The following essay will appear also on the Anglo-Catholic Central Website.
The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls, SSM
“"Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward…”
Several weeks ago, the Roman Catholic Church announced a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution aimed at “reconciling” Anglicans, Anglo-Catholics in particular, to the “big Church”; or, to use the language of the ever fissiparous American Continuing Anglicans, the “Holy Catholic Church-Original Jurisdiction.” The initial announcement has prompted a flurry of breathless letters speculating on the content of the Constitution which purports to proffer Personal Ordinariates to Anglican folk disaffected with the state of the imploding Anglican Communion and those “traditional” Anglo-Catholics who yearn for unification with the See of Peter.
Some of the speculation concerning the content of the document whose release has been “delayed” has ranged from merely cautious optimism, to the outright duplicitous. For example, at least one traditional Anglican bishop asserts that the “deal” with Rome is a only a communion arrangement in which Anglo-Catholics will share communion with the Roman Catholic Church, but will otherwise be autonomous. I think it fair to say that this position is disingenuous at best. Anglicans “crossing over” will be a part of the Latin Church and will have to assent to the dogma, doctrine and discipline of that body unless they are going with fingers crossed. In any event, it is anticipated that the technical work on the Constitution and Norms will be completed by the end of the first week of November, so the wait will not be long.
However, while we attend upon the final placement of road signs and line painting on the trans-Tiber highway, I have continued my own reflections on the nature of Anglo-Catholicism and where things may be headed amidst the decidedly mixed bag of reactions from its adherents. I began these reflections with “Christian and Catholic” from The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton, the great Anglo-Catholic bishop of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and have continued with this article based on his essay “Anglicanism and Reunion".  I again note that I have freely borrowed from the great bishop’s text (translate: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)
Grafton began his consideration of the “reunion” issue by pointing out that the Anglican Church, at least that which was traditional, had her own glories, the first being continuity. She is not a sect of yesterday, or a man-made organization. The English Church did not begin, as is falsely asserted, with King Henry the Eighth. The bishop notes that, “He [Henry] had about the same relation to her as Pontius Pilate had to Christianity.”
An ancient church
Simply put, the Catholic Church in England rejected the mediaeval expansion of the papacy as the great Eastern patriarchs and the Orthodox Churches of the East had done before. The ancient faith, as declared in the creeds and the undisputed Ecumenical councils, was retained. The appeal the Church made in the conduct of her reforms was to Holy Scripture and antiquity. While the general principle was correct in the undertaking, no doubt some mistakes were made, and the Church, while gaining much, suffered some loss. But no new church was created, no change made in the orders of the ministry. The priesthood was preserved; the validity of the sacraments was secured; the torch of living truth was handed on. But, where is the evidence of this continuity?
Bp. Grafton notes that one proof lies in the fact that, of the fifty-six hundred clergy who celebrated Mass in Queen Mary's reign, only about some three hundred beneficed clergy are known to have refused to accept the Book of Common Prayer and conform in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, Chief Justice Coke, in a charge delivered by him at Norwich, stated that the pope offered to allow the use of the Book of Common Prayer if the queen would only submit to his supremacy. In point of fact, the Roman Catholic Church currently allows an Anglican Use based upon the Book of Common Prayer, albeit the flawed 1979 American version. As a sidebar, we can only pray that a future “Anglican” liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church will be closer to the prayer book tradition and not cling to the tainted legacy of the 1979 iteration with its post-Vatican II novelties.
Nevertheless, “There is no point,” said the non-Conformist Professor Beard in his Hibbert lectures, “at which it can be said, ‘Here the old Church ends; here the new begins.’” The historian Freeman, the Lord Chancellor Selborne, the great statesman Gladstone, emphatically said so likewise. Judge Sir Robert Phillimore declared,
It is not only a religious, but a legal error to suppose that a new church was introduced into the realm at the time of the Reformation. It is not less the language of our law than of our divinity that the old church was restored, not that a new one was substituted.
Thus the church founded and organized by Christ and His Apostles has come down to us through the ages, bearing the majestic treasures of the Apostolic order, the life-giving sacraments, and the Catholic faith.
Diversity in Unity
We should admit that, even among Anglo-Catholics, that there are differences of doctrinal expression, ceremonial, and practices. To be honest, traditional Anglicans form a mixed bag of high and low church in liturgy and theological understanding (two versus seven Sacraments, the value of private auricular confession, and even the order of the Holy Communion service to name a few). These are often made a target by Roman critics. But the existence of different schools of theology is a sign of interest in religion.
