In the most recent First Things, a collection of the best of the best from The Public Square section of the journal by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, may his memory be eternal, was published.

The lead article was a piece from 1997 entitled “The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy,” in which Fr. Neuhaus put forward the thesis that, where orthodoxy is optional, it will soon be proscribed.

That is to say, the moment we tell people that truth is a matter of what one believes in his heart of hearts, not the faith handed down from the Apostles with the sure safeguard of Apostolic Succession, it will only be a matter of time until what was in the early stage a tolerated opinion becomes an orthodoxy of its own.

In fact, Doug Wilson himself has acknowledged this principle in his analysis of conservative politics in America. The conservative Christian position used to be A. Then people came along questioning A, and next thing you know people were arguing for B and C. It then became the conservative position to argue for B, only a troglodyte would argue for A, after all. And so on and so on until the conservative position is barely defending K.

Nowhere is this clearer than in liberal Christianity’s positions on sexuality. First a little creeping liberalism lets in some ambiguity on contraception. Next thing you know, it’s become a sin of the highest order to question sexual perversion of any kind.

But Fr. Neuhaus takes it this basic idea to an interesting place toward the end of the article, addressing Anglo-Catholicism.

When the liturgical and moral underpinnings of the English Christian community began to slip, it became fashionable to think that liberalism should be tolerated along with the traditional Anglican faith.

Fast forward a bit and we find the traditional Anglicans fighting for their right to practice the old orthodoxy. All of a sudden the liberals are in charge and enforcing their new orthodoxy of tolerance and the traditional Anglicans are being labeled bigots who should not be tolerated.

What’s more, once this shift took place, the traditionalists retreated to the ideology of liberalism to defend their existence. That is, the traditionalists must be tolerated because, as the liberals are always saying, everyone just needs to be open minded.

It now becomes clear what the traditionalist agenda truly is. It is not the protection of orthodoxy, if it were they would be decrying the liberals, not co-opting their ideology. Rather, their concern is the protection of the liturgical and aesthetic tradition they find most appealing. The former defenders of orthodoxy are revealed as mere defenders of finery.

Fr. Neuhaus cites Cardinal Manning, who says:

“Ritualism is private judgment in gorgeous raiment, wrought about with divers colors…every fringe in an elaborate cope worn without authority is only a distinct and separate act of private judgment; the more elaborate, the less Catholic; the nearer the imitation, the further from the submission of faith.” (emphasis mine)

What Cardinal Manning means is that when the traditionalist Anglicans choose traditional Anglicanism over modern forms of Anglicanism, they are doing so, not out of a devotion and submission to the ancient Catholic faith, but because they like their brand the best and will settle for it being one approved brand of worship amongst many. It is the individual choosing his own religion, pure and simple.

Which brings us to the CREC and my longest-standing criticism of it. It is, in one sense an admirable movement, seeking out the early practices of the Church and attempting to reclaim them, no matter how much modern evangelicalism may recoil.

But, just like Anglo-Catholicism, all the robes and crossing and kneeling and raising of hands are so many acts of private judgment. The better the imitation, the worse the private judgment and the further from true Catholicism.

Why is it worse? Because, just like Anglo-Catholicism, they are picking and choosing the bits of the faith they like or, to have it in protestant terms, “find in the Scriptures,” rather than submitting themselves to the actual authority of the Church founded by Our Lord and handed down by His Apostles and their successors.

Private judgment to the core, and worse for its finery. More are lead astray by the appearance of true connection to history. More are lead astray by the appearance of true Apostolic authority.

The current fate of traditional Anglicanism is two-fold. They are either marginalized to complete irrelevance while holding fast to their private judgment, or they are eschewing their individualism and joining ranks with the Churches that actually have a tradition to which one can submit, Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Such must be the fate of the CREC, and may God hasten the day.

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