An Anglican Moderate

I am an Anglican moderate. What does this mean? Chiefly it means these things:
• I fit neither of the extremes in the current debates
• I hold to a literal interpretation of the creeds and place great importance on the sacraments
• I believe that the Anglican Way is a distinctive way of being Christian organically derived from the monastic tradition of the Church rooted in a proper balance of liturgical formation and an embrace of critical reasoning as chief means of growing into the Mind of Christ.

Rather than trying to move through these point by point, I shall present a more discursive reflection which shall return to these at intervals.

I. A Recantation
I think the appropriate place to begin is with a recantation of one of my earlier published pieces. I know that many people eschew labels as shallow means of pigeon-holing either others or themselves. I don’t agree. I think that they are useful tools for categorization when properly applied and suitably nuanced. I have, in the past, denied myself a label but, through navel-gazing and cogent arguments from my wife, will indeed embrace it. Despite what I wrote here, I am an anglo-catholic.

I haven’t changed my mind on the positions espoused in that document except to say that I have allowed others to claim it based on their litmus tests; I have prematurely surrendered it without adequately defending my own views for I find no other label that describes me better.

As my wife has reminded me recently, “High Church” as commonly used today refers to a liturgical preference—and says nothing about either theology or way of life. And, my connection to catholic tradition and practice go beyond how spikey I like my liturgy.

Having said all that and recognizing the often nebulous meaning of the label, I shall describe precisely what I mean by it and how that makes up a large part of how and why I am an Anglican Moderate.

II. Some Autobiographical Rambling
I have done a lot of reading of patristic and medieval church authors–more than most. After all, it’s what I do professionally. Though a biblical scholar, my field is more accurately the interpretation and proclamation of the Scriptures in the first Christian millennium with a focus on Northern Europe and the Isles. And so I’ve read a lot of sermons and commentaries and monastic rules and histories and saint’s lives and doctrinal statements. And I’ve delved into the secondary sources that treat these primary texts. I have been deeply shaped by these thinkers so much so that it cost me a good career path.

You see, my second master’s degree is in Lutheran confessional theology and I earned it as one of my ordination requirements in the ELCA. I had jumped through all the hoops, I was at the end of the ordination process and was one interview with a synodical committee away from becoming a Lutheran pastor. But instead I sat down and wrote a three page single-spaced letter to the committee on why I in good conscience could not be ordained a Lutheran pastor on doctrinal grounds; I’m assuming they received it–I never heard from them again.

The reason that I could not continue was because I had been converted to what I understood as a more excellent way. I saw the church moving away from is confessional heritage and especially the more catholic roots that placed an emphasis on the importance of the sacraments. It was moving to a general liberal protestant stance and despite the liturgical renewal movement and a renewed in the Eucharist in some quarters of the church the church’s liturgy remained mere adiaphora and the great heart of the church—the laity—especially those with ALC backgrounds, remained resistent to a high sacramental theology rightly questioning if it were just another academic fad. At the Lutheran seminary I was considered some suspicious kind of arch-conservative for writing a thesis on the importance of the Fear of God in confessional thought and its connection with penance. Of course, the conservatives would have nothing to do with me because of the pietist commitments of the Word Alone movement–the only alternative they knew to liberal protestantism.

Not only did I have issues with where the ELCA was going, I had issues with where I was going. My theology and spirituality was not only growing more liturgical and sacramental but it was increasingly finding a home in the Psalms. While Luther and others in the history of his movement have spoken warmly of the psalms, they have never played a central role in Lutheran spirituality. I had read deeply in western monasticism since college and had delighted in visits to St John’s abbey in that time and the Trappist Abbey of the Holy Spirit in seminary and an especially memorable pilgrimage to the Abbey of Gethsemane. The role of the psalms in monastic prayer had shaped my own devotional life and even as a Lutheran I used the monthly psalm cycle in the Book of Common Prayer. While at the Lutheran seminary my wife (still technically a Methodist) and I attended a small, vibrant and growing Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church and I still remember the morning in the undercroft when my heart was strangely warmed as the rector explained that the heart of the Book of Common Prayer was the Benedictine monasticism of the pre-Reformation Archbishops of Canterbury and that, therefore, its heart of hearts was the Psalter.

Furthermore, I came to understand the place of the saints in the Christian life and came to hold decidedly un-Lutheran views on their invocation and veneration.

