Wednesday, 21st June, 2000

The following letter was written by Peter Holmes to Marco Vervoost. Peter has given it to me to reprint. I think it is an admirable statement of the problem.

[Nb. I think this is the first time that Peter rates a mention in this journal. Marco has already rated a mention (see his blog site here). At about this time, Peter joined P. and me to read the Gospel for the coming Sunday in Latin each week. Peter is now a Catholic, working for Catholic Adult Education Centre in Sydney. Marco, as you will already be aware, is an Anglo-Catholic Anglican priest. Both Peter and Marco were still Lutheran pastors when this letter was written].


Dear Fr Vervoorst,

I've been thinking through the 'catholic' thing. I assume of course that you realise by 'catholic' I mean the one true, genuine. orthodox, faith passed down from the apostles.

Follow me here for a few lines:

If we are in the Lutheran church there are three main ways we can talk of the 'catholicity' of our church:

1. We ARE the true catholic church on earth (Proposed by most dogmatics texts I've read by Lutherans)
2. Being Lutheran is the best way to BE catholic
3. Who cares about catholicity, we decide what is true anyway!

I used to be pretty stuck on the second option. But I'm thinking it through more and more now. If the Lutheran Church is the BEST way to be catholic, then at what point does it cease being the BEST way to be catholic? Women's Ordination, or long before that? And if so.. which church then 'becomes' the best way to be the true catholic church.

This presents another problem. If I can simply choose a 'BETTER' church to best be catholic, then what makes the particular group the 'right' one? My choice? My decision that they are closest to what I perceive the 'true catholic church' to be? I know I could suggest that I either create a group, or join a group that reflect what I believe is the truth. But this is basically saying I can decide what is true or not by my own understanding. If this is the case, how am I different from any of the splinter groups from the 1960's, or even the sectarian/Congregationalist groups about the place?

The apostolic succession thing doesn't seem to hold much water if it is used in isolation to communion with Rome. It is either a succession of teaching (in which case we cannot deviate from whatever is apostolic teaching - which again seems determinative) or it is a living apostolic authority passed down from the apostles time to this day.

The 'catholicity' of a succession of 'apostolic teaching' seems determinative (if that is the right word). And yet, to claim some sort of 'apostolic succession' without any real communion with the church from which it all originates makes me wonder about it's catholicity. The fact that some bishop happened to lay hands on another hardly holds any water if (for example) he has been excommunicated by the church before the event. The apostolic authority is surely void as soon as the bishop is condemned by the church which gave him that authority declares he is teaching heresy? Surely to be valid, the apostolic successor must be in communion with the church from which he claims succession?

Let me know where my arguments went off the rails please?




Mike said...

I too think this is a good statement of the problem. Do you have the response to this letter from Fr. Vervoorst?

Schütz said...

No. Peter shared the letter with me. I don't know how Marco ever replied. But he is now a "confused anglo-papist" as his blogsite declares, so I guess that says it all, eh?