15 June 2023

"Baptismal Ecclesiology"

This reproduces a post which I publishedin June 2010.

 An interesting article by one of our brightest theologians, Dr Colin Podmore, in Ecclesiology 6 (2010) 8-38. It traces the development in an organisation called The Episcopal Church (I think this is something to do with what most of us call PECUSA) of a 'theology' which is based upon taking Baptism to be the whole of Christian Initiation.

We all know what Gregory Dix would have thought of this abolition of the Seal of the Spirit (which we call Confirmation or Consignation) In his delightfully provocative way, realising what a cat it would put among the ecumaniac pigeons, he once opined that Confirmation as the gift of the Spirit was more important than the water-bit of Initiation; which inspired a liberal evangelical called Lampe to devote a whole book to trying, unsuccessfully, to demolish Dix.

This new Yankee heresy goes on see all Christian Ministry as simply a diversified set of applications of the Spirit bestowed on all alike at Baptism. Thus Lay, Diaconal, Presbyteral, and Episcoal ministries all sit together as outworkings of that one charisma. This, of course, has implications for the question of the presbyteral ordination of women; indeed, given their premises, it is easy to understand how Pecusans feel that 'denying' priesthood to women is a pretty radical error.

The whole question is very interesting and Colin deals with it in his usual lucid, and painstaking, way. I will mention only one aspect of the matter. As Colin points out, this new foundational dogma runs up against the agreement of ARCIC in 1973 that the ministry of the ordained "is not an extension of the common Christian priesthood but belongs to another realm of the gifts of the Spirit". I think I am right in saying that this ARCIC agreement received the approval of Lambeth Conference and of most Anglican provinces, including PECUSA. In other words, the new American heresy has been introduced and made structural within the canons, liturgy, and life of PECUSA in despite of an ecumenical agreement.

There is nothing particularly unnatural about such a thing happening. It is a plan fact that ecclesial bodies, and their thinking, move ever onward. As a community progresses to embrace what it sees an an exciting clarification of the Christian Faith, it doesn't very often stop to say "Oops! That would contradict such-and-such a dusty old Ecumenical Agreement! We can't go down that path! What a shame!"

But, in our present 'ecumenical winter' some people, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and (CMOC) Westminster, have argued that the ARCIC agrrements have not been rendered useless; they are there, in the bank, as it were, waiting for the time when they will be able to bear fruit.

I find it hard to believe that Archbishop Rowan is stupid enough actually to believe this. He knows perfectly well that Theology moves on, and very often does so quite radically (the ARCIC document on Justification, for example, had already been rendered obsolete when it was published by the 'New Look in Pauline Studies' associated with the name of E P Sanders). Even a very good book (or ecumenical document) is extremely lucky if it doesn't look quaintly dated thirty years after its composition. The idea that, when the 'winter' thaws, the ARCIC accords will look like anything other than old-fashioned period pieces, is so silly that Archbishop Rowan's attitude can only be a mark of the extent to which his hopes (and those of many good men like him) have been bankrupted by the divergent course taken by worldwide Anglicanism as it steers definitively away from the Great Tradition. How great his despair clearly is, that he can only think of something as dotty as that to say.


John Patrick said...

It has been a long while since the Anglican church in the USA was referred to as the Protestant Episcopal Church USA (PECUSA). It is now just known as "The Episcopal Church" (TEC). I suspect early on in our history they were trying to not appear too Catholic or English at a time when neither of those attributes were looked on favorably. Less of an issue today.

Back before I re-swam the Tiber I was a member of a very Anglo-Catholic parish of said church which oddly enough was still listed in the phone book as "St. James Protestant Episcopal Church" even though it didn't appear very Protestant when one attended Mass there. I left there in 1999 so I have no idea what it is like now. Of course it wasn't 100% Catholic as far as the congregation was concerned - I remember the murmuring when the rector brought in a statue of St. James - graven images! I still have fond memories of the Triduum complete with stripping of the altar and all night vigils at the altar of repose Maundy Thursday, Veneration of the Cross and Mass of the presanctified on Friday, and Easter Vigil with singing of the Exultet. It was a come-down to attend the Novus Ordo versions after I reverted.

My impression is that anyone in the TEC that is still an actual Christian, if they have not swum the Tiber and headed to the Ordinariate, has probably joined the rival ACNA (Anglican Church of North America) which still professes actual Christian beliefs.

El Codo said...

The great and unmatchable Gregory Dix. I always remember reading that wonderful paragraph which we all know, in an Evangelical Anglican College, and feeling a surge of emotion as the Protestant shackles began to fall a clattering onto the floor. This was in the heyday of ARCIC when so many of us were so hopeful and excited. Of course, the Polar bear turned out to be a pile of clothes and the game was up. Why did he not swim the Tiber?

William Tighe said...

"Why did he not swim the Tiber?"

Maybe because he died in 1952?

Bill Murphy said...

Yes, Father. Ecumenical documents and earnest hopes become horribly dated very quickly. Like this article - at first I did not realise you had written it in 2010. CMOC?? Oh, yes, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. (RIP). The guy who explained that our Ecumenical journey was like a motorway with no exits....