Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Avoid majoring on minors! Keep to essentials! On Veneration of Icons and Invocation of the Saints.

(This is offered as a discussion starter to the Common Cause of the Anglican Communion Network as a plea for it NOT to make acceptance of the Seventh Ecumenical Council part of its basic, doctrinal platform. To make it so is to innovate in a major way in development of doctrine by causing the Anglican Way to cease to be Reformed Catholic in nature and character. It is to make the mistake of the Continuing Anglicans in 1977 in their Affirmation of St Louis, when they made that which had always been optional and belonging to local choice into that which is required and mandated for all – i.e., requiring belief in seven councils, seven sacraments, and in the elevation of the status of the several Anglican Missals to equivalency with the classic Book of Common Prayer in its last two North American authentic editions, 1928 USA and 1962 Canada.)

Anyone who reads the doctrinal decree and anathemas of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II of 787) or who reads the Decree of Session 25 of the Council of Trent (1563), will be aware that both the veneration of icons/images and the invocation of the saints are seen as proper, orthodox forms of prayer and devotion for the Orthodox Churches and for the Roman Catholic Church. However, the doctrine and required devotion within these decrees have never anywhere in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion of Churches been made part of required, received doctrine and practice. Further, the possible abuse of the practices has been solidly condemned in official Formularies. (See Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Tanner, Vol.1. pp. 131ff., and Vol. II, pp. 774ff.; and The Thirty Nine Articles and The Homilies.)

Veneration of Icons

1.Throughout the Anglican Communion today, and throughout the Anglican Churches of the world since 1559, there is and has been very little actual veneration of icons and images within Anglican churches and homes.

2.This does not mean that churches do not, and have not had, ornaments and stain-glass windows for they do have and they had such – as have the Lutheran State Churches of Europe. Visits to any English or Nordic cathedral or parish church will verify this. Yet Anglicans and Lutherans have demonstrated that it is possible to have representational art without treating it as icons to be venerated.

3.Anglican churches, where there is actual, expressive veneration of images, are few and far between, and usually belong to the Anglo-Catholic school. While justification for this is sometimes sought from the 7th Ecumenical Council [Nicaea II 787], it is more usually from the practice of the Catholic Church of the West (i.e., what is found in traditional Roman Catholicism).

4.If asked whether they approve of the veneration of icons today, most modern Anglicans in the West will declare that they see this practice as belonging to personal choice and feelings. Many have no objections to it unless it is either made compulsory (as the passing of the peace!) or is presented as virtually necessary to salvation, genuine devotion or to true orthodoxy.

5.In the past, and still today in large parts of Africa and Asia, Anglicans were and are known to disapprove of veneration because it is not found in the New Testament, is what Roman Catholics did and do; is that which the Articles of Religion do not approve, and is that which in Muslim areas in Africa and Asia invites the charge of idolatry.

Invocation of Saints (this inevitably is associated with serious veneration)

1.Throughout the Anglican Communion today, and throughout the Anglican Churches of the world since 1559, there has been no invocation of saints where the official editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer have been used. Any such invocation has been outside the Prayer Book limits and without the authority of the Articles of Religion or Canon Law, but often tolerated by Bishops.

2.Where there has been and is invocation of the saints it is usually through the use of [Roman] Catholic additions to the official editions of The Book of Common Prayer, for example via The Anglican Missal and The English Missal, and via other Anglo-Catholic books of private prayers for the devout (of which there are less now than there were say fifty years ago).

3. Regular Invocation of saints is comparatively rare throughout the Anglican Communion and usually only occurs in decidedly Anglo-Catholic parishes.

4.Most Anglicans think of praying to saints and to the BVM as a [Roman] Catholic practice; and those who are theologically aware know that it is not approved by the Articles of Religion for it is without Biblical justification and warrant.

5.While invocation of saints is rare, the interceding in general terms for those who died with the sign of faith (i.e. are baptized) is fairly common; and is allowed by some modern official service books of the Anglican Churches worldwide.

6. No individual Anglican or group of Anglicans are prevented from invoking one or another saint as part of their devotional life but they cannot use the historic Book of Prayer for this purpose for it has no prayers of this kind.

There is no desire or plan to forbid Anglo-Catholics from venerating the Cross on Good Friday and lighting candles to honor saints or to pray for the dead. Rather, the desire is to make sure that any new Anglican standards of Faith for the presently dispersed and divided Anglican Family in North America do not make into essentials that which are by common agreement optional and secondary.

The following Declaration is offered as (a) a sufficient basis for uniting the various forms of North American Anglicanism in Common Cause, and importantly; (b) that which the Primates of places like Nigeria and Uganda will accept without hesitation, and also (c) that which is acceptable to the Archbishop of Canterbury who has signed a declaration himself in similar terms on various occasions when he was ordained and took various positions in the C of E., and who has told officers of the Prayer Book Society that the Anglican Formularies would need to be at the very center of any new Covenant to bind the Provinces together.

We accept the doctrine of the Anglican Way as it is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, we receive such doctrine as is to be found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal (as all three of these are printed in the English edition of 1662, the American edition of 1928 and the Canadian edition of 1962 of The Book of Common Prayer).

This statement allows Evangelicals and High Churchmen, Charismatics and Anglo-Catholics, to live together with a common basis and makes possible comprehensiveness in churchmanship with unity in essentials. The Anglican Way is to have sure foundation but to allow it to be interpreted and expressed in a generous way.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon August 8 2006 drpetertoon@yahoo.com


Death Bredon said...

The Incarnation and the Communion of the Saints are in the Apostle's Creed for heaven's sake!

The Seventh Council defended the very core of Christian Faith against those who would implicitly deny it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, that makes a ton of good sense. I suppose I'd better order a 1928 prayer book.

Donald Ahearn
Pittsburgh, PA

Paul Goings said...

If acceptance of the Seventh Council is not to be required, then why the first six? Or the first four? Or are we two begin again from the Scriptures, debating the divinity and humanity of Christ in his two natures?

CB in Ca said...

Dear Paul: Dr. Toon has already given the reason for accepting the first four Councils. The veneration of images as authorized in the 7th Council is problematical, leaving the door open to idolatry. It is best to stay with the BCP, Ordinal, Articles, and even the homilies. Charles

Paul Goings said...

Dr. Toon has already given the reason for accepting the first four Councils.

On his 'blog (which post?), or in one of his books?

It is best to stay with the BCP, Ordinal, Articles, and even the homilies.

Sadly, as I have pointed out to others, no one does this. Mostly they just say that they do it better than others (which is true). For example, does your parish have a celebration of the Holy Communion on Good Friday?