw a monophysite staring back at him, and it haunted him. When I look in the mirror, I see a broken sinner who has been covered by the blood of Jesus and made whole in spite of himself. The charism of Anglican Catholicism is to carry the cross of a broken Church, all the while remembering with hope and joy that it is the same cross upon which our freedom was obtained on Calvary. We are to stand in the middle of the breaches and fissures between Christians and allow ourselves to be crucified there with Jesus for the sake of the world.

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44 Responses to Biblical Catholicism: Battling Newman’s Ghost

  1. Daniel Martins says:

    Well-stated, Father. My only quibble would be your use of the term “other Protestants” and including Anglicans. I have no interest in being any iteration of Protestant. But I applaud your mention of the fundamentally inescapable institutional character of the Church, and that there is no “one, true *institutional* church.” We are all both victims and perpetrators of the Church’s brokenness.

  2. Fr. Don says:

    Fr. Johnathan, you continue to provide excellent food for thought, as well a reason for hope. I thank you for that, and pray you continue to provide a deeply meaningful ministry beyond those in your immediate congregation! God Bless You! Don+

  3. Bob Rainis says:

    Revisionist history hogwash

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Bob,

      Generally speaking, one of the rules around here for commenting is to avoid ad hominem attacks. I appreciate lively discussion and critique, but only if it’s done respectfully and with an eye towards honesty, humility, and the exercise of logic. That said, I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt and ask you if you would care to revise or expand on your statement.

  4. wyclif says:

    And yet, if one is an Anglican, it is unavoidable that one is also a Protestant. If one has “no interest in being any iteration of Protestant”, then Anglicanism is an odd destination!

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      We’ve had a few conversations here on TCA before about the moniker “Protestant” and just what it means. Is that your preferred label or do you prefer another? How do you feel about the word “Catholic” being applied to Anglicanism?

      • Per Anglican blogger “Death Bredon”:

        The genius of the Protestant Reformation is the recognition that, during the Middle Ages, “ecclesial creep” in both the Western and Eastern portions of the Church had for all practical intents and purposes replaced Old-Law works righteousness with a new works righteousness based on the respective “New Law” of the West (the Penance-Merits-Purgation-Indulgences doctrinal phalanx) and of the East (the imposition of the Monastic Typicon upon the laity).

        Furthermore, . . . the formularies of classical Anglicanism did a better job of retaining the wheat of the orthodox catholicism of the ancient Church while jettisoning the chaff of innovative medieval accretion than did any other segment of the Reformation. This is why Anglicanism can, perhaps uniquely, lay equal claim to the appellations Protestant and Catholic and affirm both without any sense of inconsistency or incoherence. Indeed, strictly speaking, in proper understanding of each term, to truly be one, you must be both.”

  5. Ian Edgar says:

    Very insightful and helpful words, thank you!
    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on broken communion in regards to the relationship between the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England and how that worked out in the U.S. Episcopal Church sometime.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Ian,

      Can you be more specific? Do you mean in terms of the Non-Jurors in Scotland and their role in establishing the American episcopacy?

      • Ian Edgar says:

        Hi Fr. Jonathan,
        I was thinking of the consecration of Bishop Samuel Seabury by Scottish bishops, yes, which brings up interesting church/state relations. I had also read that the Scottish Episcopal Church does not subscribe to the 39 Articles any longer for example. I’d also be very interested to hear your thoughts on the Scottish Communion liturgy, and the liturgy of the non-jurors and the difference from the C of E 1662 BCP. Whenever you get the time!
        Again thanks for honest, prayer and thought provoking writing on tricky subject!

  6. An Awkward Aardvark says:

    Great article. Since Hooker did not unchurch either Rome/East or the continental reformers, does this imply an Anglican can commune in a Presbyterian or Lutheran church?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      There is a certain amount of historical debate about that. One of the early twentieth century Lambeth Conferences – I can’t remember which one of the top of my head – called for Anglicans to limit themselves to communing in their own churches, but not a lot has been made of it since. I think, personally, that everyone has to make their own decisions, but that it is not a problem per se for an Anglican to commune in another church, so long as there is a recognition of what it means in that context. It is a symbol of a certain level of fellowship, but not an expression of absolute unity.

