Saturday, March 19, 2005

Divided We Fall

Divided we fall can be found here

Thank you to the Pontificator for pointing us to this article.

If you want to know what is in part driving me to study for a PhD on the Eucharist as the sacrifice of unity and the meal that is to show the world our oneness in Christ, it is for the cause that Robbie Low expresses in this article. One that we need to pause during Holy Week to consider as we approach Holy Thursday. One does not need to agree with his total assessments to pause to ask ourselves honest questions as we examine the truths that he has touched on. The result or conclusions may not be the same for us all, but the level of truthfulness that he has put his finger on the sickness of Protestantism as an 'ism', with all its divisions is all too clear to deny. I recall in the American film, The Patriot the line where Gibson is arguing against going to war with the King of England and he states as a reason for not doing so by asking the question, "Why should we trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away, for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?" Has Protestantism done something similar? The posting of this article is not an embrace of every sentence or conclusion but to put it out here for 'Food for thought' and open honest discussion! What do you think? What is valid and not valid in his assessments and why? How does the Windsor Report address or not address the crisis that this article claims to be addressing? These are important questions for our time no matter where one comes down on the particular "dividing" issues that the author mentions. That is my purpose for posting it.

Robbie Low on 'sola scriptura' and the privatization of the faith

The curse of Protestantism is division. The very nature of its origins, self-understanding and approach to the Word of God are inherently schismatic. That, to many of our readers and millions more worldwide, is fighting talk and the Editor is currently sewing mail bags to cope with the expected outraged response. But bear with me a moment or two. I do not write those inflammatory words lightly and, as some of our long-standing readers will know, I write as a former Baptist Sunday School boy for ever profoundly indebted to Evangelical friends who taught me to love the Word of God. Indeed, my first application for theological training was to Ridley Hall and in 25 years ministry I have never gone out without my Bible in my inside jacket pocket. Never a day has gone by without it being used severally and devotionally. My beloved spiritual director, who has known me throughout my ministry, is one of the most remarkable Evangelicals of his generation. And I have been privileged to sit on the editorial board of this magazine with vigorous, clear-minded and utterly committed Evangelicals whom I am proud to call friends.

So I write this not as a ‘party’ man signalling the parting of the ways, nor as a naive apologist for the unalloyed joys of Rome or Constantinople. I write because it seems to me, after 30 years in the Anglican orbit, that the crisis that has engulfed us is primarily the inevitable crisis of Protestantism and that it is as damaging to the Evangelical cause as to the Catholic, not least because they must, in a real church, be the same.

Christendom and the historic community of the Faith have found many reasons for falling out with one another down the centuries. Two particularly have marked and marred the common witness of the Church of Christ long after major heresies have run their familiar cycle of popularity, theological and moral bankruptcy and reinvention. The sundering of East and West in the eleventh century owed much to personalities and politics but it was grounded in a critique of the perceived imperialism of papal power and a concern at the apparent inventiveness of Western theologians. Time has done little to heal this desperate wound and the best efforts of the current Pontiff, for whom this reconciliation has been an overriding priority, have been met, at best, with guarded engagement and, at worst, with furious rejection.

The second great schism came, of course, at the Reformation. Whether Luther envisaged a Lutheran church any more than John Wesley sought a Wesleyan breakaway is history. The protesters, who sought a reform of papal power, a return to the imagined purity of the early Church and an end to corrupt practices, divided. Those who sought reform from within and those whom the disciplines of the Church could no longer contain were shortly to be found letting each other's blood in copious quantities across the continent of Europe. Princes of the realm were not slow to realize that here was an opportunity to neutralize the immense power of ‘a state within the state’ which the Church represented and to fill the Exchequer and private pockets with rapacious expropriations of church property. In our own land the religious life was nigh on exterminated. The monarch who had so lately been dubbed ‘defender of the faith’ became a mortal enemy of the Western Communion, and ‘Mary's dowry’, as England was once known, was subjected to a barrage of propaganda against Rome that haunts intelligent dialogue to this day. The English equation of Church and State has, at a political level, understood Catholicism as the option of disloyalty and, at a social level, as the equivalent of an unnatural vice, should such a thing be deemed to exist anymore in Anglican moral theology.

Undergirding the Protestant breakaway was the belief that the Bible, as the inherent word of God, should be the very foundation of the life of faith, that it should be in the hands of the people, understood by them and reign supreme over their lives and the governance of the Church. This begged a large number of questions which, perhaps, the reformers did not see. Mgr Ronald Knox’s taunt is beginning to sound like prophecy. ‘The Protestants broke for the Bible. God help them when they cease to believe it.’ Nearly half a millennium down the road, the cry 'sola scriptura' is not quite so convincing. Disbelief, up to the highest levels, is rampant and interpretation is a matter of personal, parochial or diocesan opinion.

