Some Anglican Difficulties

When I lived in England Anglicans almost universally referred to the Catholic Church as “the Roman Catholic Church.” They would emphasize the word “Roman”. The subtext was, “We Anglicans are Catholics too you know. It’s just that we’re not ‘Roman’ Catholics.”

Very often this was accompanied by a branch of the Dan Brown school of church history in which Christianity came to Britain directly by Joseph of Arimathea. They would explain that he founded the Celtic Church which was independent of “Roman hierarchical authority.” This Celtic Church was in tune with nature, valued women’s ministry, was democratic and well, pretty much the way Anglicanism is today…” Then at the  Synod of Whitby the Roman Catholic Church began to assert it’s harsh, foreign and hierarchical authority. At the Reformation the true, unsullied, English Catholicism was restored. Unfortunately there is virtually no evidence for this theory, but they cling to it still in one form or another. To read more about this idea here’s an article I wrote on it some time ago.

They like to say, “Romanism is just one form of Catholicism.” In addition to this the word “Romanism” or the “Roman” prefix is very often linked with an incurable English snobbery and racism. So the Anglicans would say in a delightfully snide way, “The Roman Catholic Church! The Church for Italian waiters and Irish ditch diggers!” It’s nice in an old fashioned Miss Marple English sort of way I guess. All Oscar Wilde quips, tea and lace and fine china for the old ladies (of both genders and all ages).

I don’t really mind this sort of thing. It adds to the quaint charm of the Church of England.

However, a couple of things should be observed. First, by its very definition there can be only one Catholic Church. Saying, “We’re Catholic just not Roman Catholic.” is a contradiction in terms. It’s like a fellow on a dude ranch in Sweden saying, “I’m a Texan, just not an American Texan.” Saying “Romanism is just one form of Catholicism” is like a person  who runs an English tea room in Los Angeles saying, “Of course being an English subject is just one expression of Englishness.” That’s nonsense. Anglicans shouldn’t deceive themselves. They may do things in a Catholic way, and that’s very nice indeed, but dressing up like a Catholic doesn’t make you a Catholic. Believing Catholic doctrine and using a Catholic liturgy is very nice too and a darn sight better than not doing so, but that also does not make you a Catholic.

Being a Catholic is defined by being in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, and if you don’t mind we’ll define what being a member of our church consists of just as you,  quite rightly, would define yours. We don’t mind at all if you imitate us, and we’re flattered that you want to be Catholic in many ways and we encourage you in this enterprise, and seek fellowship with you as our brothers and sisters in Christ. We acknowledge your many gifts and the service you bring to Christ and his church and we value our relationship and seek for fraternal charity to be nurtured, but within this same spirit of charity we also wish to correct your mis apprehension that you are Catholics.

You are not. Your church was founded in a violent and rapacious revolution that deliberately broke communion with the successor of Peter, and that wound to the unity of Christ’s body has been made worse through the conscious and intentional decisions your church has made over the last forty years.

I realize what I have written may anger and offend some Anglicans, but healthy relationships are based on honesty and clarity. I, for one, find that one of the greatest obstacles to unity is the number of Anglicans who still–despite the events of the last decades–maintain that they are Catholic. With all sorts of subtlety, smoke and mirrors they maintain this fiction.

If only they could see, from a Catholic perspective, how sad and silly they appear. Once I became a Catholic I looked back on the arguments I made and the positions I took and I was ashamed of how much I had believed the lies of others and worst of all, lied to myself.

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