Monday, January 31, 2005

Papal Primacy and the Photian Schism of 879-880

Perry Robinson responds to my post, "Eastern Orthodoxy's Witness to the Primacy of Rome in the Acacian Schism of 484-519" (on my Scripture and Catholic Tradition blog) as follows:
This is rather laughable. Producing proof texts is not an argument. Moreover, what needs to show is that such terms as "Apostolic See" "Chief" etc. exclude the Orthodox interpretation of those passages and single out the Catholic interpretation. But of course this would require an understanding and demonstration of Orthodox ecclesiology. Since this has not been done the citations hardly count as a demonstration. Orthodox ecclesiology is quite comfortable with the facts of history as they are and seeing Rome at the time when it held to the true faith, more out of ignorance than knowledge, as chief bishop hardly counts against the Orthodox position. It certainly doesn't count against the Orthodox position to note that the bishop of Rome called his brother bishops to account when they fell under the pressue of the empire and they returned the favor on occasion.
When someone responds with an ad hominem or otherwise dismissive remark as our friend Robinson does above, one suspects that a nerve has been touched somewhere. It goes without saying that producing proof texts is not an argument, but this sidesteps the issue of what I was in fact doing: offering data, evidence--evidence from Church history (Eastern as well as Western) of the abundant witness to Papal primacy and supremacy in the centuries substantially ante-dating the Great Schism of 1054, and even the Photian Schism of 879-880, which was its first harbinger and bellwether. Sometimes arguments really shouldn't be necessary, as when data may suffice for argument. Hence, the "Q.E.D." remark at the end of my January 19 post.

Of course our Eastern Orthodox (or, as I think more accurately describes them, our Anti-Western Orthodox) friends will parry with obfuscating remarks about the difference between Orthodox and Catholic interpretations, as does Robinson. To raise the question of interpretation may seem fair enough. Yet there are some facts that are simply too large to be reasonably parried by alternative interpretations, and the Acacian Schism of 484-519 is clearly one of these. It is not so much a case of what the Pope wrote (in his Formula) on that occasion, as it is a case of what he did. He issued an ultimatum forcing the dissident and schismatic Eastern bishops to submit and sign his Formula on the dotted line, signifying their submission. This was hardly mere moral suasion: it was an exercise of juridical authority. It was the bishop of Rome acting as universal bishop and shepherd of the Church, which is the job description of the pope. What part of that, I wonder, is not clear?

I have been struck for some time by the singular absence of comment from the Anti-Western Orthodox quarter on historical data of this ineluctable kind. In my first post on the Anti-Western Orthodox question, I offered several examples of testimony to Papal Primacy in the ancient Church. There are many others, of course, but I singled out Pope St. Boniface (d. 422), Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461), Pope St. Gelasius (d. 496), Pope St. Agatho (d. 681), and St. Maximus the Confessor (d. 622) (pictured right) to offer a cross-section of the unanimous assumption of Roman supremacy that exists in the historical record of Sacred Tradition. But rather than address these directly, as I pointed out, our Anti-Western Orthodox friends turned to various arcane theological considerations, claiming that these are the root of the problem with the "Western interpretation" of Papal Primacy. However, their speculative arcana are far from clear or cogent; and, more importantly, they are a way of ignoring the blatant historical fact that the early Church (East and West) accepted universal Papal jurisdiction from the beginning right up to the time of the Photian Schism of the ninth century. The events surrounding the Acacian Schism of 484-519 offer just one clear and dramatic example of this.

Robinson admits that during the Acacian Schism, "the bishop of Rome called his brother bishops to account when they fell under the pressure of the empire," but he seems intent on viewing the incident as an isolated case, as evidenced by his remark that the Pope's brother bishops in the East "returned the favor on occasion." Robinson's references to the Pope as the "bishop of Rome" and to his "brother bishops" also underscores his commitment to the contemporary Anti-Western Orthodox view that the "Primacy of Honor" they accord to the pope in fact means nothing, and that the pope has no more authority than any of the autonomous (autocephalos, "self-heading") Anti-Western Orthodox bishops.

But the significant fact is that the pattern of Roman authority and jurisdiction exercised in the Acacian Schism is not exceptional, but the constant underlying ecclesiastical presupposition throughout those early centuries of the united Church of the first seven Ecumenical Councils when Robinson would have to concede that Rome "held the true faith." What part of the words of St. Maximus (d. 622) do our Anti-Western Orthodox friends not understand, when he says that all the churches in the world have from the time of Christ had the Petrine See of Rome "as their base and foundation"; or the warning of Pope Boniface (d. 422) that "whoever separates himself from [Rome] becomes an exile from the Christian religion"; or the assertion of Pope Leo the Great (d. 461) that those entrusted with the care of the Church "have not an equal jurisdiction" but "pre-eminence over the rest was given to one," namely the "See of Peter, and nothing anywhere [may] disagree with its head"; or the declaration of Pope Gelasius (d. 496) that "no one is permitted to appeal against [Rome's] judgment"; or the declaration of Pope Agatho (d. 681) that Rome's authority "has always been faithfully followed and embraced as that of the Prince of the Apostles by the whole Church"? (See my original post, "Petrine jurisdiction exercised in the ancient Church.")

Robinson insists, as the Anti-Western Orthodox are wont to do, that the onus is on Catholics to show that such terms as "Apostolic See" exclude the Orthodox interpretation of them and signify what the Catholic Church understands by them. In the first place, this strikes me as the moral equivalent of asking someone to prove that the world is more than five minutes old and did not suddenly come into being five minutes ago with all the appearance it now has of age. Whatever facts one may adduce will be precluded from counting as counter-evidence from the outset. Of course, there is something counter-intuitive about questioning the ordinary deliverances of reason and expecting anyone to assume the onus of proving the veracity of his ordinary experience. I would ask if it makes any more sense to question the deliverances of historical research and ask Catholics to assume the onus of proving the veracity of the Church's traditional understanding. In the second place, why shouldn't the onus be on those who question the obvious? Given the massive witness of Sacred Tradition, Robinson's insistence that the onus is on Catholics to show that such terms as "Apostolic See" exclude the Orthodox interpretation of those passages and signify the Catholic interpretation seems to put the shoe on the wrong foot. Without intending any malice, it reminds me of Bill Clinton's cavil (when, under examination about Lewinski, he declared): "It depends upon what the meaning of 'is' is." How much "interpretation" does "is" require?

Robinson says
Orthodox ecclesiology is quite comfortable with the facts of history as they are and seeing Rome at the time when it held to the true faith, more out of ignorance than knowledge, as chief bishop hardly counts against the Orthodox position."
This reminds me of the myriad Protestant Fundamentalists who declare themselves "quite comfortable with the facts of history" even though they insist that by the time of Constantine the Church had massively apostatized, only to recover its footing in the sixteenth-century. If asked about the Church's later Nicean formulation against Arius or defense of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, their response would be that even a blind hog in a pigsty can occasionally stumble onto an acorn. Robinson expansively concedes the fact that in the Acacian Schism "the bishop of Rome called his brother bishops to account when they fell under the pressure of the empire," but implies that this doesn't count against the Anti-Western Orthodox rejection of Rome's authority, since they "returned the favor on occasion." What the Fundamentalist and Anti-Western Orthodox share in common is the reservation to themselves of the authority to decide when it was that Rome "held to the true faith." By what standard? The Fundamentalist would say Scripture. The Anti-Western Orthodox would say Tradition. But each interprets his canon selectively, in light of his own independent heuristic tradition; and both ignore the singular fact that both Scripture and Tradition, as understood by the Sacred Tradition that includes both, testify massively to Petrine Primacy. On the question of Petrine authority, this reveals Anti-Western Orthodoxy to be as out-of-touch with Sacred Tradition as Protestant Fundamentalism.

The basic fact of the Acacian Schism is that the Pope (Pope St. Hormisdas, pictured left) exercised his jurisdiction over the whole Church in calling the schismatic Eastern bishops back to submission, compelling them by the power of his authority to sign his Formula on the dotted line. There is no wiggle-room for quibbling about interpretations of words when the bold outline of his decisive act speaks so loudly and clearly: actions do speak louder than words. The rest is quibbling over secondary and tertiary details. And these details, of course, are the perennial focus of our Anti-Western Orthodox brethren, who wish to divert our attention, as well as their own, from the clear facts in question.

Accordingly, Robinson brings up the Fifth Ecumenical Council, which, he says, "makes clear that each one of the Patriarchates just as with the Apostles were sufficient to their task by their own office," and quotes the passage that includes the words, "... so that no one of [the Apostles] needed the counsel of another in the execution of his work." But how are we meant to infer from this that the prerogatives of the Petrine office amply attested both in Scripture (e.g., Mt. 16:18-19, Gal. 1:18, 2:1-2) and in Tradition (e.g., Clement I, Irenaeus, Julius, Boniface, Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, Ephrem, Leo I, Gelasius, Stephen of Dora, Agatho, Hormisdas, Maximus, Chrysostom, Theodore) are of no account, or reduced to some etiolated "primacy of honor" with no real authority, much as seen in the Queen of England? Why should anyone think this?

He also notes the moot point that the Fourth Council of Constantinople of 869 and the Council of Florence of 1439 (the Eighth and Seventeenth Ecumenical Councils) are not recognized by the Anti-Western Orthodox churches. Further, he notes that the Fourth Council of Constantinople was rejected by another Photian council in 879-880 (rejected as a "pseudo-synod" by the Catholic Church). Robinson says that this Photian council "had the assent of all sides, including Pope John VIII," that "it was not only upheld by Rome but also forbade the inclusion of the Filioque," and that he does not see how Catholics by their own theological position "can admit that the council of 869 is a legitimate and general council since it was overturned by the Church whole and entire, including the Pope." Robinson refers here to a discussion by Fr. George Dion. Dragas ("The Eighth Ecumenical Council: Constantinople IV (879/880) and the Condemnation of the Filioque Addition and Doctrine" (which originally appeared in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 44, Nos. 1-4, 1999, pp. 357-369), who offers an Anti-Western Orthodox panegyric lauding Photius's revolt against Rome.

There is a good deal that neither Robinson nor Fr. Dragas tells us here--not least, the fact that as soon as Photius sent the Acts of his council to Rome for the Pope's ratification, Pope John VIII (872-82) (pictured left) instead responded by excommunicating him, solemnly condemning him in 881, and permanently reinstating the ban on him in 882. Dragas has extensive notes on the decrees by which John VIII struck down the earlier censures of Photius by the synod of 869. He includes the detailed texts of John VIII rescinding the earlier decrees of the earlier synod. Dragas writes:
I have included these texts here because I repeatedly encounter comments in the works of Western scholars, especially Roman Catholics, who offer confusing and even disputed information about the unanimous Eastern and Western condemnation of the anti-Photian Council of 869-870. (Dragas, n. 7.)
But Dragas says nothing about the false pretenses under which Photius convened his council of 879-880 and petitioned Pope John VIII to send legates; and he is altogether mute about John VIII's refusal to confirm the Acts of the Photian council and excommunication of Photius after his discovery of Photius's true intentions in the council of 879-880. How Dragas (or Robinson) can continue to celebrate the "unanimous Eastern and Western condemnation of the anti-Photian Council of 869-870" as though it had any canonical standing under Roman canon law is anybody's guess. The fact that Rome later called the Photian council "Conciliabrulum Oecumenicum Pseudooctavum" is hardly an acknowledgement of its canonical legitimacy, as Dragas seems to imply. What part of "Pseudo" is not clear in "Pseudooctavum"? My hunch is that such misinformation stems from the incestuous reliance of Anti-Western Orthodox writers exclusively on schalarship slanted to their cause, in this case, even reliance upon the otherwise excellent pioneering work of Francis Dvornic, which is highly problematic in certain respects, as well as those who have relied on his tendentious assumptions (such as Meijer, Phidas, Siamakis, etc.).

