Retroactive Truth

I have just seen Fr Robert Hart’s new article – Round up the usual suspects. He and I haven’t always seen eye to eye between his attachment to the Prayer Book and the Thirty-Nine Articles and my “pre-Reformation” and “Gallican” approach to Anglicanism. For this new article, I find his analysis interesting.

He reminds me of ideas from some Roman Catholic polemicists like (for example) the idea according to which Hans Küng was condemned by the Council of Trent or Pope Pius X. Trent took place in the sixteenth century and Pius X died in 1914. Küng was born in 1928. I suppose that what was meant is that Trent condemned certain propositions by Reformers of that time and Pius X opposed ideas by the Modernists. A parallel by analogy is drawn, and Küng’s ideas are compared with those of the Modernists and Protestant reformers. It is a strange method of working, likened to “anachronism” in historical study. An example of such an erroneous method would be judging the medieval Inquisition by the standards of the Enlightenment. We all do it, but that is no excuse!

Fr Hart has been astute enough to pick up this strange methodology. One example he gives is Henry VIII being seen as a Liberal and a direct cause of the Church of England’s decision to go ahead with women bishops by the simple fact of breaking away from communion with the Pope. Falsus in uno falsus in omnibus. Find one rotten floorboard in a house and the whole house must be demolished! Burn them all and God will recognise his own.

Nonetheless, there it is again; the root argument, trying to put an entirely unhistorical idea into a historical context. In short, it is based on the notion that everything that develops in history is rendered inevitable due to some key moment seen as its flawed origin. By that argument we could blame everything from Arianism to the Crusades on the original establishment of the Church by Christ Himself. He must have gotten something wrong, because, well…look at what happened centuries later.

By this argument every criminal’s grandparents should be convicted, if even posthumously, for their descendant’s crimes. If modern Church of England Anglicans are consecrating women as bishops, well then, that just proves that the Church of England Reformers were really Liberals in disguise. “Ergo,” argue the polemicists, “all of Anglicanism has been false all along.” Therefore, they would further argue, even the Orders of Continuing Anglicans must not be valid; not because of anything that happened in the sixteenth century, but because of a decision made in 2014. Roman polemicists are good at retroactive truth in general, so we should not be surprised.

The lesson here is that we need to be critical, considering events and ideas as they are, with some comparison with older ideas, but also with necessary distinctions. It is more difficult to be critical than to tar everyone with the same brush. The man who wrote Pascendi was not Pope Pius X but probably Mery del Val. That piece of Papal teaching seemed to confuse someone like Tyrrell with exactly his adversaries. Tyrrell lived only for the first decade of the twentieth century and sought to make Christianity credible for the critics of his time. Contemporary critics would now say that nothing more can be done for Christianity – and either it is possible to recover a few ideas from the Gospel or that an alternative philosophy to promote peace and harmony between human beings must be found and Christianity should be consigned to the scrap heap of unworkable ideologies and gods that failed. There is a vast difference between Protestantism, Modernism as an attempt to find a credible apologetic method in the face of modern science and rationalism, and the erosion of Christianity by an underlying conviction that Monotheism is the single cause of all human conflict and evil.

I won’t comment on Fr Hart’s final two paragraphs. It is another infra-Anglican subject for discussion. What is Protestant? Having a greater devotion to the Holy Scriptures than the average “Joe Catholic”, or being an anti-liturgical iconoclast? One again, words need to be carefully defined, otherwise they mean different things to different people.

In the end, Fr Hart and I belong to the same Church, the ACC, and confreres treat each other with respect and pray for each other. I apologise to him for offensive things I have said to him (in private) when I was in the TAC and trying to defend Archbishop Hepworth in my stubborn loyalty. He and I are of about the same age and we are both musicians. Perhaps he sails too. If he doesn’t, he certainly loves the great outdoors. I hope one day to meet him at the Provincial Synod and (figuratively) smoke a pipe of peace.

I too have read some of the flurries of comments from conservative RCs about the Church of England going ahead with women bishops. Some would like to have Anglican clergy on the virtual torture table of Orwell’s Room 101, and tell them that they can only “convert to the true church” or spiritually die and embrace modern materialism. Schadenfreude does not become us. Some Anglicans remain in the system for material reasons, and others from a sense of loyalty and emotional attachment. Who can blame them for not being heroes? We need to pray for our brethren in the Church of England. As Fr Hart points out, the ACC and other Continuing Churches are options. We are not the true Church, but a true Church, a Church in a Church of Churches as Fr Tillard (my old dogmatic theology professor at Fribourg) put it. People have free choices with free consciences.

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2 Responses to Retroactive Truth

  1. Stephen K says:

    Of course the ACC is a true church! Of course it is a part of the Church! As indeed is the Church of England, with or without women bishops. They both contain and revolve around people who believe in Jesus Christ and desire to live according to His Way. Really, there’s no more to be said on that subject that isn’t a colossal waste of time.

    • Thank you. We hit upon the old dilemma between truth and tolerance, religious fundamentalism and liberalism. Most of what passes for religion is mental illness as our atheist friends like to repeat. If the institutional churches have to crumble away and their treasures have to be squandered away, it is the price of rediscovering the spiritual dimension. I am far from that ideal myself, but I understand why the toys have to be taken away and our future to be one of desolation and darkness until the old leaven is gone. I just hope our little Churches can hold out so that not absolutely everything is lost.

      The “true church” cranks will go on and on whatever we say, and in the end we can only ignore them if constructive blogging is to have any future.

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