Bp. Keith Ackerman – Opening Sermon at ICCA

By The Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman, SSC
July 13, 2015

“On St. Peter’s Day, 1920, we watched twelve hundred vested priests and a score of overseas bishops, headed by our own great silver Crucifix and smoking censers, process along Holborn to High Mass at St. Alban’s Church while similar scenes were being enacted by the laity at eight other London churches.” A.E. Manning-Foster in “Anglo-Catholicism.”

Thus began decades of events and celebrations in the United Kingdom and the United States and Canada of the gathering of Anglo-Catholics who simply wished to worship God, demonstrate solidarity, and tackle issues of a contemporary nature that required the wisdom of the Faith of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I suspect they were some of the first organized Affirming Catholic events – they affirmed Scripture, they affirmed the teachings of the Fathers and they affirmed the Councils of the Church. They affirmed the Faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and they warned us of what would happen if we failed to do the same. They addressed contemporary issues not as pseudo-sociologists, and they anticipated in their words Richard Niebuhr’s considerations of Christ and culture.

What is particularly evident is that they did not succumb to the dilemma of beginning with a sociologically-driven construct – hypothetical or otherwise – and attempt to find a way to revise Scripture, Tradition or Reason (in its usual sense, I might add) to reinforce their culturally inspired desires of either compromise or accommodation. They addressed all wartime realities and threats, for example, by not using ad hominum rhetoric, but rather by submitting all that they could to the central teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The 1920’s and the 1930’s were filled with chaos, fear, and confusion, and these Congresses, celebrated in various regions, were not mere moments of Triumphalism or attempts to function as agents of Whipple and C.M. Almy. As I am certain you have observed as you have read the proceedings of the various Congresses, much was said in the Addresses and in the Statements that were produced, but much more was done at the Altar; much more was done in the lives of the people who attended as they discovered Christ in one another.

In those days, there may have been some creative conversation as to whether the Knott Missal, the Anglican Missal or the American Missal were used, with a smattering of Fortescue devotees, and those with an eye to Dearmer, but unlike where we find ourselves today as Anglo-Catholics, there were certain commonalities and understandings regarding which Liturgical books would be used, which translation of the Bible would be used, and who would be standing at the Altar or consecrating our bishops. This is further complicated by jurisdiction. I cannot even imagine that any of the Congress Fathers would fathom that there would be an august body such as this, and that we would not all be in the same jurisdiction. Had Anglicanism taken heed to what was taught at the Congresses, this would not have occurred. If Anglo-Catholics had been heard by those who dismissed all of us as simply “spikes,” or “High Churchmen, or “Anglo-Papalists,” or “Smells and Bells” folk, and seen what we were really saying, we would not be where we are today in the Church.

Anglo-Catholics no longer have the luxury of division. Since Anglo-Catholics are so highly principled, we should not be surprised that we are also capable of dividing and subdividing. I mean this with no disrespect, since similarly I find Revisionists constantly uniting, often because their principles – let us say – are not always as fine-tuned. Anglo-Catholics are concerned about means. Revisionists are concerned primarily with the end result. The new Affirming Catholics affirm the culture and do not affirm Universally-held doctrine. It has replaced Theocracy with Democracy. The Vincentian Canon has been and must be what we Catholics affirm. Sadly, uninformed people who suffer from historical and intellectual amnesia have forgotten what the Congresses proclaimed and taught, and we are now painted with the same brush stroke as anyone who wears a chasuble.

So how is it that we find ourselves in such an ecclesiological mess? One of the primary considerations for us as 21st century citizens is that we live in an ecologically sensitive era. Sadly, when evaluating what we may or may not have done to the environment, we fail to see what we may or may not have done to the Church, to the Lord of the Church, and to the Creator of the environment. The Church functions within a theological eco-system. Just as is the case with the natural eco-system, whereby the elimination of one small element of that system ultimately changes the environment, so it is with Theology. In 2000 plus years of ecclesial continuity, we have been charged to hold fast to what we have received from Christ Himself. In effect he defined the Theological eco-system. Root metaphors, most certainly in the articulation of our Faith, are to be perpetuated and defended. If given by Christ Himself, there is no Authority that can change them. However, if a Root Metaphor is altered, the immediate damage is not realized. Generally speaking it takes three generations before we see the negative effect of the alteration of a root metaphor. The result is disorder. Eventually the altered root metaphor replaces the metaphor that was instituted. We have authority to change externals, but no authority to change essence. Sadly, in the instantaneous society in which we live, we believe that if the “skies don’t fall” after a radical change is made that it must be well pleasing in the sight of God.