Photius was truly one of the most remarkable characters in all Church history; but he was also the chief architect of the great Eastern Schism. The Anti-Western Orthodox regard him rightly as the greatest historical champion of their cause against Rome. They went so far as to canonize him, and on Feb. 6th, when they observe his feast, their office overflows with his praise. He is the "far-shining radiant star of the church," the "most inspired guide of the Orthodox," "thrice blessed speaker of God," "wise and divine glory of the hierarchy, who broke the horns of Roman pride" ("Menologion" for Feb. 6, ed. Maltzew, I, pp. 916ff.).

There is far more to Photius than meets the eye in Anti-Western Orthodox accounts of him, however, and those who have not appraised themselves of "the rest of the story" would do well to investigate it for themselves. Certainly no well-informed Christian can help remembering Photius with mixed feelings. While it is true that there is no shadow of suspicion against his private life, he is also well-known for his insatiable and unscrupulous ambition--hardly qualities one typically finds in a saint--which more than anything else was responsible for the greatest schism in Church history. And schism, it will be recalled, was regarded by the Church Fathers as a sin worse than homicide. The conclusion of a detailed entry on "Photius of Constantinople" in the Catholic Encyclopedia reads as follows:
... His insatiable ambition, his determination to obtain and keep the patriarchal see, led him to the extreme of dishonesty. His claim was worthless. That Ignatius was the rightful patriarch as long as he lived, and Photius an intruder, cannot be denied by any one who does not conceive the Church as merely the slave of a civil government. And to keep this place Photius descended to the lowest depth of deceit. At the very time he was protesting his obedience to the Pope he was dictating to the emperor insolent letters that denied all papal jurisdiction. He misrepresented the story of Ignatius's deposition with unblushing lies, and he at least connived at Ignatius's ill-treatment in banishment. He proclaimed openly his entire subservience to the State in the whole question of his intrusion. He stops at nothing in his war against the Latins. He heaps up accusations against them that he must have known were lies. His effrontery on occasions is almost incredible. For instance, as one more grievance against Rome, he never tires of inveighing against the fact that Pope Marinus I (882-84) [pictured left], John VIII's successor, was translated from another see, instead of being ordained from the Roman clergy. He describes this as an atrocious breach of canon law, quoting against it the first and second canons of Sardica; and at the same time he himself continually transferred bishops in his patriarchate.
The whole Photian Council was an exercise in colossal bamboozlement, an art honed to masterful perfection in the Byzantine Photius. Photius rose to prominence when the Partiarch of Constantinople, Ignatius (846-57), was deposed and banished by Emperor Michael III (842-67) in 857 for refusing communion to Bardas, a chief State official, for having incestuous relations with his daughter-in-law, and the more pliant Photius was intruded into his place. Photius was hurried through Holy Orders in six days. On Christmas Day, 857, Gregory Asbestas of Syracuse, a bishop who had been excommunicated for insubordination, illicitly ordained Photius patriarch. The emperor tried in vain to make Ignatius resign his See. Photius also did all he could to get the Pope to ratify their expulsion of Ignatius, the legitimate occupant of the Partriarchal See. The emperor sought to obtain from Pope Nicholas I (858-67) recognition of Photius by a letter grossly misrepresenting the facts and requesting legates to be sent to settle the issue in a synod. The Pope sent two legates, Rodoald of Porto and Zachary of Anagni, with cautious instructions to hear both sides and report back to him. The synod occurred in St. Sophia's in May, 861. The legates were bribed, agreed to Ignatius's deposition and Photius's succession, and returned to Rome with letters for the Pope. The emperor's Secretary of State, Leo, followed the legates to Rome with further assurances and letters, in which both the emperor and Photius emphatically acknowledged Papal Primacy and categorically (and conveniently!) invoke the Pope's jurisdiction to confirm what has happened.

Meanwhile Ignatius, in exile, sent his friend the Archimandrite Theognostus to Rome in 862 with an urgent letter setting forth his own case. Nicholas, having heard both sides, decided for Ignatius and answered the letters from Emperor Michael III and Photius by insisting that Ignatius must be restored and the usurpation of his See must cease. Rome never wavered from this position, and this is what set the stage for the Photian schism. In 863 the Pope held a synod at the Lateran in which the two legates were tried and excommunicated. Nicholas's decision reinstating Ignatius as lawful Patriarch of Constantinople was reiterated. Photius was to be excommunicated unless he relinquished his usurpation at once.

However, instead of obeying the Pope, to whom he had just appealed, Photius resolved, with the emperor's backing, to deny Rome's authority altogether. Ignatius was not restored to his See, but kept in prison, and the Pope's letters were kept from publication. Photius collaborated with the emperor in notifying Rome that the Eastern Patriarchs were in support of Photius, in questioning the propriety of the Pope's excommunication of the legates, and threatening Rome with imperial military action unless the Pope altered his decision and gave his support to Photius. In 867, Photius went on the offensive by declaring his excommunication of the Pope and the Western churches. The pretexts given were that the Latin churches (1) fast on Saturday, (2) do not begin Lent until Ash Wednesday, (3) do not allow priest to marry, (4) do not allow priests to administer confirmation, and (5) have added the filioque clause to the creed (indeed, Photius's discovery of utility of the filioque grievance as a political weapon vastly disproportionate to its theological value seems to have been original with him). For these reasons, Photius's encyclical declared, the Latins are "forerunners of apostasy, servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, liars, fighters against God."

Later in the same year (867), Emperor Michael III was murdered, and Basil I (867-86) succeeded him. Photius was ejected from the patriarchate, and Ignatius restored. Pope Adrian (867-72), who succeeded Nicholas, answered Ignatius's appeal for legates to attend a synod designed to examine the whole matter. The legates arrived in Constantinople in September of 869, and in October the synod was convened, which Catholics recognize as the Eighth Ecumenical Council (the Fourth Council of Constantinople). This council tried Photius, confirmed his deposition, and, since he refused to renounce his claim, excommunicated him. He was banished to a monastery at Stenos on the Bosphorus, where he spent seven years, writing letters to supporters, organizing his party, and biding his time for another chance. Photius ingratiated himself with the emperor, who recalled him in 876 to the court. He feigned reconciliation with Ignatius and ingratiated himself within the Patriarch's circle to such an extent that when Ignatius died, a strong party demanded that Photius should succeed him. An imperial embassy was sent to Rome to explain that everyone at Constantinople wanted Photius to be patriarch. Pope John VIII, wishing to avoid provoking yet another conflict with Constantinople, agreed, absolved Photius from all censure, and acknowledged him as partriarch. A more fateful judgment cannot be imagined.

By 878 Photius had achieved lawfully the patriarchate that he had formerly usurped. Rome acknowledged him as Patriarch of Constantinople and restored him to her communion. There was no possible legitimate reason now for a fresh quarrel. But Photius used his new position to re-open his personal long-festering political vendetta against Rome. Accordingly, he applied to Rome for legates to come to another synod. There was no legitimate reason for a synod, but he persuaded Pope John VIII that it would clear up the last remains of the earlier schism, and bring healing and restore solidarity between East and West. His real motive, in cannot be doubted, was to undo the effect of the Eighth Ecumenical Council of 869 that had deposed him. The Pope sent three legates, Cardinal Peter of St. Chysogonus, Paul, Bishop of Ancona, and Eugene, Bishop of Ostia. The synod was opened in St. Sophia's in November of 879. This is the the council that has come to be known to Catholics as the Pseudosynodus Photiana (Photian Pseudo-Synod) or Conciliabulum Oecumenicum Pseudooctavum (Pseudo-Eighth Ecumenical Council) which the Anti-Western Orthodox count as the Eighth Ecumnical Council.

Photius had his own way throughout the council. He altered the letters sent to him, to the Emperor Basil, and to the Byzantine Church by Pope John VIII, which were read at the Council of 879-80 convoked to clear his name (Francis Dvornik attests to this in Byzantium and the Roman Primacy. Photius revoked the acts of the former synod (of 869), repeated all his accusations against the Western churches, focusing especially on the filioque grievance, anathematized all who added anything to the creed, and claimed Bulgaria as part of the Byzantine Pariarchate. Given such data, it is a testament to the insular narrowness of Anti-Western Orthodox scholarship that Dragas could offer so naïve a description of Photius as this:
... the image of St. Photios [Photius] that emerges from the acts of the Eighth Ecumenical Council is one of moderation, sensitivity and maturity. Confrontation is avaoided but without compromising firmness in matters that relate to the faith. Generosity towards others is displayed and maturity permeates everyting.
Photius had rigged his council. He had garnered John VIII's support under the false pretense that he meant to heal the remains of the earlier schism by restoring Eastern dissenters to the one true fold of Rome. But the fact that there was a great majority for all of Photius's defiant measures in the synod shows the extent to which he had prepared for the synod by building up his Anti-Western party in the East. The legates, like their predecessors in 861, agreed to everything the majority desired, pending the ratification of the Pope. As soon as they had returned to Rome, Photius sent the Acts to the Pope for his confirmation. Instead, however, Pope John VIII naturally again excommunicated him, solemnly condemning him in 881 and reinstating the ban against him in 882. The successor of John VIII, Pope Marinus I (882-884), who had presided over the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869 as one of the legates of Adrian II, vigorously renewed John VIII's condemnation of Photius, rescinding the Acts of the Photian Council of 879 and formally reinstating the Fourth Council of Constantinople of 869 as the official Eighth Ecumenical Council of the Church. [See note below concerning these details, which are contested.] So the Photian Schism broke out in full force for several years until the death of Emperor Basil I in 886. In light of these details, Dragas' declaration that Photian Council of 879-880 "is indeed the Eighth Ecumenical of the Catholic Church, Eastern and Western and Orthodox," that it is "a Council of Unity," carries little credibility, let alone intelligibility.

Emperor Basil was succeeded by his son, Leo VI (886-912), who intensely disliked Photius, accused him of treason and embezzlement of public money, and immediately deposed him and banished him. Photius's place as patriarch was then taken by Leo's younger brother, Stephen (886-93). Stephen's intrusion was no less a violation of canon law than that of Photius in 857, so Rome refused to recognize him. It was only under his successor Antony II (893-95) that a synod restored reunion for a century and a half, until the time of Michael Cerularius (1045-58). At this point, Photius disappears from history. Not even the Armenian monastery in which he spent his last years is certainly known, although historical research shows that Photius (despite his liturgical and doctrinal quarrels with the Latin Franks in Bulgaria) died in communion with the Holy See (see James Likoudis, "History of the Byzantine Greco-Slav Schism: Basic Facts and Events Giving Rise to the Eastern Orthodox Churches"). The date of his death is generally given as February 6, 897.

