Saturday, November 12, 2016

Ango-Catholic: Catholic but Not Roman


I’m someone who defines myself as an Anglo-Catholic. On a superficial level, this means I am an Anglican who loads up my Protestantism with a lot of Roman Catholic flair. Yet it is more than that. As an Anglo-Catholic my doctrine and spiritual practice share many things in common with Roman Catholicism (and in a way Eastern Orthodox) doctrine and practice that are alien to much of the Protestant world. This leads a lot of people, especially Roman Catholics, to ask me “if you're already an Anglo-Catholic why haven't you decided to take the plunge and become Catholic?” The answer to this question is that as an Anglo-Catholic I believe I am already standing in the Catholic tradition. That means I practice and believe many things most Protestants don’t, but that doesn’t mean I buy into all of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, while I do believe there is great importance to be accorded to the Petrine See, I am not convinced of papal infallibility, nor of the claim that all bishops depend upon the Pope for their authority.

Anglicanism as Catholic
What does it mean to be Catholic? The early Church referred to itself as “Catholic” in many places, including its creeds. By this it meant that it was the universal Church, both the Bride and Body of Christ in the world. Yet, the religious movement adhering to the ecumenical creeds continued to splinter as history moved on, and with reformation the Roman Catholic Church (being those churches in unity with the Bishop of Rome) defined itself as the Catholic Church and all others as apostates and schismatics
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As the Anglo-Catholic writer Fr. Matthew Kirby has aptly described it, typical modern Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology holds that “Any break in communion that discontinues the visibility of unity between one Christian body and another, if the two groups were previously united within the Catholic Church, must leave one group outside the Catholic Church until that breach is visibly healed.” While this is certainly a logically tight position, it doesn’t actually account for the historical reality we find in the church. Fr. Kirby has compiled several examples of this, two of which I’ll summarize here:

  •  During the Meletian schism, there were two rival bishops of Antioch. Meletius was recognized by Eastern bishops, but not by Rome. Yet, after the death of Meletius, his claim was universally recognized. “[V]isible unity was broken without either side being considered by anyone in hindsight as outside the Church.”
  • During the Western Papal Schism when there were several claimants to the papacy, clear visible unity in the western church was broken, yet the Roman Catholic church has canonized saints on both sides of the schism, and even today no official binding declaration has been made as to which were the true Popes.
The Anglo-Catholic response to this reality, therefore, is to argue for something often called the “Branch Theory.” Critics of this theory often believe it claims that the Anglican Communion, the Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church are three branches of one catholic (universal) Church tree. This implies that they are organic developments of one core “trunk,” and so each is perfectly fine as it is. But this is not really the Branch Theory as originally formulated. The actual claim of the Branch Theory is more minimal than this. Branch Theory claims that catholicity is established by some basic adherence to:

  • Scriptural truth
  • the Traditions of the primitive Church (particularly those enshrined in the seven ecumenical creeds)
  • The right administration of the sacraments, including apostolic succession through the “laying on of hands.”
Anglo-Catholic theologian Edward Pusey has put it even more minimally: “the only principle really involved in [Branch Theory] was that there could be suspension of intercommunion without such schism as should separate either side from the Church of Christ.” This idea that there can be breach of intercommunion within the Church without separating from the Church established by Christ is not unique to Anglo-Catholic thinking.  Orthodox thinker David Bentley Hart has pointed out that during the Council of Florence “both sides spoke of the division between East and West as a wall of separation erected within the one universal Church” (“The Myth of Schism,” emphasis mine). Schism between bishops (and even Patriarchs) does not necessarily create an ontological breach in the Church. As far as I can tell, the historical reality supports this understanding much better than the official positions of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church (that the One Holy Catholic Church is coterminous with the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox communion respectively). This is not to say schism is all well and good. It is scandalous, but the Anglo-Catholics don’t accept that this sad reality gives us no right to call ourselves Catholic (see this article for more on this point).

The Validity of Anglican Orders
Even if one accepts the Branch Theory as I have described it, the question of why I don’t convert to Roman Catholicism isn’t necessarily settled. After all, maintenance of apostolic succession was one of the conditions I mentioned as necessary for a communion to be part of the universal Church. Thus, the catholicity of Anglicanism would depend upon the validity of Anglican orders, something the Roman Catholic Magisterium denies. I believe it is vital to salvation to be part of the Church universal, so if the Roman Catholic rejection of our orders is correct, I ought to convert to a communion with valid orders.

