Friday, 13 November 2009

The Roman Option.

From the Tablet editorial today:

"Perhaps because of lack of consultation with both Catholic and Anglican authorities in England, the CDF seems to have failed to grasp what Anglo-Catholicism is really all about. Its fundamental aim was to reassert the Catholic credentials of the Church of England as the “ancient Catholic Church of these lands” identical in essence to the medieval English Church. It is from this foundation that derive all those characteristics of its style that the CDF is keen to preserve – the interiors of its churches almost indistinguishable from Catholic churches, the use of “Father” as the title for its clergy, and devotion to a Catholic type of spirituality including honouring the Virgin Mary. But unless one counts use of the Roman missal in some of their churches, there is no distinctive Anglo-Catholic liturgy.

Anglo-Catholicism is going through a profound crisis precisely because it is losing faith in its central principle. Anglicanorum Coetibus is offering to let incoming Anglo-Catholics hang on to the incidental symbols of that principle, while relinquishing what lies behind it. Does that make sense? Would they not be better off just becoming Roman Catholics in the normal way, and joining an existing Catholic community they can enrich and be enriched by?"

Not every RC is chuffed with Pope Benny's kind offer. I can understand it. No RC's who have gone to Canterbury and married can sneak into the clerical estate. But Anglo-Catholicism's profound crisis stemming from a loss of confidence in the idea that it was the continuing Catholic Church of these islands? No, it's a longer term issue than that IMHO. Vatican II blew away many old certainties and the ongoing success of liturgical reform in both camps blurred the boundaries worship wise. The differences becomes less easy to discern between a Catholic Anglican and a New Order RC. The essential element in undermining the Anglo-Catholic confidence was, however, personal identity. Suddenly "celibate" (in the sense of not sleeping with a woman) was shown to be simply a euphemism for a sizable chunk of the clergy. And that has been a principal fault line ever since the 60's. As some realised that integrity requires not living a lie and hiding behind the celibate myth, others sought to maintain the fiction (Father's "lodger" in the Vicarage). Re-examining your identity and integrity led to some seeing that the exclusion of women from the ordained ministry was no longer feasible or sustainable - and others to refuse to acknowledge that this was the case. Of course, there are many honourable men who are gay and who freely and consciously choose to embrace a genuinely celibate lifestyle in the clergy and they deserve every respect.

It strikes me that the Anglo-Catholic identity is defined less by a distinctive liturgical rite than by an aesthetic: a sense that liturgy ought to be done well and with dignity, not mangled with guitars and servers in scruffy trainers. That preaching should be intelligent and reasoned. "The Pope says" isn't an argument, it's a statement. It would benefit contemporary Roman Catholicism to have the injection of Anglo-Catholic aesthetic and intellect to counterbalance it's vigorous social ethic and genius for "redemptive vulgarity". But in return, we could use the vigour of progressive Roman Catholics in the Anglican tent to stiffen us against the rampaging Puritans and stop such guff as the lay celebrant affirming Bishop of Peterborough and the un- Anglican theology of Sydney.


  1. I could affirm for myself the liturgical aesthetic you propose as definitive for Anglo-Catholics. However, I fear that the scruffy trainers that were on display at the last big high church ordination in Edinburgh that I attended a couple of months back do suggest that a crisis of identity is exactly what we are going through right now.

  2. Yes, but they were always a bit less "proper" in that ecclessiastical emporium than they were up at the meadows!