To ask about the Catholic identity of “Anglicanism” or “Anglo-Catholicism”, as is often done, is to ask the wrong question. These two words correspond to abstractions, strictly speaking. What matters primarily is whether Anglican Churches are or have been Catholic, and to what extent. A secondary question is whether those persons known as Anglo-Catholics are in fact faithful Catholics. The answer to the first will give the answer to the second.
I will only be interested in establishing the (imperfect but real) Catholicity of the Anglican Communion before the purported ordination of women by Provinces within it, and the better “clarified” Catholicity of the Churches springing from the Affirmation of St Louis as a result of the aforementioned innovation. What the Anglican Communion (i.e., the group of those Churches in communion with Canterbury) is now I am not concerned to address.
The minimal requirements for an ecclesial body to be a “particular Church”
Continuity of Jurisdiction is a second requirement that is needed to distinguish particular Churches from vagans bodies. There is no argument but that the Church of England had continuity in at least the institutional and jurisdictional sense. Its creation of daughter churches in British colonies, especially in lands previously “heathen”, was perfectly normal in a time when Church and State and their areas of responsibility were intertwined across Christendom.
The Anglican Catholic Church and others like it such as the Anglican Province of Christ the King appealed to ancient Canon Law to justify their claim of inheriting Anglican jurisdiction from those national Churches that abandoned Apostolic and Catholic Faith and Practice in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Thus the rule was followed that Catholics were obliged to repudiate the jurisdiction of manifestly heterodox and schismatic bishops and place themselves under orthodox bishops who made their oversight available. This was done, beginning in the USA (where the first Anglican Church defection occurred) and the “Continuing” Churches were thus established. Unfortunately, the establishment of a new hierarchy (with the assistance of a few other orthodox bishops in the Anglican Communion), had to occur outside local collegial episcopal authority and the normal canonical processes and without the consent of any Provincial Metropolitans. However, such deficiencies were unavoidable and so covered by the principle of economy and the principle that “necessity knows no (positive) law”. Therefore, while our jurisdictions were not authorised by the pre-existing Anglican jurisdictions, they were valid, and intercommunion that existed later between orthodox remnants of the Anglican Communion and our Churches reinforced this.
There will be those who question the phraseology used in the first section, where I said “to what extent” in reference to Catholicity. (Taunts such as “Like being a little bit pregnant, you mean?” may have come to mind.) The reason for this usage will now become plain. Both the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) differentiate between Churches (outside their respective communions) which do or may have the Apostolic Succession and those communities that do not. While both categories are commonly seen as outside the Catholic Church properly speaking, i.e., schismatic, the former is seen as in some sense Catholic or “more Catholic”, to the extent where they can be called “particular Churches”. So far we have only dealt with the issue of whether Anglican Churches could at least be seen as in this category of Apostolic Ecclesia.
Further requirements for an ecclesial body to be part of the Catholic Church
Acceptance of the Consensus Patrum et Ecclesiae as authoritative
The Church of England’s official teaching and the apologetic of its representatives in this regard may be summarised as follows:
- Queen Elizabeth I a number of times defended her Church’s catholicity to foreigners and emphasised what it held in common with the rest of the western Catholic Church. For example, she objected to the “invidious difference” made between her and other “Catholic potentates” when she was invited to the Council of Trent in the same way Protestants were, and said “Many people think we are Turks or Moors here, whereas we only differ from other Catholics in things of small importance.” She also appealed strongly to the Consensus of the Fathers in her apologetic for the C of E to Emperor Ferdinand.
- A canon of 1571 demands that clergy in their preaching “see that they never teach ought in a sermon, to be religiously held and believed by the people, except what is agreeable to the Old and New Testaments, and what the Catholic Fathers and ancient bishops have collected from the same doctrine”. Also, in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the universal consensus of the Church is appealed to for establishing the Scriptural Canon (Article VI) and it is stated that “The Church hath … authority in Controversies of Faith” (Article XX).
- Even the very Protestant Bp Jewel wrote in his Apology “What have Christ and his Apostles, and so many Fathers all erred? What, are Origen, Ambrose, Augustin, Chrysostom, Gelasius and Theodoret Apostates from the Catholick Faith? Was the Consent of so many Bishops and Learned men, nothing but a Conspiracy of Hereticks? or that which was commendable in them, is it now blameable in us?” His implied answer is pretty obvious. He clearly thinks that this would be self-evidently false.
