A Dissuasive from Popery

A Letter To a Friend

St. Augustine of Canterbury, 2020

Dear Brother ————,

I empathize with the tug you feel toward the Roman Church. In the face of regions where the ACNA is yet still feebly established, and in the midst of an ACNA that is a hodge-podge of practice and conviction, and tolerant of the grave error of women’s ordination to the presbyterate, the tug is, I know, felt only stronger. Coupled with the massiveness and the (seeming) dogmatic univocity of the Roman Church, and the larger numbers of tradition-minded, vibrant communities, it might in dark hours feel like the tug is irresistible. But I believe the Lord wants us — traditionalist Anglicans — to resist nevertheless. I believe there is grave danger in converting to Rome (or to an Eastern Orthodox church for that matter, on grounds that are identical at root, even if different in presentation). There is danger to one’s own soul, and also to faith in your near-community of family and close friends. These dangers are related to a handful of strong reasons that have dissuaded me from swimming the Tiber, and I hope the expounding of them is useful toward the same ends of stability for you as well.

Since this takes us into the realm of controverted points, which are in themselves so wearying to linger over, I shall try and be as to-the-point as possible: suggesting arguments that you can look up more details on, and which we can correspond at greater length over, should you be interested.

ROME’S GRAVE ERRORS

The first and largest issue to my mind is the grave doctrinal and practical errors that Rome has committed her children to. And here I do not chiefly mean the matters contested in the sixteenth century, although these remain substantial: The peculiar Romish teaching (so clearly condemned by Article 22 of our 39 Articles) on purgatory, indulgences, the treasury of merits, the papal authority and the invocation of the saints — all of which errors are all bound up together in their system — however much they have been curbed by the Council of Trent, and explained away by 20th century apologists, remain an edifice that obscures the bright light of the Gospel of Christ Crucified. Can you imagine St. Paul or St. John preaching and teaching as the Renaissance popes did? It is beyond thought. Though I don’t agree in every particular with our more Reformed-minded Anglican Fathers (Cranmer, Jewel, etc), I am with them in sentiment: We must flee from Romish error.

Nevertheless, if the decrees of Trent are taken in their most minimal sense, I could perhaps have conceived of a good faith conversion to Rome under a St. Francis de Sales. But the story has moved on from there. The stakes have been raised, even since Newman’s conversion in 1845. The Roman Catholic Church has defined three dogmas that are — in their view — binding and necessary for all Christians to believe.

Dogmatic Error #1: Mary conceived without Original Sin

In 1854 Pope Pius IX promulgated Ineffabilis Deus which made it of the Faith that Mary, in the very moment of her conception, was created by God without the stain of original sin. This was a doctrine that no Church Father ever taught, even as some late patristic hymnody sings highly of the Blessed Virgin’s virtue. Even Aquinas didn’t believe it. In the mid 15th century the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada conducted an extraordinarily thorough review of all available theological inquiry on the matter, and concluded it improbable that she was conceived without sin. But then in1854, it was disingenuously asserted that this doctrine has been the teaching of the Church since the first century, because by definition, the Faith cannot change. Even though no solid authority can be adduced within the first 1100 years of the Church’s teaching, and even in the 1840s-1850s, there was a sizable contingent among the roman bishops who thought it was pious opinion but could never be declared dogma. What’s more, by declaring it to be “of the Faith” (lat. De fide), it means that no Christian can willfully deny this teaching and have any hope of attaining salvation.

Dogmatic Error #2: Papal infallibility

In 1870, at Vatican I, the Pope was declared to be infallible when teaching on faith or morals as it concerns the whole Church, can never err. Now, as an opinion of the pope, this might perhaps be winked at, especially given the theological errors of Honorius (d. 638, condemned by ecumenical council), and immorality of the Medici popes, but it was de fide dogma in 1870. Anyone who rejects it is subject to Rome’s anathema, meaning there is no known hope for salvation. Again, can you imagine St. Peter himself urging this? — He who self-deprecates in his letter (“an elder”) and who receives rebuke from St. Paul and changes his ways (Galatians 2)? Why, if it were always the case (as Vatican I asserts) that the Pope could declare infallibly on faith and morals, were ecumenical Councils called? It would have been much easier to just consult the pope! Indeed, the Councils did consult the pope, as at Chalcedon (451) but they then weighed his council against the mind of the gathered bishops, to discern its rightness. They didn’t submit to the teaching based on its author.

Dogmatic Error #3: The Assumption of Mary

The only time the Romanists are unequivocally certain that the Pope has utilized his “infallibility” since it was defined in 1870 was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII promulgated Munificentissimus Deus in which it was defined as de fide that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. Now, again, the idea that she may have had, like Moses in the pseudepigraphal tradition, her body swept up into heaven before the Second Coming, is not as great a concern to me as that it was declared by the Roman Church that unless you believe this, you do not hold the Christian Faith.

