Deborah Gyapong on Being Catholic

These days, I tend not to bother very much with knowing how my former brethren in the TAC are doing since they went to the RC Church, whether through the Ordinariates or other channels. Deborah Gyapong has always been kind to me, since the days when we collaborated together on the defunct English Catholic blog, trying to bring out the best of Archbishop Hepworth and the movement towards the RC Church. We may have been mistaken, but we were sincere in trying to put things in the best light possible.

She certainly has been drawn into the prevailing ideology of the “true church” conservatives, but this was inevitable. It is a mechanism to cope with the variations and imperfections she is meeting, has met in the past and will continue to meet. The problem with going along with “true church” ecclesiology, logically, is to trash all other churches as “false” Catholics. The dichotomy is built up as with so many – you have to be Roman Catholic, in communion with the official structures of that Church, to be a true Catholic, otherwise one should be a Protestant or relinquish Christianity altogether to be seen as sincere. Deborah stops short of saying this, because she won’t see things in terms of their ultimate consequences.

She speaks nicely of Deacon Munn’s article on article on The Anglican Catholic blog, quoting it extensively. Both Deacon Munn and I seek to be irenic in this new endeavour, having learned from having seen bitter polemics in the past with even worse threads of comments. We want to build from the ruins and embers, so that Christ’s Church may be manifest in goodness and beauty.

Deacon Munn’s article strikes Deborah as expressing an immobilist position against doctrinal development as expressed by Cardinal Newman and documents of Vatican II like Lumen gentium. Indeed, having defended this theory myself, I see the limits. Look at it historically. It seems that Newman sought a way to believe in Roman Catholic doctrines that simply were not there in earlier periods of history. What really was in mind was Papal infallibility. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 recognised that St Peter had spoken through the mouth of Leo the Great, but such in its historical context was a far cry from the definition in 1870 of Vatican I or the madness Pius IX would have liked to have got through had it not been for the moderating influence of the “inopportunists”. Newman was very precise in his theory, with a number of criteria to distinguish true developments from perversions or heresies. The theory simply is imperfect, attractive though it is. I find it interesting, but it, like all theological discussion, belongs to the world of analogy.

Theological (and liturgical) immobilism also presents problems. If such a notion is held rigorously and absolutely, where or when is the time period of reference, the golden era? Such a view of the Church prevailed generally with most of the Fathers, the institutional Church, the scholastic theologians, St Thomas Aquinas, the Tridentine theologians, the Protestant Reformers, Bishop Bossuet and just about everyone until Newman and the early twentieth-century Modernists. All the polemics of the sixteenth century were about what was the belief and practice of the early Church, whether or not they understand that the pre-Nicene Church was a complete mess and hodgepodge of competing heresies and beliefs. So I am critical about immobilism too except in its role as a brake to resist imprudent “developments” or moves to express things differently or to adapt to changing conditions in history. In a well-regulated world, this is the role of an interplay of conservative and progressive politics, left-wing and right-wing, so that moderation may prevail.

Modern Roman Catholic ecclesiology seems to depend on the development theory, but very selectively. I frankly see little of the discernment of the criteria Newman set out in his book, about how an acorn becomes an oak tree, for example, and not a stinging nettle or a cow. So we have the notion of “organic” development and “hermeneutic of continuity” – which in practice often turn out to be exercises in resolving cognitive dissonance.

Of course, I no longer believe you can be capital “C” Catholic without being in communion with the Bishop of Rome—that ecclesiology is part of the faith and that includes visible, outward unity.

The problem is that there are obstacles to this aspiration to “visible, outward unity“. The Orthodox have been separated from Rome since the symbolic date of 1054, the Anglicans since 1534, the Old Catholics since 1724 and 1870, Ecône since 1988 when the illicit episcopal consecrations caused Archbishop Lefebvre to be excommunicated. Was Rome always pure white and innocent in these fractures in the human dimension of the indivisible Church? Of course not. The Popes and Roman Catholic bishops sinned as much as anyone else.