Thomas More's hyperbole that he would ‘rather cut a man's throat than let him read Tyndale’s Bible’ may seem rather shocking to us coming from the lips of such a humane and intelligent saint but More goes to the heart of the dilemma. In producing a version which did not have the authority of the Church Catholic, Tyndale was on a dangerous journey. We may applaud his motive and his industry but we should also recognize that it is the beginning of a long road that will lead through versions as bizarre and inaccurate as the Jehovah's Witness translations to the feminized travesty that is decanted from Anglican lecterns courtesy of the Common Worship lectionary. Tyndale’s version was further inflamed by his marginal commentaries and interpretations. More was angered because he believed such proceedings could jeopardize the salvation of many. He recognized immediately that, although Rome needed reform, once protest magnified into schism there would be no end to the speculation, the special pleading, the splintering. So it has proved.

The translation and interpretation of Holy Scripture is the task of the Church brought into being by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the written Word. The protesters who broke with Rome cannot have foreseen the fissiparous nature of their enterprise. In rejecting the authority of the Pope the Western reformers did not abolish autocracy but rather set in train a process the logical end of which is that every man is a pope in his own parish or in his own front room. The ‘idolatry’ of Rome was replaced by the idolatry of self, social group and nation in swift order. Reformation hopes gave way to puritanism. Parts of Europe descended into the fierce joylessness of Calvinism, others to the excitements of Anabaptism, revivalists, iconoclasts, Pentecostalists etc, each seizing upon an aspect of the faith and overemphasizing it to the distortion of the whole. The upshot is hundreds of ‘churches’, most of them with their own bizarre subdivisions (low, strict and particular, Southern, open etc, etc). In addition, there are thousands upon thousands of one-man band conventicles brought about by the falling out of Brother Smith with Pastor Jones. Pastor Smith, as he has now appointed himself, has the ‘real’ truth and hopes shortly to be needing to rent a bigger Scout Hut than the gravely misled Pastor Jones, his former guru. While both (and millions like them) claim, sola scriptura, the authority of the Word, they are in fact claiming merely a personal authority to interpret God’s Word with no reference to the historic and living community of faith. It is little better than theological piracy and insupportable vanity. It is the rejection, all too often, of the teaching of the Church in favour of the cult of private opinion. In an age which has so comprehensively rejected traditional forms of authority and embraced the highest good as individual gratification, it is scarcely surprising that disintegration is gathering pace.

The Protestant is faced with a crisis – at least the genuine Protestant is. (The liberal Protestant like the liberal Catholic is flexible enough to conform his beliefs to social norms providing he can maintain his ‘style’ of worship unimpeded.) The real Protestant had as his aim the reform of the universal Church, not an endless fracturing of it. The real Protestant is seeking the Church that conforms itself to the Word of God. But he lives at the end of an historical process where the unhappy results of his chosen method confront him. Nowhere has this been more manifest than in the gymnastic contortions of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion of our time.

That the ordination of women should have become a touchstone of the inevitable division was unfortunate. It enabled proponents to simply brand orthodox believers as misogynist or antiquarian. In fact, this black propaganda simply masked the real, solid and scriptural divisions at the heart of the Anglican Church. The issue became a church-breaker because its triumph depended upon wholly novel interpretations of decontextualized verses of scripture (for example, Galatians 3.28), a profound misunderstanding of the Councils of the Church (Acts 15), an understanding of key doctrines of creation and incarnation which owed more to feminist critique than the Fathers and a critical demotion of Jesus Christ from Word incarnate to a good man with unfortunate cultural conditioning. Enthusiasts for the change did not ask whether a small declining province had the authority to overturn the 2,000 years teaching of the universal Church, East and West, but whether, by packing a synod with placemen and bullying the unconvinced, they could get a majority vote and establish temporary opinion as the final arbiter of divine truth.

An alarming number of Protestants did not recognize what had happened. Perhaps they were used to the process. When, as long predicted, the same hermeneutical principle was wheeled out by the homosexual lobby, Prots were shocked. As St Paul and Leviticus were alternately vilified or textually tortured to extract anything but the plain meaning of their words, the crisis of Anglicanism was becoming plainer by the week. It is the quintessential crisis of Protestantism. Small and unrepresentative groups claim the Holy Spirit as their inspiration for a particular enthusiasm and reinterpret the Word of God plain contrary to the historic Apostolic teaching of the Church. It is a crisis that sola scriptura cannot resolve.

