Saturday, March 22, 2008

St. Nicholas of Japan and the Western Rite

St. Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to-the-Apostles

Most of those conversant with the history of Western Rite Orthodoxy know of the approach American Episcopalians made to St. Tikhon (Bellavin) near the turn of the 20th century, asking to join the Orthodox Church while retaining some form of their liturgy. Most, too, know of the communication the Non-Jurors had with Orthodox hierarchy in the early 18th century. However, few knew that St. Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to-the-Apostles, had also responded to what he believed to be an overture from an Anglican church for unity.

I read with interest article entitled "An Attempt at Unity in Japan" by the Rev. Charles Filkins Sweet, which he wrote in 1912 about events that took place in 1909. Sweet served as secretary of the Anglican and Eastern-Orthodox Churches Union in Japan, where he represented the Nippon Sei Ko Kwai (The Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan). St. Nicholas of Japan became its vice president, representing the Haristos Sei Kyo Kwai (The Orthodox Church in Japan). At a meeting of the union, all members present, including St. Nicholas, vowed to pursue church unity, and Sweet wrote up an essay outlining the "variations and differences" between the two churches.

...And in time, an answer came from the Orthodox. By Sweet's account, St. Nicholas' judgment was "based upon the notion that I and my fellows sought for terms in order to make corporate submission--which was by no means our purpose." [1] However, thinking a corporate reunion were being proposed, it is worth noting the Rejoinder's disposition and terms.

Sweet writes that he prepared a paper on the subject of ministry, because:
[F]rom many conversations with Abp. Nicolai (St. Nicholas of Japan - BJ.) I was aware that the objections he made towards Anglican teaching gathered around the sacramental system; and they were quite practical, relating not so much to to the language or meaning of the English Prayer Book as to the practical apprehension in daily life by Anglicans of the need of sacramental grace.

...It is astonishing to see that the sole reason advanced for not making this recognition [of the "validity" of Anglican orders...and it was not necessarily the "sole" one - BJ] is the fact that the English Church does not teach unqualifiedly that there are seven sacraments. (Emphases added.)
In other words, St. Nicholas of Japan did not see the Book of Common Prayer as utterly corrupt and incapable of (some) use in the Orthodox Church, but he insisted those who join the Church share Her faith.

This spirit can be seen in the Orthodox response to Rev. Sweet's paper. A portion of the "Rejoinder on the Part of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission to the Paper of Rev. Charles F. Sweet" is included, the section dealing with — wait for it — Ordination. The Rejoinder asks if Orthodox should "say that [Anglican ordination] is invalid because of its different wording? No; I believe that such a conclusion would not be free from blame as a hasty judgment." Instead, the Rejoinder examines both the Prayer Book ceremony (external form) and the Anglican doctrine of ministry expressed by the 39 Articles (doctrine, or intent). It noted, concerning the Prayer Book rite of ordination, "We do not find that according to this discussion upon the general subject that there is any reason to disapprove the Holy Orders of the Sei Ko Kwai from the point of the external aspect of anshurei [ordination], or as regards the outward ceremony, which is the first part of the fundamental or necessary property of Ordination."

The trouble, the Rejoinder stated, is Anglican doctrine:
[W]e cannot find any classifications of sacraments among all the 39 Articles, except the declaration to the effect that there are two sacraments. Consequently anshurei [ordination] is not called a sacrament. Therefore those who may wish to interpret this Article in the purely Protestant sense would have no difficulty in so doing. Until then we find enough reason for interpreting this article in the former [Orthodox] sense and not in the latter [Protestant], the 25th Article will be a cause, preventing us, the members of the Sei Kyo Kwai [Orthodox], from believing entirely in the Holy Orders of the Sei Ko Kwai [Anglicans].
The Rejoinder showed familiarity with the still-prevalent retort that the 39 Articles must be interpreted by the BCP, rather than vice-versa:
[S]ome theologians of the Sei Ko Kwai assert that we must try to find the true meaning of the 25th Article from the Book of Common Prayer. Yet on what ground ought we, even by putting all due emphasis on the Book of Common Prayer, to lower the value of the 39 Articles? We can find no reason for making light of the Articles.
The Rejoinder concluded on this point, "the Articles remain as an inviolable doctrinal book." Noting the contrast, St. Nicholas is quoted as saying, "Is it not the same as to establish Holy Orders with the right hand and destroy them with the left?"

