Why I Left Anglicanism

I’m often asked why I left the Anglican Church to become a Catholic. Was it women’s ordination or some other issue? Well, the debate over women’s ordination was an influence. It made me re-examine the question of authority in the church. I have written about my conversion several places, and these articles can be found on my website under the ‘articles’ tab.

However, the more I think about the reasons for my conversion, the more I realize that the real problem was not women’s ordination, nor was it, at depth, the question of authority in the church. Women’s ordination was a problem and the authority of Rome was the answer, but there was a deeper, underlying problem with the Anglican Church as I experienced it. The problem is modernism — a philosophical and theological position which is deeply opposed to historic Christianity.

The foundational problem with modernism is that it is anti-supernaturalist. The most foundational difficulty with the anti supernaturalism of the modernist is that he has an anti-Christian conception of God. For the modernist God is either totally immanent.  That is He is ‘down here’ and not transcendent, or he is so totally transcendent as to be a sort of deist God who is ‘out there’ and does not intervene. What the modernist theologian cannot believe in is a God who is both immanent and transcendent–a God who is ‘out there’ but who touches this world and ultimately enters this world through the incarnation.

The modernist cannot believe in this kind of God because that would introduce miracles and the supernatural, and for the modernist such things are impossible. The effect of this distorted deity is also an un-Christian view of man. If there is no supernatural, if God is either totally ‘out there’ or totally ‘down here’ then man is definitely a creature limited to this world only. His only hope is to find the God who is ‘down here’ which means he invariably goes on a search for the ‘God within each of us’ or he decides that religion is about making this world a better place.

From the distorted deity of the modernist and the un-Christian anthropology comes an un-Christian understanding of Christ and the gospels. The modernist cannot accept the old supernaturalist understanding of a Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Atonement and the Resurrection. These events must be ‘de mythologized’ and re-interpreted. Consequently, the whole understanding of the salvation of souls is totally eviscerated. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is nothing more than the martyrdom of a good man. For the modernist it cannot be a saving sacrifice. Such metaphysical and medieval concepts are impossible given his faulty theology and anthropology. At most the sacrifice of Christ is a symbol of human selflessness and sacrificial love, but even this is a nonsense if all we have is the senseless death of a political prisoner.

If this is true–if Jesus’ death is no more than symbolic image, then the entire ecclesiological structure and sacramental system is no more than an archaic symbolical structure. It is a historic mythology that, at best, unlocks something within the human subconscious. It is a human construct that helps people to transition through their lives. Indeed, the vicar in the next door parish to me in England in the late 80s said as much. He said, “I see myself as a sort of shaman of the tribe. I’m there to offer them rites of passage.”

What strikes me now is how honest my fellow clergy were about their paganism. Unfortunately, their honesty was rare and usually not conscious. More often they indulged in a kind of dishonesty which I can only now admit is really a lie from Satan himself, for what they did was to use the traditional language of the historic Christian faith while not believing the historic Christian faith at all.

So when they said they believed in the Incarnation they actually believed that “Jesus Christ was the most fulfilled human who ever lived. He was so self actualized that he achieved a kind of divine status. He, more than anyone else, was one with the god within.” When they ‘affirmed’ the Virgin Birth they really meant that Mary was an especially pure young woman before she had intercourse with Joseph or a Roman soldier. When they proclaimed from their pulpit on Easter Day, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!” what they meant was, “In some sort of wonderful way I would want to say that Jesus Christ continued to inspire his followers after his tragic death.”

I used to think that his lie was simply being told in the halls of academia, that the rot was really only in the universities, but of course it was not only there. It had been disseminated throughout the Anglican Church through the education of the clergy for the last fifty or sixty years. Of course there were pockets of true belief and there are still. In making this critique of Anglicanism I am not damning all Anglicans.

However, Catholics who are involved in ecumenism should be aware that this is the real nature of the people they are talking to. The Anglican theologians will talk a Catholic language, but they mean something totally opposed to Catholicism when they do. They will talk a Christian language, but they mean something totally opposed to Christianity when they do. We must not imagine that this modernism is held only by radical theologians and heretical bishops. It is the mainstream.