  7. When I was 8, I was a Mormon, because it was the “one true church”, at 18, I investigated the RC churches claims to being the “one true church” and found that they were almost direct opposites (priests had to be celibate, bishops had to have families) so I said a plague on both your houses and went churchless into the world. In my 30’s, I discovered (or rediscovered) the Episcopal church and decided, that if it was not the “one true church” the others claimed to be, it was for me the true church BECAUSE it did not claim to be the “one true church”

  8. Hugh Hansen says:

    Father Jonathan,

    I so much agree with all you written here. I only wish I knew where I could worship in a context that understands the church and its mission as you described here. While the schism that happened many years ago did seriously injure the one holy Catholic Church you have well pointed out that where “sin did abound Grace did much more abound.” I am speaking of the millions who have been brought to Christ by the Anglican church and its commitment to God’s word and faithful traditions and reasonable people. What you have described here is the Anglican/Episcopal Church I consider myself a member of.

    Thank you so much for this website where many of us find support and feel ourselves as a part of the incarnation of Christ.

  9. Ben says:

    Fr. Jonathan,
    I can say with quite a bit of certainty that if there had been an Anglican church in my area I probably would have been delayed (for lack of a better term) for quite some time on my theological way to Rome. For a while, I really desired to be Anglican, and your reasonable arguments on this blog were a large contributor to that. Anglicanism seems so logical, and safer than an acceptance of Roman Catholicism, when coming from the direction of American Evangelical Protestantism. Without the option of “the via media”, I was less cautious about reading books like Chesterton’s “Catholic Church and Conversion” and Newman’s “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” because either way I knew it was time to look for the historical faith (I did seriously consider Eastern Orthodoxy… but ultimately ruled it out for various reasons). And of course now that I’ve spent months reading books like Scott Hahn’s “Rome Sweet Home”, St. Francis de Sales’ “The Catholic Controversy: A Defense of the Faith” and Hilaire Belloc’s “Europe and the Faith” I’m quite convinced that it was God’s will that I was denied the Anglican option when I surely would have grasped for it. Others, like Newman, have had to face tests that I cannot say with certainty that I would have passed in order to reach the final destination. Obviously I’m not taking the space to detail the spiritual side of my conversion process, as well-articulated experiences found in commonly-available books are often most relevant to share as examples and reasons.

    I’m curious… have you read “Confessions of a Convert” by Robert Hugh Benson?

    I must say that I respect your writing very much, and I hope that God blesses you richly.


    “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:20-23

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Cannot say that I’ve read that book or that I’m familiar with Benson. I do believe in the oneness of the Church though and in the urgency of Our Lord’s call for it in John 17. All the best to you.

  10. Excellent post, Fr Jonathan. Your last paragraph is wonderful.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    “We are to stand in the middle of the breaches and fissures between Christians and allow ourselves to be crucified there with Jesus for the sake of the world.”

    Very timely for me. I got lambasted (by an atheist of all things) for claiming that “born again” Christians and Roman Catholics were of the same religion (or more specifically that it was not a contradiction for a Roman Catholic to be born again).

    Thanks so much for your blog, hope to see more videos someday soon :-)

  12. William says:

    I understand the appreciation reflected in your post with regard to a “capital C” Church, because I can understand the many-faceted aspects of how such appreciation serves a purpose consistent with the Divine will–a purpose with Genuine (capital intended) validity. In addition, I’d say the basis for that Church really boils own to a temporal one, which is also a valid, “Genuine” thing. However, such a temporal role is also unavoidably accompanied by an exclusionary nature that appears not only unwarranted (does Scripture dictate an “either-or” existence with regard to a temporal Church and an “invisible church” or is there not real Scriptural warrant for both?) but also unnecessary (is leaving no place for an invisible church of Christ not a limitation of God’s Divine purpose and prayer). I think if there’s going to be some accreditation in this area there’s going to have to be some place for an institution whose essence is not either temporal or invisible, but in a “fullness” from both! I think this will be a Church yet realized.