So what of the Roman Catholic argument that our orders are invalid? The goalpost for why they are invalid has moved. At first, it was claimed that the line of succession was broken. This was not historically accurate, and eventually the claim was dropped. Then it was argued that there was an insufficiency of form on the basis that much theology had argued that the chalice and paten which the Roman church had taken to presenting to candidates for ordination was the matter of the sacrament. This, however, was shown to not hold when it was firmly established that this was not the practice for the first thousand years of the church. The argument was thus forced back onto claiming that the “intent” of the ordination was wrong and invalidated our orders. This, we Anglo-Catholics do not accept. Since intent is an internal matter, the burden of proof for claiming a lack of intent must rest with those claiming it is lacking, and we are not persuaded by Roman Catholic arguments that there was a deficiency of intent. As with the sacrament of Marriage, validity should be assumed unless the lack of intent can be definitively proven.

Specifically, the Roman Catholic claim is that the changes made to our ordinal during the Reformation were meant to create a non-sacrificing priesthood, and so there was a “defective idea of the priesthood,” thus invalidating our orders. Yet, the intention of the Anglican Church during the Reformation was not to create a non-sacrificing priesthood, but to return to antiquity because of a perceived imbalance in late medieval Christianity. During the late medieval period, the priest’s dual role as minister of word and sacrament had almost entirely been subsumed into the sacramental aspect of the ministry. This was a problem even Trent recognized. The intent was thus not to remove the priest’s sacrificing role, but specifically to “continue those orders which had been in the Church from the days of the Apostles, namely Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the same sense as they had always existed.” The intent in removing specific mention of sacrifice was to restore the priest’s sacramental role into balance with its other aspects. Nothing else. With such an intent, sacrifice is necessarily included in the intention of our ordinal, for the Anglican Church “means her orders to be those of the New Testament. As such she confers upon her priests authority to 'minister the Holy Sacraments'. This includes the celebration of the Eucharist. Here again her intention is that the Eucharist shall be all that the Lord intended it to be. The sacrifice of the Eucharist is not something additional; it is the Eucharist itself in one of its chief aspects.”

Therefore, we consider ourselves to be a church that has validly maintained apostolic succession and apostolic doctrine (both Scripture and Sacred Tradition) and so to be part of the Catholic Church.

But Why Not Convert?
What I have said thus far should make it clear that I don’t think it is as necessary to leave the Anglican Communion and join the Roman Catholic Church in order to be part of the universal Church. Yet, as I said above, the fact that there are different communions within the one Catholic Church does not mean those communions are equally valid. Otherwise, I might as well hedge my bet and join the Roman Catholic Church. There are areas in which I believe the Roman Catholic Church has erred from apostolic doctrine in ways that are aberrations rather than valid developments. I do not believe these are fatal, they don’t invalidate the Roman Catholic Church as a church, but they are significant enough to keep me from joining the communion and proclaiming that “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”  Chief among these is the claims of the Roman Church regarding the role and authority of the Pope.1 As such, the question of “why not just go all the way and become Catholic?” is somewhat moot. I do not see myself as having gone part way to a goal but stopped short. I see myself as faithfully living out the Christian religion as a member of the universal Church. As one article has put it “Let us suppose that a man believes, on grounds which seem to him sufficient, in the doctrines of Transubstantiation, the Invocation of Saints and the Blessed Virgin, Auricular Confession and Purgatory; that he finds spiritual value in the use of rosaries, scapulars, relics, images, incense, holy water and what not; that he believes in one authoritative Holy Catholic Church outside of which there is no salvation, commissioned and empowered by God to preserve and transmit the faith and to administer the sacraments. It does not follow by any rule of logic that he must also believe that the criterion of catholicity is submission to the authority of the Bishop of Rome and acceptance of his infallibility” (Review of “Why Rome?” Christian Century, vol. xlvii., No. 51, December 17, 1930). But why don’t I accept the claims of the Bishop of Rome to be the guardian of the Church’s infallibility and apostolicity?

 As a basic matter I have no problem with primacy of the Pope. It seems to be a matter of primitive doctrine and has clear scriptural warrant. Yet primacy is not the same thing as being able to define dogmatic truth infallibly. The idea of the Pope as the infallible Vicar of Christ (in its positive definition) is undeniably a development of doctrine. To call it this is not to make any judgment on it as such. Explicit doctrine develops from the deposit of faith. The question then becomes, “What determines authentic development versus aberration?” The Roman Catholic claim is that it is the Pope (in concert with the mind of the Church) that determines what qualifies as authentic development.