Finally, allow me to say why it is the mainstream. It is the mainstream because it fits so perfectly with the philosophical and theological foundations of Anglicanism. The Elizabethan Settlement established Anglicanism for what it is, and that is that it must not be a dogmatic religion. It is to be a flexible religion. When you read Anglican history you will find the principle of dogmatic compromise in every age. From its conception Anglicanism has been wedded to the spirit of the age. From the beginning Anglicanism has adapted its language according to its practical needs. From the first Anglican reformers onward the heritage of Anglicanism has not been a fearless search for truth and a proclamation of the truth at any cost, but a fearful search for compromise and a proclamation of any truth that would please as many people as possible.

I want to say, “Ah, but these are only the members of the liberal wing of the church. The Anglo Catholics and Evangelicals, they have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Unfortunately the rot of modernism has also touched many who follow the Anglo Catholic and Evangelical modes of being Anglican. Furthermore, another whole essay could be written about the philosophical underpinnings of the Anglican Evangelicals and Anglo Catholics. Are they not able to stay within a church where both parties hold diametrically opposed beliefs because they too believe that theological language is merely metaphorical and that the language of belief is provisional? While they profess to believe in a dogmatic religion, they can only remain Anglicans recognizing the ministries of one another (while believing opposing things about sacraments and ministry) because they too really believe that dogma is unimportant.

I realize these are harsh words. I also realize that there are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have true faith, who love the historic faith and are unaware of the depth of deception at the heart of their most beautiful and venerable religion. I do not wish to offend them, but I offer my thoughts on why Anglicanism is at once so desirable and yet so often dishonest.

PS: I am well aware that the same sort of modernism has poisoned the Catholic Church too, and will post on this soon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13317820014937752897 Clarke

    God bless you father, for your summation here. I am still mulling these issues, having recently come back to practicing my faith, and having (miraculously, indeed) stumbled upon an American Episcopal church that is largely orthodox in its faith, practice and teaching. I say "largely" to account for the clouds that obscure my own discrimination of these things. I do know that I have a lifelong profound and visceral "allergy" to modernism and all its products. And that it has taken me a lifetime (nearly) to understand how important that is. I will mull your words over carefully as I also mull over the words of the catechism of your church.I see much evil abroad in the world, and kow the name of its author. I pray that God's love and protection will be with all who love him in these ever-more perilous times.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08899728890301944883 Franke

    I have been following your blog for quite awhile, and it was actually instrumental in my own journey from Anglicanism into Catholicism. I have never commented before, but this particular entry hit me between the eyes. I understand thoroughly the Modernism within the Anglican world, and wrestling with the Via Media concept while I was in an Episcopal seminary, brought me to the point that I was unable to maintain confidence in the whole Anglican worldview. Eventually, the search that ensued led me to the Catholic faith, and I entered the Church last Easter Vigil. The amazing thing that has overwhelmed me, however, within the Catholic Church, is the degree to which Modernism has such a firm grip here as well, especially strong in certain seminaries, universities, and religious orders. That caught me off guard. I would not say that the Anglicans are distinctive in this by any means. You say "Catholics who are involved in ecumenism should be aware that this (Modernism) is the real nature of the people they are talking to. The Anglican theologians will talk a Catholic language, but they mean something totally opposed to Catholicism when they do. They will talk a Christian language, but they mean something totally opposed to Christianity when they do. We must not imagine that this modernism is held only by radical theologians and heretical bishops. It is the mainstream."Sadly, this same situation within the Catholic Church has been overwhelming to me. Perhaps it is not exactly mainstream, but it is certainly a prevalent point of view. I was not prepared for the opposition I would face in many places by simply being orthodox, and have often felt I was floundering in a sea of uncertainly since joining the Church. I certainly have not felt that I left Modernity behind when I left the Anglican world. On a positive note, however, I have seen a strong new wind of the SPirit blowing through the Church in the past months that portends great hope for the future, not the least of which is the events in the wake of the announcement of the new Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is in fact the Soul of the Church, however concerning appearances may be at times. Truly, we wait in joyful Hope . . .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07272003035464034763 tubbs

