|"Catholic tradition is a living
thing, rooted in the revelation of Jesus Christ and growing in the
experience of the Church"
Affirming Anglican Catholicism
Q: What is “radical orthodoxy?”
A: We call ourselves radically orthodox in order to express our interest in historical doctrine and liturgy as living tradition. It means that we take our roots very seriously. We honor our ancestors who bequeathed to us this tradition. We wouldn’t be here without them. At the same time, we have no choice but to receive and interpret this tradition in our own time and place. That means that we may need to revise it, in the sense of seeing it anew, but not to jettison it and create our own. So, we take Catholic Orthodoxy as a given. We are radical in that we find our commitment to Orthodoxy often puts us in a position of prophetic witness against the structures of power in this world.
Q: What do you mean by this word, “Catholic?”
A: The teaching of the undivided Church. The seven great Ecumenical Councils (the seventh, Nicaea II, met in A.D. 787) are the basis of radical orthodoxy. Catholic means universal in the sense of whole and undivided. It does not mean papal. As Anglicans (Episcopalians), we reject the later medieval and modern claims to universal jurisdiction of the Patriarch of the West, and the odd misconception that Catholicism means the modern Roman Catholic Church. But we hold to the traditions of the ancient Church, as carried on in Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. For example, the historic Creeds (Apostolic and Nicene), the canon of Holy Scripture (Old and New testaments and Apocrypha), the apostolic succession of bishops and the threefold sacramental ministry, and the seven Sacraments.
|Q: What is the “Apostolic
A: This refers to a direct, unbroken, institutional connection between us and the first Apostles, ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that He intended them to designate their successors and ordain them to ordain their successors and so on down to the present. This is accomplished by the laying-on-of-hands by the ordaining bishop (accompanied, usually, by two others, just to be make sure) and a prayer for the grace of the Holy Spirit. That means that our bishop was made a bishop by someone who was made a bishop by someone who was made a bishop…&c. all the way back to the original twelve Apostles.
Q: Why do you consider this important?
A: It is an outward and visible sign of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. It is a sign of the preservation intact of Apostolic teaching. What we say we believe is not something we dreamed up on our own, but a two-thousand-year-old living, historical tradition. It is also a sign of our being one community with generations before us and after, and with other Christians throughout the world – both other Anglicans and those of other traditions that maintain the Apostolic Succession (such as the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and – increasingly – the Lutherans.)
Q: Does that mean that those churches recognize you?
A: No. Not necessarily. But we recognize them.
Q: What about the Church’s guidance by the Holy Spirit? Does that mean you think the Church is infallible?
A: Definitely not. The Church can err, like any human institution, and has plenty of times. But as the Mystical Body of Christ, instituted by God Himself and rooted in eternity, we believe that, according to His promises (“the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”, “I will send you the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth”), the Church may rely upon the Holy Spirit to prevent it from permanent defection. The Gospel will always be proclaimed and the Sacraments always celebrated, until the end of time. The Church is not infallible in governance, but indefectible in purpose. This means that the Church’s actions may not always be morally justifiable, but her errors will not amount to permanent defection.
Q: What is a “Sacrament?” and what are the “seven Sacraments?”
A: A Sacrament is defined as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” That is, it is more than a symbol. It is a visible and tangible sign of an invisible spiritual reality. Moreover, it is a sign that produces the reality it signifies. Just as fire might be called a sign of heat. If you see a fire, you know that there is heat, even though you can’t see or feel the heat.
A Sacrament of the Church is particular matter used in a particular way by a particular person (proper matter, proper form, proper minister), for the conscious purpose of providing ordinary and regular access to divine grace, as ordained and instituted by God.
Two of the Sacraments were instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ in Person, according to the Holy Scriptures. They are the only two necessary to a complete Christian life: Baptism and Holy Communion. The other five are mentioned or implied in Holy Scripture and have been found necessary to the life of the whole Church, but not invariably to each and every Christian as an individual. They are Confirmation, or Chrismation (which is really the completion of Baptism, and usually done at the same time), Ordination (which is necessary to make the proper ministers for other sacraments), Matrimony, and Reconciliation (also called penance, or confession, in which a person troubled by guilt is assured of complete forgiveness [absolution] and reconciled to the life of the Church). The Anointing of the Sick (unction) is offered whenever a Baptized person is ill. [In former times, it was restricted to the deathbed and therefore came to be known as “extreme unction”. Nowadays, it is encouraged whenever a person is hospitalized or seriously ill. It is usually not administered more than once during the same illness. When given at the time of death (in extremis), Unction is preceded by confession and followed by Holy Communion. This ministry is known as the “Last Rites” or the Viaticum. It is the earthly Church’s farewell]
We celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, sung with chants ancient and modern, accompanied with incense and bells. We incorporate into these Liturgies long periods of silence for contemplative prayer. At each of these Masses we sing the Nicene Creed, in which we glorify God in Three Persons, Whom we worship as actual Persons, and not merely names for three attributes or functions of God. We affirm the Incarnation of the Second Person in Jesus Christ, His horrible death for our sake, and His Resurrection and Ascension to the right Hand of the Father. We affirm the Virgin Birth and address prayers to the human woman who since the Second Council of Constantinople has been called the “All Holy.” We affirm the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb, which was then really empty. We later affirm His Ascension “into heaven”, and we know that this highly metaphorical language expresses a mystery we cannot as yet comprehend, but that it does not necessarily mean He floated up into the sky!
This is an example of our willingness to view the sacred tradition anew, in terms consistent with our worldview. We take seriously the commandment to love God with all our mind. Furthermore, we find no warrant in Holy Scripture – much less a requirement – for excluding women and homosexual people from full membership in the Catholic Church. Full membership means that any sacramental role open to heterosexual men is also open to them. We are very happy that the Anglican Communion has a number of female bishops and many female priests, and that the Episcopal Church in the United States – to its considerable cost – has elevated an openly gay man to the episcopate. Radical orthodoxy does not mean unreasoning, slavish adherence to the worldly social norms of other cultures and other times.
Radical orthodoxy also has a political dimension, because it means that God and our Divine Savior hold our ultimate allegiance. We “put not (y)our trust in princes”; and we feel free – even obligated as a religious duty – to criticize the powers of this world, especially when they claim to represent God. We are implacably opposed to the blasphemous notion that the United States of America is favored by God over other nations.