By Robin G. Jordan
The public statements about ecumenism that have been coming out of the Vatican lately have been outrageous. The Vatican’s redefinition of ecumenism is particularly flagrant. It treats the Roman Catholic Church as if it is the universal church and other Christian denominations and groups as if they are not really a part of the universal church. Of course, this view of ecumenism is not new. It is the Vatican’s old view of ecumenism that the Vatican has always held but which the Vatican has at times played down when it suited the Vatican’s purposes.
Any Anglican province that takes part in the latest round of Anglican-Roman Catholic discussions is engaging in a futile exercise in self-deception. The only reason that I can see that any Anglican province might take part in such talks is that it wants to be seen as a major player despite the growing numbers of church closures and consolidations and the declining numbers of church members in that province. It is one of those irrelevant activities in which folks that at one time might have been important but who are no longer of any real consequence in the scheme of things like to engage to keep feeling important and to make others think that they are important. For its own purposes the Vatican is willing to indulge them.
What have the Anglican-Roman Catholic discussions accomplished? Have they really led to a genuine resolution of differences on key issues that divide the two denominations? Have they help to bring about needed reforms in doctrine and practice in the Roman Catholic Church? Have they resulted in the Roman Catholic Church’s recognition of Anglican orders and Anglican sacraments?
The answer to the first question is that they have accomplished nothing except to encourage the Anglican representatives involved in the discussions to go to great lengths to accommodate the Roman Catholic position on a number of issues. The Anglicans have papered over a number of serious theological differences between the two denominations and pretended as if they see eye to eye on these key issues. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, have budged very little if at all. They have been quite happy to sign public statements in which the Anglicans essentially admit that the Roman Catholic position is the right position. In rural Kentucky the country folk describe what the Anglican representatives to these talks has been doing in one short phrase, “They gave away the family farm.”
I can imagine that the Roman Catholic representatives to the talks keep themselves in stitches, poking fun behind the backs of the Anglicans at the eagerness of the Anglicans to please them. Anglican jokes in some quarters of the Roman Catholic Church must be the equivalent of “Newfie” jokes in some quarters of Canada. I can see the Roman Catholic representatives in my mind’s eye, kicking back with a glass of red wine after each meeting and laughing uproariously at what the Anglican representatives said and did. This may account for why they are all smiles when they see the Anglican representatives again. They are grinning inwardly at those who are source of great entertainment to them.
The answer to the last three questions is a resounding no! The Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church are as divided over such key issues as the authority of Scripture, the doctrines of purgatory, salvation by grace by faith, the sacrifices of the Mass, Transubstantiation, and a number of other matters of primary importance as they ever were. The Roman Catholic Church has not lifted the anathemas on the doctrinal positions set forth in the Articles of Religion of 1571, which is the confession of faith of the Protestant Reformed Church of England and the recognized doctrinal standard for Anglicans along with the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Ordinal of 1661.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to give greater weight to the teaching of Church tradition and the teaching of the Church as the interpreter of Church tradition than to the teaching of the Scriptures. The Roman Catholic Church does not maintain that she is a part of the universal church. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that she is the universal church The Pope is not just the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the vicegerent of God on earth. When the Pope speaks in cathedra, he is infallible. The Roman Catholic Church has never repudiated the issuance of papal indulgences, the worshiping and adoration of images and relics, and the invocation of saints. The Roman Catholic Church continues to hold that priests have the power to actually forgive sin rather than the authority to declare God’s forgiveness of sin.
Roger T. Beckwith notes in the section titled, “The Middle Ages and the Need for Reform,” in the Latimer Briefing, The Church of England: What It Is, and What It Stands For.
Ignorance, avarice and unchastity were rampant among the clergy, and sometimes, when they committed crimes, they were protected by 'privilege of clergy' from being called to account.
