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.

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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.