Thoughts, Anglo-Catholic: On ‘Traditionalists’ or “You Can’t Handle the Oxford Movement”

Tony SigAs a movement, as a theologically ‘centered’ or ‘coherent’ vein of Anglicanism, at least in my experience, and in the West, traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism is dead.  There are of course many Anglo-Catholics, many of whom drive the theological wheels.  I’d say in fact that the theological heavyweights in Anglicanism are in fact predominately though not exclusively ‘Anglo-Catholic.’  Long-lasting effects of Anglo-Catholicism can be felt in our revived Prayer Books; they can be seen in various liturgical performances; we like to recount the Oxford Movement and the (poorly understood and barely read) ‘Liberal Catholics’ in our histories; but if we are to take it as a continuing theological presence, and if we are to take the Oxford Movement and the Liberal Catholics as paradigms, then I personally don’t see many indicators that ACism sustains a theological vein apart from certain British movements of recent memory.

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.  I’ve gotten into not a few conversations about this with people who mostly disagree with me and/or disagree with how I define ‘Catholic.’  But as an example lets look at the possible move of some traditionalist AC clergy from the Church of England on account of the likely move to allow women to be bishops.

Without a ‘conscience clause’ these clergy would have to accept the sacramental and pastoral oversight of a woman if such a thing came to pass.  For these people, this would amount to an abandonment of true sacramentality; a transgressing of the apostolic office and the foundation that Christ himself laid and set out for eternity:  If you have a mitre, you must have XY chromosomes and a penis.

Let us assume for the sake of the argument that the Oxford Movement (OM) and probably even the Liberal Catholics (LCs) would disagree with both womens ordination and especially women bishops.  Current traditionalist ACs until this point have suffered their conscience on the matter of women clergy in the C of E so long as it didn’t happen in their parish.  Indeed, if a ‘conscience clause’ had not been rejected as it seems it will be, even still, so long as they themselves were able to practice their piety in good conscience, then it seems few if any would have been tempted to leave the C of E.

Enter a proposition: AC clergy (in the C of E) will not leave the church even if there are women clergy and bishops in the church so long as they are able to maintain their own practice.

That is, they can suffer a diversity on this issue in their wider fellowship, both in the C of E and in the wider Communion.

Proposition II – AC clergy are in Eucharistic (that is, the highest level of) fellowship with women clergy and bishops and parishoners ‘under’ them.

If we are to assume that a ‘true’ traditionalist AC does not ‘recognize’ the sacramental validity of women clergy, then:

Proposition III – ACs are able to abide ‘invalid’ sacraments in part of their church.

If these three propositions are true, and broadly of traditionalist ACs they are, then:

Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics are in fact high-church Congregationalists.

The OM and even the LCs were very concerned with authority.  Indeed, many in the OM were not even thurible swingin’ high-churchers.  No.  Time and again when you read the Tracts for the Times, you realize that the OM was concerned to establish that the C of E sat in proper sacramental, that is episcopal continuity with the church of the apostles and that it wouldn’t have mattered if they had been allowed a thousand parishes to fill with chant and incense.  What mattered was whether or not they were practicing in the same church and with the same authority as the apostles.  Additionally, this would have had to have been true of the entire C of E, and indeed when Newman and many others deemed that it wasn’t, they left for Roman Catholicism.

Similarly Bishop Gore spent an awful lot of time defending the catholicity of the C of E.  Indeed he wrote an impressive and persuasive book on just that topic. (cf. Order and Unity)

Now, I usually situate myself within Anglo-Catholicism seeing a clear line from ABC Michael Ramsey to Rowan Williams to RadOx.  I would then consider myself a “liberal (charismatic and evangelical) catholic” though not in the way that term is generally used today.

But my point isn’t really in this essay to establish my own perfect catholicity (I’m pretty sure there isn’t such a thing) but rather to show that if traditionalist ACs have so far suffered sacramental invalidity in their church they should never have been in the C of E to begin with.  I wonder if they simply don’t get what it means to be ‘Catholics;’ whatever the case they have a long way to go before they can legitimately say that they stand in continuity with Anglo-Catholicism.


