Reflections about ‘vagante’ clergy and independent churches

This subject often comes up in the blogosphere, and reactions tend to be like those of orthodox Old Testament Jews in regard to people like the Samaritans. Uncanonical clergy are often seen as a kind of parasite and a threat to the regular churchgoers of the parishes and dioceses of the mainstream Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. The “correct” attitude is to despise irregular clergy and exhort them to convert to a mainstream Church as laymen. What is worse is the ridiculous spectacle of hearing about men styling themselves with exalted titles of prelates of churches existing only in their imaginations and in their web sites.

One pastoral consideration would tend to mitigate such a sharp judgement, and that is one for the men concerned and the emerging notion of the Church existing in a different “mode” in the modern world. One often speaks of “communities of faith”, “emerging churches” and “new monasticism” – categories of ecclesial communities that cater for people who are marginalised from mainstream culture. The mainstream Churches have over time developed chaplaincies for special groups of faithful outside the standard parish system, for example in schools, prisons and the Armed Forces. It is for this reason that I think some marginal clergy have a valid conception of the Church and the work of evangelisation. It is for this second reason that I write this article.

The old caricatures are found in the famous book by Peter Anson, Bishops at Large, notably through the phenomenon of illusions of grandeur and self-styling and consecrating, re-consecrating bishops and multiplying their “lines of succession”. Some of those men are people we would not invite to dinner! Some are frauds or are suffering from psychological problems of one form or another understood only to members of the specialised medical profession. Such “independent” churches discredit themselves through the lack of accountability and the bishop having the obvious need of money to live on without having to be in secular employment.

On the other hand, we ask ourselves whether Jesus was an official priest of the Temple with his place in the Sanhedrin or among the Scribes and Pharisees. The question is a difficult one to resolve. There are several passages in which he said that the Law was to be observed, but yet lambasted the Pharisees for their adhesion to the letter and not the spirit of the Law. Jesus and his band of apostles and disciples appear to have been itinerant groups of people outside the control of official Judaism. Jesus preached in the synagogues and even the Temple of Jerusalem. Did people have to have special credentials from the Temple clergy and the High Priest, or could they just go in and express their prophetic inspirations at will?

One can understand those who try to replicate mainstream jurisdictions by the desire to make themselves acceptable to be accepted as a package by the Church in question. This is what the TAC tried with Rome. As most of the TAC’s clergy had never been Roman Catholics and consequently never incurred canonical irregularities, they could be accepted on an individual basis by the Ordinariates established by Rome – not exactly what was anticipated at a meeting in Portsmouth in 2007. It has to be observed that no such jurisdiction emulating the ways of an “official Church” has ever been accepted and integrated in anything like a “corporate reunion”. The question is invariably – why not simply be a priest of the Church you want to belong to? Frequently, the answer to that question is – canonical irregularities. Such clergy who get ordained by “vagante” bishops go nowhere, ever. Their churches and any material effects go to the rubbish heap or the auction market when they die. There is no perennity or long-term stability, no tradition to transmit to future generations. A man live and dies.

If such clergy have a different vision of the Church, then they can be people who cannot fit into any church serving people who cannot fit into any church. Where two or three are gathered together in my name… We find the Church defined in terms of small communities and not as national establishments walking hand in hand with the secular authority of that country and enjoying wealth and power. There is the concept of Old Catholicism, which can mean many things. I would tend to understand the concept as mainstream Catholicism before the “Ultramontanist” trend of inflating the Papacy to the extent to which it was promoted in the late nineteenth century, hearkening back to the Undivided Church of the Fathers, Quod unique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus… Now, some would make of the term Old Catholicism a euphemism for communities that cater for homosexuals and women who are attracted to the priesthood.