There are certain “developments” in the Roman Catholic Church that are plainly unacceptable to anyone other than Roman Catholics. Perhaps some of these things are on their way to being changed. Who knows?

The view according to which –

The view described above is often touted by those who reject any development of doctrine.   But the problem with this is a kind of “frozen in amber” view of the Church as stuck in one epoch.   I think we see the same kind of thing among traditionalists in the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), i.e.  let’s freeze the Catholic faith at the Council of Trent.

is somewhat tired and worn. Having spent time with ACC clergy and people, I don’t see this view prevailing. Some of our priests are enamoured of the seventeenth-century divines, but not all by a long chalk. I don’t see the fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries as times of “perfection”. Many things were wrong as in all periods of church history. Perhaps the crowds at Lourdes and Fatima are a little less into simony than the paying customers of indulgence merchants in the 1500’s, but there’s not that much difference. Deborah then throws us a sop by wishing us well in our efforts to heal our divisions. I also wish the Roman Catholics well in healing much more serious divisions between themselves! It is all relative.

Do we expect the Church to be “pure” or “perfect”? All Churches in their human dimension are imperfect and sins are committed. We have only to examine our own consciences and look at ourselves. That’s where the imperfection is. And that you will found in Venice, Paris, Moscow or Canterbury (at the big cathedral or the little cathedral!). Over the weeks and months since Pope Francis’ election, I have seen a difference between what he seems to represent and the pottage with which Roman Catholics had been served over the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. There is something deeply spiritual which I recognise as big as a house! At the same time, I don’t see him as trying to proselytise the world into the Roman Catholic Church, but rather into faith in Christ in spite of the infinite variation of human conditions in the world. I think we will find him reviving the dialogue with the Anglicans (Canterbury Communion) and the Orthodox as well as the Reformed and Lutheran denominations. I have more esteem for this Pope as time goes on, but we belong to another ecclesial communion.

Deborah’s transition, in solidarity with most of the community in which she worshipped, involved a rupture between her “false” Catholicism and her “true” Catholicism. She and they will have to live with that break in their spiritual experience. It is not for me to judge them or any of the other Anglicans who followed the Anglicanorum coetibus trajectory. However, many of us reject this “break” as harmful and unnecessary. Deborah has suffered, as she told me and expressed publicly on her blog. It was necessary for her, but it is not a convincing argument for the ACC to embark on a path in which it has never shown the slightest interest.

Holy fear? Self sacrifice? Temptations to break the Church’s laws? Wanting one’s own way? All this sounds like some of the Jansenistic claptrap I have come across in France and the Cachez-moi ce sein que je ne saurais voir of Tartuffe. Such notions cannot be rejected entirely, but they are relative to many other aspects of ecclesial and spiritual life. Perhaps we might be that much more convinced by the “true church” rhetoric when we see entire Orthodox patriarchates and synods going over and submitting to the great infallible Pontiff who plainly doesn’t want to be one. When we see fruits of the ecumenical movement by the Anglican Communion repudiating women’s ordination and drawing close to Rome, perhaps we might be persuaded of being wrong in our isolation at the margins of ecclesial life.

In the total absence of such a movement, there is a question of survival – which also is relative in terms of our mortality. Security is an illusion – but who will swim in the sea when there is a perfectly good boat they can get into and the ship is on another sea?

We are far from being unanimous in believing that the will of Roman Catholic popes and bishops is automatically the will of God. Otherwise God himself will lose credibility as he has for the majority of western humanity.

I am happy for Deborah in that she has had spiritual experiences and confirmations of her choice. Others of us made similar choices in the past and were seriously misled and mistaken. I cannot judge others by my suffering and nor can she judge others by what she interprets as happy spiritual experience. Roman Catholic spirituality is full of tales of miracles and wonders. I recently watched the old film The Song of Bernadette. It is moving, and sick people were miraculously healed at Lourdes, as still occasionally happens. I have no experience of miracles (as in purely supernatural events by which the laws of nature are suspended, like healing of illness or levitation)  in my own life, but I cannot refuse the possibility. It is a question of trusting credible witnesses as in law. A part of me sees the good in popular religion, spiritual experience and the wonders of God, and a part makes me want to stay down-to-earth, sensible and more trusting of the liturgy to manifest the Mystery of God.

