Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Catholic, orthodox, and the meaning of words

I was going to write a response to Mrs. Hoff's post about ecclesiology but instead, I think the better thing to do is write a response based on the meaning of words. It's rather confusing to understand her thought-process because for starters, so if I have misrepresented her at all, I would hope she would clarify. But what exactly does it mean to be Catholic and what exactly does it mean to be catholic? I certainly have no qualms about the ecclesiology laid out by Hooker. I mentioned in the comments how Hooker, had he been writing as a Catholic and making those statements about Anglicanism, would have actually been quite orthodox actually! To which, of course, it is protested by this Anglican blogger that she is Catholic.
"Hooker is writing as a Catholic because the Church of England is a Catholic Church. You are stuck in the narrow minded view that Rome alone has the power to do this. This is a view not accepted by anyone who is not a member of the Roman Church."

And herein comes to the question of definitions. I am not saying that Hooker is not a catholic or that the Church of England is not catholic. Indeed, as adherents to Nicaea, all Christians must affirm themselves as catholics or the creed makes no sense! What I am saying is that the Church of England is not Catholic. I touch on this as well in my post on the concept that comes up a lot in the East of being Orthodox in communion with Rome. The way that terms developed in the history of the Church, the Latins typically ended up using the term "Catholicos" to describe the Church and the Greeks used the term "Orthodox" to describe the Church. Until the schism, this implied no separation. Both referred to the same Church. When the schism occurred, so did confusion in terminology.

Even before the Great Schism of 1054 A.D., there was another schism between the monophysites and the Orthodox. Those Christians, ironically, also refer to themselves as Orthodox and are commonly known today as Oriental Orthodox. Of course both the Byzantine Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox have different conceptions of what Orthodoxy is and it is perhaps every bit as confusing and puzzling to them to see these terms used like this. I pointed out, when asked by two of the deacon's daughters as to whether I was "Orthodox Catholic or Roman Catholic", how meaningless the term "Orthodox Catholic" is. Because all Catholics are certainly orthodox! Or one would hope. A Roman Catholic is every much as "Orthodox in communion with Rome" as I am!

Another analogy I can draw is when my friend heard me refer to my godmother as the "Crazy Church Lady". He protested that there were quite a number of such crazy church ladies to which my godmother insisted, "I am THE Crazy Church Lady!" Certainly the presbytera is a crazy church lady, and so is my friend's wife, maybe one of our deaconesses, etc. But overall, THE Crazy Church Lady is only one person. She is The True Crazy Church Lady. Maybe there is an essence of craziness belonging in other crazy church ladies but there is only One Crazy Church Lady.

If we are asking precisely from an Anglican perspective of what catholicity implies, there does bear fundamental differences between itself and the Catholic Church. As a High Anglican, I never referred myself as a Protestant unless it was in the context of communicating with Catholics for the sake of clarity. Being that as the Anglican Church broke away from the Catholic Church in the protest movement against the Papacy, the term "Protestant" is definitionally sound and meaningful. But in the sense that a high view of the sacraments is held, that the Eucharist is central to the Church, sacrament over word, our conceptions of tradition and scripture, the Anglican Church is quite catholic. It is via media between Rome and Protestantism, in a sense. Another one I had heard as an Anglican was "Catholic but Reformed". In the same sense, Lutheranism is also quite catholic. But from a Catholic perspective, while these hold an essence of the Church in them by their baptism, they are not The Catholic Church.

So there we have the divergency of terminology. Of course the Church is "narrow-minded" on this issue. She has declared herself Holy Mother Church, the Church of all the Faithful. If she does not hold an exclusive view, then why bother with even claiming to be Holy Mother Church? But I wonder if Mrs. Hoff would hold herself to be Orthodox if she entered into conversation with an Orthodox Christian about this topic? Certainly, she is entitled to. But again, the terminology is what needs to be defined. An Anglican is not in communion with Constantinople, nor do they share unite with a monophysite church. Thus, it is understandable that an Orthodox Christian would also seek to clarify that what an Anglican is, is orthodox.

And in the sense in which Anglicanism deviates from Tradition, the Catholic and Orthodox alike would deem those deviations heresy and thus, both orthodox and catholic claims end up flattening. From a Protestant perspective, an Anglican is quite catholic, maybe even Catholic. But from the Catholic and Orthodox perspective, it depends on the sacraments, namely that of baptism. Anglican baptism is valid so Anglicans would be catholics by virtue of baptism but they are unconfirmed, so they cannot be Catholic. This is really just a semantic war that Mrs. Hoff is engaging in here.


  1. We believe in 'one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church' is the sense in which we are Catholic. As my piece makes clear, catholicity is linked to being part of the fractured visible church which is the outward and visible part of the invisible church where God alone knows who are its members. It takes, as Hooker says, visible form in various ways and, as Vatican II admits, there is a "shadow" over all visible churches.

    There is nothing to stop the Roman or the Melkite Church rightly claiming to be Catholic in this sense, the same is true of the Church of England. That Rome seeks to narrow this description is, as you say, part of its claim to be the only true non-schismatic church. The Orthodox do not accept that claim, the Anglicans do not accept that claim. The ecumenical dialogue entered into after Vatican II suggests that Rome thinks it ought to discuss matters rather than state bluntly that everyone else needs to catch up with it.

    So no, it is not semantics, it is about mutual respect and flourishing. The Eastern Orthodox make no claim to exclusivity in that word, and to suggest that in confessing to be part of the 'One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church' can co-exist with our not being Catholic is either semantics, or disrespect. I have no idea which, and it may be there's a third option I have not considered.

    1. Vatican II is not an authoritative document in the Church. The Eastern Orthodox tend to be more exclusive than the Catholics. But I will see what I can find about ecclesiology. I am certain Father (presbytera's husband) knows quality sources on this.

    2. If you are saying that the five documents of what your church considers an ecumenical council are not authoritative that's quite the claim. Every site I have consulted says otherwise, such as this from the BBC

      I will await enlightenment from your priest's husband will know.

      On Anglicanism, there is no substitute for studying Hooker, Andrewes, Keble, Pusey and Michael Ramsey. C451 kindly gave me his library of books on Anglicanism from which I take what I write as best I can understand. I am studying to become a Reader in the church and then, if God so wills, to go further and become a candidate for seminary.

    3. The BBC is not a Catholic authority and the authority of Vatican II is "pastoral" at best, heretical at worst, but never claimed dogmatic standing at any rate. It is the only "council" with no anathemas and several have called VII's authority into question over the years. "Presbytera" is what I call the priest's wife. We do not ordain women as you know.

    4. If you are interested though, I have presbytera's blog linked in my blogroll.

    5. I would be interested in an official Catholic document saying VII is not authoritative. There is no anathema in Humanae Vitae, so I take it that you do not consider it authoritative?

    6. Is there an official Catholic document saying it is authoritative? See my page on The Magisterium. I do think Vigano is right to question VII and so is the Ruthenian deacon I know.

    7. Well,conservative, anti-VII Catholics think Humanae Vitae is authoritative. It seems that your vision of Catholicism is very legalistic. It isn't how Christ preached or taught and is quite foreign to my experience of Jesus.

    8. Did you read my page on The Magisterium? I think if you read that, you'd realize how anti-legalistic it is. Humanae Vitae is authoritative not because it issues anathemas or not but because it falls into line with the lived tradition of the faith.

    9. I will. I was responding to your bold statement that V2 was not authoritative because it had no anathemata. I'll look in on the other one.