The phenomenon of independent bishops and priests is made possible by the “Augustinian” notion taught in scholastic Roman Catholic theology that an irregular priest is not to be allowed to minister in the Church, but is recognised to be a validly ordained priest. Other theological opinions postulate the invalidity of any ordination conferred outside an ecclesial and canonical context, and more extreme theologians (Cyrille Vogel for example) would deny the inadmissible character of the Sacrament of Order – even a regular priest who becomes irregular through canonical faults ceases ontologically to be a priest, or the priesthood is not ontological but a legal nomination to a given ministry. These ways of viewing the priesthood are common among contemporary Roman Catholic clergy, and the default belief of uninstructed lay people. The push for women’s ordination must come largely from this view, for denying the ontological nature of ordination removes any objection on sacramental and theological grounds to the ordination of women.

The number of Old Catholic jurisdictions, especially in America, has exploded. It was almost unknown until approximately the second half of the nineteenth century. A traditionalist Roman Catholic priest, writing in the same cynical tone as Anson, produced an article by the title Two Bishops in every Garage. Self-styling is the first thing that bodes credibility ill. The notion of the Episcopate can vary between the self-styled ersatz and the humble priest doing what he can with new wine in new bottles, even if he happens to have episcopal orders which he keeps discreet.

The worst thing for credibility is misrepresentation, actually pretending to be a Roman Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox priest, and not merely appealing to the Tradition of that Church which the mainstream had cast away in the modernising movement since the 1960’s. This category would include irregular priests hearing confessions in Roman Catholic churches, showing up for concelebrations at places like Lourdes – and perhaps running off with the collection plate, etc. Many of those men are con-pure men in it purely to obtain money by deception and the self-satisfaction at having deceived people.

Over the years I have observed “vagante” priests and bishops, my attitude is weary and sceptical. Perhaps most of those clergy would do better to become laymen in a mainstream church and apply for the ministry in the same way as ordinands. Others should give it up altogether, and others still have their rightful place in prison. For those who go this way, the best thing to advise would be that they carefully reflect about “For what?”, “Bishop of what?” Are they doing something completely pointless? The application of canon law does not always deal with the stories of people. Men get broken by the system, but yet are driven with a sense of vocation to serve as a priest or a contemplative – in some way other than as ordinary layfolk. “Independent” Catholicism has become something of a modern equivalent of the medieval Goliards. Modern church Christianity has little time for the prophetic voice, the itinerant life of the old Franciscans and various groups in dissidents in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries which often fell foul of the Inquisition. Many complain that the Constantinian Church has become an obstacle to the propagation of the Gospel. Most people have abandoned institutional Christianity, either because they are no longer believers, or because they aspire to a more personal and individual spiritual life. Rightly or wrongly? It is not always easy to judge.

Whatever, there are more and more voices calling for a new way of expressing the notion of the Church, and the Churches find it difficult to adapt or see the danger of having to move with the signs of the times – if they are truly the signs of the times. Irregular priests show the limits of a Church built up on a slightly misunderstood notion of Christ’s priesthood, and that transmitted to the Apostles and generations of bishops and priests ever since. What seems to make sense to me is that this phenomenon exists because there is a need for it, notably for a greater diversity of ministries and “expressions” in the mainstream churches. How is the idea of vocation to be understood? Is it the call of the official diocesan Bishop to those who have come from the right families, been to the right schools and universities and so forth? Is there a spiritual and personal dimension to the priestly vocation like the calling to the religious life or the less usual vocations to become a fool for God?

I end this piece with the thought that the western Churches have been affected by excessive rationalism or a “classical” spirit like the pre-Romantic era of the end of the eighteenth century. In the medieval Church, and more recently in some parts of the world, and in the Eastern Orthodox countries, there is a greater diversity of the use to which the Church puts priests between parish ministry, monastic and collegial life, teaching in universities, the life of the chantry priests and the more marginal, the Goliards and similar movements of more or less dubious orthodoxy. The humanity of a society is judged by how it deals with the weak. The Nazis sought to “cleanse” humanity by destroying the weak and practising eugenics to provide a “master race”. Most modern democracies provide care for the sick, benefits for those who are out of work and various programmes of aid. Welfare systems are vulnerable to be abused by the unscrupulous elements, but should the Welfare system be abolished because a minority of people cheat and swindle? Abusus non tollit usum. Unfortunately, the Church is in a time when its authorities begin to react from a forty-year long stranglehold by tightening the screws according to conservative principles, but to make an elite Church of the strong, in which the weak have no place.