  13. Hey Fr. Jonathan. Great post. I have felt some of that angst that surely Newman felt at one point in my journey. Your post helps articulate many of the internal reasons I remained an Anglican (Orthodoxy was the route I was moving towards). As for that guy up there that called this “mindless revisionist drivel” (or something to that effect), I think I understand where he is coming from. This is the greatest weakness in Anglicanism right now. Some point to the Catholic heritage that is clearly evident in Hooker, Andrewes, Taylor, Laud and then the Tractarians, there are those who want so desperately to put forth a view of Angican history that favors the Puritan way. To me, it’s clear that Puritanism was never the mainstream, but some will always say that it was. At any rate, thanks so much for putting words to my heart so eloquently.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Puritanism is not Anglicanism. Neither is Anglo-Papalism. There was a rather bloody civil war over the one. The other seems to be a problem that is largely solving itself through attrition.

      • “Neither is Anglo-Papalism… a problem that is largely solving itself through attrition.” You’re right. In the end people like me were using Anglicanism as a flag of convenience because its semi-congregationalism made a good hedge against Modernism, even though Anglicanism’s largely a liberal Protestant denomination (sorry, Bishop Martins, et al.), when the mother church was inhospitable locally, having turned liberal after Vatican II. But that wasn’t fair to you, nothing to do with Anglicanism’s real reason to be.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Depending on how one construes the terms, it’s fairly easy to argue that Roman Catholicism is largely a “liberal Protestant denomination,” at least in America. Of course, if one’s definition of “Catholic” is limited to “sacramental union with the Roman pontiff and a belief that he is the vicar of Christ,” then no one can be Catholic except for papalists. But while the logic of that is consistent, the premise is batty. It’s like saying, “two plus two equals five, provided that two sometimes equals three.” Well, yeah, sure, but not really.

        That said, I take your point that there are many folks who make use of Anglicanism as a halfway house, either one direction or the other, for reasons that have little to do with the actual content of Anglicanism. This is part of why the actual content of Anglicanism has become so obscured in this day and age, because the percentage of contemporary Anglicans who are actually convinced Anglicans and not something else wearing an Anglican facade is fairly low. As you can see, I’m doing my darndest to change that.

    • “Depending on how one construes the terms, it’s fairly easy to argue that Roman Catholicism is largely a ‘liberal Protestant denomination,’ at least in America.”

      In a sense you agree with me: “the mother church was inhospitable locally, having turned liberal after Vatican II.” But at face value not true. For example: Anglicanism, not just dissident Anglicans, voted to have women clergy. We can’t. The church is infallible; we can’t change the matter of a sacrament. In the ’70s many American Catholics seemed to be liberal Protestant wannabes, but the church in itself, CatholicISM, never was nor can be that.

      And: “if one’s definition of ‘Catholic’ is limited to ‘sacramental union with the Roman pontiff and a belief that he is the vicar of Christ,’ then no one can be Catholic except for papalists. But while the logic of that is consistent, the premise is batty. It’s like saying, ‘two plus two equals five, provided that two sometimes equals three.’ Well, yeah, sure, but not really.”

      Of course that’s not what we believe and teach. There are Modernists but they don’t run the show. We take it on faith they can’t. The Pope is part of the church; his office shares in the church’s charism of infallibility. He’s a caretaker of the truth; he can’t teach that 2 + 2 = 5, because the church has already spoken. Which is what believing he’s the vicar of Christ means. The Catholic Modernists don’t; they believe in a fallible church. So they’re not really Catholic.

      That said, I like your second paragraph in the comment above; why this blog gets my respect. You’re a good spokesman for the Episcopal Church.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        You said:

        For example: Anglicanism, not just dissident Anglicans, voted to have women clergy. We can’t. The church is infallible; we can’t change the matter of a sacrament.

        A wise, and not particularly liberal, Roman Catholic professor I had in seminary said to me once, “On the day that the Roman Catholic Church approves the ordination of women, the first line of the papal edict will read, ‘As the Church has always taught, but has been so often misunderstood…'” I believe that sentiment is correct, whether or not the RC Church ever ordains women. So long as papal infallibility remains in place, along with a cracked notion of the development of doctrine a la Newman, then the idea that the RC Church “can’t” change just about anything is almost laughable.

        You said:

        He’s a caretaker of the truth; he can’t teach that 2 + 2 = 5, because the church has already spoken.