SEEING THE ERRORS IN THE BIG PICTURE

If these three dogmas were necessary for salvation, why did Almighty God not make them plain in (a) Scripture, or (b) the Church Fathers as testifying to Apostolic Tradition and why did the Lord permit the Church to be blind about these things for her first 1800 years? Why did he so veil this truth (according to their view), that almost all the Church Fathers would speak explicitly to the contrary (Chrysostom thinks Mary had actual sin, albeit venial!), and the Scriptures would be silent on any positive affirmation and making general statements that strongly suggest the impossibility of these new “dogmas”, for instance, “All have sinned…” If there was a singular, dazzling exception, meant to increase our devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation, you think it would have been mentioned — by God’s superintending providence — somewhere in the Bible.

This super-devotion to Mary, enshrined now in their dogma, is the tip of the ice-berg of the much larger practical errors of the Romanists, which come under the title ‘Cult of the Saints’. When viewed practically, it is clear that the errors suggested and supported by the Roman Church among countless millions of her laity are even more dangerous than the dogmatic errors on paper. That is, an extreme popular devotion to Mary and the Saints is the sine qua non of those born Roman Catholics the world over. It is a degree of devotion that unquestionably eclipses devotion to our Lord Jesus, and indeed, many titles and prayers which should be taken to the feet of our Lord, are taken instead to Mary. Liguori’s ‘Glories of Mary’ is an all-time best-seller among the Romanists (despite Newman’s objecting to Pusey interrogating it). It has the imprimatur and nihil obstat. Liguori himself was declared a doctor of the Church (i.e. without error in his teaching). And in the Glories, only three, I believe — three — of the hundreds of citations attributed to church fathers can actually be located in the writer they are supposed to have come from. In other words, the whole thing is a work of mis-attribution amounting to forgery.

Mary has been called “the refuge of sinners” and it is often taught that without personal engagement with Mary we can have no relationship with Jesus. Often devotion to Mary is simply the result of baptizing an inherited goddess-cult, as is most clearly seen in the case of Guadalupe. I have been in a large Roman Catholic church in the Chicago suburbs that contained a twenty-foot tall painting of Mary in the form of a queen, behind the Altar, no cross or crucifix in the line of sight. It is a fact as plain as it is lamentable: Devotion to Mary has robbed rightful devotion to our Lord, the true help of sinners. To a lesser degree, but participating in the same errors, every prayer prayed to St. Anthony when something is lost, etc. Is a discipleship in the wrong direction, away from the Triune God who is jealous for his glory. Look at how the Angels respond to even the least bit of devotion from St. John!

The realities of this practical error are equally as grave across the Bosphorus as across the Tiber. Not only does every Divine Liturgy end with the cry to Mary, “Theotokos, Save us!” but the post-Communion prayers of the ubiquitous Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom includes this early medieval addition (italicized text to indicate theologically problematic language):

All-holy Lady, Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope and protection, my refuge and consolation, and my joy, I thank you that you have made me worthy, though I am unworthy, to partake of the pure Body and precious Blood of your Son. But as the one who gave birth to the true Light: enlighten the noetic eyes of my heart. You who conceived the source of immortality, give life to me, dead in sin. You who are the compassionately loving Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and give my heart compunction and contrition, humility in my thoughts, and release from my captive thoughts. And make me worthy until my final breath to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the pure Mysteries for the healing of both soul and body. And grant me tears of repentance and confession, that I may praise and glorify you all the days of my life. For you are blessed and glorified unto the ages. Amen.”

Contrast those italicized passages with the plain teaching of the Scriptures:

• “All-Holy” is an appellation that applies to God himself. In the self-same liturgy of John Chrysostom, it appears about a dozen times to describe the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit himself. To give this adjective to a creature is idolatry.

• God is Light (1 John 1:5). He is the Light of my soul “In your light we see light”. Jesus is the Light: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Mary has not shed light in my soul.

• God is my “hope and protection, my refuge and consolation”. This is the very language of Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. GOD, not Mary. In what way has Mary made us worthy to come to Communion? It is by virtue of Christ, through our baptisms, that we are made worthy.

The bald distinction between the Bible and the lex credendi of such a prayer as is now found at the end of every Holy Eucharist in the East, and those like it in all of the popular devotional manuals of the Roman Catholic Church (grounded on her dogmatic definitions, described above) is what presents the second great practical error of the Roman (and Orthodox) Church: The diminution of Scripture.