The Western Church has its Thomists, neo-Thomists, transcendental Thomists, Proportionalists, Scotists, and Ultramontanes. So long as the creeds and dogmas proclaimed and certified by the whole Church are held, differences of opinion on subordinate points are allowable. We have some of the bitterness and party spirit as has been found existing between contending schools in Rome. There are extreme dogmatists and men of exaggerated utterances on both Catholic and Protestant wings. But the differences between the great body of traditional churchmen are not as great as they seem to superficial observers, or as interested advocates would make them out to be.
Bp. Grafton pointed out that, “It is a help in understanding these differences to remember the theological distinction between dogmatic and systematic theology.” By dogmatics we mean the great underlying and essential facts of the Christian faith, and the creeds and the accredited dogmas put forth by conciliar authority which express and guard them; by the term “systematic theology” we are calling to mind the philosophical expressions, theories, and explanations which unite them scientifically together.
Now leaving out the extremists and the woefully uneducated who populate parts of traditional Anglican or “continuing” clergy and laity, there is concerning the dogmatic faith and creeds comparatively little difference among those who at least self-identify as “traditionalists.” The Anglican Church puts the creeds and liturgy and ordinal and catechism and prayer-book into the hands of her clergy, and bids them interpret Holy Scripture according to the ancient fathers. “Where this is honestly done,” says Grafton, “men will find themselves standing not so very far apart.”
I would proffer to extreme Anglo-Catholics, moreover, that the high and low schools within the respective traditionalist bodies who properly bear the label “catholic” are not in principle antagonistic, but are supplementary to each other.
Low churchmen tend to emphasize the subjective side of religion. They dwell on the sinfulness of man's nature, and his redemption by the atoning efficacy of Christ's cross, and the necessity of conversion and a living faith. High churchmen tend to focus on the objective aspect of religion. Christianity came into the world as an institution, and an Apostolic ministry is essential to connect us with Christ's authority. The sacraments are the ordained channels and instruments of conveying grace. The two aspects do not exclude one another. The truth lies in their combination.
Here is a cautionary note both to the Roman Catholic Church as it sorts out traditional Anglicans and traditional Anglicans, alike: every school, high, low, or broad, has its own danger. The subjective or low church system, unbalanced by the objective side of religion, leads to a denial of the visible Church, its priesthood, and the sacraments as instruments and effective signs of grace; the broad, or rationalizing, to a denial of all that is supernatural in God's Word, and of authority, and the Church's inherited dogmatic faith. In fact, the nineteenth-century split of the Reformed Episcopal Church from the main body, and the evangelical side of the current groups holding themselves out as “orthodox” have the precise difficulties that Grafton identified. On the other hand, the extreme Catholic or pro-Roman side, by its devotion to ceremony, yearning for authority and centralization in government, uncritical acceptance of Roman Catholic dogma and impatience with the condition of their condition (e.g. the relegation of most to small struggling continuing parishes), turns in faint-heartedness to the papacy. Essentially, this is a situation in which primarily clergy believe that a Rome-ward turn will result in their enjoyment of status and the handover of large facilities in which “ceremonial” can be “properly” undertaken once again as it was in the glory days of Anglo-Catholicism.
But Grafton believed that these errors can lead to their own cure. The divine life of the Church is no more forcibly shown than in her inherent power of self-purification. Christ is in her, and she shares in His indestructible and resurrection life. The faith is preserved in her, and extremes lead to their own elimination. So over time, the extreme low churchmen, who deny priesthood and sacramental grace, seceded from the Church and founded new sects, whether the Reformed Episcopalians of old, or the AMiA and CANA of modern times.
They tried in America to get the Church to alter the prayer-book, which they admitted was not in accord with their theology. It taught, they said, the Apostolic succession, priesthood, baptismal regeneration, and the real presence. The Church refused to change the prayer-book, and they withdrew. It was the honest course to pursue and the logical outcome of their theology. I should note here that there may be some current reversal of this trend among the members of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) who have been involved in the experiment for more than 100 years. On the other hand, the more modern groups of claimed “Anglicans” frequently are indistinguishable from non-denominational Protestant churches, and have clung in one way or another the novelty of women’s “ordination” that was the fruit of mainstream Protestant Episcopalianism.
Likewise Catholics, who have become pro-Romans, believing in the divine power of the papacy, and our duty to submit to its dominion, have naturally gravitated to Rome. They have supported a reunion because they have necessarily denied that Anglo-Catholics are somehow not “fully” Catholic and look for the “fullness of faith” in Rome.
The rationalizing broad churchmen who deny the fundamental facts of the creed, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ's body have ended where Grafton’s prophetic words have said they would. They lead a double life, saying one thing at the altar and denying it in the pulpit (or perhaps espousing apostasy in both places). Without lapsing to a general condemnation as is common among us traditional Anglo-Catholic folk, I note only that it is dishonorable to eat the bread of the Church whose creed they do not teach, but have abandoned instead. It is far better for all those who do not believe in the creed and sacramental system of the Church to be outside of it. They then are at least delivered from the sin of saying what they do not believe, or not discerning the Lord's body in the Eucharist, and so eating and drinking to their own condemnation.