Knowing the direction that the ELCA was going and the direction that I was going, I discerned that we were moving in two different directions–not diametric opposites or anything but simply different. I came to the realization that it would be dishonest for me to lead a Lutheran congregation as I would feel the need to lead them where they would not wish to go and much energy would be wasted in matters not edifying to anyone. So it was that my commitment to a non-liberal, pre-Reformation, monastic-centered Christianity prevented me from being gainfully employed in my vocation–a calling that still weighs upon me.

(I hope that it is clear that I do not bear Lutherans any ill-will. I did not leave it because I saw it as corrupt or theologically bankrupt or what have you. I still find myself using Lutheran theological formulations where they agree with ancient traditions and regard Luther’s catechisms as valuable writings, commending them heartily to Christians of any stripe. I just could no longer be an ELCA Lutheran.)

III. The Monastic Way within the Catholic Tradition
So I’ve talked a bit about why I’m not what I’m not–it’s time to make some positive formulations.

A. The Catholic in Anglo-Catholic
Anglo-Catholicism is not fundamentally about what happens on Sunday morning—and this is what many who claim the label do not understand. It is a way of life, a path to knowing God rooted in a classical, comprehensive, organic way of life that is expressed most visibly—yes, in the Sunday liturgy—but is in no way restricted to it. It is rooted in the past, in the living tradition of the Fathers of the Church and as such is prey to devolving into antiquarianism—doing old things and espousing old thoughts simply because they are old. It is a system of doctrine and discipline that is profoundly embodied. Outward gestures—bowing, crossing, genuflecting—reflect an engagement with the liturgy and an attitude towards the divine. Colors and vestments represent the ordering of things, the structures of the church mirroring the structures of the cosmos. Incense, holy water, introits—I could go on but don’t think I need to; these outward things are well known. Because Anglo-Catholic ideas are expressed in externals, it is prey to devolving into outward affectations—using gestures and wearing vestments, and smokin’ the place up simply because these things thrill the senses and not because they are the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual way of being. It is a system that inculcates the classically Christian religious affections—penitence, steadfast hope, holy joy—through the cyclic remembrance of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, his presence in the saints, the patterns of the creeds made visible, tangible, and kinetic in the observances of the church year. It consciously engages the affections and as such may fall prey to devolving into exaggeration—a wallowing in maudlin piety that seizes upon one or another of the affections, exalting them at the expense of the others, or a selective celebration of the cyclic commemorations. The Jewish tradition says (specifically in regard to Passover) that they should not feast with us who have not fasted with us. The same is true here as well; feast is balanced by fast with days as well as seasons. Yes, Advent is paired with Christmas and Lent with Easter but it doesn’t end there. If every Sunday is a memorial of our Lord’s resurrection so too is every Friday a memorial of his Passion.

Perhaps the most tendentious part of the label of Anglo-Catholics among those who observe its ways is the difficulty of the development of doctrine. St Vincent of Lérins is best known for the eponymous Vincentian Canon:

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (Comm. 2.6)

As helpful as this is, its difficulties make it more a good idea than an enforceable decree. The single biggest problem is that its enforcement is based on a subjective determination of universal and ancient faith. Moreover the notion of “almost all” serves as a convenient means of avoiding testimony one wishes to ignore. Furthermore, as Caelius has noted, the canon fails through irony—St Vincent’s point in promoting it was to overturn and argue against the teachings of grace and free will taught by St Augustine.

Of equal importance to my mind and perhaps more helpful to the present day are his statements on doctrinal developments. He acknowledges—he must acknowledge—that things change and that the teaching of the Church in his day was not identical with what the apostles taught.

But some one will say. perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged n itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning. … In like manner, it behoves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits. … For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties. (Comm. 23.54, 56, 57. All of Ch. 23 is most profitable in this regard.)

That is, the limits must remain and the chief goals must remain the same—the core commitments.

One of the great gulfs that has opened up between St Vincent and us is the Enlightenment and it’s children, modernity and now postmodernity. Many of us wish that these had not occurred. But they have. Some Anglo-Catholics (and other Catholics) attempt to simply ignore these happenings as if they had never taken place but in doing so they succumb to an odd form of antiquarianism itself made possible by these developments. I have come to believe that to attempt to live the life of faith and to carry on the doctrine and discipline of the church as if these things had not occurred is to live a fantasy. Now, in no way should we capitulate to these developments and fall into the error of liberal Protestantism. Rather, we must discern a path in accord with the classic teachings in light of our new surroundings and a radically different world from the one our spiritual fathers inhabited and envisioned.