    You've gotten to the bottom of so much here, Father! Bur for so many of you hiding in the Episcopal,(and Lutheran, and Presbyterian, and Methodist, and UCC, and even Baptist,and yes, even RC) Churches — DON'T YOU REALIZE THAT THERE ALREADY EXISTS A CONGREGATION/CHURCH(?) PERFECTLY FIT FOR YOU!???! It's the Unitarian-Universalist group! All right, so you have to give up your liturgical and ecclesial drag…but you don't have to pretend anymore!!! Won't that be liberating? And sooo many extra-sabbath day activities! — I mean, when you're done helping out at the late-term abortion clinic, you can rush over and help PETA rescue crustaceans at Red Lobster!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05353043674005221535 austin

    The malaise Ft. L quite rightly diagnoses in Anglicanism has been the norm in the four Catholic dioceses (in 3 countries) I have lived in for extended periods. In fact, it was perhaps more pronounced among Catholics than Anglicans. The clergy were the chief culprits. They behaved as if the Pope and magisterium were personal enemies to be slighted and, where possible, ignored. And the liturgies they celebrated were a scandal — a number of Catholics resorted to Anglican parishes for relief, as they do in many places. One can only pray that Benedict XIV will succeed in his program of renewal. Things are very bad indeed in many parts of the Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Wonderful post Father, your personal experience is a powerful testimony.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11994673962810075076 Nick

    You should speak at Anglican churches, I'm sure they would appreciate your story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17387698013828199070 Joshua

    I must agree with both Fr L and with those commenters above who point out how rife with Modernism our Catholic Church is…Suffice it to say, and this must be our open confession, if it were not that we have a Pope, Catholicism would be in a worse mess than Anglicanism! Remember, as a friend of mine joked, at least Anglicans believe in "salvation by good taste alone", whereas Catholic worship has by and large succumbed to vulgarity.Too many priests, the majority in some dioceses, and too many bishops, not to mention Catholic academics who teach seminarians (whom they scandalize), are all for women's ordination, and all the rest of the liberal modernist agenda – they are dissenters, and may even exercise great power in their parishes and dioceses.It is only and solely because of Rome that Catholics have not gone the same way as Anglicans – bishops if they dared would have gone ahead with ordaining women, and in fact people forget that a bishop in Czechoslovakia did just that back in the seventies!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17387698013828199070 Joshua

    This is why we must welcome with open arms the incoming Anglicans – and why the Holy Father is to give them personal Ordinariates, whose Ordinaries will be his vicars, so that he will be himself their Bishop. He wishes to unite all who believe against liberalism and modernism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04315105493443923507 Paul

    Jacques Maritain is very good on the "immanent apostasy" of those who lose the faith but refuse to leave the Church, and seek instead to remake it in their own image. It's certainly a problem for Catholics too, but the Catholic Church has a more robust immune system (and a divine guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail against it).When Luther began his protest, he picked up so much support so quickly because he was saying what a lot of Catholics in effect already thought. I'm starting to wonder when the new Luther will arise to lead the modernists out from among us, but perhaps that isn't what will happen this time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    The Rosary destroys heresyThe Rosary destroys heresyThe Rosary destroys heresyI think, by saying this,on a number of occasions, what Our Lady was trying to say was;The Rosary destroys heresy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08906131174326742939 Patricius

    "However, Catholics who are involved in ecumenism should be aware that this is the real nature of the people they are talking to. The Anglican theologians will talk a Catholic language, but they mean something totally opposed to Catholicism when they do. They will talk a Christian language, but they mean something totally opposed to Christianity when they do."Scary!Thank you, Father. This should be required reading for all who attempt dialogue with our separated brethren.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09158421880497827083 Athos

    Jeff Hendrix here, Father. You thematize the heresy of modernism in just the way I knew – when in college my Old Testament prof (Episcopal) taught Bultman – but could not say. Could not say, that is, without blowing my chance at passing the course.Modernism is embodied, IMO, in today's bipartisan politics. Both the Right and the Left pay lip service to the 2nd Great Commandment (so long as it furthers their respective interests), but the 1st Great Commandment is off limits .. well, so long as it doesn't "offend" the Scimitar, of course. But the Judeo-Christian God goes disrespected, unacknowledged, and unloved. Functional atheism and human power and pride are the currency of the new, sad, futile west.Thank you for your witness and your vocation. I thank God for our faithful Catholic priests and religious. Cheers

