The Quest for Recognition and Respectability

I lived through this whole thing with the TAC and the illusion we entertained that we were going to get an instant fix from Pope Benedict XVI and suddenly become “respectable”. It was a big wave to ride on in late 2009 to about mid-2011, and I was being invited to conferences and radio broadcasts here in France to talk about the TAC and our quest for corporate reunion with Rome. Something happened, but not as Archbishop Hepworth expected. The Ordinariates are still going, but no one other than themselves knows what is going on. There is nothing to report.

Some will suggest to Continuing Anglicans that we should turn to the Orthodox. Why should they be interested? It is like the virgins who were out of oil in their lamps asking the virgins with oil to share it with them. Through not being prepared, those without the oil (or rather those who had to leave their preparedness station to go and buy some) were turned away from the gate. The Orthodox kept their traditions. Roman Catholics and Anglicans squandered theirs. You squander your money and you have to earn it back yourself. Why should anyone else care?

Others still suggest knocking on the door of the PNCC. Who are they? They are simply the descendants of a Polish Roman Catholic community that got a raw deal from the local Roman Catholic bishop in the 1890’s, and they split off and eventually joined up with the Union of Utrecht (and since broke away over women’s ordinations). However unjustly they were treated, they were schismatics. The difference is that they had quite a lot of money, like the Society of St Pius X today, and could afford to build churches and employ their priests full-time. Many years ago, they embarked on a programme of liturgical reforms similar to those in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960’s and 70’s. Is that what we want?

The big question is whether we believe in ourselves. Faced with any of those “big” churches, we have invalid orders, we are not a “true” church, and we have only to close up shop and crawl under our carpets. Do we believe in ourselves, or are we so insecure that we need “their” recognition and respectability?

I think this is a good starting point to examine ourselves and think what we are all about. We don’t believe in papal infallibility and “totalitarian” ecclesiology, we value our liturgy and our own community life, we believe in our priesthood. We are western and are unconcerned with Eastern Orthodox theology except for purposes of comparative study. We are not dissident nineteenth-century Catholics but dissidents from the sixteenth-century and have followed another historical experience. We are Anglicans like French Catholics critical of excessive papal power are Gallicans. To some, Anglicanism means the English Reformation and the prevailing Calvinism from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, to others, it means the local Catholic Church of our ethnic culture.

No other Church can accommodate our specificities without surrendering their own identity to an extent. Why should they? Roman Catholicism has always found eastern rite uniatism an acute embarrassment in its relations with the Orthodox. We can manage on our own as we have been doing for years. I see the effort to “herd cats” (work for Continuing Anglican unity) in the same way. It is a question of why – to become a big status, “official” and “respectable” Church, or to settle disputes quietly and humbly, developing friendships and greater empathy. The most important thing to remember is that we are all formed by our history and experience, and we are not going to give up our own identity or resources to take in “shipwrecked” people from a broken-down community or negotiate with a Church stronger than ourselves.

The big problem is knowing whether churches have credibility without being committed to this “horse trading” process. The more time that passes, the less I care and the more I see nearly all our contemporaries alienated from Christianity. If we don’t believe in ourselves, the best thing is to give up and “get a life”.

Hankering for being what we left (Church of England, ECUSA, Rome, etc.) is a temptation. Insecure men go and get themselves consecrated bishops and then start trying to negotiate their way back in with Rome. It doesn’t work. The elephant in the room is “perpetual canonical irregularity” even if they can produce evidence of the ordination being sacramentally valid. Such “wannabes” usually start to imitate what they desire, and lose all credibility.

We can just be ourselves. We each have our place, and nearly all of us will be forgotten within a couple of generations of our deaths. What is it all for? That is the question we have to ask ourselves. In the end, it is just living the Christian life and giving ourselves the sacramental means to do so. If God calls any of us to anything extraordinary, most of us are “ready for any good work”. Otherwise we stay in our place and know our limitations.

We are here to sow. Others after us will reap the harvest. Is that not just?

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26 Responses to The Quest for Recognition and Respectability

  1. Jacob Flournoy says:

    I must admit I have had my own doubts about the validity of Anglican Orders, on those occasions I have considered the Orthodox and the PNCC. Both are extremely ethnocentric to the point of Philetism and the PNCC suffers from the same liturgical devolution as Rome and Canterbury. I always come to the same conclusion, either continue as we are or give up Christianity all together.

    • The Roman Catholics used to insist on the matter and form, but the form was modified together with the significatio ex adiunctis in the ordination rites of 1968. Either nobody has valid orders, or the priesthood is something of the Church. The Pauline ordinal was the greatest refutation of Apostolicae Curae I have ever come across. Even the Vindication by the English Archbishops highlighted the fact that Rome was shooting itself in the foot! Can you be a sincere member of your Church? If so, your priesthood is valid. If not, you have to go out into the wilderness and spend your life knocking on closed, bolted and locked doors – or join a church on its terms.