We as Anglicans are not “into” popular religion in a big way, and that is perhaps something we lack. We have few monastic communities and people consecrated to the contemplative life. We don’t have shrines or miracles as a rule. Walsingham is sober and discreet compared with Fatima or Lourdes. But there are undeniable spiritual fruits outside Rome and conversions to Christ.

I believe the Catholic faith subsists in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, insofar as Catholic transcends the boundaries of the Roman Catholic establishment. As Deborah and others equate Catholic with Roman Catholic, it also subsists elsewhere. Who are any of us to judge which are the “bogus” and which are the “true”? I hope the pontificate of Pope Francis will discredit triumphalism and proselytism once and for all, that dialogue and a truly Catholic unity movement may resume in the future.

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29 Responses to Deborah Gyapong on Being Catholic

  1. Stephen K says:

    I did read Deborah’ article earlier today. I am much more keen however to comment on your reference to miracles. I have been reading William Barclay’s “The Mind of Jesus” (1960). Have you read this? Everything he writes I find very cogent and intelligible, but I was taken by his chapter on “The Miracles of Jesus”. In a nutshell, he presents the miracle stories, and the ‘miracles’ of which they speak, as “signs” not contraventions of natural process. He proposes that we have to understand how the Jews of the time saw the value of the events and the stories they related in the truth they revealed, and not in facts. In other words, Jesus did not do the impossible, even if some people thought he did or should. I won’t argue his presentation at length: I’m sure my co-readers will be familiar with the general thesis by him or other contemporaries. But he finishes thus “We believe that when these stories are read in a spirit of crude and unimaginative literalism, they lose almost all their value; we believe that many of them are not meant to describe literal happenings but…spiritual changes and experiences…the sign of the continuing action of Christ.”

    In a way, the same literalism appears to underlie the ecclesiological narcissism (and nastiness) that has plagued faith relations. Many Roman Catholics in past and present see the consolidated Roman Catholic Church (i.e. with its formal subsidiaries) as soteriologically sufficient, because they make a distinction between the notoriously peccable amongst its members who do not represent the Church the moment they sin or become notorious, and the visible institutional functionaries and structures who are the very Church Spiritual. Thus, effectively, if a little simply, the Church is not only greater than its members, it is positively separate and detachable the moment any of its erstwhile representatives fail too publically. This may be a perspective underpinning other churches view of themselves, I don’t know. If it is, it’s a problem with worrying about which “church” is the one Jesus “founded”. I have thought thi before (and won’t suggest it again after this), but I think “Church” will come as a result of personal relations with God and neighbour, and does not exist before or outside these. “Church” is not a thing but a process and action. It may be helpful for us to think of it this way. But again, this is just how I have recently begun to see it.

  2. CredoUtIntelligam says:

    It is not possible to reconcile some “doctrinal developments” in the Roman Church with the clear language of the First Vatican Council. From Session Three of the First Vatican Council:

    13. For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated.

    14. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.

    Canon 4.3 from Session Three of the First Vatican Council:

    3. If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema

    Now read these portions of Dignitatis Humanae:

    1. A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man, and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty . . . This Vatican Council takes careful note of these desires in the minds of men. It proposes to declare them to be greatly in accord with truth and justice. To this end, it searches into the sacred tradition and doctrine of the Church-the treasury out of which the Church continually brings forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old.

    And then this:

    Over and above all this, the council intends to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society.

    The document then goes on to teach things about religious liberty that clearly contradict the teachings of Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos, Leo XIII in Libertas, and Pius IX’s Quanta Cura and Syllabus of Errors. Notice that Dignitatis Humanae claims only to “develop” the doctrine of “recent popes”. Also notice how the opening sentence states the Church is motivated to reconsider the question of religious liberty in light of the deeper awareness of human dignity on the part of modern man.