But Photius had left a large and influential anti-Roman party, eager to repudiate the Pope's primacy and embrace schism. It was this party, to which Cerularius belonged, which triumphed in Constantinople, so that Photius is rightly considered the architect of the the Great Schism--or as I prefer to call it, the Anti-Western Orthodox Schism--which still endures. A proud and obstinate Cerelarius was excommunicated by Rome in 1054, along with all the Eastern churches that followed him into Anti-Western schism. But the greatest credit for this fatal breach in Christendom must go to the brilliant and scheming Photius, who broke faith with Sacred Tradition by denying Peter in the office of his successors by means of his proud and obstinate "non serviam!"


The ecumenical status of the Fourth Council of Constantinople of 869-870 has long been contested by the Anti-Western Orthodox. During the ecumenically-charged milieu leading up to and following the Second Vatican Council, many Roman Catholic scholars and ecumenists, eager to mend relations with their Eastern Orthodox brethren, have been back-pedaling and down-playing their former criticisms of Photius, amending and revising their accounts of the Photian Schism. In this process, some further details have been brought to light, but in some instances earlier details have been obfiscated and covered over. One of the most prominent Catholic scholars during this period has been Francis Dvornik (or Dvornic), whose books, The Photian Schism: History and Legend (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948; rpt. 1970) and Byzantium and the Roman Primacy (New York: Fordham University Press, 1966; rpt. 1979) have been viewed by Anti-Western Orthodox scholars as having come a significant way towards accommodating some of their interpretations. To their delight, Dvornik accepts, for example, their claim that the belief that the successors of John VIII--Marinus I, Stephen V, and Formosus--had broken with Photius is a legendary invention. It must be conceded, in fact, that Photius did die in communion with Rome. Dvornik's claim that Photius never actually questioned Roman primacy seems well-attested. However, the notion that the ecumenical status of the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869-870 is fundamentally compromised by the acts of the Photian Council of 879-880 cannot be seriously maintained. First, the matter is ultimately a question of authority, and whether the matter was immediately settled in the ninth century or not is in the final analysis irrelevant. Second, the Council claimed for itself an ecumenical status by calling itself the universalis octava synodus; and it had at least the necessary geographical characteristics because of the authority of all the heads of the Church who were either present or represented.

Was it recognized as ecumenical by the Holy See? Three facts are certain and incontestable. First, Adrian II had already approved it in his letter of Nov. 10, 871, as well as in his letter to the faithful of Salerno and Amalfi in 875; and John VIII called it sancta octava synodus, thereby formally recognizing its ecumenical status. Second, the Council has been listed among the ecumenical councils recognized by the Roman Catholic Church since the beginning of the 12th century. Third, the Byzantine Church itself accepted the Council as ecumenical until the Photian Synod of 879-880, which is thought to have abrogated its Acts; and those portions of the Byzantine Church that reunited with Rome since that time have considered it as ecumenical.

The crux of debate is reducible to the question whether Pope John VIII, by means of his supreme power of binding and loosing, actually annulled the acts of the Council of 869-870, thus depriving it of ecumenical status. This is of course what is claimed by Anti-Western Orthodox scholars, who have a curious (if convenient) interest at this point in the Roman primacy of John VIII. The answer is affirmative if the Greek text of the last two sessions of the Photian Synod are considered authentic, which may be doubted, not least because of Photius's history of altering the letters sent to him, to the Emperor Basil, and to the Byzantine Church by Pope John VIII, before having them read at the Photian Synod of 879-880. The answer is negative if takes into consideration other documents, such as the letter of Pope Stephen V to Emperor Basil I in 885-886. This letter states, in fact, that 20 years after the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870), Photius was still trying to have it annulled, a step that would be inexplicable if prior to this time John VIII had already taken the initiative in this matter.

While ecumenically-minded scholars such as Dvornik have written irenically in support of the thesis of abrogation by John VIII, others such as Venance Grumel and Martin Jugie have defended the thesis of non-abrogation and ecumenicity of the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870) as the Eighth Ecumenical Council of the Church. Ultimately, however, the issue is one of ecclesiastical authority, in testimony of which stands the record of decrees of the Holy See.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Eastern Orthodoxy's Witness to Papal Primacy: The Acacian Schism of 484-519

Pope John Paul II has referred to the Eastern Orthodox churches collectively as the "other lung" of the univeral Church. Rome permits Catholics in areas of the world where there are no Catholic churches to receive the Sacraments in these Eastern churches, thus recognizing their validity. The Divine Liturgy of these churches is widely recognized and appreciated by Western Catholics for its sublime beauty, depth, and antiquity (even though perhaps not quite as ancient as the Roman Canon of the traditional Latin Rite). Eastern Orthodox churches have preserved and passed down the Apostolic Faith virtually intact in their communities. They have preserved traditions of mystical and ascetical theology that are the admiration of all those acquainted with them. Furthermore, when it comes to accounting for Church history, Eastern Orthodox Christians have their just share of complaints about the scandalous behavior of certain Roman Legates towards them in times past, as well as about the corrosive inroads of the Western Enlightenment and its abominable fruit of desacralization and secularization among Catholics in the West.

All too often, however, Eastern Orthodox Christians have projected these just complaints into blanket dismissals of everything Western, so that their identity seems more dependent on a negative "anti-Westernism" than on whatever may be positively "Eastern." Furthermore, contemporary developments in the world suggest that it is not only Western Catholics who must face up to the massive challenges of social secularization and the inroads of modernity and postmodernity into their communities. The era of the ethnic religious 'ghetto' is quickly evaporating, whatever security its insularity may have provided. More seriously, the just historical complaints of the Orthodox have led, despite protestations to the contrary, to an effective dismissal of Roman Primacy in any sense whatsoever. Even the occasional lip service to a "primacy of honor" is eviscerated of significance by what most of our Eastern Orthodox brethren actually say and do. At this point, these brethren will find themselves, if they can bring themselves to look, in position of "rupture" from their own Eastern Orthodox tradition. Moreover, as I hope to show, their own tradition offers ample witness to Papal Primacy in a sense that far surpasses the etiolated notion of a "Primacy of Honor."

One good example of the Eastern Orthodox witness to Papal Primacy if found in what I shall call the Acacian Schism of 484-519. This schism began in AD 484 when Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople (pictured left) warmly espoused the Emperor Zeno's politically-motivated meddling in theology. Zeno, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (474-91), composed a script entitled Henotikon (Unification), to win over the Egyptian and Syrian monophysites, by condemning the definitions of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon about the unity of the divine and human natures in the second Person of the Holy Trinity, while exonerating the heretics Nestorius and Eutyches whom Chalcedon condemned. At first nearly all of the Eastern bishops hastened to subscribe to the Emperor's script--a pattern repeated with great frequency in Byzantium.

By the time of the Acacian Schism of 484-519, the bishops of Rome in the West had not only braved a long list of pagan Roman Emperors but also learned to cope with continual meedling by Christian Emperors in Constantinople in the affairs of the Church. These Byzantine emperors, emboldened by their frequent success in cowing into submission the bishops, archbishops and patriarchs of Constantinople, attempted to do the same with the bishops of Rome, some of whom they sent into exile, such as Martin I, who died in exile.

When Pope St. Felix II (483-492) (pictured right) caught wind of Zeno's Henotikon, he promptly protested. But his protest was in vain, as Acaius ordered the names of popes to be struck from the diptychs. In Constantinople, only a group of monks called Acoemetae) (Greek: "Akoimetai" from privative a and koiman, to rest; meaning "those who hardly slept") held fast to communion with Rome. Outside of Constantinople, bishops insistent on orthodoxy and unity eventually called upon a later bishop of Rome, Pope St. Symmachus (498-514) (pictured left), requesting communion with Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and assuring him that they would "obey the decision of the Apostolic See." Early in the pontificate of the next pope, Pope St. Hormisdas (514-523), Metropolitan John of Nicopolis and his subordinates begged the pope to restore them to communion with Rome and pleaded their fidelity to Chalcedon.

It is in the response of Pope Hormisdas (pictured left) to the Eastern schismatics and in the transactions between Rome and Constantinople which followed, that the meaning of Petrine Primacy to both East and West becomes ineluctably clear. Pope Hormisdas exercised his primacy and supremacy by decisively putting an end to the long-standing schism. He composed his Libellus, which is better remembered as the Formula of Hormisdas, and sent it to Nicoplolis (the See of Metropolitan John who had called on his help) as well as to Constantinople. No less important than what Pope Hormisdas wrote (which we shall examine mementarily) is what he did. His action was decisive: he demanded that the Eastern bishops and emperor sign the document, signifying their assent to its content and submission to his authority.

The emperor at the time (518), Anastasius I, resisted. But his successor, Justin I, yielded to Rome, garnering for himself the exceptional legacy of being a great champion of Orthodoxy among the Eastern emperors and producing a domino effect in the Eastern Episcopate. This led to the singular event that brought to an end the Acacian Schism of 484-519: two hundred Eastern bishops were summoned to Constantinople and, in complicity to the demand of Pope Hormisdas, made to sign the document that has come to be known to posterity as the Formula of Hormisdas.

The most substantial first part of the Formula offers a review of the acts of the perpetrators of the schism, with references also to three earlier instances of heresy that the bishops of Rome duly condemned. The Pope also refers to his papal predecessors' references to themselves as the successors of Peter and to the powers conferred on them by Christ at the founding of His Church. In fact, the Formula begins with an emphatic reference to that act of Christ (Matthew 16:18). Throughout the first part, Pope Hormisdas uses the plural "We" to convey his identification of his own authority with that of his predecessors, who did not refrain from imposing doctrine and discipline on other bishops, whether from East or West. In the quotations from the Formula that follow, these key passages will be presented in Italics just as they are in Adrian Fortescue's The Orthodox Eastern Church (1907, 1925; rpt. New York: B. Franklin, 1969--used copies available).

