There is a great commentary by Derek Olsen over at Episcopal Cafe about his experience in and thoughts on Anglo-Catholicism. It is very good, in my humble opinion, and gets at much in my own thoughts about a way forward for this Church and this Communion.
Read it here: Anglo-Catholicism: what the heck is it?
To be a catholic Anglican all must first begin with prayer, the heart of the ancient Christian Disciplines, the Tradition, that has survived the eons through persecution and trial, through many different cultures and languages. Derek calls us to act like catholic Anglicans more than just fight or debate or divide over it all. Absolutely! He asks whether we actually practice this faith we proclaim to believe in. Absolutely!
For the Red Hook Project and the ImagoDei Society, the heart of my thought for both is a way to return to the simplicity of the Christian Disciplines, as difficult as they are to consistently practice in these days within this culture and context, and see what God does within us as we do. We will be transformed, and there is no way around it. Do we have the guts? Do we have the desire? Do we have the intention and a persistent enough devote to live them out?
Anglo-Catholicism: what the heck is it?
By Derek Olsen
Thinking and arguing about Anglican identity is new territory for some. Not me. Every since Iâ€™ve become an Anglican almost a decade ago, the question of identity has been intertwined with my Anglicanism. And with good reasonâ€”I identify with the most fractious and tribal of the great Anglican traditions, Anglo-Catholicism.
Since the beginning of the Twentieth century, Anglicanism has been described as a threefold cord consisting of three distinct parties, the Evangelicals, the Broad-Church, and the Anglo-Catholics. As if negotiating these positions werenâ€™t difficult enough, Anglo-Catholicism has been in a tough spot since the â€˜60s. The theological and liturgical changes of Vatican II combined with the movement for womenâ€™s ordination were a one-two punch that rocked the movement. The emergence of womenâ€™s ordination brought the matter to a head in the early 70â€™s in the Episcopal Church, calving the movement into several major branches, some remaining within the Episcopal Church, others leaving for the Anglican Continuum consisting of other Anglican entities not in The Episcopal Church.
At the root of the problem is identity: what does it mean to be a catholic Anglican? For some outside the movement or on its fringes the answer seems simple, itâ€™s about liturgical ceremonial. If you wear a chasuble, know what a cope is, swing around incense, and chant, you must be Anglo-Catholic.
Trust me, itâ€™s not that simple.
As any Anglo-Catholic in good standing will tell you, itâ€™s not about the externals. Or, rather, the externals are driven by the internals. As Iâ€™ve said before, we donâ€™t do a solemn high mass or use incense because we like it (though we do, of courseâ€¦) but because of what it communicates about who and what God is and who we are in light of that reality. Itâ€™s about theology. And our theological commitments come with liturgical implications. Defining that theology is what drives us crazy.
One simplistic definition is that catholic Anglicans hold the doctrine of the Undivided Church (those things that the Orthodox East and the Catholic West agree about) but hold different discipline. That is, our faith is the same but our principles of church order are different. But defining what is doctrine and what is discipline, and deciding who gets to be the final arbiter is whatâ€™s been giving us fits since the â€˜60s.
Iâ€™ve said in jest that the true definition of an Anglo-Catholic is a person who knows three other people who think theyâ€™re catholic Anglicans but who arenâ€™t because theyâ€™re either not â€œcatholicâ€ or not â€œAnglicanâ€ enough.
The most obvious and polarizing argument is over womenâ€™s ordinationâ€”is it doctrine or discipline? The major divisions in the party have been over this issue, but a host of others complicate even agreements on that point. Which way to lean in matters of faith and morals: towards the Orthodoxen or towards Rome? What liturgy to use: the â€™28 BCP, the â€™79 BCP, or the (Anglican or American or English) Missal? What ceremonial to use: pre- or post-Vatican II?
And so I say, matters of Anglican identity have never been far from my mind lo these years.
As I survey the current squabbling and bickering amongst the worldwide Anglican Communion and especially here in the Episcopal Church, I find myself in familiar territory. Out of that familiarity, I return to one of the positions that Iâ€™ve found the most helpful. Itâ€™s not strictly about doctrine or about discipline but about practice. The most succinct expression that Iâ€™ve found comes not from a committee or report, but a book on spirituality written by the English Anglo-Catholic Martin Thornton. In writing about the monastic father St. Benedict and his impact upon English spirituality he says:
The greatest Benedictine achievement (from this point of view) is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality: the common Office (opus dei) supporting private prayer (orationes peculiares) both of which are allied to, and consummated by, the Mass. . . . Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer. Amongst all the tests of Catholicity or orthodoxy, it is curious that this infallible and living test is so seldom applied. We write and argue endlessly about the apostolic tradition, about episcopacy, sacramentalism, creeds, doctrine, the Bibleâ€”all very important thingsâ€”yet we fail to see that no group of Christians is true to orthodoxy if it fails to live by this Rule of trinity-in-unity: Mass-Office-devotion. (Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, 76)
Itâ€™s a position that certainly doesnâ€™t answer all problems or argumentsâ€”and Thornton admits as muchâ€”but in this statement, I find the heart of the matter expressed more simply and clearly than in any bishopsâ€™ statement.
At the end of the day the question isnâ€™t whether we are â€œauthenticâ€ Anglo-Catholics or Anglicans. The question is whether we are authentic Christians seeking to pattern our lives according to an Anglican shape that proceeds from catholic and orthodox roots. Yes, we do need to argue whether women are valid sacramental matter for the priesthood (and I argue they are); yes, we need to argue whether queer folk in relationships are appropriate leaders for our church communities (and I argue that itâ€™s about the relationships not the folk and applies equally to us straight peopleâ€¦); yes, we need to argue about how to interpret and apply the Scriptures (and I argue without a formal or de facto magisterium). More fundamental than these, however, we need to agree and be united in a common Anglican way of life.
It used to be saidâ€”and Iâ€™ve heard it many times both before and after my move to the Episcopal Churchâ€”that rather than confessional documents we have the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the history and legacy of colonialism and its aftermath, the one thing that all Anglicans hold is a Book of Common Prayerâ€”none identical across the provinces, but all rooted in common precedents, all embodying the fundamental principles of Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayer.
Can we live up to, is there any point in, a new Anglican Covenant if we donâ€™t bother to live up to or have regard for the more basic Anglican covenant that sits in our pews? On the other hand, itâ€™s terrific to call ourselves Anglicans or Episcopalians, but do our daily and weekly habits reflect that realityâ€”or display some other truth?
Yes, letâ€™s navel-gaze. But more important, letâ€™s pray. And letâ€™s live our praying. Donâ€™t just argue about being an Anglican; act like one.
Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.