Skip to comments.Abusing the Fathers
Posted on 03/26/2005 8:51:52 AM PST by sionnsar
Dr. William Tighe, who I regard highly as one of the best church historians of our day, has written an important article, Abusing the Fathers, in Touchstone. He addresses the claim of the Windsor Report that the Canons of the Council of Nicea forbid the crossing of diocesan boundaries--even those of heterodox bishops--by other bishops. I think Dr. Tighe rebuts this soundly in his article, and I think we owe him a debt of gratitude--because if we accepted this particular claim of the Windsor Report, we would in essence be forbidding a modern-day Athanasius from taking action against heretical bishops. As Dr. Tighe writes,
...the clearest and most instructive (as well as the saddest) lesson of this episode is how sincere and pious Christians, like Bishop Wright, deprive themselves of any compellingly persuasive basis for rallying a forceful Athanasian movement to retake their churches from the heterodox innovators who dominate themand not least because of their own inability, as the bishops statements show, to make clear judgments about false teaching and false teachers and to take firm and decisive measures in response.This article should be read by orthodox bishops everywhere in Anglicanism.
The Windsor Reports Misleading Appeal to Nicea
by William J. Tighe
A year ago, after the uproar over the consecration as bishop of New Hampshire of the notorious Vicki Gene Robinsonthe Episcopal priest who divorced his wife and subsequently openly entered a homosexual relationship that continues to this daythe Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a committee to look into the matter. The consecration clearly contradicted the 1998 Lambeth Conferences resolution declaring such relationships to be incompatible with the Christian faith, and the Lambeth Commission was to recommend ways in which the Anglican Communion could maintain the highest possible degree of communion.
The ensuing Windsor Report, released on October 18, 2004, called for moratoria on the ordination of all non-celibate homosexuals and on the approval of rites for blessing same-sex partnerships, as well as for an end to the intervention of traditionalist bishops (usually from Africa or Asia) in the dioceses of revisionist bishops. It called both traditionalist and revisionist groups to express regret for their actions, which were deemed to be incompatible with the tangible and intangible bonds that held the Anglican Communion together.
N. T. (Tom) Wright, the bishop of Durham in the Church of England, was a member of the commission, and in various places since the issuance of the report has defended it. He has for some years deservedly enjoyed the reputation of a first-rate Scripture scholar who has been able to counteract and debunk revisionistread, if you will, heretical or anti-Christianviews of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and of the authority of the Bible.
He appeals particularly to those conservative evangelical Christians who wish to uphold a generally high view of the authority of Scripture in doctrine and morals, but wish to leave room for some developments, such as the ordination of women, which Wright supports.
Wright has, in particular, defended the reports implicit censure of the intervention of orthodox Anglican bishops in the dioceses of revisionist ones in the United States and Canada. In a report published in the liberal-leaning English Roman Catholic weekly The Tablet, he justified this censure on the basis that such interventions were in contravention not only of Anglican custom but of the Nicene decrees on the subject.
The theory of the inviolable integrity of diocesan boundaries has underpinned the statements of more than one or two Episcopal bishops in recent years, such as Peter Lee of Virginia and Neil Alexander of Atlanta. The result of the theory that heresy is preferable to schism and schism is worse than heresy has been the belief among influential conservative Anglicans that the faithful must put up with an unending stream of doctrinal absurdities and moral enormities.
In an interview with Christianity Today, Wright insisted that border crossings are not only disruptive but prohibited by the Council of Nicea. And I think not a lot of people know this, but its important to say this was a question that the early fathers faced at the same time as they were hammering out the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ, and that they gave it their time to say people should not do this because thats not how episcopacy works. He insisted that the real charge against the offending dioceses
is that they were going ahead with innovations without giving the proper theological rationale, without paying attention to the rest of the communion, without doing all the things which as Anglicans we all thought we were signed up to doing before people make innovations. The bishops and archbishops who have intervened in other peoples provinces and dioceses are, in effect, at that level making the same error.
The interviewer then noted that one theologian believed that, in the early Church, orthodox bishops considered a heretical bishops see vacant and would go into his diocese. Its not simply as easy as that, because who says that so-and-so is a false teacher? Wright responded. Bishop John Spong would describe the Evangelical former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, as a false teacher. . . . So you have to have some way of getting a handle on this and not simply one bishop saying that his next-door neighbor is out of line and therefore hes going to invade. That has never been the Anglican way.
As Bishop Wrights grasp of the church fathers theory and practice seems a bit weak in these areasand as he was clearly the most scholarly member of the commissionit may be useful to pursue the subject a bit further. Less can be said for the church fathers support for the commissions claims than Wright asserts.
