Early Christianity and Anglican Rhetoric

I’ve seen quite a few links recently heading off to a particular post at Desert’s Child but I’ve been crazy busy over the weekend and haven’t been on-line enough to check it out.

I finally did.

I’m dismayed.

I left a comment…

It’s a post that attempts to counter the Diocese of Fort Worth’s claims concerning the “faith once delivered” with an historical expose, if you will, demonstrating that such a thing (the faith once delivered) never existed. While I am also opposed to the path that DioFW is committed to, this isn’t the way to handle it.

First, it’s incorrect. There are quite a number of factual errors and misrepresentations of scholarship that undercut the point of what they’re trying to do. I am used to people getting things incorrect. I fully acknowledge that I continue to get things incorrect. But these are big things, basic things. We (clergy, lay leaders, interested informed communicants) should know the basic framework of our history. And—by and large—we don’t. I’m trying to do my bit to remedy that with my current series on Church History for the Episcopal Cafe (I’m finishing up a past-deadline piece on the Council of Nicea right now, actually), but more needs to be done.

Second, I read the overall rhetoric of the piece (and of pieces like it) as trying to defeat those they see as traditionalists by overturning and devaluing what they see as tradition. This is a fundamentally wrong-headed approach. I also see it with Scripture. Those who seek to argue against fundamentalist readings seek to overturn and devalue Scripture. Again–huge mistake. A far more proper and more helpful response is to learn more about them! In truth, most fundamentalists don’t know Scripture half as well as they’d like you to think. And the very same is true with many traditionalists as well! Tradition is not the enemy. How some deploy some portions of the tradition for their own ends is the problem.

I truly fear this binary spectrum that we Anglicans seem to have created for ourselves. It makes us do things and say things that we shouldn’t. This politically-driven use of opposites does not help us. Where it seems to be heading is that the conservatives claim Scripture and Tradition and the liberals respond by repudiating both. What’s wrong with this picture!?!

26 thoughts on “Early Christianity and Anglican Rhetoric

  1. Anastasia

    I hear this argument a good bit. just about every sunday, in fact. I’m not at all sure who it’s supposed to be helping or why on earth self-professed *Christians* would be making it. profoundly unhelpful, not to mention irritating.

    in fact, if you hadn’t linked, I wouldn’t have read it and I would be happier right now. Shame!

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    Sorry Anastasia… ;-)

    I just can’t *not* say something though. When we start teaching incorrect versions of Church History to score points something is really wrong…

    And the fact that it (presenting half-truths and misleading history) has been done in the past and that other people do it doesn’t make it right either…

  3. John-Julian, OJN

    My reaction to your reaction to Katie Sherrod’s piece is a bit mixed.

    Factuality? Well, she is certainly painting with a very broad brush, of course, and not covering every bramble on the bush, but I think she is trying to say that there has never BEEN a detailed theologico-ethico-moral “faith once delivered”, and I can’t fault her on that. I’m not a PhD historian, but I think I’ve studied every surviving document from the first 400 years at least, and they seem to support her point.

    On the other side of my head I realize that describing the consistent formal expressions of “the faith” might be more convincing — i.e., limiting the universals to the little that was actually historically universal. But even that is “sticky” –I mean, even Nicaea was not a church-initiated assembly, but a command from the unbaptized emperor who presided and demanded consensus (and, if I recall my figures accurately, it only included something like 318 out of the 15-1800 bishops).

    I take your point about the seeming denigration of Scripture by liberals. Better, surely, to wave the banner for Scripture and demonstrate its inspired usefulness rather than its contradictions and flaws or its dubious canonization/rejection process — but that takes one heck of a lot of education of folk who really do not want to be educated in that way. [Just today I smiled at Tobias’ pointing out that Paul’s permission to eat idol meat goes contrary to the Jerusalem Council’s mandate to him against eating blood.]

