Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Anglicanism and Theseus' Ship

"The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same." — from Theseus by Plutarch ,
Identity is something that we hold very dear, and yet it is something with which we struggle. As the example of Theseus' Ship goes (or, if you prefer, the problem of Trigger's Broom) how can we account for our identity over time. Do we have an identity over time? Seeing that all the cells in our body have been replaced several times from our birth, how can we be sure that we are in fact the same person as we are when we were born?

Aristotelian metaphysics may help if we understand our substance and accidents but, of course, Aristotle's philosophy is not "in vogue" today nor does it solve the problem completely. St Augustine would point the very fragility of who we are, sandwiched between the past which no longer exists and the future which does not yet exist. He did not have recourse to the possibility of viewing the world in four dimensions and thus see our existence as beings in space-time. Whatever our point of view, the Christian must look to the fact that in God "we live and move and have our being". All that we are and all who we are is determined by God alone.

Now, I've been involved in a bit of a discussion with Mr Christopher Little, a newly-made Deacon in the AMiA. Deacon Little is a champion of Classical Anglicanism who is very clearly concerned with the Reformed nature of Anglicansim. He and I do disagree on the nature of what it means to be Anglican: while I argue that "Anglican" is a meaningful adjective from before the Reformation, he would argue that in order to be truly Anglican, it is necessary to embrace the Articles from a Reformed viewpoint. His description of me would be that I am not an Anglican but an English Catholic.

I don't object to being described as an English Catholic, but I do feel that I have some claim to the adjective "Anglican". My orders, for example, were bestowed by Bishop Damien Mead last year. He in turn was consecrated by Bishop Rommie Starks in 2008, and one of Bishop Starks' consecrators (back in 2000) was then Bishop, later ACC Archbishop, Br John-Charles Vockler who was consecrated bishop in 1959 during the days of the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion and received into the Anglican Catholic Church in 1994. Br John-Charles was Bishop of Polynesia, but also served a time as an assistant bishop in the Church of England. Thus, the Anglican Communion cannot claim that the ACC Diocese of the United Kingdom is without direct links to the Established Church when it was actually orthodox. My point is that I believe that the ACC has at least one point of continuity with the Anglican Church through its bishops, at least until the Church of England ceased to be orthodox and introduced doubt into the validty of the Sacraments that they now claim to distribute.

I'm not using this to convince Deacon Little of my Anglicanism - I doubt that I can given that his idea and my idea of what it means to be Anglican are so diverse - but rather more to demonstrate that our traditions have commonly spun out of that period called the Reformation. My Archbishop, Mark Haverland, has been seen at various inter-Anglican events, most notably at the investiture of Archbishop Foley Beach as primate of ACNA. I cannot comment nor wish to do so about what my Archbishop was doing there save that I am convinced that he was there in the spirit of Christian Charity and with a desire to express the well-wishing and prayers of the Anglican Catholic Church whom he serves as Metropolitan.

However, if I were there, for what reason would it be?

His Grace has indeed written about the fragmented nature of the Anglican identity and has stated quite clearly that he believes that it is necessary for us to adopt the identity of Anglo-Catholicism as what it means to be properly Anglican. Given that the later Anglo-Catholics were Romanisers whose seeking re-union with the Roman Church has produced the Ordinariate, our rejection of the Papal claims must mean that we have to look to the original identity of Anglo-Catholicism as Anglicanism reviewed through Patristic eyes. The Anglican Catholic Church is a Truth-seeking Church and in order to seek the truth faithfully, it must start somewhere. One cannot begin an inquiry without stating the basis of that inquiry. The Continuing Anglican movement is forty years old, the AMiA even younger, but we come with baggage amid the fog of confusion which we have inherited. We are still in early days: while there is much of which we can be, there is much that is still in a state of flux.

If I were primate, and most assuredly I am not and think it statistically impossible that I would ever be so, then I would attend an ACNA investiture out of respect for the common ground out of which the ACNA and the ACC have sprung and to which we claim continuity. I would attend because, though there are many issues over which we disagree both practically and theologically (even seriously so), because I would see in ACNA a serious and heartfelt attempt to seek the same truth which I would be seeking. We might be walking apart, but we might be walking apart in the same direction which can only lead to unification in Christ Jesus. As I say, that is what I would do. However, I am a newly minted priest and not privy to issues involving the polity of my Church. It is not my place to draw any conclusions on matters which don't concern me. I trust His Grace and his leadership, and pray that he may continue to lead us faithfully in the way of Our Lord to Whom I am most sure he is committed.

Deacon Little would claim that his understanding of Anglicanism is also Patristic. I believe him to be sincere about this and would humbly suggest that he has more in common with Anglican Catholics that he might like to think. After all, Protestant is not the opposite of Catholic and I am sure that he would agree that he is much a part of the One Holy Catholic Church as he confesses with me in the Nicene Creed. I am sure that he would reject with me the heresies of the revisionists in ECUSA and the CofE on largely the same grounds, that we look for the same faith from the Source, and have an appreciation for the ritual of the Prayer-book. Again, he and I would differ on the use and authority of the Book of Common Prayer but one can see the tenacity of American Anglicans as they fight for their Anglican identity against a body whose wholesale rejection of the 1928 BCP in favour of a revisionist 1979 BCP. This latter revisionist, heretical attitude of the ECUSA has led to the existence of ACC, ACNA and AMiA as well as other noble Anglican bodies. We have much in common.

As Theseus' Ship shows us, the continuation of identity is a thorny affair. Each continuing Anglican body has had to make a decision in order to know what to continue. We Anglican Catholics believe we have chosen the path as laid out by the Church before the East-West split and that is where we look. This leads us into conflicts and painful decisions yet we seek to walk in the truth and in the tradition that we have recived. Until the smoke clears, we must persevere with the choices that we have made by conscience and in loyalty to the ideals and principles that we have received. These are still early days - a mere 50th part of the lifetime of the Church so far and only God knows what will be.Until then, as Plato says, be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle!

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