THE DIMINUTION OF SCRIPTURE

Despite whatever praise is given to Scripture by Roman Catholics, the course they have committed themselves to naturally results in Scripture being disregarded and ignored. If, as Romanists teach, Tradition is a fount of Divine Revelation independent of Scripture, and if the Pope is the authoritative teaching voice of that Tradition, as defined by Vatican I, then why do I need bother myself with the Bible? Indeed, when the Bible is read by Roman Catholics, it is often very jarring when they cannot find even a proof-text for so many of the doctrines they hold dear: The idea that the departed saints can hear us, that Mary has a role in the saving of mankind in the present, that there is to be a singular, universal pope, that auricular confession is as good as baptism for washing away sins, etc. Etc. Not a single word of Scripture supports these pillars of Roman Catholic piety. In fact, there are a number of Scriptures that would seem to press against and oppose those same beloved teachings of theirs.

Allowing tradition to overide the Bible leaves the Christian with no sure anchor when it comes to Faith and Morals. Not just at the level of dogma, but at the level of personally seeking to find out what pleases the Lord. If the Roman Church is to be believed, against the Bible that would point us to the one mediator between God and Man, that all humans have sinned, etc., then what else am I “misunderstanding” in the Bible? Moreover, what restrains the Roman Church from adding man-made idea on man-made idea, ad infinitum? Will pilgrimages to Rome become de fide? Devotion to Angels? Fish on Fridays? Where does it end?

More personally — I cannot imagine living the Christian life without the regular succor that comes from reading the Bible for myself, and listening to God’s voice in it. To mistrust the Bible (“’one mediator’ must not mean what it sounds like”) in favor of tradition takes away the Bible as being the source of God’s speech to my soul and mind and heart.

And this is not just some residual “biblicism” from my evangelical past. The Fathers submit their minds and all tradition to the limits of the Scriptures, neither taking away or adding (remember the warning at the end of Revelation 22!). The Fathers taught that all things necessary for us were in the Scriptures, and that ergo, any “addition” would actually be a diminution.

THE CHURCH FATHERS ON THE BIBLE

Here are just a few citations:

St. Irenaeus (who was just one intervening generation away from the Apostles themselves, being discipled by Polycarp, who was a disciple of John), in his magnum opus ‘Against Heresies’:

Through no other have we known the plan of salvation, than through them, through whom the Gospel has come to us; which Gospel they then preached, but afterwards by the will of God delivered us in the Scriptures, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith.” — AH, book III. 1.I

[Note the allusion to the letter to Timothy: “The Church, the pillar and buttress of Truth” — Ireneaus is indirectly revealing that he sees Scripture as fulfilling that role, which is a markedly different way of reading that verse than so many “pro-Tradition” Roman apologists would have it.]

Tertullian (~150-220): “She [The Church] joins the Law and the Prophets with the writings of the Evangelists [the 4 Gospels] and Apostles [the Letters of the NT], and thence drinks in her faith… What we are, that are the Scriptures from the beginning; of them [the Scriptures] we are, before that any thing existed contrary to what we are [heresy]” — De Praescr. 37-38

And against a particular heretic, “Whether [the contents of this heresy are so], I have as yet read nowhere. Let Hermogenes’ shop show that it is written. If it is not written, let them fear that woe allotted to such as add or take away.”

As heresies bloomed more and more, and there was a felt need to be clear about how the True could be discerned from the False, what was appealed to? Tradition, as something that could be trusted in itself? No, for all false-teachings claimed to be traditional. The answer was Scripture.

So, St. Clement of Alexandria (~250-320) in his famous Stromata:

He has ceased to remain as a man of God and a faithful disciple of Jesus the Lord who has kicked against the ecclesiastical tradition, and bounded off to the opinions of human heresies; but he who has returned from this deceit, listening to the Scriptures, and turning back his life to the truth, is perfected, being in a manner deified.

Regarding the Scripture as the outer-bounds of Religious Knowledge, hear Origen (184-253), who was greatly studied in many things beyond the Scripture, being of course an Alexandrian, but who writes in his Homilies on Leviticus (V.9) “If there be anything, upon which Divine Scripture does not make a judgment, no other third scripture ought to be received as an authority for any knowledge, but what remains we should commit to the fire, that is, we should leave it alone for God. For God did not will that we should know all things in this present life.”

And lest it seem like these are about Scripture and not in reference to church tradition, St. Cyprian weighs in decisively: Scripture IS the test of what is TRULY Apostolic Tradition, in his Letter #74, “Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord Jesus and the Gospel, or does it come from the injunctions and epistles of the Apostles? For that we are to do what is written, God testifies and admonishes, saying to Joshus, ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth.’ [Josh 1:8] Likewise the Lord, sending His Apostles, directs that the nations should be baptized and taught to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded. If, then, it is commanded in the Gospels, or contained in the Epistles or Acts of the Apostles, then should it be preserved as being Holy and Divine tradition.”