The impotence of the sola scriptura claim was beautifully demonstrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech to an Evangelical conference last year. Dr Williams, to the shock and delight of many, declared himself to be a man of the Book. What he did not need or bother to say was that his interpretation of the Good Book in question could not have been more different than that of his naively gratified hearers. Had he pointed out this hermeneutical chasm, honest man that he is, he would no doubt have added humbly that this did not mean his opinion was any more valid than theirs, far less the fixed and authoritative teaching of the church he leads. And there is the rub. There is no teaching authority, no magisterium. There is no method or system or tradition or person(s) who can determine the teaching of the Anglican Church. This essentially Protestant fault line has been stamped on hard by the new wave of ‘reformers’ and it has cracked. The chasm that has opened cannot be spanned. As historic formularies have been ignored, defining common liturgy marginalized and ancient scriptural understandings rejected, the extraordinary coalition of unlikely bedfellows that has been Anglicanism has been successively undone.

Since its break with Rome the CofE has always claimed to be the Catholic Church in this land. It has always rejected attempts to portray it as Protestant, citing that it has no doctrines or orders of its own but only those known to the universal and undivided Church. It was on that basis that many of us joined. Though there have been grounds for debating both of these claims before our time, they have, in the last few years, been comprehensively undermined. The Porvoo agreement did for Apostolic succession and women's ordination destroyed the mutual recognition of holy orders and instituted doubt at the heart of the sacramental life. Dr Carey and his fellow sappers set the charges under Lambeth Palace and he now gazes in astonishment as his successor wanders among the ruins wondering what, if anything, can be rebuilt. In the wake of these disasters Anglicans have no common doctrine, no common liturgy and no common orders. In short, Anglicanism lacks the fundamental qualifications to make the bold claim that it is a Church.

Running alongside the internal crisis judicial rulings have decreed that the Church of England’s nature and beliefs can be altered by Parliament and bishops argue in the Lords for full and willing conformity to bad law, reducing the Church to a sort of quasi-mystical rubber stamp for the political ascendancy. Most galling of all for Anglican ‘Catholics’ and most surprising of all to Anglican Evangelicals (should they suspend prejudice and read it) is the last twenty five years of papal teaching. Take any text by the Holy Father and it is shot through with learned faithful exposition of Scripture. Pick up the overwhelming majority of Anglican episcopal or synodical outpourings over the same period and you will, with rare exception, know little about the Word of God but rather more about current required social attitudes.

This is all a long way from the intention of the original protesters, the reformers who sought to cleanse and purify the household of God. But the problem is an old one and inherent in the original breaking of the Western Communion. The question is, ‘By what authority…?' And here it is that sola scriptura breaks down. For the Bible left in the hands of every man can afford, as we have so often discovered in the history of Christendom, a tool to suit his every convenience. It is not only the devil who can quote scripture to his own ends. The Bible, inspired by the Holy Ghost, is the book of the Church brought into being by and equally inspired by that same Holy Ghost. The Word cannot be interpreted or taught outside that body of faithful believers that is the Church. To think that it can is to fail to understand that it is the living Word – ‘sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4.12). It is the Word that examines us, not the other way round. Apostolic succession was the guardianship of that traditio which is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Holy Spirit and the Word cannot be in contradiction lest we blaspheme and claim that God is in contradiction with himself. Without that authority we are simply a collection of ramshackle personal opinions. My opinion is no better than his or hers or theirs or yours. Consequently, when someone inquires about Anglican teaching these days, our reply is usually personal or parochial with several caveats.

It is the logical end of Protestantism and its inbuilt mechanism of division. It has rejected the Great Communions claiming divine inspiration. After 500 years what was advertised as divine inspiration has been persistently revealed as private judgement. For Anglicans this is moving to a crisis, a moment of critical decision. We still recite the Creed together but one clause seems increasingly detached from the reality we have created: ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’. Over the last twenty years our church has rejected the Catholic identity it claimed and opted for Protestant course. It has collaborated with an increasingly secular state in furnishing itself with an episcopate increasingly detached from apostolic understanding and commitment and, far from being ‘One’, it is fatally divided in its ministry, mission and morality. It is a church that cannot unite around its own altars.

We are, in short, dealing with the great unfinished business of the Reformation. Those who opt for further Protestantism can look forward to more of the same division, discord, disorder and disobedience to the Word. Evangelicals and Catholics who have endured the last twenty years and longed for that unity of purpose and ministry in a great realignment of Christendom will increasingly look to the Great Communions of East and West. Present realities mean that it is a question we can no longer avoid.