      It doesn’t take much for a community to become an “icon” of the Church. When that happens, the universal Church subsists in that community under the oversight of a Bishop (or synod of bishops). Where there is the Church, there are valid orders.

      But of course, most churchmen don’t think like that and, left to their own devices, deny any goodness or truth in anything other than their own sect. It’s their problem, not ours.

  2. Michael Frost says:

    I do like these two thought: “We can just be ourselves.” and “We are here to sow.”

    I oft think many of us, myself included, get too caught up at times with the “big picture” and we forget to appreciate the little things. The Holy Ghost in action in local churches. The small CA parish in my area is having a big event this coming Sunday when they confirm 5 people, 3 children and 2 adults. Given their current size of around 20, those are pretty big numbers for them. What is fascinating is the diversity. The congregation is mostly white and aging. The kids come from a black African family that emigrated to USA. One of the adults is rather young and moving out of a low church evangelical background. The other adult is older and moving out of the LCMS. Is nice to see CA appeal to two different “types” of adults. A rather eclectic group. [Never having witnessed a CA confirmation, I’m interested in seeing what they do.]

    • Unlike my most recent article, I have to take credit for cultural diversity in the USA which is still going pretty badly here in Europe leading to the advent of extreme right-wing politics. Indeed, appreciate the little things and parish life.

      • We don’t. We just have lots of surplus wealth and a nuclear-armed bureaucracy.

      • Surplus wealth? I thought the US was trillions in debt. Unless the wealth is private which it probably is.

      • Dale says:

        Cultural diversity in Europe and cultural diversity in North America are vastly different. The main harbingers of so-called cultural diversity in Europe tend to be Muslims who by no means relate well, usually, to western European cultural concepts and ideals; whilst what passes for cultural diversity in North America tends to be a large “Hispanic” immigration, both legal as well as illegal from Central and South America. Spanish immigrants are culturally western, and Latin Catholic; hence,the cultural divide is not really all that great and the assimilation process is very, very quick.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Father, at first I was taken aback by this post, not knowing quite where it was going or had come from. In the final paragraphs it became clearer: a call or reminder that we either believe in whatever it is we are doing, for our own reasons, or stop wasting our own time as well as anyone else’s. In other words, if one can’t get one’s way within the (name your big Church), why go outside only for the purpose of knocking for re-admittance again?

    Long ago, my mother taught me you make your bed and lie in it. All this dispute about “orders” to my mind is ridiculous. Once I decided that sectarianism in the face of diverse sincere faith was antithetical to both commonsense and the Gospel, I rejected all Roman (or Orthodox) refusal of priesthood in others. Priesthood in my eyes is a spiritual work, not a Gucci label patented and copyrighted by any one sect. Let us recognise how destructive this talk of “orders” in any sense but function, is. Ministers who celebrate the Eucharist and sacraments are priests in doing so. Priests serve the temple, which in Christian terms, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy is their principal work. In pronouncing the words of absolution, in pouring the waters of baptism, in anointing the sick and dying, in blessing couples and all manner of things they are priests. They may also be pastors, and shepherds, and prophets, reading the Word, preaching and instructing, succouring and counselling, co-suffering, and so on.

    In my view, priest-hood is the thing that exists as a well in which a believer dips when he or she acts as a medium of the grace (i.e. power) of God to seeking hearts. But people need confidence. It is for this reason that the commissioning of a person by the bishop of the community authenticates the intention of the “ordained” priest. Unfortunately, centuries of Christians are trained to expect that priests have – crudely speaking – magic hands as a result of this official fixation on validity of transmission. Thus we have charlatans claiming special status simply because the person ordaining them was ordained in a purportedly continuous line to one of the twelve apostles. Never mind that the said “bishop” has no community of their own in the first place! We have Anglican and Lutheran priests filled with Christian faith and love who are somehow pronounced deficient by people who imagine their validity criteria trumps all other considerations.

    What I say is that if a person wants so much to be a Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or Lutheran, per se then stay in, shut up and take whatever they dish out to you wherever it leads. If we do not agree with how they go about things, then with conviction, let us follow our own path, however it is made up, and not someone else’s. It is not the Pauline ordinal that is the problem, but Apostolicae Curae that is the embarrassment, not worth the paper it was written on.