Can the Church afford to ordain those who are not up to the usual standards? She has done so before, and there were many abuses in the Middle Ages and a lot of superstition among the laity. For all the tightening up by the Council of Trent, Vatican II and recent Papal legislation, there are still abuses, and I have met many who are no less superstitious than “Piers Ploughman”, perhaps more so in their crass materialism. Could the Church reabsorb or reintegrate the hundreds of bishops and priests? Certainly they would be unsuitable for parish work and teaching, but perhaps for living among the marginalised and bizarre of life like the various subcultures of young people and the alienated. Human liberty is hard to administer and channel. There is no hard and fast answer, but no one can fail to notice that the “classical” Church can only reach a very small minority of people…

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18 Responses to Reflections about ‘vagante’ clergy and independent churches

  1. Stephen K says:

    There are lots of possible threads arising from this article. To take just one: should the Church accept all the vagantes? This presumes that a lot of the vagantes would want to be absorbed. How true is this? A former seminarian colleague of mine (many years ago) is now an ordained bishop of the Reformed Catholic Church which I gather is affiliated with the Celtic Anabaptist Communion. The leader of the Reformed Catholic Church, a Bishop Robert Bowman, has some striking articles and sermons – “Towards a Jesus Society” is one of them – that do not indicate that they would possibly countenance being part of the Roman Catholic organisation. They have significantly different slants on the Gospel.

    Then there is the question of what makes priesthood: is it something “ontological” or something “functional” and contextual? The vagantes appear to also insist on the former, hence the eagerness to claim “succession” and the exotic nature of much self-styling. But then again, perhaps some form of organisation and leadership is inevitable. Then there are the sedevacantists (again two former colleagues ended up on that episcopal path). How can all these bishops maintain self-belief in the face of their small flocks?

    And what about the limits of the “institutional” churches? The Roman Catholic church boasts its membership in the billion-plus, but over 75% or thereabouts do not attend Mass or espouse all its teachings. Similar proportions may apply to others.

    And finally, the age-old question is where is the Church? If it does not include the vagantes and every Heinz variety, is it a Church worthy of the name? Aren’t we all an eclectic bunch of people anyway, diverse in our characters, flaws, gifts, errors, sins?

    I think the existence of vagantes reveals the nature of the Church. They testify to the irrepressibility of the ego and the search for meaning and purpose. The multiplicity of theologies highlights the failure of straitjacketing. The way to cut through all this maze, I think, is to maintain a focus on denial of self, Francis-like (or maybe rather, Jesus-like).

    • Thank you for this sensitive and original comment, truly contributing to reflection. An idea comes to mind, that reforms in the Church at various times of her history have overemphasised authority over the prophetic spirit. Prophets, like artists, are only appreciated after they are dead. The current swing back to conservatism is going to alienate the “liberals”. “All the better”, some will say, eager to get rid of their adversaries, but they find someone else wants to get rid of them. Orthodoxy becomes narrower and narrower, and it would take centuries for things to relax. They never did after the Council of Trent.

      In the Reformation era, it was just assumed that the Protestants were wrong, rather than searching for their reasons. They were faced with institutional corruption, ignorance among the clergy and superstition among the laity. But the counter-reformed Church even more alienated them.

      You are right, the world of episcopi vagantes is a maze, and evidence of the fact that one should either be a saint or conform to the System as one of its clerics. With some I have read about, I don’t know what they could ever fit into, and it might be better if they were not priests but rather expressing their Christianity in some other and hidden way.

      The mind boggles…

  2. conchurl says:

    The issue is one of sacramental assurance if nothing else. Even in a Augustinian context a leaven of practical Cyprianism is and indeed must be adopted simply because the buck has to stop somewhere. The most recent example I can think of is Milingo’s bizarre escapade’s; he was defrocked and his ordinations are deemed invalid by Rome. This was a distinct shift from the previous practice of many decades (centuries?) which saw the proliferation of the men so acidly sketched by Anson, who could claim apostolic succession on the basis of strict Augustinianism.

