Saturday, July 21, 2012

Anglo-Catholicism and the Ghettoization of Catholicity in the Anglican Churches

A thought has been in my mind since finishing a book called "The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church" by George DeMille.  This book chronicles the "Catholic" Movement in the Protestant Episcopal Church, as per the title.  The "Catholic" Movement meaning the theology of the Oxford Movement, or Tractarianism, usually coupled with the ritual of the Cambridge Camden Movement or Ritualism.  Readers of this blog will be familiar with both of those movements but for new readers, I attempt to offer a brief summary of each.  


The Oxford Movement began in 1833 with John Keble's sermon "National Apostasy".  Keble and others were concerned with the state's interference in the life of the Church (in this case by reducing the number of Irish archbishoprics).  A group of men, gathered together and began to publish tracts promoting their views.  These views were promoted as novel in the life of the Church of England.  The ideas they presented were presented in contrast to a certain form of Erastianism which denied the Church any other role than as a sort of spiritual department of the state.  The Tractarians, as they were called, sought to "recover" the Catholic nature of the Church of England, which they believed had been destroyed through years of rationalism and latitudinarianism of the the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The Oxford Movement promoted doctrines such as baptismal regeneration, apostolic succession, the Real Presence, and other doctrines.  


The Oxford Movement was not originally concerned with ritual or ceremonial, for instance, Newman celebrated in surplice and tippet at the north end until he became a Roman.  However, as certain doctrines were adopted, the ceremonial of the English Church did not match the doctrinal views being held by those priests promoting the Tractarian doctrines.  The Cambridge Camden Society began to apply the doctrines of the Oxford Movement via rival and ceremonial in 1839 or thereabouts.  They reached back to the Middle Ages to find accompanying ceremonial and ritual to accommodate Tractarian theology.  It was this movement that brought back the Eucharistic vestments, stone altars, tabernacles, aumbries, lights, incense, and other practices generally associated with Anglicanism nowadays but absent from it until the Ritualistic movement.  


These two movements led to Anglo-Catholicism which is referred to in DeMille's book as the "Catholic Movement".  Now, here is where my concern lies.  The "Catholic" Movement undermines the catholicity of the Anglican Churches, by nature, and, I believe, has worked to destroy it.  


First, the Anglo-Catholic movement sought to "recover" the Catholic nature of the Church because of a (faulty) view that it had been lost.  (However, readers of this blog will know this to be untrue, see the "Compendium" for posts on various aspects of pre-Tractarian High Churchmanship, which spanned from the Reformation until after the Oxford Movement).  By adopting an ideology of recovery, Anglo-Catholicism has changed the understanding of catholicity in the Anglican tradition to make it impossible for "normal" Anglicans to be catholic by default.  In other words, Anglicanism had a built in understanding of catholicity, which assumed that all Anglican Churches were reformed Catholic Churches.  That is to say that the Church of England is a part of the Catholic Church, that part residing in England.  All its parishes are reformed Catholic parishes, in that they are part of that ancient, Catholic Church of England.  What Anglo-Catholicism has done is to say that English parishes are not Catholic by nature of being part of the Church of England but that they must meet some other standard of catholicity, be it wearing Eucharistic vestments, adopting a certain theology of bishops, using lights on the altar, etc.  I call this the "ghettoization of catholicity" or perhaps more properly a robbery of catholicity.  By nature, a "Catholic Church" cannot have a "Catholic party".  To make Catholicism a party matter is to trivialize it to the point of identifying it with ceremonial.  If you were to ask a Laudian what an "Anglo-Catholic" were (even though the term wasn't used then), I assume their answer would be that it would be a parish that has been reformed from Roman errors and free from Puritan innovations which is part of the reformed Catholic Church of England, adhering to the ancient catholic faith as contained in the Holy Scriptures, Creeds, Councils, and formularies of the Church.  If you were to ask a modern Englishmen what an "Anglo-Catholic" is, I imagine he would say that it is some place that adheres to Roman theology, has nice vestments or chants a lot of the service, perhaps.  To me, this is to trivialize the catholicity of the Church and does nothing to improve the Catholic nature of our Churches.


Second, the Anglo-Catholic definition of catholicity, I believe, clashes with the definition of catholicity as found in the formularies.  I believe that Article XIX of the Articles of Religion defines catholicity, according to the Anglican tradition:
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
In this system, catholicity is defined in doctrinal terms, meaning that "catholic" refers to adhering to the faith "once delivered to the saints" as contained in Scripture, and by their agreement with the same, the Creeds, Councils, and Formularies of the Church.  Therefore, the Church of England is Catholic because of the Reformation not in spite of it.  Anglo-Catholicism turns to the Middle Ages to validate its "catholicism" while Anglicanism turns to the Scriptures to validate its catholicity.  


The catholicity of the Church is defined by its adherence to the faith of the Fathers, as defined by Scripture, not by adherence to medieval ceremonial or the edicts of the Pope.  Any attempt to alter that definition of catholicity is not an attempt to "renew" it but to trivialize it or worse, to destroy it.

1 comment:

Thomas Williams said...

Hackney Hub,

This is one of the most beautiful and concise refutations of the Anglo-Catholic façade. It's a good thing that you're making a stand against this false rhetoric.

Anglicans who deny that they are part of the ancient, now-reformed tradition of the Church of England (and her children) seem to hate their own history!