The Christian Resources Exhibition: Dull Doulia or Loathsome Latria?


The Anglican Catholic Church for the first time has kept a stall at the Christian Resources exhibition. This has largely been successful many people have been terribly interested in who we are and what we are trying to do. We have found much common ground with other Christian bodies, surprisingly with Protestant groups and this has been very encouraging. There have also been some rather sad occasions where argument has been sought for the sake of argument, invective has been thrown at us, and we have even been blamed for the downfall of the CofE into the state it’s now in!


The Catholic/Protestant divide is quite a crucible of passionate talk and earnest enthusiasm, and we Anglicans seem, as usual, to spread ourselves fully over the lot. Some of us will argue that Protestant belief is Catholic belief and others will not have it thus. Dialogue abounds: when it is fruitful, it brings much enlightenment, new ways of looking and a greater appreciation of the depth of belief the Almighty God engenders even if the divide remains afterwards. At its worst, the dialogue descends into an “I’m right, you’re wrong” point-scoring argument and, sadly, there have been many blows struck. If Christianity is to regain its ground after losing so much to those disgusted by the squabbles between people who are supposed to be professionally good, then both Catholic and Protestant must look sensibly and desirously to a future where both are reconciled and not necessarily by the wholesale capitulation of one side.

Essentially, much of the dialogue has nothing to do with cultural identity. The only reason that the Anglican nature enters is because it holds the crucible in itself in a way that does not happen within the hierarchy of the Roman Church or within the Baptist understanding of Christianity.

At the very heart of the dialogue are the natures of doulia, hyperdoulia and latria. All of these words have been used to translate the word “worship,” yet each with subtleties that the English does not translate too well. Worship is “worth-ship,” and this within us produces a system of value, of worth, of discernment of the good, better and best. It is part of human nature to possess whole systems of values. How we rate the world in terms of pleasure and pain is fundamental to each of our worldviews. Belief in itself is also an action of value because it binds us to what we consider to be most valuable. People die for belief precisely when they regard the object of belief to be of more value than life itself. If this life is all there is to our existence, then there can be nothing worth dying for, precisely because there is nothing beyond this life to value.

For the Christian, one has the belief in one God. We are told that God is a jealous god and this makes sense if the belief that there is one God is justified. If God has created, willingly, each of us individually to be rational souls with the ability to value, discern and choose and, further, to converse with Him, then any rejection of conversing with Him is a rejection of one’s true being, and to misplace the object of conversation, for whatever reason, is no less a rejection of what one has truly been created to be. If God cares what we think, then God has a right to be jealous!

In this understanding of God, we begin to see the concept of latria which is the supreme form of worship, the apex of our value system. Latria is the recognition of the cause of our being and valuing it above all things. Latria is the process which seeks to perfect our highest belief and to make as real as possible the summit of all that we cherish. Idolatry, then, seeks perfection in created things and not in the Creator. If one denies the existence of a Creator, then either one seeks perfection in one’s material world or denies that there is perfection to be found, so affirming the purposelessness of Existence and, thus, the meaninglessness of value in the first place.

For Christians, latria properly belongs to God. It is the active recognition of God as the Source of Existence itself, the cause of our being and the very definition of what it is to be good, true, and valuable. A passive recognition simply will not do: lip-service, or even a cursory acceptance of a fact, do not hold the value that belief requires. One dies for what one believes; one does not die for a “nice idea”. If we believe in God, then there must be some desire within the soul to seek perfection on God’s terms precisely because one recognises any fulfilment or completion of one’s life as emanating from the source of being. It is God whom we must worship at the top of the mountain that Life presents to us.

It is a typical concern to Protestants about the way Catholics “worship” Mary and the saints. They question the merits of praying to St Anthony of Padua to find some lost article, they question of invoking St Jude for a lost cause. They recoil at statues of Our Lady, at Icons of the Saviour, at the Rosary and crucifix citing all the while the first and second commandments. Do they have a point?

The Protestant mind-set is one of reform, simplification and the rejection of anything that stands in the way of seeing God. It has an acetic, apophatic method designed to eliminate an understanding of God which relies on analogies with human activity. The Protestant naturally rejects an understanding of the Sacraments on the grounds that the matter of the Sacraments stands in the way of God Himself. This is supremely laudable and holds to true latria because it recognises the true solitude of God as the Eternal Source of Light Divine. Indeed, long before the Protestant Reformation, there are whole schools of asceticism. For the Protestant, the Bible is the sole expression of the Word of God. The sixth Article of Religion says: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”

Yet, this post-Reformation statement of the Elizabethan Settlement is a perfectly Catholic approach to Holy Scripture designed to hold together the Protestant and Catholic factions within the Church of England. This does demonstrate that there is much common ground for Christians to hold. St Athanasius says, ”For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith. in Christ unreasonable.” (Against the Heathen 1:1)

What many Protestants reject is any idea that Holy Scripture needs interpretation beyond Holy Scripture itself. Some go further and say that Holy Scripture cannot be interpreted by means other than Holy Scripture which is a very difficult position to justify wholly, because it raises Holy Scripture up to an apex value and that suggests the possibility of latria namely Bibliolatry.

