Saturday, April 05, 2014

Schism and Continuum

One of the central tenets, it seems, of the Anglican Communion is that Heresy is preferable to Schism. James McCord (a Presbyterian) is famous for saying "If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy. As a schismatic, you have torn and divided the body of Christ. Choose heresy every time." This has been endorsed by many an Anglican or Episcopalian (notably the Bishop of Virginia in 2004, Washington Post 31/01/2004), and it is a stick that the Anglican Communion has often used to beat the Continuing Anglican movement. Continuing Anglicans are worse, in the eyes of the "mainstream" Anglican, because they have sought to tear the body of Christ in sunder rather than accept the heresies of some parts of the Communion.

Dr C.B. Moss explains that the Church has forbidden its members from taking part in Schismatic worship, "first, that those who join in such worship may easily be infected by false doctrine, in particular the notion that it does not matter what we believe or what denomination we belong to; second that even if they are not infected themselves, they may cause others to be so, especially the young and badly instructed; third, that our duty towards those outside is not to encourage them in their separation, but to persuade them to come back."( The Christian Faith pp284-5)

It always pays us to be as clear as possible, not that we can ever presume on the judgment of God, but rather that it helps us to see what the issues are and help us to reason with our poor little minds with fewer obstacles that we place in the way of the Divine light. We have to know what heresy is, and what schism is.

Heresy, as we know, has at its root the idea of choice and an exercise of the will. After the Maccabees and before Christianity, a Hebrew could have the choice of three "heresies" and become an Essene, a Sadducee, or a Pharisee. These were properly sects within Judaism as they were "cut" (hence sect) from each other. The whole idea of heresy is a consequence of God's gift of free-will to us; we are free to choose the ungodly as well as the godly, and heresy is the choice in which we decide not to follow the teaching of the Church.We are of course aware of the great heresies which were condemned at the first seven Oecumenical Councils and how this caused schisms, notably with the monophysite churches.

Schism, according to St Thomas Aquinas, is the wilful separation of the Unity of the Church. Yet, is this something that is understood by the Early Church? St Paul bids the Corinthians "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions (schismata) among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (I Cor i.10) Yet Dr Moss and Dr Staley (The Catholic Faith) both talk of schism within the Church as well as from it. What could this mean?

 Dr Moss states that schism within the church is "a breach in communion between local churches, though neither side has changed the fundamental faith and order of the Church"(p 281 The Christian Faith). What does he mean by the "fundamental faith"? He says (p 282), "Queen Elizabeth claimed that she and her people were as good Catholics as anyone else. Both sides kept the same faith and order, the same creeds sacraments, and ministry as before the schism." Thus, by "fundamental faith", we understand the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the Faith of the Early Church.

Dr Moss then states that Schism from the Church as being "the revolt of a group of persons, large or small, who separate themselves from the Church by rejecting her faith and order: for instance the Reformation at Geneva." He cites Calvin here as rejecting the Church itself rather than just the accretions to the faith of Medieval Catholicism and thus he concludes from this that the Anglican Church has never been Calvinist in its essence since Anglicanism became distinct from Roman Catholicism as a schism within the Church and not from it. Since Anglicans, Romans and the Eastern Catholic Churches believe in the visibility of the Church, they can suffer schism. Other groups which do not believe in the visibility of the Church have no visible body from which to break, thus they can only separate.

Yet, we have another situation in that the Eastern Church and the Roman Church excommunicated each other in the great schism of the eleventh century. Now, is this a schism within the Church, or is it a schism from the church? The Anglican would say that it is schism within the Church, yet East and West would declare that it is schism from the Church. Again, the supremacy of the Pope is a sticking point and, while there were certain concessions on the filioque clause at the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century, this was not enough for the schism to end. The Anglican will call this schism within the Church since neither the Romans nor the Eastern Church have altered the basic Faith but merely added prescriptions, proscriptions and dogmata for their followers. In Roman, Eastern, Anglican, and indeed, the truly Old Catholic Churches, the Holy Scriptures are being read and interpreted through the Tradition of the Early Church, the Seven Oecumenical Councils with their creeds are held, and the Holy Sacraments distributed as they always have been.

The question I am now looking to understand is whether one can be schismatic but not heretical? Are there such things, as the Romans teach, as pure schism (without heresy) and mixed schism (with heresy)? The Romans, of course, cannot teach about schism within the Church, for at least one body involved in the schism would fail to be in communion with the Pope. In Roman eyes, one must be in communion with the Pope in order to hold the Catholic Faith, so a breach of communion would be impossible to hold without a breach from Roman Catholic Faith and Order.

However, like all continuing Anglicans, I fail to accept that the Roman definition of Catholicism is true. I may, and indeed gladly, hold to the Pope as the Patriarch of the West, the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter and the primus inter pares of bishops, but I cannot see him as a monarch, a bishop of bishops or as the sole Infallible arbiter of the Catholic Faith. The Modern Papacy does fail the Vincentian Canon. This belief makes me, in the eyes of Rome, a heretic and schismatic from the Church. That's the problem when one adds to the faith something that isn't actually there.

