The End of Catholicity. I

This post is in part a response to something posted by my long-ago acquaintance, Peter Leithart. I have already written at much greater length on this topic over at Energetic Procession, and I would encourage you to read that as well.

I have a a number of acquaintances, Roman Catholics, who seek to minimize the distinctions between themselves and we Orthodox. On some issues I will admit there is not a lot that separates us, but our distinctive stances come down to a matter of emphasis. On other issues, there is still much to hammer out, and I am always glad when opportunities arise that afford verbose debate with those Catholics who are my good friends. I am not interested in mealy-mouthed Catholic apologists: Give me Bill Tighe, Mark Kelly, and Michael Liccione any day over those who wish to treat doctrine as an ancillary, or even tertiary aspect of the Christian life. One of the chief things that both Orthodox and Roman Catholics do hold in common is that the Church is visibly one. Which of us it is, that we debate. What we do not hold is that the Church is multiple, with endless iterations flowing from every new opinion that claims to take warrant from Holy Scripture. In fact, this is also not what most of the Reformers thought either. The breach begins not with the Lutherans, but with the Reformed, flowing most obviously from their assertions, beginning with Zwingli (and owing much to Renaissance Humanism), on the perspicuity of Scripture. Luther could not have agreed less. To him Scripture was certainly the authority for life and doctrine, but it was not open to just any person to divine, and he pressed this point most assiduously. All one has to do was look at his stance against both the Zwickau prophets and the Schwärmer.

But the big move away from what we can call “closed communions” and towards inclusivity comes not from the Reformed per se, but when the Reformed took up residence outside of Switzerland. Following Zwingli’s death, his heir at Zurich, Heinrich Bullinger, took a much more strident line about whom he would consider for ecclesiastical union. This is best illustrated in the Eucharistic dialogue he carried on with Calvin from 1547 to 1549. If we think back to the Marburg Colloquy, Zwingli was ready to have full communion with Luther, but Luther would have none of it: “You are not of my spirit.” If we look ahead eighteen years to 1547, that which the Lutherans, and especially the Lutheran princes, had feared, why they had the Marburg Colloquy in the first place, happened, namely an Imperial victory over the Luther Schmalkaldic League. It was Charles V’s military victory at Muhlberg that prompted Calvin’s appeal for a Swiss Protestant league, and triggered the Eucharistic debate between Geneva and Zurich. The theological details are all related in two articles by Paul Rorem in The Lutheran Quarterly, 1988, vol. 2, nos., 2 and 3. These two were later published in a single volume by The Alcuin Club and Grove Books. The upshot was that Calvin, easily the “highest” of the Reformed in his Eucharistic thought, had to bend to Bullinger’s thought on this if there was to be any agreement which would result in a defensive league. The notion that people with differing Eucharistic theologies could share communion was not entertained. This is something wholly springing from that offspring of the Reformation, and within the largest of the Reformation national churches, the Church of England (CoE).

The CoE in 1559 made a virtue of necessity when they enacted the Elizabethan Settlement. The agreement was the child largely of people such as Burleigh and Bacon, no doubt with the good graces of Her Majesty (cf. Norm Jones, Faith by Statute and my own “Whoresome Knaves and Illustrious Subjects”). The Protestant emigres, coming back for Zurich, Frankfurt, and Emden, called it such things as a leaden mediocrity, the vestments rubrics enjoining on the English clergy the “relics of the Amorites.” In short, the settlement was a political reality, created to comprehend everyone who was not a Papist, including such people as the Cambridge don, Andrew Perne who was a thoroughgoing Henrician (i.e., someone who assented to the royal supremacy while maintaining a thoroughly medieval theology); and the bishop of Gloucester, Richard Cheyney, whose Eucharistic thought was closer to Luther than to Calvin, and who may (may, I say) never have assented to the Articles of Religion. Edmund Guest, who succeeded John Jewel as bishop of Salisbury, tried to convince Cheyney that his Eucharistic thought was completely consonant with the 39 Articles. Yet while the CoE took in such as Cheyney and Perne, it clearly was governed by those whose theological hearts lived in Zurich, but the seeds of the later latitudinarian mindset is already there in 1559.