- King James I, on behalf of himself and the English Church, confessed as follows in the first decade of the Seventeenth Century: “[W]ith the maxim of Vincentius Lirinensis, … I will never refuse to embrace any opinion in divinity necessary to salvation which the whole Catholic Church with a unanime consent have constantly taught and believed even from the Apostles’ days, for the space of many ages thereafter without any interruption.”
- In the Preface to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer any suggested revisions which were seen as “secretly striking at some established doctrine, or laudable practice … of the whole Catholic Church of Christ” [emphasis added] were said to be “rejected” and characterised as “of dangerous consequence”.
- From the same period, in a work of Archbishop Bramhall, entitled "Schism Guarded:"—"We do not only admit oral traditions in general, as an excellent introduction to the doctrine of saving truth, and a singular help to expound the holy Scriptures, but also particular unwritten traditions, derived from the Apostles, and delivered unto us by the manifest testimony of the primitive Church, being agreeable to the holy Scriptures. The Apostles did speak by inspiration, as well as write; and their tradition, whether by word or writing, indifferently, was the Word of God, into which Faith was resolved. .... St. Augustine setteth us down a certain rule, how to know a true genuine Apostolical tradition: 'Whatsoever,' saith he, 'the universal Church doth hold, which has not been instituted by Councils, but [nevertheless] always received, is most rightly believed to have been delivered by Apostolical authority.'" [Emphasis added]
- And again, in his Answer to M. De La Militiere, written in the name of the Anglican Church by command of King Charles II.:—
"We receive not your upstart suppositious traditions, nor unwritten fundamentals: but we admit genuine, universal, Apostolical traditions; as, the Apostles' Creed, the perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, the anniversary Festivals of the Church, the Lenten Fast. .... We believe Episcopacy to an ingenious person may be proved out of Scripture without Tradition ; but to such as are froward, the perpetual practice and tradition of the Church renders the interpretation of the text more authentic, and the proof more convincing."
Adherence to the Dogmatic Teaching of recognised Ecumenical Councils
The Elizabethan Act of Supremacy of 1559 makes the first four Ecumenical Councils standards for judging heresy, while the Homilies (authorised at a secondary level) and a consensus of later divines re-affirmed the universal acceptance of the first six.
The rejection of the Seventh Ecumenical Council was initially based on a Latin translation that actually misrepresented a key teaching of the Council and supported latreia being given to images. This plus popular teaching and superstition, as well as Aquinas’ infamous teaching that the highest worship was also due to imges of Christ, the Crucifix or relics of the True Cross, were sufficient to convince them that image worshippers really were image worshippers, whatever other qualifications some might put forward. Interestingly, despite one iconoclastic Homily referred to in the Articles (where the Book of Homilies is said to “contain” good doctrine) and the efforts of individual men, iconoclasm never became the official policy of the Church as such in theory or practice.
The Elizabethan Injunctions of 1559 only demand the removal of “abused” images that were used superstitiously. E.g., “that no person keep in their houses any abused images, tables, pictures, paintings, and other monuments to feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry, and superstition” and that “they shall take away, utterly extinct, and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, all tables, candlesticks, trindals, and rolls of wax, pictures, paintings, and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry, and superstition , so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glass windows, or elsewhere within their churches and houses”. These two injunctions in the same document must be exegeted to be consistent with each other, as both refer to what must happen in “houses”. And they must be exegeted to allow for the fact that we know many images in the Church of England were not destroyed and certainly every church still had a table: the Lord’s Table! (It has been suggested to me by Dr William Tighe that the word “table” has two entirely different meanings in this context, the tables condemned being “tablets”. I was under the impression that many shrines had tables, as in with legs, associated with them and that this was the meaning. If I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected, but I think the rest of the evidence is still sufficient to prove my point.)
Another reason to believe that the Elizabethan Church of England was not simply iconoclastic – that is, did not believe that all religious images were sinful and forbidden and must be destroyed – is the Ornaments Rubric placed in the 1559 Act of Uniformity and the associated Book of Common Prayer. It stated that the “Ornaments of the Church” and its Ministers were to be retained as had been in use in King Edward the Sixth’s second year. At this stage the only mediaeval ornaments which had been legally forbidden were votive candles and images abused superstitiously. While this Rubric was generally disobeyed, it remained in the Prayer Book from then on, showing that the Church refused to repudiate the ideal it represented. Indeed, the 1662 revision retained it over the explicit protests of the Puritans.
It is also worth noting that the Articles of 1571 condemn the “Worshipping and Adoration” of images, not all use of images. In fact, the very strong phrase used here corresponds with the very latreia that the Seventh Ecumenical Council also condemns if directed towards images.
