[Update: The majority of the links are now fixed though a few recalcitrant ones linger…]
Up until a short while ago, I used to describe myself as an Anglo-Catholic. I don’t anymore. I no longer claim that title because I have an appreciation for Anglo-Catholicism, I know what it is, and I can’t and shouldn’t claim it for myself. In truth, I can easily pass myself off as such and I wager that I hold about 90% of what “real” Anglo-Catholics do, but it’s that 10% that won’t let me claim it.
Historically, there are several different movements that Episcopalians and liturgical Protestants tend to lump together. We toss around terms like Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholic, High Church, and Ritualist as if they’re synonyms. They’re not. In fact, there are some good and well-defined differences between many of these. Although similar from the outside even the times in which they arose make them different from one another precisely because they forced each of these movements to ask different questions and struggle with different problems. Check out data on the Non-jurors, the Tractarians (aka the Oxford Movement), and the Ritualists–often consider the real fore-bearers of the modern Anglo-Catholic movement, especially the SSC. Even I’m not as up on this history as I’d like to be and can’t tease out with ease the exact differences between all of these groups. But it’s at least important to have a sense that these were different groups.
I tend to see myself in line more with the Cambridge Movement than the Oxford Movement. Essentially, the Oxford Movement was theological nature. It sponsored a return to Patristic theology and the liturgies of the ancient church. I certainly agree with these. However, the majority of its focus was on church governance, the importance of apostolic succession, and the appropriate relationship between Church and State. While the Oxford Movement thought greatly of doctrines, the problems of apostolic succession, and bishops, the Cambridge Movement emphasized the artistic. John Mason Neale—the most important member of the Cambridge Movement—wrote to his friend Benjamin Webb in 1844: “I hope and trust that you are not going to Oxonianize. It is clear to me that the Tract writers missed one great principle, namely that of Aesthetics, and it is unworthy of them to blind themselves to it.” Neale and the others emphasized the poetry of architecture, vestments, and church music as well as robust theology. Indeed, Neale’s greatest contribution to the modern church is his legacy of hymnody. Fluent in handfuls of dead languages, Neale had the unusual skill of turning poetry from a language centuries dead into evocative English poetry. (He’s one of my heroes; I’ve got a picture of him up on my bulletin board at work along with one of Lancelot Andrewes [of whom more later]. Don’t miss my favorite sermon of Neale’s too…)
In short, I’m all for great vestments, clouds of incense and the reading of the Church Fathers. But there’s more to Anglo-Catholicism than this. As I see it—and I’m humbly open to correction here from those reading this who know better than I do—an Anglo-Catholic is one who consider themselves to be cut off from the Roman church more or less by accident. That is, there was a history of abuses in the Roman church but the majority of these have been fixed. Your average Anglo-Catholic holds to the doctrine of Transubstantiation, devotion to the Mother of Christ including the rosary, the Angelus, etc., and to the Invocation of Saints. In short, Anglo-Catholics hold the theology of Rome but not the discipline of Rome. That is, the beliefs are the same but there are disagreements on how the common life ought to be structured. Anglo-Catholics are for a married clergy and an elegant vernacular Mass (yes, still an issue after VII—the English Novus Ordo does not exemplify “elegancy” in my book…). Some may have issues with the claims of the papacy and may accept the bishop of Rome as first among equals by temporal rather than divine mandate (as did
Melanchthon according to his addition to his signature on the Smalcald Articles).
Though I agree with most of this (and do heartily recommend the Angelus as the most biblical of the Marian devotions) I have further problems with both the theology and discipline of the Roman church that disqualify me from calling myself an Anglo-Catholic. First, I cannot hold the all of the creeds required by the Catholic Church. It is is required that the Catholic faithful hold to the Athanasian Creed. While I have no problem with the Trinitarian gymnastics herein, I believe that this creed claims too much certainty for itself. Now, I fully believe that Christ is the way to the Father. I also believe that salvation as historically understood by the church—incorporation into the mystical body of Christ, to have one’s life hid in God—is accomplished through baptism into the Triune Name. What I have a great deal of difficulty countenancing, however, is this creeds statements that “unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever” and that “Those who have done good deeds will go into eternal life; those who have done evil will go into the everlasting fire.” Again, let me be perfectly clear—holding the true faith is of great importance and doing good works are proof of one’s possession of the Spirit and turning towards God in love. What galls me is this creed’s human arrogation of the place of God. I’ll try and baptize as many folks as I can and I am not shy about witnessing to God’s redemptive power but what I refuse to do is to tell God who gets saved and who doesn’t. It seems to me that this creed has lost room for the movements of God’s grace. It’s not my call who gets saved and the whole Church Militant (umm, that refers to the whole church on earth whether you’re currently packing heat or not…) sees through a glass dimly—including the sainted people who wrote this creed. God’s salvation is entirely up to His good and gracious will and I don’t think He plans to consult me about it first. Thus, I cannot submit to this creed like I can the other two in good conscience.
