Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Anglicanism in Eastern Orthodox Perspective

There's a fascinating interview with Terry Mattingly about Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy - and the current predicament of The Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church - up at the Conciliar Press website.

To be sure, Mattingly's Eastern Orthodox perspective is conservative. But regardless of one's theological views, he makes some important observations that are worth reading and taking seriously.

Here are a few teasers:

[Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey] was a very Anglo-Catholic, very conservative, traditional Anglican. He said that the mission of Anglicanism was to become Orthodoxy in the West and seek union with the Church of the East. Now I had always heard ecumenism in an Anglican context discussed in terms of ecumenical work with Rome. That was the first time I ever knew that there was a stage when ecumenical ties with Orthodoxy were actually much greater.

The heart of the Anglican compromise boils down to putting St. John Chrysostom and John Calvin in the same pew. But neither one of those men want to be there. There are things on which they do not agree with each other, and they would not compromise. And yet the Anglican compromise tried to have both sides of a Protestant and ancient equation be equal. You simply can’t pull that off.

Anglicans are highly skilled and genuinely talented in compromise. When you say that Anglicanism is the church of the via media—the middle way—that implies a kind of compromise position between two camps that often don’t want to compromise. And on moral and social issues, what you have ended up with is a never-ending march to the left—because you’re constantly compromising on the church traditions of the ages. This steadily, slowly but surely, pulls you to the theological left on critical issues.

Right now, what we have is two groups of true believers who don’t want to compromise. It’s so interesting that sexuality ended up being the line in the sand, when it could have been—and I argued it should have been—the Resurrection. Why when Anglican bishops began to deny historic doctrines related to the Incarnation and Resurrection and salvation through Christ alone, and other critical doctrines, why didn’t the war break out then? Whereas now it has broken out over sexuality.

... sexuality gets covered in the media, whereas a doctrine about theological language is harder for the press to cover. The other thing frankly is that the theological left has learned how to state its beliefs about Resurrection and Incarnation in a way that sounds OK. And, they’re very hard to pin down. In other words, you could talk about the hope of the Resurrection, but you’ve redefined what all the words mean. You need to understand that Anglicanism defines itself as being united by certain liturgical texts—but you don’t have to all agree on what the words mean.

Read it all.


bls said...

I don't think it boils down to "putting St. John Chrysostom and John Calvin in the same pew." Since these two don't agree with one another, they will naturally gravitate towards others with whom they do agree. Neither would likely find a home in Anglicanism - something for which, to be honest, I'm quite grateful. Anglicanism is by nature moderate; what we're seeing now is by nature extreme. The red herring - and the subtle TEC-bashing - in the argument is that there exist portions of the church that say "Jesus in not Lord." All of us agree that Jesus is, truly, the standard and the focus.

I read the article and while I understand your enthusiasm for the idea of "Western Orthodoxy," I don't think Terry Mattingly has gotten much right. I did find the Celtic connection a bit interesting, but also find it annoying that TM is trying to co-opt it for the Orthodox Church!

I don't want to be Orthodox, for many reasons - one of which is that as it stands I am not even considered a baptized Christian! I do agree that we take the same positions on many issues, though, and I do appreciate Orthodox liturgies for their meditative quality, their beauty, and their glorious language. I think that's the real reason Anglicans find the Church attractive anyway.

We are part of the Western tradition, though, for which I give thanks. It's that tradition that produced St. Francis and St. John of the Cross, after all. Anyway, I don't think it's necessarily a good thing to emulate something else; Anglicanism is, as I've read many places, sui generis and needs to follow its own path. Let the Calvins and Chrysostoms do their thing and let us do ours.

Thanks for letting me ramble. I really like your blog.

Bryan+ said...

Thanks being the first person to comment on my blog! (Sorry that I don't have any prizes to offer.)

I realized in posting this interview that not everyone would agree with Mattingly's perspective either in whole or in part. But I do think it is a provocative perspective that, while it may not necessarily offer the "right" answers, does at least hone in on some of the important questions.

I think it has the further merit of forcing those of us who are committed to the Anglican tradition - and particularly those among us who think that the core doctrine articulated by the historic creeds is essential and non-negotiable - to face up to the reality that our historic identity as a via media Church is not working so well these days. To quote from the Collect appointed for the feast day of Richard Hooker, we're having a difficult time maintaining a middle way that entails "comprehension for the sake of truth" rather than compromise for the sake - not of peace - but of left or right agendas. And the left is winning the fight.

As an Anglican Centrist and Creedal Christian, that kind of imbalance and the drift away from the historic faith it entails concerns me.

BTW, it's not accurate to say that the Orthodox don't recognize our baptisms. When my brother became Greek Orthodox, he received chrismation, but was not re-baptized. It's helpful to remember that, in Eastern Orthodoxy, the rite of initiation is a unitive rite, whereas in the West it got split between the water bath and a post-baptismal welcome by the bishop with hand laying and anointing with chrism (we Westerners call this confirmation).

