When it suits them , they speak of the "Elizabethan Settlement," but on every other occasion insist there was no settlement; that all were of like mind as Calvinists, with a few exceptions who were more Lutheran (and even fewer who were Zwinglian). Yet, somehow, the Church of England produced a Book of Common Prayer based on the Rule of St. Benedict, a service of Holy Communion that was a simple but dignified Catholic Mass, and an Ordinal that retained the three Orders of ministry (by declared intention in the Preface) combined with laws that required the Apostolic Succession. To prove that this was all an accident, done by mistake against their deepest convictions, quotations from the most radical to the most inquisitive individuals are trotted out, displayed, and triumphantly quoted as if they speak for the Church of England that, in all its laws, acted somehow quite to the contrary. The logic of this exercise has been repeated so often as to have become fact in the minds of these apologists, be they modern Evangelicals of the Anglican Communion, or Roman Catholics- strange bedfellows in a common cause.
This leads me to yet another problem caused by this misinformation: The problem of my fellow High Churchmen who are troubled by the sound and fury of this tale told by...well, others. Since my recent posts have led to questions about my own speculations or "inside information" about the TAC (which I simply don't have), I was not writing in direct response to what has been reported about that jurisdiction. Mainly, this is due to everything we do not know, and to the fact that from Archbishop Hepworth on down, the bishops (at his request) do not grant interviews. The entire episode is, at the present time, a mystery wrapped in an enigma, with all cards held tightly to the chest. The result, surprise, surprise, is an abundance of speculation. At this point I cannot even confirm the reported signing of the RC Catechism in Portsmouth, let alone try to explain to anybody what such an act would have been intended to convey.
Nonetheless, as an Anglican outside the TAC who has been a friend to that jurisdiction, and whose clerical friends are, almost all of them, in it, I have concerns. This report, all the way back in October, tells us as much as we are allowed to know about the thinking of Archbishop Hepworth. As reported in the B.C. Catholic Newspaper on October 29, last year:
When Archbishop Hepworth was in Ottawa last January for the ordination of two auxiliary bishops, he told Salt and Light Television that while many Anglicans have decided to become Catholics as individuals, "we would prefer to approach Rome as a community."
Archbishop Hepworth said he did not underestimate the difficulty of coming into union with the Holy See. "The saying of Anglicans is that if you don't have one Pope, everybody is a Pope, because everybody can make up their minds what is infallible."1
"What is important, and we are having to learn as a community, is to ask not what we think, but what the Church says, and five centuries of bad habits are going to die hard," he said, "but if you ask us if we accept the Magisterium of the Church, yes, and we all have the Catechism of the Catholic Church on our desks and many of us preach from it."This does not sound like a desire to open discussions, but to submit. For those of us who believe that some of the bad habits of the last five centuries are just as much Roman habits as Anglican habits, and who believe furthermore, that we also have some very good habits of thought that should not be killed off, these words send up a red flag. If this announces a goal of submission, then he has a very big selling job to do among the people of the TAC, which cannot be accomplished by holding cards close to the chest in secrecy; otherwise, if prodded to move, the largest jurisdiction of Continuing Anglicans will not move together, but will simply break apart.
Nonetheless, it may be that the archbishop was saying something different, along the lines that follow.
Bad habits exist among all of the major branches of Christianity, whether it is the sloppy customs of modern Roman Catholics or the libertine indulgence of Anglicans. One bad habit is acquiescence to disunity among Catholic Christians, and the refusal to enter into meaningful dialogue. However, dialogue requires a defense of important doctrines, and charity compels to honesty about theological differences in essential matters. Reunion can happen only when the conscience of every party is respected, and if a good defense is made of those truths we cannot abandon.
One bad habit we do not have, that the Roman Catholics and Orthodox have, is the delusion of self-sufficiency. Here is where the Branch Fact (that the Church is divided by human weakness, though one in Christ by the Spirit) lends us humility. We, Anglicans, know that we cannot say to other members of the Body of Christ, "I have no need of thee." In the case of the Magisterium in Rome, we need the moral clarity of their teaching. They alone have had the courage and diligence to study the changes of the modern world and its ethical challenges in a thorough manner, and their teaching about morality for this confused age is a goldmine we need to draw from. And, they in turn can learn from our wisdom about the central features of the Gospel, centering more on God's grace and a bit less on complicated religious legislation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Unlike most Roman Catholics, I have read, and highly value, The Catechism of the Catholic Church that bears Papal Imprimatur from the days of Pope John Paul II. I agree with most of it, and find it a useful theological work for summarizing important doctrines of the Gospel, the sacraments and Church. But, that little word, "most" is a stumbling block for Roman Catholics who consider any deviation from the teaching of the Magisterium to be not only wrong, but a sinful gesture of license, granting oneself "Private judgment" in place of receiving what the Church has taught, what Peter has spoken.
And, they are wrong. I have already refuted the myth of "Private Judgment" for the Red Herring it is. Basing one's beliefs on the highest authority of Scripture as it has been received "always, everywhere and by all," with the clarity of doctrine consistent with the "Undivided Church of the First Millennium" is the very distinctive Anglican theology that we often forget, or claim not to possess. It is a paradox, because the only distinctive Anglican theology that exists is not distinctively Anglican; it is simply Catholic, and as such Evangelical. And, as I have argued before, it is more pure than the doctrine of Rome and of the Protestants because it is free from the innovations of both. The real via media gives no more room for a luxury of "private judgment" than does adherence to the Magisterium in Rome. It leaves the conscience no wiggle room in moral issues. So, to dismiss our stand on conscience as "private judgment" is just plain wrong.
The word "most" is significant. For, one of the things we cannot accept is the full blown theory of the Petrine See as that doctrine has developed after the largely symbolic, but very significant, date of 1054. This, all by itself, means that as a matter of conscience we cannot swim the Tiber as long as this teaching remains defined as is. This is not an anti-Roman position. It is the position that Anglicans have in common with the Orthodox, and with Protestants howbeit with a difference of kind.
I urge those who want to enter into Communion with Rome to value their Anglicanism for what it is. Do not despise it for what it is misrepresented to be, which is an easy and lazy way to shed both its challenges and its light. If discussion takes place, I pray that the best of the via media will be presented, and the pastoral love to save souls in both communions will be examined by the light of all that is best in each. That includes what is best in ours.
1. I have never heard an Anglican say this in my almost 50 years.