Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Women "Bishops" and Catholicity: Another Response to Fr Clatworthy

It's been a little while that I've been meaning to respond to Fr Jonathan Clatworthy's paper on "Catholicity". You may remember I tackled one of his papers once before. I haven't really had much time or inclination to tackle this second paper in the past year. As I've left the Church of England to its own devices, much of the need for me to respond to this paper has been eliminated. However, from the point of view of the Continuing Anglicans, there is an interest at making a response to the paper.

Again, I've yet to see better theologians than myself tackle it, so I'll have another go. I think that this will be the last time that I will mention this subject because there is literally no longer a case for me to answer. I am now free of the need to defend the beliefs of the Catholic Church from within the CofE.

Fr. Clatworthy sums up the argument of Anglo-Catholics to the Ordination as:

  1. The 'true Church' does not ordain women;

  2. The Anglican Church is part of the 'true Church';

  3. The Anglican Church should not ordain women.

He then goes on to dismantle the premise 1 by attempting to that a 'true Church' is not well-defined nor visible nor evidently established by God.

He makes the claim that

"Our suspicions are accentuated by the fact that New Testament scholars, far from supporting Gore's claims, find precious little evidence that Christ showed an interest in founding a church at all, and insufficient evidence that there is a continuous line of succession from the Apostles to the bishops of today."

This is interesting, as earlier in his paper he says:

"Some of the New Testament epistles express a late first century movement which scholars describe as 'early Catholicism'. The Greek term for 'universal' is 'kath holos', and our word 'catholic' is derived from it.

Now this does suggest a slight inconsistency here. If the Lord shows little interest in founding a Church, why is there a Church? Why does He talk about building His Church on rock? Why does He talk about being a good shepherd having a flock and then go and tel St Peter to tend and feed His sheep. Of course, modern New Testament Scholars are very good at presenting their opinions. We should really let the facts speak for themselves.

Now, it seems to me that Fr. Clatworthy is very good at missing things that he has already mentioned. Let's take the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, with or without the controversial filioque. It is interesting that apart from this one word, Orthodox, Roman and Anglican Catholics affirm this very creed at the heart of their teaching. We may disagree over the filioque (though there seems to have been quite a convergence in philosophy over that in recent years) but still we see, absolutely inherent in that creed "I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church". He might also like to take into account the lists of successions of bishops, and the fact that there are bishops is testament to that succession.

Far from making the sole definition of 'true Church' based just on Apostolic Succession, Anglo-Catholics have used the entirety of the Creed. This idea of the necessity of Apostolic Succession is ingrained in all Churches which hold to this Creed. Fr. Clatworthy can certainly look at the differences between Orthodox, Roman and Anglican Catholic Churches but he misses their obvious similarities of doctrine and their desire for unity. The Orthodox Church recognises Anglican Orders; Roman Catholics have sought dialogue with the Anglicans with a view to unity - what might have happened if ECUSA hadn't ordained women in the 1970s - and this has continued in ARCIC.

Of all the three Churches, it is the Anglican Church that is the most split because it falls into the categories of those who believe in Apostolic Succession like the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches do (see, for example, The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 857-870) and those who don't. There are those who believe in the authority of bishops and those who don't, yet still there are bishops in the CofE. If "very few - and that even included such figures as William Laud - were willing to see bishops as necessary for the constitution of the church" why were bishops re-introduced at the Restoration of the Monarchy? It is the division between Anglicans where the bone of contention lies and Fr. Clatworthy tries to deflect that attention onto the divisions between the catholic Churches. The divisions are nor the same. Anglo-Catholics are part of the Catholic Church; those who ordain women as priests are not.

If a church refuses to accept the Nicene Creed as it was received by the Church, then surely whether they choose to "ordain" women or not is immaterial - they do not do so as part of the Catholic Church. The Orthodox, Roman and Anglican Catholic Churches have always said that the Church has no authority to ordain women. In alluding to the validity of the fictional female priest from Toxteth, Fr. Clatworthy has assumed that which he wants to prove i.e. women can be ordained validly by the Church. If his assumption is wrong, then he might as well be replicating Bertrand Russell's proof that if 1=2 then he is the Pope.

It is quite clear that Fr. Clatworthy does not have the same understanding of sacramental validity as Catholics. The question has only really arisen in the Anglican Church because the Catholicism of the Anglican church has been compromised with women. It is not the Church who determines the conditions of validity - it is God. It is true that because God determines validity or not, there is no need for Anglo-Catholics to appeal to the 'true Church'. However, Christians look to each other to affirm what they believe to have received from God. This is how the Ecumenical Councils worked. This is how the Church repulsed Arianism and the other heresies. The Church defined the doctrine based upon what they received from God according to Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Perhaps Fr. Clatworthy does not believe in the infallibility of the Church. How then does he know that he, as a Christian is right or is this a case of "it may be true for you, but it isn't for me"?

