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Post Catholicism and Protestantism
Created by John Eipper on 04/06/15 1:22 PM

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Catholicism and Protestantism (David Duggan, USA, 04/06/15 1:22 pm)

John Eipper's invitation to explore Catholicism vs. Protestantism depends on whether you believe Anglicanism/Episcopalianism is Catholic or Protestant: the folklore is that in New York City, the Roman Catholic seminarians attend the Anglo-Catholic parish St. Mary the Virgin on W. 46th Street ("Smoky Mary's") to learn how the liturgy is properly done.

Though a life-long Episcopalian who attends an Anglo-Catholic ("high") parish, I am by theology and liturgical preference a low churchman.

JE comments: Most other "mainline" Protestants consider the Anglicans to be nearly Catholic.  Perhaps David Duggan could give us an overview of high vs. low Episcopal theology?

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  • "Mainline" Protestants (Robert Whealey, USA 04/07/15 1:20 AM)
    As a historian of the various denominations of Christianity, I have no quarrel with David Duggan's understanding (6 April) of Episcopalians. I do object to John E's use of the words "mainline" and "nearly." Mainline is a word invented by the mass-media probably in the period 1948 to 1960. It lumps together the largest Protestant groups:  Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, who changed their name to the United Church of Christ about 1955. In 1948 when I read the World Almanac's annual list of Protestant denominations, I doubt they had a mainline list.

    I interviewed an Episcopalian Rector of the Episcopalian Church in Athens (Ohio) about two years ago. He did not care whether I called him priest, minister, high, or low church. This year a film was made of a Unitarian Minister murdered in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. The filmmaker to sell more copies gave the Unitarian Reverend Reeb the title of Priest.

    In 1988 I was a volunteer campaigner for Dukakis for president. I met a Polish Catholic in the county fairgrounds and handed him a leaflet to vote for Dukakis. He said he had already voted for him because he is a Catholic. I told him maybe some called him a Greek Catholic, but Dukakis told me he was raised in a Greek Orthodox Church of his mother and father. The voter replied that it makes no difference; the Governor of Massachusetts is a Catholic in his book.

    "Nearly" is a word of a literary critic. It is so subjective to become meaningless. Theologians, lawyers, philosophers and historians are a bit sticky about words. Politicians and journalists tend to deceive everybody with metaphors and clichés to gain votes or raise money.

    JE comments: "Mainline," as opposed to evangelical or fundamentalist Protestantism, is to my knowledge still an accepted term, but Robert Whealey is correct that it probably could use a re-think. To be "mainline" or "mainstream" implies the marginalization of those who are not. The term (mainline) comes from the Philadelphia Main Line, to refer to the WASP churches of the prosperous suburbs.

    In any case, the mainline denominations are now in the minority, going from 30% of the US population in 1970 to 15% today.

    As for "nearly," I don't see a problem with it.  Patrick Mears sent an informative addendum to David Duggan's post, that in Germany (Pat lives in Heidelberg) the Anglican/Episcopalian churches are called "English Catholic."

    Wikipedia has a good article on the Mainline churches:


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  • High vs. Low Episcopal Theology (David Duggan, USA 04/07/15 1:34 PM)
    John E (6 April) gave me a tall order, to say no more given that I am neither priest nor theologian. But I've spent the day doing my taxes (an exercise in intellectual nitpicking if there ever was one), and the Chicago weather is lousy, so nothing will be more uplifting than an enlightening discussion of the gamut that is Episcopal/Anglican theology. And let me say that this is a topic that has interested me for as long as I can remember: certainly since the 6th grade when Robin Williams and I were singing ancient plainsong chants in a boys' choir in suburban Lake Forest: "Oh be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands..." Yet plainly not all lands were joyful. That was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    First, Episcopal/Anglican theology cannot be reduced to a soundbite, perhaps the way that Lutheranism can be, with its sola Scriptura, sola gratia statements (only Scripture, only Grace). Since the late 16th century, Anglicanism has relied on Richard Hooker's 3-legged stool for support: Scripture, reason and tradition, but lately it appears that Scripture and tradition have been relegated to lesser and not co-equal roles. Women in the ordained ministry and as bishops? Gay marriage? Sure, why not even if Scripture counsels against them and there is no tradition to support them? We want good people called to the clergy and what is there about being a woman that should prevent her from fulfilling that call? We want to encourage people to make life-long commitments, and who is to say that two men or two women who love each other cannot make that commitment? I won't tip my hand as to my beliefs in these respects, but careful readers can probably guess.

    Plainly, a foundation as broad as the 66 canonical books of the Bible, as rigorous as the practice of Western-developed reason, and as deep as nearly 2,000 years of historical understanding can support a wide variety of personal beliefs, and perhaps for that reason, the Anglican Church has never spawned a theologian on the order of Karl Barth or John Calvin or Martin Luther (try reading the retired Archbishop of Canterbury's, the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams' recent stuff and you'll see what I mean: pure mush). But what the Anglican Church has lacked in intellectual rigor, it has more than made up for in preaching and in ceremonial worship. So, there you have the main divide between low and high church traditions: the low churchman respects the Word as read (from Scripture) and as preached (from the pulpit: the practical present-tense application of the lessons from the ancient experience of the Hebrews, from Jesus' life, words and ministry, and from the letters to the early Christian communities). He believes, as stated in the 39 Articles of Religion, an 18th-century statement of the Church's tenets, that "Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsover is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." (Art. VI).

    But isn't there more, you ask? What about the sacraments, baptism, Holy Communion? What about amendment of life, confession of sin, reconciliation of a penitent, veneration of the saints, giving alms as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual faith? A WAIS post is too short a forum to delve into these theological questions, but they loosely track the high-church preferences. How often has a seeker after a "religious experience" been underwhelmed by a sermon that seems abstract or Bible readings that seem perfunctory? Yet, if there is a processing train of clerics and acolytes, a well-tuned organ accompanying a professional choir, a smoking thurible wafting incense to the rafters, this other-worldly experience may give him a glimpse of a heavenly kingdom quite apart from our earthly station. The high churchman says: yes, I value the Word spoken and preached, but don't take away these other sensory experiences which animate my own faith and devotion. I need the "real presence" of Christ at the Eucharist, the belief that I am partaking of His Body and Blood. So, simply stated, the theology of the high church tradition is that God gave us all our senses to experience His presence among us. And if He is present in His word, He is also present in the atoning Body and Blood consecrated for our consumption, so that we may be living members of Christ's Body.

    Perhaps Thomas of Aquinas said it best (although his was in Latin): "Taste and touch and vision, to discern Thee fail; faith that comes by hearing pierces through the veil. I believe whate'er the Son of God hath told. What the Truth hath spoken, that for Truth I hold." Somehow the Anglican Church has managed to keep these two halves under the same dome for nearly 500 years.

    JE comments:  Well done, David.  I'm fond of synthesis, so might we say that the "low" Episcopal theology is more Protestant (even Lutheran), and the "high" with its pomp and visual trappings more Catholic?

    And render under Caesar what is Caesar's:  good luck, David, with the tax return.  Mine this year hit a huge roadblock:  some scoundrel stole my Social Security Number and filed a return before I did.  I'm still trying to straighten out the mess.  As a matter of fact I'm meeting with my accountant in an hour's time.

    None of this would have happened with Pigeon Mail!

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