Sunday, January 22, 2012
On Roman Catholicism (1)
In this piece, I wish to address you my brother Roman Catholic. As you may or may not know, this year marks the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States, which I will address in detail later. The time has come, for me at least, to think again about the things which unite and divide us as equal Churches, at least from our perspective. I hope to explain everything to you in detail and to the extent of my knowledge. I hope to lay out in considerable detail the things which, I believe, we hold in common and should be the basis of further discussion of unity among us. Following that, I prepare to address those things which divide us and, perhaps more importantly, why they divide us. Thirdly, I propose to offer suggestions, humble as they may be, in ecumenical discussion such as ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission).
First, I would like to begin by offering a bit of explanation as to why many Anglicans use the term “Roman Church” instead of “Roman Catholic” or “Catholic Church,” which perhaps you might find distasteful. Anglicans find offensive the notion that the entirety of the Catholic Church is contained in that one portion of it that resides in Rome. This stems from a fundamentally different understanding of catholicity than it is understood by your Church. You might be surprised to know that the Anglican Communion perceives itself as just as much a part of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, as your Church. Every week we pray in our Liturgy for the “one, Catholick, and Apostolick Church” (curiously “holy” was dropped from one printing of the Prayer Book and it wasn’t corrected before distribution, we are slow to change the Liturgy). Another of our treasured prayers, the Prayer for All Conditions of Men includes this petition, “we pray for the good estate of the Catholick Church; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.” Anglicans have never denied that your Church is a true Church and it is quite rightly part of the Catholic Church but not the whole of it.
Another note about quotations from earlier times, they will include terms such as "papist" "Romish" etc. these were not meant always as offensive (although sometimes they were) but the term "Catholic" was not something wholly owned by Roman Catholics yet, for the Reformers claimed (and still do) that they were equally Catholic as the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury has said, "the Reformation debate was not one between self-designated Catholics and Protestants; it was a debate about where the Catholic Church was to be found.” It will help in reading these quotes from earlier times to have this in mind so that you understand them rightly.
This year marks the establishment of the American Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is a response to the papal initiative contained in the encyclical Anglicanarum coetibus. This document allows "groups of Anglicans" (the translation of the Latin) to enter into the Catholic Church together and to retain some of their "Anglican patrimony" as they term it. I believe this is a positive development in the life of the Church, which I will outline through this piece in certain instances. I will offer a few brief reflections here before I begin the main body of this essay. First, the Ordinariate is a good thing because it ends a chapter in the Anglican Churches, known as "Anglo-Papalism" or “Anglican Papalism.” This movement grew out of the Oxford Movement and Ritualist movements of the 19th century and began to adopt the beliefs and positions of the Roman Catholic Church. The goal of Anglican Papalism was union with the See of Rome, however, in a corporate nature. They worked in the Church of England (the movement was not prominent in the American Church) to make the Church of England more "Catholic" in order that the Pope would accept the Church of England in a full, corporate union. As time has passed that dream has faded in those circles and, I believe, the Ordinariate is a generous offer from the Pope to those who want corporate union with Rome. In addition to that corporate unity, the Pope has authorized special liturgies for use by those groups which are influenced by the Book of Common Prayer, most notably the treasured services of Mattins and Evensong, which are based on the old Offices of the Roman Rite. The numbers of people joining the Ordinariate is not significant (~60 clergy, ~1,000, laity in this country) but the gesture is historically significant.
The point of this first installment is to lay out in considerable detail the areas in which I believe there is considerable unity among us. Before getting to the particulars of the matter at hand, it must be said that our Churches share the primitive, catholic, and apostolic doctrines of Christ, his Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, as well as the mysteries of the Trinity and the nature of God. These likewise our shared with the Churches of the East, both those in communion with the See of Rome, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Communions as well.
Beginning with the time in which our Churches parted ways, in the sixteenth century. The English Reformation took a radically different shape than that of the Continent. The English Reformation originated in the King, desiring an annulment (not a divorce) from the Pope in order to secure a male heir to the throne. Unfortunately, due to political circumstances in Germany and Rome, the Pope denied this request. Based off historical precedence, Henry VIII doubted the universal jurisdiction of the Papacy (based off the East and earlier monarchs in England) and sought the temporal independence of the Church in England from Rome. Henry favored moderate reform along the Lutheran lines but was attached to the old forms of service (hence an English liturgy was not adopted till after his death). The nature of the English Reformation allowed the English Church to retain the whole of the medieval, parochial system and canon law (which was revised), along with the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon. In fact, the Church of England holds the ancient sees and dioceses of England, not the English Catholic Church. Gradually, the English Church reformed itself doctrinally and liturgically with the publication of the English Bible and later the Prayer Book in 1549. After subsequent doctrinal statements were released, the 42 Articles of Religion were published in 1552, later revised to thirty-nine in 1571 (after the reign of Mary, 1553-1558). Subsequent revisions of the Prayer Book occurred in 1559, 1604, and the final version was released in 1662, although the textual variance in between those revisions is slight and not easy to notice (unless you know what you are looking for). The Prayer Book tradition arrived in the United States with the arrival of American colonists in the 1600’s. After the Revolution, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was established as the American Church, with its Prayer Book revised to fit the new political situation in 1789. Subsequent revision occurred in 1892 and 1928; likewise, the Episcopal Church adopted the Articles of Religion in 1801. This is one of the areas where our Churches are in more agreement than in disagreement. The reformation of the liturgy was thoroughly conservative, sharing this feature with Lutheran liturgies, of maintaining all of the medieval ceremonies that were not contrary to Scripture and tradition. In addition, Thomas Cranmer, the chief architect of the Book of Common Prayer, was ahead of his time in also trying to reform the liturgy to make it less complex and more accessible to the laity (an attitude adopted by the Roman Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council in the 20th century).