In Western Christendom a tremendous struggle is going on. It takes two forms, one in the Roman, another in what remains of the Anglican communion. They are alike in this, that Rome is having her struggle with the both revisionists and theological liberals bent on ignoring doctrine and remaking the Church in a political image, as well as the state in many places. For its part, the Anglican Communion has splintered under the weight of secularism and outright apostasy in the Western nations. Both churches are assailed by general unbelief in Christianity.
For all that is Catholic our sympathies must be with the Roman Catholics in their struggles, and we can but sorrow that she has been beset by priestly scandals and internal dissidents. There is, however, a difference between the struggle of traditional Anglicans to restore the Catholic faith and worship, and that between the papacy and the dissidents within. The two contests differ radically. Anglicans, with a lack of centralized authority and uniform canons, are much farther along down the road of splintering and realignment. We have been through two distinct ruptures, one theological and one sexual and moral. Anglicans are struggling to resume their spiritual rights; Rome is attempting to be all things to all Christians and upholding laudable moral and theological positions, while being hoist on the twin petards of scandal and internal rebellion.
What is left of the “mainstream” American and the English Anglican Church (unlike other portions of the former Anglican communion and the traditional Anglican remnant) are failing due to their respective present connections with the culture and the State. On the other hand, while traditional Anglicans, albeit in yet small numbers, are succeeding in recovering the faith as once delivered, and by all everywhere received, the Roman Catholics are by late additions and the turning of what were once acknowledged to be but opinions into dogmas of the faith are, in many places in the Western church, failing in holding fast to it. While this latter statement may provoke cries from my Roman Catholic colleagues, I point to the simple failure of the Church to deal with massive dissent from teaching on sexual matters as but one marker of greater concern with political power than with spiritual. Is there a plausible reason why lawmakers who support the holocaust of abortion are not disciplined by the Church of which they claim to be a part?
Now on to the hot button items, the dogmas that Bp. Grafton challenged when they were yet new, but which pose barriers to reunion even today. In sum, it is a fair assertion that the Anglican Church (again, I am speaking of orthodox Anglicans) has not added to the faith, while the Roman has. In Grafton’s view and from the standpoint of many professed Anglo-Catholics. The doctrine of the papal infallibility and the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin cannot bear the test of Catholicity. Neither can that of the treasury of merits accumulated by the saints' works of supererogation, and placed at the disposal of the pope, on which the modern system of indulgences is based.
And while no one would question the marvelous grace bestowed on the ever-blessed Theotokos, the Bringer-Forth of God, the assigning to her the position and office of the neck of the mystical body through whom all graces must pass from the head to the members, is no part of the original deposit of the faith. It is not the language of the fathers to say “God has constituted Mary as the ordinary dispensatrix of His grace,” nor that it is safer to go to the Blessed Virgin than to our Lord, or that “Mary so loved the world that she gave her only begotten Son.” “Mary is the most faithful mediatrix of our salvation.” The increasing push to declare the Blessed Virgin as co-redeptorix, no matter how clever the explanation, is the disturbing outworking of Marian veneration gone to the extreme. One can only ponder what the Mother of Our Lord who uttered the words at Cana, “Whatever He says, do it” thinks of this latest innovation.
To enter the Roman Catholic Church is to fully commit to these later-developed dogmas, rather than keep them in the proper place of pious belief or heresy as the case may be. It is painful to write this, for all that is Catholic in the Latin communion we love, but in the current circumstances, loyalty to the Catholic faith requires it.
And not least of God's goodness to her is seen in two great providences. The first was the early death of King Edward VI. He was followed by Queen Mary who is the subject of unhappy memory for many, but this was temporary. Had, however, King Edward lived; the Church would have lost its Catholic heritage. “With all the tyrannous spirit of a Tudor monarch and all the narrowness and self-conceit of a reforming Calvinist,” said Grafton, “the King would have made the Church like unto the deformity of the Continental reformers.” “The continuity of the Church would have become so broken, and her Catholic doctrine so marred, that she would have largely lost her heritage and become a withered branch of Christ's Church. God preserved the Church by Edward's merciful removal.”
Another blessing Bp. Grafton deemed “great providential” was the denial of the validity of our orders by Leo XIII. This might seem a curious statement, but the pope’s action helped to unite the Anglican Church’s members, painfully revealed to us the worldly policy that governs the papacy, and impaired belief in the papal infallibility. Apostolicae Curiae helped to fill the Church with new courage, and, fixing her gaze on her true mission, to discern the mighty work of evangelization she may do for God. Had the pope decided otherwise, it is impossible to estimate the strong tide of love and trust that would have impulsively turned towards him.