Anonymous Antonio said...

Hi, Jeff!

As I've told you before, I don't know a lot about Protestantism.
But, who does?
I think that's exactly the problem.

Anglicanism has no "central authority" (maybe the Windsor Report was an attempt to achieve that "goal" - obviously seen as something wrong by many in the anglican world).
And there's not a common understanding of Eucharist within Anglicans.
Eucharist has always been the Sacrament of Unity within the Catholic and Apostolic Church.
(do evangelical anglicans share the same understnading of it with anglo-catholics?)

"Divided we fall". What joins Protestants together? Is taht the way they see "authority"? NO.
Is that the Eucharistic sacrifice? NO.

What is then?

8:55 pm  
Blogger Lindsays said...

Greetings Jeff,

Thanks for the article. I found that the author addresses some of the very same conclusions that I have come to as a somewhat new Anglican and as a cradel Evangelical. I do not yet know who will lie in my grave!

11:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have received some private comments in my e-mail that I hope make it to the blog if the author's are willing. I put this out, not because I agree with all of it, but because we are in unchartered waters right now and with talks of divisions and realignment in Anglicanism, some of these important questions need addressing.


11:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Read the Robbie Low piece. His consternation over too much ism in Protestantism has been noted by many, myself included. The divisiveness and viruses of autonomy among many of the Protestants is deplorable.

Of course Mr. (Fr.?) Low's solution of a kind of Roman triumphalism is far from convincing. The magisterium he claims as the solution is precisely one of (if not the major) the CAUSE(S) of the problem. Bishop Kallistos Ware, who was teaching at Oxford when I was there, makes the observation that "protestantism was hatched out of the egg of the papacy," in other words the magisterium. His point, the magisterium is the fountain head manifestation of an individualist approach to interpreting Scripture. Brilliant insight isn't it, as the Canadians would say, "Hey." I concur totally with Bishop Ware on this point! When will the Roman Church take rightful responsibility for the Protestant "isms"? The non conciliar, papally endorsed views of transubstantiation and required celibacy of the 11th century led to the disasters of the late Middle Ages. Where was the magisterium when these ravaging theologies unleashed the second great wave of pelagianism in the church? I tell you where they were. They were financing the building of the churches (St. Peter's Basilica included) with indulgences. St. Francis had it right. When the Pope invited him to Rome and showed him the vast vaults of gold and silver, the pontiff remarked, "You see Francis, no longer does the church have to say 'gold and silver have we none.'" St. Francis simply responded, "Yes, and no longer can we say 'take up thy pallet and walk." Point well made. If you remember the Pope sent an army to burn down the monk's church. No, I don't think the magisterium is the solution past or present.

I'm not suggesting that Roman Catholics are not Christians. I happen to think the present Pope, JPII, is a very godly, great Bishop in the Church of God. He's a far better man than I will ever be. I'm not really worthy to untie his shoe. But the magisterium is simply not what it's purported to be, nor is it what has made JPII's ministry so outstanding.

The Protestant Reformation was actually a good thing for the Roman Church. It produced the Counter Reformation, which had more to do with reviving the Roman Church than the magisterium. Even then, the magisterium was not much more effective at stopping the liberal influences of the Enlightenment. It didn't keep the Jesuits from collapsing into humanism in the last century. And the American Catholic Church is eaten up with liberalism. Do you know who first came up with the idea of admitting non practicing homosexuals into the priesthood? It was the Roman Church in the 1960s when they faced huge shortages of clergy. Thirty years later they've had to deal with the ravages of pedophilia. Okay, if they want to blame it all on the Protestants, that's living in denial.

In short, Low is too reductionistic about the Protestants like Hahn and even many of the old 19th century Anglo Catholics, especially the third wave of them, the Ritualists. It's easy to lump everyone in Protestantism together and then vilify. It's not very scholarly. It's also pathetically inaccurate. Many, many Protestants would "amen" the very things Low criticizes. For that matter, the great ecumenical efforts of the last 100 years have been instigated by Protestant leaders, especially the Anglicans including the REC prior to WWII. Yes, it's easy to group all Protestants together, but to be specific, most Protestant denominations are not going away. In spite of the difficulties, the larger ones that are evangelical do a much better job at evangelism than Rome or Orthodoxy can even imagine. That's why the denominations are not going away. But all too often such approaches, as Mr. Low's, speak in the abstract. Mr. Low would do far more for the kingdom if he figured out why his system of theology has for the most part had to depend on the evangelism of the Protestants for 500 years. Even where Rome has been somewhat effective post Reformation at evangelism cultures like Central and South America, they have tended to go socialist. No doubt Protestant America has her problems, but where would the Americas be without that phenomenal social impact of the Protestant work ethic that my Roman friends don't really ever want to talk about, an ethic by the way resulting directly from the theology of the Protestant Reformation: all callings being sacred, which makes all callings somewhat sacramental and puts a spin on only holy orders being the "work" sacrament; this actually comes out close to the Anglican modified view of the "lesser sacraments." If I were Mr. Low, therefore, I would thank my God that Protestantism hasn't disintegrated and gone away. In fact, in the face of the problems of too much divisiveness, evangelicals have grown and will be part of the Church of the future, even the one that includes RCs and the Orthodox.