In the first part of the Formula, those to whom it is addressed are asked to consider the consequences and to individually sign the Formula, which spells out what each of them must hold de fide. At this point, therefore, there is a significant shift from the first person plural ("We") to the first person singular ("I"). No leeway is granted to those called upon to sign the Formula to change anything in it, or to interpret it in any other way than unconditional adherence to the See of Rome:
"The first [condition of] salvation is to keep the rule of the true faith and in no way to forsake the laws of the Fathers. And the worlds of our Lord Jesus Christ: Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church, cannot be passed over; they are proved by the facts, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic Religion is always kept immaculate."
So that there can be no doubt about what is being enacted in the signing of the document, the Formula asks its signatories to condemn all those whom the Roman See has condemned:
"We then, wishing by no means to be parted from that hope and faith, following also in everything the laws of the Fathers, anathematize all heresies, especially the heretic Nestorius, sometime Bishop of the City of Constantinople, who was condemned at the Council of Ephesus by the blessed Celestine, pope of the City of Rome, and by Cyril, bishop of the City of Alexandria. We also anathematize both Eutyches and Dioscorus of Alexandria, condemned by the holy Synod of Chalcedon, which we follow and embrace and which We likewise condemn and anathematize Acacius, some time Bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Apostolic See.... Further, we condemn Peter of Antioch [see Epiphanius of Constantinople] with all his followers and followers of all the above-mentioned."
The signatories are then asked to profess their adherence to the Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great (pictured below right) and to personally and individually promise fidelity to Pope Hormisdas and his successors (note the way in which the wording changes to first person singular ["I"] as it comes to the signing of the Formula following the first sentence below):
"We receive and approve all the letters of the blessed Pope Leo, which he wrote about the Christian religion; and, as we have said, we follow the Apostolic See in everything and teach all its laws. Therefore, I hope that I may deserve to be with you in that one Communion taught by the Apostolic See, in which Communion is the whole, real and perfect solidity of the Christian Religion. And I promise that in the future I will not say in the holy Mysteries the names of those who are banished from the Communion of the Catholic Church, that is, who do not agree with the Apostolic See. And if in any way I ever attempt to depart from this my profession, I acknowledge that by my own sentence I shall be an accomplice of those whom I have condemned. This my profession I sign with my own hand and address to you, Hormisdas, the holy and venerable Pope of the City of Rome."
The Papal Legates who presided over the convocation of the two hundred bishops in Constantinople allowed no room for discussion of the Formula. When a number of bishops from Thessaly wanted to changes some words, the Legates replied:
"It is not in your power to do this; if you will sign, thank God; if you will not, we have come and greeted you, we will now walk away."
Patriarchs Epiphanius (520-536) and Mennas (536-552) signed the Formula, as well as Emperor Justinian (527-565), who was responsible for initiating the Byzantine period by institutionalizing anti-Roman sentiments in Constantinople. The Formula was also signed by the bishops at the Fourth Council of Constantinople (Eighth Ecumenical Council) in 869. It formed an integral part of the declarations of the two reunion Councils, the second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439). Finally, it played a central role in the deliberations that led in the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) to the definition of papal infallibility.

... Quot erat demonstrandum.


Monday, January 17, 2005

The Eastern Schism: a postscript

I recognize that "Eastern Schism" is not an amiable expression in a time of generally amiable and solicitous ecumenical overtures emanating from Rome towards her Eastern brethren. When it comes to accounting for Church history, these brethren have their just share of complains about how legates of Rome have at time behaved towards them. Where these brethren persist, for whatever reason, in what can only be called "selective memory" of Church history, however, a frank commitment to the facts of that history bear reviewing.

When asked why he had become a Catholic, John Henry Newman is said to have remarked, perhaps with just a touch of impatience, that it is not the kind of question one can answer adequately between the soup and the fish courses. When his interlocutors persisted, as I recall, he responded by suggesting, probably no less impatiently, that the record of Church history is sufficient for any sufficiently persistent inquirer to find his own way to the truth.

That record is read only selectively where certain basic historical, ecclesiological, and theological facts are passed over, as they often are by our eastern brethren. For anyone interested in taking a full account of the facts that Rome sees as indispensable in the historical dispute concerning the Eastern Schism, here are some resources that will serve well:

A. Websites and online articles

B. Books Available online (in most cases)

C. Available offline (through direct mail order or library loan)

  • Allies, Thomas W. St. Peter, His Name and His Office. 1852; London: Catholic Truth Society, 1895. [a condensation of Passaglia's Commentarius by the most intellectually prominent among the converts Cardinal Newman assisted in bringing into the Catholic Church] .
  • Grumel, Venance. "La Lettre du pape Etienne V a l'empereur Basile Ier," RevEtByz 11 (1953), 129-155.
  • Grumel, Venance. "New Light on the Photian Schism," Unitas 5 (1953), 140-148.
  • Jaki, Stanley L. Eastern Orthodoxy's Witness to Papal Primacy. 2004. Real View Books, 1436 Devonshire Lane, Port Huron, MI: 48060.
  • Jugie, Martin. Le schisme byzantin, apercu historique et doctrinal. Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1941.
  • Jugie, Martin. Theologia dogmatica christianorum orientalium ab Ecclesia catholica dissidentium. 5 volumes. Paris: Letouzey et Ane, 1926-1935.
  • Lindsay, Colin. The Evidence for the Papacy: As Derived from the Holy Scriptures and from Primitive Antiquity. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1870.
  • Passaglia, Carlo. Commentarius de praerogativis beati Petri apostolorum principis. Ratisbonae: Manz, 1850.
  • Rivington, Luke. The Primitive Church and the See of Peter, with an Introduction by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. London: Longmans, Green, 1894.
  • Scott, Sidney Herbert. The Eastern Churches and the Papacy. London: Sheed & Ward, 1928.
  • Waterworth, James. A Commentary, by Writers of the First Five Centuries on the Place of St. Peter in the New Testament; and that of St. Peter's Successors in the Church. London: Richardson, 1871.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Eastern Schism revisited

In response to my recent post, "Petrine jurisdiction exercised in the ancient Church" (Scripture & Catholic Tradition, Jan. 10, 2005), Dan Jones kindly offered a number of critical rejoinders from an Eastern Orthodox perspective (link #1; link #2; link #3; and link #4). Jones sees "errors" in Rome's idea of Church unity and primacy embodied in a Pope with universal jurisdiction as stemming from (Augustine's?) theological "errors," in turn stemming from the neo-platonic idea of absolute simplicity and the notion that God's own unity must be understood as a unity of being having absolute simplicity. Even the filioque ("and the Son") insertion in the Nicene Creed, he says, is a product of this view. He asserts that this view is problematic and that Orthodoxy offers a solution to the problem of unity and plurality unavailable to the West, and that the Eastern churches preserve an ecclesial unity without the pope.

Mr. Jones asserts these things. I just don't see how any of it is quite so. I grant that the Church and her theologians have been influenced by the sometimes helpful categories of Greek philosophy in the Latin West as also in the Greek East. I grant that philosophical concepts--such as the "hypostatic unity" of Christ's two natures--are not directly taken from Scripture, and that sometimes apparent contradictions can result--for example, between the Biblical idea that God had "repented" of having created the world in the days of Noah and the philosophical idea (via Boethius) that God is "eternal" and not immersed in the stream of time and change as we are.

What I don't grant is that such philosophical concepts are invariably erroneous or even that they are unhelpful in resolving apparent contradictions. Ecumenical Councils have employed them in clarifying their dogmatic degrees. Further, I don't see how the Eastern Plotinian notion of a Good (or God) "beyond being" resolves the problem of unity and diversity any more effectively than the Platonic-Aristotelian notions one finds in Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite or St. Thomas Aquinas. The notion that the West has somehow stumbled over this issue or failed to resolve it conceptually is simply beyond me. William Norris Clarke, S.J., has directly addressed this question in his masterful study, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (2001). Moreover, the West has always seen the answer to this philosophical problem as residing ultimately in the mystery of the Trinitarian unity of divine nature (One) and diversity of three Persons (Many).

My son, Benjamin Blosser, who is completing a doctorate in the area of Eastern patristics at the Catholic University of America, assures me that the idea that the fall arises from the unstability of creation ex nihilo is found just as much in the East as in the West. Origen is well known to have embraced this view. To what extent it spread throughout the East, or may have been linked with the anti-Origenist controversy in the East, however, I do not know.

Furthermore, how the filioque is theologically a problem I have never understood, since the divine procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son is both affirmed by Scripture and accepted as such on that level by Eastern Orthodox theologians. Here again, B. Blosser offers the following notes:
1. Eastern theologians agree with the filioque on the level of the
economic trinity, i.e. they agree, as Scripture affirms, that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son in the economy of salvation. They simply deny that this is true in the immanent Trinity, i.e. in the eternal processions within the Godhead itself.

2. Eastern theologians claim that all or most Western ecclesiological fallacies arise from the supposedly heretical notion of the filioque--that is, Westerners fail to give a proper role to the pneumatological foundation of the Church, because they so give such an overweening primacy to the Son that the role of the Spirit is crushed. Thus, they claim, the subordination of the Spirit within the Godhead is carried over into ecclesiology.

3. Yet the Church clearly belongs to the theology of the economy, of the economy of salvation, not of the immanent Godhead.

Therefore, since East and West have no disagreement about the processions on the economic level, a level on which ecclesiology clearly belongs, it is unclear how or why Trinitarian disagreements should have any effect at all on ecclesiological disagreements. On the other hand, it seems rather that the Eastern theologians are letting their misguided hatred of the filioque 'bleed' from the level of the immanent Trinity to the level of the economic.
The more substantial question is how ecclesial unity is preserved in the Eastern churches, beyond the loose consensual unity that has only recently begun to be subjected to the corrosive acids of modernity and postmodernity. How theological disputes over faith and morals may be resolved remains a major question. Some Eastern churches accept and ecclesiastically sanction divorce and re-marriage (up to three times). Some Eastern churches ecclesiastically sanction the use of contraceptives (even though ancient tradition condemns contraception and the birth control pills in use today are proven abortifacients). How such practices can be squared with Sacred Tradition or be ecclesiastically resolved among acephalous Orthodox hierarchies that do not recognize one another's jurisdiction remains a major question as well.

The purpose of my original post was to merely to demonstrate that the conception of a legitimately exercised universal Petrine jurisdiction is attested to in Church history well before the Eastern Schism of 1054, even by an Eastern father such as St. Maximus the Confessor.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Petrine jurisdiction exercised in the ancient Church

Whenever we bring up the record of the Church Fathers and writers of antiquity, our brethren from the various Eastern Orthodox tradition accuse us of citing them "out of context." The tit-for-tat quickly becomes an exercise in futility. Just be sure to examine the record for yourself, context and all. On the exercise of Petrine jurisdiction by Rome in the ancient Church, for example, here's a sampling:

Pope St. Boniface (d. 422): "... it is clear that this Roman Church is to all churches throughout the world as the head is to the members, and that whoever separates himself from it becomes an exile from the Christian religion, since he ceases to belong to it's fellowship." (Ep. 14, 1)

Pope St. Leo The Great (d. 461): "Though priests have a like dignity, yet they have not an equal jurisdiction, since even among the most blessed apostles, as there was a likeness of honor, so was there a certain distinction of power, and the election of all being equal, pre-eminence over the rest was given to one, from which type the distinction between the bishops also has risen, and it was provided by an important arrangement, that all should not claim to themselves power over all, but that in every province there should be one, whose sentence should be considered the first among his brethren; and others again, seated in the greater cities, should undertake a larger care, through whom the direction of the Universal Church should converge to the one See of Peter, and nothing anywhere disagree with its head." (Ep. 14)

Pope St. Gelasius (d. 496): "Yet we do not hesitate to mention that which is known to the Universal Church, namely, that as the See of Blessed Peter the Apostle has the right to loose what has been bound by the judgments of any bishops, whatsoever, and since it has jurisdiction over every church, so that no one may pass judgment on its verdict, the canons providing that an appeal should be to it from any part of the world, no one is permitted to appeal against its judgment." (Thiel, Ep. 26)

Pope St. Agatho (d. 681): "... Peter's true confession was revealed from heaven by the Father, and for it Peter was pronounced blessed by the Lord of all; and he received also, from the Redeemer of us all, by a threefold commendation, the spiritual sheep of the Church that he might feed them. Resting on his protection, the Apostolic Church (of Rome) has never turned aside from the way of truth to any part of error and her authority has always been faithfully followed and embraced as that of the Prince of the Apostles, by the whole Catholic Church, and by all the venerable Fathers who embraced her doctrine, by which they have shone as most approved lights of the Church of Christ, and has been venerated and followed by all the orthodox doctors..." (Mansi XI, p. 233)

St. Maximus the Confessor (d. 622): "For the extremities of the earth, and all in every part of it who purely and rightly confess the Lord, look directly towards the most holy Roman Church and its confession and faith, as it were to a sun of unfailing light, awaiting from it the bright radiance of our fathers, according to what the six inspired and holy Councils have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For from the coming down of the Incarnate Word among us, all the churches in every part of the world have possessed that greatest church alone as their base and foundation, seeing that, according to the promise of Christ Our Savior, the gates of hell do never prevail against it, that it possesses the Keys of right confession and faith in Him, that it opens the true and only religion to such as approach it with piety, and shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks injustice against the Most High." (P.G. 91, 137ff.)

