Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Start On Syncretism

My regular correspondent replied to yesterday's post:
When Msgr Steenson looked into the situation in his early days as Ordinary he realised that there would have to be changes at OLA, and when Fr Phillips got that message the membership application was withdrawn. Should Fr Phillips have been rejected as a candidate for the priesthood in the first place? Did he have innate personality flaws that should have been identified as inconsistent with that vocation? Or should his entrepreneurial energy have been more closely supervised and channeled, his membership in the archdiocesan family more closely cultivated?
As I began to imply yesterday, I think the problem goes beyond screening, and if you think about it, a bishop or auxiliary has much more to do with his time than micromanage a single Anglican Use pastor or parish, especially given the small size of most. I think the problem goes to whether the Pastoral Provision or Anglicanorum coetibus, or at least their implementations as we've seen them, was a good idea at all. The problem at root is what I would call syncretism.

But this means I'm going to have to be somewhat precise in explaining what I mean, because another visitor made my difficulty clear here:

I don’t get the reference to Syncretism at the end of your post today. Syncretism, with respect to religion, is the non-Christian belief that all religions are the same, and thus equal.
I answered, in part:
There are several accepted definitions of the related terms syncretism and indifferentism. I think when you speak of “the non-Christian belief that all religions are the same, and thus equal”, you actually mean what at least some Catholics would call indifferentism. See Wikipedia: “In the Catholic Church, the belief that one religion is as good as another, and that all religions are equally valid paths to salvation, is believed to be obviously false. . .” Some discussions of syncretism do in fact make it pretty much synonymous with indifferentism. But then, why have two terms that mean the same thing? Merriam-Webster calls syncretism “1 : the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” This clearly implies that the different forms of belief are not the same, so there is a difference between indifferentism and syncretism. However, syncretism in a Christian context always seems to imply a merging of denominational beliefs, usually to the detriment of one or both, especially Catholicism.
Fr Dwight Longenecker had some important points in his discussion of Billy Graham's life:
Billy Graham wanted to be all things to all men, but he ended up teaching the kind of indifferentism you find in C.S.Lewis’ Mere Christianity and which is the default setting of Protestant Evangelicals–that is an ecclesiology that is not ecclesiology. For them the church–any church–is a man made institution, open to the vagaries of history and culture–endlessly adaptable and values free. In other words, “It doesn’t matter what church you go to as long as you love Jesus.” While it enabled Billy Graham to throw the net wide, it is not a message that Catholics can promote.

. . . . From the downside we can learn that Catholic evangelization needs to be always linked strongly with catechesis and strong preaching with good content. In the early church the catechumens were instructed for years and had sponsors who walked with them as they learned how to follow Christ. If this is true, then just tossing people out to any old church won’t do. It especially won’t do in this day and age when so many of the churches that call themselves Christian simply do not hold to the historic Christian faith.

I think from these thoughts, syncretism and indifferentism are closely linked. Fr Longenecker argues that "mere Christianity" that tries to sell a generic product isn't enough, and it leaves open the risk that some wacky thing you heard in a UCC sermon (for instance, from someone like Jeremiah White) applies equally to Catholicism, and at that point, we transition into syncretism, for which the cure Fr Longenecker proposes is careful catechesis.

My other visitor from yesterday offered this in response to my concerns:

Note, also, that all of the communities that came into the ordinariates went through several months of intense formation and catechesis with Catholic priests from the local diocese or a religious order assigned to oversee their preparation while their former Anglican pastors were preparing for Catholic ordination. In many cases, this followed a couple years of studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the tutelage of their former Anglican pastors as part of their process of discerning whether to come into the Catholic Church as a community or not.
I would say that this is a remarkably optimistic view of the preparation OCSP priests and lay parishioners have had prior to reception. Very few, as far as I can see, studied the Catechism for "a couple years". Some, let's face it, were ordained Catholic priests after formation in Reformed seminaries, mediocre Protestant careers, and with only perfunctory review, almost certainly helped by endorsements from members of the OCSP in-group or the simple exigency of time. This ain't the same thing as formation from adolescence in the context of a family and parish, evaluation via parish priests and diocesan vocations directors, and years spent at a Catholic seminary, including field training.

For that matter, I don't believe that in practice, very many OCSP communities received "catechesis with Catholic priests from the local diocese or a religious order". I don't believe Catholics receiving confirmation or coming in via RCIA receive instruction from priests as a normal thing -- they have diocesan-certified catechists who conduct most of the sessions. I believe the catechesis OCSP groups receive, at least as of 2012, is the Evangelium program, which is remarkably superficial in comparison to RCIA or a parish confirmation class. I don't believe Evangelium participants receive copies of the Catechism, for instance, which my wife and I did receive in RCIA.

I can imagine someone making the argument that the Church recognizes that Anglicanism is so similar to Catholicism that Anglicans don't need thorough catechesis, it's already been done. Just for starters, this is a remarkably slapdash view of Anglicanism, which I've discussed many times here already. But even leaving that aside, recognize that the OCSP definition of "Anglicanism" casts a very wide net. Certainly a good proportion of OCSP laity arrived in sorta-kinda Anglican communities on a general ride on the denominational carousel and never received serious catechesis in any previous parish -- and to say that's OK, they got the basics as Methodists or Lutherans or Nazarenes or whatever is the indifferentism we're talking about here in the first place.

I'd be interested to hear from visitors what their experience was of catechesis prior to entering the OCSP as part of a parish or group.