James I in the early 1600s specifically denied being an “iconomachus” and said “I quarrel not with the making of images, either for public decoration or for men’s private uses.” Dean Richard Field in the same decade stated that “there are but Seven General Councils that the whole Church acknowledgeth called to determine faith and morals.”
Many images remained more than eighty years from the Elizabethan settlement, only for a large number to be destroyed by the Puritan uprising. Indeed, we have records of Puritans like William Dowsing, for example, boasting of destroying 1000 pictures in one place, including multiple images of the members of the Trinity, Saints and Cherubim! There is a plaque in Oxford (I think) commemorating the attempt by the Roundheads to take out a statue of St Mary with cannonfire.
And various Caroline Divines used better translations of the Council to defend it as legitimate in itself, though they still decried the way its teaching had been applied (or even ignored) in the West. Thus it was that Bishops like Andrewes, Cosins, Laud and others upset the Puritans with their increased use of images, crucifixes, candles and incense and, after the recovery from the Puritan Revolution, imagery never disappeared from the Church of England, especially in stained glass windows. Hence Archbishop Bramhall could say succinctly of the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, “I know of none we need to fear.”
Acceptance of the living voice of the Catholic Church
The most common ecclesiological accusation among the theologically sophisticated against Anglican Churches is that they have denied the authority of the Church as a contemporaneous, ever-present reality. It is alleged that they have reduced the authority of Tradition to an appeal to antiquity using private judgement against the present consensus of the Church. In other words, they are said to have played the consensus of the ancient Church off against a supposedly different and erroneous consensus of the later Church on the basis of their own idiosyncratic judgement. And, given that they disclaim the ability to make infallible dogmatic decrees on their own, this results in a complete denial of the infallibility of the Church and thus a denial of Catholicism.
The first response to this claim is to point to the fact that a number of the statements evidencing the Anglican appeal to Tradition and Catholic consensus noted above are temporally unlimited in principle. That is, many refer to perpetual consent and the authority of the Church simpliciter, not to one particular age only.
The second response is that the official, authorised teaching of the Anglican Churches never asserted that the Catholic Church had lost its doctrinal authority at some point, nor did it assert that the Church could as a whole could become heretical at any point in history. That is why they accepted that a truly Ecumenical Council operating freely and generally received would have the same authority in their time as did the first seven. However, they believed Trent was not truly Ecumenical because it involved neither the Eastern bishops nor their own, was not operating freely because of Papal power and pressure, and therefore need not be generally received or even contemplated as binding. All of this is supported by the following:
- When Queen Elizabeth I addressed the Spanish Ambassador through Lord Cecil as intermediary in 1561, she informed him that the English would attend the Council of Trent if the Christian princes decided the place of meeting, the Pope presided as head of the Council but not as “universal Bishop”, and that dogmatic definitions should be drawn from Scripture, the consensus of doctors and the rulings of the ancient councils. She also demanded that all her English bishops be granted equal voice and vote with the other bishops in its proceedings.
- Dean Field in his early Seventeenth Century defence of the Anglican position, Of the Church, said of the Catholic Church that “we hold it never falleth into any heresy.” He also noted that later Western Councils were not Ecumenical because of the lack of participation and concurrence by Eastern bishops. He argued that even a truly General (and free and lawful) Council could err, but that such a Council’s doctrinal conclusions were to be believed “implicite, and in praeparatione animi” and that “we dare not resolve otherwise”. He based their final confirmation, it would appear, on what “the whole Church acknowledgeth” (see above). In more modern terms, he believed “General Councils” properly called and run deserved “religious submission” until they were effectively ratified by the process of reception as Christians reflected upon their teaching.
- Archbishop Laud later in the same century said in his Conference with Fisher, “It is true that a General Council, de post facto, after it is ended, and admitted by the whole Church, is then infallible.” Like Field he made the point about the necessity of Eastern participation for Ecumenicity: “Is that Council general, that hath none of the Eastern Churches’ consent, nor presence there?” He also asked “Is that Council legal where the Pope, the chief person to be reformed, shall sit president in it, and be chief judge in his own cause … To which all were not called that had deliberative or consultative voice? In which none had suffrage but such as were sworn to the Pope … ?” In other words, he questioned the freedom of the Council of Trent.
