Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Too catholic to be Catholic - Leithart

Back in 1993, when half of my church decided to leave Anglicanism and unite with the Orthodox church, I found in necessary to examine very closely issues of church history and ecclesiology in order to properly evaluate the rival claims of both traditions. The fact is, I was more than half inclined to go along with the Orthodox faction, but in the end I couldn't get over the fact that I would have to be repudiating my former church and, to some degree, all of my friends who had stayed behind. Obviously, I am oversimpiflying, but the issue is not a minor one. I remained Anglican because, though I mourn the fragmentation of the church, I could not see how it would help to jump from one fragment to a slightly larger one. Peter J. Leithart comes to similar conclusions in this blog post from yesterday:

Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople? Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentiles? Are you willing to say that every faithful saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter how fruitful their lives have been in faith, hope, and love? For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist. To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus. To become Orthodox, I would likely have to go through the whole process of initiation again, as if I were never baptized. And what is that saying about all my Protestant brothers who have been “inadequately” baptized? Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that? I’m too catholic to do that.
This is a very concise description of my own feelings, and I am happy to see them expressed by such a prominent voice as Leithart. I need to point out that I don't endorse all of his objections to Roman Catholicism:
I agree with the standard Protestant objections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Certain Catholic teachings and practices obscure the free grace of God in Jesus Christ; prayers through Mary and the saints are not encouraged or permitted by Scripture, and they distract from the one Mediator, Jesus; I do not accept the Papal claims of Vatican I; I believe iconodules violate the second commandment by engaging in liturgical idolatry; venerating the Host is also liturgical idolatry; in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, tradition muzzles the word of God. I’m encouraged by many of the developments in Catholicism before and since Vatican II, but Vatican II created issues of its own (cf. the treatment of Islam in Lumen Gentium).
I don't object to prayer to Mary, provided they are properly understood and the theology of icons in both Roman and Eastern traditions is acceptable to me, though I object to the suggestion that such practices are obligatory. Of course, these things can lead to the sort of idolatry that Leithart describes, especially among the less theologically educated, but there are plenty of idolatries within the folk traditions of Protestantism as well. Ignorance and superstition are ugly in all of their many guises. Since my Anglcan church has recently folded after 25 years of struggle, I am now in the process of looking for new spiritual lodgings. While I am unhappy with the state of much of the Anglican communion, I find it difficult, as a matter of conscience, to imagine myself anywhere else.


Anglican Beach Party said...

Cindy and I were just discussing yesterday what might be the nature of your "new spiritual lodgings".

I really like what you (and Leithart) have written here!

I am in the same (Anglican) boat.

JackOfClubs said...

I just discovered that Blogger has added a default moderation to my comments if they are on a post older than 14 days! I am very sorry that I missed this. There is a link to our new church up by the profile info. It is technically Anglo-catholic, but the pastor is Reformed.