Posted by: Fr. C. | January 11, 2018

TRIUMPHALISM AND NEXT BEST THINGS

Supreme Humility

Changing to a new computer has a certain cathartic aspect. In going through years of e-mails recently, I was taken by the periodic crazes and manias in both the secular and ecclesiastical world. When it comes to the Church, I never cease to be intrigued or, perhaps stunned and amazed, by the “next best thing” (“NBT”).

The NBT always arrives accompanied by “enthusiasts”-folks who wholeheartedly support and avidly even rabidly cheer on all of the benefits of the NBT, whilst declaring the last best thing “dead” or “dying”. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the Anglican expression, particularly Anglo-Catholicism, in the last decade.

There have been waves of NBTs, and the account that follows is by no means comprehensive. . There was the Anglican Mission in America seeking, post l’Affaire de Vicki Robinson, to lure Episcopalians and Anglicans of the evangelical variety to “legitimacy” gained through the leadership of African bishops. At roughly the same time, the Traditional Anglican Communion sought to entice with claims of corporate reunification of the continuers with the Roman Catholic Church. This effort was replete with a solemn service in England during which a host of bishops solemnly signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church and presented it with a loud thud one the doorstep of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known by its less-than-user-friendly name as the Inquisition). Despite loud hoopla, fanfare and a wave of apologists, the continuing Church marched on along retaining a number of signatories to the CCC who found the Tiber too wide and deep to cross.

Next, we saw the creation of the Roman Catholic Ordinariate to sweep in traditional Anglicans of the Anglo-Catholic variety who had variously grown weary of the apostasy of the Episcopal Church and the bat-craziness of the continuing Church movement. Waves of enthusiasts fanned out for this NBT. Conferences were held. Social media sites saturated.

We all learned that we could have the “legitimacy” of the Roman Catholic Church whilst retaining our “rich Anglican liturgical tradition.” While the enthusiasts still troll the net verse, they seem to be maturing and the Ordinariate has settled in at about 45 parishes and missions. Meanwhile, the continuing Church soldiers on, diminishing in many places, failing to address the problems that have existed for 40 years, albeit finally showing some signs of much-needed unity in the Joint Synods of October 2017.  Roughly 300 parishes and missions are accounted for in this effort.

Now, there seems to be yet another NBT-Western Rite Orthodoxy. While this has been around for a while amongst the Antiochian Orthodox parishes, it has taken on an aggressive recruiting effort in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). This pace has stepped up markedly in the several months following the Joint Synod among four parts of the continuing Church.

Again, the enthusiasts are peppering social media, sending out breathless announcements of converts gained and numbers increased, and even ringing up folks to get them to do the backstroke across the Volga. Mixed in with this “outreach” by the NBT from the East is a measure of triumphalism and disparagement of other bodies. Social media has included comments effervescing over the closure of Roman Catholic parishes and touting the gains made by the East. Most recently, a colleague of many years who has joined this NBT advised that he no longer felt “comfortable” posting on Anglican blogs such as this and refusing to engage in a minor public discourse and debate on the matter of East, West or in the Middle.

Perhaps it is a function of having been a continuer for so many years, or being a lawyer for nearly 36 years or being simply a combative sort (an admixture of Welsh and Irish should have a warning label). However, when the ability to debate and discuss gets defenestrated, generally an absolute truth claim follows. (Hint: This is the case for both liberals and conservatives, traditionalists and revisionists, and so on.) Further, when a claimant to the truth begins to denigrate and disparage the other side, then one must wonder what is behind the curtain (or dossal). Mix all of that together and layer in crass triumphalism, then there is cause for real and probing inquiry.

I understand the assertion that triumphalists make concerning the NBT. It is the one true Church, and they love everyone so much that they cannot stand to see them anywhere else. After all, the NBT is the “one, true Church.” Roman Catholics would disagree. Even other Orthodox groups would disagree. Even continuing Anglicans, doomed and damned though we may be, would disagree.

Does the continuing Church have problems? There are, in fact, many ranging from poorly or un-educated clergy, questionable administrative practices, disregard of canons, to utterly incoherent theologies attempting domestic bliss under the same roof. These need to be honestly and openly discussed, and there will be an attempt to do so here in a forthcoming series of articles aimed at addressing the pachyderms in the parlor. However, the answer is not necessarily to abandon the leaky longboat and run to the NBT. It surely is not in making a different truth claim, or claim of authority while decrying other Christians who remain unsold on the NBT.

Several years ago, Pope Francis addressed these issues in a homily. He pointed out that, “Triumphalism impedes the Church.” Taking the argument further, he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

In an excellent brief article on the Patheos blog teasing out this thought, Rebecca Hamilton aptly observed that, Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.” This can skew our Christian understanding of the Gospels.

Simply put, Jesus triumphed over Satan, He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death. Just as “mere” Christians, we can end up focusing on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved. As Ms. Hamilton observes, “The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like an ignominious defeat.”

At a basic level, the Cross is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. “[T]his triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding.” It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us a particular status. Following Christ means embracing the supreme humility of the Cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake and not for the sake of denominationalism.

Even the disciples managed to get this wrong. Despite their direct and with privileged relationship with Christ, they returned from their work to decry another. Recall this vignette from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of St Mark, “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” (vv. 38-40)

If ever there were a palliative to the triumphalism of the adherents of the NBT, this passage is fairly straightforward.

Writing some ten years ago on The Continuum blog, Fr. Robert Hart addressed the larger issue in an article entitled “The Odd Couple”. It was written during a period in which there was an eructation of enthusiasm and triumphalism for a purported NBT. In speaking of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches of the Church, Fr. Hart observed, “…we love and honor both of them, which is more than they usually say for each other. In our ecclesiology there is room for them both as part of the Church in its fullness, unlike the respective ecclesiology of each of them concerning the other (let alone everybody else). If the Two One True Churches were no longer twain but one, then they might have some credibility to their exclusivist claim. Their mutual exclusion still bears witness to the fact that they too have erred at different times, and have yet to work out their differences.” Indeed, the fractiousness of the various Eastern Orthodox bodies amplifies this last thought.

This is not to say that there are not legitimate differences and a need for theological discourse. Indeed, there is a desperate need for this within the continuing Anglican movement. For example, can committed Calvinists embrace the Affirmation of St. Louis, a document fundamental to the appellation “Continuing Churchmen”? Of course not, yet this is a question for some would-be continuing Anglicans. This is but one of the elephants in the doctrinal room.

However, sheep stealing, sewing discord, denigrating others particularly the jurisdictions one comes from and like behaviors are not merely unseemly, they are un-Scriptural. They must stop. Now.

For those of us who have dear friends and colleagues on the other side of the Tiber, Volga, Bosporus, Red Sea or whatever aqueous body may separate us, let us continue in prayer, charity and humility as befitting people of God. The hour is late and the battle is joined. “He that is not against us is on our part.”

 


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