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    A personal testimony is exactly that: personal (and I thank you for it). I find it heartening, therefore, that commentators apparently within the Church of Rome are offering here about their church the same kind of balance that I want to respond with about the Church of England. Sure, you speak as you find; and I do not find a church adrift on a sea of liberalism and modernity. I do not accept that the caricature of preaching and theology here presented is at all representative of the CofE as a whole. I do find a church with deep divisions that has to choose whether to hold dialogue across the divisions or whether to split completely into separate camps. In fact, in his recent speech, Archbishop Rowan, it seems to me, has been painting a very similar picture about the choices that lie before Canterbury and Rome as constituent parts of the Church of Christ.If Modernism has an opposite then perhaps we should call it Absolutism: that in all matters to do with faith and practice, morals and theology, and from the biggest principles to the smallest detail, there is a black and there is a white. Such an attitude may well be comforting in its removal of any requirement to think for oneself; but I find it to be so far removed from the words and example of our Lord as to make me shudder every time I encounter it.If I have fairly portrayed Modernism and Absolutism as polar opposites, whereabouts on the spectrum are 'dogma' and 'the authority of the church' to be placed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Flyingvic, a charicature of the Catholic Church is often presented that in because of its absolutism no thought is required of her members. The typical comment is, "How lucky for you now that you converted you won't have to think anymore."This assumes that an open mind is a virtue of itself. It is not. As Chesterton says, a mind is meant to open, like a mouth, so that eventually it can close on something nutritious.Catholics are encouraged to think and pray and debate and discuss, but they are also expected in many areas, to use this process to understand revealed truth and submit to it in loving obedience.Of course some do so without much thought. It must be said, however, that obedience without thought is more virtuous than 'thought' that leads to rebellion and mortal sin.Dogma and infallible authority are bulwarks and supports for this process of discovery and learning. They are the ladder on which we climb, the signposts on the way.It is the climb or the journey which matters most.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Maybe we should trade caricatures on ebay? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15075681584879051113 Jake

    …. for what they did was to use the traditional language of the historic Christian faith while not believing the historic Christian faith at all. That is what really upsets me as well. What really jarred was the idea that belief in the miracles as written in the Gospels made you a special kind of fool. I couldn't understand why they were not that interested in Christianity but were more interested in some other religion they were making up as they were going along. I guess I wasn't pragmatic enough to remain in the Church of England. I don't understand everything about the Catholic faith, but I'm happy I've come home, and I'm trying to improve my understanding.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00639369749327986414 Shaughn

    Fr. L,Good summation of the problems of modernism. I would suggest, though, that clergy folk be sensitive to the post-modernists who are coming of age right now. (I try very hard to be a pre-modern, and so I will exempt myself.) In many ways, they reject rationalism and the anti-supernaturalism which modernism entails. Many are disaffected Evangelicals looking for something deeper. They want mystery — the sort of mystery and mysticism Chesterton insisted was necessary for faith. Don't wait for modernist baby boomers and older to die off before tending to the post-modern part of the flock, too. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    thank you for spelling caricature chorrectly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    flyinvic said"A personal testimony is exactly that: personal (and I thank you for it). I find it heartening, therefore, that commentators apparently within the Church of Rome are offering here about their church the same kind of balance that I want to respond with about the Church of England"Leaving aside the C of E and the R C for a moment flyingvic, who do YOU say Jesus is? Personally, I mean?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    To Father:Gesundheit!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16699227938165106710 Little Black Sambo

