Updated: Feb 15
The Road to St. Louis
Part 1. Crossing The Line
One of the first controversies to develop within the American Episcopal church after the second world war was its increasing involvement with both national and international church organizations such as the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). 1 Such organizations were originally created with the intention of bringing together Protestant denominations so as to pool their resources, facilitate more effective evangelization, and to address what were perceived to be various social problems. “However, almost from their institutional formation, these organizations quickly became associated with the kind of political ideology and activism that many traditionalist churchmen interpreted as transgressing the symbolic line that appropriately separated the spheres of church and state”.2
In subsequent years, church councils issued statements that further widened the division between these organizations and more traditionalist churches. They became increasingly politically involved. For example, in 1952, the NCC expressed their disapproval of universal training and service for young men. “In 1953 the NCC published the first of a six-volume study on the problems of American economic policy.” 3
W. Norman Pittenger (1905-1997)
Beginning in the 1950s, a new theology began to affect the curriculum of the church's seminaries and thereby “the theological worldview of scores of priests and bishops”4 who would be immersed with these new ideas. In 1951 a volume appeared in the Episcopal Church’s ‘Teaching Series’ entitled The Faith of the Church. The Teaching Series was published to present the faith and doctrine of the church in a simple way so that it could be understood by the average layperson. Its authors were W Norman Pittenger and James Albert Pike, two individuals who would play a key role in altering the theological thought of many Anglicans.
Pittenger certainly appeared to be orthodox in his work for the teaching series, but his theological work was akin to that of ‘Process theology.’ Process theology can best be interpreted as understanding a God who is intimately united to the world and therefore is always in the process of changing along with the world. For traditionalists, the problem here is that a god of this nature “doesn’t really create the universe,”5 and doesn’t “know the final result of history.”6 For some critics this kind of theology was a form of pantheism designed for a Christian audience.
Part 2. The Pike Affair
James Albert Pike (1913-1969)
Pittenger’s co-author on The Faith of the Church was Fr. James Albert Pike, who would become probably the “most visible and controversial symbol of what many churchmen considered to be the theological and doctrinal decline”7 of Anglicanism. James Pike was raised as a Roman Catholic, but became an agnostic while in college. Educated as a lawyer, he found himself drawn to the Episcopal Church during World War II. Ordained in 1946, Pike quickly established himself as the leading radical voice and the person who openly called for the Church to be involved in social projects, including the eradication of racial and social injustices. Pike often used his pulpit to “attack organized religion for its racial and political views.” 8
What drew the consternation of so many traditionalists, however, was his personal behaviour and open advocacy of reformulating church doctrine. After becoming bishop, Pike began regularly to put into question the core of Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
For example, in 1964 he suggested that the doctrine of the Trinity was simply not necessary, that it was confusing and certainly not part of the original teachings of the early church. Another example of Pike’s radical thinking was that during his time as Bishop of San Francisco, at Grace Cathedral, he put in amongst his stain-glassed window panels a place of honour for not only the saints, but also “John Glenn the astronaut.” 9
The House of Bishops (HOB) responded by issuing a warning to clergy to be cautious when talking about doctrinal issues in public. With a desire to push the envelope a little further, in 1965 Bishop Pike ordained a woman to the diaconate before the Episcopal Church made it a legal practice. He commented on the Eucharist in his sermon stating that “the problem is not the real presence, but the real absence...God is here right now apart from doing anything at that table." 10
According to Robert Pritchard, author of A History of the Episcopal Church, Pike states in his book, Time For Christian Candor, that the Trinity is ‘excess luggage.’ At the same time Pike was calling for liberalized laws regarding homosexuality and abortion. Such views mirrored Pike’s own personal life. According to William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne’s biography of Pike, there were many encounters with the police over public drunkenness. Their book also portrayed his “youthful experimentations with homosexuality and his three marriages that were peppered with frequent extra-marital affairs.”11
Pike came under greater scrutiny when he “stunned Episcopalians by announcing that he would resign his see to join the socialist-oriented Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions as a ‘scholar-teacher.’” 12 The House of Bishops quickly accepted his resignation, though he would still have a voice and seat in the House of Bishops. According to the publication, The Christian Challenge, Pike, in a parting gesture, proclaimed in his final sermon, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, that the idea of an “‘all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God had never existed.’”13
Following up on their earlier tepid response to Bishop Pike, the House of Bishops, perhaps fearing negative reactions from the more influential members of the ecclesiastical and social hierarchy, or desiring not to have a lengthy heresy trial due to vacancies on the court, or simply just recognizing “Pike’s delight at the publicity,”14 did not formally charge him, choosing instead to censure him.