    I mean one can probably make something of a case for Nicaea/Constantinople, plus some combination of (too often) conflicting biblical witnesses — and toss in the Quadrilateral, but I’d be hard put to find much else that was reliably universal.

    On a practical basis it would certainly be an advantage to produce positive proofs of one’s position rather than negative taints of an opponents’ position, but that is a challenge I’m not sure can pragmatically be accomplished, since it seems no one over there is listening.

    How would YOU go about it, Derek?

  4. Derek the Ænglican

    Fr. John-Julian,

    I started a response to your comment but it quickly ballooned out of combox size. I’ll be putting up a post soon that addresses your issues. Basically I fundamentally disagree with the method of sketching the various trajectories in early Christianity and the flaw in the methodology is what leads to the central error in the construal of Nicea.

    My response should be up soon…

  5. The young fogey

    This is the best reaction to that post I’ve read so far, reaching the standard I’ve come to expect from you. Thank you.

    That said, here’s my (I hope) non-clobbering Catholic tuppen’orth:

    The piece seems to describe very well the liberal Protestantism favoured by the generation running TEC.

    Which of course is incompatible with Catholicism on which Bishops Iker and Ackerman mean to stand so +Fort Worth’s right, the Catholic Movement has no future in TEC. (When Catholicism gets turned into mere opinion it’s no longer Catholicism.) No point staying in liberal or even moderate Protestantism where one doesn’t belong.

    (Well, chaps, we had a good run. Time to take our birettas, our half-timbered English, our hymns, our tolerant conservatism and our backward belief in things like Quicunque vult and natural law on sexuality and head for the larger church, Mater Ecclesia, the Una Sancta, the Catholica.)

    Sherrod’s/TEC’s views along with the conservative Protestantism of the other side in the Anglican row both answer Cardinal Kasper’s challenge ‘Are you Catholic or Protestant?’ Corporate reunion with Rome and/or the East ain’t gonna happen; Anglicanism will split with each side blending/merging with a different brand of Protestantism.

    You’re advocating a more moderate Protestantism, credally orthodox, sacramental and liturgical (and I wholly acknowledge all the things we have in common, different from ‘Aagh, TEC is apostate!’), but still Protestantism.

    One of my favourite sayings is ‘traditional Catholicism is not monolithic’. Those who try to attack the faith accusing it of that show they don’t know the faith or history. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one true infallible church (no infallible church = not Catholic) but not one culture or school of thought, which is why for example there are different rites and different forms of monastic life… but not new doctrine contradicting old or ‘new revelation’ (Mormonism for the brie set?).

    Part of what Sherrod is saying applies to the difference between the natural traditionalism I and Arturo Vásquez are at home in and the Lefebvrists (with whom likewise I have much in common) or the neoconness of, say, 1990s EWTN and the RCs who like John McCain… between orthodoxy, which is high and deep, and fundamentalism, a sort of strip cartoon of orthodoxy.

    My first church taught me what a Christian gentleman is, and I read Coverdale’s psalms to this day, but because of the ‘infallible or not?’ issue (whence come all the differences over Controversial Issues™) I understand that for Catholics in the long run it’s a dead end.

    I’ll sit down and shut up now.

  6. bls

    One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one true infallible church (no infallible church = not Catholic)….

    Fogey, the “fallible” church isn’t something made up by TEC during the 1960s. “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.”


    Your saying above only implies that there’s no such thing as the Catholic Church. From the Anglican point of view, that is.

  7. The young fogey

    bls: I know.

    Please reread; I never claimed TEC made it up in the 1960s.

    Your saying above only implies that there’s no such thing as the Catholic Church. From the Anglican point of view, that is.

    From the Catholic POV that’s what that Article of Religion (conservative Protestant) and Sherrod (liberal Protestant) are saying.

    (Even though Newman of course tried to spin the Article in Tract XC.)

    Both the Articles’ framers and Sherrod are appealing to private judgement over the church.