And against traditions that are innovations, the same Holy Father (for St. Cyprian is most revered among the pre-Nicene Fathers as being the greatest Bishop who led the Church through the troublesome third century), “What presumption to prefer human tradition to Divine ordinances, and not to perceive that God is displeased and angered, as often as human tradition relaxes the Divine command.” This to me is most weighty in terms of all the commands to worship God and God alone.

And even in the midst of that most necessitous and Holy Council, the Council to which all later ones pay deference as being the source of all orthodox proclamation: Nicea (325), St. Athanasius (296-373), the champion of that council, could say, “Vainly do the Arians run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake, for Divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in Divine Scripture.” — On the Councils of Arminum and Seleucia, 1.

And that same Athanasius’ with perfect simplicity, “The Scriptures are sufficient for teaching.” — Life of St. Anthony, 16.

And again in his Fourth Letter to Serapion “Let us be disciples of the Scriptures.”

Lastly, hear St. Basil (330-379), one of the most beloved Doctors of the Church in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, “It is a manifest falling from the faith, and sin of pride, either to reject anything written in Scripture, or to introduce anything that is not written.” — (Of the Faith, 1) and that all which he understood to make up the Tradition, was to be sourced in Holy Scripture, “What then our Fathers said, we too say…But it does not satisfy us to say that the tradition is from the Fathers. For they too followed the mind of the Scripture, taking as their first principle those testimonies which we set before you from the Scripture.” — On the Holy Spirit, 7.

Thus we see that when our 39 Articles say in Article 6:

HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

And again in article 8:

THE Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

And in Article 20:

THE Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

We see that it is not a protestant doctrine that is being put forward by the Anglican Church (which is bound by the Articles), but simply the faith of the Holy Fathers. All of whom, Patristic and Anglican alike, are just saying in their own ways that same truth which resonates throughout the 119th psalm, which has been especially encouraging to me in this intellectual pilgrimage we have been on together:

For thy testimonies are my delight, and my counselors. (v. 24)

I have stuck unto thy testimonies; O LORD, confound me not. (v. 31)

Thy testimonies have I claimed as mine heritage for ever; and why? they are the very joy of my heart. (v. 111)

It is not an exaggeration to say that I would rather die than have the Bible practically taken away from me, the way the Roman Church inclines toward doing, with the weight of its Bible-opposing magisterium.

CONVERSION TO ROME BRINGS COMPLICIT GUILT IN HER ERRORS

It is the case that, as Anglicans in North America we have some errors that are presently tolerated. It is the case in all times and all places that the life and teaching of any number of individual clergy may not be up to snuff, and I lament the lack of catholic-mindedness in large quadrants, but these are not formal errors. They have not been defined and supported. As far as formal errors go, I am aware of three in the ACNA, one dogmatic and two moral, and only in some dioceses, not all: The admission of women to Holy Orders, the permitting of the remarriage of the divorced, and the support of artificial birth control. These are serious errors, which I continue to pray the Lord will correct. But, for those of us who — like you and me — found ourselves among the Anglican fold before even realizing these were errors, we are not personally accountable to God for them. We did not create the errors, and we are not personally perpetuating them. Indeed, not even the whole ACNA is committed to them (which would make the problem even more grave), only some dioceses are complicit in these errors.

Since the ACNA does not admit women to the episcopate, we are not in danger of having our Apostolic Line broken. Therefore we can rest assured that these errors do not compromise the validity of the Sacraments, as they are administered by male priests.

However, to convert to Rome means to become personally morally accountable for her teaching. This is not the case for those born Roman Catholic, but for converts. Especially in the face of her own Magisterium, you can’t pick and choose which Roman teaching you will personally accept or decline. The prospect of conversion presents it as a package deal. Are you willing — on your own private judgment — to take personal responsibility for the dogma of the immaculate conception, as necessary for salvation for all mankind? Are you willing to teach your kids that? To tell your colleagues when they ask about the Faith, that this is the case? When face to face with the Lord on Judgment Day, that you were sufficiently confident that this was the case, even though he did not permit one word of it to be written in his Scriptures? I am not. And hence, I do not convert.

ANGLICAN ECCLESIAL REALITIES SUFFICIENTLY PERSUASIVE OF STAYING

On the contrary, everything which the Anglican Tradition has handed down to me has proven trustworthy as being both Biblical and Patristic. Though, for my disgusting sins, I am not looking forward to the blazing light of Judgment Day, when the Faith that I hold is examined, and I am confident that the Anglican patrimony has preserved the Faith of St. Paul and St. John and St. Athanasius and St. Augustine, and that what I believe is — if not the fullness — yet consonant with the Faith the Lord wanted us to have, because I only have faith in that which is plainly shown forth in Sacred Scripture.