    This is how Newman’s doctrine of development is actually used in the Roman Church. It is used to introduce whatever novelties the current magisterium wishes to teach in clear violation of Canon 4.3 of the First Vatican Council. Session Three even anticipated the appeal to the pretext of “a more profound understanding” as grounds for changing clearly established moral and religious teachings. Modern man has a “deeper awareness” of human dignity, so we’re going to “develop” some doctrine. Either Vatican I was right or Vatican II was right, but not both.

    This is what the SSPX stands for. They simply want an explanation of how these things can be reconciled. Pope Benedict’s letter to Fellay at the end of his pontificate stated in no uncertain terms that the Pope is the one who gets to declare what teachings are in accordance with tradition. Bishop Fellay, on the other hand, perceived Tradition as an objective body of doctrine in which clearly settled teachings cannot be contradicted by future teachings. The current status of the SSPX tells us everything we need to know about which view of tradition Rome adheres to.

    • Authority is always right even when it is wrong. If we are talking in purely logical terms, there is no such thing as truth, only the currently reigning authority. That kind of situation no longer seems to exist in the RC Church anymore, and the Führerprinzip died with Hitler.

      If the Church wants any credibility, it is time to do away with claims to infallibility and “true church” pretensions. Fortunately, only a minority of conservative laity (and a few clerics) support that view of the Church. Bye-bye, Ultramontanist ecclesiology! 😀

      • CredoUtIntelligam says:

        I agree that the “true church” view is a minority view among RC laity and clergy, and it is highly unlikely Pope Francis believes in the “true church” view. But the “true church” view is very important to converts, such as Newman. Newman thought the Vincentian canon was good as far as it goes, but saw the need for an authority to specify what, exactly, has been believed always, everywhere, and by all. I think his views on development of doctrine were later necessary to explain how this authority sometimes officially taught things that did not appear to be believed always, everywhere, and by all.

        At any rate, the appeal of the RC Church as a bastion of certainty and doctrinal clarity is fading. Pope Francis will be in office long enough to change the composition of the college of cardinals and have a significant influence on the choice of bishops. I think this is probably quite painful for recent converts who were looking for a firm foundation.

      • I have a feeling you are not off the mark. I think Pope Francis is a deeply spiritual man and is concerned to propagate the Gospel in the world and bring people to Christ. In terms of ecclesiology, he will keep his Church something like together for its own faithful, whilst encouraging others to stay in the Churches and ecclesial communities in which they were brought up. I have never once read anything about Pope Francis encouraging conversions from other Christian churches.

        I don’t mock people who are suffering because the weather was sunny yesterday and it’s raining today. Everyone has to sort out what he or she believes and follow it all through.

        None of us has a firm foundation in this world. Those who went to Rome are hoping it’s not going to be “too bad”. We in the Continuing Anglican Churches are marginal and our numbers and resources are tiny. The Anglican Communion ordains women and goes along with the LGBT agenda. The Orthodox Churches are for eastern people who are here in the west for better economic conditions than they would find at home.

        Best to stay where one is or find another basis of spiritual life…

  3. Dale says:

    Very well written and thought-out posting.

    I have always had a problem with Newman’s development of doctrine theory and feel that it may actually be quite heretical; if one accepts, especially from the Roman Catholic viewpoint that such a theory of theology can exist, then why cannot the Protestant Reformation simply be accepted as such development? I understand how someone such as Newman was forced to develop such a convoluted theory when one considers that he must have realized, from his historical/theological studies that the modernist doctrine of the personal infallibility of the Pope cannot be supported through historical analysis; and indeed was in some ways simply a supposed religious reaction to the fall of the Papal states; but what was he to do? Return to Anglicanism and admit his mistake in leaving in the first place? Hardly likely. I am also troubled that this theory has such wide acceptance amongst Roman Catholic liberals who are now applying it to the issue of the ordination of women et cetera.