The Anglican position, in contrast, is that that it is Scripture, as rightly interpreted by the mind of the Church (chiefly represented by the seven ecumenical councils) that determines what qualifies as authentic development. We believe that the bishops of the Church are the guardians of faith, any particular bishop, including the Roman pontiff, can err (even in official pronouncements). Roman Catholics often appeal to the historical claim that no pope has ever officially defined heretical dogmas as a defense of their position, yet as an apologetic claim this is fairly useless, because it is tautological. There are many things Popes have officially taught which Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics, etc. consider to be in error. The historical claim thus proceeds from the doctrine rather than proving it. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it does mean it’s not very persuasive to those of us who don’t already accept it.

Instead of Papal Primacy as the control of Development of Doctrine, the Anglican Communion affirms a sense of Sola Scriptura. Some affirm it in a very Evangelical sense, but Anglo-Catholics do not see it this way. Scripture is not the source of doctrine. That is obvious because doctrine existed as Tradition before Scripture. Scripture is written down Tradition and so it can serve as a test of Doctrine, and thus as a safeguard (along with the interpretive guide of the Creeds and the Fathers) against illegitimate doctrinal development. So Scripture, rightly interpreted by the primitive teachings of the church and the ecumenical councils, is a corrective to human error. From what I have seen in my study of the early Church Fathers, they seem to be operating on this principle. When they argue that a doctrine they are teaching is part of the unchanging deposit of the faith, they bring Scripture forward as their primary witness. Na├»ve sola Scriptura this is not, but rather is what the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas defended when he said “only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith (quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei)” (Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel). I am not claiming that Scripture can be separated from the rule of faith and interpreted scientifically to discover true doctrine. I am claiming that Scripture is the canon by which doctrinal development is measured and that this is what we see the Church Fathers doing. The Pope, because of his connection to Peter, has long been an important authority in rightly measuring doctrinal development against Scripture, but that is not the same thing as saying he is infallible.   

I further have a problem with the Roman Catholic claims regarding the Pope because they seem to functionally make all other Bishops mere local representatives of the Petrine See in the same way that priests are representatives of their bishop. This seems to undermine, rather than develop, primitive understanding of the Episcopal office. Authentic development must always deepen understanding of the unchanging deposit of faith, rather than undermine it.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I am Anglo-Catholic because I believe in the importance of catholicity for genuine Christianity, that is, union with the original universal Church established by Christ. This means I accept the idea of Sacred Tradition as an authentic vehicle of divine revelation, in contrast to many other Protestants, and so believe and practice many things that are often considered Roman Catholic distinctive (for example: auricular confession). Yet, I do not accept Papal infallibility. Rather, I believe Scripture, rightly interpreted by the rule of faith, is the measure of authentic doctrinal development. Crucially, I believe that Anglicanism is authentically part of the universal Church. I would, in fact, say that Anglicanism is authentically Catholic. Again, I don’t expect to persuade any Roman Catholic by these claims. I am explaining why I am not Roman Catholic, despite being Anglo-Catholic. For my part, I would become a Roman Catholic if I ever became convinced that these Papal claims are correct, or if I became convinced that it was no longer possible for me to be an orthodox and Catholic Christian in the Anglican Communion. Given the way certain parts of that Communion are headed, this is certainly a foreseeable outcome.


  1.  I focused on papal infallibility in this essay, but my concerns with the papal claims extend to the entire apparatus of the infallibility of the church as connected to the Pope. Since the Roman Catholic Church believes that licit apostolic authority requires communion with the Pope, it follows that the entire infallible Magesterium of the Roman Catholic Church depends in some sense on the Pope. 



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hold Your Nose and Vote?: On the Wickedness of Voting for "The Lesser of Two Evils"


Most Americans are disgusted with the primary candidates this year. If you're a conservative like me, you've probably seen your fellow conservative Christian friends and relatives squirm while they tell you that we simply must "hold our nose" and vote for Donald Trump. They tell you, “Trump is awful, but I have to vote for him, I have to because the alternative is Hillary Clinton, and that's worse!” The fear is obvious, and understandable. Leaving aside issues of personal evil, Hillary Clinton supports values that stand at odds with the values of politically conservative Christians.

“Perhaps,” you suggest, “there’s another alternative. We could always vote for a third party.”

“No,” your friends and relatives tell you, “A vote for a third party is a vote for Clinton.”

The force of this argument, as far as I can tell, rests on two concerns. The one is pragmatic—a third party candidate eats into votes that might have gone to Trump and so means that Clinton is more likely to win the majority and therefore the presidency. The reasoning here is that Trump is bad, but if he wins our values might at least get a seat at the table. If Clinton wins we’re cut out from power. A particular crux of this fear rests in the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The other crux of the argument though, and the one I think really drives people, is its moral force. We are citizens in a democracy. We are morally responsible for the course of our society, and the fear is that if we vote for a third party candidate we are morally responsible for a Clinton presidency. I have even seen one extreme example of this in a Facebook comment (in response to this post on Vox) that argued that Christians who choose to not vote for Trump will have “the blood of all the abortions after this election” on their hands.