As I see it, we hold to the words of the Scriptures and the Fathers for they are the things that have formed us in the past. However, just as important is to see these teachings for what they are—not simply a set of dicta set down for all times but a reflection on the method, the logic of faithful Christian living. The words of the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the writings of the Fathers show us faithful Christian minds wrestling with how to live the Gospel in their day. We can do no better than to follow in their footsteps. Critical reasoning formed according to the Mind of Christ is inherent in them all. As a preliminary to what can only be a much longer and more involved discussion suffice it to say that in Vincentian terms the limits of the body of doctrine are the creeds and the words and works of Jesus and the principle at the heart of the body is the twofold love of God and neighbor.

Now, Catholics and Anglo-Catholics all hold to the teachings of the past but as we look closer we see differences and variations. How can they all be Catholic yet not all the same? The question is rhetorical, the answer well known. Within the Catholic tradition there are many ways. There is the way of the desert fathers, the way of the mendicant friars, the way of the Scholastics, the way of the nominalists, etc. The current doctrine, discipline and—most important—practice of modern day Catholicism is a welter of ways piled atop one another—some integrated with others, some not. All, however, stand within the bounds of Catholic thought. While bounded, Catholic thought has never been a narrow dogmatic straightjacket and attempts to make it so—no matter how highly placed within the hierarchy—are a novelty. One of these ways is the monastic way.

B. The Monastic Way: A Sacramental Christian Stoicism
The Benedictine scholar Claude Pfiefer writes about the Rule of Benedict, of Columba, and the writings of John Cassian in the following fashion:

The various rules were merely so many individual expressions of the tradition. All the ancient monks considered their real rule, in the sense of the ultimate determinant of their lives, to be not some product of human effort but the Word of God himself as contained in the Scriptures. Monasticism was simply a form of the Christian life itself, and hence it drew its inspiration from divine revelation. (from the introductory chapters to RB 1980)

I take this to mean that there was a common understanding of Christianity and the Christian life of which these writings are all witness. There are a number of common characteristics of these texts and the way of life that they model that have had a tremendous impact on how I understand my faith.

Philosophically the monastic way is rather simplistic. Some of the early Church Fathers were dedicated Neo-Platonists; the greatest of the Scholastics were Aristotelians and they were followed by the Nominalists. These philosophical systems were fairly robust and included physics and dialectic as well as ethics and so on. They were fairly comprehensive systems of thought. The monastic way, rather, embraced Stoicism. Rather anemic as far as systems go, the Stoics focused on ethics, particularly in the realm of actions. Their big thing was the cultivation of virtue and the suppression of vice. Some of the later NT writings especially one of my favorite yet least read books of the NT, 2 Peter, actively lean towards Stoicism in my view. Certainly Cassian, Benedict, Martin of Braga and others were heavily influenced by its constructions and formulations particularly in terms of how vice and virtue applied practically to Christian living.

At the beginning of the Conferences, Cassian narrates a conversation he and his friend Germanus had with a learned abbot. He asked their aim. Their response was “the kingdom of God.” He congratulated them on their good answer but suggested that this was an ultimate goal–what, he asked, was their immediate goal? They replied that they did not know. He suggested that it should be purity of heart—i.e., the cultivation of virtue—which he also referred to as sanctification. This captures the way that understand sanctification. It is a growth into the mind of Christ through the suppression of vice and the cultivation of virtue. Participating with the urgings of the Spirit, we train ourselves in the ways of faith, hope, and love, opening ourselves to God’s ongoing creative activity in our lives as the ravages of sin are (painfully and with difficulty) repaired

This cultivation of virtue is impossible without the sacraments. By ourselves were are capable of some progress towards virtue; we can achieve a modicum of success. True virtue, especially the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love, are only achieved through the motion of the Holy Spirit in our lives, a Spirit given to us in Baptism. In Baptism, the old self is drowned and we rise from the waters clothed in Christ, a dripping new creation. This is salvation—participating in the life of the Risen Christ. While Baptism is the beginning, the Eucharist is the food that continues the journey. In the Sacrament where the very body and blood of Christ is consumed, the process begun in Baptism is furthered as we are literally transformed inside-out into the Mind of Christ. The Sacrament of Penance is balm to the soul and aids in the identification of vice and its conversion into virtue as the Sacrament of Holy Unction is a balm to the body and mind. The Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders relate mystically to who Christ is and how Christ is incarnate in us, the baptized.