But he did not so declare, and, now eyes are turned Romeward again as we wait to see how this very thorny question is treated in the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution. As noted in the previous essay, Anglicans know they possess valid orders and sacraments. We can no more doubt this than the existence of God or any essential fact of Christianity. So that when the pope decided against what Anglicans knew, with a divine certainty, to be true, they knew with the same certainty that he was not infallible. At the time of Pope Leo’s encyclical, for many, the luster of the papacy faded, and the papal curia, looked at calmly and dispassionately, was seen to be but a piece of skillfully constructed human machinery. This situation continues today, and presents a major issue for clergy who cannot deny the validity of their own Sacraments. Unless there is a resolution, corporate union with Rome, without an act of utter cognitive dissonance by Anglican clergy denying the validity of their very ordained lives, is beyond the range of human possibility, and not the terminus of the Tractarian movement, or the leading of Divine Providence.
But while this is so, there are brightening prospects in the East. There have been friendly expressions of interest from the venerable Orthodox Church in several of its expressions-the Russian Church Outside of Russia, the Antiochian Church and the Orthodox Church in America. She says, “We do not ask you, as Rome does, to ‘submit’ we only ask, “Do you hold the same Catholic faith we have inherited from the Fathers? “If you do this, we are brothers.” When we consider that the East has not had to pass through the convulsions of a Reformation, and has for a thousand years borne consistent witness for the faith once delivered, and against recent Roman accretions, “Anglicans”, as Bp. Grafton said, “should be willing to free themselves from their prejudices and somewhat self-conceit, and listen to her kindly words.”
The Church, indwelt by Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, is a living organism, and we may trust the Voice of God speaking through her before she was rent into Eastern and Western divisions. The Voice of God speaking to the churches is not confined, as some Anglicans seem to think, to any particular centuries. But in the seven Ecumenical councils we have the Voice of the Spirit and in the seven holy mysteries, the means of grace.
I believe that the question presenting the most difficulty has to do with the Filioque clause. There is no difference in belief between many Anglican scholars and the venerable East on the doctrine of the Filioque: without Ecumenical consent it has no right to be in the Creed.
May God inspire the wise men of the Church to solve the difficulty. Each church in the case of restored intercommunion would retain its own independent government and liturgy. As was recently pointed out by a representative of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, Anglicans and Easterns must be content with agreement in the ancient faith, not in the uniformity of its outward expression. While the faith is unchangeable, the Church, as the bride of Christ, has been led to follow her Lord's life, and sometimes has been more absorbed in devotion to His incarnation, sometimes to His passion. The faith once-delivered abides from age to age; but ceremonies and practices of devotion are the fresh outcome of the Church’s love. The East and the West have their own ceremonial traditions, and the differences existing should not hinder the restoration of Christian recognition and fellowship.
If a reunion of Christendom is to be attained
We should wait patiently upon the form and content of the impending Apostolic Constitution, but it is difficult to see how the Roman Catholic Church can concede on points of doctrine and discipline Anglicans cannot accede to without ceasing to be Anglican. In the meantime, Bp. Charles Grafton urges us to look Eastward. “If a reunion of Christendom is to be attained,” he firmly believed, “it will come through the union of the Anglican and Eastern Churches. It is in this direction the safe guiding providence of God directs His people.”
Reunion of any kind will require largeness of vision and generous toleration of unessential differences, and much of the charity that hopeth all things, believeth all things, and of the faith that believes that with God all things are possible. For so glorious a consummation Anglicans must be willing to recognize the devotion and the orthodoxy of the Russian and Greek Churches. The cause of the reunion of Christendom is the dearest to the heart of Christ. What saints have longed and prayed for, let the Catholics of today labor to accomplish. We can do much by learning more of the Eastern and Western Churches and their worship, and studying their catechism. The all-availing power of the Holy Sacrifice is ours and the promise of answer to prayer in His Name. May the sacrifice of the altar be more frequently offered for the reunion of Christendom, and the prayer of blessed Bishop Andrews be more in use among us!
Bless, O Gracious Father, thy Holy Catholic Church; fill it with truth and grace; where it is corrupt, purge it; where it is in error, direct it; where it is superstitious, rectify it; where it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is divided and rent asunder, heal the breaches of it; O Thou Holy One of Israel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesu hear, Jesu bless, Jesu answer our petition, for thy Mercy's sake. Laus Deo.
Rev. Canon Charles Nalls is a priest of the Anglican Catholic Church and military chaplain. As well, he serves at the Church of the Ascension, Centreville, Virginia, and is the director of several charitable and academic organizations including the Canon Law Institute® in Washington, D.C.