A regrettable feature of the Windsor Report is its lack of documented notes and references to back up its claims and assertions. For example, it simply cites the ancient norm of the Church for its claims about the unity of all Christians in one place and for its rationale against the intervention of outside bishops, without offering any evidence at all. It never quotes any Nicene decrees on the subject, to use Bishop Wrights phrase, though an allusion to one of Niceas canons, of doubtful relevance, is tucked away in the report.
The Council of Nicea, which met from May to August of a.d. 325 and is most famous for its formulation of the original version of the Nicene Creed, also produced twenty canons, or rules, to settle problems or fix abuses in the Church. Several of the canons concern the relations of bishops with one another and of clergy with their bishops. Significantly for the present case, none have any legal force in any contemporary Anglican church.
But more importantly, none of them seem to have any real applicability to the situation of the Anglican Communion, or the Episcopal Church, today. If any one of them underlies Bishop Wrights oblique reference, it must be Canon 16. Members of the clergy, it declares,
who have the audacity, not considering the fear of God and not knowing the Churchs rule, to abandon their churches, must not under any circumstances be received in another church but by all means must be forced to return to their proper communities, and if they refuse, they are to be properly excommunicated. In addition, if anyone dares to take someone who is under the authority of another bishop and to ordain him in his own church without the consent of the bishop in whose clergy he was enrolled, let the ordination be regarded as null.
This canon obviously deals with clergy flight and clergy poaching: It assumes a community of orthodox belief between the churches and bishops concerned, and says nothing at all about interventions in churches whose bishops have abandoned orthodoxy of belief and practice and have begun to oppress those of their flock who continue to uphold it, even if that oppression consists only in contradicting that orthodoxy and furthering those who teach and act against it.
But while I was puzzling over Wrights invocation of this inapplicable canon, I found an allusion to the eighth canon early in the report. In this passage, the report deplores as now part of the problem we face the breaking of communion with the Episcopal Church by other Anglican churches, attempts by dissenters in America to distance themselves from the Episcopal Church, and the interventions of archbishops from other Anglican churches.
Then it comments: This goes not only against traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice [alluding to the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences] but also against some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicea).
The Pure Ones
So what does the canon say? It is one of the longer ones, and it concerns the re-entry into the Church of the so-called pure ones. It required them to promise in writing to accept and to follow the rulings of the Catholic Church, primarily to have communion with those who renounced the faith during persecutions but had since been given a period of penance and a date for their reconciliation with the Church.
In places that had only pure ones as clergy, they should keep their status, but if a pure one wanted to be admitted to the clergy in a place that had a bishop or a priest of the Catholic Church . . . it is evident that the bishop of the Church should keep the dignity of bishop. A bishop of the pure ones
is to have the rank of priest unless the bishop consents to let him have the honor of his title. But if he is not so disposed, let the bishop give him a place as a chorepiscopus [i.e., a bishop who exercised some supervision over Christian communities in the rural areas, while being himself subordinate to the bishop of a nearby city] or as a priest so that he can appear as being integrated into the clergy. Without this provision, there would be two bishops in the city.
The pure ones was the name given, perhaps self-given, to a schismatic group known as the Novatianists. They originated in the aftermath of the great persecutionthe first empire-wide persecutionlaunched against the Church by the Roman Emperor Decius in 249251. Before that persecution, a Christian who renounced Christianity under pressure and then wished to return to the Church could only be readmitted to the Eucharist when on his deathbed.
In the aftermath of the persecution, which saw apostasies on a large scale, the bishop of Rome, Cornelius, allowed the lapsed to be readmitted after some years of public penitence, which involved, among other things, standing in a particular place during the Churchs Liturgy and leaving before Communion. Most bishops elsewhere adopted this practice as well, but in Rome, Pope Cornelius was opposed by the priest Novatian, whose followers elected him bishop in opposition to Cornelius, and in the ensuing years the schism spread throughout the Roman Empire.
The Novatianists were moral rigorists, best known for their absolute prohibition of second marriages under any circumstances (including after the death of a spouse) and their refusal to readmit the lapsed to Communion. In every other respect, though, their beliefs were thoroughly orthodox. A Novatianist bishop turned up at the Council of Nicea, where he was as vehement in his opposition to the views of the heretic Arius as any of the other bishops there. It was only when he went on to insist on the exclusion of the lapsed from Communion that his Novatianist allegiance came to light, and he was ejected from the council.
Of all the various heretical or schismatic Christian sects, the Novatianists were viewed with the most indulgence, as this canon indicates. Although it was common at the time to regard as heretical all Christian sects that pertinaciously and as a matter of principle separated themselves from the Catholic and Apostolic Church, in practice the council treated groups of them who wished to rejoin the Church as though they were simply schismatics.
