The news about those members of the Diocese of Fort Worth (TEC) clergy who wish they were Romeward Bound, caused an e-mail list to be generated, and a great deal of e-ink to be wasted, about the wonderful process of conversion to the One True Church (well, one of the two that is). In some of these e-epistles well-meaning Roman Catholics openly addressed "the basic flaw of Anglican ecclesiology," and used other insulting phrases designed to put us in our place. Having had enough of this insensitive treatment I gave in to a gut reaction, an impulse to be equally offensive. I confess it: I have sinned. I hit "reply all" and wrote: "Why would anyone want to join the world's largest pederast conspiracy?" Someone pointed out that this communication was beneath me. True, it was. But, as Doctor Who (one of the real, original Doctors) said to Jo Grant: "What's wrong with being childish? I like being childish."
It really does get tiresome. In our churches we have people who possess varying levels of education, and unfortunately that can include members of the clergy. With bloggers and e-tome authors attacking Anglicanism itself--not the state of apostate bodies like the Episcopal Church, but Anglicanism dating back to the 16th century--it behooves some of us to come to the aid of those whose consciences are damaged by their words. Many of the fiercest attackers are Roman Catholics, and others are Calvinists who make the same arguments as the self-appointed Roman Catholic polemicists. The ignorance they demonstrate is cloaked by wordiness. They take thousands of words to prove that they don't know anything, and in the process look very clever to unsuspecting minds. Frankly, I prefer for banality to be served with brevity.
These writers use the same old worn-out talking points.
"Anglicanism is Protestant," they say. Of course, they have no idea what the word "Protestant" has always meant to Anglicans. The opposite of "Catholic" is not "Protestant" but rather, "unbeliever." As I have written before:
"The effort to embrace and continue the Catholic Faith was the motivation for embracing Protestantism in the time of the Reformation- or, rather, the Reformations. We believe that the efforts on the Continent of Europe threw away the baby with the bathwater, which is why Anglicans early on debated with Calvinists and Lutherans, sometimes more vigorously than with Rome. Anglicans debated as well with Puritans in England and Scottish Presbyterians...the definition of 'Catholic' should be based on its Credal use, as we use it in the Book of Common Prayer where either the Apostle’s Creed or the Creed called Nicene are part of all the major services (Article VIII). Combined with that other Creed, Quicunque Vult, or the Creed of St. Athanasius, we say we believe the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith...I would indeed place the 'P' of Protestantism back in 'Anglicanism' to the via media degree required to make it truly Patristic, and so truly Scriptural and truly Catholic."
These polemicists argue that the Church of England was a confused mess with no clearly stated beliefs, filled with everything from High Churchmen to Puritans. This is a very popular bit of misinformation, too easily believed even by uneducated Anglicans themselves. How can they possibly imagine that the leaders of the English Church ever tolerated the excesses of the Puritans? Don't they know that Richard Hooker's famous Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was written primarily to defend Anglicanism against Puritan sedition and heresy, and against Calvin's ecclesiology in general? Hooker wrote as an official representative of the Church, not as an individual with an opinion to be weighed equally among many others. The fact that Puritanism was always at odds with the Church authorities, always tried to overthrow each new version of The Articles of Religion as they were developing, and finally resorted to a revolution by civil war and the execution of a king, all seems to go right past them. The Puritans were the opponents of Anglicanism until after the Restoration, when they finally faced defeat and the rejection of the English population by and large.
The polemicists demonstrate that they cannot understand Anglican Formularies, trying to fit them into either a purely Calvinist or a purely Lutheran system, like a square into a round hole. They notice the same theological terminology in Anglican Articles that they see in the Continental Reformations, not appreciating two important facts: 1) This terminology was not new to anybody at the time, and 2) what matters in the Articles is not their similarity to either Calvinism or Lutheranism, but their divergence from them at just the point necessary to avoid the extremes of these systems.
For example, look at Article X:
A Calvinist goes further than saying we need the grace of God; he denies that freewill exists at all. Anglicanism goes right up to that line, and refuses to cross it. The divergence shouts very loudly, but the polemicists notice only the similar terminology.