    I feel that Anglo-Catholicism is indeed bound to historical theology, as best exemplified by the works of J.N.D. Kelly and Bishop Charles Gore, whose basics remain firmly attached to the first centuries and the writings of the Church Fathers, both east and west; personally, I have no interest in speculative theological development…it can lead to all sorts of things, most of them not good. If this is considered to be “frozen” then so be it, the alternative seems to offer very little.

    • then why cannot the Protestant Reformation simply be accepted as such development?

      That was one of my first thoughts when I swam the Tiber in 1981, and the thought never left me. The Ultramontanist would reply that the difference is infallible authority – what I would now call the ecclesiastical Führerprinzip. If this is what we believe, then we really should be listening to Prof. Dawkins who tells us all that he’s concerned for our mental health! Just give up this irrational religion and all will be OK.

      I discussed the issue of Apostolicae Curae recently and how some apply it to the Novus Ordo ordination rites. It is the same thing. Either Anglican orders are invalid and so are Novus Ordo orders, or Novus Ordo orders are valid and so are Anglican orders. Otherwise there is no truth, just the “infallible” will of the dictator. Reason isn’t everything, but mystery is above reason, not against it.

      But to me, Jesus Christ and his Gospel message and the Sacrament of his Incarnation are worth to me more than such rubbish.

      The more I think of it, the more I think in terms of a poisoned chalice!

      • Dale says:

        It has been many, many years since I read Apostolicae Curae, as a very young seminarian, and I came to exactly the same conclusion; if the problem with Anglican orders is lack of intention as stated in the ordination service itself, then this can be ably applied to the new ordination services of the novus ordo. And actually, many Orthodox are indeed making such conclusions; I personally know several bishops (Orthodox, now probably all dead) of the Russian tradition who were receiving Roman priests in their orders if they had been ordained with the old rites or the Byzantine, and demanding a form of conditional re-ordination for those ordained in the new rites. Of course, when one compares simply the manner in which some of the new ordinations are celebrated, with dancing girls and balloons, at least most Anglican, even Canterbury, ordination services still have a modicum of dignity.

        One could also state that perhaps this Latin concept of specific intention is even lacking in some of the Eastern rite ordination services; so in the end, much of the bother seems to be simply an anti-Anglican prejudice on the part of Rome (I am certain that when Deborah mentions that one cannot not be a big C catholic unless one is in communion with Rome, she is not applying this same logic to the East, which seems to suggest that much of this type of conversation is simply bigotry).

  4. Dale says:

    On another thought, when I read the article I was also troubled by this statement:

    “Of course, I no longer believe you can be capital “C” Catholic without being in communion with the Bishop of Rome—that ecclesiology is part of the faith and that includes visible, outward unity.”

    And your response was exactly my thinking as well, if this is true, than what are the Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox? They are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, hence, they must, as we are, only considered as pretend Catholics, effectively liturgical Protestants?

    I have always found it interesting as well as troublesome that when very nice, solid, and very balanced Anglo-Catholics join either Rome or Constantinople, they seem to become ranting true church, our way or the highway, fanatics.

  5. Lazarus says:

    Speaking as an Anglican who did cross the Tiber, I find it hard to imagine that the issue of the uniqueness of the Roman Catholic Church isn’t the main issue dividing most of those who’ve had to make a decision one way or the other here. If you can’t accept that (in some way) the Roman Church is uniquely authoritative, you won’t become a Roman Catholic; and if you can, then you will.

    For those of us who have accepted the uniqueness of that Church and yet genuinely don’t want to rubbish other Christians, particularly when we owe our Catholicism to (say) Anglicanism, that does leave a problem of language and relationships: how do we honestly confess that we are committed to a view that in essence says that we are right and you are wrong, without denigrating others? I don’t think there’s any single answer here. There should be times and places for honest and clear theological debate: and if I, as a Roman Catholic, make claims about the authority of the Church, I should expect to hear others others rejecting that authority equally clearly. Both sides need to be ready to cope with the emotions aroused by such exchanges. There should be other places for mutual appreciation: there is absolutely no point (eg) in a convert from Anglicanism rubbishing everything about it when clearly there is so much good in it.

