Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More on the "C" word

It was our own Fr. Wells who rightly got my point in the post (below), "How is that 'Catholic' exactly?" He commented: "But perhaps the real problem is that it is WE OURSELVES who do not understand what 'catholic' means." That very danger was my point. I used the fact that I found it necessary to change the road sign for St. Benedict's as a natural lead-in to what followed. The meaning of the article was simply this: It's bad enough that the public at large misunderstand the word "catholic," but it seems that many of our own Continuing Anglicans really don't understand it either. 

The problem is that the word "catholic" had become a partisan word for the highest of the High Church Anglicans and Episcopalians long before the St. Louis Congress. If, in fact, the name of my jurisdiction, "The Anglican Catholic Church," simply invokes that partisan division in some minds, let me be clear that it has no such meaning to me. I am not an Anglo-Catholic, even though I can do very High Church liturgy as well as the next priest. I can also do Low Church liturgy as well as the next priest, and it really is all the same to me. It is the same Lord, it is the same sacrament, and it is the same theology - at least it was written that way and should be so understood.

All my life long, growing up in the Episcopal Church from the late 1950s, and starting to learn in the 1960s, I knew I belonged to "the Holy Catholic Church." As an Episcopalian who knew only one edition, in those days, of the Book of Common Prayer, I was taught that we are both Catholic and Protestant, that we have the Apostolic Succession of Bishops, that only a priest is authorized to celebrate the service of Holy Communion, etc. That was the authorized and official teaching we all shared in the Anglican Communion.

In those decades, in Ellicott City Maryland, the High Church people went to St. Peter's (the House of Commons, as it was jokingly called), and the Low Church people went to St. John's (or the House of Lords, as it was jokingly called). Growing up in the 1930s, my mother remembers being taken to both at different times. She preferred the High Church worship, right down to the Last Gospel. My father was raised Low Church in Towson, Maryland, and lived next door to Trinity Church which his family attended. I grew up understanding that it was all, High and Low, essentially the same.

We did not "aspire" to be Catholic, because we belonged to the same Church that Christ established through the Apostles. Others, the Church of Rome (not the Eastern Orthodox, because our relations with them were different before 1976) may not have appreciated our place in the Church; but we knew who we were anyway. Protestants also criticized us for being "too catholic" for having the Apostolic Succession and a priesthood celebrating at an altar, etc.; but we just prayed for them. 

The Creeds teach us that the Church is Catholic, and that our Trinitarian Faith is Catholic. That means, as I said:

"...we use the word 'Catholic' simply to mean that we believe the whole faith, and that we belong to the One Church established by Christ through His apostles. For, when all is said and done, that is what it means: According to the whole - the whole Faith and the Universal Church."

It is a shame that explaining my decision about a church sign by the road proved to be so distracting. I hope it is because readers wanted to make sure we remain true to the theological meaning of the word "Catholic." Considering who it was that commented, I not only hope so, but think so. Indeed, we need to remain faithful to the meaning of that word for doctrine and order. If I believed that the comments were about nothing more than an emotional attachment to the sound of the word, with partisan implications as the main concern, I would be disappointed indeed. 

By now we should have established that the essence of "catholic," as Anglicans use the word, is not a matter of how many candles are on the altar, whether the priest wears a chasuble, whether the minor propers are used, etc. I hope that, by now, we have established that there is no one book more catholic, except for the Bible, than the Book of Common Prayer. 

And, as far as names are a concern: If the name of my jurisdiction of the Church merely indicates an Anglican party, then I would want to change it. But, since the name speaks of the unchanging truth and order of the Church Christ established, and our humble place among so large a company that includes the saints, I want to keep it to the end.

But that is what is has to mean in our thinking. Anything else is something much less, and not worth the breath it takes to say it.


Jack Miller said...

Fr. Hart follow the example od Paul...

19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.

20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

23 And this I do for the gospel's sake...

Jack Miller said...

Sorry for the typos...



Bruce said...

I like the phrase "mere Catholicism" to describe our beliefs. Is there any problem with this phrase?

Anonymous said...

Of course we are "catholic" in the sense of being "universal," but my experience has been that most people automatically associate Roman Catholicism with the "C" word. When I mention Anglican most folks think of either the Episcopal Church or Canterbury.

I have been reading "Fathers and Anglicans The Limits of Orthodoxy" by Arthur Middleton. It was recommended by our parish priest and is a fine introduction to the faith. In it, Laud is quoted as saying this: "I have always lived, and shall, God willing, die in the faith of Christ as it was professed in the ancient Primitive Church, and as it is professed in the present
Church of England." Laud was no Romanizer, but looked to antiquity and Scripture to prove the rule of faith.