The answer is not in the magisterium. It's in the conciliar approach of the undivided Church. If we return to the ecumenical councils of the corporate understanding of the people of God, and not any individualist approach, we have the perfect interpretative guide that Mr. Low rightfully observes that the Protestants need. I also think Rome and Orthodoxy need it as well. As for the Orthodox, Bishop Ware's great insights aside, the lack of a consistent, conciliar, undivided Church, hermeneutic has resulted from their real acceptance of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus, at which Augustine's theology was received. For the Orthodox, this has led them into perpetuating a kind of semi Pelagianism, which because of the theological flaws leads to its on kind of autonomous approaches to faith and life, explaining the Orthdox tendencies to fragmentation and over ethnicity; by the way, the juridical theology of adoption into the kingdom of God is a wonderful antidote to over ethnicity. They are nearly just as fragmented as the Protestants. See A. Schmemann's Church, World and Mission, if you want your eyes opened about the challenges of modern Orthodoxy.

Again, I'm not saying the Orthodox are not Christians. What I am saying is that wherever one chooses to serve, the challenge will be to recover a conciliar hermeneutic. Think of it. Transubstantiation, required celibacy and even the Protestant over reactions in their numerous "confessions" are thrown out. The Articles of Religion are not because strictly speaking they are not to be a separate confession. In fact, the best approach is to understand them as an application of the Bible and the undivided Church to the aberrations of late medieval theology, hence the designation "articles." Well, I'm out of time. Got to get back to the grind.

For what they're worth, for better or for worse, these are just some quick, rambling sic et non thoughts on Mr. Low's article.


1:07 am  
Anonymous new Orthodox said...

The blogger asked over at Pontifications for comments. Very, very interesting long comment, I am moving to Orthodoxy not because there are no problems but because it has escaped the magisterium's and the tent meeting's thrilling inventions, and at least claims the conciliar.

Compromise toward unity seems not to be possible, a miracle of humility generating wisdom and insight the only hope.

And yes, even if Protestantism got the eucharistic, doctrinal, and ecclesial memos, its contribution would have been invaluable. My own struggle is whether a very American bumptious efficiency is disobedient and presumptious, or just a healthy reaction to the culture & ethnicity of parts of the world that have more easily collapsed into tyranny or poverty.

3:50 am  
Blogger Pontificator said...

I have presented a response to +RSS over at Pontifications

10:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to Mr. Low's Response

Now I'm very confused. I thought Mr. Low was proposing Rome over other alternatives. His response on St. Augustine and the Council of Ephesus is most un-magisterial. Very Eastern Orthodox but not consistent with his views on the magisterium. His notion that Ephesus didn't endorse St. Augustine's theology I'm sure will be news to a Western, Roman Church shaped very much by St. Augustine's theology. In other words, Rome's theology is much more than simply the negative of anti-Pelagian. It has generally held that St. Augustine's theology, including his views of grace (albeit from a Roman perspective), is part of the undivided Church's theology. So which is it, an Eastern or a Western view of St. Augustine? Can't have it both ways, but then, this is one more point that my brothers in Rome often overlook, the challenge of unity with Constantinople. The harder the former push on the magesterium to deal with the Protestants the more they alienate the Orthodox. The Pope as first among equals, yes, magesterium no. And so, the strong ecumenical point being made by Mr. Low evaporates if we apply his paradigm to the Orthodox. This hermeneutic is considered unsurmountable by most Orthodox theologians of whom I'm aware precisely because of the doctrine of infallibility that was tied to it at Vatican I. In a recent dialogue among RC and Orthodox theologians, which I was privileged to observe, the entire debate came to a catastrophic hault on this point: infallible interpretations by individual Pope's, which by definition can't be changed, a very unconciliar approach by the way. Newman was caught in this lobster trap when he embraced an infallible church doctrine that turned around shortly after he crossed the Tiber to adopt an infallible bishop doctrine. Orthodoxy in the final analysis will not accept this teaching.