In terms of priestly discipline, most of the real honest-to-goodness Anglo-Catholics I’ve met don’t have a problem with gay priests. In fact, Anglo-Catholicism has quite a legacy of gay priests albeit most closeted and some severely repressed. In fact they’re far happier with gay priests than…women priests. This truly is the litmus test for Anglo-Catholics. If one holds the mechanistic understanding of the sacraments held by the Catholic Church and upheld by the Anglo-Catholics, one cannot accept the validity of women priests. It’s interesting. While I’ve heard Catholics and Anglo-Catholics alike speak warmly and lovingly—sounding like Evangelicals—about their relationship with Jesus and about the care and concern of the Jesus of the Gospels whenever Anglo-Catholics turn to the sacraments and the discussion of the Eucharist, Jesus turns into the central theorem of an algebra problem. A sacrament must have the correct form, matter, presider, and intention to occur. In the case of the Eucharist, for the Eucharist to be valid, one must use the proper words (form), bread and wine (matter), be intending to do what the Church intends (intention), and be accomplished by a priest (presider). Without these four components, the Eucharist will not occur. The problem, of course, is that a woman is not considered the proper matter for the prior sacrament of ordination.
The Catholic Catechism is clear that only men may be ordained and of course until recently that was the case in our traditions as well. The reason given, of course, is that Jesus selected men. The Catechism neglects to mention why the men must not also be Jewish, speakers of Aramaic, or inhabitants of first-century Palestine. From what I can determine, the real reason is that the Roman Church has held that those to be priests must follow the standards for priesthood as laid down in Levitical law which is why a man who was maimed could also not be a priest. Only a man representing Jesus can properly stand in the place of Christ (aliter Christus) and re-present the Eucharistic sacrifice. But again—where is God in this equation, where is the grace and promise of Christ? As much respect as I have for proper ritual and its importance, this seems to say that if the oogey-boogey isn’t done right the rabbit won’t jump out of the hat. But is the Body and Blood of our Savior a rabbit? Don’t we hold that Christ has given us His promise to be present in the bread and wine? Will He call a “no show” if there isn’t a little piece of meat between the priest’s legs?
On a more serious note, I do understand that many will point to the discussion of headship in 1 Cor 11, Eph 5, and so forth to demonstrate that the relationship between men and women is analogous to that between Christ and His Church. In this interpretation, being faithful to the biblical word means that a man must stand at the head of the congregation to fully represent Christ. While I can see this point if one uses a certain framework for understanding the text, I don’t use it myself. And most of the people who present it do not apply this same framework to a host of other biblical texts. If you’re going to argue submission to Paul’s worldview as representing the single correct anthropology in this case and be serious about it, you must do so through out the biblical text and I rarely see that happening. I believe that women are just as valid materially as men for ordination and I have no worries whatsoever about the inefficacy of the sacrament because a woman is before or behind the altar rather than a man (and yes, I even confess to preferring an east-wall altar…).
Because I know and understand the true Anglo-Catholic position, I find myself having to dissent from it. I know it and understand it but can’t agree with it. That’s fine—they do their thing, I’ll do mine, we’ll ask the Blessed Virgin to pray for one another. I do believe there is room in the Episcopal Church for divergent views as long as the key creedal doctrines are upheld and mutual respect is the order of the day. Thus, I refer to myself as High Church. I think that’s broad enough to convey where I stand liturgically without misrepresenting what I believe. It lacks the nuance and the zing of the Anglo-Catholic label, but I’m willing to give up the snappy be title to be fair to my beliefs and also to be fair to the beliefs of my friends on the true Anglo-Catholic side who honestly hold theirs.