In fact, few Novatianists took advantage of this offer. Their church, or denomination, continued to exist as a rigorous and pure alternative to the established Church in parts of the Eastern Roman Empire for some three or four centuries afterwards.
Dealing with Defectors
It is hard to see how this canon has anything to do with the troubles of contemporary Anglicanism that evoked the Windsor Report. The canon does uphold the unity of the local church, but the situation it addresses is the reunion of a schismatic group with the Church, not the appropriate response of bishops to the defection of one of their brethren from their common orthodoxy. However, the latter type of situation did arise in the fourth century, in the long aftermath of the Council of Nicea, and later still.
The main purpose of the Council of Nicea was to judge the views of the Alexandrian priest and theologian Arius, who held that Jesus was a creaturea divine being created by God before the angels, the cosmos, and mankind, but a creature nevertheless. Nicea condemned Ariuss views, and its creed confessed the full co-divinity and co-eternity of the everlasting Son of the Father.
However, since the controversy continued unabated after Nicea, and since Emperor Constantine had wanted the council to promote ecclesiastical harmony, the fact that it signally failed to produce such harmony induced him, within a few short years, to attempt to promote various theological compromises that would reconcile the Arians and the Niceans. (Many of the most influential bishops around the emperor were sympathetic to some degree with Arius.)
Among the most vigorous and uncompromising upholders of Nicea and its creed was the young archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius (c. 296373), who as a priest had accompanied his predecessor to Nicea. His vigorous opposition to any compromise earned him the hostility of the bishops who had most influence with the emperor, who himself in the last decade of his life (he died in 337) increasingly regarded Athanasius as a disturber of the peace, and finally exiled him to what is today the German Rhineland.
After Constantines death, as his Arianizing son Constantius became master, first of the East and then (in 350) of the whole Roman Empire, imperial policy shifted from conciliation to coercion of the adherents of Nicea, and these shifts continued down to the final defeat of Arianism in 381.
As time went on, the whole Church became divided over the question, with bishop opposing bishop. Athanasius was willing, as the conflict intensifiedin his case, as early as the mid-340sto intervene unilaterally in dioceses whose bishops were Arians or compromisers. The historians Socrates and Sozomen, writing in the middle of the next century, record that he ordained men in dioceses whose bishops were tainted with Arianism to serve the orthodox upholders of Nicea, and that he did so without seeking or obtaining the permission of those bishops.
We do not know for sure whether Athanasius ordained bishops for these orthodox communities faced with hostile heterodox bishops, or only priests and deacons. Socratess account in his Ecclesiastical History is obscure, stating only that in some of the churches also he performed ordination, which afforded another ground of accusation against him, because of his undertaking to ordain in the dioceses of others.
In his Ecclesiastical History, Sozomen wrote of Athanasiuss ejection of Arianizing clergy when he returned to Egypt from his second exile around 346, and added, It was said at that time that, when he was traveling through other countries, he effected the same change if he happened to visit churches which were under the Arians. He was certainly accused of having dared to perform the ceremony of ordination in cities where he had no right to do so.
And he was not alone. Other orthodox bishops acted similarly.
Theodoret of Cyrrhus, yet another historian (and bishop), tells us in his Ecclesiastical History that a contemporary and collaborator of Athanasius, Eusebius of Samosata, traveled around many of the eastern portions of the Roman Empire disguised as a soldier, and where he found Arian or Arianizing bishops, he ordained deacons, priests, and even bishops to care for the orthodox and oppose the official bishops and their supporters. He names five bishops Eusebius consecrated.
Another bishop, Lucifer of Cagliari, wandered throughout the Mediterranean world in support of those who upheld Nicea. Both Socrates and Theodoret record his intervention in the divided church of Antioch. In 362 he consecrated the leader of one of the orthodox groups, the leader of the other, larger group having early on in his career appeared to compromise with moderate Arians. The uncompromising orthodox group had never been willing to accept him as their bishop, and the consecration embittered the break between the two and led to a schism that was not to be healed for over fifty years.
Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, conducted ordinations in his native Palestine in defiance of compromising bishops during the Arian crisis. As Socrates relates, he did the same thing many years later in Constantinople, when he was led to believe that John Chrysostom, the patriarch there, supported the errors of Origen.
Details of the activities of such bishops are few, but in the next century, for 85 years after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, both proponents and opponents of that council among the bishops in the eastern parts of the empire were willing to intervene, or intrude, regularly in dioceses whose bishops were on the other side.
