It is not my intention to rant against Rome, because it is an Apostolic Church in direct continuity from the Undivided and Universal Church to which we as Anglicans profess our faith in the Affirmation of Saint Louis.
We repudiate all deviation of departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to these essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order:
The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by “the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,” and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.
We read this in Lumen Gentium of Vatican II:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
Ideally, there would never have been any schisms, because the bishops of all the local Churches would have lived up to their callings. The evidence of the early Church recognising the primacy of the See of Rome is very strong in the Fathers, and the Popes always enjoyed a singular authority in their ministry. But, things went very wrong and clerics betrayed the nature of the Church. The onus is on Rome to draw us – who belong to Churches that have been cut off from that communion for reasons of resisting tyranny – to take many steps back and accommodate us full heartedly.
Roman Catholicism after the Council of Trent evolved into something quite different, amalgamating the tyrannical clericalism of popes, bishops and priests with a kind of hyper-rationalism that went hand-in-hand with a kind of religion that emphasised morality and social conformity. Vatican II was a ray of hope from the point of view of ecumenism and putting emphasis back on the mystical and sacramental dimension of the Church. Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium were monuments of these aspirations – which in practice went nowhere.
Nearly three years ago, Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote the article Is Catholicism about to break into three? There is something about that priest I don’t like, but that is neither here nor there. I am no fan of his, unlike my little friend from Los Angeles, but he does come out with some sense. I am not entirely with him in his analysis of various “churchmanships” as we would call them in the Anglican world. I remember in the 1980’s talking with a priest in Paris, suggesting that the RC Church reflected the Church of England in matters of “high church”, “low church” and “middle of the road”. He was quite offended and denied that such distinctions existed. For him, you heeded and obeyed the magisterium – even if it flew in the face of common sense. It was the beginning of the end of my time as a Roman Catholic convert. Evidently, what counts is the Führerprinzip from which the twentieth-century dictators got their ideas.
Whether the RC Church is splitting up along Anglican or Jewish lines, I could hardly care less. What is interesting is some of the descriptions I find of some tendencies. The bit on the traditionalists is quite sensationalist with the descriptions of sedevacantists and groups with their own “popes”. Priests in the “official Church” will often heap contempt on those poor unfortunates without asking themselves any questions about how such a mess occurred in the first place. From the lines of fracture being compared with orthodox, conservative and reformed Judaism, Fr Longenecker brings out the categories of “traditionalist”, “magisterial” and “progressive”. What interests me here is what he is calling “magisterial” Catholics.
“Magisterial” Catholics put loyalty to the authority of the pope and magisterial teaching first and foremost. They are happy with the principles of the Second Vatican Council, but want to “Reform the Reform.” They want to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass with solemnity, reverence, and fine music. “Magisterial” Catholics are likely to be enthusiastic about apologetics, evangelization, and a range of pro-life ministries. They think the Church needs to relate to the modern world, use new media, and connect with the younger generation, but they look to the pope and Church teachings to help them do that faithfully. They uphold traditional Catholic teaching in faith and morals, but wish to communicate and live these truths in an up-to-date and relevant way. George Weigel dubbed them “Evangelical Catholics.”
I have been most intrigued over the past few days with the fascination John Bruce has with Rev’d Allen Guelzo. It is odd that a Roman Catholic would cite a Protestant Episcopalian as an authority. The major of this reasoning would appear to be that if you want to claim to be a Catholic, you have to be Roman Catholic, a convert. Otherwise you have to be a Protestant. Being a “non-Roman” Catholic is in some way insincere and an expression of something false or counterfeit. I have come across this reasoning before, above all at the time when the Ordinariates were forming in 2011-12.
Guelzo was not originally Episcopalian, but was Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), and therefore low church. He was born in Japan of American Evangelical parents. His theological position is a sort of moderate Calvinism. Finding that the REC was giving in to Anglo-Catholicism too much, he became a low-church Episcopalian in 1997 and was ordained a priest. I have other details but I am not at liberty to go into them all here.
What seems to have attracted John Bruce was this “evangelical” Catholic tendency. I am not sure he ever understood the issues with Anglo-Catholicism or RC traditionalism in its spectrum of “positions”. He wants to give the highest priority to the authority and magisterium of the Pope, to clericalism. He would prefer a reverent Novus Ordo, but would accept any other by default. He will be hot on apologetics – get as many people into the “true church” – and put the blame on them if the conversion was not “successful”. He will certainly favour the John Paul II or Francis style papacy with its use of the cult of personality and being “media savvy”. Bruce barely conceals his contempt for Benedict XVI. For him, the RC Church is the ideal “mega church”.
I don’t mind what he prefers. It’s a free world, but we can get a clearer idea of what he wants Anglo-Catholics to adopt after having sacrificed everything that brought them to faith in the first place. Perhaps he gets his jollies out of seeing others suffer in their consciences and spiritual lives. Such people exist – it is a simple matter of evil. Perhaps we can all reflect on what it means to be Evangelical, which etymologically means “of the Gospel”. Unfortunately, in reality, it does not simply mean fidelity to Jesus’ teachings and works in the Gospel, but distinctively Protestant and Reformed doctrines presented in a dampened-down way as to be nominally compatible with RC doctrines. The spirit of it is felt acutely, especially in an American context. It is not for me to judge what is Christian or not Christian, but I know that it would not attract me to Christianity.
As an Anglican (ACC), I believe that we should dialogue with Rome as much as possible without giving in to the whims of sinful human nature. We recognise the historical primacy of the See of Rome, and that unity with the successor of St Peter is the ideal. Centuries have passed by and the issues are not those of mariology, sacramental theology, other things discussed at the Council of Trent – but issues of authority and the authority’s respect for legitimate diversity. Much of the dialogue from all sides has been little more than hypocritical clap-trap and hot air. I don’t think we will get anywhere, but we must always keep hope and goodwill.