As I said earlier, I am trying to close this chapter now as there is no reason for me to argue with anyone. I have found myself a place where this whole question will not come up and, although I hope to remain in dialogue with many Christian friends, I hope they will understand that our differences come from completely different integrities. Often we seem to be talking past one another. If so, let's stop talking and start praying together instead.


JamesIII said...

The question about whether Jesus intended to found a church or not is a valid one. It is also rather irrelevant. We have second-hand accounts of what he said but those are filtered through the mindset of the writer and the maze of languages, time, and cultural concepts through which the statement is filtered. What we can ascertain is that He clearly intended for his followers to remain united as a group with leaders whose mission was to spread the tidings.

The very early Christians were simply considered to be a Jewish sect and we have good evidence that Jesus and his disciples were good Jews. They were also well integrated into Roman society as long as that definition held. It was the Council at Jerusalem in the first century that was their undoing and perhaps the real birth of the “Church”. The Fathers more or less declared the movement to be separate from mainline Judaism and the Jews then renounced them. They were then considered lion-fodder by the Romans.

If we acknowledge our deep Jewish roots, evident in our scripture, liturgy, and doctrine, we have another strong argument for the exclusive ordination of men to the priesthood.

Warwickensis said...

Ed tried to post a comment and for some reason the software refused. I reproduce his words on his behalf.

For whatever reason blogspot denied me entry AND deleted my response. The gist of what I wrote was that Clatworthy, in denying the existence of a Catholic Church completely removes the question of ordaining women from any kind of consideration. By his terms any 'scholar' is entitled to build a church in his own image, and thus ALL such questions become moot. We, however, have a history and a tradition, and have freedom to build, but within the specifications handed down to us.

One quibble, though: Yes, it is pleasant for Anglicans to affirm that the Orthodox recognize our orders as valid, but that's no more than a partial truth. Some Orthodox (some of them highly placed) have indeed made similar, if guarded, statements, but a very large number of Orthodox (many also highly placed) consider such a notion to be desperately wrong.

The East (or at least a large part thereof) does not hold to an Augustinian view that conceives the possibility of 'valid' orders or sacraments outside the visible Church -- many, in fact, doubt or deny that even the Roman church has valid sacraments. When the Orthodox receive clergy from outside "in their orders", that is seen as an exercise of 'ekonomia' - i.e that what the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven, and thus such a decision has all the effect that an actual ordination would have had. Thus, in the East, questions of validity in our sense simply do not arise. A priest recognized by the Church to be a priest is a priest. For one outside the Church, it becomes a meaningless question. If unity does not yet exist between the Orthodox and Anglicans, thus, it becomes a question without much meaning.


Alistair said...

Hi there. I'm a new visitor to your blog, and can I just say how interesting I think it is.

Are there any books you could recommend as introduction to Catholic theology?


Warwickensis said...

Hello Alastair!

Thank you for reading and for your kind words. I may not be an entirely reliable resource for introducing anyone to Catholic Theology since, as far as I see it, many introductions have a nuanced Catholic theology based on their writer's experiences of the same.

From a Classical Anglican point of view, I would recommend the Rev Dr Vernon Staley's book The Catholic Religion. This is a good introduction to the idea of Anglicanism as being a Reformed Catholicism.

The Most Rev Dr Mark Haverland's Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice is certainly an edifying and practical introduction to Anglicanism as a Continuation of pre-Reformation Practice.

From the Roman viewpoint, one can go directly to The Catechism of the Catholic Church which is large, but very clear in its paragraphs. Rather more heavy is Dr Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, though it is thorough. Rather lovely and desgined only as a pointer is Patrick Madrid's Pocket Guide to Catholic Apologetics which aligns Roman Catholic Dogma with Scritural passages. Dr Karl Keating is also worth reading too.

Depending on your own nuances, I would suggest getting a copy of Documents of the Christian Church which will at least let you see the actual words used.

For the interplay between Anglican and Roman Catholicism, I would recommend Fr. Aidan Nichols' The Panther and the Hind which will at least give some of the context between the differences between the nuances.

If I may add a word of warning. From a personal point of view, theology can be such an intellectual pursuit that it can ignore the practice of religion. Divisions occur and sometimes, most regrettably, differences of opinion spiral into some nasty, unkind and malicious behaviour by people who are really just overly zealous to defend their faith. I've suffered much as a consequence of forgetting that study must be done on one's knees together with prayer. Always keep a prayerbook and the Bible handy.

I hope you find something here to stimulate your interest.

Warwickensis said...

Apologies Alistair, I spelt your name incorrectly.