    In the end I (ironically) find Luther most helpful: hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. I couldn’t (can’t) see any alternative to my becoming a Roman Catholic. I know that others feel equally strongly that they cannot, indeed, must not. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of that stand off any more than I know quite what to make of the fact that many people in this world whom I respect are not Christians. Apart from entering into whatever irenic conversations and exchanges are possible, I will simply pray for them and ask them to pray for me.

    • Thank you for your noble attitude and your obvious sincerity. I can see the difficulty of holding a conviction and treating those who differ with respect. My way of thinking is plain – I have seen so much conflict and intolerance between Christians that I would be inclined to come to one of two possible conclusions: the truth claims of a given church institution are harmful for the Christian way of life and should be abandoned / or / Christianity is intrinsically vitiated and should be abandoned in favour of a non-Christian faith system or atheism. I would prefer to sacrifice the truth claims of church institutional bodies or of certain members thereof. That’s how I see it.

      Any one church body claiming the status of “one true” is necessarily trashing the other bodies that are either counterfeit or heretical / schismatic at best. It deprives itself of its own fulness, if we think of the “two lungs” analogy of Soloviev, Pope John Paul II and others. And, I’m not just thinking of Orthodoxy but also, Anglicanism, Lutheranism and the Reformed denominations. The Church subsists in all of them, and more fully in those Churches with Sacraments and a liturgical life as well as common prayer and sharing the Word of God.

      Its doesn’t cost anything to make such an admission, and it takes nothing away from the joy and consolation of belonging to the Churches we belong to. It may sound like relativism or indifferentism, but it saves Christianity.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father, saying what you are saying does not sound like indifferentism or relativism to me at all: it sounds to me simply that you recognize the universality of the human and divine conditions! It indeed saves Christianity, as you say, because, in my view, the last thing Jesus was on about was a kingdom identified solely with any particular structure: his kingdom was a kingdom of hearts, not of organisations. What other sense can be made of John 18:36?

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear Lazarus, you are absolutely right to follow your conscience. It is conscience alone that can identify the true path, the true way for a person. Your conscience has shown you a true way for you. Everyone’s conscience will do the same for them too.

  6. Lazarus says:

    Thank you, Father, and Stephen K for your gracious replies!

    I think there is a genuine disagreement here: you hold a version of the traditional Anglo-Catholic branch theory of the Church; the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t. And to that extent, there is an implied criticism on both sides and even, at least on the part of Roman Catholicism, a denigration of the other point of view. (Of course, some Protestants would also denigrate the Roman Church by holding it to be, in some way, lacking in scriptural orthodoxy, although I realize this isn’t your position.) I’d like to think we should be able to live with those differences and tensions in a spirit of Christian love rather than either pretending they don’t exist or tearing chunks out of each other.

    I suppose my essential point is that even ‘true church conservatives’ (and although I wouldn’t choose that description, it’s probably a fair enough description of me) don’t necessarily hold our views with the wish to ram them down other Christians’ throats. (Although I appreciate some do.) In part that’s about respect for other people as imagines dei; in part it’s about humility about our own judgments (I have been wrong before and may well be wrong now); in part it’s about that great mystery of salvation before which we all stand.

    • You hold a version of the traditional Anglo-Catholic branch theory of the Church

      I’ll let it stand for the moment until I have time to write about the matter and revise what men like Pusey really wrote. However, there is a difference between the theories pushed about in 19th century Oxford and the thought of men like Soloviev which I find more appealing intellectually.

      In brief, I do not hold a theory that divides the Church ontologically into any number of branches, but I compare the human and divine dimensions of the Church to those of Christ in the Hypostatic Union. For example, Christ could be killed in his humanity but not his divinity. The Church cannot be divided in its divine dimension, but the division of the human institutions are obvious for us all to see.

      Roman Catholics and Orthodox would identify the human and divine elements and say that the parts that broke away are no longer of the Church, and extreme opinion would deny the validity of the Sacraments of the separated communities. Some Orthodox re-baptise Roman Catholic converts, because for them, Roman Catholics are “graceless heretics”.

