Thursday, May 24, 2018

Identifying Anglican Catholicism

I suppose that much of which I blog about is the question of labels and naming. The question is and always seems to be these days, what is the noun and what are the adjectives? After all, it is the noun and the adjectives that make the business of identification work. The question is, who gets to choose those adjectives? Do they come from us, or do they come from the world around?

Let us take, for example, the Anglican Catholic Church. That’s the name that we chose for ourselves nearly forty years ago and, yet, every term in our name might be disputed somewhere along the line. It comprises of two adjectives (Anglican, Catholic) and a noun (Church) and thus we do have a burden of responsibility as to why someone else should agree that we are what we say we are.

With regard to “Anglican”, we find ourselves up against the Anglican Communion who would say that, to be Anglican, we must be in communion with the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular. That’s the definition that they use.

With regard to “Catholic”, we find ourselves up against the Roman Catholic Church who would say that, to be Catholic, we must be in communion with the Bishop of Rome and submit to his authority over the whole church.

With regard to “Church”, we find ourselves up against some Protestants who say that we cannot be Christians because we claim to be Catholic and are therefore not of the Church. That being said, neither would the Eastern Orthodox nor the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church regard us as being a Church. These days, the RCC would say that we are an ecclesial community whose relationship with the Church is somewhat ambiguous. Since, for them, the Church subsists in the Roman Communion, it would seem that we are not.

Thus, at every stage we find ourselves in conflict with someone else’s thinking on the matter. We are now faced with a problem because each one of these groups defines each term differently from us. The problem goes away if we just, like Humpty Dumpty, make our own definitions of the terms. However, we are still faced with the fact that we use words to communicate and, if we change the definitions, then we lose that communication with so many people.
Of course, many modern folk will say that language is fluid and that words change their meanings all the time. The child born on the Sabbath Day is bonny, blithe, happy and gay, yet there seem to be a lot of heterosexuals born on a Sunday, too! If words do evolve and change their meaning with time, then clearly who and what we are is not something that can be understood by all people everywhere. Yet, the Catholic Faith is that which is indeed supposed to be believed at all times, in all places by all Christians – at least that’s the impression that St Vincent of Lerins says. Is he defining “catholic” for himself?

If I use the words “hard drive” everyone in the computing industry knows what I’m talking about. Those who lived sixty years ago would think that I had trouble getting from A to B. Thus, context matters: “I had a hard drive to get my hard drive fixed.”

It seems that it cannot ever be wrong to use words and adjectives in their original sense because that is what the words were used for. Thus, if we want to use the phrase “Anglican Catholic Church” in a way that people agree with our use of language then we can always specify that we use the words as meant in their original sense before the intervening centuries changed the meaning. This gives at least a peg on which we can base any further discussions.

Thus, for the word “Anglican” we go back to 1246 and say that it means “English” in the sense of “ecclesia Anglicana”.  Clearly, this predates the Reformation and thus predates the Church of England in the sense that we now mean it, namely those in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. This does pose a problem because, clearly, the present Archbishop, Justin Welby is not be in communion with Archbishop (St?) Boniface of Savoy (incumbent 1241-1270). Archbishop Boniface is clearly a member of the ecclesia Anglicana. Yet, if the Anglican Catholic Church cannot use the word Anglican, neither can the Archbishops of Canterbury from Cranmer onwards! (Cardinal Pole being an exception, perhaps)

Where do we go for “Catholic” in the original sense? The earliest we can go is to St Ignatius of Antioch writing to the Church in Smyrna in AD107 and it appears that the word is older than that. St Ignatius writes (Smyrnaeans viii.2)

οπου αν φανη ο επισκοπος, εκει το πληθος εστω, ωσπερ οπου αν η Χριστος Ιησους, εκει η καθολικη εκκλησια 
Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Nowhere in this definition is any mention of the Pope, just the gathering of the people around the bishop. Yet, neither is the notion of Catholic Church as the body opposed to the later heresies from AD200. Given our firm stance against all the heresies that have arisen over the years, including those of the present age which are a resurgence of the old heresies, we might be oversimplifying our case by going to the original definition. However, we can see that what St Ignatius is getting at is an idea of a church that is unified by the bishops who are worthy of obedience because they possess the ability to dispense grace of the sacraments through God’s grace to them. St Ignatius seeks the unity of the Church in doctrine through that obedience to the Bishops and thus it is reasonable to conclude that, although the notion of Catholic Church versus heretical sects arises from the third century, the word “Catholic” does not change definition sufficiently radically from St Ignatius to St Vincent of Lerins who says that the Catholic Faith is “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.” (That which is believed everywhere, always and by all) Note that the same cannot be said of the Pope’s Universal Jurisdiction.

And what about “Church”? That goes back to the word “kyriakos” meaning belonging to the Lord. By professing our Faith in God we are assured of being members of the Body of Christ. 

So there you have it. We have real and objective reasons for believing that the Anglican Catholic Church is appropriately named. While our name is a registered service mark, we are willing to talk with all those who believe that the phrase might apply to them.

I was made aware of a husband and wife team who started to call themselves the Traditional Anglican Catholic Church. In adding in the word "Traditional" they sought to distance themselves from us. The difference that I noted was that they allowed the highly untraditional and heterodox notion of ordained women. They weren't true to the original definitions of the words.

Why should that matter? Words change their meaning.

Of course it matters. We believe ourselves to be part of the Catholic Church, and that means that we do have a responsibility to all her members to preserve unity. The fact that the majority of those members are dead means nothing: we are still in communion with them and we seek to maintain that solidarity. Thus, in this case, the original senses of the words do matter even if we are using English and not the Greek of St Ignatius, nor the Latin of St Boniface of Savoy.

The "Traditional Anglican Catholic Church" was not true to this idea and is essentially self-contradictory. I believe they have now renamed themselves as the "Trinitarian Anglican Church" which is even more bonkers as you have to be a Trinitarian in order to be in the Church! Quite why they don't join an existing body like the CofE, AMiE, or one of the liberal Old Catholic Churches who ordain women, I don't know. Why exist to preserve disunity among Christians? They even claim to be "continuing Anglican" but have nothing to do with the Congress of St Louis which gave birth to the Continuing Anglican Movement. As of 2017, all Continuing Anglicans are in communion and the Trinitarian Anglican Church is not one of them.

This principle of going back to the roots may not always work, but it should help over disputed terms such as, perhaps, "man" and "woman".

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