Regular readers here will know I usually avoid classifying myself or others into different boxes and categories. Lately Anglican Catholics have been much in the media in response to the Vatican’s setting up of Anglican Personal Ordinariates.

Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church’s deputy to the Presiding Bishop for ecumenical and interreligious relations, has just issued a valuable statement on this.

Last Sunday, Fr Peter Williams, a leading Kiwi Anglican Catholic issued this useful statement:

We Anglican Catholics have always believed that the Church of England essentially continued as part of the great Catholic Church of the west, despite the political events that severed the link with the authority in Rome. Even here, in this corner of the very dispersed Anglican Communion, we continue to believe that. The Catholic essentials continue to keep us close, even though we Anglicans have developed a marked style of our own. As an Anglican Catholic I value that distinctive style a great deal: its dispersal of authority; its unity in essentials and great diversity in inessentials; its ability to live appropriately in very different contexts; its unity through common prayer more than through common dogma; its liberality of style, and so much else.

The Vatican offer appears to invite Anglicans to retain Anglican style, while joining a Communion which is controlled and centralised as never before, which is strangling the life of many of its own communities by its rigid insistence on inessentials such as clerical celibacy and the ordination of men only, and which is inhibiting the ministry potential of so many by demanding slavish conformity. There is an inconsistency here which makes me very uneasy. It certainly has not raised my respect for Vatican judgement or leadership. I shall be very surprised if many Anglicans respond to this offer, and they are likely to be those who cannot cope with the generosity of Anglican style anyway.

The Vatican’s problems which are great, and the Anglican Church’s problems which are also great, will not be helped at all by such an ill-considered move. The spectacular decline of organised Christianity in the west is no respecter of churches, and is best responded to with a generosity of ministry and spirit, rather than with a retreat to the fortresses.

Within all these discussions one might be forgiven for asking, “What constitutes a catholic? What is essential to catholicism? What is catholic spirituality?” Is putting a chasuble on? Or swinging a thurible with some incense? Is wearing a biretta? Or wearing lace, or calling it a cotter? Or being addressed “father”?

Drawing on the insights from the Rule of St Benedict, as highlighted by Martin Thornton, Derek Olsen recently asked these questions and added a three-legged stool to the commonly-used one of scripture, tradition, and reason: the fundamental principles of Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayer. Fr. David Cobb, of Christ Church, New Haven, expanded this with another three legged stool:

If our spirituality is not grounded in the Prayer Book System of Office, Mass and personal prayer- in the same way that our theology is grounded in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason-(and one might add if our life is not focused on service, stewardship and witness, another useful three legged piece of furniture) –   then vestments, titles, billowing clouds of incenses and resonant organs are just trifles.  They are, in themselves more appealing than liturgy that is sloppy or chummy or self-consciously restrained – but they are not the point.

Might I add the point that, in my opinion, catholic spirituality is founded upon an insight, a belief, a sense that God’s creation is good. We live in a sacramental universe. With flaws, fine. But creation does not manifest God, is not a vehicle for God, in spite of anything – but because of its goodness. Our human nature is good enough to be joined to God in the incarnation. So bread and wine, and water, and relationships, and sex, and flowers, and music, and colours, and smells, and gongs, and stained-glass windows, and glorious architecture, and singing, and oil, and gestures, and laughter, and tears, and processions, and icons, and candles, and… all can and are the vehicles in and through and with which we encounter the deep mystery in whom we live and move and have our being – the mystery we call God.

Just for the record: I’m an orthodox charismatic evangelical catholic 🙂

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