Strange Encounters of the Pentecostal Kind

Tony SigSo long as one is drudging themselves through the process of acquiring basic linguistic skills, fantasizing about future research projects can provide the necessary motivation to continue to drudge.  I already have a running list of books and articles that I’m “going” to write and the other day I posted one of my ideas on Twitter and Facebook,

“Of Pilgrimage and Handkerchiefs: The Implicit Sacramental Ontology of Classical Pentecostalism”

Reactions hovered around amazement at my astute imagination.  But our long time reader George P Wood asked the perennial question:  “How does this move the missional ball down the Kingdom field?”

The funny thing is that I feel this has huge implications for missions and ecumenism.  I realized that it maybe was time for me to clarify a bit more why I wish to continue to engage Pentecostalism and perhaps even hint at some of my own hopes future academic work.  So here are a few of my persistent thoughts on Pentecostalism and what I hope to do about them..  I am more than aware that I might ‘accomplish’ little of this but I figure it’s more fun at least to plan big and trim as the situations require than stew in perpetual uncertainty like a fourth year sophmore who has changed majors six times.

For the sake of clarity I always attempt to differentiate between “Pentecostals” and “Charismatics” even if the difference is blurred.  Consider it heuristic.  Charismatics are those in Mainline, Catholic and other historic churches who experience(d) and promote(d) the “charismatic gifts and experiences” (thought of more narrowly as the type normally associated with “Pentecostals”) and Pentecostals are those Protestants who look to various ‘revivals’ which happened roughly a century ago for their roots.  They are also generally differentiated by idiosynchratic eschtologies.

  • It seems clear based on the unique rise and spread of Pentecostals that it is a work of the Spirit.  If it is, then it is incumbent on the whole Church to ‘get on board’ with it, though with discernment.  This is really just another way of saying that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit are for the whole Church.
  • So I hope to work ecumenically with Pentecostals and encourage the use of the charismatic gifts in the wider Church.
  • This engagement is hindered by several things:
  • Pentecostals have historically been skeptical of ecumenism.  They have been especially hostile to Catholics and Mainline Christians and have tended to feed this with an etiological narrative that sees in intellectualism and liberalism (among other things) a “fall” from the Spirit.  So the “start” of Pentecostalism is seen as Gods judgment that the rest of the Church has failed and so is better ignored and left behind than looked to as partners and teachers.  This has also borne fruit as anti-intellectualism, anti-institutionalism and anti-tradition.
  • So part of what I want to do is demonstrate how under the surface of Pentecostal experience and practice there is a substantive overlap with Catholic Christian theology, experience and practice.  By doing this I can help prepare the ground for fruitful dialogue between pentecostal and other churches as well as for cooperation in mission.
  • On the other hand, despite initial flowering in various charismatic renewals, other churches still often remain skeptical of pentecostalism on the grounds that it is anti-intellectual, anti-institutional and anti-traditional and just plain ‘weird.’  So by speaking the historic theological language of the Church, I hope to show how the whole Church needs to be renewed by the Charismatic work of the Spirit.
  • Additionally I’d like to explore the future of anglo-catholicism and argue that only a charismatic anglo-catholicism can de-clericalize the movement and renew a focus on missions and the sacraments.
  • I’d also be interested in exploring the historic three-fold ministerial order, and ‘laws of ecclesiastical polity’ in general, with reference to the charismatic gifts.
  • Similarly I’d like to look into the charismatic theology of the Eastern Orthodox because I’ve often found that their theology of the Spirit connects brilliantly with Pentecostal experience.
  • I’ve got a million more of these.
  • Another minor premise of mine that is rather disconnected to the points I’ve already made is that Pentecostals have done us all a disservice by selling their soul to buy street cred with Evangelicals.  So even now Pentecostals need a Charismatic renewal!  Especially with respect to how they read Scripture.

A basic underlying premise of all this is that Pentecostals are right in certain things and can enhance and be part of a larger renewing work of the Spirit who is reconciling all things to Christ, but in many things she is young and wrong and needs the whole Church to teach her.

Even More ’09 Reflections, or “Futures in Anglicanism,” or “For the Love of God Please Stop”

Tony Sig

In a previous post I reflected on a chaotic year for Anglicans.  The post itself remained largely ambiguous as to whether I saw much hope for the coming year and several commenters wondered aloud what might set us back on track.

Far be it from me to miss an opportunity to wax eloquent on my own opinions.  In this post I shall briefly, unsystematically and without much justification toss out some things I’ve been thinking about that, it seems to me, could contribute to a discussion on being faithful to our Tradition.  There is absolutely no reason that anyone should take the meanderings of a kid too seriously so take it all with a grain of salt.

