Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Via Media? A Response to Fr. Longenecker

(This article is a response to Fr. Longenecker's post Via Cafeteria or Via Media? )

Fr. Longenecker is a Roman Catholic priest who had been an Episcopal priest before his conversion to the Roman Church.  He is part of the Pastoral Provision, meaning that he has a special dispensation to be a married priest.  He has written an article criticizing the Anglican via media.  Before I unpack some of his statements, I would like to mention that "via media" is not a core "doctrine" of Anglicanism, and, in fact, is a rather novel term, being coined by John Henry Newman (who left for Rome, which should raise suspicions about the term).  However, Fr. Longenecker treats the term as some sort of foundational idea in Anglicanism, so I will try to do that, even though it is not the case.

For a long time Anglicans have promoted the idea that their church was a via media--a middle way--between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Not quite.  The "via media" (if there is one), is a "via media" between Geneva and Wittenberg.  The English Reformers and nearly every Anglican divine up to Alexander Knox (just before the Oxford Movement) rejected the errors of Romanism, fully.  They recognized the chasm between us, as we reject transubstantiation and justification by works.

They taught that their church was the ancient Catholic Church of the British Isles--but reformed properly by Protestant doctrine and customs of worship. However, in practice, as John Henry Newman himself pointed out, the via media was never more than a beautiful idea. This is because Anglicans inevitably fell into one camp or the other. If they were inclined to Protestantism they joined the Evangelicals. If Catholicism, they joined the Anglo Catholics, if they preferred to adjust their Christian faith to the spirit of the age they joined the Liberal establishment. 

I take issue with the latter half of this statement.  Of course Anglicans believe the first part and it is true that the Church of England is the Catholic church of England, as the Protestant Episcopal Church is of the United States.  The latter half, however, is not true.  Anglo-Catholicism is a relatively new development in Anglicanism, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century (I'm not counting Tractarianism as "Anglo-Catholicism" because of the lack of ritual complexity in that movement).  Evangelicalism became a "party" after Anglo-Catholicism evolved into a party.  Evangelicalism arose earlier than Anglo-Catholicism in the 1700's with the revivals.  Latitudinarianism is actually the oldest of the "church parties" stemming from the Cambridge Platonists in the 17th century.  Longenecker does not mention the old High Church school which, although weakened, is still around, in societies such as the Prayer Book Society.

The via media was impossible to maintain for there was no defining dogma or ways of worship.

Fr. Longenecker is completely wrong here.  Anglicanism is commonly defined as having a proper liturgy, in fact, that is one of the "trademarks" of Anglicanism.  I have no idea where he conjured up this image in his head.  The definition of Anglican worship is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, all Anglican worship must reflect the theology of that book.  Likewise, Anglicanism has a defining theology as contained in the Articles of Religion, together with the Prayer Book, Ordinal, and Homilies form the "formularies" or those defining documents which clearly state what Anglicanism teaches and confesses and that which it does not.  I quote the declaration of King Charles I, prefixed to the Articles of Religion:

"That the Articles of the Church of England (which have been allowed and authorized heretofore, and which our clergy generally have subscribed unto) do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's word: which we do therefore ratify and confirm, requiring all our loving subjects to continue in the uniform profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles; which to that end we command to be new printed, and this our declaration to be published therewith..."

For those who wished to walk that middle way, it was more a via cafeteria than a via media. Any Anglican attempting the via media would have to pick and choose from among the different streams of Christian customs and beliefs to formulate his own personal medley of convictions. The via media was therefore not so much a middle road as a road to nowhere.

Fr. Longenecker points out a common misrepresentation of “via media” or even Anglicanism itself.  Often people think that Anglicanism is more of a “pick and choose” religion.  However, further observation will reveal that Anglicanism does have a set of teachings and a liturgical tradition of its own.  It is true that Anglicanism has not defined itself to the same precision that the Roman Catholic Church has but our Church has all of our formularies.  One also wonders about the use of the term “cafeteria” to describe Anglicanism.  “Cafeteria Catholicism” is a commonplace term used to describe the Roman Catholic Church.  I do not wish to point fingers but the criticism can go both ways.

The reason the via media never worked within Anglicanism is because it had no rock on which to build. It had no magisterium and no apostolic authority. The middle way had no one to define what it was, no one to say, “This is the way: walk in it.” This is precisely what the personal ordinariate provides. As the Anglicans come into full communion with the Catholic Church, they will be catechized in the fullness of the faith. Their liturgies will be purged of the anti Catholic elements. They will profess, like all converts do, to believe all that the Catholic Church teaches to be revealed by God.

Fr. Longenecker is implying (either knowingly or not) that Anglicanism can only be fulfilled in the Roman Church.  Anglicanism has both magesterium and apostolic authority, on its own.  The Church of England perserved the apostolic succession of bishops at the Reformation and the magesterium of our Church is the Holy Scripture.  The Holy Spirit does not give authority to men to elevate themselves above the Word of God, such an interpretation is alien to the early Church and the Scripture.  Anglicans do not need to come into communion with the Catholic Church because we already are the Catholic Church, or rather a part of it.  The whole of the Church does not reside in the patriarchal sees.  The Church is the assembly of faithful men and women where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments duly administered.  Our Liturgy has no “anti-Catholicism” in it but is rather the best Catholic Liturgy available.

There are many thinking Evangelical Christians who are conservative and orthodox in their faith. They have little patience with the razzmatazz of the mega churches and the post modern, self help versions of contemporary Protestant Christianity. They have come to appreciate the historic church. They are longing for liturgy, solid doctrine, strong moral teaching and unity with the apostolic church.

However, if they are drawn to the Episcopal or Lutheran churches they are repulsed by the radical political and sexual agendas, the dumbed down liturgy and ‘up to date’ approach. They wanted tradition, prayer and reverence and they find trendiness, politics and relevance. Sadly, if they visit their local Catholic church it may very well be indistinguishable from what the Episcopalians and Lutherans have on offer. Should they find a more traditional Catholic church they may find the cultural aspects too daunting. They’d spot the Infant of Prague or Our Lady of Fatima and hear rosaries being muttered and their old anti Catholic bias will rear its head and they’ll stay away.

Fr. Longenecker seems to suggest that Protestant Evangelicals will rush to the Catholic Church because the Ordinariate has been established.  I highly doubt this.  First, many Evangelicals are still entering the Episcopal Church after discovering liturgical Christianity.  Next, Fr. Longenecker does not consider the Anglican Church in North America.  Lastly, Fr. Longenecker overestimates the importance of justification by faith alone and the firm rejection of works righteousness by Protestant Evangelicals.

All in all, Fr. Longenecker makes some interesting points but fails to see the point of historical Anglicanism nor does he firmly grasp what classical Anglicanism is.

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