  4. ed pacht says:

    On the matter of orders, I do believe in the importance of apostolic succession as embodying the continuity of the Church in time. I do indeed believe that a ‘valid’ ordination is essential for a truly Catholic priesthood. That being said, I find it necessarily to mention often that there is no clergyman on earth that can prove hand-to-head succession all the way back to the Apostles. The early church does not seem to have felt it necessary to have recorded precisely who laid hands upon whom. Such records do not exist for the early days; what we have is lists (not always verifiable) of successive occupants of a particular see. Take note that the most usual pattern was for the new bishop to be consecrated when the old bishop had died (and therefore was not the consecrator). Thus the assumption that the Succession has been maintained, though probable, cannot be precisely proved, but has to rely on the faith of the Church.

    Thus, while I do consider historical continuity to be a matter of great importance, I think Stephen has it pretty much right in saying that it is the continuity of worship in the believing community that serves as evidence of validity of its ministers and sacraments. It is not the priesthood that forms the Church, but the priesthood is a product of the life of the Church.

    • It is not the priesthood that forms the Church, but the priesthood is a product of the life of the Church.

      What a succinct way to put it! That’s how it seems to me.

      • AbpLloydOSJV says:

        I think St Cyprian would disagree though I understand what you’re saying!

      • ed pacht says:

        I’m no patristics scholar, but my impression has been that Cyprian’s view was not narrowly focused on the office of bishop, but on a more organic view of church and bishop gathered together to worship. Neither has ‘validity’ without the other. I suspect he’d pretty much agree.

  5. The rather questionable ( I nearly wrote ‘horrible’) paragraph on the PNCC merits a belated comment. I have insider knowledge with regard to current negotiations between that jurisdiction and others which are in an advanced state. I can state that some Continuing Anglican jurisdictions very actively seek to be involved in the current process. Would readers please note that I will be refraining from further comment at the present time. Alright perhaps one further comment – there are Continuing Anglican Bishops who are not anti PNCC!

    • Would you care to give us more information? Whose paragraph on the PNCC is questionable or “horrible”? Would you like to offer constructive criticism? Are you referring to the Free Church of England?

      For the record, I am deeply sceptical about secret discussions stretching out for years, and our being told that everyone should depend on that new “whatever it is”. If people play games, the rest of us are not interested. I read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum many years ago and found it particularly apposite in the study of this aspect of human psychology concerning conspiracy theories and the “big secret”. When you dig, there is rarely anything there. Transparency pays.

      So if there is useful information, please share it with us. Perhaps you could elaborate on http://nordiskkatolsk.no/?p=608. It seems a nice and cosy setup, but irrelevant to most of us. Like with the Ordinariate, I see very few people leaving the Church of England to join them.

  6. There is information which I would like to write about here but I must respect personal friendships and requests for confidentiality. I very much agree with your comment about ‘secret discussions’. I wish to see much more information out in the public domain as soon as possible. I think it fair to say that Bishops from within Continuing Anglicanism do have a particular need at present to work on possible avenues for Inter Communion or affiliation with a considerable degree of secrecy arising from internal tensions.

    • I disagree about secrecy. If things cannot be accomplished in the light of day, then there is something morally doubtful, or people are being ripped off in one way or another. I suspect the result of the secret conspiracy intends to be a big and high-status outfit and counts on pulling in hundreds of disaffected Anglo-Catholics. Even Rome did not do that well. Everyone was staking his claim secretly from the Forward in Faith bishops to Archbishop Hepworth. Each had his chip in the big game or thought he had.

      There is nothing secret or underhand about the ACC or many other Continuing Churches not involved in “cloak and dagger” stuff. We are honest, up front and respected, even if not many people join us. It also means we cannot be “outed” because we have nothing to hide.

      I am sure my Bishop would agree that it is important to talk with other Christians, but frankly and with no secrecy. When I came across this “Byzantine” complexity everyone wants to put into religion, the more sympathy I have for the life and ministry of John Wesley!

  7. Sitting down and enjoying a pleasant light lunch I thought further and decided to write a little more. It is of course a well known fact that the Free Church of England is at an advanced stage of negotiation with the Union of Scranton regarding formal association. This information is available on both the FCOE and NCC websites. More should appear quite soon.

    I think it also not exactly secret that catholic anglicans from within the C of E are similarly engaged. I anticipate that they will be successful.

    I agree with your view that not many will leave the C of E to head in this new direction. I think in that jurisdiction we are now mostly down to the bedrock of institutional loyalty.

    None of this affects me personally as I am happy where I am – traditional Old Catholic with a commute now and then across the Tiber to attend Mass pending an OCC Mass Centre being formed here in the South West.

    Where secrecy comes into it is in the matter of approaches from Continuing Anglicans from other jurisdictions. So far as I know this only currently involves North American jurisdictions. For the avoidance of controversy I will add that to the best of my knowledge no Bishops from Continuing Jurisdictions in the UK are in any way involved.

    • North American jurisdictions???

