Fr Jonathan Munn of our Diocese has written Provincial Synod and Provincial Anglicanism in his blog. He is just about to accompany our Bishop to America for the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church. Perhaps I might go another year if my Bishop asks me to do so. Synods are not only for discussing serious business but also for renewing friendship and spiritual fellowship.
Fr Jonathan inevitably goes into the difficult question of Anglican identity. This is a contested question, especially contested by those who would like the monopoly of that title and for Anglo-Catholics and others to make the thorny choice between Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. He and I have learned to ignore such jibes (nothing to do with changing tack with the wind abaft of the boat!) and to try to express things in positive terms. The experience of the last couple of years has been most instructive for all.
We look to the Undivided Church, a notion that is really an idea that transcends the squabbling over the centuries of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and various confessions of the Reformation. It is essentially a notion of the Church being over and above any particular group that claims alone to be the “true church”. This is a theme we go through over and over again without any agreement being reached. The True Church is higher and beyond any of us, and at the same time is within us all. The Gospels call it the Kingdom of God.
This somewhat Platonic universal idea concept of the Undivided Church enables us to see whether we are images and icons of that Church through our participation in the one Apostolic Priesthood and the living Sacrament of Christ. Such a vision of the Church allows for local and cultural variations. We are Anglicans and claim a heritage that comes from the Ecclesia Anglicana, as French Catholics appeal to the Ecclesia Gallicana. Anglican means English, but it also means placing more emphasis on the local Church than the authority of Rome. Fr Jonathan and I were born and bred in England, but this is not the case for all Anglicans. They were born in countries that were once part of the old British Empire but which are now independent nations. Many Anglicans do not even speak English, but appeal to our cultural and spiritual heritage.
Fr Jonathan makes a good point regarding those who would define Anglicanism exclusively in terms of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles, or through being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen of England. We in the Anglican Catholic Church are quite diverse on these points, but our general consensus is to rely more on the Undivided Church “universal idea” rather than what are really Protestant formularies restricting the Anglican Church to its post-Reformation expression and denying even the most sublime and good aspects of her pre-Reformation heritage. Perhaps we Catholics can be accused of short-changing the Protestant heritage. We have to be selective and praise the Bible and the Liturgy in the language of the people (even an old-fashioned idiom) but condemn the doing down of the priesthood and the sacramental dimension of the Church – and remaining bogged down in endless neo-scholastic reasoning about things like grace, predestination and who gets to heaven based on Mother Superior’s reports ( 😉 ).
Even in ethnical terms, Anglicanism isn’t always well defined, since we are not all English (even though I am), and England hasn’t always been a unified state under a single Monarch. If anything, since the eleventh century, we are more “French” (Norman to be exact) than Saxons or Angles or hailing from a Germanic culture. The Norman heritage established our liturgical heritage in the Use of Sarum and the other diocesan uses until the reign of Henry VIII.
There are interpretations of Saint Augustine of Hippo outside Luther and Calvin. He is a Saint of the Catholic (wider than Roman) Church, and is recognised to have shaped western theology and spirituality. Augustine enjoys considerable authority in all western Churches, but he is not the only Church Father, even from the fourth century. Others are concerned for subjects other than simply who gets to heaven or gets sent to hell.
In the absolute, the Anglican Catholic Church to which Fr Jonathan and I belong is an independent body like the Old Catholic Church or any other that is not in communion with any of the Eastern Patriarchates or “recognised” Synods, Rome or the Lambeth Conference. We do Anglican and Catholic things, and consider our canonical separation to be simply an accident of history, which we hope one day will be repaired in God’s good time. We share our cultural roots with the Catholics of northern France. I live in Normandy, part of the same ethne as southern England. To this day, the coasts of Sussex and the Pays de Caux are so similar, and even the traditional architecture has much in common. Our liturgical heritage is the Use of Sarum, sharing its roots with the rites of Paris, Rouen, Bayeux, Coutances, Evreux and so many other dioceses in these parts. The Reformation brought translations into English for bringing a clear pastoral benefit for the people, though Latin hasn’t entirely disappeared. It is used for musical settings, a constant reference (eg. the first words of the Psalms in the Prayer Book and parts of the Mass to be sung like the Gloria in excelsis and the Sanctus), and sometimes for whole liturgies.
There is also the monastic element, which I would define as an insistence on the liturgy, a balance between work and prayer and sobriety in the devotional dimension of our spiritual life. Anglicanism has done better than post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism at keeping the parish and cathedral Office going. That is an undeniable aspect of the Book of Common Prayer over the Roman Breviary.
Fr Jonathan rightfully places a great deal of emphasis on tolerance, something I mentioned in my most recent sailing post. Some of us have very “authentic” wooden boats built the way they used to be built a hundred years ago. Other boats are made of plywood stitched and glued with epoxy resin and made to look like traditional clinker-built vessels. Other boats are made of fibreglass or plastic but have traditional rigs depending on the resources and skills of their owners. Once we are all on the water, some boats might go faster than others because of their hull shapes and / or the sailor’s skill, but we all respect each other. It should be the same in the Church. I use Sarum in Latin (English or French when needed), and others use the Anglican Missal, a careful compromise between the Sarum / Prayerbook and post-Tridentine Roman traditions. Like epoxy-plywood and plastic hulls, we do the same thing as what an expensive authentic vessel can do – sail and bring joy to the sailor and the seafaring community. We need to build up tolerance but welcoming difference and diversity.
There is the problem of comprehensiveness, the notion of compromising on what we believe to be good, true and authentic, but it seems to be the only thing that holds a Church together. But, where are the limits? These are difficulties, but there is a whole difference between the liturgy in English and women priests / “gay marriage”. We have to keep the discussion going, however difficult it is to keep tempers from fraying.
I look forward to reading about what will be achieved at our Provincial Synod, and my heart and prayers go out to those who will be assembled at Newport Beach (must be a nice place for sailing if the Pacific Ocean is behaving itself!). But our people won’t be there to mess about in boats, but to work for the good of our Church and our mission in the world.