Category Image Anglocatholicism and Essence

In the Nicene Creed we speak of Christ as being one in Essence with the Father. Borrowing a bit from the OAD (Oxford American Dictionary), essence is the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something. We use the word essence with regard to Christ to indicate that he is truly God - that he shares in the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality that belongs to God alone. People can share in God's energies - see His glory, receive His grace, and in that sense we share partake in His nature, but we never acquire the indispensable quality or intrinsic nature of God. There is a great analogy from back in time of a sword placed in the fire. It may acquire the heat of the fire, but it never becomes fire itself. In some ways, it may even look like fire - taking on the same orange glow, but nevertheless, a sword it remains.

I think this differentiation may be germane to the discussion of Christian Churches and their relationship. That is, the Church that Christ founded should have an intrinsic nature, and more clearly stated some indispensable qualities, without which it would cease to be the Church. Most people who call themselves Christian would agree with this, and the debate remains over what are these indispensable qualities. Mitt Romney, and many other Mormons, might assert that it is a belief that Christ is the (but not one and only) Son of God. Jehovah's witnesses might assert that it is a willingness to follow Christ's teachings, but not require a belief that Christ is the Son of God. Many protestants might assert that it is merely a belief in the Trinity and that Christ died for our sins. Everything else is extraneous.

I know of some people who have received a fair amount of grief from family members about their conversion. In some cases, they were disowned, because they had left the one true Church (Rome) for Orthodoxy (or so a parent believed), and in others, the problems came about because the family thought that Orthodox was basically the same thing as their particular Church, and so couldn't understand why they could no longer attend services at a non-Orthodox Church. This is a subtle and challenging point. It appears that the Orthodox are simply being rude, when they are merely asserting that there is a difference in essence here. The Canons of the Church, dating back at least as far as the 4th century, do not permit the joining in to prayer services with heretics. Heretic is a charged term, but is merely a reference to someone who holds to an heretical doctrine, or a doctrine at odds with the doctrine of the Church. St. Paul warns us against heresy as being a work of the flesh.

I apologize for having taken so long to get here, but what I'm getting at is that the essence of the Church must have something to do with the doctrine's held. If you hold to different doctrines, then you must not be of the same essence. I would go so far as to propose that the question here is not who is right, but rather acknowledging that the two things are not the same. That is, if we do not hold doctrine in common, then we are not of the same essence - at least not completely. I may share essential elements with a caterpillar (we are both from the same Kingdom - animalia), but a caterpillar is decidedly not a human. Scripture is so insistent on our being of one body, of one mind, that in order to be the same, we must hold to the same doctrines - not just a few, but most, if not all.

A couple of things came together this weekend on the Anglican front that made me think about this a bit. The first is a post over at Anglican Music about the institution of a former priest of mine as rector of a continuing Anglican parish in Hollywood. 9.West has five (and a tongue in cheek sixth) different meanings for AngloCatholic. I think his breakdown is roughly correct. What is interesting is that several of those groups would not only not hold all of the same doctrines, but are quite likely to hold contradictory doctrines. For instance, many "High Church" Anglicans are quite reformed in doctrine (as in Calvinist), while the ACA is rather Roman Catholic. These essential differences amongst those who might consider themselves AngloCatholic was underscored as I was cleaning out my library. I picked up a mid 19th century volume of the "Library of AngloCatholic Theology" consisting of Hammond's Practical Catechism. Unfortunately, Hammond was quite a Calvinist. To pick on one point, he asserts that it is wrong to take Christ's words literally about "this is my body, this is my blood." Fast forward 40 years or so to a copy of "The Church Club Lectures", a series of lectures sponsored by an AngloCatholic body. In one volume, on Catholic Dogma, the assertion is that you have no choice but to take Christ's words literally. These words of Christ are considered so important, that they are probably the one unchanging, consistent element in the Liturgies of the East and West, and in the West between Anglicans and Catholics. I don't think that these words and their meaning can be considered unimportant. To the degree that people are not of one mind on this thing, I would assert that they are not of one essence, either. As it is, I am focusing on a particular point, but between these groups there are numerous other points of contradiction on what would be considered important doctrines.

There is even broader lack of essential unity if you survey all of those who consider themselves Anglican. Given that Anglicanism doesn't seem to be of one essence, unless the only indispensable quality is the presence of Bishops, its hard to see how they even comprise one Church. It is even safer to say that Anglicanism and Orthodoxy are not simply two essentially identical faiths. Even if one were to find an Anglican parish somewhere that was entirely Orthodox in its beliefs and practices (and I've never heard of one that was), you would still have the problem that they insist on remaining united with those that believe differently, rather than leaving all that and uniting with the Orthodox. That is one doctrinal distinction that would remain. 9.West finishes his post with a quote from Terry Mattingly about Michael Ramsey's assertion that the goal of Anglicanism is reunification with the East. I agree that this should be the goal. In order to accomplish that, then, Anglicanism must become of one mind, both with themselves, then with Orthodoxy. However, Ramsey also understood how difficult this would be, as the Orthodox mind perceives of things quite differently:

"The Orthodox said in effect: "...The 'tradition is a concrete fact. There it is, in its totality. Do you Anglicans accept it, or do you reject it?' The Tradition is for the Orthodox one indivisible whole: the entire life of the Church in its fullness of belief and custom down the ages, including Mariology and the veneration of icons. Faced with this challenge, the typically Anglican reply is: 'We would not regard veneration of icons or Mariology as inadmissible, provided that in determining what is necessary to salvation, we confine ourselves to Holy Scripture.' But this reply only throws into relief the contrast between the Anglican appeal to what is deemed necessary to salvation and the Orthodox appeal to the one indivisible organism of Tradition, to tamper with any part of which is to spoil the whole, in the sort of way that a single splodge on a picture can mar its beauty." ['The Moscow Conference in Retrospect', in Sobornost, series 3, no. 23, 1958, pp. 562-3.]"

h/t to Orthodoxinfo for this quote. To be essentially Orthodox is to view Tradition as the seamless garment. To be Anglican is to attempt to identify what is "necessary to Salvation," and require no more. They are essentially different beasts.

Posted: Monday - December 10, 2007 at 11:37 AM