Our Liturgy is, in fact, a revision of the Roman Rite as it was in the 1500's, based off the Sarum Use of it in England. The Book of Common Prayer is not a translation of the Sarum Use but it is a reformation of it, according to the principles of the Reformation. For instance, Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the project, insisted that everything "shall be proved, by testimony of the old authors, to be the true and old faith of the catholic Church." This notion of adhering to catholic principle instead of medieval innovations is one of the things that divides us and will be discussed in the next installment. But some portions of the Prayer Book are simple (yet equally complex) translations of the Latin, in fact, most parts of the book are based on texts in the Roman Missal, except for a few places where Cranmer inserted his own compositions (the Prayer of Humble Access, the 2nd Collect in Advent, most notably), Continental material (the Exhortations, Comfortable Words, etc.), and material from the Orthodox liturgies (such as the Prayer of St. Chrysostom in the Daily Offices). Bishop William Van Mildert of Durham says this of the Roman liturgy, "The Ritual of the Romish Church, though composed in the Latin tongue, and clogged with many superstitions and exceptionable forms, was yet in many parts of it, truly Scriptural, and well calculated for the comfort and edification of pious worshipers... some of the most admired parts of our Book of Common Prayer are taken almost literally from the Romish Ritual: and this, far from being any just objection to it, proves that the compilers were guided by the genuine spirit of moderation and Christian candour." Our Churches follow the same calendar (ours with a great simplification of the number of feasts), we honor many of the same Saints and Feasts throughout the year. We honor the Blessed Virgin in our calendar as well and many of the saints too. In contrast to the Continental Reformation, our service very much feels like the Mass, so much so that Thomas Cartwright, a prominent Puritan minister said that the Prayer Book was, "an unperfect book, culled and picked out of that Popish dunghill, the Portuise [breviary] and Mass-book, full of all abominations." Specifically, the Puritans disliked the retention of the sign of the cross, vestments, kneeling to receive Holy Communion, and other gestures and ceremonial maintained by the Church of England (and the rest of the Anglican Communion).
In fact, our Church was one of the only Reformation Churches to never officially demonize the Roman Catholic Church (although private individuals may have). Most other Reformation Churches declared the Papacy to be "AntiChrist" but the English Church never did. This did not mean that we trivialized the real theological differences between us but we did not rob the Roman Catholic Church of the title of "Church" for it has always been a true Church. Richard Hooker, one of the earlier Anglican theologians got himself into a lot of trouble for acknowledging that Roman Catholics could be saved without leaving the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, our Church has been much more generous towards the Roman Catholic Church than vice versa. Roman Catholic priests are received into communion with our Churches without re-ordination and likewise, Roman Catholic laity is always received without re-confirmation. This is not so the other way around, where our Church has never doubted the orders or Catholicity of the Catholic Church, the latter has never acknowledged our Church as such. While Anglicans have always acknowledged the differences between our Churches, the desire for unity has always been strong and the attitude towards Roman Catholicism has always been slightly more positive than in other Churches. Later Churchmen such as Alexander Knox continued in this tradition when he says, "The Romish Church is like a garden overrun with weeds; but there are in this garden some old fruit trees which bear fruit of extraordinary mellowness. Viewed from without nothing could be more uncouth or revolting; but, under that rubbish, must be all the rich results of a providential training of Christ's mystical Kingdom for fourteen centuries," which might sound quaint, even offensive, to modern ears but in the 19th century this was an incredibly generous thing to say, on either side of the split.
In addition to our common polity and liturgy, our Churches agree much on the communal nature of our religion and the necessity of the sacraments in the communication of divine grace. While I cannot say that our Churches agree completely on this matter (for there are many differences), there is the common agreement that salvation is a communal aspect as are other matters of religion. The Anglican Churches never adopted the individualistic piety of the Pietist tradition. Our Christian life looks much like yours. We enter into the spiritual life through baptism in our earliest days and later claim that baptismal faith for our own in confirmation (in fact, our Church retains ancient custom and permits confirmation only by the bishop) and subsequently receive Holy Communion to our spiritual nourishment. We believe that baptism conveys spiritual regeneration to us and that we truly receive Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist, although in both ways differently than you believe those things to occur. We have the ministry of absolution or confession of sins available to be received by private confession to a priest, although this is not necessary as in your Church. We have Holy Orders and Matrimony and Anointing as you do. We likewise oppose divorce and remarriage as you do and we uphold the Apostolic Succession of our bishops to maintain the faith of the early Church.
Beyond all of these things which we hold in common, the greatest of all is the common mission to spread the Gospel in this world and to strive to model ourselves after the lives of those earliest Christians. We strive just as much as you do to be the early Church in this modern world, although, it is true we have come to different conclusions that you have. The most comforting reality in all the messes that human beings have created, especially in the past 2,000 years of shared life together as the Church is the fact that all will be fixed and return to how it was, either in this life, or in the next.
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6)