Watching the Tiber Go By (Part 3)

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.

In 1997 everything changed. Our first son was born that year, and though we continued faithfully attending St. Luke’s every Sunday our lives were (and are) consumed with parenthood. Coincidentally, it was also at about this time (December of 1996, actually) that I began posting book reviews on line–but I digress. And so we were more or less distracted until 2003, when Gene Robinson was elected and consecrated the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, an event that polarized–and well-nigh created–the Anglican Blogosphere. I don’t see any value in rehashing all of the details here; if you’ve not been following along, I’ll simply note that the events of 2003 revealed that the division in the Anglican Communion on matters of sexuality, biblical interpretation, and Christian orthodoxy was far deeper and wider than most of us had realized up until that time. Kendall Harmon, who blogs at Titus OneNine, dubbed the two camps the “reappraisers” (those who wish to interpret scripture in accord with modern needs) and the “reasserters” (those who wish to interpret scripture as the Church has always interpreted scripture).

Jane and I, along with most of the people at St. Luke’s, were and are firmly in the “reasserters” camp. The phrase our pastor used was “biblical orthodoxy”–at St. Luke’s, as at a handful of other parishes in our diocese, we would strive to be “biblically orthodox”. And that was well and good. “Biblically orthodox” described in a nutshell what we wanted to be, and what the reappraisers did not seem to care about.

Only, what did it mean? What did being “biblically orthodox” entail? Being true to the scriptures, obviously; but what were the specifics? The Nicene Creed was involved, and I knew something about that and what it meant and where it came from; but the “reappraisers” also recited the Nicene Creed. In the end, I decided that Kendall Harmon had it right: to be a “reasserter” was to interpret scripture as the Church has always interpreted scripture. So…how had the Church always interpreted scripture?

I’m a bit of a history buff, and I’d read quite a bit about the Roman world during the time the Christian faith was born, but I’d never boned up on the Early Church in the years following the Acts of the Apostles. I resolved to remedy that. One of the books I read was Rod Bennett’s Four Witnesses, a book about four of the earliest of the Church Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons. Bennett’s book includes a biographical sketch of each along with excerpts from their writings. Not coincidentally, he shows how their writings span the first two hundred years of the Church’s history, and how each was in a position to receive the gospel either from the apostles (Clement came to Rome during Peter’s lifetime) or from those who had known them. Bennett, in fact, details the workings of the Apostolic Succession during those early days.

At the end of the volume, Bennett tells some of his story. He came to the Fathers from a Baptist background, looking for answers to some questions he had…and once they’d been answered to his satisfaction he was a Roman Catholic. (As Lewis noted, a young man can’t be too careful about the books he reads.)

Hmmm. I was not entirely surprised; here were bishops, deacons, and priests as an essential part of the Church, and here was Justin Martyr’s description of the mass, which might as well have been a description of the mass I attended right up until I got married. But Anglicanism also has bishops, deacons, and priests and claims the Apostolic Succession. So that was OK.

In addition to reading about the Early Church, I was also reading widely in the Anglican Blogosphere, just to keep up with the news. In addition to Titus OneNine, Chris Johnson’s Midwest Conservative Journal, and Captain Yips, all blogs I still look at daily, there was one by an anonymous Episcopal Priest who called himself the “Pontificator”. He was involved in a detailed investigation of Anglicanism and whether it could truly be considered a branch of the Catholic (i.e., “Universal”) Church, along side the Roman Catholic church and the various Orthodox churches. In time he concluded that it could not, and swam across the Tiber. This was somewhat distressing, as my original entry into the Episcopal Church had been based on the (not particularly well-researched) assumption that it could.

There were two other threads that worked their way into my thinking at this time. In addition to reading Anglican blogs I’d done a fair amount of surfing around and reading other Christian bloggers, and much to my surprise the ones I found myself going back to time and again, outside of those listed above, were the Catholic blogs, especially those of Mark Shea and Amy Welborn. Mark was genuinely funny, and was also, like the Anglican blogs I was reading, fighting the good fight for Orthodoxy. There was a difference, though: Mark generally entered the fray cheerfully and with gusto, rather than without the anger and frustration I was used to hearing from the Anglican bloggers, nor was he distracted by every little shift in the wind among the major Anglican players. It was refreshing. And Amy somehow managed to maintain a thoroughly irenic tone, even while dealing with contentious issues.

The other thread began with G.K. Chesterton.

Part 4 is here.

  • By Therese Z, October 23, 2007 @ 9:39 am

    Jumped from Happy Catholic blog. This is RIVETING. Thanks for telling your story.

  • By karrde, October 23, 2007 @ 5:38 pm

    Your story is both challenging and pleasurable. Challenging, because it is a path I have not yet had to tread; pleasurable, because it is told with honesty and good humor.

    Out of curiousity, a few thoughts: I notice that you’ve used the Tiber as a symbol, rather than the Rubicon. My first thought upon reading this was, why isn’t this titled ‘Crossing the Rubicon’?

    Perhaps I’m linking unrelated things here–but the Rubicon was the entry into Rome, and its crossing was significant and irreversible. Your story is about a return to Rome, in the sense of the Roman Catholic church. And I suspect that the change you are telling of is significant, and not intended to be irreversible.

    However, crossing the Rubicon was a bellicose act. When Caeser crossed the Rubicon, he meant to effect a change after he crossed.

    Crossing the Tiber is different matter. It is still a well-defined transition from one bank to another. It is still a river that is important to Rome (and the Roman church). Yet it is not necessarily a warlike deed to cross the Tiber. While being a break with the past, it is not necessarily a break made in animosity or bellicosity.

  • By alicia, October 23, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

    interesting. I was a cradle Anglican (High Church) who entered the Roman church in 1973 – my transition was moved primarily by the historicity of it all. I will be looking forward to hearing the rest of the story.

    My story is partly told on my blog
    part one
    part two
    part three
    part four

  • By Will Duquette, October 23, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

    Karrde, “Crossing the Tiber” is a frequently used metaphor for leaving the Anglican Church and joining the Roman Catholic Church. I used it for that reason, although the title of this series, “Watching the Tiber Go By”, is meant to be somewhat more inspecific. However, your comment, “While being a break with the past, it is not necessarily a break made in animosity or bellicosity.” is exactly right–that’s exactly the tone I’m looking for. As for how significant/irreversible the change I’m writing about is, well, you’ll have to wait for the rest of the series.

  • By karrde, October 24, 2007 @ 6:29 am

    Thanks. (I guess I cannot hide my non-Anglican, non-Catholic background…)

    I’ve run into several cases of churches from more recent branches of American Protestant belief having disagreements with higher denominational authorities. Strangely, few of them seem to have the gravity of the “reassessors/reasserters” divide you saw at work.

    I’ll wait for the rest. Though I must say, once you mentioned Mr. Chesterton, I figured things would get very…interesting.

Other Links to this Post

  1. The View From The Foothills » Watching the Tiber Go By (Part 2) — October 25, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  2. The View From The Foothills » Watching the Tiber Go By (Part 4) — November 3, 2007 @ 9:55 pm

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