See also the following page of links concerning Eastern Orthodoxy

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Should Episcopalians become Roman Catholics?

I have been asked by a friend to offer some reflections on the question "Why Episcopalians Should Become Roman Catholic." His suggestion was that a number of his acquaintances have been struggling with the question of whether to remain in the Episcopal Church, with the underlying issue being not so much whether to flee, but rather whither and why. The prospect of offering counsel to anyone in these circumstances is, of course, fraught with difficulties. For one thing, it cannot avoid presumption. That I am a convert to the Catholic Faith from a Protestant background, most immediately in the Episcopal Church, may be of some help here. But I cannot begin to know the various particular circumstances of the individuals in question; and even if I did, I could not presume to tell them what they must do. Whatever the negative experience of religious dissatisfaction in which they find themselves, this is not yet the positive experience of religious conviction required to compel conversion; and nothing short of such conviction will do if they want to become truly Catholic. At best, I can offer some reflections on what I believe and what my experience and that of others has been, and leave it to them to draw whatever conclusions they are able. The convert's challenge of explaining his own conversion is already sufficiently daunting without entertaining the question of what others should do. As John Henry Newman is said to have remarked, perhaps with just a touch of impatience, when asked why he had become a Catholic, it is not the kind of question one can answer adequately between the soup and the fish courses.

A challenging prospect

The momentous proportions of the question at issue are not lost, I'm sure, on most Episcopalians. Becoming a Catholic is hardly a similar sort of thing to moving to the Methodist or Presbyterian church down the street. There are deep historical and cultural differences that distinguish non-Catholic from Catholic Christians, not to mention theological differences. One does not typically speak of "converting" to Methodism or Presbyterianism. But one does "convert" to become a Catholic. And those who do so speak in decisive metaphors about "crossing the English Channel" or "swimming the Tiber." The act is freighted with consequence. Most Episcopalians, I believe, are instinctively aware of this. Within their own church they may be conflicted over the ordination of practicing homosexuals, the demythologizing of Scripture, attacks on traditional Christian beliefs, and all manner of heterodoxy; and this may occasion profound anxiety--especially where the raising of families is concerned. Many choose to stay and fight in hopes of salvaging a cherished heritage. Others who have grown weary of the battle may turn to thoughts of flight. But flight whither? One of the 300 odd other Protestant denominations? One of the Eastern, Greek, Russian, or Antiochian Orthodox churches? "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!" The Catholic Church? The thought of becoming a Catholic, if it occurs at all, almost always gives significant pause. Imagine yourself as a Catholic--a Catholic!!! One can almost hear those Anglicans across the Atlantic who faced this question, only to respond: "Catholic? But how could we become Catholics? We're English after all!"

If the prospect of offering counsel under these circumstances is presumptuous, it may be nonetheless in some sense unavoidable, if not imperative, where things like conversion and conviction are concerned. For beneath all considerations of relative circumstance, perception, dissatisfaction, and cultural differences lies the tiny but ineluctable question of whether or not these things are, after all, true. The only good reason for believing anything, ultimately, is the conviction that what one believes is true. Nothing short of this conviction is adequate to the daunting prospect of converting to the Catholic Faith.

I know only too well how alien Catholicism may seem when viewed from the outside--like a looming colossus of steel and bronze. But I must hasten to add that the experience among converts once inside the Church is often quite different, as in the particularly well-attested feeling of having "arrived home" and "become more fully who they already were." The apparent strangeness and uniqueness of Catholicism, from a cultural and historical point of view, may consist, in the final analysis, in little more than its more complete and universal embodiment of what is already present, if only partially and incompletely, in the experience of other Christian communions. When C.S. Lewis converted to the Christian Faith at Oxford in the middle of the last century, he said that he could not have done so, if it had meant denying the truth that existed in the other religions of the world. When the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church described non-Catholic Christians as already "truly but imperfectly in communion with the Catholic Church" by virtue of their common baptism and faith in Jesus Christ, it was expressing a similar idea. However incompletely it may be expressed, all truth is God's truth; and to that degree it must be cherished.

This fact has been repeatedly attested by converts from the Anglican tradition--from Cardinal Newman, Cardinal Manning, and Gerard Manley Hopkins (pictured right) in the nineteenth century, to Monsignor Ronald Knox, Malcolm Muggeridge, Mortimer J. Adler and Sheldon Vanauken in the twentieth, to Thomas Howard and Canon Edward Norman in our own day. These converts all express their profound gratitude for what they received that was true, good, and beautiful in the Anglican tradition. All found God's grace already outside the Catholic Church before becoming Catholics. Each became a Catholic only after years of wrestling with the claims of the Church and becoming convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ "subsists" in a unique way and in the fullest way in the Catholic Church. Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus (pictured left below), editor of First Things magazine, says something similar of those who, like himself, have become Catholics from the Lutheran tradition. Each of them, he says, "finally, and only after much painful hesitation, acted upon the true and irrepressible intuition that, because there is only one Christ there can be only one Church, which is the Body of Christ, and therefore their baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ was, in fact, a baptism into the Catholic Church, which is the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time." ("Becoming More Fully Who We Are," Foreword to There We Stood, Here We Stand: Eleven Lutherans Rediscover Their Catholic Roots, ed. by Timothy Drake [1st Books Library, 2001', p. v)

Even though we speak of "conversion," therefore, it may be more precise to speak, as Neuhaus says, of a "delayed fulfillment of the conversion that happened, by the grace of God, in baptism." Converts to the Catholic Faith such as those just mentioned were already as Anglicans and Episcopalians and Lutherans "truly but imperfectly in communion with the Catholic Church," and sought to remedy that imperfection by conversion. This is not to say that they thereby achieved perfection in understanding, obedience, or holiness; but that they arrived where they understood God had intended them to be when they were called in baptism. Countless converts attest to this experience. Neuhaus himself recalls waking up the morning after his reception into the Catholic Church and realizing that something was very different: "I tried to put my finger on it, and then it came to me: For the first time in many years, I was not beginning the day with the question weighing on my mind, Where do I belong in the Church of Jesus Christ? I knew where I belonged. I was there. I was home." (Ibid.)

Negative experiences

Before I turn to those positive features of Catholicism that may assist in moving one toward the conviction that its claims are indeed true, I must spend some time discussing the negative things that may deter some from converting. Truth in advertising is important. Truth may be the sine qua non of religious conviction, but it is not the sum of religious experience. In fact, it is precisely because Catholicism is more than its theological claims that it's truth claims are so important, for without the conviction of truth, there would be little to sustain one's conversion amidst the avalanches of unpleasantness that may well await the convert on the contemporary Catholic scene. I want to be brutally honest about the state of disarray within the Catholic Church these days, which may not seem too inviting to the Anglican looking for a safe haven. It is true, of course, that if the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, we may expect to find her at war: she is not called the Church Militant for nothing. Given our recent history of rapid western secularization, it is hardly surprising that Christian communities all face challenges. Yet the significant difference, where religious confusion, chaos, heterodoxy, and heresy are concerned, is that Rome offers an inviolable doctrinal constitution beneath the chaos one may find at the surface level. There are times when it may look as if the Church's official teaching may be overwhelmed by the forces of revisionism, dissent, and heresy--but the faithful can hardly bring ourselves to ultimately doubt divine providence in His Church. History shows this conviction vindicated repeatedly. During the early Arian controversy, for example, nearly all the bishops went over to the side of the Arius, who denied Christ's divinity--nearly all, that is, except for the pope and St. Athanasius, whose faithfulness to apostolic tradition was ultimately vindicated. Still, the threat is real.

The accelerated disintegration within the Catholic Church over the last four decades has so many potentially depressing aspects that I hesitate to mention them. But honesty compels me to admit that the Catholic Church in the West, since the 1960s, has passed through something that looks a bit like a delayed adolescence. If we remember what the late sixties and early seventies were like in the western world, I think we may get the picture: it was a time of anarchy, rebellion, and widespread unrest. The conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in the middle of all this period provoked a great deal of unintended silliness that left observers wondering whether Catholics--particularly in the United States--were going through some sort of delayed teenage rebellion. There were stories of priests elevating pizzas at the consecration during Mass. Nuns and monks fled their religious orders in droves, and seminaries looked like they would be emptied. Novelty was in; tradition was out. Some of the silliness of those years has subsided. Yet it does not take a prophet to see the way the wind is blowing even decades later. As I have written elsewhere:
With few exceptions, the results of Catholic catechesis over the past forty years have been dismal. We Catholics, both laity and clergy, are all too often abysmally ignorant of our own Tradition. For more than two generations now, we have been robbed of the fullness of Catholicism, which is our birthright. With a few thankful exceptions, our collective acquaintance with Scripture is piecemeal, our knowledge of Tradition is pathetic, our hymns are embarrassing, our religious art is ugly, our churches look like U.N. meditation chapels, our ethics are slipshod, and our aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities are so far from being sublime that they almost look ridiculous. (Philip Blosser, "The Kasper-Ratzinger Debate and the State of the Church," The New Oxford Review [April 2002], 18-25)
Catholic tradition--the richest treasure trove of spiritual, devotional, moral, ecclesial, and liturgical resources imaginable--is virtually ignored today. The oldest liturgy in world history--older than the celebrated Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox tradition--is the traditional Latin Mass of the Roman rite, which can be traced back to the beginnings of Church history; and it's celebration is permitted today, since the institution of the new Mass of 1970, only in a few scattered dioceses throughout the world under an indult status (that is, as a privilege, not a right). English Catholics in the 16th century gave their lives in exchange for their refusal to accept Cranmer's "new mass." Yet compared to the post-Vatican II liturgy as it is celebrated in most suburban parishes today, even Cranmer's Anglican liturgy must be seen today as a marvel of tradition, dignity, reverence, aesthetic beauty and decorum. Anglicans leaving the Book of Common Prayer for a Roman Catholic parish today must be prepared for the utter banality they will surely find in many dioceses. They must be prepared to leave behind the rich Anglican tradition of hymnody and Renaissance polyphony for folksy, guitar-accompanied attempts at "singing" (I use the term loosely) which have little if any aesthetic merit or theological substance to justify them. It was not for nothing that Thomas Day's popular and edifying book was entitled Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste (1992).

