26 June 2011

Belief Statements Demonstrate a Weak Position


On this Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, we continue to celebrate in a special way our true and living Lord, ever present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, the Sacred Scripture is alive because Jesus himself is the Word. It is a living thing to be for all people in all places and at all times, for God is omnipresent. As the Word is alive, so too must be its accompanying doctrine, the means by which we as humans comprehend the Word. The vastness of God and all his mysteries are far too great for humans to comprehend, and so our understanding evolves and our doctrine develops. Legitimate, true developments are evolutionary, not revolutionary. They are built upon the same foundation, as a skyscraper has one floor built upon another, carrying it ever higher. If a skyscraper has a floor built off all the floors beneath it, the building becomes unstable and may fall. Such a floor would not represent a development of the building's construction or a continuation of the architect's original plans, but rather a perversion of the course of development and a corruption of the original plans. Similarly, with doctrine, all developments in doctrine must build on all of that which came before it and remain true to the original spirit and intent of what was revealed by the Author of Life. This is the Catholic way. This is the way of strength. Doctrine built upon a firm foundation and upon all that came before it is strong and prepared to weather any storm. It need not vociferously proclaim who and what she is any, for the constancy of ideas and ideals over more than two thousand years have made it plain to all.

Those who wish to modify the course of religion, however, must make changes that pervert the natural course of development of doctrine. This is inherently unstable, and what one believes and professes is not inherently obvious to all, for it is not simply new, but in a completely different direction than the natural course of doctrinal development. To do this, therefore, requires a clear statement of how this new sect is different. These must be adhered to vigorously in order to overcome the instability, for it is only these new principles that have no strong foundation that hold the group together. And for what purpose are they different? They are different from the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They are a tangent or even a reversal of Church development, and their statements of belief indicate just how they are different. This is the way of the Protestants and schismatics.

We need only look to the Anglican Articles of Religion that, while they maintain many historic Christian principles, continue further to reject many of the developments of doctrine over the years. This is how the Protestant factions within the Anglican Church sought to set themselves apart from Catholicism, such as removing the veneration of the Saints, much to the continuing angst of the Anglo-Catholics to the present day. An Anglo-Catholic needs only the historic Creeds and the totality of Church doctrine to know what his religion is. He does not need a conference or a convention to formulate "what we believe and how we are different," because he knows he is not different and the totality of Catholic thought and doctrine is well-established. The Reformers needed these Articles, however, to impress upon others just how different they were from Catholics and attempt to force their corruption of the development of doctrine on all within the Anglican Church. Their position is weak, of course. They depend upon these Articles to hold them together. When someone disagrees with them, then a new schism forms, and another, and another, and so on ad infinitum. This is one aspect of the cause of the alphabet soup of so many Anglican jurisdictions today, each with their own statements of belief and practices.

Indeed, one need only scan the wide array of "continuing Anglican" jurisdictions, not to mention the seemingly endless assortment of Protestant denominations to find an equally vast number of differing statements of belief and practice. Methodists have them. Presbyterians have them. The countless Baptist churches all have them. It is the Protestant way. This is how they set themselves apart. In their view, a person need only find the church that has a belief statement with which they agree and set of practices that they do not find too terribly irksome and will not interfere with their life. It becomes a type of marketing. Yet, again, their position is determined merely by their statement of belief. It belies an underlying weakness of position.

Some Anglicans have tried to move past this Protestantism with documents such as the Affirmation of Saint Louis. One might even question the need for such a document as well. After all, it is a general statement of Catholic Faith that suggests a return to the fullness of the Catholic Faith. So, why is it necessary to write this out in a formal declaration? Thou highly laudable, it is not necessary. All that is needed is to say that one accepts the fullness of the Catholic Faith. What that entails is fully known, because the Catholic Faith has been built upon all that came before it through the development of the Church. Its true course is clear. All that is needed is to embrace it in its totality, without adding exceptions or qualifications. 

Within the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, we do not have a statement of belief, a mission statement, or anything of the kind. We embrace the fullness of the Catholic Faith. We embrace the richness of the Anglican Rite. As we say, it is the combination of Roman strength and Anglican beauty. We need not make statements to set ourselves apart, for we do not seek to set ourselves apart from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Now, it is true in a roundabout way that, by doing this, we do indeed set ourselves apart from continuing Anglican jurisdictions and from the Protestants. But, we are neither continuing Anglicans nor Protestants. We are first Catholic. It is well-known what it means to be Catholic. It needs no Articles or Statements of Belief.