As for Rome's success at councils, I don't think the Lambeth ten year meetings of the Anglican Communion Bishops should be overlooked. And by the way, this is an example of gathering an ecumenical meeting without a Pope or a Monarch doing the convening. Of course, it should not go without mention that Rome's most successful ecumenical council attempt has been Vatican II. Significantly, it tacitly approved and incorporated so many Protestant developments liturgically (Common Lectionary, Mass in native tongue) and even theologically (cf. writings of L. Bouyer and Karl Rahner). Sounds like some sort of via media to me!


5:20 pm  
Blogger Pontificator said...

His notion that Ephesus didn't endorse St. Augustine's theology I'm sure will be news to a Western, Roman Church shaped very much by St. Augustine's theology. In other words, Rome's theology is much more than simply the negative of anti-Pelagian. It has generally held that St. Augustine's theology, including his views of grace (albeit from a Roman perspective), is part of the undivided Church's theology. So which is it, an Eastern or a Western view of St. Augustine?

Your grace, with all due respect, you are simply incorrect when you assert that the Third Ecumenical Council endorsed St Augustine's views on grace. I have to challenge you to provide substantiation. Certainly the Eastern Church has never understood Ephesus in this way. I dare say that the overwhelming majority of the Council Fathers had never read any of St Augustine's writings.

Nor has the Western Church been uncritical of St Augustine, as evidenced by the Council of Orange. The Western Church simply has never embraced the hard predestinarianism of Augustine. Indeed, in the 17th century Rome specifically refused to decide between Thomism and Molinism and allowed both opinions.

Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy affirm a grace-inspired synergism between God and man. In other words, both exclude the hard-line monergism of Luther and Calvin.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism may disagree on papal supremacy; but both agree on the dogmatic infallibility of the Church--and that is the key issue raised by Robbie Low in his article. To deny the infallibility of dogma is to condemn the Church to Protestant schisming.

2:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to Denial of St. Augustine’s Theology

Thank you Mr. Low for the spirit in which you write. I believe that I now know your main concern, the “p” word, predestination. The point here is not to debate Luther’s or Calvin’s understanding of the word. I’m taking some time to respond, however, because I find that so many of your persuasion, who want to embrace catholic Christianity, fail to grasp what was happening at Ephesus in 431 and especially in the context of the debate. I too adhere to catholic, conciliar Christianity. But I don’t think we should be selective or try revising the Council of Ephesus through a reaction to 17th century Puritanism. If you think the denunciation of Pelagius was not an endorsement of St. Augustine’s theology, you simply are revising an interpretation apart from the context and long debate primarily involving the African Bishops against Pelagius leading up Ephesus. I know you’ve missed it because you find it hard to believe that the other African bishops had even read St. Augustine. Remember, St. Augustine was an African Bishop working with his fellow African Bishops to deal with a heretical British monk (Hmmm, seems there is precedent for African Bishops dealing with northern, English and now American, heretical bishops!). No doubt by the time of Ephesus, the issue had shifted primarily to Nestorius’ rejection of the Mother of God theology. But the longer context prior to Ephesus involved Pelagius.

As for the context prior to Ephesus, please remember that regarding Pelagian theology on Grace, original sin and free will, the Third Ecumenical Council was simply a reiteration of the severe denunciations of the Synod of Carthage (418 A.D.). These denunciations by the way are stated in language virtually identical to St. Augustine’s writings. They became universal for the Church after Carthage and prior to the Council of Ephesus. It was only because of an appeal by Celestius, a disciple of Pelagius, to the Pope that the issue was revisited. The Pope, Zosimus, sent out an equivocating encylical, declaring Celestius and Pelagius not unorthodox, that a year later had to be retracted (Hmmm I guess the ancient catholic church did not believe in papal infallibility!). When this news reached Augustine, this is what he stated in a sermon preached at Carthage, "My brethren refute those who contradict and bring to us those who resist. Two councils have already sent letters to the apostolic see, and rescripts have already come from there. The matter is concluded; oh that the error may now end" (Gerald Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo, pp. 342-343). After Carthage, Pope Zosimus sent out his Epistola Tractura endorsing St. Augustine’s views of Grace, Sin and so forth for all of the bishops to sign. A handful of Italian bishops refused to sign and were consigned to oblivion. Hence by the time of Ephesus in 431, it was a simple summary denunciation of all of Pelagius’ and Celestius’ writings. Besides, Pelagius had become closely allied with Nestorius, whose heterodox statements about the Mary were the main concern of Ephesus by that time.