Rather than heed his advice, the Anglican author Sweet decided to lecture the Orthodox saint on Orthodoxy:
[I]n the first six or seven centuries the Easterns made no attempts to number the sacraments, and there was no traditional teaching on the point, except that St. Theodore of the Studium, who died in the early part of the ninth century, held that Christ instituted six sacraments...It seems probable that the present list of Seven was taken over from the West to the East.
So, he ascribed the saint's profession of seven sacraments to the "Western captivity"! Like some overzealous Orthodox polemicists — who learn that historically the Orthodox Church did not limit sacramentality to "The Seven Sacraments," and thus insist the Orthodox Church rejects the teaching that there are seven historical sacraments/Mysteries of the Church — Rev. Sweet decided to prove he was more Orthodox than the Orthodox (and a saint, at that).

From the remainder of the article, it is clear St. Nicholas insisted any recognition of Anglican orders in a future reunion would be contingent upon their embracing "the whole faith of the Church." This would be the standard for some time. Eighteen years later, Met. ANTHONY (Khrapovitsky) of ROCOR wrote that Anglican clerics could be received "in existing orders"if they became Orthodox. (Lest any Anglicans rejoice, that was a different Anglican church — and Met. ANTHONY writes, by the same canons, the same treatment could be accorded to Nestorians.)

It is noteworthy that St. Nicholas of Japan, in his contemplation of what he believed to be an appeal for "corporate submission," did not utterly reject either the concept of a Western Rite nor one based upon some version of the Book of Common Prayer. He did not demand Western converts become Byzantine Orthodox. He did not breathe a word about returning to long-dead liturgical forms carbon-dated from 1054 A.D., nor encourage pet theories about liturgical development of the "old Sarum" this or "reconstructed Gallican" that. One sees not a hint of the supposed "two approaches" to the Western Rite in this saint's approach to, again, what he believed was an appeal for "corporate submission." By his response, it appears St. Nicholas of Japan encouraged the development of a Western Rite using some form of the BCP. He was undoubtedly aware of the recent 1904 Russian Observations Upon the American Prayer Book. It would be of great interest to see if rest of this Rejoinder, or additional correspondence, were available, and if he made any reference to the eventual shape of the liturgical life in a future Western Rite Orthodox Church in Japan.

In the end, this "attempt at unity" did not materialize for the same reason as the other examples mentioned above: the Anglicans could not bring themselves to believe in the Orthodox faith. At least in reflection Sweet recognized:
Anglican writers have pressed the objectivity of sacramental doctrine (e.g., that it has a "valid" priesthood - BJ) too hard, and have been dry and formal--even mechanical. Valid ordination alone does not make a Catholic Church. The life of the Catholic Church is something infinitely richer and more various than the Episcopate. We have fallen into the way of dealing with the doctrine of the ministry as if, in proving we have the episcopal succession we prove that we have all we need in order to be Catholics. This is pressing sacramental doctrine beyond all reason, and making the religion of Christ a mere system instead of a gospel.
Had his church taken St. Nicholas of Japan's plea to broaden and deepen its apprehension of the catholic faith, it may have ended up as the second Western Rite church in history.[2] But it appears the Western Rite as practiced in the Antiochian Orthodox Church and ROCOR may have yet another heavenly intercessor.

. Sweet's essay is somewhat contradictory on this point, as he notes at his initial meeting with St. Nicholas, the Nippon Sei Ko Kwai agreed "our final purpose was unity, and...we all believed it was possible, possible even then." However, it seems the Anglicans envisioned "intercommunion" rather than unity on Orthodox terms. They also undoubtedly wished to receive another endorsement of the "validity" of their orders, recently denied by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Apostolicae Curae.

2. The first was Rene Joseph Vilatte's short-lived submission to Russian Orthodox Bp. VLADIMIR (Sokolovsky-Avtonomov) in 1890-1. That Western Rite Orthodoxy was ever associated with such unstable individuals as Vilatte and, later, Arnold Harris Matthews (and that both would apostasize shortly after their plea for "unity") is greatly to be lamented.

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Blogger Louisville Bipolar Network said...

This is an edifying discourse. Of course, the Prayer Book holds to 2 sacramental theology, but like Orthodoxy many many many Anglicans do not sharply differentiate between SACRAMENT and SACRAMENTAL-- both are outward and external signs of God's invisible grace-- the outer limits of grace (and nothing in God's world is totally apart from that quality) is totally devoid of the sacramental.

On the level of perfect love-- the communion of saints which is Godly for Jahweh and humankind-- there is more affinity between (unfallen) Christianity in both the Eastern and the English-Church traditions. In the end, since God Who is Love governs all epiphanies, in our inexorable Theocracy of God's Kingdom, God can make "the stones to cry out" sacramentally (Luke19:40.) Thus I incline to wonder whether Theos is more inclined to heed the letter than the spirit in this matter (2 Corinthians 3:6) and as Love covereth all blemishes (compare Proverbs 3:6), I would like this Love to speak first on these matters. I can do no better. There are God-loving people in both Orthodoxy and Anglicanism.

--Vernon Lynn Stephens, Culdee

6:56 PM  

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