On the three issues of interpretation about which the New Testament is not always crystal clear, and over which Protestants have made Cavil: (1) Whether the Orders of the Church are rooted in the Historically Succeeded Episcopate, (2) Whether the Sacraments really accomplish what they signify, and (3) Whether Sunday is the day of Christian meeting and rest. The testimony of the Apostolic Fathers (Ignatius, Clement, etc) gives ample witness to the Tradition of the Apostles, and the Anglican Church has formally passed these things down unimpaired (again, despite whatever misbelief has sometimes emerged from individual teachers). Therefore, I rest confident in the knowledge that I am, by virtue of being in the Anglican Church, a member of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and that I preserve and treasure the One Catholic Faith.

Given this, it would take a body of evidence that was overwhelming in its convincing force to persuade conversion. But Rome has no such evidence.

ROMAN ECCLESIAL CLAIMS ABOUT HERSELF NOT OVERWHELMINGLY CONVINCING

The many claims that are made by the Roman Catholic Church about herself, and the concomitant defenses of those claims, are not strong.

ON THE PETRINE SEE

I would encourage you read The Petrine Claims by Littledale, if you want to get into the weeds, but basically:

• The Biblical data reveal a Peter who is foremost among a band of Apostles, but not their superior. It also reveals a Peter who is rebukable and humble, who needs a three-fold re-instatement after his three-fold denial. It is James that settles the council of Jerusalem, as having (to use an anachronism) metropolitan jurisdiction, not Peter.

• The Patristic Data reveal a Roman Bishop who has authority in the West, and is highly honored, but who is not a supreme leader over the other bishops. The patristic data point to a Church in which each bishop and their diocese is a building block, and together all the bishops and their diocese make up the Church. There is insufficient evidence, and sufficient counter-evidence, to the ideal that the bishop of Rome ruled as the Pope would come to do in the Middle Ages

• Historical medieval study reveals a number of political circumstances that slowly lead to the bishop of Rome having civil power in the midst of the vacuum left by the “Fall” of Rome. This civil power was baptized in the early Middle Ages, executed in the ex-communication of the Churches of the East (parents of today’s Orthodox Churches) producing the claims we still are presented with: That the Roman Church is the only true church on earth. It appears that many forces beside theology effected this. Biblical argument is brought to bear post hoc.

ON DEVELOPMENT

In light of this, it is plain that some theory of “development of doctrine” (in the sense that Newman uses, not what St. Vincent of Lerins meant by the phrase) is needed to account for the papal/Roman claims that exist today. This leads us to the paramount difference then, between the Anglican and the Roman (or Orthodox) Church: We believe that The Faith was given to the Apostles in full. That St. Peter and St. John believed the same thing as St. Cyprian and St. Basil. Later Fathers were forced in the face of heresy to clarify The Faith, sometimes in new words, but if St. Paul or St. James could have read St. Basil’s words, I believe with my whole heart that they would have nodded affirmatively.

The ‘good deposit’ so warmly spoken of in 2 Timothy 1, the ‘Faith once for all delivered to the saints’ in Jude, was given and deposited in full! If the Roman church really believed this (because sometimes they claim to believe it), they would not have allowed such “developments” as the papacy, Roman exclusivity, Marian dogma, etc.

ON ONENESS

Lastly, one of the other central arguments presented by Romanists is the argument from “oneness”, as it is one of the creedal marks of the Church. Does not the Roman Church, more than any other, exemplify oneness to a substantially higher degree?

Of all her arguments, I have found this one the most compelling on the face of it. But a little bit of analysis renders it not nearly as strong as it appears.

Perhaps most profoundly — Keble points out that it is reasonable to expect that “oneness” as a note of the Church would be as manifest in real life as the other notes of the church, such as “holiness”. In the same way we do not see great holiness in many parts of the Church, why would we expect a monolithic oneness?

It is also worth noting that the structure which Rome has created demands a oneness — on threat of hell — which, coupled with the political power it had in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, extracted a oneness which came from fear more than filial charity that binds us together. This is especially apparent when we consider the millenia-long separation from the East, which must be bracketed out as an enormous footnote to Rome’s “oneness” claim.

Additionally, the Roman churches are much less monolithically “one” than convert accounts would present. Indeed, in my experience the Roman church is a hot mess of Vatican II proponents and opponents, of liberals and conservatives, of those who honor the magisterium and those who don’t, etc. A situation exacerbated — not created — under the reign of Pope Francis.

While I wish Anglicans were larger and more united, like Rome is, the “oneness” of Rome is not in itself an overwhelming proof.

CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE DEPRECATED

But, if even having been presented with all of the above argument, the tug toward Rome just feels to deep and too existential to ignore, I would like to offer yet one word of warning: What conversion does to one’s own Faith experience.

Given all that Rome claims to be true, to convert to Rome explicitly communicates to yourself and others:

• That all of what you previously understood to be the operation of the Holy Spirit of God, in your soul, through the Church, in the sacraments, was a fiction. That in fact the Spirit of God was operating with a compelling force identical with that which operates on the heathen or the Muslim, but not as an indwelling paraclete, or an operator through the sacraments.