      Such a view leaves me without hope for the future of Christianity. Fewer and fewer people will be believers and more and more churches will be demolished. As scientists talk more and more about a multiverse than a single universe – many levels of existence like radio frequencies all going at the same time – I think we can talk of a multitude of truths, and not one single truth or no truth at all.

      The Church subsists in each separate part, as I often explain when considering the Blessed Sacrament:

      Fracto demum Sacramento,
      Ne vacilles, sed memento
      Tantum esse sub fragmento
      Quantum toto tegitur.

      Nulla rei fit scissura,
      Signi tantum fit fractura
      Qua nec status nec statura
      Signati minuitur.

      You can break a consecrated host into a thousand fragments, and the whole Christ is present in each and every one of them. I see the Church, as Sacrament of Christ, in the same way.

      That being said, I ought to study Palmer’s work on ecclesiology and see if he makes the distinctions I make. No one is going to win this one as the arguments have raged for nearly 200 years! We’re certainly not going to resolve it on this blog.

    • ed pacht says:

      As for me, even when I held to a “branch theory” and proclaimed it loudly, it never sat well with me. There’s something terribly mechanistic and earth-bound about the metaphor, and I find that it gives me as much discomfort as any of the various “one-true-church” claims. There is one blog I consult occasionally that subtitles itself, “Notes from the Third Branch.” I wince every time I go there. Something feels wrong. Why?

      The Church is visible — I see nothing in Scripture to make me think otherwise, but is it visible in all its organizational structures, or is it visible in what it visibly does? Where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered, the Church is visibly present. How can this be when various groups are separated from one another? Fr. Chadwick’s observation with regard to the scattered bits of consecrated Bread, each of which is indeed the whole Christ is extremely apposite. There are not therefore many Christs, nor is any of the pieces the one true Christ in distinction from the others. Likewise, though there are many congregations and many organizational groupings, there are not many churches, nor is any one of them the one-true-church in distinction from the others.

      • From what little I have read of Palmer’s book (Treatise on the Church of Christ), which I find tedious in its heavy nineteenth-century expression, the notion of “branches” is a very artificial notion. There is a danger in failing to distinguish between the divine / sacramental dimension of the Church and the institutional and canonical aspects, or yet the human dimension. It is, it seems, an answer to Roman Counter-Reformation scholasticism that saw the Church in very material terms. The Church is as visible as the Republic of Venice – said Robert Bellarmine. Today’s conservatives are no less materialistic.

        This is why I used the analogy of the Blessed Sacrament (substance = body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ; accident = unleavened or leavened bread). Bread is broken but Christ remains intact and whole, and subsists in each part. My other favourite analogy is the broken hologram, which is not a Sacrament, but an amazing phenomenon. Break the plate, and you will find a whole image in each part. This was one of the things I discovered in school science that most fascinated me.

        There can only be one Church, but that is the Sacrament of Christ. This is the Mystery aspect of the Church that escapes all human attempts to manipulate it and take ownership of it. When I entertain the idea of the Church subsisting in any number of Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed and Lutheran Churches, most fully where there is the Priesthood and the Sacraments, I also would be inclined to affirm that there are portions of institutional Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and other bodies where the Church is absent. There can be no precise dividing lines, and it is not for us mortals to judge.

        If that is so, then the Church will survive mankind, or the “present generation”, call it what you will.

        All that being said, those who are sympathetic to a different view of the Church need no convincing, and those who are not will never be convinced by anything. So my approach isn’t apologetic but an attempt to understand something of this Mystery that so many reject out of hand.

  7. Lazarus says:

    ‘branch theory’

    Yes, apologies. I knew when I was writing it that this probably didn’t quite represent your views (which is why I chucked in ‘a version of’ to keep it slightly vague). Anyway, I really meant just that you don’t have the same ecclesiology as the Roman Catholic Church.