      I have known since March 2012 that the PNCC is talking with the ACNA. At least our Bishop is not involved in these conversations. Should he be?

      • This morning, I received a kind e-mail from Dr William Tighe informing me about the various Anglican groups moving into full communion with the PNCC. He asked me to respect confidentiality about the nuts and bolts of the different groups, which I will.

        However, I replied to him with some reflections. I have a great amount of esteem for Bishop Flemestad and the hard work he is doing with the Free Church of England. I know, independently from Dr Tighe, that dialogues in America involve the Anglican Church in North America and remnants of Forward in Faith. This I knew from a meeting that took place in England in March 2012.

        Among the groups of “dissident” Anglicans (opposed to women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, theological relativism, etc.), there are two main tendencies: the older Evangelical reaction against Anglo-Catholicism and the Anglo-Catholic tendency reflected by the Affirmation of Saint Louis. The PNCC is interested in doing business with the former.

        Personally, I have no inclination to leave the ACC which I joined in April 2013 on leaving the remnants of the TAC – and explore what would be for me uncharted territory in ecclesial bodies and leading personalities completely foreign to me. They don’t attract me any more than their former Forward in Faith counterparts in the Ordinariate.

        I understand the quest for security and stability, but my experience is that these things come from the heart, from ourselves, and not from the mirage of an invincible ecclesial institution. We are all finite and fragile, and so are our works and aspirations. We must be humble and trust only in God and our own intuition.

        I believe that we Continuers from the Affirmation of Saint Louis do well to continue, to be available to dialogue with any Christians – including the “other” Anglicans – but not be surprised if they turn their noses up at us and dismiss us as sub-whatever. They could do much to inspire confidence, but I have yet to see an outstretched hand. If ever that happens, I will ask my Bishop what he thinks! I trust him.

      • Dale says:

        It would appear that Dr Tighe’s interest in any type of conversations between certain groups of Anglicans and the PNCC must be very odd, since he has referred to the PNCC as “barking mad.”

      • William Tighe says:

        Dale really should learn how to read (or perhaps to think before he responds). I never referred to the PNCC as “barking mad,” but, rather, used those words to characterize its founder’s 1930 book “The Apocalypse of the Twentieth Century,” a book which I have read twice with interest and amusement (the latter especially at the oblique way in which the author hints at his support for WO in “the priesthood of the future”). And I stand by my characterization of it.

      • Dale says:

        But Dr Tighe, how do you separate the founder, and his book, from the present PNCC? You seemed unable to separate “Calvinism” from John Calvin not too long ago. Perhaps it is not my ability to read, but yours to write?

  8. After an enjoyable visit to the garden of a nice pub here in Cornwall and relaxing under a canopy with the sun shining, a lovely pleasant cooling breeze and two pints of Kronenbourg 1664 I would like to further presume upon Father Anthony’s kind indulgence by posting a third entry here.I’ll vanish for a bit after this as I would not wish in any way to either presume upon Fr. A’s hospitality or perhaps bore the readership.

    The significant enquiries I have referred to in North America arise from deep misgivings from catholic Anglicans currently within the ACNA. I have not and will not identify anyone either there or within the Church of England here, or for that matter any potentially dissident jurisdictions.

    Here on Sarum Use we have previously explored together the fault line in both Anglican Catholicism and Old Catholicism in the matter of women’s ordination into the Apostolic Succession and the Historic Threefold Ministry. That is where the approaches to the PNCC originate from those who approve the definition of catholicity stated by St Vincent de Lerins.

    My own view is simply stated as a member of the Holy Laity. Our Lord Jesus Christ initiated the ministry of His Church when He ordained the Apostles.A view held and also clearly stated by the RCC and the Holy Orthodox.I do not hold the view that a small unrepresentative group of predominantly white middle aged or elderly, middle and upper class liberals, mostly male individuals, can hold a relatively short debate, take a vote and decide otherwise.
    Indeed I accept the doctrine of the Roman Catholic and the Holy Orthodox in the matter.

    I am grateful to Father Anthony for being freely permitted to express my opinions here. I’ll close by confirming my personal commitment to unity between Continuing Anglican Catholic jurisdictions and traditional Old Catholicism.

  9. ed pacht says:

    I tend to agree with Fr. Anthony about the negative effects of secrecy. However, I do not believe that all negotiations and planning need to be held in the glare of full daylight either. Thinkers need time to think, whether singly or in groups, time to formulate even the questions themselves, let alone the proposals to be made. Some things are best not shared in a partial and easily misunderstood form. I guess we’re back to my remarked-upon shibboleth of balance in all things.

  10. Fr Anthony
    To answer your question above, so far as I am aware the ACC is uninvolved in the current discussions and negotiations concerning the PNCC and other jurisdictions.

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