It’s undeniable that some who present themselves as social conservatives want power for its own sake. However, I believe that most want a seat at the table because they believe in their cause and they are convinced that they are morally on the line for the likely Clinton victory if they don’t vote for Trump. I should pause here to say that while I am focusing in this post on the conservative viewpoint, these same principles apply its liberal mirror. Even Michelle Obama has told liberal voters that if they vote for a third party liberal candidate they are voting for Trump, and as with the conservative side, I believe the force here is both pragmatic and moral. Michelle Obama is pointing to Trump and asking liberal voters, "Do you want to be responsible for that?"

However, the moral force of this argument does not hold up under closer scrutiny, and when that crumbles I believe that any case for voting for Donald Trump (or Hillary Clinton if you're a liberal who finds her reprehensible) crumbles with it.

Before I get to the reasoning behind this argument, however, I need to make a point of clarification. I am convinced that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are evil candidates. There’s been plenty of ink spilled on why that’s the case. Matt Anderson has a great post arguing that point on Mere Orthodoxy. So, I’m taking the evil of Clinton and Trump as an assumption for the purposes of this post. I know there are plenty of people who disagree and think either Clinton or Trump admirable. I am not writing to them. I’m writing to those who want to “hold their nose” and vote for Trump.
Voting for the Lesser Evil to Save Your Soul
With that out of the way, let’s get to the idea that if you vote for a third party candidate you are morally culpable for the ultimate election of Hillary Clinton, and that we should therefore vote for Trump. Put formally, the argument looks like this:
  1. A vote for Trump is a vote for an evil candidate.
  2. A vote for Clinton is a vote for an evil candidate.
  3. I am morally responsible for the evil of the candidate I vote for.
  4. A vote for a 3rd party conservative candidate is a vote for Clinton for which I am morally responsible.
  5. Clinton is more evil than Trump because her ends are more evil than his. I will vote for Trump.


I obviously agree with premises a) through c). I am convinced that we, as citizens in a democracy, have a duty to vote and share a responsibility in the direction of our society. I’ve already laid my cards on the table regarding how I feel about Trump and Clinton (personally, I think the premise that Clinton’s ends are more evil that Trump’s is debatable, but that isn’t my concern today). The real crux of the argument, I think, is the notion that if I vote for a candidate other than Trump, I am morally culpable for the evils of a Clinton presidency.

To understand the morality of this from a Christian perspective, we need to take a step back and consider the basic anatomy of a moral action. In the classical Christian tradition, moral action rests on the free human will working itself out in the world. An actions moral content rests both on the ends sought and the means taken to reach that end. Various Christian philosophers, from St. Maximus the Confessor to St. Thomas Aquinas, have broken up the process of willing in different ways, but the general principles remain the same. Human beings have wills. These wills are free, but not arbitrarily so. Rather, we see ends that we wish to bring about, contemplate some action to accomplish those ends, and then engage in that action. Moral goodness and moral evil are both possible at any point along this spectrum. If I plan to kill someone, think up the means, and try and implement those means, I have committed moral evil even if I fail to kill them. By the same token, if I will to bring about world peace but choose as my means the eradication of people who stand in the way, I have also committed moral evil.

At no stage in this process can I be morally culpable for things which happen outside of my will and the means I take to engage that will. To give an example, suppose one of my neighbors decides he very much wants my roommate’s television set. He has an end in mind (acquiring the TV), and has decided on means (burglary) which he engages in one night when no one is home. In this case, both the means decided on and the act actually engaged in are morally evil. That I happen to be out having dinner with my girlfriend when the crime occurs, (which makes it easier for him to commit the crime) in no way makes me culpable for his crime. I am not involved in the chain of cause and effect resulting from his will and ending in the burglary of a television.  In the case of the burglary, the person committing the crime is responsible for their own action. I am responsible for burglary only if I choose to burglar someone myself.  Even if a lot of people in my area decide to start burglarizing other people so that my area becomes an “unsafe neighborhood,” I am only morally responsible for the direct actions I take. Even the choice to go out for dinner with my girlfriend (despite the fact that I live in an unsafe neighborhood and there is a possibility my house will be burglarized) does not make me in any way morally complicit in the burglary.

