The question bothers me since reading the aggressive points of view of some Continuing Anglican divines who propose a pogrom against Anglo-Catholics. In a way, we can wonder if they are merely reacting in a self-defence reflex against aggression from Anglo-Catholicism who would see the back of the Reformation and its “variations” as Bossuet would have put it. The question is both highly complex and very simple. If one claims to be both Protestant and Catholic, or “reformed Catholic”, then one is founding oneself on a basic premise. Perhaps one may be Protestant but concede some “high church” trappings to please those who are unsatisfied with plainness and austerity. Is that what Catholicism is about, or does it have some more substantial doctrinal and spiritual foundation? Surely, if it is just “dressing up”, then one should become a “real Catholic” by swimming the Tiber or biting the bullet and accepting someone else’s austerity. It is surely God’s will that all pleasure is sin and all art and beauty to be reproved unless it is secular!
I have always had the idea that comprehensiveness would be easier from a Catholic basis (conciliar ecclesiology, not Papal) rather than the Protestant basis that destroys the Platonic metaphysics forming the basis of the possibility of redeemed man to participate by grace in the life of God. In the Reformed type of thinking, God reveals himself to man only through the written Word of the Bible, nothing else.
If Anglicanism can be a continuation of the pre-Reformation and pre-Tridentine Catholic Church, a great deal of comprehensiveness is possible. It suffices to visit the church of a Trappist (reformed Cistercians) community and find that there are no images other than a statue of Our Lady. The rest of the church is whitewashed, plain, bereft of beauty or decoration. It would be easier and saner to have the possibility of low church liturgy on the basis of Catholic theology than high church liturgy on the basis of Reformed doctrine.
As with any movement, the Reformation began by reacting against abuses and superstitious practices. Hitler and Mussolini began by promising good things for the people such as a reliable train service, affordable cars, good fast roads and modern living conditions. The nasty things only came later, like Calvin burning someone at the stake with green wood to prolong the suffering! But, it has to be said that the early stages were needed.
In many things, there was a question of emphasis and things that were needed, like the liturgy and the Bible in the language of the people. Basing all Anglicanism on the Reformation – supposing the Anglican Catholic Church were taken over by Evangelical “classical” Anglicans, there would have to be a purge of Anglo-Catholics. If everything were to be founded on the Reformers, there would be no point in high-church ceremonies, which would become at best irrelevant and impious at worst. You get rid of the statues and icons, put the communion table in the middle of the choir with its ends in the same direction as the east and west ends of the church. Vestments become a matter of effeminate men wanting to “play dressing up”. Just go back to England of before the Tractarians, the triple-decker pulpits and box pews. It takes little imagination – just see the engravings of Hogarth depicting fire-breathing preachers and swooning ladies!
I see little evidence that many of today’s Continuing Anglicans would go so far in their outward observances. Evangelicals are more likely to emulate the “mega church” style with modern language services.
The problem would seem to be in one side wanting to impose the 39 Articles as a doctrinal standard for all, albeit interpreted à la Bicknell – and the other side doing away with the Articles and imposing the Affirmation of Saint Louis containing a commitment to seven Sacraments (instead of two) and the seven Ecumenical Councils including Nicea II (against iconoclasm).
I am personally all for having the Affirmation as a basis (with the ancient traditional doctrines it contains), and joined the Anglican Catholic Church knowing that I would not have to assent to Reformation formularies. At the same time, there are different ways of observing the liturgical life from the “spiky” style of the Tridentine liturgy in English to the simpler English “Sarum” style and the simpler “monastic” tastes. I tend to be somewhere between the “extremes” whilst refraining from criticising those who are more “Tridentine” than I am. In these matters, there can be diversity according to the customs of the people in their parishes and pastoral necessity.
If conciliar Catholicism were better known, conciliar as in the reforming Council of Constance placing the Episcopate over the Pope acting alone, this would be far more healthy than being hidebound to Reformation formularies. With a conciliar Catholic approach, we can have the Bible and the liturgy in the vernacular, keep popular religion and the taste for miracles and wonders in check, keep the clergy from becoming corrupt, get the laity to learn their catechism and develop an interest for more advanced doctrinal, historical, spiritual and liturgical study, and so forth. The problem with Protestant Augustinianism is that is is too narrow, like asking a great French chef to cook a fabulous meal with only one saucepan, a pound of potatoes and water. I prefer people like the Methodists with their high church theology and low church services to having to be narrow in one’s theological vision and then “playing at religion” by doing high services without any underlying justification. Did not some of the Reformers lament abominations of popish masses?
Another objection to Protestantism is that it was a reaction against a very specific situation in history. Since the sixteenth century and up to our own times, there have been changes. In Roman Catholicism, the issues involving corruption and superstition were addressed by the Council of Trent and the Counter Reformation. There was the dispute between Jesuits and Jansenists which cleared many of the difficulties surrounding Augustinian theology. Then, from the nineteenth century, there is a whole movement in theology, ecclesiology, church history and historical criticism leading to the Ressourcement, the appeal to the Fathers of the Church. With exposure to that kind of theology, who wants to return to sixteenth-century pseudo-scholastic polemics which were as narrow and asinine from the Roman point of view as from the Reformers? One who has seen sunlight will not return to live in the cave and see only shadows and imaginations. What we would like to continue is colour, beauty, diversity and joy.
