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Final Comment on Anglo-Catholicism

We’ve had plenty of discussion about the recent apostolic constitution from Rome regarding the admission of Anglo-Catholics into communion. Clearly there has been a lot of less than informed commentary from a variety of news outlets in the whole discussion. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Anglo-Catholicism from all this its that they are one bizarre group. Indeed, if you ask me this whole thing says far more about the nature of Anglo-Catholicism than it does about the Roman church. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Rome wants as many people as possible to become Roman Catholic. This has always been true. To be sure there are voices of ecumenical opposition from within the ranks, like Walter Kasper and Hans Kung who would like to see mutual recognition and reconciliation between Roman and Protestant churches, but in the main, the Vatican has always and unapologetically desired and sought the integration of all other Christians into itself. That’s simply business as usual. A traditional Catholic self-understanding seems to require an orientation such as this. Nobody should be shocked by this.

However, pause and consider for a moment what this whole thing says about the nature of Anglo-Catholicism (or at least the sort of Anglo-Catholics who are likely to convert to Rome through this recent pronouncement). Apparently Anglo-Catholics desire union with Rome because they truly believe everything that Rome teaches. Ok. But if that’s the case one wonders why they haven’t joined up with the throne of Peter long before now. After all, if I really truly believed that in order to be a part of Jesus’s church I needed to be submitted to the Pope, I’m pretty sure I’d get right on that.

But what we actually see here is an intricate process of making sure that any Anglo-Catholic parishes that come into the Roman fold are able to maintain their polity and liturgical practice. Being able to have their cake and eat it too is at the center of this whole arrangement. Now none of this is to say that the Anglican rite that will be preserved in these churches is somehow silly or irrelevant or worthless. I’m sure its a rich tradition that should be preserved. All I’m saying is that the level of priority it seems to be being accorded by the Anglo-Catholics is pretty crazy. If they really believe that the Pope is the successor of Peter and that all Christians must be in communion with him to be fully catholic, why the hell would they insist that they get their liturgical guarantees beforehand? If being Roman Catholic is as important to them as it seems to be to most Roman Catholics, why does this whole thing turn on them getting to make sure they can run their parishes and liturgies the way they want to?

It all seems to come down to an attitude of, “Well, we’d like to be Catholic, as long as we can still basically do our own Anglo-centric thing.” I suppose I get that and everything, and I’m definitely a fan of enculturated forms of liturgy, but there seems to be something pathological here. The bottom of this whole thing seems to be an issue of sentimentality rather than theology. The Anglo-Catholics seem desperate to preserve their distinctly Anglo nature more than anything else. If Rome is up for accommodating them, they seems happy to jump on board. But one wonders, would the Anglo-Catholics end up converting without these concessions? Would they want to be part of a Roman Catholic church that didn’t give them all their demands in advance? Would they want to be part of a Roman Catholic church that stuck by their doctrine and practice and required them to do so as well, rather than making special arrangements to accommodate their national and cultural sensibilities?

In short, the way this whole issue turns on liturgical preferences and being able to keep married priests says a lot about what sort of mass conversion this would really be if it happened. By bowing to the aesthetic and cultural sentimentalities of Anglo-Catholicism, Rome has made sure that any conversions that come from this will be of an utterly Protestant nature. The sort of Catholic longing that we see in Anglo-Catholicism seems to me to be little more than a sort of sublimity. What we have here is an aestheticization of catholicity which ultimately undermines the credibility of any Anglo-Catholic claim to really take catholicity itself seriously. If this whole debacle showcases anything it is that the “Anglo” designation  is far more determinative of Anglo-Catholicism than the “Catholic” one.


  1. adhunt wrote:

    There are Anglo-papists, there are Anglo-catholics, there are ‘liberal catholics’ (In the Lex Mundi/Temple/Ramsey/Williams vein) and there are John Milbanks. It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of comments on this site seem to think of “anglo-catholicism” as a monolithic and readily identifiable ‘thing’ or ethos.

    Your continued thinking of anglo-catholics as king among Protestants seems to likewise imagine ‘catholic’ as = to ‘roman.’

    There are some that are as you are imagining them, and a good number who aren’t. The “Continuing Anglican” movement is far from being the sole legitimate voice of “anglo-catholicism”

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Evan wrote:

    Another thing that I wonder about- and I’ve heard it brought up before, though not in the conversations of last month (and excuse me if I’ve missed it in a comment section somewhere)… how are the English Roman Catholics taking all of this? The point isn’t insignificant that the Ordinariate for former Anglicans creates two overlapping jurisdictional structures within England and other countries, with attendant liturgical differences. To what extent are English Roman Catholics viewing this as a slap in the face? Would this view be justified? To what extent will an Anglo-centric ordinariate become more or less central to English Roman Catholicism than the Roman Catholic community that is already present? It seems to me that there’s a lot of room for friction not only between Anglo-Catholics and other Anglicans, but between Anglo-Catholics and English Roman Catholics.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:


    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Well, as I say above, I am here only addressing those groups of Anglo-Catholics who are likely to convert to Rome as a result of this event. Sure, on some level there’s a million absolutely unique snowflakes in any given denomination.

