Does Anglo-Catholicism have a future?

I’ve written before about where I think the CofE is headed (see especially here, here, here and, most simply, here). And I’m just wondering… I wonder what future the TEC-sympathetic clergy and congregations have in the CofE? Which is really one way of asking: what is the future for those of us who are Anglo-Catholic in theology and worship and spirituality, but who neither want to go to Rome nor embrace liberal-ish evangelicalism?

I read this post a while back, which made me think a lot. I know the church and people concerned (close to where I did my curacy) and the vitality of that sort of Anglo-Catholicism has surely vanished – rightly, on many things.

If I were to dream up a recipe for ‘my’ sort of Anglo-Catholicism, what would it look like?

At the heart – and what would qualify it as ‘Anglo-Catholic’ – would be the three-fold emphasis flowing from the theology of the Incarnation. That means: a eucharistically-centred spirituality (worship); a commitment to the orthodox creeds (doctrine); and a passionate engagement with the world, seeking social justice (service). These three I see as aspects of a single commitment, that is, logically, you can’t have one without the other two; or, at least, you can’t have full-bodied versions of one without the others, as they each support the other and give them purpose, focus and strength.

Theologically, it means a commitment to the catholic faith, understood in the traditional way as ‘what has been believed everywhere by all Christians’ – which I know is an ideal that has never been actualised, but ideals are important. In practice what this means is an acceptance of the teachings promulgated by the united councils of the church, ie through the first millenium. It involves reference to and reverence for the teachings of the church fathers as holding great weight for how we are to understand the faith. It means classical theism and an embrace of Christian mysticism. It means the approval of icons and incense – worship embracing all the senses!

With respect to the church in England, it means that we see the Anglican church as a part of the catholic church – not a sect but simply the gathering of believers in this territory. It means not claiming any doctrinal distinctives, nor any exclusive possession of the truth. It means rejecting the claims of foreign popes, and certainly the Modern doctrinal corruptions associated most especially with Vatican 1. No to Marian dogmas, but certainly an acceptance of Marian devotion such as hymns to the Theotokos.

It means a profound scepticism about the established nature of the church, and a settled intent to seek disestablishment in so far as that pursuit does not undermine more immediately important goals. It means putting flesh on the bones of ‘episcopally led, synodically governed’; that is, obedience to our bishops is still a virtue ardently to be sought, but it would be better if the bishops were elected.

It means – in the words of +Richard Chartres when he once gave a charge to ordinands – not getting caught up with the ‘festoons‘ of the faith: particular manners of dress or address; and also abandoning the whole panoply of eucharistic devotions that derive from the theological corruptions symbolised by Corpus Christi.

It feels good to get all that off my chest. However I suspect that, sadly, those who share this understanding are doomed to live out our ministries in a state of exile.

29 thoughts on “Does Anglo-Catholicism have a future?

  1. Oh, I thought it was about camping it up in gorgeous clothes and bitching about evangelicals over a few glasses of Tio Pepe. Where do I have to go for that now, then?

  2. Well, you could be Anglo-Catholic in exile; why not?

    Or maybe instead of “exile,” it’s “inception”? That is, the beginning of a new movement, without all the baggage of the name “Anglo-Catholic”?

  3. Interesting post, and share your concern and much of your “churchmanship.” But I don’t quite understand why you thought that the Anglo-Catholic parish linked to had “rightly” vanished (if I understood you correctly). The article gave the impression that it was a socially engaged version of Anglo-Catholicism that sounded much like your ideal.

  4. Sam –

    I’m glad you’re choosing to wrestle with the issues. As someone who has already resolved them, let me ask: why jettison Marian dogmas? After all — in order to preserve correctly an understanding of Who Christ Is, he had to have a human nature, which he took from Mary. Therefore, Mary is, to borrow the Orthodox term, Theotokos. All sorts of things follow from that.

    What is it, in the nature of a foreign prelate, which forbids recognition of him? Does a bishop of England have to be FROM England?


  5. Steve – I am often tempted in an Orthodox direction, more often than I am in a Roman direction, even though my theology is more conditioned by the RC than the Orthodox (tho’ theosis is very important for how I understand the faith). The problem is that I accept the ordained ministry of women, and I’m not going to go back on that. That is, I think the embrace of women’s ministry is an authentic prompting of the Spirit and one of the distinctive gifts that the “Protestant” churches bring to the whole body. I can’t imagine ever turning my back on that.

