Saturday, January 10, 2015

What May Christians Safely Disbelieve?

Alice C. Linsley

My Roman Catholic friend, Michael Liccione, has written on his Facebook page that "the main disagreement among American Catholics is not about whether we should believe 'all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, professes, and teaches,' but which teachings we may safely disbelieve."

I responded, "Aggiornamento has that effect on us! There is an interesting parallel between the Roman Catholic Church in the USA and the Anglicans in the USA in that liturgical reform suggested to many that the historic Catholic faith had changed. The Vatican II liturgical changes and the Episcopal Church's 1979 prayer book changed words and forms. If lex orandi lex credendi is true, we should not be surprised that Roman Catholics and Anglicans have to decide what they may safely disbelieve."

Dr. Peter Toon believed that the Anglican formulary had a fixed shape that was worth preserving because it was Biblically sound and preserved the distinctive Anglican Way. He had no problem with the slight changes in wording and order that were found across the various revisions up to the 1979 "Book of Common Prayer" produced by the Episcopal Church. He noted that the 1979 book did not conform to any of the previous versions. This concerned him and it concerns other Anglicans who believe that the form of something received should not be set aside because form is an important as the words prayed.

The Anglican priest Louis Tarsitano wrote, "The rejection of formulas as the prescribed means of defining, maintaining, and manifesting forms is especially dangerous in theology and religion, upon which all other human activities depend for the maintenance of their forms according to God’s good pleasure. The new life given in Christ Jesus is governed by divine forms, just as much as the originally righteous life of man that redemption restores was formed in every particular by God."

How one views the changes that came out of Vatican II and the Episcopal Church's Standing Liturgical Commission (SLC), will depend on whether one agrees with the premise of the Liturgical Movement that the divine liturgy needed to be updated or modernized (aggiornamento).  Urban T. Holmes seems to have understood that the 1979 prayer book would divide Anglicans in the United States, or at least that it had far-reaching ramifications. He wrote, "It is evident that Episcopalians as a whole are not clear about what has happened. The renewal movement in the 1970s, apart from the liturgical renewal, often reflects a nostalgia for a classical theology which many theologians know has not been viable for almost 200 years. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is a product of a corporate, differentiated theological mind, which is not totally congruent with many of the inherited formularies of the last few centuries. This reality must soon ‘come home to roost’ in one way or another."

Holmes precisely expressed the premise of the reform of the traditional Anglican formularies in these words: "The church has awakened to the demise of classical theology." Holmes also wrote, "I know that there are those who do not understand this and protest it vigorously.'

The new book was predicated on an assumption that "classical theology" has no relevance to people of the 20th century. Further, he admits that the incongruence between the theology of the 1979 book and traditional Anglican theology is sufficiently great that it will  raise objections and bring division.

Holmes expressed another assumption that should be questioned, namely that people would be more likely to accept the 1979 book were they to be properly instructed. He wrote:

As I reflect upon the educational process that has brought the Episcopal Church to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, it seems clear that it is a symbol of a theological revolution, which is a victory for none of the old "parties" that those of us over 40 remember so vividly from our youth. The new prayer book has, consciously or unconsciously, come to emphasize that understanding of the Christian experience which one might describe as a postcritical apprehension of symbolic reality and life in the community. It is consonant with Ricoeur's "second naivete" and is more expressive of Husserl, Heidegger, Otto, and Rahner than Barth or Brunner. It embraces a Logos Christology. This viewpoint was shaped liturgically at Maria Laach, transmitted to Anglicanism by Herbert, Ladd, and Shepherd, and reinforced by Vatican II and a cluster of theologians and teachers who are, directly or indirectly, part of the theological movement reflected in that most significant gathering of the church in the 20th century.

This is one of the most revealing of Holmes' reflections on the liturgical reform of the Episcopal Church. The changes were informed by 20th century philosophical developments rather than by Scripture, Tradition, and the Fathers. As one who has been teaching Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida for more than 14 years, I can say that they have much to offer to theological conversation, but we should not regard them as authorities when it comes to liturgy, worship and prayer.

Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike give lip service to lex orandi lex credendi.  We recognize that how we pray shapes how we believe. To express it another way: what we pray influences what we believe. In turn, both how /what we pray and how/what we believe shapes how we live.

If you believe form/shape is not as important as words, you can easily embrace the liturgical changes of the 1979 prayer book. However, if you believe that lex orandi lex credendi is true, you are less inclined to dismiss or sideline the older form. No doubt the Roman and Anglican liturgical reforms brought some good things, but the question remains: Were these minor gains worth the price of losing continuity with the older, richer tradition? Were the changes really necessary?  Is this a different religion?

It is not a coincidence that the move to ordain women as priests came in the Episcopal Church with the "updating" of the liturgy that we find in the 1979 book. Likewise, with the post Vatican II liturgical changes in the Roman Church came a movement called "Women Priests" and just as the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church were ordained against the canons of the church, so some women of the Roman Catholic faith have taken it upon themselves to be ordained Catholic "priests" against the canons of Rome. See a pattern? Lex orandi lex credendi.

Words matter. "Regeneration" is one of those words that matter very much in traditional Anglican baptismal theology, but the word does not even appear in the 1979 prayer book.

Forms matter as much as words. None should be forced to worship according to a form that is incongruent with, and at times quite foreign to what has been preserved and received through many generations. The Vatican came to see this and now permits the use of the old Latin Rite. It is reasonable to question the premises of the liturgical reform movement. It brought sweeping changes and, though the 1979 book is a sacred cow for many, it is not the recommended book today among Anglicans who seek to recover the Anglican identity that is reformed, catholic, and distilled from Scripture. Such faithful sons and daughters may safely disbelieve the tenets of the Episcopal Church's new religion.


Martin said...

The only reflection I have to offer is my distress at sloppy liturgists . More than anything it communicates a contempt for the liturgy itself.

Alice C. Linsley said...

That's a good point, Martin.

I often wonder what might have happened in the Episcopal Church if congregations that wanted to do so had been allowed to continue using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.