For some, Bishop Pike was a heretic, but for others, he was an individual who was years ahead of his time. The radical thinkers within the church view his legacy as one who presented a more progressive and inclusive church, which was not afraid of asking the difficult questions, and was “open to free inquiry.”15 Bishop Pike has influenced many who see the theological question as being “more important than the answer,”16 and the spiritual journey as being “more important than the discovery.”17
In 1967, he resigned from the Episcopal Church, and then began a series of esoteric adventures in the hope of contacting his deceased son, who had committed suicide in a New York hotel the previous year. Pike began advocating paranormal investigations, looking for comfort from the many mediums he encountered. In 1969, Pike founded, with his third wife Diane, the ‘Foundation of Religious Transition’, which focused on people who like himself had difficulties due to “their demythologizing approach to Christian belief and practice.” 18 They also worked together on the book, “The Other Side: An Account of My Experience with Psychic Phenomena.” 19 The book recounted Bishop Pike's efforts to make contact with the spirit of his son.
On September 7th, 1969, while on his honeymoon to the Holy Land to investigate the unknown life of Jesus, “Pike, then 56, became lost in the desert during an afternoon drive. His wife went for help but Pike was found dead by a search party”20 at “Wadi Duraja.”21
The significance of James Albert Pike cannot be underestimated. In many ways, he was the catalyst for radical change in the church. No matter what can be said about him, positive or negative, he has had a “lasting influence on contemporary theology and society"22 The House of Bishops quickly accepted his resignation, though he would still have a voice and seat in the House of Bishops. According to the publication,
He envisioned an undivided church, willing to converse and be open to an uncharted theological journey, unafraid to take on all matters of injustice. Radical and Traditionalist alike can agree that Bishop James Pike did his part to “prepare the way for the church in the new millennium.”23
In his own way, however, Pike also helped in the awakening of traditionalist Anglican thought; which would become an effective counter-point to radical or modernist theology during the 1970’s and beyond. Unlike Pike and others who may have shared in the same theological outlook, traditionalists did not identify themselves with current political associations and causes, but set themselves apart from temporal partisan issues. The role of the Church was not to take sides, but to bring everyone to Christ. Traditionalists did not identify God in a pantheistic sort of way, but regarded God as the Creator who is aware of everything, including the final results of history. Traditionalists sought to turn to Jesus Christ through Scripture, Reason and Tradition to better understand the mysteries of life.
Part 3. Traditionalist Groups Emerge
Beginning in the 1960’s, dissenting voices became stronger within the Anglican Communion as “Modernist Theology,” 24 which confronted tradition, began to take hold within the Church. This theology took the view that religious experience was more or less an inward encounter and deeply personal. More aptly described as ‘Anti-Traditional theology,’ this thinking broke down barriers without concern for the Churches historical Deposit of Faith.
“The 1960’s were, in the estimation traditionalists, a time of questionable political activism and lax doctrinal discipline among the leadership of the PECUSA.” 25 Church leadership became involved in protesting the War in Vietnam, weakening the language on abortion and homosexuality and liberalizing canon law especially regarding the remarriage of divorced persons. It is out of this context that the ‘Death of God’ movement began through the writings of several prominent ‘Anti-Traditional’ theologians. 26
The Anglican Communion and its predecessor the Church of England (C of E) once took great pride in their ability to attract both evangelical and catholic Christians and bring them together with sound doctrine as taught through the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). However, this “bridge church” 27 was under siege from within by Anti-Traditional thinking.
From the 1960’s onward, it was not the secular world which would influence the Church, but the Church which would take in secularist ideas in an empty attempt to entice more adherents. During this time, opposition to the radical change began to grow. Traditionalists were ready to enter the debate and began to work toward a positive orthodox response.
It was also at this point that the first wave of modern schismatic, or Continuing, Episcopal churches were formed with the establishment of “the Anglican Orthodox Church (led by Bishop James Dees) and the second being the American Episcopal Church (led not initially but ultimately by Bishop Anthony Clavier).” 28 Though unorganized in the beginning, opposition amongst the traditionalists grew along a broad spectrum on issues such as the “ordination of women, the “social gospel”, liturgical revision, and denial of basic doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, and the Resurrection.”29
Traditionalists perceived the Church to be moving in a direction which adopted “secularist thought and principles” 30 and introduced “a number of innovations” 31 such as liturgical reform, the push toward women’s ordination, and the aforementioned controversial positions regarding social and political reform. They could only reason that the desire for such change was an attempt to bring more people into the Episcopal Church.
Traditionalists were by no means unified in their interpretation of what the word ‘traditional’ meant in its Anglican context. Amongst the traditionalists was what Anglicans referred to as Low, Broad and High Church parties.
The ‘Low-Church’ people considered them selves somewhat orthodox, that is catholic with a small ‘c’, and, for the most part, were low-church in their theology, assuming that “authentic Episcopalian doctrine was essentially Protestant in nature.”32 ‘Low-Church’ Anglicans considered the Bible sufficient for the creation of doctrine. They also had a symbolic understanding of Eucharist and a low view of Episcopal authority. This was best expressed in their style of worship which emphasized the liturgy of the Word and Preaching.