  3. ed pacht says:

    Well, this is turning out to be much longer than I expected, but still I’m submitting my very personal view of these issues.

    I’ve wrestled with Scripture and Tradition, with my own sense of vocation, and with the temptations of my own deep sinfulness. For a time I was immersed in the maze of the vagantes, even becoming a cleric without a church. For 25 years I was a Pentecostal preacher, half of that in a highly centralized small denomination. I am currently a lay member of a Continuing Anglican church. My life is marked by, on the one hand, a sense of vocation and prophetic distorted by and mixed with my pridefulness and rebelliousness; and, on the other hand, by a respect and need for authority in a visible body which may and often will err. I’ve settled into Anglicanism largely because of its historic searching for a via media, a pervasive concept that any idea taken to an extreme ends up denying counterbalancing truth, and, in doing so, fosters real and dangerous error. I think that principle applies very much in the present discussion.

    Vocation is a complex concept, most easily discussed in the light of my own experience. There is indeed an inner calling to ministry, that is, to service, a complex of desires and urgings that leads one to seek ways to follow the Gospel and to lead souls toward holiness. I’ve known that from childhood, even in the most desperately sinful periods of my life, and still do. Whether ordained or not I have a vocation to be whatever kind of minister circumstances will permit, to spread the Good News and to reach out with Jesus’ hand to touch in whatever ways are open to me. Personal and inner vocation is a definite and precious reality. Is that a vocation to ORDAINED ministry? Am I called to be a priest in that sense? Does any man receive an inner call to a position of authority that others must then accept? For years I thought so. Repeatedly in various environments I put myself forward for ordination (of one sort or another). As a Lutheran I ended up unwilling to fulfill the requirements, as a vagans I was ordained and found that gave me no opportunity to minister, as an Episcopalian I was not accepted, as a Pentecostal I eventually became a pastor, but was not successful in the existing parameters, and, when I became an Anglican, I thought it would be an easy road to ordination, but that has never occurred. Yes, I had and have a vocation – what has been missing?

    The inner call is not to a specific office. I don’t believe any man receives a call to be a priest or a bishop, however strongly he may be called to minister. The whole point of Apostolic Succession is that our Lord entrusted that call to the Church that He left under the care of His Apostles, not, I believe, to the Apostles as individuals, but to the Church as a body. I am convinced that it is the visible church that calls a man, whether he himself is aware of an inner call or not, to fill an office, and through the bishops ordains men for those offices. Some of the greatest saints (as Ambrose and Gregory Nazianzen the younger) were indeed ordained against their own will. Priesthood and episcopate, then, are expressions of the will of a visible body of believers, and the Augustinian concept of who is validly ordained makes sense only in that context. Anyone ordained, as I was (in my vagans days), merely to ‘be’ a priest or bishop separate from a living body, and with no function beyond the individual, has missed the point of it all. I did.

    I’m not talking about a centralized and rigid structure like that of the ultramontaine RCC, nor of blind obedience at all costs. Ones individual vocation often leads one to be somewhat at odds with those over him, even though he keep Scriptural submission to rightful authority. The Church is never perfect, and true ministers (lay or ordained) may often find themselves straining the edges of the structure. The NT gives us many examples of inner tensions in the Church, of square pegs in round holes, and of a structure that never really worked like a machine, but ever and always the true Christians were at one with each other, bound to the one Lord under His Apostles. So it should be today, but instead we have a multitude of warring denominations and jurisdictions. The episcopi vagantes are merely an expression of that, sometimes indeed a caricature of the Church Catholic – but, even though their number does include charlatans and evil men, there certainly are godly men with a true vocation among them.

    Somehow we need to find ways to bring these men, case by case, into the wider fellowship of the Church. Perhaps their existence may help the rest of us to shed some of our developed bureaucracy. Possibly it will help the church to reach into the odd corners of society in a way that more conventional approaches simply cannot. At any rate the unity of Christians requires that these barriers also be overcome, not merely those between the larger sects. Who is valid and who isn’t? I’m not sure that’s precisely the right question. The first question must be as to who is faithful and who is not. After that, the church has to decide, and Our Lord did say that what she binds on earth will be bound in heaven. We need to do the best we can and trust God to make up the deficiencies.

    • I am inclined to agree with you if a man’s “vocation” has no reference to the Church. The rub here is defining what the Church is, whether it is the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church (despite the divisions between some local Churches) or something to understand in a wider way, so that it would include Anglican Churches. Would a group of three people with a bishop be a Church? I really would prefer to avoid ecclesiology here on this blog, but I am aware that this is the issue. I won’t go on any further with this subject, because there really is no answer other than always being brought to the same point.

    • Stephen K says:

      Thank you, ed pacht, for sharing your experience. I think what you say is very insightful. And what you say about where vocations are to is something that occurred to me once during a “poustinia” – a kind of solitary retreat – years ago when I was grappling with questions of direction and sense of failed vocation and sinfulness etc. I definitely think, as you imply, that the “developed bureaucracy” is something of problem, one that frequently gets in the way of the spirit, and a lot of the pre-occupation with “validity” seems to me to miss the point of the spiritual life. Anyway, thanks again. You’ve written things well worth reflecting upon.

  4. I’m a vagante priest. Heck, that’s the name of my blog.

    Yes, vaganteworld is a place where sanity is a rare and precious thing. However, come to think of it, that is also true in the mainstream Churches. The dynamics of the craziness in the former is simply different than that of the latter. So, take your pick.

    When a vagante jurisdiction is doing what it is called to do, what it does best, it is going places and reaching people that the mainstream Churches simply cannot or will not for a variety of reasons. A vagante jurisdiction fulfilling its vocation is, in the words of my bishop, “guerilla Church”.

    • Thank you, Father, for this comment. I can hardly contradict you, because whatever “vagante” clergy do wrong, so do mainstream church clergy.

      The idea of “vagante” jurisdictions “reaching the parts mainstream churches cannot reach” (said with a mock-German accent) 😉 is an interesting one. Would you like to describe your ministry and that of your Bishop? What do you actually do?

      • Sure, Father Chadwick. I’d be happy to. Thanks for asking. First, my colleagues and I do what all Catholic clergy do: we celebrate the Liturgy week by week; we hear confessions and declare absolution; we administer the other sacraments/mysteries; we bury the dead; we bless; we lead and serve the people given to our care. We continually pray for them

        But, of course, I think the question you are asking has to do with who these people are, and that is a fair question, and goes to the heart of the matter of what it means to go places and to reach people not accessible to the mainstream Churches.

        In virtually all cases, “vagante” jurisdictions are small and are pretty limited in terms of their geographic scope, so what follows will differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

        In our case, the jurisdiction, called the Antiochian Catholic Church in America, is centered in Knoxville, Tennessee, on the edge of the southern Appalachian Mountains. This area is stereotypically hillbilly country and is historically a center for Fundamentalist Protestantism of various stripes, but also, for quite some time, a place in which various forms of neo-paganism thrive. The area is quite stratified in socioeconomic terms as well with a great deal of intergenerational poverty among its largely Scots-Irish population. Politically, it is quite libertarian: the main concern that people have is simply being left alone.

        Now, all of us work at secular jobs. In these contexts, we encounter a wide variety of people. Some of them, well settled in professional life and a more established Church context, will come to us “by night” as it were because they are not comfortable speaking with the clergy of the congregation of which they are members. Some will seek us out for specific pastoral services, such as a wedding or a funeral, because they have no formal relationship with a congregation. Others, having abandoned a more mainstream form of Christianity earlier in life, and having embraced but then having become disillusioned with neo-paganism, discover us or seek us out. Others come to us directly from the street, being homeless, indigent, usually seriously mentally ill in some way and probably addicted to alcohol and/or some other substance. We do see such people improve over time. Others, having been away from all practice of faith for years, discover us, sometimes over a great distance. If it seems expedient, there are times when we will refer such a person to a more mainstream jurisdiction, possibly one of the “canonical” Orthodox jurisdictions or another “vagante” jurisdiction with which we have some level of relationship.

        People come and go. Some move on to more mainstream Churches, with or without referral. Some stay with us. Some go for a time and then return. Some seek us out “as needed”. All in all, however, it seems pretty clear that people do, in fact, come into greater communion with the Blessed Trinity because of what we do.

        My bishop, a living Saint if there ever was one, was haunted for many years by our apparent lack of “success”. Then he encountered the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “God does not call us to be successful; God calls us to be faithful”.

        In spite of all failure, this is our vision: to be faithful to what we understand our call to be, to serve those, no matter where they are or where they’ve been, that God sends us, to invite them to partake with us at the Lord’s Table and all that this entails. We are wounded healers who bind our own wounds one at a time so that we can be available immediately to help someone else if we are called upon to do so.

        Also, in our case, since we are non-chalcedonian, we present an alternative theological point of view, one that is by and large inaccessible or entirely unfamiliar to most people, even those who are knowledgeable theologically and concerning Church history. For me, that point of view is summed up as follows: “I am less concerned that Jesus is human like me; I am much more concerned that I become human like Jesus.”

        Questions and comments welcome.

  5. Stephen K says:

    Thank you for your very vivid description of your mission, Father Gregory. I would like to ask what you think is the most significant difference flowing from the fact that you “present the alternative theological point of view” of non-Chalcedonian understanding. How do you think that difference manifests itself in the spiritual lives of the people whom you encounter? And have I understood the non-Chalcedonian position as what used to be called or understood as “monophysitism”?

    By way of comment, if I may, I like the expression you’ve used about being more concerned to become human like Jesus. My own view about the Christological disputes is that though I readily see that the different formulations lead to different emphases in prayer and even perhaps ultimately in faith, I also see that the metaphysical – as opposed to a spiritual – identity of Jesus the man with an eternal divine Logos has led to problems in faith and love every bit as potentially destructive as understandings that reduce Jesus to a wandering Cynic.

    What do you say to that? Would you agree that the tendency within modern Christianity – shared unconsciously by many in the pews of traditinional churches – is to adopt a view of Jesus more akin to Arianism?

  6. I would agree Stephen, that there is a great deal of what amounts to a kind of Arianism in Western Christian circles. This, I think, primarily arises out a Trinitarian theology that is obscured by things like the Filioque and other factors which make it very difficult to take the distinction between the Divine Persons seriously enough. The Trinity is one in Essence, certainly. There is but one God, and the Divine Unity is, in fact, grounded in the Person of the Father. However, that Divine “essence” is inherently communicable and that is what the Father does in eternally generating the Son/Word and breathing forth the Spirit such that all three are “members one of another” in terms of what is traditionally called “perichoresis”.

    The other problem here is in fact a de facto Nestorianism that not only distinguishes, but in actuality divides and separates, the Divine and the human in Christ. So often, it seems that discussion of Christology, at whatever level, assumes that it is a zero-sum game, meaning that if the Deity is emphasized, the humanity must be de-emphasized, and vice-versa. But this is not the case. Humanity is created for the purpose of divinization! It is designed, as it were, to “partake of the Divine Nature”. Thus, Christ, in whom this deified humanity is most fully realized, is by virtue of that truly the “Second Adam,” the re-founder of the human race.

    This brings us to the question of what sort of Christology we are discussing here. Most properly, it is called “miaphysitism,” referring to St. Cyril’s statement, “the one (“mia”, meaning a unity, not “mono”) incarnate nature (“physis”) of God the Word”. In actuality, it is also, in fact, the corrected diophysitism of the neo-chalcedonians, as expressed at the Second Council of Constantinople, which clarified and corrected Chalcedon. It is, in fact, the common OFFICIAL Christology of all who accept the Council of Ephesus. It is Christology as soteriology: “God became human so that humans might become God and He did this precisely because of the eternal divine Love that is the Trinity and which is expressed in the creation of the universe as well as in the mission of the Trinity to rescue humanity from its own folly.