Nevertheless, prior to Ephesus, there simply was no other view of Grace other than St. Augustine. He built on Irenaeus, who of course was expounding St. Paul. By the time of the early 5th century it was Pelagius or Augustine. To reject one was to adopt the other. No doubt after Ephesus, Vincent and others tried to develop a semi-Pelagian theology. But then, other synods in the West even rejected semi-Pelagianism. The Synod of Troyes (429) sends out Bishops Germanus and Lupus to address the aberrations. Not surprisingly, St. Augustine’s writings are quoted more and more. Finally, the Synod of Orange (529) ends even the semi-Pelagian theological possibilities. But then, the Seventh Ecumencial Council in this context of a series of synods crushes all forms of Pelagianism. Percival points out, “And further than this the Seventh Council by ratifying the Canons of Trullo received the Canons of the African Code which include those of the Cathaginian conciliar condemnations of the Pelagian heresy” (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. XIV, p. 229). The Eastern Church gravitated more into semi-Pelagianism as the great division finally occurs.

Thus, although Mr. Low has shifted from a kind Roman Triumphalism now to a somewhat Eastern proclivity, the facts of conciliar Christianity have not changed. To be a truly conciliar and catholic believer means a complete rejection of Pelagianism and semi Pelagianism. In the context of the first eight centuries of the church, what theology of grace and original sin is left? There’s only one, St. Augustine. Those African Bishops knew it and so did the rest of the church until the sad division of East and West. I just wish that those who want to fall into the arms of some kind of Early Church theology would get it straight. If you want to be catholic then based on the full context of the events of Carthage to Ephesus, and even down to the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Augustinian theology on the matters of grace and original sin prevails precisely because this was the theology endorsed by not only an Ecumenical Council but an entire series of synods less there is any doubt.


5:09 pm  
Blogger Pontificator said...

Your grace, you appear to have confused me with Robbie Low. Robbie Low is a Brit. I'm a Yank. :-)

5:49 pm  
Blogger Pontificator said...

I am unaware of any evidence that permits the conclusion that the Seventh Ecumenical Council in any way received the anti-Pelagian canons of the Carthaginian synods. If one reads through the canons of the Council of Trullo (which have never been accepted in the West), one sees that they are purely disciplinary in nature.

I reiterate: the Augustinian understanding of grace and original sin has never been embraced in Eastern Christianity; and it is simply wrong, wrong, wrong to invoke the Council of Ephesus in this regard. Indeed, as already stated, it is unlikely that the works of Augustine were widely known by the Eastern Fathers. I have yet to find any evidence at all that supports the claim that the Pelagian heresy was even seriously discussed by the council fathers. It appears that the council anathematized Pelagius without much ado. This decision cannot be interpreted as an acceptance of Augustinian theology. One does not need to be an Augustinian in order to condemn Pelagius.

Eastern Orthodoxy advances a synergistic understanding of grace. This does not make it semi-Pelagian. It might also be noted that St Augustine was also a synergist!

3:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reception of the Council in Trullo in the West is a vexed question. A German Lutheran scholar, Otto Henze, writing in the 1994 issue of the *Greek Orthodox Theological Review*, after examining it in detail, concludes the Pope Constantine I (708-715) probably accepted Trullo on his visit to Constantinople in 714, although this acceptance was an acceptance of the orthodoxy of the council's canons, but at the same time premised on the agreement that the Roman Church would not be required to alter her own discipline (e.g., on the continence required of married clergy) to conform with Trullo's canons.

On another issue, Cardinal Newman's regret about Vatican I was that he regarded the definition of papal infallibility as "inopportune", not mistaken; he wrote later that he had "always" believed it since becoming a Catholic, but it was not one of the reasons why he had become a Catholic. And as to the "inopportunity" of the definition, he repeated his hesitations in a letter to a Mrs. Whitty in September 1870, but added that if "terrible times" of apostasy within and hostility amounting almost to persecution without were in store for the Church, then in the Providence of God perhaps the definition would be seen as a necessary provision to "hold things together." I see this as an instance of Newman's sipritual perceptiveness arising almost to prophesy, since the apostasy which he dimly foresaw has arisen all around us in recent decades.

4:39 pm  
Anonymous Cyril said...