Of course there are reasons I think these things, but with homework being of much greater importance than blogging I will largely keep from  any thorough justifications for my two cents.

  • 1)For the love of God everybody stop, stop, stop with revisions of all kinds.  A total moratorium on all Prayer Book, theologically informed Canon Law, Liturgical and theological revision for at least a decade.  Our English is not nearly old enough to need updating, our laws left unchanged will not hand us over to chaos, our prayer and collects are and have been largely consistent with Catholic Christian practice and thought and our theology is not yet proved false.  This will provide the common bonds of public trust so as to continue to enable the recognizability within our fellowship.  Any priest altering a liturgy independently should be swiftly disciplined and any bishop or province should be pleaded with to just chill out:  This means you Church of England with your lady bishops (and I’m all about lady bishops), you Nigeria with your canonical marginalizing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, you Episcopal Church with your endorsing diocene composition and implementation of rites of same sex blessing and consideration of Communing the unbaptized, and you Australia with your insufficient theology of Priesthood and Eucharist.
  • 2)  With that in mind, for now focus on those things central to our life and mission as Churches.  Worship, Evangelism, Justice and Catechesis seem to be atop this list to me.

It seems that these two things will build the trust and love necessary to begin to hash out the future of Anglican practice which will largely be in reference to, either for or against, the Anglican Covenant.  It’s here and it’s not going away.  The one, a choice rooted in the Protestant conviction that one is at liberty to interpret the Scriptures on their own, the other a choice for that Episcopal concilarity of the first four universally regarded Ecumenical councils.

But the “Covenant” is not nearly enough.  As the massive and desperately needed book “Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness” states, there has been at least since the Second World War, a general inability to understand our Anglican identity.  To that end I propose a few things…

  • Episcopacy is absolutely central to Anglican theology and life.  It must be insisted upon and emphasized that in continuity with the very early Church through the ages, we have vigorously maintained that Apostolic Succession by the reality that we have never christened a bishop without the laying on of hands of at least three other bishops so consecrated.  Our Liturgies for consecration have never deviated from this.  We are not Baptists with prayer books, indifferent to the right ordering of our life, neither do we think Church tradition so trite as to be of no authoritative worth.  Our Articles also bear this out as we understand nothing in our liturgies to be contrary to Holy Scripture.
  • Related to the above…What the hell ever happened to Common Prayer?  I propose the possibility of a Book of Common Prayer for use in all Covenanted churches.  Or, at the very least, in terms of the liturgist exraordinaire’ Dom Gregory Dix, the “Shape” of our liturgy should agreed upon, especially our Eucharistic liturgy and the liturgies for Episcopal functions like ordination, baptism and confirmation.  Parishes should not be allowed to use the Roman Mass nor neglect the Hymnal in favor of modern chorus’, or ignore the Rubrics.
  • Similarly we need a Catechism.  Which, though not to be used as a “Confession” in the sense that it’s contents are necessarily to be comprehended or assented to in entirety for Salvation, should be widely used and authoritative.
  • Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury is fundamental to being Anglican and is one of the only “checks” against loose consularity and is essential to ecumenical dialogue with the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches.
  • Jesus loves Fender guitars
  • There being a large number of Christians in the so-called “Global South” does not meant that a) those Anglicans can disregard their history b) that they cannot nor need not listen to the insights of more historic fellowships, especially the Church of England c) that they have become our rightful judges
  • The idea of in-house “parties” like “Anglo-catholic,” “Broad Church” and “Evangelical” needs to become progressively left behind in favor of  solidarity.  Evangelicals will have been unfaithful Anglicans to the extent that they do not include the whole Christian tradition in their theology, piety and Scripture reading; Anglo-catholics will have been unfaithful to the Reformation in England if they not recognize the centrality of Scripture over all else; and Broad churches will likewise fall short if they don’t realize that there is nothing virtuous about being bland.
  • All of this points to the need of a more unified practice of piety.
  • If you don’t like it, become a Baptist. ***update*** (One misses the point if they think I’m using “Baptist” pejoratively.  I mean only that being Anglican is not simply uniquely British way of being a Congregationalist.)
  • Authority is not a four letter word.
  • I am most certainly full of myself.

Responses…?  Additions…?  Complaints…?  I want ’em all.