• That all of your previous confirmations in the Faith were in fact delusions, in as much as they led to any stability outside of the Roman Church.

• That all those who are “left behind” in the non-Roman churches are infidel, and their salvation is precarious

• That all those who warned against converting to Rome are actually false teachers (which would include yours truly, but also Pusey, Keble, Taylor, Laud, Andrewes, Jewel, Parker, Cranmer, etc)

I would ask anyone considering converting, are you willing to “say” this?

Soften the blow as some converts do, in these post-Vatican II days, the blow remains.

In that preface to his sermons, Keble makes the point that, to thus accuse your former self and the community you are coming from, creates a vector of belief-alteration that tends to progress toward skepticism. I think there is something to this. Not in all cases, perhaps, but in many. If there isn’t skepticism within, there may very well be without — in the hearts of onlookers “he once preached X so earnestly, now he preaches Y….there is no certain Truth” seems to be a common train of thought, one that we should be very wary of fueling.

CONCLUSION

And so to conclude: I think it best — in every way — that you, as an Anglican, don’t convert to Rome. What little might be felt to be gained is substantially outweighed by the moral and theological perils that are assumed.

Your brother in the Lord,

Ben+


The Rev. Ben Jefferies

The Rev. Ben Jefferies is a sinner, grateful to the Lord for his mercy. He grew up in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He went to Wheaton College, and several years later discerned a call to ministry and went to seminary at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Duncan in 2014. He currently serves The Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika, Alabama. He served on the Liturgy Task Force of the ACNA from 2015-2019, and was the lead designer for the production of the printed prayer book. He continues as the Assistant to the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer (2019), and serves on the board of directors of Anglican House Media Ministries. He is married with three daughters.


'A Dissuasive from Popery' have 8 comments

  1. June 10, 2020 @ 7:38 pm Buck

    Thank you, Father. What an excellent piece. One question, however, occurred to me. Would your reasoning about being complicit in Roman errors if one converts to Rome apply to traditional Anglicans who are in the ACNA when they have the option of Continuing Anglicanism? Are they perhaps complicit in the ACNA errors since there is another option that doesn’t seem to be as bogged down with the errors of Rome or the ACNA? Thanks for your thoughts.

    Reply

    • June 11, 2020 @ 3:49 pm Ben jefferies

      Dear Buck —

      Your question is a good one, and one I have wrestled with, personally.

      The various continuing churches have their own issues. Some of them have the same remarriage of the divorced problem (most pointedly – among the clergy) as the ACNA. While they all are blessedly free from the error of women’s ordination, they also have — in many cases — imported romish Marian devotion with differing levels of formality. This offsets the “appeal” to me. That, and the continual schisms that have ensued over the last 40 years (tho the efforts toward unity of late are encouraging)
      My own conviction is:
      If someone is presently in the ACNA — the error of women’s ordination is not so settled, nor the pastures over “there” so green, that there is any moral necessity of leaving. I think — for now — it is probably safer to stay ACNA, tho in years to come that could change.
      But, if a Baptist somewhere awakens to catholicity and there is a strong ACNA church and a strong continuing church in his/her town — I suppose I would recommend the continuing church, as long as the Marian devotion wasn’t too heavy.

      Reply

      • June 11, 2020 @ 6:57 pm Columba Silouan

        Hi Father Jeffries. I tried to post some thoughts earlier, but they didn’t reach the “Awaiting Moderation” stage, so I fear that try might have failed.

        I really wish to learn and find some real answers, and perhaps suggest some.

        Please note that I am in a Hybrid circumstance as a layman with the rest of my family at an ACNA parish while I retain membership in a WR Antiochian parish by special arrangement / Economia. It’s a long story.

        So, try try again:

        Great article! Since I’ve been in the Western Rite of Antiochian Orthodoxy, I haven’t encountered that over the top Marian wording in the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom before. I agree, that’s too much, and since it was a late medieval addition, they really should get rid of it in the Eastern Rite.

        For context, and this is purely conjecture, maybe they allowed it to be added during the period of The Council of Florence to pacify Rome and stave off the soon to be Muslim conquest of Constantinople. Buying off another church for political or temporal reasons is never a good idea.

        At any rate, we all still sing “more glorious then the Seraphim, higher than the Cherubim” in a hymn all the churches share. I think there is a place for Marian Intercession if it’s thought to strictly be Intercessory Prayer for God’s will to be done and for His Mercy in tough situations without expecting precise outcomes or merits. That’s the error Rome made.

        Marian devotion is supposed to be a focus on her leadership by example, and our imitation of her stance and attitude. It shouldn’t go further than that, IMO. She is supposed to be an encouragement, not a goddess.

