Skip to comments.“Why Catholic? The Bottom Line”
Posted on 04/06/2005 12:44:03 PM PDT by sionnsar
[Well. Just to provide balance to "Why Orthodoxy, not Rome", the Pontificator has posted the following. As before, I am posting this article not because I think Anglicanism is fundamentally flawed (at the very least, such is a rush to judgement because it has not reached the final act), and not because I think the Continuing churches ought to be dismissed (I don't). --sionnsar]
Over a year ago, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I wrote a letter to The Most Rev. Charles Chaput, bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver, exploring reception into the Roman Catholic Church. My family and I were received this past December 29, the memorial of Saint Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr, in Christ the King Chapel at the John Paul II Center in Denver.
I would not have anyone think I am not grateful for my fifteen years of service as an Episcopal Priest. It was both here, and previously in Baptist fellowships, that I came to know more fully the transforming love of God by which we live astonished. In the mystery of Christ and his Church, I am not surprised that the 2nd Vatican Council would affirm what I have intuitively known - My ministry as a clergyman in the Episcopal Church has not been without certain signs of saving and sanctifying grace, marks of holiness, and by virtue of baptism and faith, has been exercised in real but imperfect communion with the Catholic Church.
It seems to me, as well, that forbearing in love with the present trials of the Anglican Communion is not necessarily wasted suffering. Here we are being offered a stark reminder that the Church, which even the unenlightened see is made up of sinners, will never correspond to Gods expectations. We can observe concretely that sin, which is to be found everywhere, has never spared the Church, nor have any marks of human frailty. Through time, She has known many seasons of tribulation, sometimes much harder. Fidelity is costly. A former colleague, and fine theologian, in the diocese of Colorado, Ephraim Radner, is right to suggest that, when speaking of the Church, it is always a better path to wait, like Israel mourning for desolate Zion, upon a movement of the Holy Spirit toward possibilities that we can neither anticipate nor control, but for which we must together pray.
Opposite gestures, distancing gestures, easily observed everywhere, merely dig away at the very cohesion for which Christ prayed in John 17 that we might all be One, so that the world would know that it is you who sent me. I learned this in a particular way at Christ Episcopal Church in Denver when my rector, Sandy Greene, was consecrated a bishop in the Anglican Mission in America, and I too had to decide whether or not it was the better path to stay put or leave. I stayed at the request of the vestry to become their interim rector. This was a bewildering decision, especially given that, in terms of an Anglican ecclesiology of communion, it was unclear exactly where anyone was going. Finding solace in a bishop who isnt morally and theologically pendulous, though, does have its attractions.
I stayed as well for the sake of parishioners who had over the years developed deep bonds of affection for this parish community. Perhaps this affection was mostly due to habits of loyalty to style and place, but many did appear to respond to my own convictions that, not only does God love their parish but that, in some sense he has given himself for her. In a certain sense, we all wanted to embrace the biblical image of a God that would not abandon his own Body, and the very Bride of Jesus Christ visibly given and rightly ordered. That the Church, even down to the local level, is inviolable and given to our Lords providential care, and that we can safely bury our dead in its columbariums, is alluring and resonates with the Christian spirit in a profound way. This is practically expressed in the sentiment we often hear that, when all is said and done, everything will work out for the best.
When Father Graham Leonard, the former bishop of London, was received into the Catholic Church in 1994 (and there have been roughly eight hundred clergy in England who have converted in the past fifteen years or so) he commented that most English really didnt want to know about it. This has been my experience as well. The convert is understandably an affront to everything we hope the church, in which bonds of affection have been nourished, to be, and offends the hope that everything will work out for the best.