All of this allows us to say that any attempt to construct a theory of the inviolability of diocesan boundaries cannot find any support in the theory and practice of the early Church. In the light of this history, Bishop Wrights invocation of Nicene decrees and the Windsor Reports allusion to the ancient norm and some of the longest-standing regulations vanishes altogether, and all that is left is Anglican custom (Wright) or traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice (Windsor).
Those who have followed the actual practices of Anglican churches over the past three decades, in the United States, Canada, and Australia especially, will see how readily proponents of one innovation after another have been willing to abandon norms, decrees, regulations, canons, customsyou name itto gain their ends.
In the Christianity Today interview, Wright remarked that the real question at the heart of much of this is, which [are] the things we can agree to differ about and which [are] the things we cant agree to differ about. He continued, speaking of modern questions the Nicene fathers he invoked would have thought settled matters of their common faith,
Again and again I hear people on both sides of the argument simply begging that question and assuming that they know without argument that this is something that we can agree to differ about, or assuming that they know without argument this is one of the things we cant agree to differ about. What we all have to do is to say about any issuewhether its lay celebration [of Communion], whether its episcopal intervention, whether its homosexual practice
How do we know, and who says which differences make a difference and which differences dont make a difference?
Speaking for myself as a Catholic with many Anglican friends, the clearest and most instructive (as well as the saddest) lesson of this episode is how sincere and pious Christians, like Bishop Wright, deprive themselves of any compellingly persuasive basis for rallying a forceful Athanasian movement to retake their churches from the heterodox innovators who dominate themand not least because of their own inability, as the bishops statements show, to make clear judgments about false teaching and false teachers and to take firm and decisive measures in response. In consequence, they render their own situations hopeless, being able neither to fight nor to flee.
N. T. Wrights article appeared in the 23 October 2004 issue of The Tablet and may be found at www.thetablet.co.uk/cgi-bin/register.cgi/tablet-00945. The Christianity Today interview can be found at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/142/42.0.html. The sources of the quotations from Socrates are (in order): Book II, chapter 24; III.6 and 9; VI.12; those from Sozomen are III.21; and from Theodoret IV.13 and V.4; III.2.
William J. Tighe is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
This was excellent, sionnsar. It sounds as though Bishop Wright is falling prey to the multi-cultural PC movement. "We can't judge right and wrong..." Isn't that what Scripture and Tradition are there fore?
In Communion web site, which appears Orthodox (can you enlighten me?)
There there is this from Pontifications: "The argument boils down to this: Schism is worse than heresy. This view does have a long history in the Latin Church; but it presupposes the conviction that the Bishop of Rome is the divinely ordained office of ecclesial unity and that we can trust God to correct theological error in the churches that remain in communion with Peter. But if one does not believe that the bishop of Rome is the divinely ordained office of unityas most Anglicans do not and as Im sure the revisionists do notthen the schism is worse than heresy argument doesnt work. Outside of its indigenous Roman context, the argument is simply a political ploy to maintain institutional unity at all costs, without regard for orthodox doctrine and practice, without regard for the integrity of the Churchs message and mission, and without regard for how the formal adoption of heresy violates the consciences of traditionalists. Its equivalent to telling a woman that she must remain with her abusive husband because God hates divorce."
And on " phorum", I read: "WRONG! There is NO justifiable excuse for schism. St John Chrysostom says that schism is worse than heresy. The ROCOR is a scandal to the Orthodox world and as such we need to pray for our bretheren in the ROCOR who are no doubt faithful but pawns in the hands of their own hierarchs who have vested interests in keeping them separated. The ROCOR has recently undergone yet another sorry splintering... a sure sign that it is under the judgment of the Lord.."
Amazing. You are correct.
"Amazing. You are correct"
There's very little new under the sun in most things, The Church included, I'm afraid. But here's the answer to the revisionists and heretics in the AC, from "The Golden Mouthed" 1700 years ago.
"to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy." [my emphasis added]
So, even the appeal being made is falsely put, and by people supposedly educated in the faith.
I was just in a Catholic store, buying clerical gear, in Raleigh. Very nice people running it. One lady, who I learned was a nun (though, as now always, in ordinary attire, lest anyone think she might actually be a Bride of Christ, I fear), learned that I am Anglican and as I commented that, while once Roman and pre-Vatican II, I have become Anglican and pre-Tridentine. 'Ahh, the Dark Ages', she muttered. I muttered back, "The Light Ages to me, ma'am.".
It is the continuing wrangle and the strange immobility in the orthodox clergy that is making this another Dark Age and I agree with you both that this is a strangely Athanasian situation. My thanks to you both for this very informative and edifying exchange.