Now that might sound like an accusation, but it is not. I do not think for one minute that the average Protestant is a Bibliolater for the same reason that the average Catholic is not a Mariolater. However, just as there is a tendency for some Catholics to give Our Lady a position that is not hers, likewise Protestants give the text of Holy Scripture a power that it does not possess. There is a big difference between the material sufficiency of scripture and the formal sufficiency of scripture, though some Protestants would reject that idea on the grounds of it being too Aristotelian.

Protestants and Catholics have different ideas of what doulia and hyperdoulia. How should these terms be translated? Is it right to say that just as Catholics show Our Lady hyperdoulia, Protestants show Holy Scripture hyperdoulia? In which case, does that mean that Catholics do not have any veneration for Holy Scripture and Protestants no veneration for Our Lady?

The Greek word doulia has the same root as doulos meaning a slave in the context of involuntary service or servant in the context of voluntary service. It demonstrates very clearly the way that human beings approach the objects that they value: they see themselves as duty bound to serve that object or devote themselves to it in some way. We are told to honour our mother and father meaning that we have some natural debt to pay to our parents by way of their being prepared to bring us into the world. However, they cannot deserve latria on the grounds that, while they may be responsible for our presence, they are not the source of our being. They are a secondary cause of why we are here. Nonetheless, they have a clear worth in our lives.

Likewise, the Christian religion tells us explicitly that we are all worth something because we all are inherently loveable. Indeed, Our Lord demonstrates His doulia for us as the suffering servant and at the washing of His disciples’ feet. There is a clear recognition of our worth, not as the source but as intrinsic to our being. We are expected to show doulia to each other. In the Benedictine Rule, the seniors are worthy of doulia from the juniors because they have been part of building up the community into which the juniors have latterly come. In their turn, the seniors regard their juniors as brothers, and the juniors will in turn receive the doulia as seniors as they too build the community.

From this, it becomes obvious as to why Catholics pay their doulia to the saints. They recognise the parts the saints play in building the kingdom of God in the world. They recognise the suffering, the pain, the cost and the death that these have played just to bring the word of God to the people, even writing the word of God itself. The Bible has been written by the saints and their contribution deserves our veneration. When we have put our lives into building the Church, then we shall receive our doulia in turn.

How do we express that doulia? Well, if a saint is important to us, we listen to them, we cherish their words and we value what they show us. We also appreciate their prayers to God, because we recognise that they are not God but know that, because they are alive with God in Eternity, their prayers for us are just as valid. They are part of our community and the basic level of their worth to us is that we recognise that.

This is not to say that Protestants deliberately reject any of this. While Catholics hold a great deal of reverence for the saints, Protestants strip away any class system. In the Protestant mind-set, all Christians are equal and all are saints and thus none more venerable than another. Of course, the Protestant rejection of the role played by works in one’s salvation again levels the playing field. If the saints get into Heaven then it’s not because of anything they’ve done. If the kingdom of God is built then it is by God alone and we are incidental in that construction.

The point is that there is a common sense of doulia in both Catholicism and Protestantism only it is expressed very differently due to the Reformation, yet both with their roots in the Undivided Church. While it is my belief that the well-meaning Protestants threw the baby out with the bath water as far as the Reformation is concerned, they still have something to say to Catholics.
Catholics can go too far. Our Lady is indeed worthy of respect of a different sort from ordinary saints, because her role in the redemption of mankind is unique – she said, “yes!” She has the closest relationship with Our Lord, and Our Lord being obedient to His own commandments honours His mother. It is a unique honour for we all only have one biological mother and father. God the Father already has all forms of honour: to Him only belongs latria. But God’s mother must also deserve honour of a unique form – hyperdoulia. If Christ is King, she cannot but be the Queen Mother. She cannot be separated from that because to do so would separate Christ from His Kingship.

However, is she co-Redemptrix? The term is loaded with language. Yes, Our Lady played a part in our redemption by saying “yes”, but she is categorically not the source of our redemption, nor does she share the identity of the source. Her hyperdoulia cannot extend to latria and a co-Redemptrix would share latria with the co-Redemptor. Our Protestant brethren do remind us about the need to pull things back so that they don’t obscure God, but then this has always been exhibited in the ikonography of the Undivided Church. The Theotokos always points to Christ.

Canon Don in a car

If the Christian Resources Exhibition has shown us anything, it has shown that we in the ACC are not really alone and that there is common ground with the Protestants. There are differences – big differences – which mean that that our worship will never truly be together because of these differences of doulia, hyperdoulia and latria. However, we must learn to appreciate that our disagreement allows us to progress in self-examination of our practices, if we allow it. Rather than attack and insist on forcing new wine into old wineskins, a friendly smile, a warm handshake, a kindly word of explanation and an open ear produce friendships. Rather than disassociate ourselves with those whom we cannot understand, let us worship according to our senses of doulia and hyperdoulia and look for that common sense of latria for the True Source in each other’s attempts. We will have our Masses and believe them with all our heart and they will have their assemblies of Divine Worship with which they will engage passionately, and we will all stand before the One Whom we worship and find our perfection in Him.

Bishop Damien Mead has published his diary of events here.

This entry was posted in Apostolic Order, Catholic Faith, Orthodox Worship and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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