private judgment

I happened upon Joseph Patterson’s site (“Mind in the Heart“) some time ago. Several (most) of the things he’s written have struck a resonant chord with me. I found this article to be quite “nail-on-the-head”ish. He’s not taking comments at his site and so I’ll comment here. I suggest that the conundrum is whether one abdicates one’s position to fight for Truth in the trenches (i.e., remain an Anglican), or whether one yield and withdraw in the acknowledgment of–not defeat–but that there will never be a positive outcome. All the history of the early Church suggests that to give up hope on the Church being rectified is a sin. However, then we get into the quandry of whether or not Anglicanism is in fact part of the Church. In other words, even if the Anglican Communion were restored to right belief, could it be part of the Church? This begs the age old question: Is the Branch Theory of the Church valid?

Private judgment takes on different forms. The broadest use of private judgment is when people make choices that they are to take responsibility for. This form of private judgment seems unavoidable because human beings are given choices that they must decide on. Private judgment can also be related to the “me and my Bible” approach to reading Holy Scripture. This is when a person just sits down and reads his Bible and asks, “what does this passage mean to me?” A more sophisticated form of this approach is when a person reads his Bible with a commentary or two and comes to his own conclusions of what the given Bible passage means. So the meaning of the Bible is his opinion of what the Bible says. This is the approach of many Protestant and cult groups like the Jehovah Witnesses.

I thought that I avoided this “Bible and me” approach as an Anglican priest. I did not rely on my private judgment, but on Holy Scripture as the tradition of the Church throughout the ages had interpreted it. But one day I came across the journey of Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware and my eyes were opened that my theology was dependent on me and not the Church. I had actually not escaped the “me and my Bible” approach. Here is the quotation from Bp. Ware that God used to allow me to see one of the major Anglican problems.

“Many Bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of that? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. The Calvinist Ussher is an Anglican no less than the bishops (whom you quote) who hold quite Orthodox language. We may and do sympathize with the individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathize with a Church … which gives Communion to those who declare the Bread and Wine of the High Sacrifice to be mere bread and wine, as well as to those who declare it to be the Body and Blood of Christ. This for an example — and I could find hundreds more — but I go further. Suppose an impossibility — suppose all the Anglicans to be quite Orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained is a Protestant one; a simple logical act of the understanding… Were you to find all the truth, you would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain — the assurance of truth. Birkbeck, Russia and the English Church, 70-71 (italics in the original).

There is much in this quotation but I came to see that many of the beliefs that I held as an Anglican which I shared with the Orthodox were just a matter of my own private opinion and were not the beliefs of the Anglican Church. My theology (dogma) was just one opinion among the many in Anglicanism. Then it hit me that the parishioners under my care were not hearing Anglican theology but just my opinion of what Anglican theology should be. The parishioners sitting under my teaching were building their salvation on mere opinions. I knew that I should not build a parish on mere opinion but on what the church teaches, but the Anglican Church does not teach what I was teaching but only allowed it amongst other contradictory theologies. The only way I saw that this dilemma could be fixed is to convert to the Orthodox Church where my theology would be what the Church believes and not just one theological opinion among many. There is also the problem of Anglican theology’s ability to bind the conscience which I will talk about on another post. To make a long story very short, I brought this reason to the vestry (parish council) but it was not a good enough reason for them to start considering Orthodoxy, so I resigned as their priest and my family and I started to look toward the Orthodox Church.

If one wants to read about the different contradictory theological schools in Anglicanism then I recommend The Panther and the Hind by Aidan Nichols.

The origin of this article is here.

[After posting this The Pontificator, Fr. Alvin Kimel, wrote me the following: “It has been brought to my attention that the quotation is not from Kallistos Ware but from Alexei Khomiakov:]”


5 Responses to “private judgment”

  1. jwp3d Says:

    I post on “mind in the heart”. Thank you for the interest in my post. You are welcome to email me at God Bless!

  2. dpc+ Says:

    Thank you for visiting me as well! You are “Joseph” right?

    I’ve looked at your site for some time now and have appreciated the things you’ve written about and commented on. Today was the first time that I felt compelled to write. Obviously your remarks about private judgment resonated with me! I tried to respond at your website but it said that comments were turned off. Thus the piracy of your article. I did link back to your site so I hope you’re not too upset with me.

    I’m in the throes of EXACTLY what you’ve described. Thank you for stating it so succinctly.

    I’d love to hear more of your journey home.

    Off to my next meeting,
    PS: the email address you’ve left doesn’t seem to want to cooperate for me… tried twice now.

  3. Fr Alvin Kimel Says:

    The question of private judgment was decisive in my decision to leave the Episcopal Church. No one has analyzed the matter better, particularly with reference to Anglicanism, than John Henry Newman. I especially recommend:

    Private Judgment

    Faith and Private Judgment

    Anglican Difficulties

    I also recommend the reflections of my friend Michael Liccione on this topic.

  4. dpc+ Says:

    Dear Fr. Alvin,
    First, thank you for visiting and I’m honored that you’d leave a comment. Yes! You’ve discussed this topic at great length and I’ve appreciated all that you’ve contributed. I believe it to be one of the hinges on which swings the door of ecclesiology. My concerns for the heterodox and the heretics has been located in this question all along.
    “Who’s in charge?” “According to whom?” and “what does this mean for what one shall believe?”
    I ran across Prof. Pelikan’s statement recently of how he felt like a pilot for so long, circling the landing field, over and over, looking for a place to land. Very apropos. And so I appreciate you’re leadership and manner of discernment in this as well.

  5. Fr Alvin Kimel Says:

    It has been brought to my attention that the quotation is not from Kallistos Ware but from Alexei Khomiakov:

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