As Stoicism is essentially a pragmatic school, neither the monastic tradition nor I am terribly concerned about the mechanics of the Sacraments. It is enough that they are sacraments and that grace is conferred through them. This is the only reason I say that I don’t believe in Transubstantiation; it insists on doses of Aristotle that I feel are unnecessary. It is enough for me that Christ is truly present.

Some Anglo-Catholics I know are Scholastic Anglo-Catholics. They’re big on Aquinas and others. If it feeds them—great. But that’s not my style. The Scholastic focus on dialectic is a little too extreme for me to feel at home there. I think that the difference really is one of focus. Rather than focusing on getting doctrine and doctrinal formulations right, my focus is on how we cultivate virtue in our Christian lives. Yes, doctrine is important, yes, coherent systems are important but at the end of the day I think that sometimes an insistence on doctrinal formulations leads us beyond where we can responsibly go and makes us say things about God better off left unsaid. Better, rather, to praise him and imitate Christ.

For this indeed is our life according to the monastic way: the praise of God and the imitation of Christ. As Cassian said in explaining the Lord’s Prayer: “But where it is said ‘Hallowed be Thy name,’ it may also be very fairly taken in this way: ‘The hallowing of God is our perfection'” (Conf. 1.9.18). This means two things. First, it is our purpose to praise God and we should continually be about it. Second, our praise is itself a means of our perfection; we are formed in and by our prayer. The liturgical prayer of the monastic tradition, participation in the Mass, these things shape who and what we are and it is through them that we are drawn deeper into the Mind of Christ.

C. BCP as the Heir of the Monastic Way
The Book of Common Prayer is an heir to the monastic way. Benedictine liturgy is essentially the disciplined encounter with Scripture; the BCP is essentially Benedictine liturgy adapted for those who live in the world. As the Church developed its liturgies, the monastics created a balance between the Divine Office, characterized by the repetition of Scripture—weekly for the Psalter, yearly for the entirety of the canon, and the Mass, characterized by a mystagogical entry into the Mind of Christ through meditating on the mysteries of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

A loss of this logic, a confusing proliferation of devotions, and an over-zealous devotion to simplicity lead the Continental Reformers to dramatically alter this cycle usually choosing the biblical logic of the Office over the Mass. What they did retain bore little similarity to the monastic establishment of the Office.

The English Reformation chose another way. Instead of attempting a return to the way of the early church based on selective tendentious readings of complicated and conflicting New Testament evidence, the fathers of the English Reformation restored the logic of the monastic way, balancing once more the Offices and Mass.

This is the heritage of the BCP. Incorporating the ancient texts of the pre-Scholastic missals and their Stoic-flavored approach to Christian formation, it retains the monastic way more perfectly than any other protestant attempt. The canticles and hymns–the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Te Deum—that have shaped Christians for centuries continue to shape Anglicans who faithfully embrace the discipline of the Prayer Book. And it is a discipline.

The Anglican Way presents a way of coming to know God not through sudden conversion experiences or even mystical revelations but through continual formation in the words of Scripture and words formed by Scripture. It requires the application of the Benedictine virtues–stability and obedience to the liturgical round and an openness to conversion by the texts and the Holy Spirit invoked by and working through them–for it to be truly efficacious. At the same time, it gives the freedom for critical exploration within the boundaries of the creeds and liturgies, not insisting upon strict conformity or uniformity, but rather consistency of prayer.

Thus, to complete my recantation, I both place myself within and strive to live up to the label of being “a Prayer Book Anglo-Catholic within The Episcopal Church.”

IV. Implications of a Sacramental Christian Stoicism Rooted in the Prayer Book
Now, I shall administer some hot button issue checks (hereafter HBIC) to situate what these beliefs look like in regard to the current controversies of the church.