    Robert – much of that sort of work I do greatly admire. The problem was that – in my no doubt arrogant view – the good had become obscured by too many ‘festoons’…

    Chris – actually, it isn’t so much that I want to jettison Marian dogmas as that I don’t want to sign up for them in the first place – I regard them as later accretions (NB dogmas not devotions). I have no problem in thinking of Mary as theotokos – but perpetual virginity I think of as deeply anti-Christian. As for the Bishop of Rome stuff – there is no problem of recognition, the problem is his desire to extend his authority beyond its properly appointed bounds – a very good and ancient catholic principle which the corrupted medieval papacy discarded with catastrophic consequences. As and when the papacy repents of such things – which they will need to do if unity with the East is to be more than an aspiration – then a proper conversation could be had.

  6. Sam –

    Let’s play the Protestant game, for a second. Protestants usually assert that what is in Scripture is a sure guide. Is there any evidence in Scripture that Christ intended the ordination of women? Is there, by contrast, evidence that He intended some specific work for Peter himself? What about evidence that He intended people to understand Him literally when He said “I am the bread of life” and such in John 6? One particular kind of Protestant argues not from the Bible, but from “What Jesus really meant” — which gets us into the Jesusbewegung –(The Jesus Seminar folks and the annual “Search for the Real Jesus).If we need to wade into that morass, before we do, should you consider why it is necessary?

    Now, let’s shift gears. Have you read the documents promulgating the doctrines of Mary’s perpetual virginity or her Immaculate Conception (two distinct doctrines) or even her Assumption? The point I raise is not one of the authority of Peter, but the antiquity of the doctrine. The follow-on question is “When did the Medieval papacy begin?”

    Thirdly, what, precisely, do you understand as the properly appointed bounds of the Petrine ministry?


  7. Sam,

    I wasn’t necessarily trying to tempt you in an Orthodox direction — if God wants to do that, I’m sure he’ll do it with no assistance from me. But in 1970 the kind of position you describe was fairly widespread among Anglicans, at least in southern Africa. In fact I would say it was the view of the majority. But that is so no longer.

    The kind of Anglo-Catholicism portrayed in my post that you linked to belonged to 1960, and by 1970 had all but disappeared. By 1985 all that was left of it was those so well described by MadPriest as “camping it up in gorgeous clothes and bitching about evangelicals over a few glasses of Tio Pepe.”.

  8. “What about evidence that He intended people to understand Him literally when He said “I am the bread of life”

    He used a metaphor to tell people to take him literally?!

  9. “MadPriest”,

    The “Middle Ages” often runs from the fall of the Roman Empire to the French Revolution, or to the Protestant Revolt, or to the 14th Century Renaissance in Italy, or to the 12th Century, or …. and always assume that “Middle Ages” is synonymous with “Dark Ages”. With this many ending dates (and probably a similar number of start dates) it is entirely fair to ask when Sam considers the errors of the Medieval Papacy to have begun. Could he, perhaps, identify sample events in this path of error?


  10. Chris – if you follow the Corpus Christi link in the original post you’ll get an answer to the dating question. Certainly I don’t give any church absolute authority after the East/West split in about 1050.
    I don’t consider myself to be a Protestant – hence “Protestant” in the original post. I’ll have a think about the other aspect of your question.

  11. Hi Sam,
    I’m really pleased you’ve written on this, since my relationship with my own Anglo-Catholicism is an admittedly unexamined one, theologically.

    I sort of fell into Anglo-Catholicism when I returned to the church as an adult because, a bit like Victor Turner, I need the ritual, man.

    I do wince when, in British media, Anglo-Catholics are often portrayed as all being the sorts who are most distressed if the vicar doesn’t have a winkle and will be off to the pope if ++Rowan doesn’t hurl a few more folks under the bus.

    I’m fortunate in that I currently worship in a diocese (Melbourne) that has quite a lean to the old thurible in an often very inclusive way – see for e.g.
    But I do wonder if I was elsewhere whether I would need to rethink if or how I wanted to continue in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

    I think it’s important that clergy like yourself don’t go into exile … those of us sitting in the pews who sometimes wonder where the inclusive Anglo-Catholic voices are need you to give us a shout occasionally!

  12. Is there any evidence in Scripture that Christ intended the ordination of women?

    Wouldn’t it be better to start one step back and ask if there is any evidence in Scripture that Christ intended the ordination of men (or anybody else)?

    (But if he did, surely the fact that he chose Mary Magdalene as the “Apostle to the Apostles,” ought to help clarify the issue….)

