Perhaps it should go without saying that the Anglican Communion has a mixed history with the seven ecumenical councils. Like the Orthodox, Anglicans cannot accept Rome’s reduction of “ecumenical council” to mean a general synod called by the pope. Yet I suspect that most Anglicans — including many who call themselves Anglo-Catholics — remain deeply suspicious of claims to “infallibility” about councils, even when, regarding the seven, such a notion is held consistently in both East and West.
This suspicion is unfortunate—or so I hope to show in this brief essay. It is unfortunate first of all because it ignores the grammar implicit in calling something an ecumenical council. A council becomes ecumenical not because, crudely, everybody was there, but because it was eventually received as having proper dogmatic authority in the whole world. ...
What any conception of “ecumenical” takes for granted, then, is that in order to call something ecumenical one must be part of the Church. It is the Church itself, as the Body of Christ, that reveals its wholeness, not some external secular principle. Accordingly, we cannot seek to judge the councils from some neutral ground. That, in Vladimir Lossky’s words, “would be to judge Christianity from a non-Christian standpoint: in other words, to refuse in advance to understand anything whatever about the object of study. For objectivity in no wise consists in taking one’s stand outside an object but, on the contrary, in considering one’s object in itself and by itself” (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976], 12). ...
Where does all this leave us as Anglicans? Our problem, as has been made painfully clear in the current crisis, is that we do not really know who we are. It will not do to defer to scripture as if scripture stands outside the catholic and ecumenical tradition, for this attitude easily suggests, however unintentionally, that we read the scriptures alone, and that we alone mediate their interpretation.
Instead, let us follow the vision of Lambeth 1920, at which the bishops urged “every branch of the Anglican Communion” to “prepare its members for taking their part in the universal fellowship of the reunited Church, by setting before them the loyalty which they owe to the universal Church, and the charity and understanding which are required of the members of so inclusive a society” (Resolution 15).
Read it all.
While noting that the very idea of following the ecumenical vision of Lambeth 1920 is all but laughable for The Episcopal Church these days (and one either laughs in sorrow or joy), I read Keyes as offering a critique of the sola scriptura approach that, as he puts it, places the authority of scripture "outside the catholic and ecumenical tradition." It's a critique of the tendency towards hyper-Protestantism in The Episcopal Church on all sides, a tendency that places Anglicans/Episcopalians outside the Universal Church.
In other words, I read this piece as a critique of the "three-legged stool" model of authority that pits scripture over and against tradition as though the two can be so neatly separated. As Keyes writes, "To the fathers, truth was not an achievement, but a gift - a tradition (literally: handed down). The scriptures were the heart of this gift, but they could not be abstracted from the giving." Abstracting scripture from the tradition that gives it, scripture loses its grounding in truth and becomes simply another manifestation of division (rival wills to interpretation). That, too, is another manifestation of the "Protestant prerogative" to assert one's own individual conscience over and against the Universal Church.
As one Eastern Orthodox Christian who read this article told me: "Scripture simply makes no sense outside of tradition. The idea that the Ecumenical Councils' job was the interpretation of scripture would strike us as bizarre."