A. Attitudes towards Classic Doctrine
In recent years, some of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith have been re-examined especially by those working out the implications of the Enlightenment and Modernity. I can say that with most if not all of these, I heartily disagree. Yes, the Creeds are to be read literally. Yes, the inspired Scriptures of the (Complete) Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation. [HBIC: Virgin Birth? Yes. Physical Resurrection? Yes! Inspired Word of God? Yes. Inerrant Word of God? No.] Where I draw the line is when I—or the Church—tries to dictate what God can or can’t do. For instance… As a Christian I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that none come to the Father but through him. [HBIC…Yes.] That none outside the Church (defined as those baptized into the Triune Name of Father Son and Holy Spirit [HBIC: Patriarchal Trinity? Yes.]) are saved [HBIC: Open Communion? No!]. BUT these are reasons for mission, evangelism, and spreading the good news of God in Jesus. They are not limits on what God chooses to do. If God chooses to save those who don’t fit my categories (as he’s threatened a couple of times in the Scriptures [HBIC: Universalist? No.]) There’s nothing I can do to stop him. Rather, my purpose is to praise him according to patterns with which the Church has shaped itself for centuries [HBIC: Historic Liturgy? Yes! ’28 Prayer Book? Ye–uh, umm, no…but definitely Rite I as well as Rite II].

B. Women’s Ordination
Along the same lines about limiting God, the Scriptures indicate to me that God’s promises operate outside of mechanistic parameters. If he wants to choose himself a Gentile messiah (Cyrus), then he will. If he wants to redeem the world through an accursed form of death (a cross), then he will. If he chooses to make his Son present on the altar through a woman—then he will [HBIC: Women’s ordination? Yes.]. Since in contrast to the levitical priesthood of the Old Testament the Tradition says he’ll allow it to happen through Gentiles I can’t believe that God is incapable of conveying his grace through women as well as men.

C. Same-Sex Unions
As a pragmatic school with its focus on human behavior, the Stoic and monastic project explores and shapes how people should act. Belief is part of the equation—but acting and being are more important than speculation for its own sake. Our goal should be reinforcing one another and strengthening those structures that cultivate virtue. This means building strong churches based on mutual respect, trust, and openness and families built on the same system. It is not good for humans to be alone and God has devised both local church communities and families for this purpose no matter how much we try to screw them up.

Chastity is a virtue and should be cultivated by all. Fornication is its concomitant vice to be restrained. Paul tells us that marriage is given to men and women for the sake of bridling fornication, giving heterosexual couples a way to direct their passions appropriately, monogamously. Furthermore, when done right, marriage is a model of the mystery between Christ and his Church. (Note: While I have spoken in glowing terms of the monastic tradition, this is one area where I depart from that teaching. They were all about the celibacy. I’m not called to that and I don’t believe most people are either. It is a spiritual grace given to some—certainly neither all or even most.)

Because of this logic and the virtues reinforced by Christian marriage, I cannot understand why the church would be attempting to actively suppress faithful monogamous relationships for homosexual couples. For the restraint of vice, the growth of virtue, and growth into the mind of Christ I believe that this is something that we should promote. [HBIC: The Gay Lifestyle? No! The Playboy Lifestyle? No! Same-Sex Unions? Yes.]

D. Openly Gay Clergy
I also mentioned that churches and families should be places characterized by trust and openness. The Church especially in its local communities should cultivate virtue in all its forms by teaching and modeling it—especially its leaders. One of the Reformation’s great goods was a recognition that the discipline of the Western Church was undercutting its moral proclamation. A medieval priest who attempted to preach morality to his flock yet kept a “housekeeper” may have been proclaiming Christian morality with his mouth but his lifestyle was showing something different. Luther and the Reformers decided that truth-telling and consistency was more to be prized than the historical discipline and reintroduced the married priesthood.

There have always been gay priests. There have always been gay bishops. Especially in Anglo-Catholic circles. Some of them have been called to and have modeled holy celibacy and have given us all a great example (just like heterosexual celibates). But more often than not, they have been forced to live a lie and undercut their proclamation. In the interests of promoting proper Christian discipline and doctrine and to free Christian clergy from betraying their vows and forming themselves as hypocrites, gay clergy should be allowed the same licit relationships as their straight brothers and sisters [HBIC: clergy in SSU? Yes. Closeted clergy saying one thing from the pulpit and doing another in their personal lives? No.] This will enable gay and straight clergy alike to proclaim an appropriate Christian sexual morality—celibate when single, monogamous when married—without either being hypocrites themselves or abetting institutionally approved hypocrisy.

If the church is going to hold these positions, however, it needs to do so clearly, transparently. The canons and the liturgies should be in accordance with church proclamation. Or else, once again, it’s moral teaching is undermined. Therefore we need to be sure that all three send the same message [HBIC: clergy living in sexual relationships outside of the canons and liturgies? No.].