- Archdeacon Hammond (who, having been chosen for the episcopacy, died in 1660 before he could become Bp of Worcester), following Archbishop Laud and Bishop Montague, said in his book On Heresy, “I shall number it among the things that piety will believe, that no General Council, truly such, 1. duly assembled, 2. freely celebrated, and 3. universally received, either hath erred, or ever shall err, in matters of faith.” [Emphasis added]
Further examples, including from later centuries, could be multiplied, but there is sufficient evidence here that the C of E did not posit a trustworthy ancient Catholic Church, now defunct, in opposition to a corrupt contemporaneous one intrinsically unable to exercise definitive doctrinal authority. But, without the intercommunion of East and (all of the) West necessary to enable what the Church of England would recognise as a proper Ecumenical Council, Anglicans did not always give a consistent or practical answer to the question of how the Catholic Church was to exercise its “authority in controversies of Faith” or how this authority was to be recognised and obeyed. Some appealed to what the whole Church held in common, that is, the constant and consensual teaching of Catholic bishops, even where this had not been expressed in a Conciliar context. (This corresponds roughly to what Roman Catholics call the Ordinary Magisterium – with, however, a larger “field of view” in terms of the bishops considered.) Others ignored the issue in despite of their own tradition and formularies. The absence of a uniform appreciation of authority in the universal Church as a contemporary reality is perhaps the fatal flaw of institutional mainstream Anglicanism. In fact, it could be argued that those who have led Anglicans astray are mostly people who happily subscribed to formularies and Creeds without sincerity and never intended to be bound by the authority of the Church, however defined or recognised.
If it is argued that the Anglican requirement of “reception” for a Council to be recognised as binding is proof of Protestant identity, then many Eastern Orthodox theologians, including Bishop Kallistos Ware and the Roman Catholic interlocutors in ARCIC, are Protestant heretics. Bishop Ware notes the importance of reception in The Orthodox Church and the fact that Ecumenical Councils cannot be guaranteed to put out infallible teaching by external criteria alone. The ARCIC document on Authority in the Church (Elucidation 1981) states that “the Commission denies that a council is so evidently self-sufficient that its definitions owe nothing to reception.” There is also a denial there that a council’s authority is due only to later reception, which is also true. Anglicans have never claimed that reception was the sole or sufficient criterion.
Intercommunion with other parts of the Catholic Church
To be a part of the Catholic Church it would normally be necessary to be in sacramental communion with other constituent particular Churches of it. The failure of the Anglican Churches to have communio in sacris with the EOC and RCC (and their sacramental disunity) and the significance of this is discussed in my previous article, “Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room”.
The sceptical reply to all of the above might be something like this: “Poppycock! Whatever apparent commitments to Tradition were claimed in general, and however much deliberately ambiguous language in the 39 Articles on specific doctrines allowed theoretically orthodox interpretations by some, the plain fact is that in practice the early Church of England bishops denied Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Real Presence, Prayer for the Dead, Purgatory, Invocation of Saints, Veneration of Images, and everything else other Protestants denied! Heretical bishops and their deficient teaching were persistently tolerated!”
In fact, in each of these areas it can be shown that a long line of Anglican bishops and doctors (e.g., Ridley, Guest, Field, Andrewes, Overall, Cosin, Laud, Montague, Bramhall, Hammond, Wake, the Non-Jurors, etc., etc.) affirmed key elements of Catholic teaching that others denied in the name of Protestantism and that even the denials were often directed at specific understandings of Roman Catholic doctrine that were common but not essential to Roman Catholicism. Indeed, some of the things rejected by Anglicans as RC doctrine are now not held by virtually any RCs, for example, the belief that Eucharistic Sacrifice involves some distinctive act performed by the earthly priest upon Christ as an “object”, such that he himself really undergoes transition from an unoffered to offered state during the Mass. As another example, Purgatory is no longer seen as God getting his "pound of flesh" from Christians in a chamber of horrors not unlike Hell except in duration. So, where there are ambiguities in the official statements of the Church in specific doctrinal areas and so different teachings from different bishops and priests, some orthodox, some less so, the authentic teaching is clearly the one that provides internal consistency between the doctrinal commitments that are officially binding and respects the epistemological hierarchy. In other words, doctrines about how true and false doctrines are recognised, that is meta-doctrines, have logical priority and control our resolution of difficulties. That is why the Catholic interpretation of the Book of Common Prayer and Articles is not merely plausible and permissible, but determinative.
The fundamental point is not to look at any one doctrine or teacher, therefore, but to investigate the basic doctrinal epistemology as expressed in official and/or representative statements and the tradition. The fact that the Church of England and Episcopal Church of Scotland (the mother churches of Anglicanism) taught that Scripture Alone was sufficient in material terms for deriving dogma (which is still a permissible opinion in the RCC), does not change the fact that the consensus patrum was also seen as necessary, and stated to be such, as a formal criterion for establishing definitive teaching by the authority of the Church. And mixed success in understanding Tradition does not prove lack of intention to follow it.