Well done, brothers.
Thank-you for the kind words, Deacon. The evil of the revisionists and the credulity of the orthodox Anglicans who remain in communion with heretics is quite astonishing to me but as sionnsar and I have discussed before, the Orthodox concept of communion seems quite different from that of many Anglicans. The whole concept of "open communion" speaks volumes about this difference. Indeed, it is either the root of the problem in the AC or the prime "theological" justification for themanifold heresies which have been tolerated in the AC. For example, doesn't open communion excuse a failure to believe in the Incarnation, the Perpetual Virginity of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Trininty and the Resurrection? Conversely, perhaps open communion is the result of these heresies or the reductio ad absurdam of the original compromises made in Anglicanism. I don't know the answer to this, but it is apparent that heresy is a malignancy which has been allowed to grow and spread in the Anglican Church for a very long time. As unpopular as it may be in the West, rigid orthodoxy in both praxis and belief in the Faith is absolutely necessary for the preservation of that Faith and the theosis of the People of God. Without it, everything just falls apart, the people stumble into sin, the Evil One rejoices and all creation groans.
On a happier note, a blessed and holy Feast of the Resurrection to you both. Xristos Anesti ek nekron, Thanato Thanaton patisas, kai tois en tois mnimasi, Zoin xapisamenos (Christ is risen from the dead, trampling Death by death, and bestowing life to those in the tombs!) my brothers!
Kolokotronis, I suspect the answer is the former, though one could make the argument that the "original compromises" (hmmm... maybe I should capitalize that: Original Compromises) were the means by which the heresy was able to creep in, unchecked.
I don't know the answer to this, but it is apparent that heresy is a malignancy which has been allowed to grow and spread in the Anglican Church for a very long time. As unpopular as it may be in the West, rigid orthodoxy in both praxis and belief in the Faith is absolutely necessary for the preservation of that Faith and the theosis of the People of God. Without it, everything just falls apart, the people stumble into sin, the Evil One rejoices and all creation groans.
I see the problem within Anglicanism as two-fold:
1) an unreadiness to say "thus far and no further." This is probably born of the Original Compromises, due to the temptation to say "you're already over the line." Although there has been a fair amount of back & forth over the centuries that has even led to divisions (interesting, though, that the REC is preparing a return -- and there are indeed reunifications occurring).
One solution would seem to be a statement of where the lines lie -- a rigid orthodoxy of praxis & belief, but drawn with a wider circle than the Orthodox. On the other hand, with a stronger corrective mechanism operating, perhaps "thus far and no further" could be made to work.
2) the lack of a strong corrective mechanism. I'm repeating myself for the n-teenth time here, but Anglicanism lacks the strong mechanisms for self-correction within the body that the Orthodox have. And while the Anglican mechanisms will never be as strong, they are not acting as strongly as they could -- or should. In part I blame this upon their never having been used before, thus there was a reluctance to use them when they should have first been brought to bear, and there is a continuing reluctance to use them now when they ought to be applied forcefully.
It's this reluctance that has led into what are, in my forming opinion, travesties such as "continuing impaired communion" -- "impaired communion" ought to be a temporary condition that ends within a certain time either in restored communion or no communion; it's not a measure of 15% communion, or 55% communion, or whatever. As with the condition of being pregnant, such a thing cannot be.
The hope I have, though it's not a big one at this time, is that the Global South will ultimately be successful in eliminating the big heresy and then turn to the lessers. The weapon they wield, membership in the wordwide Anglican Communion, may not seem powerful to others, but to us Anglicans who've grown up steeped in that tradition, it is significant indeed. Being outside the wwAC (as I have been for 22 years) is a little like having lost a limb.
Only time will tell.
OTOH, I've written ++Akinola before to complain. Maybe I need to make more noise.
What keeps us on the straight and narrow, so to speak, is the mindset, sionnsar. Its all about how we view and live the Faith.
IMHO, that viewpoint is humility and love. If we assume that we bring something personally new to the world, then we are in St. John's aim: the truth is not in us.
I'm not sure that I think that the actual Orthodox revival is going to come via Africa. I know that there is a strong charismatic element to African worship, stemming from their Animist past, and that this will hardly be intuitive or generate respect when prosletizing those of European or Asian descent. But then the issue might well be that it won't be just one Athanasius. We need to pray that prophets arise in all lands and that the Holy Spirit calls men to His work. The issue seems to require that men stand wherever they are and declaim God's Word loudly and unambiguously. I know that most ears will be deaf to the message, but those who would seek the Light of Christ cannot know where it is kindled unless someone stands up and holds it aloft.
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