Do the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church oppose homosexual relationships in any form? Yes, they do as I read them. And yet—the Scriptures also show Jesus condemning and overturning both institutionalized hypocrisy and Scripturally-mandated Law. Jesus calls us to love God and love our neighbor—and love is brought about through the Spirit and the cultivation of virtue. My understanding of who Christ is based on Scriptures leads me to believe that this is believe that this logic is not contrary to who he has revealed himself to be.

V. On Moderation
For those of you keeping track, you will have noticed that I have said that I am not Lutheran and that I am an Anglo-Catholic. I have also located myself on a number of hot button items and litmus tests to demonstrate that I am neither a card-carrying “reasserter” or “reappraiser” (to use T19’s parlance).

So—how am I a moderate? In one sense, I’m a moderate by default—and I’m not necessarily pleased about that. That is, if the Anglican Communion is now spread out on a one dimensional spectrum from theological liberals to conservatives, I’m at neither end and thus fall in the middle. But I don’t like being framed that way. It’s very imprecise and does not even begin to model the theological, political, and practical complexities that shape our communion. Whenever Jesus was presented with a binary, he tended to pick the third option and throw everyone into a tizzy. I’d really like to do the same. It’s time to redraw the spectrum! That’s the way—the only way—people who believe as I do will finally get a voice.

There’s another way in which I can say that I am a moderate. That’s because in this conversation there are extremists and I’m not one of them. I define an extremist as someone who won’t listen. Chiefly they are characterized by 1) an inability to acknowledge when someone they disagree with has a valid point and 2) an inability to acknowledge blatant misbehavior or hypocrisy from someone they do agree with. I’m not talking about minor inconsistencies here either. Inconsistencies are bound to exist in any organic (that is, naturally growing and evolving) attempt to work out salvation in fear and trembling. I[‘m sure there are several inconsistencies in this document—and that bothers me not at all. It’s part of the process.

Instead, I stand for listening to those I do and do not agree with and providing room to recognize that you and I can have profound disagreements and yet agree that the other is not part of a malicious attempt to destroy the faith. The point of our discussions may not even be to change minds—though that may happen; I’ve changed mine before and I’m sure I will again—but to share how others are living out their commitments to the Triune God and negotiating the complexities of postmodern life as faithfully as possible. In this respect I will claim the label “moderate.”

So, in fine, I do claim to be an Anglican Moderate albeit with reservations. I do claim to be a Prayer Book Anglo-Catholic. I don’t claim to be right—but I do claim to be trying. In praise of God and imitation of Christ I am trying to witness to God’s love for the world the best that I can.

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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17 Responses to An Anglican Moderate

  1. Nick+ says:

    Thanks Derek – this is a truly carefully thought out piece. Being a Neo-Platonist and also being strongly influenced by stoicism, I find much to resonate with in your thoughts.

    I’m also very interested in the careful way you’ve teased out the way catholic ideals have informed your thinking – as I mentioned over on my site, I’m thinking that perhaps much of the moderate/centrist impulse is commonly coming out of anglo-catholic roots.

  2. Lutheran Zephyr says:

    Thoughtful writing, Derek. Thanks. I especially appreciate hearing about your move from the Lutheran tradition to the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

    I know many of your readers are like-minded church-folk, and I don’t mean to rustle any feathers here, but I have a lingering question. You see, I am an ELCA Lutheran with old-LCA inclinations and a personal love for the gift of liturgy, and I don’t disagree with much of what you wrote. However, I have one question. Perhaps it is a matter of emphasis, but I wonder if you and your tradition expect too much from the liturgy.

    For example, you wrote a few days ago on the Feast of St Benedict that “the path of liturgy–the balance of the Office and the Mass–is a true path to know the Living Jesus.” And at the top of this post you wrote about “a proper balance of liturgical formation and an embrace of critical reasoning as chief means of growing into the Mind of Christ.” Where in the Anglo-Catholic tradition (or in your thought) is the Theology of the Cross and Two Kingdoms language that recognizes the breadth of God’s presence in the world, not just in the church?

