“No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke ix.62I suspect that many of my friends will regard some of my recent posts about the CofE as being rather hostile and inimical. It’s true that I’ve suggested that the CofE is not holy because of its established status, and is heretical due to its attempt to change the Catholic Faith. I am being technical here in my assessment of the status quo. In the light of Our Lord’s words quoted above, it may seem that, in my criticism of the CofE, I am failing to guard my own furrow and keep it straight. That is something that is on my mind.
It is often the case that recent converts turn to utter hostility on their former jurisdiction. This is usually of psychological origin. The recent convert emphasises the theological reasons behind his departure to the extent that the former jurisdiction becomes an utterly null, invalid, Hell-bound barque riddled with holes and sinking fast. Many Roman Catholics who entered that fold through the Ordinariate or personal conversion become so anti-Anglican that it’s hard to imagine that they ever were Anglican. That’s probably the point. They wish to expunge utterly that relationship from their memory. Priests who have joined the Ordinariate are re-ordained and so must have found some way to denounce their “former” orders as “utterly null and totally void” in keeping with Holy Father Leo XIII’s misunderstanding in the nature of priesthood.
Yet, we must remember it is said that Pope Leo was trying to be pastorally minded. “Utterly null and totally void” orders cannot be charged with the same gravity of sin afforded to a rebellious priest in full orders. This wasn’t a look back in anger at the English Reformations or a dismissal of the Anglican Church as irrelevant: it was an early attempt to help the Ordinariate come into being. Unfortunately, Apostolicae Curae fails in its attempts to deny form and intention to Anglican Orders and so, to the Anglican mind, it becomes a wedge and a scandal. Indeed, the effect that it has is to harden within the hearts of modern Romans the erroneous idea that the Anglican Church is not a proper Church. Whether Pope Leo wanted that to happen is not really obvious. To plough a furrow, we must walk straight. Looking behind us all the time will produce furrows that are useless for bearing the fruit of God. Digging up seeds to see if they are growing has the same effect.
I do not see my criticism of the CofE as a looking back. I am certainly not looking back in order to return, nor am I looking back in order to demonise and cast stones. As a matter of fact, I do not regret my time in the CofE. I have happy memories and met some truly inspirational people, priests and laity alike – true Christians – who are still in the CofE. I also met some less-than-inspirational people who wanted their way in contradiction to the Faith and who were determined to throw out every obstacle in order to get that way. I saw parishes in interregnum remove their commitment to the resolutions because they were told that they would “put off” applicants.
However, in this day and age, these self-interested folk crop up everywhere. They do not diminish my growth in the Faith that I got during the days of the CofE’s orthodoxy and even in the time of its heresy before it finally threw me out. There is wheat in the CofE, though it does seem to be increasingly overcome with tares. It’s not my job to weed –I’ll leave that to the angels, and they’ll do that when they’re told!
The main problem is trying to plough a straight furrow over a decidedly warped ground. Each one of us at the level of the individual apart from the Church is a heretic in the sense that, given our own personal viewpoint and philosophical development, we will depart from the straight-and-narrow at some juncture through simple human fallibility. Yet, each one of us, when plugged into the Catholic Church ceases to be heretic and becomes orthodox. The government of the CofE is heretical since it is not Catholic, that’s just semantics not polemics: the opposite of Catholic is heretic. That doesn’t mean that everyone in the CofE is heretical, but it does mean that their visibility as members of the Catholic Church is compromised and legitimately doubted. The visibility of the Catholic Church is something that does and should concern all Anglicans who claim to believe in the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. That individualism is rife in the CofE does actually allow for the potential of Catholic members under the radar, but if they are there, then they need to make themselves visible.
The Catholic Faith has been given direction by Christ, and we are not to look back at where we were. St Augustine in his commentary on the twenty-first chapter of St John’s gospel remarks that St Peter went back to being a fisherman but St Matthew did not go back to being a tax collector. He reasons that St Peter does not violate Luke ix.62 since there is no sin in fishing, but had St Matthew returned to collecting taxes, he would have violated Luke ix.62 by looking back to his sin “like a dog returning to its vomit” as the Proverbs say!
The context of this verse is the devotion of the disciple to Christ. To look backward is to desire the former life of not being a disciple of Christ, to look forward is to see Christ leading and to follow accordingly. It is the desire to be back in the state before discipleship, the not-letting-go of the unchristian life that is costly to the work of the plough. As I say, I do have fond and happy memories in the CofE, singing in choirs, making the friends I have made and whom I still count as my Christian friends, but Christ Himself bids me never to desire to return thither to that state in which I was before I was jettisoned, but to continue my Faith in a Continuing Church along the same furrow that I have been trying to plough.