An obvious example is to be found in the articulation of the reality of the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously the Creeds and the Ecumenical Councils are very exacting in language used to articulate this Great Mystery. Today it is not uncommon to hear the Trinitarian ascription changed to “In the Name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Apart from the most obvious omission of the definite article, making the ascription a matter of Modalism, there is the reality of now describing not essence but limited function of each Person of the Holy Trinity. One may very well believe that function is essential in terms of descriptive language, but this new ascription as a substitute Metaphor, destroys the Essence. It is not an external alteration, but rather a total replacement of an orthodox understanding of Conciliar Faith. This change, of course, not only limits what we mean when we say “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” but it places the Holy Trinity into a contemporary understanding of the “self” as being the one who owns their own body, functions as a type of co-creator in the world, and defines truth in terms of what they believe,

As we read the proceedings of the previous Catholic Congresses, we discover that the primary subject was not “how to celebrate liturgy” or “which vestments do we wear” or “who must we criticize among our own?” Rather, they spent a massive amount of time identifying problems that can be avoided in the future, addressing issues as best as they could in anticipation of what could occur if we failed to implement correctives. They anticipated the chaos in which we find ourselves today, but they would not rejoice in the accuracy of their predictions. To a large extent, the culture in which we find ourselves today is much more interested in being “self-actualized” than “God-redeemed.” Tragically what is emerging from this culture is a tripartite understanding of what has happened in terms sensibility and morality. It begins in a somewhat ego-centric fashion, where the focus is on self – what I think, what I feel – to such an extent that opinion becomes elevated to the same level as Truth. If I think this and I feel this, then it must be! Again, tragically, MY truth replaces revealed Truth, because it emanates from me.

Ego-centric behavior means that individuals are so focused on themselves in what they think that they have a difficult time actually thinking. Since critical thinking has been replaced with just being critical, ego-centric individuals are often the first on social media to evaluate everything, criticizing everything that they do not understand because it does not square with their opinion. This, tragically on the continuum leads to narcissism. It has been said that we live in a narcissistic society. The tale of the god, Narcissus, after which narcissism is named, tells us that Narcissus drowned in the pond while beholding his own beauty. Thus is a narcissistic society we drown in “self.” The narcissist is not only consumed by self, but by self to the exclusion of others. “I will accomplish what I think I deserve. And I deserve it because I exist.”

The corporate expression of narcissism can manifest itself in self delusional ways, institutionally speaking. Groups can attain a corporate ego which may well reflect the ego of the leader, or in a true narcissistic model, the leader is held in distain by those who give lip service to his goals, while undermining, in a passive-aggressive way, the leader himself. Once at a meeting of bishops, I heard a bishop rise to refute a point on the basis of one emotional articulation: “I rise to tell you that this will not fly with my constituents.” He was correct; many of his people would not support an obvious point of orthodoxy being debated. But there is no place in Scripture indicating that Jesus lay down His life for his constituents. Our goal, as Catholic Christians is to remember that we need only please the One who laid down His life for His sheep. In all matters of truth, it is the majority of one that matters – not a roll call vote of many.

Sadly, an unchecked narcissism leads to “opportunistic behavior.” When one has traded in his set of moral standards for advancement, he then owes the world, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The opportunist is rule bound – canonical fundamentalists, if you will, whose adage is: “It is very important that you understand that there are rules in this world, and you must follow them, as long as you understand that none of the rules apply to me.”

Consider the Kyrie, if you will. The culture is constantly calling for justice, and yet the Church calls for mercy. It is still “Lord have mercy upon us” and not “Lord have justice upon us.” For a narcissist, when someone offends them they want justice. If the narcissist offends, however, they want mercy. Continual narcissism, sadly leads to a type of benign socio-pathology, whereby I want what I want, and I will achieve what I perceive I need without regard for what has formerly been believed. There is no remorse for changing what has always been believed, because if my goals are achieved then I must defend my actions, and I will do so by having redefined not only God, but also Holy Mother Church. Sadly, when the Church has adopted this new socially accepted methodology, there are blurred distinctions between the Church and the Culture. In its worst case, that Church becomes and articulation of the Cultures “Gospel” rather than functioning as the Body of Christ.

What an extraordinary set of circumstances. But it is a result of sin – of wishing to be God – of functioning as the Saviour instead as the Saved. In so doing that Church can actually lead people astray. This is also due to the confusion between Power and Authority. Many today forget that Power comes from God, and that Authority is given as a somewhat dangerous gift. When narcissists are given Authority they often turn it into power. Authority is derivative, and Power is absolute. God’s power is absolute and He gives it to His Church who distributes it as Authority. Therefore bishops and priests, for example, are authorized to use the theological faculties that are distributed to them. On their own they cannot bless nor sanctify that which God has not ordained. In addition, if God has not given power nor authority for particular actions, it does not matter what any vote may be. The functions of the Clergy are not magic. Their words, their liturgies cannot override what God has not ordained, whether a particular Church may think so or not. We do not have the authority nor the power to change the Catholic Faith. An if the tension between Power and Authority is to be found in the usual form of Absolution at Auricular Confession: “Our Lord Jesus Christ who has left Power to His Church to Absolve all sinners who truly repent and return to Him, of His great mercy, forgive you all your offenses, and by His Authority committed to me, I absolve you of all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Do you see the tension? God bestows the power, and then He authorizes us. We are under His Authority.