    Some particular gifts of my Lutheran tradition (even if at times Luther himself didn’t fully appreciate them) are the Theology of the Cross, theology of vocation and Two Kingdoms theology, theologies that compel us to look for God and God’s blessings in the places we least expect to see God – in the world, in the government, in the poor, in school, in other cultures, in the mundane tasks of our daily work. These theologies emphasize God’s action beyond the walls of the church. What does your tradition, or liturgical theology in general, say about the experience of God beyond liturgy? For I might do just as well to seek the Living Jesus in the poor or outcast as I would in the Mass . . .

    Thanks again for your post. I always enjoy reading your blog.

  3. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Well, LZ, what is our attitude towards the poor?

    Is it not our conviction that “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * and hath exalted the humble and meek.
    He hath filled the hungry with good things; * and the rich he hath sent empty away.” as we sing in the Magnificat?

    How do we treat the sorrowful an disconsolate?

    Is not this our service:
    “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people * for the remission of their sins,
    Through the tender mercy of our God; * whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
    To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, * and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”?

    How do we recognize the presence of God in the world? Is it not from recognizing that the cosmos breaks forth in praise:

    “O ALL ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: * praise him, and magnify him for ever.
    O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: * praise him, and magnify him for ever.

    O YE Heavens, bless ye the Lord: * praise him, and magnify him for ever.
    O ye Waters that be above the firmament, bless ye the Lord: * praise him, and magnify him for ever.
    etc…”?

    The liturgies of the Offices remind us on a daily basis of what we are going to find in the world and remind us of our responsibilities to the world. We begin each sunrise by praying for the world–in the process reminding ourselves of our duty towards it and its inhabitants–athen doing so again as the sun sets.

    The discpline of the Daily Office is not “just in the church” as you put it. Its natural setting in these latter days is in homes and families, not churches, and its purpose is to prepare us and call to mind what we are required to do for the world. Thus, I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy.

  4. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Nick+,

    Thanks for the idea and for stopping by. If it is true that it is our anglo-catholic roots that make us do this, why style ourselves as “moderates” on someone else’s spectrum? How do we recast the camps make things make sense?

  5. *Christopher says:

    derek,

    First it was good to learn a little bit more of your own pilgrimage to date.

    I found myself nodding on almost all of your discussion about theology, history, and you say it in such a generous careful manner. I resonate most with your discussion of Anglicanism as a continuation of Benedictine and monastic concerns and the application of practical divinity (growth in virtues)–which is at the heart of Benedict’s Rule. It doesn’t peer overly into how this is working out in the soul but rather is concerned that it is being worked out and manifested in one’s daily life.

    I think where I have some trouble with many who claim the term “moderate” is while recognizing that ideally the canons, liturgies, and all would align (as the are about care of souls ultimately), they don’t always in practice as changes are messy and often changes to laws are the last to happen, and it’s not because I dismiss canons and liturgies as of no consequence or of no value. It’s because I’m a part of that messiness that our tidy system of canons and liturgies don’t presently deal with contstructively.

    My priest is perhaps the first priest I’ve had in years that I trust at all for pastoral concerns and he’s partnered with an adopted child. Do we strip him of his orders or remove him from the parish because the canons and liturgies and his life don’t coincide? And of course, you know my own situation.

    I think when things are as they are still in many cases hostile to those same-sex affected and to those in same-sex unions, it isn’t as easy for us to go forward with the same clarity you have presented here for concern of real life dangers on so many fronts. We live with a certain angst about that, as it seems you do that we are not in compliance with the rules as they presently stand, but that goes generally, as in the eyes of the Episcopal Church as a whole in its canons and liturgies, I could be classified as a fornicator even though my gay lifestyle is prayerful, concerned with discipline, sexually bound, etc. Given that, I shouldn’t be hired by a seminary either or perhaps even serve in a cathedral or on a liturgy committee because I am outside the law? These aren’t just rhetorical questions, but realities I face in even bothering to study liturgy and church history as a calling. In such a case, do I just throw away my gifts? At present that is what the gist of the law would suggest. The same could apply to my BiS. That doesn’t feel much like family, if that is the case, or rather it feels all too much like the family I escaped.

  6. *Christopher says:

    Interesting, in rereading, as this is worth savouring as Fr. Nick suggests, it reminded me of last night. I had dinner with a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo-catholic (from an era largely past) from my parish with whom I’ve become friends over discussions about liturgical changes, the Creeds, and whatnot. He’s a wonderful man, richly steeped in the faith, a lover of the Anglican Way, and incredibly generous.