    • you don’t have the same ecclesiology as the Roman Catholic Church

      With all due respect, the Roman Catholic Church no longer has a single ecclesiology. Cardinal Kasper is still in good standing, and as a Cardinal, represents his Church in what he expresses.

      • Lazarus says:

        Well, that’s a path that would need us to debate the precise nature and operation of teaching authority in the Roman Catholic Church -something I don’t really have the stomach for just now (and in any case something I’d know we’d disagree on)! In any case, it’s clearly one thing to note that this or that churchman, however eminent, holds a view, and another to attribute that view to the Church as a whole.

      • I don’t have the stomach for it either. What happens in an ecclesiastical body I entered and left so long ago no longer concerns me, and this little episode brings home to me the limits of ecumenical dialogue, at least as far as I am concerned.

        When you’re dealing with any number of “true churches”, no dialogue is possible. We all trash each other, so the best thing is the rule of silence – discuss only what is positive in our own traditions. Put up the walls like a hundred years ago! That seems to be the condition of our spiritual and emotional health.

        It is also the best argument of atheists against Christianity or any religion. We really seem to be unredeemed humanity as Nietzsche said!

    • Stephen K says:

      Lazarus, Father, I have had another thought: I think we get too pre-occupied with ‘Church’ and not enough with God. That may have something to do with the fact that churches are tangible beasts and God is a mystery and we don’t really handle mystery all that well, seeking to explain it, whether by “hypostatic union” or “Transsubstantiation” etc. That is one of the reasons why Eastern mysticism and Buddhism can be so refreshing. One understands why liturgy is important, not because it represents a “lex credendi” but because it ushers in and facilitates a “lex tacendi”. William Barclay explains that Jesus spent his first 30 years bound to the support of his mother and brothers and sisters following the death of Joseph, and only ventured into ministry when a younger brother could carry on the responsibility. Jesus did not therefore go to India, or Egypt, as some speculate, to get his radical ideas. But he might have understood people like Gautama and Chuang Tzu very well.

      My main point is that every adjective limits its noun and a true church and a true God are less than their devotees realise.

  8. Pingback: Interesting post by Fr. Anthony Chadwick | Foolishness to the world

    • I’m not going on with the conversation with Deborah Gyapong.

      It seems that I “Fr. Anthony seems to default to a binary/black vs. white/ either/or thinking at times“. This presumably means I am not to be allowed the use of any distinctions for the purpose of reasoning. This is how it always has been with her, and one of the reasons I decided to destroy the old English Catholic blog – because the subject of the blog had always to be the same.

      • ed pacht says:

        That indeed is a very peculiar statement on her part, following on a discussion of how, though she learned much in Baptist and Anglican circles, yet the Roman Church is in and of itself the Catholic Church. She sounds pretty black & white to me. Actually, it’s a classic example of new convert syndrome. I recognize it well, as I thought the same way on entering a Pentecostal denomination that itself claimed to be the one true church, and did a fine job of preaching its distinctives. It wasn’t, and isn’t, and neither is Rome.

        Her statement not only follows on that, but also on a plea that commenters stop bashing one another. What else was she doing? I hope that, over time, she will recover the sharp mind I used to see. I don’t need to have her and others agree with me, but I don’t find this new convert smugness very appealing at all.

      • I mulled the matter over in my mind today. As things are, there is nothing more to say and I shake the dust from my feet. It seems that the only Roman Catholics I sympathise with are those who have never been anything else – just good cradle Roman Catholics. All those I know here in France – who are not traditionalists – make no “true church” claims.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Interesting thought…But seems true to my experience. Got me thinking of an ancient Greek lady I once knew at church. Never met an EO babushka (forget the Greek word) who wasn’t humble. Just come to church to light a candle, say her prayers, and be in the presence of God. They don’t worry about ecclesiology. And wouldn’t even if they could.


    Hello deborah, have you found out anything in regard to the position of ex,catholics entering the priesthood, as did Fr, Ed Meeks, when others in the same situation have been denied ordination within the ORDINARIATE. Just Interested. BILL H.

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