On the other hand, this hope that everything will work out for the best is not as common as we might like. I had lunch with my former bishop a few weeks after my conversion. Among the things I said to him was, in effect, when push comes to shove, most Episcopalians who are steeped in American individualism and vaguely aware of the politics which gave rise to the Church of England will fundamentally never believe that God has given himself to the preservation of the visible ordering of the Church. Any notion of indefectablity or indestructibility was effectively buried at Westphalia - the tragic denouement of two hundred years of protracted Christian violence. Seizing England Marys Dowry in the 16th century and stripping her down to serve the interests of the divine right of the monarch was a stark and frightening rejection of any notion that a visible united Church stretching beyond national boundaries, with its own unique and divine governance, was important either spiritually or temporally. The trajectory of fragmentation that was set in train is unmistakable. In England alone there quickly became a welter of sects: Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Unitarians, Familists, Ranters, Seekers, Fifth Monarchy Men, Levelers, Quakers, Diggers, etc.,etc. In America today there are some thirty thousand sects. Included, as you know, are some thirty continuing Anglican bodies most of whom remain very small and are generally unable to unite one with another for various reasons, essential or non essential, depending upon whom you ask. (Biretta tip to the cynical political pragmatism of men like John Locke and Adam Smith who effectively redefined the public understanding of church as a mere voluntary association.)
The true Church of the Reformation, whether set afloat by new interpretations of scripture or nationalism, is a mere ghost, an idea, a holy phantom moving in, then out of various Christian communities and organizations. All of us sojourners, constantly attentive to that still small voice which at any moment might whisper, Im moving on now, this was a Church but is no more. The gates of hell have overcome. Go and pack your bags.
Yet, I know many would want to at least hope that the vast Anglican embrace is more than a mere personal sectarian preference or denominational project, and that hope is thoroughly biblical. In the letter to the Ephesians we read:
Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother And be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:23,31-32)
Whatever else the Church may be, she is Christs own body, and his bride, which cannot be divided (Paul repudiates this very suggestion in 1 Corinthians 1:13). As well, she is a body which the Lord himself disciplines (1Cor. 11). The Churchs unity in Christ has never been found in a resolution passed, nor regarded as an impossible ideal. She is given freely in an unmerited gift of grace as a single, apostolic, sacramental, and extant communion into which we are grafted by the Holy Spirit, and offered as the only certain witness to a risen Christ.
Would God ever abandon this corporal enterprise we call the Anglican Communion? Let me offer a terrifying thought: Maybe, in part, God is asking us that very question. If we regard this Church as a mere voluntary association, the historical accident of our particular preference, we, being unable to discern the Body of Christ, will only come to know more fully the hardened Protestant trajectories of liberalism and schism. On the contrary, if we treat her as a mystical bride, being declared so by Holy Scripture, then would not the Lord of the entire universe give to us freely and ungrudgingly all the tools and spiritual weaponry we need to sustain her unity and order? I ask you. A profound mystery indeed! I have taught this from the pulpit on many occasions, all the while haunted by the implications - What I taught in order to get people to stay was getting under my skin, and slowly taking me to a new home. Here is Catholic teaching pure and simple, which at some fundamental level undercuts the very calculus of schismatic reform, and shopworn justifications espoused by its proponents.
The admission and application of this treatment of the Church in an Anglican context, however, would necessitate, for many, the absolutely unthinkable - confessing the grave miscalculation and unmistakable sin of separating from the Mother Church which, as his Bride, was also not beyond Gods love or saving reach. If our Lord had not invested his Spirit in the preservation of the Catholic Church which, it seems, continues to deserve our condemnation, then in what sense should we expect that he has invested himself in Anglicanism or any other visibly ordered ecclesial communion? Being equally prone to heresy and final repudiation by God himself, which will necessitate fragmentation, I am puzzled by the importance many are placing in Anglican unity. Do we really believe that Anglican formulations are somehow more pleasing to God such that he would now change his former practice of letting the ship sink and, as the now closer approximation of the true Church, give us over to the care and compass of the Holy Spirit? Surely anyone who thinks deeply about it would have to know this is an inconsistent hope, moored less to scripture and more to sectarian vainglory.
This is the bottom line: It is a Godly and wonderful hope that the Anglican Communion will flourish as an unbroken witness to Christ until the fullness of time. This is Catholic hope, however, which cannot finally be underwritten by any idea justifying schism and repudiation of the Mother Church, or the readmission of Holy Scripture to apply only to us. That would be a little like saying, Son, I got divorced because that was what God desired, but dont you dare ever consider it, because it is not Gods will.
