“How long, Oh Lord?”
The great flurry over an immenent return of Anglo-Catholics to Rome appears to be in full swing. Some three years after a group of traditional Anglican bishops signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there now has been a “generous” response from folks on the other side of the Tiber. Cries of, “Next year in Jerusalem!” (or St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, as the case may be) have given way to a near frenzy to see who can get in “the club” fastest with no idea of what may be in the details of the offer. It is a bit like the way in which the current U.S. Congress deals with legislation: “No reading, please! Just sign it.” Add in the rumblings that many Anglo-Catholic lay people (remember them?) are decidedly uneasy with respect to the trans-Tiber trip, and it appears to be a good time for some reflection.
Truth is, waiting gives one pause to ponder, and these last few years of rumor and waiting and rumor have been more than ample time to think about this whole question of Catholicity amongst an ever-fragmenting body of Anglicans. It is always good to engage in a little ressourcement, but particularly when things seem to be murky or unsettled. Putting aside questions of liturgy and music for the moment, it might be useful to remember a bit about precisely why Anglican-Catholics are not already Roman Catholics.
I began my own reflection with “Christian and Catholic” from The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton.* I have freely adapted the bishop’s text (translate: he who steals from this steals twice) for this essay which I have planned as part of a series.
Bp. Grafton, truly a “venerable” if not a “blessed”, had a way of getting down to brass tacks that seems to escape us in more modern times. Granted, the Anglican communion of which he was a part has rung down the curtain on itself, but the great revival of Catholicity in the Anglican communion of the 19th century stimulated theological investigation in every quarter.
As Grafton pointed out, the Oxford Movement/Catholic Revival opened the long-closed storehouse of patristic learning” in a way that would profit all branches of the Church. It dusted off and polished up the great Anglican divines and “gave a new zest to biblical research and exegesis.” At its heart, “the Movement” arrived at a deeper realization of the mystery of the incarnation and its extension in the sacraments. Again, from Grafton, “The whole range of Catholic theology came out in more vivid colors and was grasped with a new and more intense appreciation.” Higher ideals of sanctity and a personal self-sacrificing devotion both in clergy and laity were the result and “lives, talents, means were lavishly poured out at the feet of Christ.”
Out of all of this, great hope arose for a reunion of Christendom. But, history reveals that such an effort to live the prayer that all may be one was sure to arouse the ancient adversary. And so it was that the Movement was harassed and attacked from all sides. There were tribunals, mobs in the east of London, charges by bishops against Anglo-Catholics, and denunciations in the media of the day.
Now I think we do well to look back over nearly one hundred-fifty years—indeed, perhaps the last five-hundred--and see how the cause has fared. Neither the sometime folly of adherents nor the blindness of adversaries could stop it. It has formed and purified many to a high degree of sanctity, who are now resting with God. Even in these last broken years there have been Baptisms, Confirmations, and Marriages, so many added to the Mystical Body of Christ in the sacramental cycle. In the time of prosperity men may attain salvation, but in times of suffering and adversity they are made saints. And now it seems we Anglo-Catholics find ourselves in a period of trial and temptation.
Looking at Anglicanism throughout the world, we see that the former Communion is broken into a growing number of pieces, shattered by the hammering of revisionists and modernists. Indeed, the once-respected and proud American branch is led by outright heretics and those who deny Christ’s power to save mankind. It is a diminishing force, a patchwork of graying and increasingly empty parishes. The claimed “traditionalists” are besieged with legal actions by a denomination bent on seeing their parish properties used as saloons rather than give ground in its fight against Christian orthodoxy.
More than thirty years past, participants in the Congress of St. Louis in the United States in 1977 rejected changes that had been made in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women, and affirmed Catholic principles and teachings. The Affirmation expressed a determination "to continue in the Catholic Faith, Apostolic Order, Orthodox Worship and Evangelical Witness of the traditional Anglican Church, doing all things necessary for the continuance of the same." Yet, almost immediately after this bold attempt to replant and renew came the fissures and splits that have plagued the Movement into the new millennium. And we have played at church, the fraud and the mountebank decking themselves in rich attire to scrap over a few souls, and, perhaps sell a few “seminary” degrees to those who want to have “authority” and the social position of clergy.
This has been shameful-this proliferation of “jurisdictions”. It is fair to say that we can see the hand of the ancient adversary in stirring the controversy among fellow Christians with the same theological heritage, creed and belief. So it has been the case since the time of the Apostles.
The result has shaken those seeking refuge. Some lost faith in the possibility of an Anglican Church ever regaining its Catholic heritage. They said in their despondency “Can these dry bones live?” And so for one ostensible reason or another they sought relief from the need to fight to claim their heritage by “swimming the Tiber.” Comparatively few seem to have gone from conviction after a candid and full investigation of Scripture and history. They were simply tired of the struggle and sought safety in the numbers and existing structure of Rome.
It could not also but be that under the exasperating and depressing schisms and carryings on of the continuing Church that some were found who could not bear the behavior no matter how sincerely they loved the English expression of the Catholic faith. They became victims of their doubts and fears. They began in their recovery of old truths to lose sight of the proportion of the faith, to question their position, or, attracted by Rome’s external appearance of unity, to contrast unfavorably some aspects of the Anglican Church with that of Rome. The latter church took on, to their imagination, the character of an ideal one.
It also is true that Rome was busy with her own proselytizing efforts. There are those who make this work of proselytizing a business—many of whom are former evangelical Protestants who have swapped team jerseys--and study the art of injecting doubt into susceptible minds as to whether we are Catholic. It is one of the stock arguments to refer to the number of persons who have joined the Roman Catholic Church. So be it. We do well to admire the zeal of those with a truth claim and who are bold in asserting it.
