I have always appreciated Fr Jonathan Munn’s reflections on the Church. Before applying to Bishop Damien in 2013, I contacted Fr Jonathan and told him about my experience in the TAC. I remember Arbishop Hepworth’s claims of 500,000 faithful worldwide, a figure that was unverifiable and turned out to be untrue. In my experience, if something seems too good to be true, it isn’t. Fr Jonathan told me about the ACC as it has re-formed itself from about the beginning of this century. The analogy was a simple one: What’s in the jar is what it says on the label. If it says “strawberry jam”, then you don’t expect to find lemon curd! His latest posting Imposing sincerity is poignant.
Since our troubled days in the late 1990’s, we have needed to take stock of our identity, as with our Roman Catholic continuing counterparts. We have to go beyond institutional labels and think in terms of our cultural traditions. In the same way as RC traditionalists claim not to have broken away from the Church to create something new, because they are continuing what they did before, the same is true of us. The RC traditionalists set up “provisional” groupings to avoid usurping Papal authority whilst they wait for Rome to “come to its senses and return to Tradition”. We have perhaps been more pragmatic by creating new provincial and diocesan structures, bishops with ordinary jurisdiction. We don’t expect mainstream Anglicanism to do anything other than continue on its trajectory of revisionism and its inevitable death spiral. We might not last in the long term either, but we have been around since 1977 (1992 in England), and we are stabilising and growing.
This break has been an opportunity as well as a danger. When proud and selfish men take the helm, human nature is seen at its worst and we all suffer. When nobility and apostolic zeal steer the ship between Scylla and Charybdis, peace and joy descend as we continue our faith and liturgical life without compromise. The latter has been my experience of the Anglican Catholic Church from April 2013 to the present day. We can experience Anglicanism without the soul-numbing bureaucracy and the post-truth era in which we live. My experience has been formed by many things, in particular becoming a Roman Catholic in 1981 and going to live on the Continent at the age of 23, university, my discovery of the Romantic world view and my yearning for origins. A genie can’t be put back in the bottle, but my whole way of seeing things comes through this kaleidoscope of experience. With this attitude to life and experience, I am more Pre-Reformation than Reformation, and my way of doing things as if Cranmer had limited himself to translating the Use of Sarum into English. An Anglican canon by the name of Warren did just that in 1911, using what Cranmer lifted out of the Sarum Use and restoring the rest in the same style of English. My other perspective is my Romantic world view influenced by Russian philosophy and German Idealism which made me resonate very closely with Cardinal Ratzinger. This is not simple conservatism but rather a quest for something more profoundly spiritual and human in our capacity to become divinised by grace and rise above our animal and sinful nature.
We seek to continue what brought us to Christ in the first place, and simply to remain indifferent to those who want us to fit into another mould. It is our responsibility to examine our sincerity and purity of intention, which can so easily go wrong through sin, weakness and malice. We seek to recover and perpetuate the Catholic tradition as it has been taught and lived in our own northern European and English culture. People in other parts of the world find our tradition and spiritual worldview something to be envied. Why not, if it brings them to God?
Like the RC Church, we have discipline and canon law, and a priest who abuses the trust his Bishop placed in him can expect to be warned, suspended or permanently laicised. Excommunication is a possibility in really extreme circumstances. However, the difference is a different approach to canon law than in post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism. We don’t sanction people who have eaten meat on Fridays or who failed to go to church on a Sunday, perhaps for a good reason. Everything should come from the heart, not from obeying a law on pain of punishment. We continuing Anglicans don’t always continue the same things as continuing Roman Catholics. We can generally trust the teaching of our Bishops without believing them to be infallible!
I like Fr Jonathan’s “new via media“, this time not between Catholicism and Protestantism, but between “post truth” and nihilistic liberalism and the extremes of Roman Catholic conservatism. If we are sincere, we will observe things like going vegetarian and eating less food on Fridays, go to Mass and avail of the Sacraments. It needs to come from within ourselves and not from some imaginary tyrant with a club ready to bash us over the head.
Is it a sin not to meet one’s Christian duty? Yes, it is, but it is not a sin that is going to be fixed by sternly dropping the anvil of guilt on the errant soul. If a Christian does not want to meet their obligations, then there is a spiritual need presenting itself to the pastoral remit of the Church as a communicating community. The deadly sin of acedia is not vanquished by the threat of excommunication, but rather by a sensible programme of paraclesis through prayer, listening, friendship, appropriate advice and latitude.
This is our English way. We don’t fulminate anathemas when people don’t understand things as the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils teach. People need support and education, not punishment. As I have often mentioned, the Royal Navy observed at the end of the eighteenth century, shortly after the court-martial of Captain Bligh for losing his ship to a mutiny, that flogging broke a good man’s heart and made a bad man even worse. The legalist would flog us, and the liberal would fail to recognise that we can be wrong, and need correction and support to return to the right way.
Another characteristic of our way is that we are less reliant on “devotions”, though many of us do say the Rosary or the oriental Jesus Prayer. We have the Mass and the Office, which we can say in classical English, leaving us with the same sense of familiarity as St Jerome’s Vulgate and the Latin psalms. Instead of saying that there is no salvation outside the Church, we prefer to say that there is salvation in the Church and make no further judgement.
Fr Jonathan is a Christian Humanist in the most noble meaning of that term. We can sin and become evil, but our essential nature is to be good and seek wisdom in God. He has certainly learned from the parable of the Grand Inquisitor:
Perhaps another thing Fr Jonathan and I have in common is our Romantic view of life and philosophy. Perhaps he might dispute that, but I see it in his writings.