Friday, September 27, 2013

Creeping Calvinism and Ambiguous Anglicanism


"Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen." (Prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer)
I am not a Calvinist for many reasons, but then I don’t think even Calvin was a Calvinist by today’s understanding and even then that view is somewhat stereotyped.  I believe that Calvinism is wrong, but then Calvinists will believe that I am wrong, so there is quite a reasonable reciprocity going on here. Are Calvinists Christian? Well, if they do truly worship Our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Man and seek to love both God and Man in their proper proportions, then the answer has to be a resounding “yes”. However, they are not Catholic or Orthodox in their beliefs. Perhaps they are proud of that. I wish them well anyway. In this post, I intend to address a more stereotypical Calvinism than is actually the case.

One very good reason that I am not a Calvinist is that I do not believe in the total depravity of man. This is supposed to be a standard doctrine of Calvinism that human beings are utterly corrupt and that the divine image given to Man in his creation was utterly abolished in the Fall. Calvin himself says:
“Here I only want to suggest briefly that the whole man is overwhelmed–as by a deluge–from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin (Institutes 2.1.9, Calvin 1960:253).”
As an Orthodox Catholic, this is rather contrary to my understanding of the Creation of God. To say that “no part is immune from sin” misses a rather obvious problem when we know full well that God utterly hates sin. We know from Genesis that God created a world that was very good. The very state of being is a good, because we get that very state of existing directly from God. Just being we find a part of ourselves that is not infected by sin. God wanted to create us, therefore He created us, therefore we are inherently good in ourselves.

Of course, looking at the world with 16th Century eyes, one sees a world driven by war, a Church pervaded by worldly corruption in the hierarchy, and volatile politics making the simple act of existing a toil and despair. It is manifestly difficult to be optimistic about the inherent good of humanity when it does such a wonderful job of being inhumane. Yet, one can see the very wickedness in the world around us which Calvin saw. There is still corruption in Holy Church; still there are wars in the name of Religion and which seem not to have anything to do with any religion of love at all; still politics is volatile and the economy frail – many men and women are just in it for themselves. Many Scientists seek to reduce each human being to a predetermined destiny based on particles and chemicals and impulses. Science predestines just as much as Calvin believes God does.
How does God predestine human beings?

The Lord Himself tells us that we did not choose Him but He chose us. This we know, but if we think about this carefully, how did He make the choice?
Well, we are told that this choice happens before our creation.
“I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made : marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. My bones are not hid from thee : though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect : and in thy book were all my members written; Which day by day were fashioned : when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm cxxxix)
“For whom he did foreknow , he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate , them healso called : and whom he called , them he also justified : and whom he justified , them he also glorified .” (Romans viii.29-30)
Yet to single some people out for Heaven and, thus by inference, others not contravenes the doctrine of God loving unconditionally since singling people out for Salvation is a condition by definition. This takes a slightly different meaning if we take into account God’s choice to create or not to create.

God need not have created me at all. It is possible that I would remain one of a googolplex of possible people who have never been created and yet exist only as possibilities in the mind of God. If God has chosen to create me, then He has indeed chosen me in the same way that he has chosen you to exist. Giving us existence is the giving of a great good and evidence of la true ove which is unconditional on our part since we can do nothing to change the fact that God chose us to exist. So we did not choose Him, or bring Him into being at all. He is not, as the atheists would have us believe, the product of our imaginations or a construct to provide a crutch for our meaningless existence.
This predestination is available for us, and we can resist it in any way we choose. We have the freedom to reject the destiny to which God calls us because we have the free will to choose. Of course, our Fall has given us this tendency to prefer bad to good, largely because we have been blinded to God's existence through our attraction and subsequent attachment to fleshly pursuits.
So what does all this have to do with Anglicanism?
The Anglicanism of the Reformation is a fudge which tries to hold together the Catholic party (i.e. those seeking to preserve as much of pre-Reformation Catholicism as they could while purifying it of the excesses to which it had become prone) and the Protestants (i.e. those seeking to promulgate the Protestant doctrines of the Continent within the Church of England). The Articles of Religion are deliberately meant to allow for an ambiguous reading, though the Cranmerian homilies to which they refer certainly focus on the notion of justification by faith. The trouble is that this fudge does seem very blatantly Calvinistic in places, even if it can be given a Catholic reading.
I started with the prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer. Everything is quite reasonable until we reach "and there is no health in us". What does that mean? On first glance it really does read like the idea of total depravity that the Calvinist's TULIP posits. In the 1560 Latin edition, the phrase is "in nobis nulla est salus". This does speak of our being corrupted in every part of our being and thus follows the Calvinistic approach. It is, however, different from saying "there is no good in us". An unhealthy thing may indeed still be capable of good. A myopic eye may not see clearly, but it can still perform its tasks to an albeit diminished sense.
The Latin word "salus" is also the root of "salvation". If we understand it this way, then the phrase "there is no health in us" takes on the form "there is no way we can make ourselves better". It emphasises that we have to return to the Creator to be re-made. We are not totally depraved but we are sick with sin. The Church again is the hospital for sinners and not the hotel for saints. Reading the prayer in this way does render the prayer a Catholic sense, but that doesn't stop the words from having the Calvinistic colour to them.
Likewise with the thanksgiving after Communion:
Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear Son. And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
we notice the phrase "spiritual food of the most precious body and blood".
Of course, there are two readings here. One is in line with the dreaded black rubric which appeared in the 1552 prayer-book and denied vehemently the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The food provided at the Lord's Supper was spiritual, and not real. Of course, spiritual things are real, what was meant in this with the black rubric was that there is no objective presence of Our Lord in the Holy Matter. Queen Elizabeth I removed the black rubric in 1559 to promote greater peace with the Catholic wing of the Church. With the 1662 prayerbook, the black rubric was back subtly altered, perhaps to allow for different ideas of how the presence of Christ was Real but not Corporal.

Again, the text does shout Protestantism at first glance, even though a Catholic will readily affirm that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ does indeed nourish the soul and thus truly is "spiritual food". It would, of course, be much more correct for a Catholic to say instead:

"Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ."

The addition of "spiritual food" does indeed give that Calvinistic slant to the whole prayer.

For Anglican Catholics, our Anglicanism stems from the fact that we are using the English liturgy with its roots in both Sarum and Gregorian Rites, and not because we subscribe to the underlying Calvinist readings of the Book of Common Prayer. It does mean that we have to be very careful in how we use the BCP and why the 1549 version, which is reasonably untouched by the prevailing winds of Continental Protestantism, is the one of the standards for worship within the Anglican Catholic Church. Clarity of liturgy does make for better teaching and fewer heresies as the CofE has found out the hard way some 500 years later. 

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