I believe that most are sincere in their desire to see all within the embrace that Rome claims to be wholly salvific. We should consider that these efforts are the result not of malice, but genuine desire to gain souls for the larger Church. There are some points, however, it would be well to consider before one marches down the gangplank onto the barque of Peter.
Let’s be direct for a moment to those who are now attending upon the issuance of an Apostolic Constitution and, with it, the Roman Catholic Church to descend from on high to solve all of their earthly woes. If the Roman Church is the only true church, and is alone possessed of sacramental grace, the same mark of improvement ought to be as obvious on the bulk of her converts from us. But what is the case?
According to the account of some who have “gone over”, they have frankly stated that they were no better after than before, or indeed, worse. They fret over the banality of worship and, worse, the cavalier treatment of the Sacrament itself. At worst, some have given up the faith entirely, or, thankfully, moved on to the Eastern Church where real demands upon faith such as fasting discipline and a robust ancient liturgy have proved the palliative to the mundane and modernist.
Ah, but the cry goes up in this most recent round that all will be well as we are going with our liturgical and musical heritage. That may well be true, although the devil may well be in the details here too. However there are things that Anglicans will not travel with. You will not be independent of Rome—a sort of “communion relationship” without qualification. You will have to assent to all of the dogma, doctrine and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church. That is reasonable, and it is the reason Rome is who she is. Those who assert otherwise—that Anglicans will honored and not “absorbed” are willfully blind, utter fools or outright liars. Those who make the jump will be “former Anglicans”, Roman Catholics with the familiar trimmings but “former Anglicans”. Let us give the Roman Catholic Church credit for saying what she means.
As for the brass tacks, many who have become Roman Catholic have found that they and others fell into the same sins as they did when Anglicans, and that the Roman sacraments gave no other aid than that they had previously received. The devil then had them in a logical vise. They had denied the Anglican sacraments to be channels of grace, and now it was proved the Roman Catholic were no better, and so nothing was to be believed. There were others who grew spiritually, but no more so than did those whom they had left behind. This is what Anglican clergy will have to face no matter what gloss they try to place upon it. If one’s Holy Orders are invalid, then so too one’s Sacraments, and Anglican clergy have been committing spiritual fraud in administering them.
In joining Rome, one must be “received” effectively being re-confirmed. By receiving so-called first communion, one necessarily denies that he has before sacramentally received the body and blood of the Lord. If he is a priest, as we have noted, he denies his orders and the validity of his sacraments. In all these acts a person turns against the Holy Ghost and his Lord, denying their gifts and presence. Moreover, he deserts his post.
On this point Charles Grafton was quite blunt,
God has placed priests in the Anglican Church there to be a witness, just as he placed Elijah in Israel amidst its worship. It was very trying to the prophet and so, heartsick, he fled away to the wilderness. But there the Word of the Lord searched him out and said, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah.’ It is just as much desertion for a soldier to go over to some other regiment or place on the battlefield as to run away. If we believe that we have the faith and sacraments, we must stay where we are placed.
We are reaching to the very core of our claims as Anglo-Catholics. For in deciding on the claims of the papal supremacy against the Eastern and Anglican Churches in favor of Rome, one assumes to himself the powers of an Ecumenical council. It is an act full of spiritual danger. For if Rome were right in her claims, God could not condemn one who said that as a Catholic he had not ventured to assume an authority not given him; and as God had not so ordered it that a council of the whole Church had declared the papal supremacy, he could not, by his not submitting to it, be found guilty of disobeying Him.
And so with it all of the rest. Faber developed a new Italian Mariolatry in England, and the situation has not been mitigated in the last century as Rome had pondered the question of the Blessed Virgin as Co-Redemptorix. So too, one has to consider the question of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the decree of “Papal Infallibility.” These are not optional. To be received into the Catholic Church without assent to these matters or with one’s fingers crossed is to be a liar in one’s own right.
“Perhaps,” as Grafton noted, “it is time to learn how to wait on God and to tarry His leisure. It is His Church and He is working out plans, not our plans but His own. We can only read His providences as they accomplish themselves, and by learning to conform ourselves to them.”
Would that all “churchmen”, Continuing and others, learn to trust one another more. Again from Bp. Grafton, “Union within the Church cannot be cut of whole cloth, it must first be won and established within ourselves as in the foundation of any union before we worry about sister churches.” Let Continuing churchmen trust God, get together, bear with one another, and the Church will reap her joyful harvest.
Holding, as Anglican Catholics do, the most important position in the great conflict, they are exposed to special temptations, and none more subtle than to leave their posts. They become depressed with the outlook. They have an ideal of what the king’s daughter ought to be; and they freely criticize and find fault with their own communion as they would not that God should criticize them.
They forget that as God bears with them, so He bears with His Church. Despondency when not occasioned by physical causes is a work of Satan. Nothing so helps it as for two sympathizing friends to talk over together the evils existing in the Church. It may be true that the general ignorance and prejudice is dismal and virulent, that the Agnostic and Erastian spirit is dominant, that Christianity is losing its hold, that the bishops are timid, that the progress of the Catholic cause is slow. There is some truth in all this, but the more of truth the more reasons for courage and hope. When Israel is in the brick kiln then cometh Moses. In the fourth watch of the night to the tired rowers cometh Jesus on the waters.
"Our checks," said Dr. Pusey, "have always turned out to be our greatest blessings. Let us tarry the Lord’s leisure." Let us remember the martyrs and confessors. Let us offer the holy sacrifice and put our trust in the Lord. Not a few who have joined Rome have felt it their duty to leave her. It requires a high degree of Christian fortitude to resist the solicitations of friends. But it is the way of duty and honor, and the only way to make reparation to our Blessed Lord.
* Based upon The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1), edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp. 343-354. This is the first in a series of reflections based on Blessed Charles Grafton’s works.