I have been threatening to begin blogging for a while now. A year or two ago, I began reading blogs, (Titusonenine was the first, I believe) as I began to follow the slow fragmentation and breakup of the Anglican Communion. Soon, I discovered others, such as that of former Anglican-now-Roman Catholic priest, Al Kimel, called Pontifications, as well as that published by (temporarily) out-of-work RC academic, Dr. Michael Liccione. I nearly began a day or so ago, on another blog host, in response to a series of posts and stories in various places about charismatic renewal among Hispanic Roman Catholics. What finally kicked me into gear was a series of challenges from commenters on a specific post over at Pontifications. These challenges had to do with my support of the “branch theory” of ecclesiology, and they came from both the “right” (“The Roman Church/The Eastern Orthodox Church is, in and of itself, “The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”) and the “left” (“Lutheranism is also Catholic”). They also concerned the allegedly “defective christology” of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, the tradition in which the ACCA is rooted. Obviously, this established an agenda of sorts for me, but, as Fr. Al so kindly pointed out, by that time the comment thread on this article had gone rather far afield. I begin, therefore, with a defense of the branch theory:
The branch theory of ecclesiology arose in Anglicanism, as a way of defending Anglican claims of Catholicity over against the exclusive claims of the Roman Communion, on the one hand, and those of the Eastern, Byzanto-Orthodox Churches on the other. It is based in the notion that any Christian Communion, any local Church, can claim catholicity if a)that local Church is led by a priesthood consisting of a bishop “validly” ordained in apostolic succession and episcopally ordained presbyters who are assisted by similarly ordained deacons; b)the sacraments are celebrated according to traditional norms; and c)there is a “full and complete” confession of faith. In Anglican circles, this is often expressed in terms of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral which defines/describes catholicity in terms of four points:
- The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God [containing all things necessary for salvation].
- The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
- The two Sacraments — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
- The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
Clearly, from a Roman/EO/OO perspective, there are problems here. While one would not wish to quibble with the first point, there is an issue of the canon of the Old Testament and the characteristically Anglican phrase “containing all things necessary for salvation”. While the creed, in a sense, does stand on its own as a lynchpin of the Christian Tradition, it, like the Scriptures, cannot be separate from the former. The third point is the most problemmatic in that it speaks of only TWO sacraments. Finally, one must ask, is the “historic episcopate” the same as the episcopate in apostolic succession? Historically, when it comes to Anglicanism (and to those Lutheran bodies, primarily in Scandanavia, which maintain the “historic episcopate,” the answers coming from the those Churches which are grounded in undisputed succession have ranged from the negative, as with Rome and the EO, to equivocation (some persons/places and times in EO circles). Few such Churches, perhaps only two or three, have, to my understanding, unconditionally affirmed the validity of Anglican Holy Orders.
Thus, while defending the branch theory arising in Anglicanism, one must then, ironically, consider Anglicanism as a special case.
Ironically, given that Rome has traditionally denied the branch theory, the a priori three-fold definition/description of catholicity given above comes, almost word for word from the contemporary Catechism of the [Roman]Catholic Church paragraph 830 and ff. Of course, it cannot leave it at that, since the Roman claims regarding the status and claims of the Papacy are de fide. Therefore, the Catechism states, in Paragraph 834, that “Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome…”
Degrees of catholicity? It seems so. “Development” continues apace. Not that this is a bad thing…
This Roman Catholic catechism defines catholicity as “universal, in the sense of according to the whole”. Indeed, originally, the emphasis was, in fact, on the latter. The phrase was not “Catholic Church,” but “Catholic Churches” in the earliest fathers, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c. AD 110-115), who is the first known Christian writer to use the word. These “Catholic Churches” were local, particular Churches, specific Christian communities “sojourning” in this or that place, under the presidency of a bishop. Each was “the Catholic Church” in that particular place, the “whole Church” of Antioch, or Ephesus, or Rome. Thus, to be Catholic is to hold “the whole faith, relevant for all people of every time and place”. Since “faith without works” is dead, holding the “whole faith” means engaging in the whole of the Christian life, which immediately raises the issue of the sacraments, the mysteries, which, along with three-fold servant leadership of bishop, presbyterate, and diaconate, constitute Church (note that ordination to these orders is itself a sacrament/mystery). Also note that therefore, “Catholic” and “Orthodox” are closely related if not synonymous in that “Orthodox” refers to both “right [“straight] belief” and “right worship”. But “Orthodox” is not a creedal word.
So what, then, are the contents of this Orthodox and Catholic “right and whole belief” and “right and whole worship”. This content is that of the Apostolic Tradition, those beliefs, practices, and structures bequeathed to the Church by the Apostles themselves, as taught by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. This content is first expressed by three “rules” or “canons” which are found in the early Church. They are the rule of faith, the rule of prayer, and the rule, or canon, of Scripture. While these can be distinguished, they cannot be separated. They constitute the true “three-legged stool” of Orthodox and Catholic belief and practice. We will consider them in subsequent posts.