And, given that Faith and Order are intimately connected, the simultaneous preservation of the Threefold Apostolic ministry is also important. The preservation of a Catholic core and identity in the admittedly confused entity that was Anglicanism is due to this continuity, of Faith and Order, “Body” and “Soul”, Intent and Action, despite obscuration and mixing in of errors in life and thought.
So, even if the Caroline Divines are seen as advancing beyond the Elizabethan Divines and the Anglo-Catholics beyond the Caroline Divines in certain areas, this is irrelevant if their position is a logical development of the basic Catholic principles of these earlier Anglicans. The fact that distance from the polemical (and emotionally and politically charged) atmosphere of immediate post-Reformation times may have led to more consistent and sometimes superior conclusions from these principles by the Anglo-Catholics should be seen as a matter for joy, not shame or confusion.
A more specific criticism of the Church of England’s Catholic continuity is that one can find statements by its earliest key apologist, Bishop Jewel, that are inconsistent with it. And Jewel’s Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae was published with the approval of both the Privy Council and the province of Canterbury and his works were ordered by the Queen to be purchased by all parishes.
The Apologia on the positive side, appeals consistently to the Fathers, one example being given above, and says of the Church of England’s leaving the Church of Rome “we have not so much departed from them, as been cast out by them with Execrations and Curses.” In addition, it argues that the C of E can hardly be guilty of schism from the Catholic Church by breaking from Rome, since Rome went into schism from “the Greeks”, described as Rome’s “Spiritual Parents”. Common ground between the C of E and the Eastern Orthodox, over against Rome, is also noted. On the clearly negative side, inter alia, it says the Greeks have “contaminated” the Apostolic Faith without specifying how and implies a “fall and restoration” ecclesiology.
However, whatever Jewel’s opinions, we cannot assume everything he wrote is given infallible authority by a general approval. (Anymore than we can justly "cherry-pick" the worst things we can find in RC books with an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat and ascribe them to the RCC as their dogma.) We must look to official and authoritative acts and statements of the Church as a whole, as done above. And other Anglican Divines of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period understood the status of the pre-Reformation Western Church and the contemporaneous RCC differently to Jewel. Hooker affirmed that RCs were fellow Christians in the Catholic Church and Field saw the C of E as continuing the true conciliar tradition and refusal to dogmatise scholastic opinions which was only definitively overthrown by Rome at Trent. There are many other signs that the C of E did not see itself as simply repudiating its connection with its pre-Reformation and mediaeval heritage, even apart from the obvious outward and institutional continuity. Finally, and perhaps most importantly since actions speak louder than words, the C of E always and without exception accepted the orders of Roman Catholic priests who came to her, whereas Reformed churches did not, often re-ordaining. In conjunction with an almost complete consistency in re-ordaining Protestant ministers who came to her, this action and attitude shows that the reform of the ordinal was not meant to signify replacement of one ministry or Church with another.
Circumstantial and Supporting Evidence
Economic intercommunion between the Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans existed in many places during the Twentieth Century. Also, positive statements by Eastern Hierarchs and theologians about Anglican Catholicity were made such as these:
- “Anglicanism is not a Protestant Church, but a reformed Catholic Church, which maintains its unity with the tradition of the ancient undivided Church.” (Archbishop Methodius Fouyas in Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, 1972)
- “[T]he Orthodox Church has always considered the venerable Anglican Church as a branch, in many particulars, in continuous succession with the Ancient Church.” (Archbishop Germanos of Thyateira, cited in book abovementioned)
- “Those Orthodox Churches which have partially or provisionally recognised Anglican Orders did so on the ground that the Anglican Church has preserved the apostolic succession; and the apostolic succession … signifies continuity in apostolic faith and spiritual life.” (The Athens Report, 1978, of the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue)
“Sister Church” terminology was used by a previous Pope, Paul VI, who also said that “There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church” in the event of re-union.
Finally, we see in Anglican Churches a constant stream of Catholic thinking and living that has refused to be quashed, despite the frequency of conditions in Anglican history that should have made this humanly inevitable. This Catholic essence has been recognised even by the present Pope, while still a Cardinal: "Much of Catholicism remains in Anglicanism. In Anglicanism there have always been vital currents that have strengthened the Catholic inheritance … A strong Catholic potency has always remained in Anglicanism, and it is becoming very visible again in the present crisis".
So, yes, Anglican Catholics are Catholics.