Anglicans converts to Rome are legion and, from Cardinal Newman to Thomas Howard, they have offered compelling reasons for their conversions. But since the changes following the Second Vatican Council (in the mid-1960s), one would do well to heed their warnings as well as their compelling reasons. Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) (pictured left), author of the widely acclaimed Brideshead Revisited, asked Archbishop Cardinal Heenan of Westminster on behalf of his fellow converts: "Why were we led out of the church of our childhood to find the Church of our own adoption assuming the very forms we disliked?" Robert Speaight (1904-1976), a convert, prolific author, and the biographer of Hilaire Belloc, wrote: "The vernacular liturgy, popular and pedestrian, intelligible and distressing, has robbed us of much that was numinous in public worship; there is less emphasis on prayer and penitence, and the personal relationship between God and man ... is neglected in favor of a diffused social concern." Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) (pictured right) the popular British journalist and television host who introduced Mother Teresa to the world, could not at first bring himself to become a Roman Catholic because of his dislike for the changes introduced since Vatican II, which, in his view, sought to reproduce all the "follies and fatuities of Protestantism." The "spirit of Vatican II was destroying Christendom," he declared. Thankfully, he was received into the Church in 1982 at the age of 79, despite his dismay over the disarray he found in the Church.

Perhaps one of the most illuminating accounts is that of Muggeridge's Canadian-born daughter-in-law, Ann Roche Muggeridge in her book, The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church. She writes:
The more a religion demands in the way of commitment, the greater the response of faith. Yet even now there are converts, of exceptionally high quality, and my own perception is that their numbers is increasing with the tenure of the present Pope. They are refugees fleeing the increasingly moral laxity of the mainline Protestant bodies, their defection a tragic loss to their former churches, as they were usually the most committed and active members. Catholics watched with a mixture of pity and amusement as the whole staff of the excellent Anglo-Catholic New Oxford Review argued and agonized itself into the Catholic Church over the issues of the ordination of women and homosexuals. I now know a substantial number of recent converts like this (in counter-revolutionary groups they usually outnumber "cradle Catholics") and am much edified by their purity and ardour. Seven of them are my godchildren, and I must confess that some of us, to our shame, earnestly tried to delay them, on the grounds of the growing disorder in the Catholic Church. They forced their way past us anyway, thank God; though the priest I brought them to for instruction and I could not resist saying, when they had their first shocking confrontation with revolutionary priests and nuns over the children's education: "Well, you can't say we didn't warn you!" The point is, these converts remind one of what one asks of the Church of God, as the old baptism question went; the answer being, "Faith!" They come because at the highest level of Catholic teaching, the doctrine of the faith, though much embattled, remains uncompromised and is as fearlessly proclaimed by John Paul II as by Peter, Paul, Ignatius, or Augustine. (p. 183)
There is also a historical parallel from the inter-testimental period of the Roman occupation of Palestine that bears mention. According to Dan O'Neill,
There are documented cases of Roman occupiers who, in the face of a shattered and beaten Jewish society, nevertheless recognized that, indeed, these were the people of God. Salvation was of the Jews. In spite of a history of wicked, faithless kings, temple harlots, arrogant and manipulative priests, and competing religious views--in spite of all these formidable stumbling blocks--they endured circumcision and humiliation among their peers to convert. They recognized in the Law and the Prophets that God was speaking through this people. (Dan O'Neill, "The Pearl of Great Price: My Search for the Church," in The New Catholics: Contemporary Converts Tell Their Stories, ed. Dan O'Neill [New York: Crossroad, 1989], p. 177)
A record of compelling testimony

I would encourage any Episcopalians contemplating conversion to read the accounts offered by converts who have gone before them--especially the Anglicans. Pre-eminently, I would encourage them to read John Henry Cardinal Newman (pictured right). Examine his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; his essay on Certain difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic teaching considered, his autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Pertinent also are the instructions Newman gave in personal letters to prospective converts, which forms the subject of a study by Stanley L. Jaki, Newman to Converts: An Existential Ecclesiology (Real View Books, 4237 Kinfolk Court, Pinckney, Michigan 48169, Then there's also Ronald Knox and his books, The Belief of Catholics; A Spiritual Aeneid; and Difficulties: A Correspondence About the Catholic Religion. Read Evelyn Waugh's lives of Ronald Knox and Edmund Campion, conveniently combined in a single volume in Two Lives: Knox and Campion, and his magisterial novel, Brideshead Revisited (and view the spectacular made-for-TV series, starring Jeremy Irons, Laurence Olivier, and Claire Bloom, Brideshead Revisited, DVD 1981). Then, too, there are the compelling accounts by more recent converts, such as Sheldon Vanauken's essay "The English Channel: Between Canterbury and Rome" in his Under the Mercy (a sequel to his autobiographical bestseller, A Severe Mercy, reprinted in Dan O'Neill's anthology, The New Catholics (ch. 12, pp. 122-143; see my review of the book here); and especially Thomas Howard's writings, including his essay, "Lead, Kindly Light" (1981), named after Newman's well-known hymn and written four years before becoming a Catholic (in Communio [vol. 8, no. 4], reprinted in O'Neill's New Catholics, ch. 9, pp. 80-98), as well as his brief account of his conversion in a booklet by the same title, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey To Rome (1994), and his more substantial meditation, On Being Catholic (1997).

In fact, permit me to distill from first two of Howard's works a number of observations that Episcopalians thinking about these matters may find most useful: first, from the essay, "Lead, Kindly Light," a summary of those points that Howard found most compelling prior to his conversion; and, second, from the booklet Lead, Kindly Light, a summary of his observations after his reception into the Catholic Church. Howard's observations may be particularly helpful for several reasons. He is a convert from Anglicanism. From his years in England, he is familiar with English Anglicanism. As a native Philadelphian and former Episcopalian, he is also well acquainted with the distinctive American experience on this side of the Atlantic. Furthermore, Howard is intimately familiar with American evangelical Protestantism, having been raised in that tradition before becoming an Episcopalian. He has never expressed anything but unqualified gratitude for this Protestant background, which means that he is gifted with exceptional sensitivity to subtle shades and nuances of religious experiences and concerns of various traditions. Finally, Howard was formerly an English professor. He loves the English language and literature and is a consummate stylist, gifted with the ability to express subtle nuances of religious experience with impressive agility.

[Note: In the following presentation of Howard's observations, I have injected my own commentary at various points where I felt it might be helpful to fill out the picture on various questions. I have also added the section headings as a help to the reader.]

A. "Lead, Kindly Light" (1981):

In his first essay, written before his conversion, Howard endeavors to offer a reply to those who expressed curiosity about what attracted him to Roman Catholicism. He replies as follows:
First, attracts is the wrong word. I am more attracted to Anglicanism, if we are thinking of things like music (imagine leaving King's College Chapel behind); and the way the liturgy is done (my parish in New York was Saint Mary the Virgin); and Cranmer's and Coverdale's matchlessly sublime prose; and architecture (fancy exchanging Norwich Cathedral, or even any tiny Norman or Perpendicular parish church among the hedgerows, for some ghastly shrine all done up in blonde wood, pastel plaster statues, and linoleum); and hymnody (must I leave forever J. M. Neale and John Bacchus Dukes, and "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation," and "See the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph"?
I would want to qualify what Howard says here by recalling that there is no want of beauty in Catholic tradition. One need only call to mind the ethereal beauty of Gregorian chant, the polyphony of Palestrina, the sculptures of Bernini and Michelangelo, the flying buttresses of Notre Dame, the majesty of Chartres, the soaring spires and vaulted ceilings of Westminster Abbey and every English cathedral dating from before the Reformation. The lovely traditions of Evensong, the Nunc Dimittis, the Te Deum, and other ancient hymns of the Church, even many of the great hymns cherished and preserved within the Anglican and Lutheran traditions--all arose long ago and from deep within Catholic history. Further, one can readily find living expressions of such beauty and majesty in Catholicism today if one just knows where to look. Any High Mass sung in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Brompton Oratory or Westminster Cathedral in London, the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., will do.

The aesthetic squalor to which Howard is reacting is found chiefly in popular expressions of Catholic faith, the "folk art" of third world and low brow Catholicism, and in the philistine liturgical and aesthetic forms that have arisen since the Second Vatican Council. Given these facts, one must ask what it was that Howard found so compelling as to lead him to convert. His answer brings us to our first point:

1. The question of truth.

Howard writes: "The fundamental question, of course, is whether the Roman claim is true." There can be only two possible answers to that, he says. If one says no, then he has Augustine and Bede and Gregory and Aquinas and Erasmus and Thomas More and Ignatius and Bellarmine and Bossuet and Suarez and Newman and Chesterton and Knox against him for starters, "and that makes me nervous." But infinitely more serene than that, he has the colossal securus judicat orbis terrarum looking passionlessly at him: "The calm judgment of the whole world," he says, against him. "The Roman Church has, as it were, nothing to prove. Everyone else has to do the sleeve plucking and arm pawing to validate their cases."

Howard knows only too well the clamorous rejoinders to everything he says here. Whole libraries have been written on each side. He says only that he would interpose between his own remarks and any agitated "letters to the editor," the following books: J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; Ronald Knox, A Spiritual Aeneid; Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism; Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man; Dom Bede Griffiths, The Golden String; and The Baltimore Catechism. "Demolish them," he says, "before you demolish me."

I would personally want to add to Howard's observations at this point a word about the Catholic Church's courageous stance on issues of morality. If the Church has not budged a single inch from the apostolic Faith on points of orthodoxy, such as the divinity of Christ and the inviolable authority of Scripture, neither has she strayed one iota from such fidelity in her moral teaching on such issues as the sanctity of life, family, and marriage. In fact, the Church has stood against the prevailing tide of modern opinion by her consistent opposition to abortion, homosexuality, extra-marital cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, and a host of other ethical issues. In a Church whose membership constitutes roughly a fifth of the world's population, this fact speaks volumes. It says that Church teaching on matters of faith and morals is not dictated by prevailing opinion. It says that these matters fall within the category of what is true, and that their denial must therefore be opposed as false. It says that there must be on earth some authority by which these matters are decided, which brings us to the next point.

2. The question of authority.

Here again is an intractable question on which we are aware of the whole discussion before we start. The points that strike Howard as crucial on this point include Christ's words giving authority to His Apostles, and especially His words to Peter in Matt. 16:18-19. As Howard observes, "He did not say that the Church would be built on Peter's confession, and it takes jiggery-pokery to make the text say that." Christ even named Peter Cephas (a "rock" in Aramaic). Furthermore, he notes, Christ founded one Church: "He did not ascend leaving behind a book that anyone could take up and run off with (although as an evangelical, I will defend against all comers the authority of the Bible)." Christ built His one Church on the foundation of Peter and the Apostles, and in the apostolic Church it was the bishops in council who defined doctrine and condemned heresy. "All the heresiarchs believed in the inspiration of the Bible," writes Howard, "but it took the Church to say, 'This is orthodox' or 'That is heterodox.' The notion of Sola Scriptura is a new-fangled and disastrous one: we have only to look at the jumble of Protestant sects to see this and the stranglehold that the riddle of 'verbal inerrancy' has on every evangelical seminary and theologian. They never talk of anything else at all."

