Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mental health and Christian compassion.

When I was taking a course on Confession and Absolution, one of the texts I used as an ancillary to the official text was the Reverend Francis George Belton's 1916 A Manual for Confessors. Within this fine book was an extended discussion of the "treatments" that flowed from the work of Sigmund Freud (all the rage up until the 1950s). The coverage of Freud was excellent, and prescient--Belton insisted that the Christian priest not succumb to the theories of Freud, for they lacked any objective evidence behind them. This is one of my favorite quotes from Father Belton: "Any system of body or mind healing should be based upon sound scientific principles. The issues at stake are too grave to admit of loose empirical treatment."

Why I am addressing this? Because, lamentably, I continue to find priests and professors still enthralled by the idiotic notions of Sigmund Freud. Even those who now willingly admit that his system has no scientific merit will still say "He was a great thinker!" or (even worse) "He may have been writing fiction, but it was a fiction that spoke great truths!" The trouble is, Freud told his readers, and his patients, that he was speaking truth and fact, not mere rhetoric or fiction. And, in truth, study after study has shown his system of "treatment" to be, at its very best, completely useless. At its worst, when it was applied to people suffering from conditions like autism, it made people worse and ruined lives.

Nowadays the threat may still come from the quackery of Freud, but it may also come from New Age gurus or other fad therapies. When Christian clergy counsel people with behavioral or mental problems, and when they choose to refer people to mental or behavioral health professionals let us keep in mind the words of Father Belton: "The issues at stake are too grave to admit of loose empirical treatment."

Monday, May 14, 2007

What's in a name?

This may be completely inconsequential, but as a traditionalist Anglican priest I always take notice of what conservative Anglicans/Episcopalians call themselves. Our parish is within the Reformed Episcopal Church, but we do not label ourselves primarily as "Reformed Episcopalians," because we've taken note that very few people know what this means--are they Calvinist Episcopalians? Not really, since the Prayer Book and the Articles are not Calvinist, but patristic, Augustinian, and broadly protestant, but by no means Calvinist (indeed, many of the Calvinists of generations past claimed the Anglican Articles did not go far enough and wished to throw them overboard! It is ironic that in the past history of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States the Articles were "rewritten" a strongly Arminian manner, while the Free Church of England essentially left them alone). Also, we are in full-communion with the Anglican Province of America and the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and in federation with the Anglican Church in America and the Anglican Mission in America. Our primary bond of unity is found in our common history as Anglicans; the designation of "Reformed Episcopal" is a jurisdictional title. Therefore, the moniker of our parish is "St. Andrew's Anglican Church, a Reformed Episcopal parish." Most classical Anglican parishes do something similar, using the word Anglican as the primary designation with a later description that informs the reader of the jurisdictional link. The word "Anglican" in use in the United States has become a bit of a code word for "conservative" or "traditional" Episcopalian, something that seems to make the mainline body quite angry--they're not real Anglicans, they often say, but counterfeits!

I've noticed that several parishes in the Anglican Province of Christ the King do something similar to what I mentioned above in regards to my own parish--"All Saints Anglican Church, a traditional Episcopal parish of the Province of Christ the King." The Episcopal heritage of the Church in the United States is something that traditionalists sometimes use to demonstrate that we really are Episcopalians, just as much as the "official" and now heterodox body. We have bishops, and we have the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. I've seen the title "Anglican Episcopal" used as well to describe parishes in several jurisdictions. Although we lack communion with the See of Canterbury, we lay claim to the heritage and doctrine of the Catholic Faith as expressed in the Anglican Way via the classical Prayer Books (1549-1928), the Ordinal, and the Articles of Religion. I've noticed that some parishes in the United Episcopal Church and the Reformed Episcopal Church are even bold enough to simply call themselves "Episcopalian" without an "Anglican" qualifier: "St Paul's Episcopal Church, a parish of the. . ." How this must upset the mainliners.

Ah, but what is in a name? I prefer the term Anglican myself. If someone doesn't know what I mean when I say "Anglican" I may fall back on something like "traditional Episcopalian." Yes, we have bishops, but is that enough? The mainline church put all of their stock in the office of bishop, but those bishops turned out to be wolves, not shepherds of the flock. They cast aside the Prayer Book and the Articles, cast aside Catholic order, and cast aside the heritage of the Anglican Church. In the end, all they had was the title "Episcopalian," but that is not enough to be Anglican--it may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. As we continue as "Continuing" or classical Anglicans, let us be mindful that what makes us Anglicans is not just episcopal polity, but the faith of the primitive Catholic Church as expressed in our liturgies and the Creeds.