Further, it is within the CoE that modern evangelicalism arises. At first it was connected with such people as Hannah More and the Wesleys. John Wesley never left the CoE (his brother Charles was offered a bishopric), but certainly flaunted its rules: his statement that “the whole world is my parish,” was a response to an episcopal directive to stay away from other minister’s flocks, and to not preach where he was not invited. The evangelicals, their links to pietism, come into sharp relief with the rise of the Oxford Movement, and their emphasis on medieval doctrine and devotion. Eventually the two camps settled on a truce, though no a rapprochement, and each took up minority status within the CoE, alongside the far larger “broad church” party. Thus within the CoE we have a whole range of views about what the Eucharist entails, stretching from those who openly affirmed transubstantiation or a real presence, to the most thoroughgoing Zwinglians. In short, there is absolutely nothing at all that is catholic about the CoE, though it is certainly comprehensive. This can be traced back to the Elizabethan oath of supremacy. In it, those who took it said that they owed no fealty, loyalty, or allegiance to any foreign bishop; in short, they were declaring themselves as Episcopalians to be outside of the communion and teaching of bishops not only living (i.e., the bishop of Rome), but also dead. At the Westminster Disputation sponsored by the crown in 1559, prior to the passing of the Elizabethan Settlement, the Protestant disputants maintained that the CoE had the right to modify the teaching of any council, with or without the consent of the universal Church. This same mentality stands behind the Westminster confession.

When St. Vincent of Lerins gave his famous dictum about what was the Catholic Faith – – that which is believed at all times, everywhere, and by everyone – – he was not maintaining that the Catholic Faith (or even the catholic Faith), is what everyone, anywhere, who happened to call themselves Christians, ever believed. His rule was exclusory (and in this case it was exclusory of St. Augustine’s peculiarities about predestination). Now, while both Catholics and Orthodox agree with St. Vincent on this, they would also maintain that Tradition is so much more than this. It begins, as will the next post, with the Incarnation.

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About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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9 Responses to The End of Catholicity. I

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Pingback: “Too catholic to be Catholic”: Communion with Idolaters? « Roads from Emmaus

  3. Bill Tighe, Mark Kelly, and Michael Liccione … I agree!

  4. David Fraser says:

    Love history — and the way Cyril lays it out! I want another life to read more…. Can’t wait for the second installment of this one.

  5. Pingback: The End of Catholicity II | Lux Christi

  6. Pingback: The End of Catholicity I « Energetic Procession

  7. Chris Jones says:

    Good post.

    I have a quibble or two, however. It warms my Lutheran heart for you to write The breach begins not with the Lutherans, but with the Reformed, flowing most obviously from their assertions … on the perspicacity of Scripture, since many Orthodox (and Catholic) commentators fail to realize how different Lutheran and Reformed can be. However, it’s hard to make the case that Luther did not believe in the perspicuity of Scripture. See here for a lengthy quote from Luther’s Bondage of the Will on this point.

    The most that can be said is that (as far as I know) the Lutheran Confessions make no explicit statement of the perspicuity of Scripture. Since the Confessions (rather than Martin Luther’s personal writings) are the doctrinal standard for the Lutheran Church, it could be said that perspicuity is not official Lutheran doctrine. As a practical matter, however, such has been the deleterious influence of the Reformed on the Lutherans that virtually all Lutherans today would affirm it (present company excluded: I find the notion of perspicuity to be what my friend Bill Tighe is fond of calling “nonsense on stilts” — not only wrong, but self-refuting).

    My second quibble is a nitpicking edit: you refer to “the perspicacity of Scripture” where you should say “the perspicuity of Scripture.” Perspicacity is a characteristic of the reader (his capacity to understand the text), while perspicuity is a characteristic of the text itself (its inherent intelligibility).

  8. Cyril says:

    Thanks, Chris. Duly noted and corrected. As for the source of the doctrine of perspicuity, it does arise first with Zwingli, in his treatise “On the clarity and certainty of the Word of God,” first published I believe in 1522.

  9. We are in a dangerous time when, for the first time in human history, Religion and Morals are being (have been) separated. When the worshipers of Baal Peor went to the groves and slept with the temple prostitutes, then made the children of these liaisons pass through the fire, they were worshiping, they were following their deficient Morals.

    We have become a Nation of Heretics and followers of the Gospel According to _________________ (place name here). For a “scientific” age full of “knowledge” sins like Abortion should not be Illegal it should be UNTHINKABLE.

    Bl. John Henry Newman’s Sermons on the anti-Christ, part of the Tracts for the Times, were prophetically incisive. They bear reading, close marking and prayer.

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