  8. bls

    Whatever you say, Fogey; it doesn’t make any difference to me what people call us.

    Of course, there’s also a little thing called the “Sensus Fidelium”….

  9. The young fogey

    Of course, there’s also a little thing called the “Sensus Fidelium”….

    Yes but in the Catholic faith certain teachings are nailed down and once defined and received by the church aren’t up for revision including by majority vote.

    For example Rome’s answer to demands from some First World people to change on Controversial Issues™ and go along with upper-middle-class mores is essentially: ‘I can’t. I’m only the Pope.’

  10. bls

    Ah, yes. Ladies and Gents, we’ve now arrived at the “upper-middle-class mores” portion of our program.

    Well, I hate to break it to you, Fogey, but there are poor gays and lesbians in the world. And there are even gays and lesbians – gasp! – in other parts of the world not in the West.

    What I don’t understand is why you don’t just become Roman Catholic; you obviously don’t agree with the Anglican worldview. You revere the Pope and the Magisterium. What in the world are you doing here?

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    Yes but in the Catholic faith certain teachings are nailed down and once defined and received by the church aren’t up for revision including by majority vote.

    Very true–and hence we have the creeds…


    Yes–I acknowledge I’m a Protestant under your definition. My understanding of history won’t allow me to accept that the Church East or West is infallible. So, bls and I are Protestants; you’re not, and none of us will know our ultimate eschatological status until we reach the Throne. Until then, we live as virtuously and faithful as we can and argue about it all over drinks after Solemn Benediction… ;-)

  12. The young fogey

    Well, I hate to break it to you, Fogey, but there are poor gays and lesbians in the world. And there are even gays and lesbians – gasp! – in other parts of the world not in the West.

    But in Catholic cultures many people don’t live up to the teachings of the church – after all Italy is the home of the Mafia! – but people know they can’t bend the church to say that’s OK. Protestants think they can.

    The push for Catholic churches to change their teachings to be more agreeable to Western countries is coming from… the upper middle classes in those countries and is thanks to Protestant influence in those places.

    What I don’t understand is why you don’t just become Roman Catholic; you obviously don’t agree with the Anglican worldview. You revere the Pope and the Magisterium. What in the world are you doing here?

    I’m a communicant of many years’ standing in a Catholic church not in the Anglican Communion and am also a happy non-communicant part-timer at one of TEC’s last Tridentine Anglo-Catholic parishes, which are rare as hen’s teeth.

    Because at the same time I am a Catholic and my first church’s culture still means something to me.

    You’re probably right but need to be more specific as I’d consider being a Christian gentleman/tolerant conservatism part of the Anglican worldview or, perhaps more accurately, simply part of English/WASP culture. Not the same as Anglican theology, I’ll grant you!

  13. bls

    Well, I’m actually glad to hear that you belong to a different church. That means I can take what you say with a large grain of salt from now on. ;-)

    I can never figure out, though, why people get so worked up over this issue when they don’t have to. I’m not pushing to change the Catholic Church’s teachings; they can do whatever they want. No skin off my nose at all – so why is it skin off yours what WE do?

    BTW: no. The push to revise the church’s erroneous teachings is coming from many places in the world.

  14. bls

    (It really does seem to be true, often, that people who don’t even belong to TEC – and sometimes, as with Fogey here, they don’t even belong to a church that’s a member of the Anglican Communion – are much more consumed with what we’re doing than with Episcopalians themselves.

    That’s odd, isn’t it?

    Anyway, Fogey: now that I know I don’t have to “tolerate” you as a (so-called) “orthodox” Episcopalian, I’m feeling much more favorable towards you.

    Just thought you’d like to know. ;-) )

  15. The young fogey

    Thanks, Derek. If I read Sherrod correctly she seems to argue that it’s possible for the Spirit-moved faithful to dump the creeds; I know you don’t think that.