    More often they indulged in a kind of dishonesty which I can only now admit is really a lie from Satan himself. My word, you must have been unfortunate! In the three deaneries I know – in widely separated places – I could make no such observation. The lie you mentioned is to be found, but only rarely (in my experience) among ordinary parish clergy.They will talk a Christian language, but they mean something totally opposed to Christianity when they do.Well, poor old Anglicans! You can't believe them even when they say the right things.I realize these are harsh words. You said a mouthful!Mix yourself a stiff one, have an early night, and perhaps you'll feel better in the morning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    To shadowlands:Jesus is the Word of God, who was and is and is to come. As the Word made flesh he showed us not only the very nature of God but also that life of perfection to which we too are called. By dying on the Cross he demonstrated how great is the love of God, absorbing the evil of this world and so reducing its power. By dying on the Cross the way he did he showed us that the forgiveness of sins through him has become a present reality – he forgave even those who drove the nails through his body to fix him to the Cross, and no worse crime than that is possible. His arms, nailed wide open, prove the truth of his prophecy that when he was lifted up he would draw all men unto him: he simply cannot close his arms to refuse anyone access to him. He invites us ever closer to Calvary to show that, although our own way may also be through suffering, beyond the Cross we may see that the Easter dawn is about to break upon the world. As my risen Saviour he gives himself to me and to all who come to the altar to receive him in penitence and faith; his life is given to us so that we may have life in him.As a teacher he tells stories and asks questions – all of the kind that lodge in the mind and heart so that we may constantly meditate on them and try to tease out his meaning for our life today. As a friend who promises that he will be with us always – well, I believe him and rejoice, and pray that my sins, which are many, will not grieve his heart too much.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Black Sambo, if they're saying the right words, how do you know what they mean by them? My very point was that the rot was far more pervasive than I first thought because everyone was 'saying the right words.' But once I asked a few questions I found that beneath the 'right words' there was an awful lot of the modernism I have discussed here.I will admit that I have written in crystal clear tones. More often than not the modernism was expressed as a vagueness, an uncertainty and a doubt about the historic faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    flyingvicThat's a very powerful, yet humble testimony, which Our Lord would find joy in hearing, I am sure. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Father said'I will admit that I have written in crystal clear tones'.Good on you. Writing from your own experience can't really be argued with. You're not giving opinions, you're saying what actually happened to you, what you heard and saw. All the listener can do is identify, or not. That's why I love personal testimonies, cos they're true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02219914685850891069 TeaPot

    1st Corinthians, Ch. 15, vs.12-18; "If Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins . . .If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men."St. Paul also had to deal with hearers who denied miracles. Why do we call it "modernism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15834866295066332351 Teri

    Thank you, Fr. L,As a new Catholic convert from the chaotic disunity of protestism, I so respect the strength of your conviction and the courage to speak up.It really does encourage me to speak up – the truth in love when being beaten up in the "Bible Belt anti-catholic world" I now reside.In the peace of Christ,Teri

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16699227938165106710 Little Black Sambo

    I will admit that I have written in crystal clear tones.A brave admission! Would that we could all say the same!They will talk a Christian language, but they mean something totally opposed to Christianity when they do.I am no apologist for Anglicans, but think you are being too hard on the poor bloody infantry, even while what you say may fairly apply to many of our "dignitaries" and fast-track career churchmen. If they constitute the "mainstream" then you are unfortunately right. But there is a better side. But then, you knew that already.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16605545304782841038 Swift

    I beg to differ that Anglicanism did not boldly proclaim the truth.So do the Oxford Martyrs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11740482509910163332 Gail F

    The difference is that Anglicanism has no way to counter Modernism except for some of them to say "Hey, that's not right!" There is no authority, and if enough Anglicans vote to change the entire course of their church, they can just do it. Which they have. AS an American, I'm sorry about what the Episcopal Church has done to the rest of the Communion by ignoring and condescending to it, but there is really nothing to stop them.Catholics, though, can be awash in Modernism, but it can't last — any more than popular errors of the past lasted (Jansenism, anyyone?). We believe that Christ will guide the Church and keep it headed in the right direction, no matter how stormy the seas get. That is a strange belief in itself, to Modernists, who don't really believe in anything so supernatural. But we do believe it and without that belief, who could trust in the Church and who would care what any of its ministers/priests said?As for the difference between saying a thing and meaning it, well that understanding is very ancient in the Church. Intention is one of the three requirements for a valid sacrament (the others are matter and form) and that was figured out long ago. The Catholic Church determined more than 100 years ago that the Anglican Church had deviated from the intentions of the sacraments, and that is why we do not accept Anglican orders. Women's ordination just made that problem unfixable, because there is no way to re-ordain women priests.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06906208299661485063 Mike M

    The interesting thing is that many of these "Modernist Christians" believe in both an entirely imminent god and an entirely transcendent God… It's as if their God is internally divided or has some sort of schizophrenia.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X