  13. Sam,

    The “split” is 1054.

    I’ll have to follow up on the Corpus Christi debate thread. I remember reading it some time back, but I’ll have to read it again to see how it applies to the present argument.


    I have one simple question: what is the purpose of all the ritual which attracts you so much? [If you prefer, make purpose plural.] Before you answer, I suppose it is only fair to let you know that my family and I attend celebrations of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII.


    I can bring all sorts of evidence to bear on whether Christ intended to ordain anyone to the priesthood, but none at all to support the fanciful idea that women can or should be priests.

    Sam (again),

    Since the ecclesial body within which you are a rector was founded in 1535 by King Henry VIII as part of the Protestant Revolt, how could you NOT be a Protestant? Anglicanism is, after all, one part of the Protestant Revolt.

    God bless,


  14. founded in 1535 by King Henry VIII as part of the Protestant Revolt

    Damn those history books and university professors. Obviously every one of them was lying to me.

  15. Sam, I’m probably being dense, but what do you mean by exile and why, if you accept the ordination of both women and men, do you see it as a possible/probable outcome?

  16. I can bring all sorts of evidence to bear on whether Christ intended to ordain anyone to the priesthood, but none at all to support the fanciful idea that women can or should be priests.

    Well, congratulations to you.

    Not a very convincing argument, though, I’m afraid. (Actually, not an argument at all….)

  17. As everyone knows, there are three orders of ministry in the Church of England: bishops, vicars and curates, brought directly to the shores of Britain by St Joseph of Arimathea. The rest of the Anglican Communion has bishops, rectors and curates.

    In the Epistle to the Cantabrigensians St Paul states quite explicitly that women may be ordained to the orders of vicar and curate, but the page where he said they could be ordained as bishops is missing from most MSS, and the matter awaits the deciphering of the Lake Windermere Scrolls.

  18. Here’s a quiz:

    Who is the head of the church of England?

    Who is the Head of the Church in England?

    (These are not the same question).

  19. No, silly. Our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth is the head of the church of England, but His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is the Head of the Church in England.

    Prize? Sure: knowledge of the truth.

    God bless,


  20. Actually, Chris, I was just joking. The actual answer to both your questions is “Jesus” – something Romanists of all denominations, as the recent visit of the bishop of Rome proves beyond doubt, appear to have forgotten.

  21. Chris – that latter comment reminds me of nothing so much as the Mormon belief that you can convert your ancestors to their faith!

  22. “Our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth is the head of the church of England”

    Er, no she isn’t. She is its Supreme Governor.

    Henry VIII claimed to be “head”. Mary renounced the claim. Elizabeth I notably failed to take it up again.

  23. Sam,

    I don’t understand. How did a comment of mine remind you of the Mormon belief on anything? Could you expand on your confusion, so I can reduce my own?

    Sir Watkin,

    Thank you. I didn’t know that.


    Actually, His Holiness clearly enunciated your position on who is the head of the Church upon his elevation: I have no program, he said, except to do as Christ asks of me. Since the essence of the Protestant Revolt is to do otherwise, (duck) if His Holiness’ visit to England did demonstrate something, it was that what was wrong is still wrong: Sir Thomas More wasn’t guilty of treason.

    God bless,


  24. Chris – to say that BXVI is ‘the head of the church in England’ is to deny reality – which reminded me of the Mormon belief which does the same (specifically it pays no attention to the views and beliefs of the people in question).

  25. Mum is o.k., if a bit restless. Thanks for asking.

    I’m not sure that what I said is like the Mormon example. I’ll try to explain why.

    1) Several archbishops of Canterbury have acknowledged that they could recognize the Bishop of Rome (now BXVI) as a spiritual head.
    Therefore, I’m not asserting something completely foreign to Anglican circles.

    2) The “Church of England” is a corporate body, with a specific name. The distinction I’m making is that the head of the Church founded by Christ and located in England is the Bishop of Rome (BXVI). Hence my point about who founded the Church of England, and when.

    3) Doesn’t the Anglican ecclesial community assert permission to own a wide variety of beliefs and, so, to assert that BXVI is head of the Church in England simply turns on a legal technicality, not a philosophical stand point?
    To put this a different way, when we want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, we look at official documents, in the same way that when we want to know the Tory platform, we read that platform. When we want to understand what Anglicans believe, on the other hand, we have to ask “Which Anglicans, where?” We have the same problem when addressing Lutherans: ELCA, Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod, German Lutherans …

Comments are closed.