At this point you may well be asking why I am discussing such matters at a Congress. It is my goal not only to set the stage for our honored speakers, but also to evaluate the culture in which we are attempting explain and live out Catholic Ecclesiology. It is also an attempt to note the incredible tension between Power and Authority.

As the Rev. Frank N. Westcott tells us in evaluating the whole nature of authority:

“Without stopping to discuss whether a notion of spiritual freedom can be held by a Christian, a moment’s thought will show that any religion which has God for its author must be based on the principle of authority, the authority of Him who creates it, and makes its acceptance binding on the conscience of men. If Christianity is not based on the authority of God, then certainly we are at liberty to accept or reject it as we please; and it is not divine. Whether or not man shall be a Christian will be merely a question of taste and not one of obligation and occurrence.  (Catholic Principles, Westcott)

The culture in which in which we live today has created the Church in its own image, and in much the same way, worked diligently to create God in its own image, based on the principle of narcissistic projection, “God obviously wants what I want.” This is a total reversal of what the Catholic Congresses had called the People of God to understand. The Congresses anticipated this dilemma. Sadly, much of Anglicanism does not even know what the Congresses were, let alone what they taught.

To understand “Authority” as it was articulated at the Catholic Congresses, we need to recognize that they could see what the natural progression would be if the Church continued to be wedded more closely to the culture. It was not so much that they predicted the actual events which would escalate this devolution, but they noted trends which were arising as a preoccupation with “self” emerged. There are those today who would point to an event when it became evident that the Church was denying her very nature, and that event would have happened in the 1970’s in the Episcopal Church. Again, even that recognition indicates an unawareness of events which preceded it. The ordination of women to the priest, for example, did not occur in isolation from other factors and developments. Although not the “event” that initiated this devolution, the “neutering” of the Church in which she suddenly became an “it” indicates that an institution had replaced a Theological reality. As the Bride of Christ, she was in a complementary relationship with her Bridegroom, Christ Himself. She was “Holy Mother Church” and her priests (male) served in a complementary manner with her. Complementarity is, of course, God’s plan in Creation. Indeed the well-known words at every Wedding using the Book of Common Prayer, reminds us of this reality: the Wedding Feast, the Miracle, the Bride and the Groom, the Relationship between Christ and His Church. By simply altering the root metaphor, in three generations the Church was an “it.” Now virtually every element of complementarity could be revised to conform to the new image.

Sadly, people have very unusual ideas of what it means to be “Church” today. For some, it is as though the Father created the Church so that the Son could have a job. In fact there are those who refer far more to the Church than they do to the Lord of the Church. There are also those who see the Church as a humanly inspired institution, unrelated to any Historic See, independent from any other authority than their own, and free floating – subject to change merely by a majority vote. We should not be surprised at all that many people avoid the study of ecclesiology, because when we say “Church” we cannot agree upon what we mean.

I can assure you that this Congress will not rehearse the symptoms of the problems which have been addressed so often from conferences to blog sites staffed by one person with too much time of their hands. We are not going to offer a diagnosis, since it is all far too obvious and painful. What we hope to do is to identify the root problems which have produced the symptoms. What we hope not to do is to complain about the symptoms as if they were the problem. If you have come to complain about an issue or two or three, you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Our intention is to move us back and forward – back to the Faith once delivered to the Saints and forward to the task of propagating that Faith. Many churches today are in a type of survival mode because they have confused the symptoms as being the root problems. A massive Ecclesiological Deficit will not be resolved by ingesting one round of orthodox antibiotics. If you have come to this Congress in order to discuss the “hot button issues” that have been rehearsed incessantly, then you may be disappointed. This Congress is designed to allow all jurisdictions to be a part of not simply identifying root problems, but to offer a way forward as Catholic Christians.

Indeed, we are as Christians in a period of chaos, and just as any natural family seeks order, so have we seen three primary ways to effect order in an ecclesiological way: Conciliar, Magisterial and Confessional. Present at this Congress are those who have preferred one type, and can defend their preferences. It will not be a challenge so much to identify them, but it may well be a challenge to determine how they are engaged in the world today. The Addresses, the Bible Studies, and the Workshops are designed in such a way that all present will have an opportunity to think, to pray and to reason. In the end we will produce a document which we pray will not only be reflective of this Congress, but also reflective of Catholic Anglicanism. Beloved in Christ, a healthy ecclesiology, or at least an informed understanding of ecclesiology will greatly benefit us as we face chaos. It will also allow us not to enshrine snippets of Church history, but rather to review the 2,000 plus year history of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church without elevating one snippet as the essence of the Faith.

I sincerely pray from the bottom of my heart, as I look at many of my heroes of faith – some for sixty years and some for sixty seconds – that this Congress will be an opportunity for us to seek the Mind of Christ, and an opportunity for us to focus more carefully on Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, confessing that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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