    We came to a very similar conclusion to your own as we discussed concerns over “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, to “Anglo-catholics who have left”, to “The Issue”, to “common prayer”, “to GC06” which we were both disturbed by: that we can continue to be generous with one another across our disagreements and listen to one another in our attempts to offer our lives faithfully to God.

    I think this part is important as well, at least for me a balm: Inconsistencies are bound to exist in any organic (that is, naturally growing and evolving) attempt to work out salvation in fear and trembling. I[‘m sure there are several inconsistencies in this document—and that bothers me not at all. It’s part of the process.

  7. The young fogey says:

    As sarcastic and condescending as your first entry was, it was honest about the Catholic position and your disagreement with it.

    I could defy labelling by others and declare myself King of the World but that wouldn’t make it so. Likewise, ‘partnered’ homosexuals (living in sin) and lady clergy (impossible according to Catholics as you wrote earlier) = not Catholic.

    I have modern Central Church friends – we respect each other but don’t claim to be of the same faith. They’re laity – their churchmanship among the clergy is even rarer than real Anglo-Catholicism. According to one of them the laity are about 20 years behind the clergy in theological trends so there are still lots of Central Churchmen like him in the pews. ‘Affirming Catholicism’ (not real Catholicism) is the reverse – a kind of clerical club for modern Broad Churchmen with little interest from anybody else.

  8. Left Coast Lee says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful analysis of the way one can be anglo=catholic and yet in favor of women’s ordination and of same sex blessings and unions. You have described my position nearly exactly, and BTW the coming to the Episcopal Church by way of graduate studies in the Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Homilies, and sermons of the great 16th century English Reformers
    and research assistant assignments in Hooker, Luther, and Calvin. Again thank you.

  9. Anastasia says:

    I’m still wondering if anglo-catholic is really the right designation. sorry I don’t have a lot more to say about it right now. maybe after I mull a while.

  10. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Hi Fogey,

    Thanks for commenting. It seems we do disagree on some things. If being catholic is simply a matter of holding all of the old thoughts, do you believe in Petrine authority–and if not, why not?

    Hi Leftcoast Lee,

    Good to see you here. You’ll have to tell us more about your studies.

    Well Anastasia, I am too–but I can’t think of anything closer… Mull away!

  11. LutherPunk says:

    Derek – your appraisal of Lutheranism is something that is spot on, and that you know I too continue to struggle with. I think your entry has prompted some things in my own thought. This blog hiatus was in part because I am really struggling with some of this as well.

    Blessings as the path unfolds for you.

  12. Derek the Ænglican says:

    LP,

    I thought that might be part of it… I imagine you’ll wait to see how things shake out before making a career-altering decision, though, right?

  13. LutherPunk says:

    I am not abou to do anythin career altering. I truly believe that I am called to office of ministry, and that is what makes this so hard.

    Plus – and I am willing to venture we have something in common here as well – I have a deep and abiding love for Lutheranism, especially the parishes I have been part of. Would it be hard for me to walk away from the denomination? No! Would it be hard for me to sit across the table from those I have shared my life with and tell them I had to pursue something different? That would be harder than anything I can imagine. I stay Lutheran primarily for the people that I have come to love.

  14. Annie says:

    You wrote a book! 😉 Great reading, though. I especially want to hold onto this thought: That’s because in this conversation there are extremists and I’m not one of them. I define an extremist as someone who won’t listen. Chiefly they are characterized by 1) an inability to acknowledge when someone they disagree with has a valid point and 2) an inability to acknowledge blatant misbehavior or hypocrisy from someone they do agree with.

    Annie

  15. The young fogey says:

    Many thanks for your greeting, Derek – I didn’t see it till some time after you’d written it.

    Of course I don’t deny Petrine authority in principle. Here are some more thoughts on the Pope. You can also search my blog.

    I like the Pope when he’s Catholic.

  16. Gracious Light says:

    Nice verbage. Let me push you. After reading this once, I talked to other episcopalians that I know (i.e. my aunt and her fellow parishioners). I’m with you in that I don’t really like monikers (you wouldn’t believe it with my blog’s title, hehe). Anyway, their understanding is that anglocatholics are a small group and thus by definition not moderate.

    As someone who is hoping to corner Bish. Alexander Wednesday night and ask him for an audience, help me understand.

  17. Pingback: Anglo-Catholic Identity–Again | haligweorc

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