        I do believe she can hear us, and that her prayers can be very helpful, but she should never supplant Jesus and the Trinity, nor would she want to.

        My family and I currently call an ACNA parish nearby home, but I don’t personally commune there, maintaining my ties with Antioch in my Orthodox parish of 13 years. I know I can trust the sacraments of The Orthodox Church. I personally think there is life in the ACNA’s sacraments, (which isn’t the Official Position of EO) but WO makes them problematic. If you’re in a diocese where WO is practiced and the women “ordinands” of ANY rank preside at The Table and say the Epiclesis, even if the elements have been “pre-sanctified” by a Male Priest under a Male Bishop, what then?

        God is merciful, loving and kind and may feed the flock anyway, but if I believe otherwise about any form of WO should I personally participate in this and by doing so say it’s ok?

        It’s not okay. Let woman ordinands become Anglican nuns, or paid lay-pastors on staff. There are two great alternatives to WO, again IMO.

        The question I’ve asked above would seem to answer itself. Yet my truly local ACNA parish is great in all kinds of other ways, so I remain involved with it, short of taking the eucharist there.

        Such arrangements should be looked at with ACNA Anglicans stuck by location in WO dioceses. If you would rather substitute a G-4 Anglican Church in this scenario, then do that. Commune in one place, serve in the closer, neighborhood parish.

        It’s time to start thinking outside the box when it comes to the stubborn errors of all of our churches. The old way of just leaving to find The Perfect Church doesn’t really work anymore, does it?

        The two moral ACNA errors need to be worked through by all “conservative” churches in the US. This is especially the case with divorce and re-marriage. In the ACNA, D and RM should be addressed through ecclesiastical church trials with Economia granted to the Laity in certain cases and the Clergy given the option (if a remarriage after divorce is approved) with stepping down from sacramental ministry as the stipulation. Of course widowhood might / should be an exception in the ACNA.

        In the Orthodox Church, you can be granted up to three marriages as a layperson (extremely rare to be granted three) but after that, you are out of luck. As a clergyman in EO, if you attempt a second marriage, you are defrocked, period.

        Artificial Birth Control is “officially out” in Orthodoxy, and I believe this includes vasectomies in the case of the men as well.

        In the ACNA, all abortifacients should be totally forbidden on pain of ex-communication and The Pill should probably be used rarely, if at all. Vasectomies should probably be allowed if couples insist on birth control, because that puts the burden and responsibility squarely on the man to set the tone and to lead in this area.

        I think “Lower Church” Anglicans and all Protestants are still haunted by the errors of Rome and don’t see the true alternative that Eastern Orthodoxies and the Anglican Catholic Jurisdictions provide with some of the practices listed in this fine article.

        Throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t a real solution. I still use and plan to keep my “Beautiful Corner” (Icon Corner) and will encourage my Anglican and Lutheran friends to do likewise.

        The ancient Celtic Christians honored the Saints without falling into Roman Errors. We can as well.

        Blessings in Christ.

        Columba Silouan

        Reply

      • June 13, 2020 @ 2:21 am Greg

        Would the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) be a better ecclesiastical home in this regard? It doesn’t permit the ordination of women as deacons, let alone as priests or bishops and it doesn’t engage in extreme Marian devotional practices. Additionally, CANA through its membership of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), is arguably a full part of the historic Anglican Communion with all of the romantic and historical aura that goes with being in communion with the ancient primatial and metropolitan See of Canterbury. With approximately 21 million members, the Church of Nigeria is a sizable portion of the world’s 110 million Anglicans and the Nigerian church’s considerable institutional gravity and stability would presumably be a positive factor in the life of CANA’s diocese and parishes.

        Having said all of the above, no criticism of the ACNA is intended, as it has successfully welded together people with a variety of orthodox Anglican theologies and spiritualities and from differing ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Likewise, the ACNA it is one of the very few expression of Christianity in the USA and Canada that is steadily growing in an increasingly secularist society. Also, the Continuing Anglican churches are to be commended for their strict adherence to classical Anglican theologies and liturgies and also for their recent genuine ( and increasingly fruitful) attempts at unity. However, based on the issues raised it would appear that CANA might be a better answer to Buck’s pertinent question than either the ACNA or the Anglican Continuum.

        For the record, I’m a lay member of the Anglican Church of Australia, so I don’t “have skin in the game” except for the fact that you guys across the Pacific Ocean are my brethren in Christ and in the Anglican tradition, consequently you all have my prayerful best wishes.

        Reply

  2. June 11, 2020 @ 3:27 am Greg

    Thank you Fr. Jefferies for another excellent essay! This is pure gold!