Look at how close Article XVII comes:
As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feeling in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.
This comes to the line, but again does not cross it. It may be at most somewhat Augustinian, but it is not Calvinist. It discourages the clergy from preaching Predestination. It does not allow for what is called the "perseverance of the saints," but rather teaches mortification and raising the mind to heaven, teaching the need to follow the expressed general will of God. This is not Calvinism, and the similar terminology makes the divergence all the more significant, if not the main point.
And so forth.
They say that Anglicans rejected the Real Presence. Article XXXV lists homilies that are to be considered Formularies. In the Homily Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we find these words:
"But thus much we must be sure to hold, that in the Supper of the Lord, there is no vaine Ceremonie, no bare signe, no vntrue figure of a thing absent (Matthew 26.26)...Whereas by the aduice of the Councell of Nicene, we ought to lift vp our mindes by fayth, and leauing these inferiour and earthly things, there seeke it, where the sunne of righteousnesse euer shineth (Council of Nicene, Concilium). Take then this lesson (O thou that art desirous of this Table) of Emissenus a godly Father, that when thou goest vp to the reuerend Communion, to be satisfied with spirituall meates, thou looke vp with fayth vpon the holy body and blood of thy GOD, thou maruayle with reuerence, thou touch it with the minde, thou receiue it with the hand of thy heart, and thou take it fully with thy inward man (Eusebius Emissenus, Serm. de Euchar.)."
Nonetheless, they will provide theories about the personal views of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer near his life's end, saying that he must have rejected the Real Presence; as if any one man's private view was official, and alone what matters.
And so forth.
In the massive e-mailing was a link to an article by my friend David Mills, editor of Touchstone, A journal of mere Christianity. I have long been a contributing editor for this magazine of ecumenical orthodoxy, with several articles published over the years. David was one of the first to recognize my writing as having any worth, and to promote it. He had long been a fighter within the Episcopal Church, trying to call it back to Christ. In 2001 he became a Roman Catholic. The recent article (which was on a blog) contained superb news analysis about the official Anglican Communion (you know, those other Anglicans who don't recognize us), but then made this rather astonishing statement.
"The Anglo-Catholics can forget trying to move the new GAFCON body (if there ever is one) a quarter-inch closer to Catholicism. They will live in an ecclesial body less liberal but no more Catholic than their old one. The price of their being rescued from liberalism is a kind of dhimmitude.
I do not expect the average Roman Catholic to understand that to classic Anglicans like us, Protestantism and Catholicism are not opposites, and not at all two poles. But, David Mills understands it, though he clearly disagrees. Our kind of Protestantism is meant to be a pure and better form of Catholicism, and so David would be wrong if his words were applied to those of us in the Continuum (though they fit the Canterbury Communion in its current state). For us there is no choice to be made between these two things, Protestantism and Catholicism, for they do not conflict. But, we are spared the usual song and dance of the polemicists, because David is above all that sort of thing.
I bother to defend Anglicanism against polemical attacks because these attacks damage the consciences of sincere believers. The attacks usually boil down to an attempt to make Anglicans doubt the validity of our sacraments, which is quite proper for TEC, but not at all true for us. The arguments are based on half-truths that distort the history of Anglican doctrine and the meaning of Anglican Formularies. They create ignorance rather than knowledge. Eventually, they always attack the validity of our orders, so that the poor soul who is ensnared by these arguments fails to learn the truth, and gets confused trying to learn it. Because he comes to doubt the validity of the sacraments he has been receiving, and therefore fears that they have no efficacy, he begins to doubt that his soul can be saved unless he flees to Rome (or Orthodoxy). This is based on fear, not on faith and not on learning, since learning would disabuse him of doubt.
The troubled, less-learned Anglican, attacked by bullying polemicists, needs to be taught by those of us who care to take the time to write or speak the necessary apologetics, and provide the instruction that he needs. Hear me: Your priest does have the authority to forgive sins; and what you eat and drink at the altar rail of the church is truly, in the words of the Anglican Formulary, "the holy body and blood of thy God."