So what about voting? Does my vote for someone like Evan McMullin count morally as a vote for Clinton if she wins? It should be fairly obvious that I am not  directly responsible for the votes other people cast. Imagine that my best friend loathes NAFTA and decides that the best way to get rid of it is to vote for Clinton, who he judges to have more political savvy. He has an end in mind (NAFTA getting abolished), means (the election of Clinton), and an act he engages in to bring about his end (voting for Clinton). At no point in this process is my will engaged, nor can I do anything directly (short of criminal interference) to prevent him from voting for Clinton.

The possibility remains, however, that by voting for someone other than Trump I could be engaging in a sin of omission. We can be responsible to act to stop a moral evil being committed, and if we don't act we are doing something wrong. For example, if I came home to find my neighbor stealing my roommate’s TV and fail to call the police or otherwise interrupt the burglary, I bear some responsibility for the evil that results. Yet, the reason I bear some guilt is that by coming home during the burglary I become directly involved in the cause and effect chain. As a witness to the crime, I therefore either engage my will to stop the crime or to consent to it.

I would argue that in the case of voting, no similar sin of omission is possible. When we vote, we engage in a very isolated moral scenario. We do not know for a fact how anyone else will vote. Individual voters decide indepently who they would like to represent them as the leader of their nation. When each individual voter has made their decision as to who to vote for, these votes are then added together state-by-state to determine who the States’ electoral votes go to. The electoral decision itself is thus not, strictly speaking, a moral one. No agent is, in and of themselves, choosing the state of affairs that come about. The electoral decision is like the case of the unsafe neighborhood. It is the result of many actions taken by individuals. As with the case of the neighborhood, I am responsible for the direct actions I choose to take. I am not morally responsible for the moral decision other voters make when they cast their vote, because there is no direct cause-effect relationship between my voting for, say Evan McMullin; three other people voting for Trump; and five more voting for Clinton. The fact that the outcome is an electorate that goes to Clinton is not a direct result of my vote, but of the combined results of our independent actions. As such, my action in that case can only rightly be construed as a vote for McMullin, not a vote for Clinton. Because the vote is blind, I act without direct knowledge of how anyone else is going to act. I can at best estimate based on past trends, but that’s not the same kind of moral action as directly intervening to stop a crime (the crime is an event occurring; the predicted statistical outcome of an election is a projection—a likely but still imaginary scenario). My action in voting for a third party candidate is more like that of the choice to go out to dinner with my girlfriend despite the possibility of a burglary. It is at worst imprudent. It is certainly not morally evil.

The Prudential Vote
The question of prudence, then, brings us to the possibility of voting for Trump for merely pragmatic reasons. I may not think I am morally responsible for the election of Clinton if I vote for someone other than Trump, but I may think that the ends I have (ending abortion, for example) are better served by a Trump presidency, and so the most pragmatic means to bring about my end is to vote for Trump. It is possible that some who argue that a vote for a third party is a vote for Clinton are simply saying so as shorthand for this kind of pragmatic reasoning and intend to imply no moral culpability in the election of  Clinton for those who vote for third party candidates. This pragmatic reasoning could be formalized as follows:
  1. A vote for Trump is a vote for an evil candidate.
  2. A vote for Clinton is a vote for an evil candidate.
  3. Trump is more likely to support the causes I agree with.
  4. It is pragmatic to vote for a candidate who will support the causes I agree with. I will vote for Trump.

Yet, this kind of reasoning runs afoul of the classical Christian understanding of moral action described above. Moral evil is not merely relative to the ends I have in mind. The plans I come up with to reach that end and the means by which I engage those plans in the real world also have moral content. Going back to our example of burglary—if I stumble upon the burglary in progress and decide to stop it by torturing the burglar, I am guilty of moral evil. Indeed, the bulk of the Christian tradition would say that if torturing the burglar were somehow my only way to stop the burglary, then it would be better for me to allow the crime to take place than engage in evil to stop evil. In the case of voting, if Trump is evil and I intend to use him to reach the end I desire, my means are evil. Even if my end is something laudable, such as ending abortion, I am culpable for moral evil if I choose evil means to bring it about.

Indeed, this ultimately makes the point that even if the information available to me, such as polling data, so involves me in the chain of cause and effect that a failure to stop the election of Clinton by voting for Trump is something I would be morally culpable for, I could still never be justified in choosing the evil means that a vote for Trump represents.
Conclusion
So, to summarize, you are responsible for the decision you make in voting, not the decisions others make, and choosing an evil candidate simply to stop a worse one is operating in a utilitarian mode that is at odds with Christian ethics. As such, the only real option for Christian voters is to vote for the candidate they consider to be the best potential leader for our country, not to vote for the lesser of two evils. As far as I’m concerned, that means voting for a third party candidate. This is true even though the moral decisions of others will probably mean a candidate. Which candidate is best, of course, still remains for you as the voter to judge.