    However, in the West, it is all too often obscured by other factors, primarily those which seek to define salvation in external, forensic, legal terms. If I am understanding you correctly, this is where the “problems” which you mention primarily arise. God is not seen, first and foremost, as “Love”. God is seen as judge or something similar, whose “justice” or “honor” must be ‘satisfied” before the Divine Love can kick in. This is then read backward onto the glorified Christ who is seen as a distant, Divine, other-than-human figure.

    We are saved, however, not first from the “wrath of God” (which is, in fact, eschatological, the “wrath to come”), but we are saved BY God from those things which are the enemies of both God and humanity: sin, death, Satan. We are “saved” by the healing of our humanity, diseased as it by sin, threatened by death and, by “the fear of death,” held hostage to Satan. We are saved by being reinitiated into communion with God the Blessed Trinity in, with, and through the Church, the re-creation of humanity in Christ and the human ikon of the Trinity itself. As the Divine Person are “members one of another,” so we are being made “members one of another” in the Church because we are “members of Christ”.

    Thus, the difference should be clear: for this paradigm, salvation is pre-eminently an existential, experiential, therapeutic and synergistic affair. We are involved in a struggle, that of the dynamic of dying and rising with Christ, so that we might live with Him, being transformed, by His resurrection, into His image and likeness, fully realizing that for which we were created. We struggle and we work, not to score brownie points with God, not to make God love us (God DOES love us!), but to realize this destiny within ourselves.

    We share this with our chalcedonian Byzantine Orthodox brethren; the primary difference between us and them, I think, is found in the level of accessibility. For example, as a “vagante” jurisdiction, we are refer to invite validly baptized and otherwise properly disposed Christians to partake with us at the Lord’s table. We also don’t get hung up on things like calendars and what type of bread can be used on the altar.

    Finally, a word about metaphysics: “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Historically, at least in the East, theology has used the language of metaphysics, but it has intentionally tried to avoid being held captive to metaphysics. Indeed, two of the greatest Christian minds in history stumbled at precisely this point, namely Origen and Augustine (both with regard to the possibility of human autonomy).

    This also raises the issue of the Indo-Syriac Christian tradition in general (it is divided between East Syriac and West Syriac, “Nestorian” and “Monophysite”, chalcedonian and, in India, even a Reformed iteration). It is grounded primarily in the poetry of Ephrem and in the Bible, expressing itself poetically and metaphorically. It is expressed only secondarily in the language of metaphysics.

    Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this conversation. If you are interested in reading more, I will be happy to post some links/bibliographical information.


    • Stephen K says:

      What a generous reply! Lots to think about. Thank you very much Father Gregory. I particularly found comprehensible or enlightening your statement that humanity was designed for divinisation, and that in effect therefore Jesus was God because his humanity’s divinisation was fully realised. I do not understand by that that he was “made” divine, but that his humanity and his divinity are best understood as a complete fusion, in his life, into One, the oneness of God.

      If I have understood you correctly, I would agree that that formulation avoids the tangle of the usual discussions about “hypostatic union”. I venture to suggest that the talk of “two natures one person” does not express the concept anywhere so clearly or sensibly (even if it is protested that it is the same thing!)

      I hope you can have time to continue to post from your perspective. Thank you.

      • You are welcome, Stephen, and I am happy to continue.

        Please do not misunderstand me. What I am saying here in no way rejects the hypostatic “personal” union and the matter of “two ‘ousia’ one person” (“ousia” is preferrable to “physis”.) The pre-existent Divine Logos, the Eternal Word and Son of God the Father, God the Son, is “begotten” or “born” or “generated” eternally (“before all ages”) from the Father. He is also born in time, “taking our flesh” and becoming human, of the Virgin, uniting that humanity with this Deity in his own one Divine Person.