The sexual abuse scandals that have racked the Roman Catholic Church in recent years have disclosed that sexual immorality continues to be rife among the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church with priests using and exploiting children for their sexual gratification and the Roman Catholic hierarchy concealing the sexual activities of clergy and protecting them from criminal prosecution. Behind the “the solemnity, the ritual, and the theatricality,” as one English woman who has decided to “go home” to Rome described it in a BBC interview, the Roman Catholic Church has a sordid underbelly that she tries to hide from view.
In Roman Catholic eyes Anglican ministers are layman. Anglican sacrament of the Holy Communion has no validity. It does not affect what it signifies. Christ does not deign to make himself substantively present in the bread and wine on Anglican altars. When Roman Catholics adore the consecrated bread and wine, they worship Christ, When Anglo-Catholics adore the consecrated elements, they worship bread and wine! From a Roman Catholic perspective, no Eucharist is valid unless the priest is ordained by a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church’s line of episcopal succession and acknowledges the supremacy of the Pope.
“But don’t the Roman Catholics recognize the Anglican sacrament of Baptism?” Readers may object. Roman Catholic doctrine maintains that an unbaptized, non-Christians can validly baptize a person so long they baptize that person with the right matter, form, and intention. Recognizing the validity of the Anglican sacrament of Baptism presents no difficulty for the Roman Catholic Church.
Anglicanism is a form of Protestantism and a form of reformed Catholicism because Protestantism, properly understood, is reformed Catholicism. Readers should take note of what Roger T Beckwith states in The Church of England: What It Is, and What It Stands For.
It [ i.e., the Church of England] does not need to make concessions to Roman Catholicism, of the sort sometimes called for by ecumenical commissions, in order to become catholic. Such concessions, while supposedly making it more catholic, would in reality cause it to be no longer reformed.
Where the Church of England and her daughter churches are faithful to the Bible and to the English Reformation, they have no need to concern themselves about their apostolicity and their catholicity. The Roman Catholic Church, as sixteenth century Bishop John Jewel pointed to the attention of the Church of England’s Roman Catholic detractors, is no model of the primitive apostolic and Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church was no such model in the sixteenth century. She is no such model in the twenty-first century.
The Anglican-Roman Catholic talks have contributed to the continuance of the confusion over Anglican identity that the Romeward Movement caused in the nineteenth century. On the Roman Catholic side of the table the aim of the talks is quite clear—to bring the Anglicans around to their point of view. The Roman Catholic Church continues to participate in the discussions because the Vatican hopes to weaken the resolve of the Anglican Church to preserve whatever shreds of her Protestant Reformed identity that she may have left. As for the Anglican Church’s reason for going along with the charade—whether it is the fascination of the moth with the candle flame or something else—I cannot even surmise.
Unless the Roman Catholic Church shows a willingness to engage in serious substantive talks that will result in tangible changes in that denomination, I believe that Anglicans should withdraw from present round of talks. They should decline to be the object of barely-concealed Roman Catholic ridicule and contempt and instead focus upon putting their own house in order. They should work to undo the damage of the past one hundred and seventy-five odd years and to restore the Anglican Church’s Protestant Reformed identity.
In an earlier time people believed that bleeding a sick person rid his body of the “humors’ that were making him ill. The bleeding weakened the sick person and often hastened his demise. The tolerance of Roman Catholic innovations in doctrine and practice in the Anglican Church and the continuation of the Anglican-Roman Catholic discussions are a modern day equivalent of bleeding. They are not helping to improve the health of the Anglican Church. They are no cure for the present malady of liberalism, modernism, pluralism, and universalism that afflicts the Anglican Church.
What will restore the patient is a healthy diet and plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, that is, the spiritual equivalents of these curatives—sound Biblical teaching, openness to the Holy Spirit, a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and mission. As the Anglican Church recovers her health, Anglicans who have been weighing the option of deserting her for the Roman Catholic Church may come to realize how unhealthy that denomination is. They are spiritually healthier in the Anglican Church than they ever would be in the Roman Catholic Church. The pageantry and pomp of the Church of Rome are like the make-up applied to the face of a corpse to make it presentable for viewing before burial. Underneath the paint and powder is death and decay.