Now what about the hypothetical accusation from someone in the Anglican Communion that I, as a Continuing Anglican, am actually schismatic? Again, we have to go back to what it means to be schismatic and as whether I am schismatic within the Church or from the Church. Considering that, as a Continuing Anglican, I hold the same fundamental faith as Drs Moss and Staley, and belong to a church in which this fundamental faith is practiced just as it has been practiced before the Anglican church was forced to be continuing. Do I obey the Bishop of Rochester? No. So in the eyes of the Anglican Church, if  I am schismatic, then I am so within the Church and not from it.

Suppose, then, that a member of the Established Church were to call me schismatic. To do so necessarily presupposes that a schism exists. If that schism exists, then where is it? Well, first let us consider, was there ever the ordination of women in the Catholic Church? Answer: no, despite many attempts by modernists to prove the opposite. The only ordinations of women in the Early Church were made by Montanists who were not Catholic, but heretic. So to ordain women as priests is indeed a change in doctrine, since the Catholic doctrine is that the subject of ordination must be a baptised, confirmed, communicant male. This is a change to the Catholic Faith because it is a change to the definition of the sacraments. If the Continuing Anglicans have not accepted this change, then they cannot be in schism from anyone because they have not changed position. The schismatic body must be the Established Church and, further, because there is a change in faith, this seems very much like a Schism from the Church.

If there is a schism from the Church, then anyone in communion with the schismatic body, is of course endangering themselves in the way that Dr Moss describes. One might say that they cannot understand the importance of what they believe. Yet for many traditionalists within the Established Church, leaving the establishment would be a major life change as they reject stipend, home, living for what they believe. One cannot force them to do that and it must happen only on the strength of their conscience.

IHowever, if a member of the Anglican Communion regards the Anglican Continuum as schismatic, then "He hath graven and digged up a pit : and is fallen on himself into the destruction that he made for other." (Psalm vii.16)

It is, of course, much more preferable to leave all these uncharitable declarations of schism and heresy to the annals of history. If we are to learn any lesson at all from this business of schism, then it is that we had better be convinced by God that we walk in The Way and then commit ourselves wholeheartedly to it. If we are sincere and honest in our dealings, loving in all our ways, and holding tight to the faith once delivered to the saints then schism and heresy will not affect us, neither will accusations of schism and heresy. We continuing Anglicans will continue to do what the Church of England always did.


Auriel Ragmon said...

'Yet, we have another situation in that the Eastern Church and the Roman Church excommunicated each other in the great schism of the eleventh century. Now, is this a schism within the Church, or is it a schism from the church? The Anglican would say that it is schism within the Church, yet East and West would declare that it is schism from the Church.'

Father, one has to be careful here since the excommunications were personal, directed at specific people at that time(the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope) yet there were places where intercommunion survived for many years. Incidentally,these excommunications were lifted a number of years ago. The truth is that the RC Church added doctrines to the original 'deposit of faith' which the Orthodox have never accepted. So they moved on, and we get closer together spiritually and yet further apart dogmatically.

Not sure where this will end, maybe just agree to disagree, but what we both (RC and Orth)as the intrinsic 'disunity' within Anglicanism poses a big problem.

James Morgan (EO in North America)

Warwickensis said...

Thank you Reader James. In my attempt to be reasonably brief I had missed those details you mention.

The disunity within Anglicanism is indeed a big problem for all of us. We in the ACC try to be clear about what we mean, and often we get criticised (sometimes vehemently) for it by those of other Anglican stripes who do not like our attempts at dogmatics.

However, we do what we can and try to be true to our convictions. It will all end one day in the glorious return of Our Lord who will put us all right. I am convinced of that through the very creed that unites Roman, Eastern and Anglican Catholic Churches.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Reader James brings up some excellent points. However, at the same time as occasional acts of intercommunion were taking place after 1054, even up to the 17th Century, other words and deeds by both sides spoke the language of schism during this very same period. E.g., ongoing excision of the Pope from the relevant liturgical intercessions across the East, anti-Eastern polemics by official RC apologists like Aquinas, Councils confessedly called to achieve reunion.

Therefore, unity was visibly broken, but not annihilated entirely. Which pretty much supports the applied ecclesiology of Anglican Catholicism, which affirms the Catholic dogma that the Church is visible and one, but denies the common opinion that the unity is always perfectly and manifestly visible. In other words, to paraphrase Bp K. Ware (I think), we can know where the Church is, but not always where it isn't!

However, there is in fact an abundance of evidence for this in the ancient and mediaeval Church, as I discussed here:

Personally, call me "old school", but I am quite happy for a continuation of using the words schism and heresy. Good enough for the Fathers, good enough for me. Mainstream Anglicanism has become schismatic and heretical for the most part. There, I said it. :-)