Thursday, March 01, 2007

Serial Catholicity

Over in All Too Common we have a little essay by Andrew Bartus: Why Should Anglicans Accept Roman Ecclesiology?, addressing a post by Al Kimel on Parasitic Catholicism. "Catholicism" is really not the right word here anyway, because the problem point is catholicity; as Bartus points out, the "parasite" problem plagues Catholicism with respect to Orthodoxy in the same way that Anglicans are "parasites" to Catholicism. "Parasite" is also a problem word when Rome is skimming off the priests which Canterbury (or, to stretch the point, Mt. St. Albans) has made.

I'm not an Anglo-Catholic, so my analysis of the situation is going to go a bit further afield than Bartus's. I not only tolerate but must assert more difference from Rome than he would accept on his own. But at any rate my views are based more on the empirical psychology of the matter, and how this interacts with human nature as the church teaches.

I've been wont to say that human sinfulness is the one empirically verifiable doctrine of the church. Anyone, Christian or not, can see that people are prone to sinning. When it comes to theology, sin leads people to bad arguments, and to defend bad arguments. Now, those who do not consider a theological question are like Adam and Eve in the garden; but we here have tasted the forbidden fruit of theology, and for better or worse have to live with the descernment that is now required of us. And this is particularly obvious in ecclesiology. A child is raised in a church, and unless he is unusually rebellious (or perhaps, if the church is unusually vile) he simply accepts the legitimacy of that church. And if he is educated far enough, he may simply accept the official ecclesiology of that church on authority. This discussion isn't for those people, except to cast doubt upon them and force them to take up the problems of theology. Personally, I think it is cruel to rattle these people in their faith, but again, that is beside the point.

What is not beside the point, however, is that all this takes place in the context of theological strife in Anglicanism. For those of us who are theologically inclined, it is natural to resolve the question of where to go to church through a theological judgement. And as it must in the end be made as one's own judgement, there is no way to get "private judgement" out of the picture-- at least not as Anglicans have historically understood it (and in fact, as it is).

Way down in the comments on All Too Common, Al makes the claim that Roman ecclesiology is more "pneumatic" and "sacramental" than "juridical". I find this utterly unconvincing-- even counter-productive-- as far as inducing me to swim the Tiber. I would understand the first two terms to mean that I go to church where I find the Spirit and the sacraments-- and since I found Him and them in an Anglican chapel, that puts paid on that, even if that very place be something of "a bare ruined choir" in this latter day. The problem, all too obviously, is that objectively we fail to see, in the large, where the Spirit and the sacraments are. If we could, then the dispute would disappear. As it is the Spirit is too hidden, or too infrequently revealed; or sin clouds our vision too far. But in all cases it behooves me to take that seriously and start from the assumption that Roman vision is just as obscured as any other, until evidence proves otherwise. Likewise, theological reasoning is subject to all the demands of ordinary reasoning; invocation of infallibility is tantamount to an admission of inadequate arguments.

It doesn't bother me that Anglicanism is in some sense derivative of Catholicism; but the problem remains that I cannot go to church in an RC church. If nothing else, the frailties of my nature hamper my worship in the vast sea of liturgical badness and crappy preaching that is the church around here. (And what really irks me is that people keep trying to reproduce this badness in my chuurch.) And there's too much bad theology, which at least, as a Protestant, I haven't yet been made to swear fealty to in my own church. And only an idiot or a radical progressive would say that PECUSA is without its worse problems in the theology department. I will not, however, assign consent to loyalty. Of any person I will hold that they believe what they themselves believe, and not what membership in any organization would hold them believe. In any case, all those ex-Anglicans know perfectly well that I cannot be held to believe what Jack Spong (heaven forbid!) writes in his tendentious tomes.

And as a layman, likely doomed to remain so forever, I have an actual issue which none of the clerics and proto-clerics have: I can't do anything about the badness of church. The clerical re-ordinands, frankly, have a lot more leeway to talk about ecclesiology than I do, because whether they take their ordination, they have power to make church happen as they feel is right. I don't, and when I'm stuck with a dog of a priest, my only recourse is to shop for a better parish.

And that's really what this is all about: church shopping. The only dispute is about the terms, and again we are right back at the problem that there isn't consensus about what the right approach is. No agreement suggests, if not implies, that nobody really knows. But if a layman does this on the basis of theological correctness, he can always find someone who will tell him that wherevent he is now isn't "really" Catholic, and that he needs to move to a genuinely correct group. And thus the Orthodox forums are littered with serial Cyprianists who move from one true church to another, until they are completely cracked.

The reverse of church shopping is skimming. After the things I've said, I don't know if any of the online Catholics would want me in their parish. Plenty of others would, if only for my voice. I have to wonder what would happen to around here if the Anglican crack-up were to drive large numbers of ordinary central churchmen into RC parishes. I expect they would be out in short order, if they even made it that far, because they would find that ecclessiological correctness wouldn't be enough.

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