        What we are talking about here had to do with what this means for “our flesh”. By nature, it is passible, capable of suffering and death, limited by time and space. Thus, the Lord dies IN THE FLESH. After the resurrection, however, his flesh (which is none other than our flesh) is glorified. It is deified (in a way in which it was prior to the resurrection). It is no longer subject to the limitations that bound it prior to the resurrection. This comes about, in the words of the creed attributed to St. Athanasius, “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God”.

      • ed pacht says:

        One thing I’ve long found helpful in discussions of this nature is the realization that we are discussing matters beyond the capability of the human mind, as finite beings attempting to comprehend infinity. It really is impossible to say anything truly accurate about the nature of God or of salvation or of eschatology. To take any of the more abstruse theological points all the way in one direction until they seem to make logical sense is inevitably to deny inconvenient truths and enter into heresy — in fact I usually define heresy as the overemphasis of a truth. I think the best we can do in such matters is apophatic, to eliminate what we know NOT to be true of God and enter into the Mystery remaining. All the classic terms, ousia, hypostasis, trinity, dual nature, theosis, even salvation, are, without exception, man-made labels for incompehensibilities, swerving primarily to eliminate palpably false assumptions and conclusions. One thing I am very fond of saying is that, especially in theology, but also in many other areas, if I am convinced that I really understand what I’m talking about, I am most certainly erring in some very important aspect. There’s one book in my possession whose content I have found inadequate, but which I keep propped up in plain sight because of the title, almost as an icon: J.B.Phillips, “Your God Is Too Small.” That is always true. I need to stop limiting Him.

  7. Stephen K says:

    ed pacht, I too have a copy of “Your God Is Too Small!”, a small red paperback version! And I have to say your reminder about the limits of discourse about the mysterious and ineffable is very close to my own view. I agree that the apophatic way is the way to cultivate. Although, now that I reflect on it, perhaps we are also limited in our capacity to say what God is not, as equally as what God might be. This is why, in the end, I am inclined to endorse an openness to exploring diverse ways of reiigious understanding, even if all the while one retains a familiar acceptance of one’s Christian faith paradigm. Perhaps one should not think of faith as giving certainty and confidence of knowledge but of giving confidence to act in goodness and purity of heart. Which is why polemics is so antithetical to the spiritual life. There are so many experiences and expressions that can give us positive insights and inspiration. In that sense the expression “whatever works for one” is not far off the mark, understanding “works” in the sense that it moves one to beneficent action and deep inner peace. For where that type of action and peace is, is somewhere close to God is it not?

    By the same token, Father Gregory’s exposition is very helpfully clear, and as I am made (like everyone) with a mind that seeks clarity and understanding, I can hardly be content to rest in a state of “not-striving-to-understand”, even if I accept that mu understanding at any stage can never exhaust the possibilities and the reality. If one is raised in a religious context where truth is asserted to be expressed only in one or other specific formulation by one authority, it is both startling, then enlightening and refreshing to hear other formulations and understandings. Trying to see what the other sees lies at the heart of the brotherhood and sisterhood of love, I think. Anselm used the expression “faith seeking understanding” and it also goes hand-in-hand with the idea of “understanding seeking faith” I think. How does all that sound to you?

  8. ed pacht says:

    Stephen K,
    I’m not sure I want to carry this discussion further here. I’m not sure this is the right environment for such a discussion. If you’d be interested in talking further, you can e-mail me at

    • Thank you, gentlemen, for this discussion. I haven’t been able to give it the time it deserves. These notions take me back to my student days, and seemed to have so much importance then. The proportion of churchgoing people with an interest in academic theology is pitifully small and considerations about everything is simplistic.

      I tend to the “apophatic” approach – life with God is a little like something I did yesterday, namely sailing a very small boat on a very big sea. The tiny part of the sea we can see from a boat seems big enough, but the part that lies over the horizon is so much greater. There is a difference, the sea of the earth’s oceans is finite, but God is infinite.

      And he cared enough for each of us to send his Son.

  9. Pingback: Re-post: Reflections about ‘vagante’ clergy and independent churches | New Goliards

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