Today we are neither Canterbury or Rome. Perhaps we should take the ACC to mean the "Apostolic Church of Christ."


Jack Miller said...


And as long as the ACC holds to the Gospel, the faith once delivered, that is indeed an appropriate appelation.


Canon Tallis said...

Father, I think the one thing which you proved by your previus post is that far too many Anglicans, low and high, believe the word "Catholic" actually means "Roman." And modern Roman rather than ancient or even medieval Roman. Worse than that, they seem to believe that it means Roman for precisely the reasons that required the various "Reformations" of the 16th century, which some of our fellow churchmen regret while others are almost equally sure that they did not go far enough. Those of us who believe that, for good or for ill, they just about got it right are probably always going to be in the minority. Worse, we keep getting run over by the others.

RC Cola said...

You will never overcome the colloquial definition of 'Catholic'. It's been in use for too long by too many people, and most people will use terms in their colloquial sense above their technical sense most of the time.
So while it is true that 'catholic' means universal, it is also true that it means the church of Rome and the 20+ Sui juris eastern churches that recognize papal authority and agree on doctrine.

It would be better to choose a battle you can win.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Yes, to the public at large "Catholic" means "Roman." But, another problem among Anglicans is that the word designates a party within our own ranks, another I Cor. chapter One problem. So, it is identified as partisan, divisive, and nominal at best, centered on symbolic things not really essentially catholic.

Jack Miller said...

In his last comment, Hart gets to the heart of the issue with the word Catholic, and a Scriptural attitude:

20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

Anonymous said...

I think the 'colloquial' aituation is more complicated, at least in the English-speaking world.

Which translations of the Creeds, used in which Churches (or 'denominations'), use "Catholic", and which do not? And how does that affect peoples' sense of the word?

My sense (subject to correction!) is that most who have the Creeds use 'Catholic'. Who (if anyone) sees himself as 'believing (in) the Catholic Church' while not regarding himself as 'Catholic'? (Or many tend unconsciously to switch back and forth between two senses?)

In other Germanic languages, the situation is different in various 'Churches of the Reformation' where for the word derived from 'katholikos' another word, intending to translate it's content, is substituted, e.g., 'allgemein' in German and its analogues in other languages.

The 'catholic'-word is (as it were) surrendered to 'Rome'. On the other hand, the latter's official self-description in such languages can be the equivalent of 'Roman Catholic' rather than merely 'Catholic'.

Another question is how users of 'Catholic' in ths Creeds view the 'catholicity' of other users.

Lewis, in his OHEL chapter on 16th-c. religious controversy, says (p. 157), "Unfortunately the very names we have to use in describing this controversy are themselves controversial. To call the one party Catholics implicitly grants their claim; to call them Roman Catholics implicitly denies it."

But what exactly does an Anglican use of "Roman Catholic" mean? How much - or, what degree of - 'catholicity' does it recognize?


RC Cola said...

Fr. Hart: point well-taken. Within the continuing Anglican context I can see how 'catholic' is loaded with all kinds of baggage that could use stripping away.
Semi-hookerian: point also well-taken. Here in Korea we have two words for Catholic (cheonjugyo-"Teaching of the Lord of Heaven" (hat tip to Matteo Ricci) and Katolik--strictly a transliteration) but both refer to the denomination. In the Anglican Church of Korea it is used strictly as a liturgical designation. But to tell the truth, what everyone calls Anglo-Catholic is at best a cheap imitation of the RC Novus Ordo. Barely catholic even in the strictly Roman sense. It used to be a very Anglo-Catholic church but things fell out sorts and with that came the same innovations as in most of the Angkucan Communion, less the raging militant homosexuality. It's just starting to become an issue here but not too bad yet. As an American in exile I try to warn them that TEC is poison and the issues Will be forced down their throats but no one believes me. Am I Cassandra or Calpurnia, take your pick.

Anonymous said...

The Nicene Creed of course references the Catholic and Apostolic Church. Since the Romans have "Catholic" as their cultural label, like it or not, why don't we use "Apostolic" as our identity? It is very much in keeping with the ancient and pure faith that we embrace.


palaeologos said...

"Apostolic" is going to put people in mind of Pentecostalism. "Apostolic Church of Christ" is going to make more people think of Hazel Motes and Enoch Emery than of John Cosin and Edward Pusey.

Arimathean said...

The ancient church of Armenia - the world's oldest national church - calls itself the Armenian Apostolic Church.