Is the Affirmation of Saint Louis a perfect document? Certainly not, and it too will prove to be tied to its time and will be found to be too narrow. It has already been modified to reflect the definitive nature of the separation of Continuing Anglicanism from the Canterbury Communion. It is a good guide which helped to define Continuing Anglican identity in a time of crisis. The Articles also emerged from a situation of crisis. Defining an exact number of Sacraments at seven is a fruit of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent. Are we going to be Roman Catholics without being members of the Roman Catholic Church? That is another contradiction that is a danger among so-called Anglican Papalists. The Affirmation is exactly that, an affirmation of identity, and not a definitive definition of dogma.
If we “trash” the Reformation, do we not deny any continuation of Catholicism in Anglicanism? Probably we do, as traditionalist Roman Catholics see very little in the way of orthodox Catholicism in the pontificate of Paul VI and the 1970’s. Is continuation absolutely vital as opposed to restoration? There was a liturgical movement in Roman Catholicism because the meaning of the liturgy had become obscure by the end of the eighteenth century. Dom Guéranger began the movement of bringing the people to the liturgy and the liturgy to the people. The Oxford Movement began a parallel movement of restoration in the Church of England, to breathe life back into dead bones.
To what extent was there any continuation of Catholicism through the Reformation era? If there was none, then Rome could be justified in saying that our Orders are absolutely null and utterly void. So could Orthodoxy when looking at late eighteenth-century French Catholicism and Talleyrand, whom Napoleon had dubbed a turd in a silk stocking. Continuity is relative in all churches, but there is always something. Rome can trace the apostolic lineage of most of its bishops to Scipione Rebiba (1504-1577). There is no reliable documentation beyond him. There is probability of continuation further back, but no documentary proof. Every Church has its skeletons in the cupboard and things the apologists overlook. We Anglicans as no exception.
I have always liked Soloviev’s approach to ecumenism. Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism are all too one-sided and only a part of the whole. Roman Catholicism represents the human organisation of the Church for the purpose of the Mission. Orthodoxy represents the mystical and contemplative approach, and Protestantism represents the freedom of man in his response to God’s Word and invitation to salvation and sanctification (justification). If all contributed to something higher, then there is hope for the restoration of Catholicism. I fear that few in the Continuum are up to such a sublime vision, one that would transfigure the serious deficiencies of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
In the current dialectics between “classical” Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics, what is of greatest concern is that the former can only affirm itself at the expense of the latter. Let the Anglo-Catholics go to the Ordinariate, and leave us (Evangelicals) alone! It can also be argued that Anglo-Catholics would like the “classical” Anglicans to leave and become non-conformists or whatever, so that there can be a unified Anglo-Catholic Church. Can the two co-exist? With current attitudes and theological visions, probably not. I see very little possibility for cohabitation in a single institutional Church. I notice how the term “Classical Anglicanism” is increasingly becoming a euphemism for the Protestant position with the intention of expelling Anglo-Catholics or making them so uncomfortable that they will leave.
There is also the possibility of uniting all Anglicans on the basis of some kind of “mere Christianity”, the term being coined by a book written by C.S. Lewis. The notion of the “classical Anglicans” is tied up with Anglican apologetics, because if this category is uncatholic, then the apologetic basis of Anglo-Catholicism is gone – unless the quality of being a Church is something that can be restored as I have suggested.
I lived through the entire time of the TAC’s approach to Rome from the bishops’ meeting in Portsmouth to Anglicanorum coetibus two years later, probably the result of other Anglican groups and events. One of the greatest problems was the definition of Anglican Patrimony or identity. Is Anglicanism a kind of English “Old Catholicism” or a half-way house moderate Protestantism conserving some Catholic characteristics like bishops and chapters of canons? Was it all in the liturgy or the tradition of pastorally-minded clergy as opposed to being a “country squire parson”? Was it all in the scholarship? I think we are ourselves struggling with such a definition without knocking at Rome’s door to say we want to be Roman Catholics with something akin to uniate status like the Byzantine rite folk.
I am unable to finish this article with anything like a definitive conclusion. I think we don’t stand much of a chance, any more than any other form of Christianity that is humanist in its inspiration and respects man’s intrinsic dignity. I see the totalitarian caricature, whether it is in the successors of Calvin, Topcliffe, Torquemada or Ivan the Terrible, winning out. Critically-minded people will be less and less drawn to Christianity, a religion to be written off as a failure.
There is something to be said for the idea that we would have been better off to have remained in the Egyptian fleshpots of our Churches of origin, and made our pilgrimages as individuals. We chose instead to found or join dissident churches and launch out into the deep, for which we needed a common identity rather than individual identities as persons with our talents and sins. In guise of a provisional conclusion, I can only suggest we make the best of our little churches and communities, and make our pilgrimages. Someone above us will want to try cat herding. Let them try, and perhaps succeed.
The more time that goes past, the less I am worried by it all. Let the Americans play baseball, the English play football, the Protestants in their books and the Catholics in theirs. I see nothing wrong with separate church institutions according to the different ways of reading the Gospel and the Tradition. Perhaps, we will discover a common basis – or perhaps we won’t.