  16. Caelius Spinator

    I like my sacraments and my creeds to be catholic. If the Pope and his impotence in theological matters is catholic order, I’m quite proud to be Protestant. After all, that’s what the Articles really do imply. We’re catholic, you’re not.

    But anyhoo.

    “The last time anything like a one-page-memo version of Christianity that suited just about everybody existed was the Nicaea/Chalcedon era, 350 years after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The formulation of faith and practice those councils produced we now call classical catholic Christianity.”

    Wrong. Many heresies rejected in the East remained (and some remain) quite vital. And nearly every theological controversy in the East (including the one concerning icons) is really an attack on a few small parts of the one page memo (compiled over a century or more). You generally don’t need obscene amounts of penal legislation against discontents (Arcadius and thereafter) if everyone is happy and contented.

    Moreover, there were plenty of theological controversies and some attempt to gain unanimity before Constantine…

    From your reply–

    “There was no compromise with Arian belief. The debate was whether Jesus was a creature created by God and bound in time. The council declared that he was neither. It’s pretty much an either/or kind of thing.”

    I guess you’re not familiar with this particular argument that the First Seven Councils are a compromise between Jesus as human and divine in a variety of very subtle ways. I think it’s actually anachronistic as if Monophysites or Arians were opposed by modern Unitarian Universalists. It’s a framing device (and clearly one not true to the scholarship).

  17. Derek the Ænglican

    Ok—I was hoping to get my additional bit up today but life intervened… Hopefully I’ll get the piece up tomorrow.

    ?? No, Caelius, I’ve never heard that argument. It would seem like the formulations themselves—especially those post-Chalcedon would shut that view down entirely.

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  19. Christopher

    What is problematic in the article in my opinion is positing such a variety of Christianities as if there was no heart to the message at the beginning. That all of the various Jesuses of these groups were of equal theological consideration. That all sorts of Christians existed and their theologies were of equal footing or that the Jesus of Jewish Christians is wholly separable from the Jesus of Gentile Christians. This is similar actually to recent revisionist histories about the English Reformation that show lots of good things in the pre-Reformed English Church but overlook the theological problems that led to bad practices.

    In reading the Synoptics, John, and Paul, it would seem to me that using different symbols, theological arguments, parables, and stories each moves toward affirming who Jesus is in light of the Resurrection, namely Jesus is YHWH. The implications of that are then to be further considered and the Church wrestled with this and came to formulations. Now, of course, my lens for reading Scripture is colored by my acceptance of the content of faith these early Christians came to and have handed on to us, namely the Creeds. The Creeds tell us in shorthand in the way we understand, language, who this God is in whom we put our trust. The Creeds are better understood in terms of similar genre like the Canticles, especially those such as the Song of Miriam. This is all to say that fides quae and fides qua are not separable. The Creeds are our hermeneutic for understanding who God is in Scripture where other readings every bit as theological (and in my view wrongheaded because at least for one usually in the end disgusted by or denigrating Creation in some way or other and leading to problematic conclusions about God) are surely possible.

    The formulae of the Creeds are meant to maintain the heart of this teaching that Jesus is YHWH already being variously described in the NT. We make a huge and modern mistake in my opinion by treating the NT texts as history in the way we moderns understand history. They might better be understood as historical theology of a sort.

    I might add that in light of modern reengagement, we need to be careful about terms like “monophysites” and “Nestorians”. What the Oriental Churches actually taught and what they were accused of teaching were not necessarily the same thing. The churches of Egypt and Ethiopia and Armenia might better be categorized as radical Cyrillists and the churches of Iraq and Iran better categorized as Mopsuestian. Often terminology (and disagreements about such usage) and emphases got in the way as much as real theological difference.

