What the Anglo-Catholics Have to Offer to Anglicanism

Those who have read the recent post on Fr. Philip’s North lead story in the May 2013 issue of New Directions may well have wondered what the specific gifts are which in Philip North’s view the Anglo-Catholics have to offer to the Church of England.

Cleverly Fr. North had already given the answer to this question in the previous month’s lead story. Here is a summary of the article and some quotations:

“What is the point in having us now? What does our tradition have to offer the wider Church?”

1. “We witness to (the) true identity (of the Church of England) as part of the Universal Catholic Church.” Fr. North wonders whether this argument has perhaps already been lost, saying that many view the C of E as “free, independent, Protestant”. Should this be the case, he believes that “then we have no excuse for staying in the Church of England”.

Linked with this guardianship of the true ecclesial identity of Anglicanism is “a passion for the unity of Christ’s Church“. Again the signs are not good. Relations with the Roman Catholic Church are at a low, suspicion of Rome is rife. And ecumenism with the other Protestant denominations is in the doldrums. Indeed “the whole movement towards Christian unity is in crisis” and Fr. North considers this a scandal. Anglo-Catholics have the vocation to “keep alive relationships with the Roman Catholic Church” and – in constant conversation with their own Church of England – to try to “create the conditions required for ecumenical discussion”. Again he says: “If we think the argument is lost once and for all, our self-justification is lost.”

2.  The second gift is to offer the wider Church a “sacramental world view“. The Mass is not one worship option among many but “the primary way in which God invites us to worship him“. It is the duty of Anglo-Catholics “to remind people of the primacy of the sacramental life” and of the role of the Mass to make effective the saving work of Christ in the present, to proclaim the Kingdom, to feed and commission God’s people and to sanctify all creation.

And without the priest there is no sacrament, so Anglo-Catholics offer “a proper view of Christian priesthood”. In the C of E priesthood is often viewed as a waste of young people’s lives, a squandering of their educational opportunities, even “synonymous with child abuse”. Priests are seen by many as an expensive luxury and as “part of a hierarchical cabal holding back the gifts and talents of the laity”. Priests are “a problem that needs solving”.

Philip North believes that people are, however, willing to listen when told about the “correct context” of priesthood in a sacramental view of the world, and he tells a story of a talk he gave at Holy Trinity, Brompton, by which the listeners were “fascinated and moved”.  Fr. North concludes that Anglo-Catholics “are the ones who can lead (the) debate” about “a proper and balanced vision of priesthood“.

3. The third gift concerns “the proper ordering of public worship“. Fr. North finds much public worship is ”inept, unimaginative, banal and pointless”. Few, he believes, “understand the books”. Anglo-Catholics., on the other hand, “know how to offer worship which is both dignified and numinous and yet human enough to meet needs and engage people”, “to show confidence in the Mass”, “to order spaces and beautiful buildings and plan dignified ceremonial”. He also underlines the “enormously imaginative and broad” use of music and the “first-rate preachers who can put across sharp, challenging and relevant messages without banging on all day”.

4. The fourth gift is the “long tradition … of ministering in areas of poverty and social deprivation“. “We don’t bus in the middle classes” Fr. North writes, “but rather we serve local people”, including vulnerable adults, ethnic minority groups, those with mental health problems, the neglected and sidelined and the broken. ”Our movement has a long and proud history of locating itself where human need is greatest”.

He is of the opinion that the wider Church “is forgetting how to pay anything more than lip-service to the bias to the poor”, and that Anglo-Catholics “have a great deal to offer the evangelical world in this respect”. Many evangelical churches are accused of being “a white, professional, middle-class, graduate movement” and are “desperately longing for ways to offer service to poorer communities and for a theological underpinning to such work”.

He sees examples of “the middle classes seeking to improve the lives of the poor by imposing upon them their own lifestyles and values” and believes that this would be “unthinkable” within the Catholic movement, because Anglo-Catholics “instinctively see things from the point of view of local people”, “the incarnational approach to community development is in our bloodstream”.

5. And the fifth gift he identifies is a “disciplined, devotional life”, and he specifically names two aspects of the (Anglo-)Catholic spiritual life: the Sacrament of Confession and the “proper place of Mary within the Christian life“.

(to be completed)

David Murphy

6 thoughts on “What the Anglo-Catholics Have to Offer to Anglicanism

  1. Most of this is “self-authenticating”, rather, and somewhat pressing a social gospel! WE don’t “improve” peoples lives without the Gospel of Christ itself! And the “Incarnation” is always Christ! But where is His “Incarnate” Body & People today? That is the real ecclesial question, with always too what is the Gospel-Kerygma (message).

    Sorry, but I just don’t “clearly” see this in the Anglo-Catholicism of today!

  2. Fr. North, whom I met several times when visiting Walsingham, comments about, “the proper ordering of public worship“: that it is Anglo-Catholic worship that this is to be found in its true beauty: and yet, as administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the public worship was conducted using Roman Catholic liturgy and not Anglican.
    Many understand the perceived shortcomings of the 1662 BCP, and that despite their concerns, this is the approved liturgy of the Church of England by act of Parliament: but is there not a better way to properly order public worship – and conserve your Anglican patrimony – than to appropriate the liturgy of another jurisdiction?

    1. Yes, Father North, they could use the 1928 BCP that the Church hierarchy approved, or either the original 1549 or the 1637 one by Archbishop Laud, or perhaps the liturgy of the non-jurists. They could find a liturgy that truly was both fully Catholic and truly and authentically Anglican.

    2. I suppose the whole principle of “liturgy enacted by Parliament” is repugnant to Anglo-Catholics. They were supporters of a disestablishment of the Church, and are not known for ever abiding closely to Parliament-enacted church legislation. Moreover they see themselves are part of the larger Western Church, and thus able to use any liturgy permitted in this Church. Before the Paul VI Missal, it was the English Missal anyway, that’s not particularly Anglican either…
      Also, the English Prayerbook is much more defective from a Catholic point of view than those crafted by other provinces (An RC Eucharist conducted according to the Canadian 1962 BCP or Scottish 1928 would be valid) and it never became amongst Anglo-catholics a symbol of resistance to theological novelties as for example the 1928 US BCP.

      + pax et bonum

      1. It seems only older Brits know and remember Britannia, i.e. the British Empire, and Classic Anglicanism was part of this! And surely the Victorian period (Queen Vic) was also part of this -1837-1901.

      2. Fr. Robert, 19th century Pax Britannia…The RN at her mightiest glory with fleets in every ocean. Is that the Marine in you coming out? But the era of Queen Victoria’s reign was an amazing one. Peel, Disraeli, Palmerston, Gladstone, Lord Salisbury. The beginning of the naval race with Imperial Germany. Irish Home Rule. Crimean War. Boer War. The Sudan. The rise of Churchill. China & the Opium Wars. The Raj and Mutiny of 1857. Afghanistan & the Russians. Dickens. Kipling. Gilbert & Sullivan. Conrad. The great poets. The Tractarians. Ritualist controversies. Fabian socialists. That amazing British Empire at her height. I read Conrad’s The Secret Agent last year and felt like I was living in London in the 1880s-1890s. When Britain strode the world as a colossus. Thankfully there are many current historians who are fighting the good fight against political correctness to ensure the world remember the Empire and gets a fair impression of it. 😉

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