On this point of authority, Howard as an Anglican admits to being despondent over the "bleak fact that there is no magisterium [authoritive teaching office]" in his church. The bishops have thrown in the towel, he says, on the whole question of heresy:
Not that one relishes anathemas flying about, but what sort of a church is it where a bishop, from under his very miter and with his crozier in his hand, may wonder aloud to the faithful whether Jesus was a bastard, or whether God exists at all in any sense ever imagined by Jews or Christians for four thousand years; or where a vastly popular priest "comes out of the closet" with stunningly self-congratulatory panache, and shrilly plumps for homosexual promiscuity as a deeply Christian style of life, and the church refuses either to silence or to unpriest him? To be Anglican these days is to be massively urbane at the very least, apparently: we wink at all. But how do I defend this to my Brazilian pentecostal brethren, or my fundamentalist colleagues? They call it apostasy. How shall I correct them?
At this point Howard touches on a difficulty he has with the Anglican position, which he says is not easy to classify.
It is this: most Anglican clergy and theologians will either chuckle in an avuncular way or argue quite earnestly that "the glory of Anglicanism" is its very lack of definition, or better, its comprehensiveness. It does not worry them at all that two neighboring parish churches, both claiming to be Anglican, will have irreconcilable views on such matters as the priesthood, the Eucharist, the Apostolic Succession, the nature of the sacrament itself, and let's face it, on the church itself. This nice old Anglican phenomenon is here, cranking along after 450 years, to silence any anxious protestings on the part of any fevered layman that this sort of thing is at the very least nonsense, and at the worst cynicism. If this is a quality that we must call "Anglican," then I am appalled at being an Anglo-Saxon. It makes it sound synonymous with "cretinous" or "wooly-minded."
3. The question of antiquity and catholicity.

Here again, Howard seems all too well aware of the clamorous rejoinders that await any voicing of the Catholic claims. "I know the Anglican case is that we did not begin with Henry [VIII]," he writes. In fact, the extreme Anglican case would be that Canterbury and not Rome represents the true Church of the Fathers. So be it, says Howard:
But something started in the sixteenth century in the scuffle, and it wasn't Rome. I myself am not disposed to chase the argument into such narrow defiles as the Nag's Head business, but a certain amount of tinkering is necessary to get the Anglican phenomenon steady and on course. It begs the question to say insouciantly that Anglicanism is simply English Catholicism. (Even the Gallicans have never made quite that claim for France.)
But then, asks Howard: "Are we prepared to write Basil Cardinal Hume [the late Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, pictured left] off as a primate of a nonentity?" If Anglicanism can claim catholicity in the sense of being widespread geographically, he says, that claim is snowed under by the sheer magnitude of Rome's presence throughout the world.

Howard demurs from pursuing the comparisons any further than this, wishing to avoid any sort of Anglican-Roman "tit-for-tat quarrel" that might ultimately prove futile and alienating. Yet I think more needs to be said here, particularly about the hard historical facts bearing on the origins of Anglicanism. As much as I share Howard's disdain for "tit-for-tat quarrels" and his love for England and for many Anglican writers, I wonder whether a commitment to truth does not demand a hard honesty about certain facts of history that the Protestant textbook traditions in much of the English speaking world have been all too willing to ignore or deny. In the first place, I would put Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, C.1400-C.1580, which has gone a long way towards dispelling the fantasy that English Protestantism was a popular, grass-roots movement against the imperial and alien claims of Rome. The facts are quite the reverse: it was Anglicanism that was a new and alien state religion, imposed upon the English populace against its will by its government, with the help of the financially invested upper classes. A cumulative case begins to emerge with the addition of other books: Philip Caraman's The Western Rising, 1549: The Prayer Book Rebellion; Evelyn Waugh's biography of Edmund Campion: Scholar, Priest, Hero and Martyr; Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation: Historical Portraits of the 23 Men and Women and Their Place in the Great Religious Revolution of the 16th Century, and How the Reformation Happened are also worth examining. But many would do well to review even the most difficult details unearthed in History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, by William Cobbett (pictured below), the nineteenth-century English journalist and critic who was unpleasantly surprised and outraged to discover the actual details about the origins of his own Anglican tradition--a tradition, he said, "engendered in beastly lust, brought fourth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of English and Irish blood." Under the Penal Laws, English Catholics were forbidden to attend Mass, prevented from inheriting property, excluded from attending universities like Oxford, even though they had been founded as Catholic universities. Penalties were severe. The civil rights of English Catholics were not restored until 1829. Even after the building of new Catholic churches was permitted, they were not allowed to mount identifying spires or bell towers for many years (witness the well-concealed facade and entrance to Cardinal Newman's University Church across from St. Stephen's Green in Dublin). Howard is too much of a gentleman to sully his discussion with such unpleasantries as these. Yet an accurate understanding of the historical continuities and discontinuities at issue between Anglicanism and Catholicism require, it seems to me, making a clean breast of such matters. We have heard plenty about "Bloody Mary" and "Good Queen Bess." Fair enough: when shall we hear the facts about "Bloody Queen Bess" and "Good Queen Mary"?

Howard insists that it would never be this sort of Anglican-Roman "tit-for-tat quarrel" that would budge him in either direction. He describes himself as too Saxon and too Anglican in his marrow, and too sentimental about all that Anglicanism means, not to bristle over that sort of thing. After all, does he really want to abandon Lancelot Andrewes and John Donne and George Herbert and (skipping a bit) T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams? "They are my men. If it's good enough for them ... And all waggery aside, this rejoinder does, in fact, carry some weight with me." For better or worse, I am sure many Anglicans would agree.

4. The question of splendor.

Howard is not referring here to "ceremonial dazzle." He says the Anglicans are generally better than the Romans on this front anyway, with the exception of what goes on in the basilica in Rome itself. He means, rather, the sheer splendor of the Roman Catholic vision. "It is immense," he writes. "It is full of glory. It is unsupportably bright." Not only that: he finds it, he says, present in the Mass. Of course, any Protestant could offer a rejoinder at this point, and we may imagine the give-and-take proceeding as follows:
Evangelical Protestant: "Oh, but I believe in all that about the mysterium tremendum and the seraphim and the mystery of the cross and so forth."

Howard: "But it is only in the liturgy that the whole drama is unfurled and the scrim of temporality is pierced and we begin to see both the abyss and the Sapphire Throne, and it is very hard to keep this vision alive in nonliturgical worship."

Anglican: "But what's the problem? We have the liturgy as well."

Howard: "Yes. But the thing I am speaking of seems, somehow, to show itself in that sense of the ineffable sublimity and sheer plentitude that animates not only such phenomena as liturgical music of Palestrina, Victoria, and Mozart, but also the serene sense in which Roman Catholic philosophy may claim that the Catholic faith, rightly understood, is absolutely satisfying to the human intellect."
Howard offers, as one immediate example of what he means here, his own experience of trying to "salvage" brilliant and restless students over the last decade for the ancient faith. He says: "I despair of finding anything outside of Roman Catholic thought and spirituality that is big enough, with the possible exception of C.S. Lewis." He sends them, therefore, to Cardinal Newman and Ronald Knox and Romano Guardini and Gerard Vann, not to say Thomas Merton and Saint John of the Cross. Their vision seems to open onto vistas, he says, that dwarf Protestant horizons. But, he admits: the vision is Roman. "We Anglicans snatch at it here and there, with only intermittent felicity. We have it by derivation. We have generated very little that can match what was there before us." And he says this, he notes, as one who teaches, and who loves passionately, John Donne and George Herbert.

5. The question of spiritual depth.

Romano Guardini, says Howard, would embody what he intends to say at this point. There is something about what one finds in Catholic spirituality that is, he says, fishing for the right word, "ripe." It embraces the Incarnation. It accepts the limitations of our mortal flesh. It is wise. It talks of mundane matters with an authority that is both high and charitable. It addresses us, he says, not in terms so much of "Jesus can help you" or "I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger" or "Are we weary and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care"--even though these are all legitimate sentiments as far as they go--but rather in terms of transfiguration. Even transubstantiation: "the miracle whereby the ordinary stuff of our lives, including the ambiguities and conundrums and death, are changed into glory." The Eucharist, he notes, is the great paradigm of this. Yet he admits that it is very difficult to chase down just what this quality is, even for his own satisfaction. He simply says: "If one reads Guardini's The Lord, one will see what I mean." He proposes a sort of syllogistic inference:
Perhaps I ought to phrase this last point as a question, then: if the Roman Church has nourished that sort of thing (and the writings of Lady Julian and Richard Rolle and Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila and ten thousand others whose work towers above the terrible flea-marked junk filling religious bookstores these days), then I must ask myself whether that source is worth finding. Nearly all mere arguments--about Petrine claims, about Loreto, about indulgences and the Immaculate Conception and the Perpetual Virginity and infallibility and the Infant of Prague and bingo and the Mafia and horrible Mexican cults and Borgia popes and Torquemada and the Duke of Alba--die away in the light of this question of spirituality. Not that doctrinal questions do not matter. But one pauses before some such syllogism as this: "If the Church that makes those claims has nourished this spirituality, then what is one to make of it?" Of course there are riddles and horrors. Anything as old and enormous as the Roman Church is bound to be a horror show. But then one remembers how Christ insists on calling His poor Church, who paints herself up like the Whore of Babylon sometimes--how He insists on calling her his spotless Bride.
One also recalls the experience of Peter Kreeft reading for the first time St. John of the Cross's Ascent of Mount Carmel, out of curiosity, not understanding him, but knowing that here was a mountain, something so massively real it had to be true. Kreeft also mentions as one of the most influential books in his journey into Catholicism, Dietrich von Hildebrand's Transformation in Christ. Of course, one cannot begin to mention all the lives of the saints, whose impact on those who have read them is untold. But surely one must include Augustine, Benedict, Gregory, Patrick, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Francis of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas More, John Fisher, Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Francis de Sales, Robert Bellarmine, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Bernadette, Catherine Laboure, Louis de Montfort, Therese of Lisieux, and Josemaria Escriva, for starters.

* * *

Howard had not yet converted when he wrote his 1981 essay, "Lead, Kindly Light." He concluded his discussion then with these words:
I am still Anglican. I may die an Anglican. And I will take arms in defense of the holy and faithful Christians I know of, by their tens of millions, for whom every word I have said would be either incomprehensible or reprehensible.

Meanwhile I can only pray, with one of my chief mentors, "Lead, Kindly Light."
B. "A Newcomer's Discoveries" (1994)

Thomas Howard was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1985. Nine years later, he published a brief account of his conversion in the booklet, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey To Rome (1994), whose final chapter is entitled "A Newcomer's Discoveries" (ch. 9, pp. 79-88). The following discussion includes extensive quotations from and summaries of Howard's observations. What does Howard have to say after nine years of being a Catholic? What has he found? What has he learned?

He begins his chapter with some personal remarks that bear quoting in full:
For one thing, I have begun to learn about plentitude. That is, I have been the beneficiary of the Church's "fullness," expressed in multitudinous apostolates and charisms.

For example, at the time of my being received one of the phone calls which came in was from one Sister Catherine D'Arcy, a Notre Dame sister. She herself was now retired from her school teaching and was confined to a wheelchair. But she flooded me and my family with largesse, both material and spiritual. We would drive over to the convent in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where she lived. There she would be, bustling with welcome, good cheer, solicitude, and generosity. Every time we went she would have gifts for all of us--on one occasion there were two shopping bags full of presents. She had no interest in her own numerous physical ailments, but only inquiries and prayers for every detail of our family life.

