(one message that I hope will answer a variety of e mail comments and queries addressed to me!)
All my recent short pieces (essays) with respect to the Seventh Ecumenical Council arose directly and then indirectly because of the content of the draft Confession of Faith proposed for the Common Cause of The Anglican Communion Network. They related to this specific situation and not to Nicaea II of 787 as a topic in and of itself. This draft Confession is intended to be one of the keys that opens the door into the Anglican Communion for this group of North American Episcopalians and Anglicans, for it is being submitted to overseas Archbishops (& provinces?). Thus I presumed it ought to be, and would be, truly Anglican in nature and content, keeping to basic and common ground and not merely speculative or excessive.
In this context I judged that its reference to the Seventh Council broke this rule of requiring only essentials by adding what was not absolutely necessary to add, and in so doing making the acceptance of the Statement by the majority “school” of the Communion, the conservative Evangelicals, difficult.
My basic point was simple. In the mother Church of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, there is no subscription required by clergy to the doctrinal declaration of the Seventh Council (Nicaea II, 787) and it does not feature in any of her Formularies or canon law. It is conspicuous, as it were, by its absence. And the situation is much the same in the other thirty plus Provinces.
Now I am the first to state that individual theologians – e.g., a few in the 17th century from the Caroline divines and some Anglo-Catholics of the 19th and 20th centuries – have expressed their own private acceptance of the developed doctrine of the seventh council and commended it. However, the overwhelming testimony of Anglican theologians has been to state that the Church of England receives the dogmas of the Trinity and the Person of Christ from the first four Councils, together with the clarification of one of them, Christology, from the fifth and sixth. And there they have stopped. This readily conceded, the point stands that subscription to the doctrinal teaching of the Seventh Council is not required in the Anglican Way of the Anglican Communion of Churches.
(As a side-bar here, I am not sure where the claim by the AMiA and now the Common Cause that the Seventh Council also clarifies Christology comes from, for this Council simply receives the doctrine of the Person of Christ as previously taught in earlier Councils as a given and adds nothing to it, except – if you like – by saying that the truly orthodox will venerate an icon of Christ to prove that he holds that Christ has a human nature and that the doctrine of One Person made known in two natures, divine and human, is the truth. My guess is that the latter is not what they have in mind.)
This tradition of commitment primarily to the dogma from the first four Councils in the Church of England explains why in the university departments of divinity in England the old B.D degree (which I took years ago) had within its requirements, Early Church History and Early Church Doctrine to 451 (the date of the fourth Council). I do not recall any required courses going as far as 787, except in terms of special extra courses on late patristic and early medieval history, and then they did not stop at 787 but went on well after that point.
So on seeing the Common Cause statement several weeks ago I asked why, and I continue to ask (having seen the latest form of it from mid August): why does this group insist on including in its confession of faith that which is not included in the constitutions and formularies of the member Churches of the Anglican Communion. Why mention the Council at all? Why refer to it when there is no need to do so at all from a practical and historical standpoint? (There does not seem to be a strong lobby wishing to introduce the veneration of icons into churches and the invoking of saints into the liturgies of Common Cause churches; but perhaps there is a certain “Catholic” devotion around - even surprisingly in the REC and AMiA - which loves to speak of commitment to the Seven Ecumenical Councils in general and vague terms as kind of badge of “catholicity”.)
To date the only Anglican groups in the USA who have felt the necessity of including the Seventh Council without qualifications into their confession have been those tiny jurisdictions who call themselves the original Continuing Anglicans and who, in the main, are not within, or close to being within, the Common Cause of the Network. (See The St Louis Affirmation of Faith of 1977 for their adoption of seven councils and seven sacraments. And, at the same time, note that even in a jurisdiction such as the APCK today the seventh council’s teaching is not required doctrine at all.)
In the old days it was common to ask concerning the state of the question. To me it is one separate question whether the Seventh should be included in 2006 in its creed by the Network; and it is yet another question whether the doctrinal declaration of the Seventh on Veneration of Icons (with Invocation of Saints in the background) is true and could be made at a future date officially part of the formularies. In this matter of what the Communion Network OFFICIALLY believes, teaches and confesses, it is not only expedient but also wise to keep these questions totally apart, especially if the primary aim right now is to be seen as truly Anglican by the major players in the Anglican Communion.
email@example.com August 22, 2005
P.S. There are other aspects to the most recent draft of the Confession which cause grave concern and that that make it to be (a) lacking North American integrity and (b) difficult to accept by conservative Evangelicals throughout the world. First, amazingly there is no acceptance of the editions of the one Book of Common Prayer used in the USA and Canada, that is the 1662-1789-1928 USA and the 1662-1962 Canada editions. The Common Prayer Tradition in North America is seemingly rejected. And, secondly, the statement concerning bishops goes very far past the traditional position of the bene esse of the Church, held by virtually all leading conservative Evangelical theologians. It reads as though it came forth from one of the Anglo-Catholic Congresses in London a century ago.