The ‘Broad-Church’ people tolerated the teaching and practices of the High-Church Continuers as long as these practices were contained only at the local parish level and not imposed on the larger church. They shared the ‘Low-Church’ opinion that their church should be more protestant than catholic in its nature. On the other hand, the ‘High-Church’ people believed that the Church was in need of “a major overhaul in the direction of "ancient Catholicism" (both in doctrine and practice), from its very beginning, extending back to the period of the English Reformation itself.”33 They identified themselves as a group which could reform the Church, as long as it retained, at least to a small degree, its Catholic identity, for example, the ‘Apostolic Succession’ of its bishops.
The ‘High-Church’ people emphasized that the Bible should be understood in relation to the tradition of the ancient Church and its Ecumenical Councils; that the presence of Christ is real in the Eucharist and that Bishops should possess more authority than had previously been recognized in Anglican tradition. These differing views of ecclesiology pestered Continuing Anglicans for many years to come. Nevertheless, they worked together for the sake of both restoring what they perceived to be the right direction for the Church, as well as for the sake of Anglican orthodoxy.
Sources for this Article:
1. Douglas Bess Divided We Stand. Berkeley, CA, The Apocryphile Press, 2002, p.20
Formally inaugurated in 1948, the World Council of Churches is a Christian organization dedicated to the search for Christian unity. It is a voluntary fellowship (association) of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.
Churches in the fellowship of the WCC pursue the vision of ecumenism as they: seek visible unity in one faith and one Eucharistic fellowship; promote common witness in work for mission and evangelism; engage in Christian service by meeting human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation. The aim of the WCC is to pursue the goal of the visible unity of the Church, involving a process of renewal and change in which member churches pray, worship, discuss and work together. There are 147, mostly Protestant churches in the WCC, who come predominantly from Europe and North America. Taken from the WCC web-site (http://www.oikoumene.org/en/who-are-we/background/frequently-asked-questions.html), since its founding in 1950, the National Council of Churches in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's member faith groups — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
2. Bess p.20
3. Bess p.20
4. Ibid. p.35
5. Bess p.36
6. ibid p.36
7. ibid p.36
8. Gila Yudkin Whatever happened to Bishop Pike? http://www.itsgila.com/headlin ersbishoppike.htm p.1
9. ibid p.1
10. The Christian Challenge (TCC) Part 1 1962-1974 November/December 1999 issue
11. William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne The Death and Life of Bishop Pike: An Utterly Candid Biography of America’s Most Controversial Clergyman. p.149, 202, 322, and 327
12. TCC 1966 Report
13. ibid. * article entitled Going out in a blaze of headlines
14. ibid. * Observations by editor Auburn Traycik
15. Michael Lampen (Grace Cathedral Archivist) Bishop James Pike: Visionary or Heretic? http://www.gracecathedral.org/enrichment/ crypt/cry_20011114. shtml.p.1
16 ibid p.1
17. ibid p1
18. Answers.com. Pike, James Albert, Columbia Encyclopedia, http://www.answers.com/bishop%20pike, New York, 2008. p.1
19. Yudkin p.1
20. TCC 1969 Report
21. Columbia p.1
22. Lampen p.1
23. ibid p.1
24. Joan de Catanzaro Thou Art A Priest. Ottawa: Convent Society, 1992, p.61
25. Bess p.39
26. * The death of God is a way of saying that humans are no longer able to believe in any such cosmic order since they themselves no longer recognize it. The death of God will lead, Nietzsche says, not only to the rejection of a belief of cosmic or physical order but also to a rejection of absolute values themselves — to the rejection of belief in an objective and universal moral law, binding upon all individuals. The main protagonists of this theology included the Christian theologians Gabriel Vahanian, Paul Van Buren, William Hamilton and Thomas J. J. Altizer, and the rabbi Richard Rubenstein.
27. de Catanzaro p.61.
28. TCC * Observations by editor Auburn Traycik
29. Eric Badertscher The Measure of a Bishop. (Thesis for M.A, in Church History, 1998), Abstract, p.5
30. de Catanzaro p.61
31. Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) Original Province web-site The Affirmation of St. Louis Pamphlet (http://anglicanbooks.com/ product_info.php/prod ucts_id/32? osCsid=7c9c95f9b9148).
32. Bess p.12
33. Bess p.13
Next issue on the Road to St. Louis: The Canadian Experience, The American Experience & The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen
This article was taken from the Doctoral thesis Recognizing Anglican Catholic Identity: An Historical Review of the Anglican Catholic Movement, the Affirmation of St. Louis and the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has been added to the database for scholarly works by Acadia University. For anyone interested in the complete thesis, it can be found at: