Sunday, May 12, 2002

Nicea II (787) and Continuing Anglicans

What seems to be abundantly clear is that the jurisdiction of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we call the Anglican Communion of Churches does not receive the dogma of the 7th Council on the worship of icons as binding. Rather She allows it as a theological opinion (of the highest order). At the same time, the dogma of the Trinity and Person of Christ set forth in Councils 1-6 has been received by this jurisdiction and informs her Liturgies and frames her doctrine.

It is also clear that divines of a high-church and anglo-catholic persuasion have received the dogma of Nicea II on icons as persuasive and true; but, at the same time not all of them have been persuaded that the practical veneration of icons is possible in a mixed church without the peril of idolatry. The distinction between veneration and adoration has been seen to be not an easy line to maintain. So the objection to Nicea II has been on devotional rather than doctrinal grounds, except by some in the evangelical wing who have objected to it as dogma as well.

There has been a small development of the use of icons/images in the Anglican Communion since the 19th century; but at the same time, as far as I can tell, very little use has been made of the teaching of the three great exponents of icon reverence in the East, John of Damascus, Theodore of Studios & Patriarch Nicephorus. (One cannot really receive Nicea II without also receiving the major expositions of its dogma and intended practice.) In the main, Anglo-Catholics have been more guided by Roman practice rather than the dogma and examples from the Orthodox, except perhaps until the last few decades or so.

In the light of all this, it is perhaps regrettable that the Continuing Anglican Movement [or a part of it] in the USA in the late 1970s made the dogma of the 7th Council to be as acceptable as that of the first Six Councils. In doing so it stepped out of the Anglican tradition and stepped into a no-person's land, for this Movement is not accepted either by Eastern Catholics or Western Catholics or by the Anglican Communion.

Now, in 2002, it seems that some Continuers want to major upon their distinctiveness by saying that adherence to the dogma of the 7th Council is necessary to being a true " Catholic Anglican." This is fine if they intend to seek acceptance by one or another of the Orthodox jurisdictions - Antioch, Constantinople etc. But, if they have in mind reunion with, or even cooperation with, normal Anglicans then it is surely a better policy not to major on this (what is in the great scheme of things) a minor and rather to be known for their major commitment to the great dogmas of the Trinity and the Person of Christ and to evangelisation and service in the light of these truths. Let the doctrine and use of icons be a permissible theological opinion but not a binding dogma in order to maintain the highest Anglican Unity on solid ground.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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