Radical Orthodoxy: A Messy Theology (or why I won’t go Anglican)

I am hesitant to critique Radical Orthodoxy (hereafter RO) because much of the criticisms of RO are *$%&!!.  But first some words on what RO isn’t.  It isn’t a denomination or church confession.   It isn’t definitionally related to Anglicanism, Catholicism, or Orthodoxy, though it may at times cross with them.

A working definition of RO is:  a theological movement that has seen the inadequacies of modernity and sociology and believes the alternative is in the Patristics and Medievals.  However, they do not believe one should blindly drop Medievalism onto the modern scene (I would).

Much of the recent criticisms of RO are from a bunch of tenured modernists who know that RO is cool and they aren’t and decided it’s time to get back at them.

My criticism (if you can call it that) will be more reserved.  First of all, political.  John Milbank has given us a damning critique of the modern project.  Theology and Social Theory, to the degree that it is coherent, delivers the death-knell to secularism (and to rebut one Protestant thinker, Milbank understands that the word secular changed.  He is using it in the current sense because 99.99% of the uses of the word “secular” are used that way.  Yawn).  In other words, the Liberal Democratic tradition (call it republic, democracy, constitutionalism, whatever.  Despite the so-called differences, they all spring from the same fountain–or sewer, as the case may be). Well, granted the failure of liberal democracy, should we not then opt for an autocratic sacerdotal monarchy?  At this point the British RO fellows, being good, respectable academes, demur.  They demur because sacerdotal monarchy (or sacerdotal anything) is incomprehensible to the gnostic sociological and academic way of thinking.

But I think it is more.  Sacerdotal monarchy is utterly medieval.  It is “nothing holding you back medieval.”  They know, quite rightly if not consistently, that medievalism is out of bounds with egalitarianism.  And at this they demur. There are two options in political life:  monarchy or oligarchy.  I am talking long-term and realize there are temporary exceptions and they are just that:  temporary.

Second Problem: Incoherent theology

I need to play fair.  Discussing the variant Platonisms is difficult.  And perhaps Hankey’s rant on RO might have some substance (a point I conceded in a blog debate on RO this summer; not that anybody was listening).  At the same time, these people use a level of discourse unintelligble to most of humanity.  Again, anything of substance is unintelligible to the American TV watcher, but I think the RO people are just showing off their erudition.

Third Problem: Tie up the loose ends

This last reason also illustrates why i don’t see myself going Anglican.   And this is the hardest reason to flesh out.  And this just reflects me.  I am not making it normative for anyone else.  For all the good stuff these guys (and others) said on the medievals, I couldn’t make the historical and visible connection between the ancient heritage and my own heritage.


7 Responses to “Radical Orthodoxy: A Messy Theology (or why I won’t go Anglican)”

  1. The Ecclesiastical Hipster Says:

    Re: Anglicanism — claims to apostolic succession are important, but if you actually break from the apostolic faith, it’s merely mechanical; in other words, claims of apostolic succession aren’t any good (or really, necessary) if you don’t stick with the same theological framework as the bishop before you, and before him, and before him, etc. It’s more about the transmission of the faith than about the act of ordination, which is not to denigrate the act of ordination.

  2. Exactly. Apostolic Succession is about one Spiritual Father faithfully handing down the Faith to another, without mixture of error. Holy Orders or Ordination or whatever you call it is just part of the equation.

    Nestorious was ordained in Apostolic Succession, after all.

  3. Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed their ministry.

    St Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians (AD 80 or so)

  4. tesla1389 Says:

    Those are good points, y’all. My biggest stumbling block with modern Protestantism (and the reason why I originally considered Anglicanism) is that when I say the Nicene Creed, the phrase “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” really bothered me. I could square with the idea of holy, and Protestants are pretty good in saying that “c”atholic doesn’t mean “Roman Catholic,” but what do we do with apostolic?

    But, as noted, Rowan Williams probably isn’t following the early church on this one. It is hard to see St Irenaues having “dialogue” on homosexuality.

  5. Catholic also doesn’t mean what Protestants say it means. 🙂 I would know, as a chief offender of this for years.

    Apostolic is usually made to mean only in belief (as in, we teach what the Apostles did), but this causes a problem when a 2000 year old Church says “this is what the Apostles have always taught” and someone comes along with new ideas that don’t fit in.


  6. “Protestant” often doesn’t mean what Catholics say it means, too.

  7. “Protestant” often doesn’t mean what Catholics say it means, too.

    Protestant transcends definition, because it is constantly shifting with the wind.

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