Responding to critics of the recent FiFNA changes, Bishop Ray Sutton wrote to David Virtue. Sutton said:
“The statement embracing all Seven Ecumenical Councils is to be understood within the historic, normative understanding of the Church of England and the Communion’s view of these councils. Yes the Anglican Way has emphasized the foundation of the first four councils but it has never completely rejected the rest. The sense in which the Ecumenical Councils have been received has perhaps been best summarized in C. B. Moss’s important work entitled, The Church of England and the Seventh Council. He explains, “It [the COE] accepts their [the Ecumenical Councils] decisions on matters of faith, matters necessary to salvation, that is to spiritual health and right understanding of the Gospel: not necessarily their anathemas (though it accepts the principle of anathema, Articles 18 and 33), nor their Canons, which may not be suitable for the very different conditions in which we live now. The Church of England and presumably all the other Anglican Churches accept these dogmas, freely and not under compulsion, because they believe that they are proved by Holy Scripture, and are necessary to the right understanding of it.” (p. 5) This summary I think makes clear that the COE and the Anglican Way have accepted the faith and morals of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, not necessarily the anathemas or the canons.”
A few remarks about Bishop Sutton’s commentary are in order. First, is his statement to Virtue the authoritative take from FiFNA about how to interpret their Declaration, or is it just his opinion of how the FiFNA Declaration should be interpreted, while others may interpret the Declaration differently?
Second, The FiFNA Declaration does not discern between “the faith and morals” or the “anathemas…or canons” of the Seven Councils, but Bishop Sutton does. The fact that FiFNA’s Declaration requires such exegesis should not inspire confidence in its perspicuity.
Third, with apologies to C.B. Moss, I prefer these source statements from the Anglican Way on the Councils, first, from The Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum:
14. What is to be thought about councils.
Although we freely grant great honour to the councils, and especially to the ecumenical ones, yet we judge that all of them must be placed far below the dignity of the canonical Scriptures, and even among the councils themselves we make a huge distinction. For some of them, such as the special four, Nicaea, the first of Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon, we embrace and accept with great reverence. And we make the same judgment with regard to many others which were held later on, in which we see and confess that the most holy fathers determined many things, in a most serious and holy manner, concerning the blessed and highest Trinity, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the redemption of mankind procured by him. But we do not regard them as binding on our faith except in so far as they can be proved out of the Holy Scriptures. For it is most obvious clear that some councils have occasionally erred, and defined things which are contrary to each other, partly in [our legal] actions and partly even in faith. Therefore the councils are to be studied with honour and Christian reverence, but at the same time they are to be tested against the godly, certain and right rule of the Scriptures.
Second, from Archbishop Wake in his answer to the Bishop of Meaux said:
(3.) Were the beneﬁts of images never so great, yet you know this is neither that which we dispute with you, nor for which they are set up in your churches. Your Trent Synod expressly deﬁnes that due veneration is to be paid to them. Your catechism says that they are to be had not only for instruction but for worship. And this is the point in controversy betwixt us. We retain pictures, and sometimes even images too in our churches for ornament, and (if there be such uses to be made of them) for all the other beneﬁts you have now been mentioning. Only we deny that any service is to be paid to them; or any solemn prayers to be made at their consecration, for any divine virtues, or indeed for any virtues at all, to proceed from them.”
I recognize that the issue is not simply images, relics or the like, but they are certainly brought into play when we affirm all Seven Councils.
Finally, I note that Bishop Sutton refers to, “the various streams of the Anglican Way”, something that is now de rigueur within ACNA, but really should be retired as theologically imprecise.