And again, a nearby convent of discalced Carmelite nuns virtually adopted us all. We would go and visit with them in the "speak room," with the grille between them and us. Joy, joy, joy radiated from them into our very marrow. They took us into their hearts, and have prayed for us from that day until now. None of us, I think, has ever encountered sheer Charity in any more dazzling manifestation than we have from these nuns.
What else has he learned? To answer that question, he says, would run to many pages; and since this would entail many things which he, as a newcomer, had scarcely begun to ascertain, there would be "something headlong" about rushing into such a commentary so early in the game on anything so ancient and vast as the Church and all it holds in its liturgy, teaching, disciplines, devotions, and spiritual writings. Nonetheless, he consents to offer some rudimentary impressions in the form of a numbered list, not to be mistaken for any sort of "systematic sequence," he cautions, but as an arbitrary arrangement of "ad hoc jottings." [Note: I have again added the section headings.]

1. "Everyone is here"

The "catholicity" or "universality" of the Church takes on a new significance in the newcomer's first-hand experience. Howard's observation is brief, humorous, and poignant:
The holy Catholic Church looks more like the five thousand whom the Lord fed on the hillside than it does the small group of insiders in the Upper Room. That is, everyone is here: the earnest and the preoccupied; the poor and the rich; the fashionable and the unfashionable (more of the latter than the former); the ignorant and the luminously wise; the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (to reach for anachronistic categories); the pathetic and the impressive. It is just "us" whom this very ancient Church comprises. None of us has any credentials at all other than the fact that we are baptized into this Church.
2. Catholicism is both "higher and deeper"

What Howard means here is that Catholicism, when contrasted to other renderings of the Christian Faith of more recent lineage, is both "higher" and "deeper"--that is, more "heavenly" (intellectually refined and spiritually luminescent), and yet also more "worldly" (physically primal, earthy, ethnic and mysterious). It is both more conceptually transparent in its intellectual expression and yet more sacramentally opaque and mysterious in its material incarnations. It is simultaneously more spiritual and yet more physical; more otherworldly and yet more earthy; more culture-transcendingly universal and yet more particular, physically and culturally rooted, locally incarnated and expressed. Howard's illustrations are helpful:
That is, one finds the shimmering massif of Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, and Thomas (and, one might add, of Newman and von Balthasar and Dietrich von Hildebrand and Romano Guardini), but, at the other apparent extreme ("apparent" because the two extremes participate profoundly in the same mystery), the local and folk and ethnic piety which has clearly risen quite spontaneously from the genius of various peoples. I am thinking of tiny wayside shrines in Austria, and Mardi Gras, and the St. Anthony's gala festival which I used to see when I lived in New York City, and the strange, heart-piercing flamenco singing which one hears in Madrid as great floats carrying the Virgin struggle through the streets on the backs of scores of barefoot penitents. Much of this looks grotesque, even pagan, to non-Catholic, and no doubt superstition or mere festivity is not infrequently at work. But it would be perilous to dismiss these phenomena too summarily. The sense in which grace may, oddly, be truly at work in the midst of all the clutter should hinder the bystander from harsh judgments.
Pietas and caritas, he says, often take strange and scandalous forms. But this is precisely what one ought to expect. Because, according to Catholic understanding, grace builds on nature, it is in fact inevitable that our experience of grace will display itself in multitudinous, extravagant, and perhaps even unexpected and bizarre ways. Howard asks: "Remember the uncouth woman who interrupted a dinner party and wept all over the Lord's feet and wasted all the nard?" This sort of thing, he says, eludes the categories of Christians who espouse a rigorously verbalist, propositionalist, non-sacramental rendering of the Faith.

3. Unrecognizable forms of faith

The forms of faith one encounters as a Catholic are not always readily recognizable. This would be true for a newcomer from a Protestant background in large swaths of Christendom. As Howard observes, "your muttering Balkan crone in a babushka kissing the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan is not going to be able to convince a young North American evangelical, accustomed as he is to energetic Bible studies and 'fellowship' and expertise in extempore prayer, that she is, in fact, a Christian." In fact, "Her mute and perplexed response to his catechizing ('Are you born again?' 'Do you know Jesus personally?') will convince him that his worst suspicions have been correct, and that all of these peasants who are so numerous in Orthodoxy and Catholicism must be numbered among the superstitious rather than among the faithful." Of course one needn't go as far as the Balkans: those who gather for Mass in any Catholic parish church on any day of the year will include anyone from wise and saintly souls to those whose conversation is laced with profanity and vulgarity, whose whole approach to life may seem to exclude even the smallest trace of anything that can be recognized as faith.
Where are these latter people--inside or outside of the pale of faith? Only God knows. The Church's task is to woo them, and to keep on in its pastoral efforts to fan any minuscule and lambent flicker of faith, and to keep offering them the gospel in word and sacrament. If they consciously and explicitly reject it all, then the Church can only pray for them: "Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy." If judgment must fall on any of them (or on me), the Church must accompany them all the way to the block, as it were, with the appeals of grace.
Some such attitude, says Howard, must surely explain why the Church has sometimes gone ahead and furnished Christian burial to, say, those Mafiosi who have been busy murdering their rivals on Saturday nights, as in the notorious Godfather films. Only God knows what seed of faith might still be alive in such brawny corruption. "The Church shares God's seeking of the lost," says Howard, "not his office as Judge."

4. Clear, authoritative teaching against heterodoxy and dissent

Doctrinal conflict over matters of faith and morals--particularly sexual morals--is experienced in the Catholic Church in a qualitatively different manner from the way it is experienced in denominations that have abandoned their link with the apostolic authority of the Petrine See in Rome. Howard's words on this point bear quoting at some length:
In church X, shall we say, we may find a bishop urging homosexuality as a profoundly Christian "style of life," or ostentatiously doubting the Lord's virgin birth, or busily eroding the confidence of his flock in the text of Scripture. Nothing can be done except ad hoc protest. Good men in the denomination may get up a White Paper, or write articles, or introduce a resolution in the next General Convention. But we all know what this sort of thing ends in. Alas. In the Catholic Church there occurs this same heresy and false teaching, often loudly taught in high theological quarters. But everyone--both in the world and the Church--knows that there is a desk on which the buck stops, so to speak, and that when Rome has spoken on the issue, it is concluded. Oh, to be sure, Father C. or Father F. over here can keep on burbling--Rome cannot stop that. But Rome can say and does say to the Church and the world, "This which you hear Fathers C. and F. teaching is not Catholic teaching. It is not in accord with the Faith once for all delivered to us by the apostles." A pressure group organized by trendy nuns in favor of abortion exists explicitly in rebellion against what Rome teaches. No one needs be in the slightest doubt on the point; whereas another denomination, if it can ever get up the votes, can only pass a resolution. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has not in our lifetime said, "No. That is heresy." Rome has. (See Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II's encyclical letter "To all the bishops of the Catholic Church regarding certain fundamental questions of the Church's moral teaching," August 6, 1993).
5. Less individualistic, extemporaneous forms of spirituality

Catholics typically do not talk about their "relationship with the Lord," as do so many of their fellow-believers in evangelical Protestantism. Many may not even have a notion of such a relationship that exists independently of their attendance at Mass, their praying the rosary, going to confession, and so forth. These activities, for Catholics, constitute the daily shape that such a relationship takes. This is how they encounter the Lord--in the Eucharist; in hearing the Bible read at Mass--"great dollops of it"--in the liturgy ("which is where the early Church visualized the Bible's characteristic usage to lie"); in their prayers--private and extemporaneous, as well as communally; and by using the rosary.

On the subject of the rosary, Howard offers this caveat:
In this connection it would be an excellent thing for non-Catholics to refrain altogether from assessing whether the rosary is a legitimate, and even rich, mode of prayer. The rosary constitutes a discipline which is entirely unimaginable to one who is a stranger to it. The most common objection from outsiders is that the rosary is a matter of "vain repetition as the heathen do." The remark, biblical though it may be, is nothing to the purpose here. Where the rosary is sincerely and regularly prayed, you find ardent piety and pure devotion to the Lord. The rosary cannot coexist with cynicism, worldliness, unbelief, pride, and concupiscence. I have discovered this to be true, and the discovery has exposed any former strictures which I might ever have advanced against the rosary to be what they were--callow, ignorant, ill-conceived.
6. Historical continuity

To be Catholic, says Howard, "is to be delivered, once for all, from the obligation to hoist any special banner, or to claim allegiance to any particular and recent renderings of the Faith." To be sure, one looks in a special way to Rome, an earthly, historical city. But Rome has been around considerably longer than the Geneva, Zurich, Amsterdam, Herrnhut (where the Moravians were founded), Canterbury, or Anderson, Indiana (birthplace of the American Church of God movement). As Howard says, there was no Peter, Paul, Linus, Cletus, or Clement in any of these latter cities. The Church universal has never said, "Geneva locuta est, causa finita est" ("Geneva has spoken, the case is closed") when it came to doctrinal definitions. But to pit one city against another in this way does little more than raise the hackles of partisanship and factionalism, which is hardly becoming among Christians. Howard's point is simply that the only history which we Christians do have in this world, very early on, settled upon the city of Rome as the locus and seat of pastoral authority for the universal Church. This can be seen throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers. Howard observes:
Like Augustine with the Donatists in his day, Catholics may have profound sympathy with any number of the "protests" that have been mounted against corruption, falsehood, worldliness, or sin in the Catholic Church. As Augustine would teach us to say, "Alas: your criticism is too true. There may be wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet; but we cannot dismember and hack to pieces the Body of Christ." This has been done in the last five hundred years. We have no warrant to set ourselves over against this ancient Church. There may be among us wolves in sheep's clothing, even; yet the answer to that is not to leave the Fold, but to cleanse and protect and restore it. God bless the earnestness and fidelity and zeal with which many have striven for righteousness and truth and purity in the Church. But insofar as their striving has separated them from that old Church, then the measures have been too draconian. To pray with the Lord in his prayer recorded in John 17 may be to do more than voice a petition. It may, in this latter day, mean a difficult obedience.

* * *

Finally, therefore, why should Episcopalians become Roman Catholics? Not finally for any extraneous reason--whether for the Church's vastness, antiquity, aesthetic heritage, or the sense of security or personal identity it may furnish, even if all of these things may be true--but rather, and preeminently, for that one little reason that compels conviction, that one little sticking point: the conviction that her claims are true. Once a person understands and accepts that, there remains little question of choice. On the one hand, it will then be a duty binding in conscience to become a Catholic; on the other, it will then also be a privilege and a pleasure and a joy to do so. The duty is real, of course. Even the Second Vatican Council made this very clear, explicitly calling into question the spiritual state of any soul which, "knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or remain in it" (Lumen Gentium, 14). But the privilege and joy are real too. As Evelyn Waugh put the matter: "Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly." Once that is clear, all I would add is that one must have no illusions, but come aboard Peter's Barque quickly and help bail. The philistines are ravaging the Ark of Salvation and we need all the help we can get from any who love God and His Church. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Veritas splendor! . . . Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genetrix, ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.