SUBJECT: RELIGION & HISTORY!!!
On this blog and on others, many thoughts concerning the current crises in the CEC have been expressed. Some of these thoughts and concerns have to do with actions of particular persons in the CEC -- and those comments are beyond the scope of this posting. What I do want to express are some thoughts about the Reformation and the Council of Trent which may be of value to those in the CEC who earnestly desire reform in that body.
Many historians and theologians will argue (including many Lutherans) that the original causes of the Reformation were not doctrinal in nature, but rather disciplinary. Many of the criticisms made by Luther were valid -- and were eventually taken up by the Catholic Reformers at the Council of Trent.
It occurs to me that, following the old dictum that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, those persons of good will remaining in the CEC -- and there are many -- might take note at some of the specific disciplinary questions raised by the Reformers and addressed at the Council of Trent.
1) Seminary Training: It has been a major complaint by many in the CEC that the training, education, and spiritual formation of the clergy has been lacking. (From my own experience over 11 years, I have to say that I agree.) The Catholic Church in the Late Middle Ages experienced the same problem. In BOTH cases -- the CEC AND the late medieval Church -- this has not always been due to deliberate neglect.
The CEC has received many good and godly men from other religious entities -- some already with churches -- but with widely varying levels of education, training, and spiritual formation. This has led to confusion as to what the CEC actually does and does not teach and believe -- and to wide disparities between dioceses.
The late medieval Church, reeling from the Black Death, in which a significant percentage of the population of Europe died, faced an extreme shortage of clergy (due to the fact that since the clergy and religious were attending the sick and dying, their own mortality rate was exceptionally high). As a result, to fill the gaps, many people were rushed through the ordination process with only a fraction of the necessary formation needed to be good priests and religious.
(I must say that in both the CEC and in the late medieval Church, there have also been cases of gross neglect and corruption -- but that is not the topic of this post.)
The Council of Trent recognized that the Reformers had a valid point with regard to issues like the proper training of clergy. Thus, the Council mandated that seminaries be erected in the various dioceses of the Church to correct this fault. If the CEC truly wishes reform in this area, they need to follow suit with strong programs of academic, pastoral, and spiritual formation. All three are necessary.
2) Regular visitations by bishops: This was a major problem in the medieval Catholic Church. Visitations by bishops were, in many places very rare (especially among the smaller, poorer, and more rural churches.) As a result, the faithful were neglected by their spiritual shephards -- and corrupt priests were not held to proper account.
The CEC has had -- in some dioceses -- similar breakdowns. I know of one CEC parish which, in four years, never received a single visitation, while a larger, wealthier parish in the same state was visited several times a year. I know of another CEC church (in a different diocese) who had not received a visitation in at least that long -- and whenever there were candidates for confirmation, the candidates had to travel hours to the cathedral. I know of another CEC priest in yet another diocese, who had not received an official communication from his bishop -- in a decade. No wonder that many in the CEC feel isolated -- and that, in certain cases, corruption has been allowed to continue.
The Council of Trent mandated regular visitations by bishops -- and this was in a day and age where travel was not as easy as it is today! This would be a reform that the CEC could easily -- and should immediately -- implement.
3) Nepotism: Nepotism was a serious problem in the medieval Church. Church offices were routinely given out to close relatives of bishops and other senior Church officials. (Some of these also involved sins against chastity -- but that is not the topic of this post.) Favors were granted to, how shall we say, friends who had friends, etc.
WHETHER REAL OR NOT, the PERCEPTION of nepotism has been rife in some parts of the CEC. This has been an issue, frankly, from Day One. It has not been an issue everywhere -- but the accusations have been made -- and at least some of those accusations give the appearance of having merit.
FULL DISCLOSURE!!! I was a priest in the CEC; my father was a bishop in the CEC. I entered the CEC 9 months prior to my father; I was ordained deacon prior to my father's consecration as bishop. We never served in the same diocese together. By specific permission, my father was given the authority to ordain me priest, by my own bishop at the time, Bp. Ken Myers -- permission for which we were both grateful. But I never served in my father's diocese and can count on one hand the number of times I was invited to preach or concelebrate in his cathedral.
I make this statement so that no one can say that I am trying to talk out of both sides of my mouth!
The Council of Trent strongly condemned nepotism. While such was never completely eliminated, the extent of the problem was greatly curtailed.
This, too, would be a relatively easy reform for the CEC to make -- and one which, I believe, should be made. Reasonable provisions (re: Bp. Myers' generosity to myself and my father) should be permitted, but regulated by Canon. "Automatic" inheritance of office or authority should be strongly discouraged.
4) Uniformity of Liturgy: One of the biggest problems in the late medieval Church was a lack of uniformity in liturgy. This lack of uniformity existed not just from country to country, but frequently between city to city as well. The upshot was that it became difficult to discern what the Prayer of the Church; the Work of the People; actually was.
This has been a significant problem in the CEC from Day One. The preferred text was the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer -- with several other texts which "could" be authorized by bishops. This was problematic for those (like myself) who honestly believed that the 1979 BCP (and almost ANY Anglican formulary) was insufficient at best (and quite possibly invalid) AND for those who found themselves worshiping in different CEC churches in different parts of the country. In many cases, there is not even a uniformity within the CEC as it concerns the Nicene Creed.
The Council of Trent mandated a unified liturgy for the Church. (Minor exceptions were allowed for certain religious orders -- but that is beyond the scope of this post.) This proved to be an incredible unifying factor for the Catholic Church.
Frankly, after more than 14 years of existence, the CEC needs to do the same. If they choose to use the 1979 BCP -- they need to realize that they will lose people -- not only over doctrinal issues, but also over any apparent connection (real or imagined) with the Episcopal Church. Frankly, the same would be true of any other existing rite. What the CEC needs to do is to draft its own Communion-wide (or at least, North American-wide) liturgy, using the best resources from the best scholarship the CEC can muster, to come up with an authentic liturgy which represents the best of Three-Streams worship -- AND the best of the available theological acumen. The model liturgy prepared by the Eastern Province would be a good starting point.
Anyhow, these are just a few suggestions; a few areas in which those in the CEC who wish to learn from history might propose.