I’ve had a few people ask me about inconsistencies within the ACC and whether this affects anything. These inconsistencies arise from our name as the Anglican Catholic Church.
As I’ve said before, Anglican Catholics take their definition of Anglican to be synonymous with how the 19th Century Anglo-Catholics understood what it meant to be Anglican. We know the long history of Christianity in the British Isles has its own character and there are even suggestions (of dubious credibility) that the Gospel was preached in Britain before it was preached in Rome. If that’s the case then,
a) Why does the ACC, in following the likes of Pusey who argue for the integrity of Anglican Catholicism apart from the Bishop of Rome, assume Roman vestments and practices?
b) Is not the ACC an American invention, and therefore not properly Anglican at all but another of those whacky cults that the Americans produce and find their way over here?
These are good questions and ones that we need to think about very carefully. The second question is often poorly phrased, but essentially brings up the fact American English is not the same as English in the U.K.
Let’s look at these, one at a time.
What Roman vestments and practices might cause one to doubt our Anglicanism? Well, there is the wearing of the biretta, fiddleback chasuble, lacy cotta, and zucchetto. Many ACC bishops do tend to look like Roman prelates rather than the likes of Andrewes, Laud and Cranmer. What practices might cause offence? The Rosary, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Angelus and observations of the Solemnities of the Sacred Heart and the Assumption.
These all make us look Roman rather than historically Anglican. Perhaps we should reject them; cast off our birettas for Canterbury caps.
I own a Canterbury cap. They’re not well-made these days, and I tend to look less like Cranmer and more like an articulate Allen key. They are also difficult to put on and take off quickly. They do, on the other hand keep my head warmer in winter. I prefer my biretta mainly for practical reasons.
That’s just personal preference. There is, however, another way of looking at the issue.
I would say that it is this. In some real sense, the ACC has a largely Anglican Papalist way of viewing the Pope. No, we do not subscribe to his Supremacy: there is only one Bishop of Bishops and He has holes in His hands and feet and a wound in His side. We do not subscribe to his Infallibility: this is often interpreted to Roman Catholic laity as being the “final say” in matters of doctrine, but the dogma of infallibility goes much deeper than that. We believe firmly that an Oecumenical Council can override any “infallible” decree made by the Pope.
That doesn’t sound very Papalist!
Oh, but it is! What we in the ACC subscribe to is the special and canonical character that the Bishop of Rome possesses. We acknowledge his seniority, his primacy, his venerability and his position as Patriarch of the West even though this title was rejected by Pope Benedict XVI. The accretions made to the role of the Papacy make it less Catholic rather than more Catholic. In the ACC, we have a higher regard for the Pope than the Romans do! That makes us less Old High Churchmen, though even though we share the same sort of heritage as the Caroline Divines, and even affirm it.
That being said, we in the ACC do recognise that we are part of this Patriarchy whether our patriarch recognises us or not. In holding to the Faith as revealed in Holy Scripture, held by the Church Fathers and proclaimed by the Seven Oecumenical Councils, we are already part of the True Vine with all Catholic Churches; this means we do stand with both the Patriarchs of the West and of the East. We stand with them both and we are happy to do so, despite our disagreements and divisions, looking for ways to give each the honour due that the Oecumenical Councils prescribe. It would be wonderful for us to be in communion with each other. Perhaps, God willing this will happen.
How do we express this standing-togetherness?
Well, the Canterbury cap and biretta are related, so why shouldn’t we wear either? Before the Reformation, we practised the Angelus and Eucharistic devotions, on these our theology didn’t change after the Reformation. The practice of reserving the Host is of antiquity. Many practices were removed by the reformers, especially those of a more Protestant tendency. In the ACC, we do want to be true to the ancient faith, but that doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Does that mean we get confused with Roman Catholics? Invariably it does but, like Archbishop Laud would say, that’s not a bad thing as the Roman Catholic Church is indeed a Catholic Church. Several people have popped into Masses in the U.K and said that they thought we were Roman but before things changed. I’ve taken this to be a bit of a compliment because they see the ACC endeavour to continue where others left off. We are quick to disabuse people about our identity as neither Roman nor CofE, but it is good to be recognised as a continuation of what once was.
This leads us to a bit of a sad fact. Many of us in the ACC came out of the Lambeth Communion because it ceased to follow the Catholic Faith. While we adhere to the same Faith that the Lambeth Communion once followed but now does not, there are many of us who find that being identified as CofE or ECUSA painful. In that sense, we’re happier to be confused with being Roman Catholic than the CofE. However, as relations between the ACC and the CofE thaw, I hope this antipathy will dissipate, even if we have to walk apart.
But confusion is not good, and we in the ACC do have a challenge to explain ourselves in ways that stop that confusion. Trouble is, people today like soundbites. The ACC doesn’t lend itself to soundbites.
Rather than being inconsistent with Anglicanism, our “Roman” practices are part of our heritage based on the theology of the Primitive Church. We adopt them, yet give them our “English” flavour. We also express our desire for visible unity with the patriarchates of the East and West in sharing these common practices. While we appreciate that this may cause some confusion this may well be the catalyst for further, robust, honest, and warm conversation.
So, is the ACC really an American cult and thus not deserving of being Anglican?
That’s a bit of a disservice to the Americans who are religious, and live in a vast space where unusual beliefs occur more on the balance of probability. Yet, there is a point here.
Are we a cult? Do we have socially deviant beliefs or novel practices?
Well, we have no NEW practices at all! We’re doing what the Church has always done. Are we socially deviant? Yes, but then so are Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy given our social conservatism and the growing distance between us and the secular humanism that now seems to possess Society. Deviant beliefs from what? From the Church? No, because we’re continuing to do what has always been done. It’s called being faithful to the tradition that we have received. We’re not a cult. A better word for us might be “sect” given that there has been a separation between us and larger established bodies, but we believe that this separation was done for the best of reasons.
As for our American influence, well, the Americans started Continuing Anglicanism first because the heresy of modernism hit ECUSA and Canada first. Theologically, the ACC shares a truly Anglican heritage through the relationship that each Diocese had with the parent church in the Lambeth Communion before walking apart from that Communion became necessary. Thus, the Anglican Catholic Diocese of the United Kingdom does have a special relationship with Anglicanism over the other Dioceses simply because we are still part of the culture from which Anglicanism grew. That doesn’t make us “more” Anglican than anyone else (as if that means something); it means the Anglican Catholic Church possesses the authentic Anglican heritage that we in the U.K. share with Dioceses across the Pond and around the World. While we may have the heritage, we didn’t have the organisational structure nor the encouragement which the American ACC has provided us and which has allowed us to survive and we have to be very grateful for that.
The Anglican Genius allows our Dioceses, even our parishes, to be inhomogeneous and that is important because we each have to bring the Gospel to the people where we are. However, we are united in what we believe to be Catholic and hold onto the ancient faith. What you will find in the very tiny Diocese of the United Kingdom is a disparate group of clergy seeking to be authentically Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox in line with the heritage that we have lived in for a good long time.
So, I think I’ll stick with my biretta, though if someone finds me a GOOD Canterbury cap, I’ll wear it for the Daily Offices.