    Reply

  3. June 11, 2020 @ 10:45 am Rev. Dennis Washburn

    Fr. Jefferies articles always provide food for serious thought and deserve re-reading. The format for this particular approach is fascinating and allows for the inclusion of all kinds of issues and comments. While agreeing with most of what is said, my approach is somewhat more simple-minded. Despite many personal areas of disagreement with the Roman Church, it seems that there are two general distinctions between Romanism and Anglicanism. First, there is a positive matter, the centrality of Jesus Christ as the unique Mediator. There are certainly differences among individual Roman Catholics and Anglicans in theory and practice regarding the blessed Virgin and other saints, but to me, Anglicanism keeps Christ at the center. In my opinion, not all popular RC devotions do this. Secondly, while acknowledging popes as Bishops of Rome, some more or less faithful Christians, I see no sound basis in Scripture or ancient Tradition for papal claims to universal jurisdiction or to infallibility.

    Reply

  4. June 11, 2020 @ 6:20 pm Columba

    Great article! Since I’ve been in the Western Rite of Antiochian Orthodoxy, I haven’t encountered that over the top Marian wording in the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom before. I agree, that’s too much, and since it was a late medieval addition, they really should get rid of it in the Eastern Rite.

    For context, and this is purely conjecture, maybe they allowed it to be added during the period of The Council of Florence to pacify Rome and stave off the soon to be Muslim conquest of Constantinople. Buying off another church for political or temporal reasons is never a good idea.

    At any rate, we all still sing “more glorious then the Seraphim, higher than the Cherubim” in a hymn all the churches share. I think there is a place for Marian Intercession if it’s thought to strictly be Intercessory Prayer for God’s will to be done and for His Mercy in tough situations without expecting precise outcomes or merits. That’s the error Rome made.

    Marian devotion is supposed to be a focus on her leadership by example, and our imitation of her stance and attitude. It shouldn’t go further than that, IMO. She is supposed to be an encouragement, not a goddess.

    I do believe she can hear us, and that her prayers can be very helpful, but she should never supplant Jesus and the Trinity, nor would she want to.

    My family and I currently call an ACNA parish nearby home, but I don’t personally commune there, maintaining my ties with Antioch in my Orthodox parish of 13 years. I know I can trust the sacraments of The Orthodox Church. I personally think there is life in the ACNA’s sacraments, (which isn’t the Official Position of EO) but WO makes them problematic. If you’re in a diocese where WO is practiced and the women “ordinands” of ANY rank preside at The Table and say the Epiclesis, even if the elements have been “pre-sanctified” by a Male Priest under a Male Bishop, what then?

    God is merciful, loving and kind and may feed the flock anyway, but if I believe otherwise about any form of WO should I personally participate in this and by doing so say it’s ok?

    It’s not okay. Let woman ordinands become Anglican nuns, or paid lay-pastors on staff. There are two great alternatives to WO, again IMO.

    The question I’ve asked above would seem to answer itself. Yet my truly local ACNA parish is great in all kinds of other ways, so I remain involved with it, short of taking the eucharist there.

    Such arrangements should be looked at with ACNA Anglicans stuck by location in WO dioceses. If you would rather substitute a G-4 Anglican Church in this scenario, then do that. Commune in one place, serve in the closer, neighborhood parish.

    It’s time to start thinking outside the box when it comes to the stubborn errors of all of our churches. The old way of just leaving to find The Perfect Church doesn’t really work anymore, does it?

    The two moral ACNA errors need to be worked through by all “conservative” churches in the US. This is especially the case with divorce and re-marriage. In the ACNA, D and RM should be addressed through ecclesiastical church trials with Economia granted to the Laity in certain cases and the Clergy given the option (if a remarriage after divorce is approved) with stepping down from sacramental ministry as the stipulation. Of course widowhood might / should be an exception in the ACNA.

    In the Orthodox Church, you can be granted up to three marriages as a layperson (extremely rare to be granted three) but after that, you are out of luck. As a clergyman in EO, if you attempt a second marriage, you are defrocked, period.

    Artificial Birth Control is “officially out” in Orthodoxy, and I believe this includes vasectomies in the case of the men as well.

    In the ACNA, all abortifacients should be totally forbidden on pain of ex-communication and The Pill should probably be used rarely, if at all. Vasectomies should probably be allowed if couples insist on birth control, because that puts the burden and responsibility squarely on the man to set the tone and to lead in this area.

    I think “Lower Church” Anglicans and all Protestants are still haunted by the errors of Rome and don’t see the true alternative that Eastern Orthodoxies and the Anglican Catholic Jurisdictions provide with some of the practices listed in this fine article.

    Throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t a real solution. I still use and plan to keep my “Beautiful Corner” (Icon Corner) and will encourage my Anglican and Lutheran friends to do likewise.

    The ancient Celtic Christians honored the Saints without falling into Roman Errors. We can as well.

    Blessings in Christ.

    Columba Silouan

    Reply


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