I should say in summary a word about prayer. More than anything else, it was prayer which opened a way forward to solace in what once I considered an improbable happiness. My heart was quite literally pierced. I mention this only because I find that coming home to the Catholic Church is as much an emotional and spiritual journey as it is intellectual. Praying in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga in Eichstatt, Germany, the Holy Spirit set a window in languishing doubt, providing a new vista through which joy was released, and radiating brightly many things, but most vividly what it means to weep over a Church divided. Prayer, like the Holy Eucharist, is the very grammar of grace which, not only allows us to discern the Body of Christ, but also unveils her inviolability and providential care. Four years later, I find myself again in prayer at the Walburga Abbey in Colorado, this time with Cindy, my wife, with those same inescapable sensations, unfolding a language of love for the Church. Between these moments, I remember fearful petitions for the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, with the intention of the protection of my own parish, particularly during the unhappy division in my own Episcopal parish. The courts of prayer became occasions for the gift of tears, always pointing somehow to the wounds of the Mother Church.
I know that reformed teeth are set on edge by varying aspects of what I like to call Catholic paraphernalia and suspicious of any claim that they might contain hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility, and revelations of grace. Over the years, I have been challenged with insightful and stumping concerns, not easily given to quick retorts. As a Catholic, I neither deprecate nor fear such inquiry, though I sorrow in the spirit in which it is too often conducted. Mostly I have contended with my own shadows, and what I now consider tilting at windmills. But these are all secondary issues for another time and place. My only hope here is to contend for the bottom line.
I am grateful to be home in the Catholic Church. I have embraced a grand imagination, one that can only be brought into relief from a posture of prayer, inside its own quarters, constraints, and with its own language. Discerning the Body requires this deeper imagination. And the warnings to us are quite grave: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on themselves. (1 Cor.11:29)
Tring to remember the FReeper who suggested to me, some months back: "Swim the Tiber. And bring your gun, because you'll need it."
The purpose of The Coming Home Network International (CHNetwork) is to provide fellowship, encouragement and support for pastors and laymen of other traditions (Protestant, Orthodox, etc..) who are somewhere along the journey or have already converted to the Catholic Church. The CHNetwork is committed to assisting and standing beside all inquirers, serving as a friend and an advocate.
Catholic Ping - Please freepmail me if you want on/off this list
I should add that my transfer into a Continuing Anglican church was, I believe, thusly guided. It was certainly not my intention to go looking for one, I had been "trained" in ECUSA to be suspicious of them, and I suppose the change would have been easier if I hadn't resisted so hard.
B - Born Again. For a person to know God personally and go to heaven, he must experience a new/spiritual birth (Jn 3:3). The steps to salvation are conviction, repentance, faith, and acceptance of Christ.
A - Autonomy of Local Church. Baptists believe believers are part of the Body of Christ, the Church. Each local church is autonomous or self governing.
P - Priesthood of the Believer. Baptists believe in the equality of all believers before God, in the right of each believer to direct access to God, and the responsibility of each believer for ministry according to his spiritual gifts.
T - Trustworthiness of Scriptures. For Baptists, God's Word, the Bible, is the rule for faith and practice. We believe the scriptures to be of divine origin, without error, indestructible, and able to reveal God and His plan for man.
I - Immersion. Christ told us to make disciples, mature disciples, and mark disciples through believer's baptism. Since the church is composed only of believers, only believers should be baptized. This baptism follows salvation, is in obedience to Christ's command, and pictures the spiritual death and burial, new life, and union of the believer with the church.
S - Seperation of Church and State. Baptists believe that state affairs should have no dictation over the church.
T - Task to Tell. Baptists take personally Christ's Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Each person should contribute to souls being saved in his city, county, state, nation, and world. To that end, Southern Baptists cooperate to evangelize the world for Christ.
Just a different view, no harm intended. :-)
As a "Roman," I wholeheartedly assent to a vast and overwhelming majority of what you have written, although I can also claim what you claim for Orthodoxy for the "Roman" Church as well--except for some quibbles regarding sin and breaking the relationship with God.
"except for some quibbles regarding sin and breaking the relationship with God."
You know, on another thread we are having a small discussion of the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin. One of the posts I made relates to this issue and how the differing concepts of the Fall have rippled through the Churchs in the East and the West with a result, among others, that we have a rather different view of theosis and the Final Judgment.
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