        See above.

        Note though that my “2+2=5” analogy has to do with the very notion that the Church is not the Church without a pope, not anything that any particular pope has taught.

      • This doesn’t have the force of doctrine ex cathedra or through an ecumenical council, but interestingly, support for women’s ordination is moribund in the Catholic Church. Lots of ignorant and lapsed Catholics say they agree with secular society that women can or should be priests, but actually agitating to change the church on this is a hobby of old cranks, such as the dying old orders of nuns. The remaining young Massgoers are conservative, love the church’s teachings (how many if any of the pro-women’s ordination people do, if any?), and want nothing to do with it. It won’t happen. Because it can’t.

      • Next to nobody here wants it, so why would the church do that, even if it could?

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Not really the point.

  14. I’m enjoying your blog very much, Father. We’ve traded places ecclesiastically. I learn a lot from you; you explain Anglicanism beautifully even though I don’t agree with it. My blog post today might be of interest:

  15. William Tighe says:

    If a stranger may make a reflection, the historical problem that see with “the Church is broken” position is that it is, historically, a purely Protestant 16th-Century innovation based on ideas about an “invisible Church;” ideas which were just as fully, if tacitly, embraced by the Church of England until the disciples and heirs of Lancelot Andrewes (primarily) and Richard Hooker (to a degree) reworked and narrowed them into the beginnings of the classical “Branch Theory,” an eccesiological concept which Evangelical Anglicans have never embraced (its only “conquest” outside of High-Church Anglicanism being the liberal Old Catholics of the Union of Utrecht)

    You correctly write that the Catholic Church (or “papal communion”) and the Orthodox Church “claim with absolute certainty to be the Catholic Church in her fulness,” but why stop there? The churches that comprise Oriental Orthodoxy make the same claim for themself, as did the so-called Nestorians (or “Assyrians”) for most of their history, until they came under Anglican influence from the 1880s onward (and some still make that claim). This may seem pedantic, and certainly do not wish to abuse, as a stranger, the hospitality of your blog, but my point is that all church communions which antedate the Reformation make that claim for themselves, which at least implies that they see the unicity as well as the unity of the Church as something essential to its nature, and not as a desirable but ultimately as an accidental and contingent characteristic.

    This notion of mine is strengthened when consider that now-defunct church bodies such as the Arians, the Donatists, the Novatianists and man others, including the first ever counter-church, the Marcionites, all claimed “with absolute certainty to be the Catholic Church in her fulness” (I don’t cite the Gnostic sects in this context, because they seem all to have repudiated anything like the idea of “church;” nor the Montanists, since I am not sure whether the adherents of the “New Prophesy” considered themselves to be a separate church, rather than a “revivalist” group within the Church – although, when driven out, they eventually became one). It seems to me that an intelligent, informed and broad-minded Christian of the third, fourth or fifth century had all the “evidence” at his disposal to conclude that “the Church” was “broken” or divided – and yet, to my knowledge, not a single one did, neither Catholic nor members of one of the dissident or counter-churches which I mentioned above; such a conclusion ad to await the 16th/17th centuries, and I am forced to ask both “why” and also “with what plausibility can such a late and adventitious ecclesiological theory be represented as ‘Catholic’?”

    For an Anglican view of these matters, may I refer you to *Schism in the Early Church* by S. L. Greenslade (London, 1953: SCM Press). Greenslade was a clergyman of the Church of England, whose position I might characterize as “liberalizing Evangelical” (think: Donald Coggan); when he wrote the book he was Van Mildert Professor of Divinity at Durham and later became Regius Professor (I can’t recall whether of Divinity or of Church History) at Oxford. The book is short-ish (240 pages) and eminently readable. Its general thesis is that the “Early Church” and all the early Church Fathers believed that “the Church” was both visible and indivisible, and that while local schisms might initially be regarded as in some sense “within the Church,” once they had hardened and become inveterate one of the parties to the schism was to be regarded as “of the Church” and the other as “outside the Church.”