It's an imperfect analogy, but viewed through the lens of Western practice, my brother was "confirmed" as a Greek Orthodox Christian.

I find it fascinating how often it happens that, when Orthodox Christians live somewhere that doesn't have an Orthodox Church, they often will attend an Episcopal Church and take Communion from us. In my former parish, for instance, there was a guy who was Greek Orthodox who sang in the choir. When he moved to another city that did not have an Orthodox Church, he attended the Episcopal Church there. But he still saw himself as Orthodox, not as an Episcopalian.

bls said...

I definitely agree with the last thing; Orthodox and Anglican worship and ecclesiology have much in common. But there are other places where we really go our separate ways, and I think some of those are pretty serious. I really appreciate the Anglican openness to re-examining itself and how it does things - women's ordination being a prime example - although of course, this can be a fault as well. I might consider the Orthodox Church for its theology and worship, but I just can't get beyond the "never-changing" thing (and a few other issues). I do think that TEC has made some moves in the direction of early orthodox worship, though - putting Eucharistic Prayer D, the Phos Hilaron, and some of the stuff in the Burial Rite into the 1979 - and would be quite happy to continue in that direction. Perhaps we can unearth some Celtic liturgies and see what those have to offer (if any still exist, that is)?

Thanks for the info on Baptism; I've heard from others who had the opposite experience, so perhaps this varies from group to group? BTW, here's another blogger who thinks Mattingly is right. So there you are!

(Glad to be first on you blog! I'm disappointed that I don't get a prize, though.... ;-) )

Bryan+ said...

Thanks for the blog link.

I'm sure you're quite right about the differences among the Orthodox in attitudes towards the validity of baptism outside the Orthodox Church, etc. The little I know of Eastern Orthodoxy suggests that there is more diversity there than may initially meet the eye.

Your point about never-changing vs. openness to change is also important. That is definitely something that, points of overlap notwithstanding, differentiates Anglicanism from Orthodoxy (as, for example, the ordination of women demonstrates).

I like the way the late James E. Griffiss puts it in his book THE ANGLICAN VISION (Cowley, 1997): " ... our history and foundations [as Anglicans] demonstrates a pattern of continuity and change - continuity with the tradition of the gospel we have received in Christ and, at the same time, a willingness to interpret and understand that gospel as changing situations might require" (p. 101).

Maintaining the balance between continuity and change is the heart of the Anglican way. It's why I'm an Anglican Centrist (with an admittedly conservative bent when it comes to creedal orthodoxy).

I also think that what Griffiss is talking about is like walking a tight-rope. If it's not done with great care, it's easy to fall off on one side or the other.

The source of my concern about the Episcopal Church today is that I think this balance is out of whack. We're falling off the tight-rope. And so the Episcopal Right tends to guard continuity with tradition at the expense of legitimate change. And the Episcopal Left tends to ignore and at times even jettison continuity with tradition for the sake of change ("progress").

It concerns me that we could be becoming (or already are) a post-Anglican Church in which there is no via media a la Griffiss, a Church in which we all have to choose: will it be continuity with tradition, or will it be change for the sake of "progress"?

bls said...

Well, if it makes you feel any better, an acquaintance of mine always says "Angllicanism is the anvil that has worn out innumerable hammers." I bet it will be true this time, too.

The problem today is the openness of the media and the fact that we can all interconnect and scream at each other. And of course, that's just what's happening - so I agree there is a danger of flaming out because of over-familiarity if nothing else. Change happens faster these days because of this kind of contact, too - but I bet over the long haul it will all settle down.

I think mainly we just have to put our attention back to worship and mission and let everything else go while this all moves the way it's supposed to. It all seems to be working out along a central line anyway - lurches to each side notwithstanding.

And not everybody's against us - just the loudest, for now. We can take it.

Bryan+ said...

That's a great quote. May the Anglican anvil prove strong enough to withstand the beating it's currently taking!

Anonymous said...

obviously, the fact that anglicanism and orthodoxy cant compromise is for many reasons. anglicans cant grasp the fact that jesus himself was baptised by john. however, in pauls letter to the phillipians, he states that the baptism process is wrong. What????????? There are many differed opinion on this issue. However, my opinion is that all religions and beliefs should be respected.

Bryan Owen said...


I'm an Anglican and I "grasp the fact" that John baptized Jesus. Indeed, we remember that crucial event every single year on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. We call it "The Baptism of Our Lord."

As far as Paul rejecting "the baptismal process" in his letter to the Philippians goes, I have no idea what you're talking about.

I disagree that all religions and beliefs should be respected. Some beliefs do not deserve our respect because they are morally vicious (such as the view among some racist Christians that Jews are the spawn of Satan).