I shall try to be succinct: that Trullo accepted the "canons of Carthage" is true, though it would be good to know exactly which canons of which council. Almost all of the canons left to us concern either the Donatists or discipline (that is, if we set aside the Cyprianic council). Nine of them from the council in 418 relate to Pelagius, but in none of them is St. Augustine's doctrine (or indeed anyone's doctrine) of predestination endorsed. Nor do they have a developed Augustinian doctrine of grace. Indeed, even the most 'stark' of them (canon 5 of 418), 'that without grace we can do no good thing' is completely consonant with St. John Cassian's "that our circumcision in the spirit cannot be obtained but by God's gift alone." Or, "the efforts of the laborer can achieve nothing apart from God's aid." Are we now to number Cassian among the precursors of Calvin and Luther? There were numerous councils in Carthage that ran from the years 350 on, and indeed, one canon expressed the need to quit having annual councils as the bishops were growing weary of them, but which of these is adopted at Trullo is unspecified. Further, while the Trullan council accepted Carthage (quidcumque est) along with the canons of Ancyra, Gangra, Antioch, Laodecia, and Sardica -- and those of Dionysius of Alexandria, Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Theologian, Amphilochius of Iconium, Timothy of Alexandria, Theophilus of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, and Patriarch Gennadius as well -- what do we do when some of these canons conflict (since you, being an episcopal bishop, and having undoubtedly read Jewel, must know that they do)? Small comfort can come from taking blanket acceptance of the validity of the canons of councils if we wish to give to these canons anything other than the disciplinary status which they embrace and for which they were adopted.

Augustine is mentioned in a letter to the bishops and Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, in which in a list of other Fathers mentioned he is noted as our blessed and luminous father and bishop in North Africa. It should be noted, however, that this is not part of the Acta of the Council, but is a letter written by the emperor Justinian, one of the last of the emperors to know Latin (he had come from Illyrium), but Augustine gets little more ink than that (some letters are cited about the licitness of the posthumous condemnations heretics, and he appears in pope Agatho's letter to Justinian, an d as well his Holiness’s letter on the Council as having a correct understanding on the nature of the will of Christ), not "He is the prism through which all patrology must be seen." The mere mention of a Father’s name is not sufficient to warrant some carte blanche acceptance of all they taught: not even St. Athanasius or St. Irenaeus gets that honor, so why should we think it of St. Augustine. The Council of Ephesus condemned Celestius (Pelagius, whose name does not appear in the Acta of the council, is only mentioned in the letter of the Council to Pope Celestine), but they did not affirm the teaching of Augustine, whom the council does not even mention. If the mere condemnation of a teaching affirms what is the unstated teaching of the condemned's opponents, then logically Nicaea championed Sabellius (after all, where did that homoousia thing come from?), Constantinople Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ephesus Apollinaris, and 553's condemnation of the Three Chapters rehabilitated Eutyches, inter alia. The only teaching which Ephesus affirmed was that of St. Cyril of Alexandria, for the Council met to treat matters of Christology, not to affirm Augustine or even to condemn Pelagius. The 'run up' to the Council the Fathers recognized when it published the letters Cyril wrote to Nestorius before the Council as part of the Canons and Acta of the council: they did not incorporate the 418 canons of Carthage, nor did they publish the teaching of St. Augustine. To think this is to go beyond the councils themselves.

Finally, you state that the Eastern Church accepted Augustine, and I for one shall not quibble on this when considered as how they actually did (even Sts Photios and Mark of Ephesus note him as blessed). I do not damn him as so many in Orthodoxy do as the fount of all impiety and error. But can you produce one Father who affirmed his take on the ancestral sin? one who taught that the guilt of Adam's sin was inherited from Adam, and not merely corruption, and through corruption death? You state that Augustine was building on something from St. Irenaeus: what exactly was that? That God became a man that man might become God? Augustine's anthropology has no room for Irenaeus's dynamic view of human nature. Further, his teaching on the simplicity of God as the primary definition of God (what you get when you find the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in Plotinus [this is in De civitate Dei]), the predicate of his predestinarianism, is wholly unknown among any of the Fathers before him, Origen accepted. The calamitous notions that this entails (for God it is the same to be holy as to be just as to be) were condemned in the condemnations of Origenism in 553 (and also by Athanasius in his Against the Arians), and were rightly cited by St. Maximus the Confessor in his disputation with Pyrrhus–a disputation that took place at Carthage--as that which the more impious could not be thought. Further, Maximus maintained doggedly (and this he got necessarily from Athanasius) that that which is natural is not determined. Since this is affirmed by the sixth ecumenical council, I don't know how they could affirm Augustine's predestinarianism at the same time. Aside from Maximus's allusion to De Trinitate in the disputation, none of the Eastern Fathers (pace the 6th council's mere allusions to him) treat anything of Augustine until you get to Photios's Mystagoge of the Holy Spirit.


12:49 pm  

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