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Anglicans: Being Roman Catholic is Still Being Roman Catholic

Jesse Cone

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Not only does the Anglican Communion have to worry about it's Cerberus heads fighting each other, it is being torn in different directions from outside forces. The past month witnessed not only a substantial meeting between the ACNA and the OCA occurred at Nashota house, but also the Pope's monumental opening of a new road from Anglicanism to communion with Rome. For those who desire the cliff-notes: Rome will assign mentor-type people to serve as their contact/guide amid Catholicism, and Rome willing to concede certain standard practices including letting married priests apply to retain their ministry. Such newly minted Roman Catholics will be allowed to retain pretty much their standard operating procedures, though I'm sure dogmatic compliance will be expected.

The heads of Cerberus are also of different minds when it comes to this opportunity; some reading it as hostile or subversive while others see it as a moment of triumph and excitement. Though I spent a couple years at an Anglican parish, and I have tried desperately to understand the Anglican mindset, I confess that it still eludes me. I understand why this is a good move for the Pope, and possibly a good thing for a society slipping into chaos; as this statement by the ex-Anglican-now-Roman Catholic priest expresses that clearly. What I don't understand is the response that I keep hearing from the Anglican corner: rejoicing.

>From where I sit there are two reasons that Anglicans can see this as happy news. First, there are some Anglicans that really just want to be Roman Catholic, and for one reason or another ( if, for example, they are married priests) they never screwed up the courage to go get 'r done. I've heard from several people that the Episcopal diocese in my backyard, Fort Worth, "wishes it was Roman Catholic". Perhaps I am insensitive, and I'm sure there are nuances I'm not getting, but if you firmly believe what Roman Catholicism dogma is concerning The Church, what could possibly keep you from it? And, to the credit of many, nothing could— and therefore they no longer count among the Anglicans.

The second happy contingency consists of those that see any movement towards unity as an act of tolerance and compromise. Anglicans are used to seeing the two treated synonymously, but I suspect the misunderstanding stems from something more endemic. My experience — and the recent responses to the Pope's announcement— testify to a particular attachment to certain traditions and customs. While there are some Anglicans that desire respect, admiration, respect from the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, but most of them are content to be doing things their way. Some boast of their "apostolic succession", but most of them don't feel the need to whip out credentials to anybody. As one ex-Anglican friend told me, "The real difference between the Anglicans and the Orthodox is Authority. When it comes to that, they're Protestant".

The way that the Pope's move reads to some Anglicans is that they can retain business as usual and be Roman Catholic. Their traditions and customs — to which they are astoundingly loyal — as well as most of their clergy can be left intact. Were I Roman Catholic, I would be spitting mad over something as precious as The Church being treated so cheaply.

The question comes back around to, what does it mean to be part of the Anglican tradition? Organizations, bishops, and institutions aside, what is essential to the tradition and the present enactment of that tradition? Again, the answers among Anglicans run the spectrum. Many Anglicans are happy to have their practices validated and secured by the Pope, many of which were established as an attempt to turn away from dubious Roman innovations back towards apostolicity. These Anglos exclaim that the Pope is making more concessions for the Anglican tradition than the Orthodox do with the Western Rite, but others see this as a move that fundamentally undercuts Anglicanism. Says Fr. Rutler, in the aforementioned article:

It is a dramatic slap-down of liberal Anglicanism and a total repudiation of the ordination of women, homosexual marriage and the general neglect of doctrine in Anglicanism. Indeed, it is a final rejection of Anglicanism.

While I am not sure what a "final rejection of Anglicanism" would look like — I doubt it would look like this — but this does seem to be an outright dismissal of the meat and potatoes of Anglicanism. (Meat and potatoes which I believe are not "the ordination of women, homosexual marriage, and a general neglect of doctrine".)

It basically interprets Anglicanism as a spiritual patrimony based on ethnic tradition rather than substantial doctrine and makes clear that it is not a historic "church" but rather an "ecclesial community” that strayed and now is invited to return to communion with the Pope as Successor of Peter.

Here the Orthodox are in agreement with Fr. Rutler: the Anglican church is not "The Church", or a valid branch of it. Where Rome and the Orthodox differ is in what they find valuable in the Anglo churches, and consequently, how they see unity and like-mindedness coming about. Those who journey to Rome are welcomed by those who believe they are dwelling at the epicenter of ecclesial validation, where Christianity in its fullness is validated. Conversely those who journey to Orthodoxy find themselves among a communion of those journeying into the spiritual life, ever seeking out the proper obedience to Christ, the Church's Head. Therefore, the Orthodox see more intrinsic value to Anglo Christianity, and offer the claim of "apostolicity" to all those who follow the teaching of the Apostles. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Arthur Michael Ramsey's famous quotation is revealing of the best of the Anglican self-identity.

While the Anglican Church is vindicated by its place in history, often with a strikingly balanced witness to the gospel, the Church and to sound learning, its greater vindication lies in pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy; it baffles neatness and logic. For it is not sent to commend itself as 'the best type of Christianity', but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.

While the sad fact is that much of what Archbishop Ramsey considers a strength of the Anglican church points to its recent failings, examples of the "strikingly balanced witness to the gospel, the Church and to sound learning" are still alive. What is at stake here is the "greater vindication", which Rome cannot accept. The brokenness and untidy nature used to describe Anglicanism works well to describe the other Orthodox jurisdictions, and how they point to Christ. To the Roman bishop, the self-described "vicar of Christ", such brokenness can only be a flaw.

The history of Christian worship in the British Isles is marked by the decision that changes had to be made to preserve the fidelity to apostolic teaching and practice; and this was considered to be more essential than obedience to the Roman pontiff. Since that time Anglicanism has been divided, persecuted, and — in this past century — rootless. For those Anglicans who desire to be rooted but do not want to sacrifice much, Rome has made it possible. Catechesis is easy when it doesn't change how you go about your business. The Orthodox Church asks more than that. It asks of Anglicanism what it asks of itself — humble and faithful obedience to Christ and the Tradition He established. Rome offers the concerned Anglicans the status quo; the Orthodox offer them respect.

Jesse Cone is a graduate of Biola University and is currently studying philosophy at the University of Dallas. He and his wife Kelly were christmated into the Orthodox Church in 2007. He and his wife Kelly currently attend St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas. He writes on Mongolia Mountain blog.

Read the entire article on the Magnolia Mountain website (new window will open).

Posted: 19-Nov-2009

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