Friday, October 23, 2009

Benedict XVI and the Anglican Communion

Pope Benedict XVI is making overtures to disaffected Anglican clergy, suggesting that even married Anglican priests may be accepted into the Roman Catholic priesthood and may retain their Anglican rites and liturgy. While details are vague, even this hint is enough to delight and dismay various contingents in both expressions of the faith.

Fr. Chris Larimer, vicar of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Louisville, Kentucky and author of Adiaphora blogsite recently posted the following quote in response to the Vatican’s announcement.

What can be supposed wanting in our Church in order to salvation? We have the Word of God, the Faith of the Apostles, the Creeds of the Primitive Church, the Articles of the four first General Councils, a holy liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect sacraments, faith and repentance, the Ten Commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospels. We … require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life. … We communicate often, our priests absolve the penitent. Our Bishops ordain priests, and confirm baptised persons, and bless their people and intercede for them. And what could here, be wanting to salvation?”
- Jeremy Taylor, Bp. of Down & Connor (1613-1667)

Why return to Rome, wondered Anglican Bp. Taylor nearly four centuries ago, when there is nothing wanting in Canterbury? Of course, much has changed in both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism in the intervening centuries, but the question still hangs in the air – especially now.

“And what could here, be wanting to salvation?” It would be presumptuous – for several reasons – for me to posit an answer to Bp. Taylor’s question. First, I am neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic. Second, and most significant, to answer the question would require me to stand outside the church and to stand in judgment upon one or another expression of it. As James, the brother of our Lord, taught us (cf James 4:11-12), that is a most dangerous place to stand: Who am I to judge my neighbor – particular when he is the servant of another?

But – Already I’m on treacherous ground; Lord, have mercy on this sinner. – there is implied by Bp. Taylor’s question a notion that perhaps I may address without transgression. Surely, the implied assertion that Anglicanism lacks nothing for salvation cannot mean that Canterbury and Rome are equivalent/indistinguishable in their understanding and practice of Christian salvation? The differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism are profound. And, as different as they are one from another, taken together, they are more different still from Orthodoxy. “What could … be wanting to salvation?” begs this even more fundamental question: “Are all views of the nature of salvation equivalent?” And, if they are not equivalent, are the differences significant?

We can answer these reformulated questions without standing in judgment of any particular communion. No, all views of the nature of salvation are not equivalent. Yes, the differences are significant. Both Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism lack or de-emphasize the therapeutic understanding of salvation so central to Orthodoxy, just as Orthodoxy lacks or de-emphasizes the forensic understanding of salvation prevalent in Western expressions of the faith. These differences in emphasis lead to corresponding differences in theology and praxis. Orthodox theosis – and life of askesis generally required to approach it – for example, is relatively foreign to the Western church; yet, it is the goal and nature of salvation in the Eastern church. The Western concept of original sin is not equivalent to the Eastern understanding of ancestral sin. Simply put, Athanasius is not Anselm.

So, to return to Bp. Taylor’s question: “And what could here, be wanting to salvation?” In one sense, nothing; salvation is available on paths that lead through Canterbury, Rome, Constantinople, and Antioch. But that doesn’t mean the paths are the same.

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