    Greenslade insists that any coherent justification of Anglicanism an of the English Reformation must necessarily reject the Early Church (and I would say “Catholic”) ecclesiology adumbrated above, and embrace either the “invisible church” or the “divided church” model, both of which he sees as true and happy, if also wholly novel, “insights” of the Reformers. As befits an Anglican Evangelical, he regards the Caroline/Anglo-Catholic “branch theory” as an attempt to “square the circle” or “have it both ways;” and (he might have added) as novel as any other Reformation-derived ecclesiology.

    I do not deny the winsomeness and attractiveness of such an Anglo-Catholic ecclesiology. My problem is, that it has no historic basis prior to the Reformation, is a product of Protestantism, and has been rejected by all historically “Catholic”/pre-Reformation churches or communions.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi William,

      I think you’re reading an awful lot into early Church history. And, for that matter, into the modern realities of Church life. There is already a kind of wink and nod that is built into the way that both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches make their claim to exclusivity. Rome acknowledges the Eastern Orthodox Churches as a kind of “sister” and utilizes the language of the Church needing to breather with her “two lungs.” The Roman Church also holds communion with the Eastern Catholic Churches, despite the latter having not only a completely different set of canon laws but also a much different theological outlook that has far more in common with the Orthodox. For their part, the Eastern Orthodox have made quite a big deal in recent years of there not being much reason left for the split with the Oriental churches to continue. They accept each others orders and ministries as valid (in as much as Orthodoxy has any concept of “validity”). They also embrace the reality that churches may move in and out of communion without suddenly not being the Church anymore. Case in point, the reunion just a couple of years ago with ROCOR which involved no one really having to give up anything or deny their own histories.

      I don’t argue that any of this is ideal, but if Anglican Catholics are just fooling themselves by claiming that disunity need not mean disunion, then Rome and the East and everyone else are right there with us. The point of facing our disunity that I was trying to make in the article above is that there is no option in which we do not get to see it. We have wrought through our sinfulness what we have wrought. The first step towards healing, much like the first step towards recovery from addiction, is to admit that we have a problem. Rome and the East are not able to do that yet at the highest levels, even though they are willing to do it in round-about ways.

      Moreover, as you pointed out, separations in the early Church even over matters of core doctrine did not immediately result in clearcut answers about who was truly the Church and who was not. Long after the Council of Nicea there were Arian bishops in the majority who refused to accept its rule. The Church did not disappear during their reign. I do not think the situation is analogous to today because the doctrines that currently divide us are of a different order, but in so far as the early Church can offer us any helpful precedent, it is that unity and union are not synonymous in practice, even though they ought to be. Paul told Peter to his face that he was wrong about how he was treating the Gentile converts, but he did not excommunicate him or suggest that he was not truly an apostle within the fold of the Catholic Church. Others have not been so charitable. Cyril of Alexandria, much like Luther after him, simply could not stop himself from anathematizing everyone who disagreed with him on even the slightest matter of terminology. Look how well that turned out.

    • Below the level of doctrine, there are different schools of theology and spirituality in the Catholic Church (the Byzantine Catholic churches, the Orthodox’ analogue with us) and even within the Roman Rite (Franciscan vs. Jesuit, etc.). We’re not talking about two sets of doctrines.

      • braish says:

        Yes, but the Orthodox, both Eastern and Oriental, do not accept either papal infallibility or purgatory for example. And yet a recent pope of blessed memory has characterized those bodies as “sister churches” as Fr. Jonathan pointed out. It appears as though you cannot believe in a branch theory, but you can rephrase it as a “sister church theory” and get away with it in RCC circles.

      • Again, with Eastern Catholics we’re not talking about a separate set of doctrines, only at most a different expression of them. Which leads to the point you raise about our view of the separated Eastern churches. Since they’ve never promulgated un-Catholic doctrine, as opposed to having un-Catholic opinions, we give them the benefit of the doubt. With their traditional liturgies (analogues to mine), folk religion (they pray for the dead, which logically presupposes purgatory), and the first seven ecumenical councils, they are estranged Catholics.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Prayer for the dead most certainly does not presuppose purgatory, as just about any good Orthodox will tell you.

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  17. Kay Richardson says:

    Very good article. Despite Newman’s elevation to cardinal at the end of his life, it is worth noting that Rome found his conversion a mixed blessing.

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