Friday, November 04, 2005

Validity of Orders

Back over in Are Anglicans Really Catholic? Al Kimel made the following observation:
I was only noting that for both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the question of validity of their Orders is simply not a question for them. Why? Because they “know” that they are the catholic Church and therefore they know their ministerial Orders must be valid.

Well, not exactly. Catholics must also "know" Orthodox orders to have been valid because there is a sense in which Catholic orders, springing as they do from a common origin, are dependent in the past on Orthodox orders. In that sense, it's not hard to take the same analogy over to Anglican orders...

...if you feel so moved. Because, again, the ultimate test of validity of orders is whether they "work". Having come into the Episcopal Church without subjecting it to any theological criticism whatsoever, I found myself simply excepting the validity of its ministers, because they were my ministers. It never occurred to me to question, when I changed parishes, whether the sacraments of the rector of St. Mark's Highland were valid: I was an Episcopalian, and St. Mark's was (and is) an Episcopal church, and he was then an Episcopal priest, and where's the problem?

The problem now is that this priest was the Rev. Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., the author of the above quote. And his writings here are not so much renunciations of his old orders, as denunciations. My credulity simply will not stretch as far as this. I received the body and blood from his hands, and as far as I'm concerned, that's better evidence that the Roman theory of Anglican invalidity is horsehockey than any amount of theologizing can produce.

And now that Al has another post on the matter, I must step up to that word "catholic". Here we get caught in the question-begging titular usage of the word by the Roman church, which for sake of any kind of intellectual honesty must be set aside. "Catholic" doesn't mean simply being derivative of what is now the Roman church, and the Roman church will admit this when backed into a corner. To say that the Roman church is Catholic is only to say that it has certain properties.

But again, this falls down into "where I am, there is the church". I spent a decade in a Presbyterian church saying that I believed in "the holy Catholic church", which of course I assumed meant in some sense my own church. After all, as this Wikipedia article points out, mainline protestants of all sorts were saying the same thing in church. What they meant by it, on one level, was faith in the unity of the church through space and time.

These days it seems to me that those who started using the word meant what the Eastern churches today mean by it, and not what the Romans mean by it. I say this only because those who use the term don't have as much control over it as they might think. But what's more striking is the observation that the word was from the beginning used not to include, but to exclude.

Catholicity is ultimately not about who's in the church, but who is outside the church. Its meaning ends up being subjective because it means "what is sufficiently alien from my church as to be excluded".

Going back to the Wikipedia article again, the author goes on to identify a subclass of catholicism in which certain attitudes about sacraments, ecclesiology, and praxis are shared. This is where the problem becomes acute because Anglicans as a rule share views with the Roman and Eastern churches on this set of points, while disagreeing with other views shared by the latter two groups. And on this set of views, they diverge from the other protestants, to the point where some are reluctant to even consider them protestant. But either way Anglicans are going to mean "catholic" in a way that reflects their history.

And we as converts can be suspected of our usage reflecting our personal histories. With respect to someone theologically rejecting Anglicanism for the Roman church, "Catholic" can be taken to mean "not Anglican". Taxonomy is overwhelmed by politics.

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