    As Archbishop Williams has also noted in his history of Arianism, that movement was traditionalist and conservative wanting to preserve monotheism; Athanasius’ inheritors, the Cappadocians were considered theological innovators in their own time by fellows among them. The question at the formulation of the Creeds was concerned with who is this Jesus and hence were theological. Usage of new Greek terminology in the Creeds caused dyspepsia for some bishops because not biblical. The result is that reading Scripture is in light of theology and theological interpretation of who is this Jesus. In our own time certain traditionalist and conservative interpretations around gender and sexuality tend to run counter to the heart of the Creeds as Fr. Haller has pointed out.

  20. The young fogey

    Some quotations from classic Anglicans on church infallibility that don’t sound Protestant.

    Dean Field in his magisterial book On the Church put it quite clearly, “As we hold it impossible that the Church should ever by Apostacy or misbelief wholly depart from God… so we hold it never falleth in to heresy.” — The Church. Bk 4,Ch. 2.

    The Martyr Archbishop Laud, in his Conference with the Jesuit Fisher: “It is true that a General Council, de post facto, after it is ended and admitted by the whole church is then infallible.” — page 291, 1839 ed.

    Hammond the theologian who died shortly after the Restoration of the Church in 1660, “I shall number it amongst the things that piety will believe that no general council ….. either hath erred, or shall ever err in matters of faith.” — Of heresy. Sect. 9.

    Or pre-1845 Newman and Anglo-Catholics had a leg to stand on.

  21. bls

    To me, the Creeds are simply logical conclusions at the end of a “best-fit” analysis of the available data.

    And actually I’m pretty sure we’d end up with the same conclusions, if we threw everything out and started over again anyway.

    That’s why I find the whole discussion to be a bit absurd. We do have to use the story, after all; that’s the whole point of the thing, isn’t it? That Christianity developed around an event that actually happened in the world?

  22. Marshall Scott

    Goodness, siblings! My head is spinning!

    Derek, I largely agree. At the same time, and as you’ve seen me say often enough before, I don’t believe St. Vincent’s purported “Canon” was inaccurate when it was articulated. That does not lead me to deny that there is some core of the faith retained beginning in the post-Apostolic period. As an example, while we don’t have our Trinitarian theology worked out until after the Fourth Ecumenical Council (and, arguably, not until after the Seventh), references – apparently separable references – to Father, Son, and Spirit are found in the Gospels. It was there, and we came to some consensus that we were using all three in relation to one God; but the arguments went on for some time. How narrowly must we define the “core” so as to be reasonably accurate?

    In that sense, Christopher, I agree that “The Creeds are our hermeneutic for understanding who God is in Scripture,” but are so because we chose them out of Scripture and not because we applied from outside something foreign (but, then, I think you agree with that).

    Young Jon, it is, as always, fun to be with you. I would suggest there is a distinction between indefectability and infallibility to consider here. The Church Catholic (or the Whole Body of Christ, whichever might by God’s grace be greater) might not lose the faith, but that doesn’t mean it won’t bounce around it on occasion.

    And, beloved siblings, can we get one thing right? Katie Sherrod, for all her appreciation of the post that triggered all this interest, did not in fact write that post. As we argue, let’s at least be clear that we’re arguing with Fr. Coggins.

  23. Derek the Ænglican

    Thanks for your thoughts, Fr. Scott–perceptive as usual.

    Ever since our Christian Identity Carnival ‘way back I’ve stolen a phrase of Caelius’s: the Vincentian Canon fails through irony. That is, it was deployed in order to reject Augustine’s doctrine of the Bondage of the Will as a novelty…

    I agree with Christopher and with you and would reply to YF that creeds are where it’s at. I think that we can trace their boundaries as the core teachings of Christianity . They are the content of the faith handed over to the saints that we are entrusted with preserving. And, YF, it’s in that regard that I believe the Anglican Fathers are correct on the issue of Councils. I will indeed affirm that the Seven Ecumenical Councils taught the true doctrine of Christ, guided and prompted by the Holy Spirit.

    I confess, hold, and defend their doctrine. But at the same time see their *discipline* as temporally and socially conditioned. What becomes really complicated is discerning the difference between the two in cases where they intermingle…

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