    Also, just to be clear, I in no way think that “catholic=roman.” I actually think something that’s rather diametrically opposed to this notion. The point is, though, that for the Anglo-Catholics looking to convert to Rome via this new arrangement, they clearly don’t actually place that high of a priority on what they supposedly claim catholicity to mean. Or at least they seem to think that their particular liturgical practices are important enough to hold them back from embracing their own proclaimed understanding of catholicity.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  5. adhunt wrote:

    In which case, for those ready to convert, you’re right that it is aesthetic. Though perhaps the marriage thing would have previously been a hamper.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    However — and this really goes to the heart of my point — despite the diversity of “Anglo-Catholicism” the one common stream that seems clear is the aesthetic. That’s what makes me suspicious that in the end, whatever “Anglo-Catholicism” is supposed to be, its really just a certain kind of self-grounding style.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  7. adhunt wrote:

    That’s because, and I’m guessing and reaching, it seems as if you haven’t read a lick of theology done by “anglo-catholics” whose writings came before 1950; or at the very least you don’t understand the history of Anglican devotion and thought well enough to make such statements.

    There is a sense in which “anglo-catholicism” can be found in “high church” streams pre-Tractarian. And how could a geographically and institutionally local church NOT have a “style?” Anglican theology has traditionally been more “devotionally” (read – “Real”) directed than Continental, especially German, which, considering it’s Britishness, would certainly contain aesthetic elements. Hooker and Herbert will do that a thinker.

    But no more so than the brash rhetoric of the Neo-Orthodox, or the predictable aesthetic of any who are soaked more thoroughly in one Tradition than another.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  8. Theophilus wrote:

    Interestingly enough Rowan Williams’ speech about the potential “two tracks” within the Anglican Communion drew out similar concerns among Anglicans – in that case, how track-one, orthodox Anglicans (individuals, parishes, or dioceses) in track-two settings (the assumption was that this would include The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada) deal with matters of ecclesial authority. The more things change…

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    I don’t claim to be an expert on Anglo-Catholicism, but I don’t think that any of the points I’m making require some sort of massive historical pedigree. Or at least I’d have to be shown how intimate knowledge of the specifics of Anglican history would substantially alter or challenge the point.

    And the problem isn’t that there’s a cultural aesthetic. Of course there is. The issue is how much importance is accorded to it (esp wrt the issue under discussion). I don’t see much reason to find a tradition theologically compelling when its primary unifying principle is a sort of ethnically-based mood.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  10. adhunt wrote:

    Well make a point then. Is your beef with anglo-papists who should have converted a long time ago or with Anglicans who seek to anchor their Ecclesial self understanding in a trajectory provided as much by the Patristic horizon as the Reformation horizon? Who see boring things like Episcopacy as more than fanciful convenience and who are interested in asserting a continuance rather than rupture during Henry’s wife problems?

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    I did. In the post.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  12. adhunt wrote:

    Then it is really about anglo-papists not “anglo-catholicism” either theologically or phenemenologically considered.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    I really don’t have a dog in the fight among Anglicans over who ought to be called what. I’m just going with the terminology that’s the most common and ordinarily understood, not trying to speak into whatever construals of catholicity that some Anglicans, such as yourself may be trying to advance.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  14. adhunt wrote:

    Sorry, I had to throw a response down here as there was no response button above. Really I don’t have a pathological desire to defend all things which could fall under an “anglo-catholic” moniker. It’s not like I’m trying to protect my children or something. I’m just trying to critique what you’re saying in your post. That seems to me to be the point of comment threads.

    And so in the end I don’t give a damn what you call those Anglicans who would have swum the Tiber long ago but for their own sense of aesthetics; call them ‘catholics,’ I call them ‘papists,’ but that isn’t the larger point. What I’m trying to do is draw out your critiques and show how they can’t be used in the broad sense that you tend to use them. You seem to say that the “Anglo” is far too determinative for your sensibilities. Presumably more determinative than in other Traditions, otherwise what would be the point of the critique?

    I fail to see how “anglo-catholic” theology is any more determined by context than any other Tradition and so I feel that if we want to extend a critique to a larger stream of Anglican thought which would fall into a self-described “catholic” category you’re just going to have to do better.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    When did I use the term in a broad sense to refer to any and all Anglicans that consider themselves “catholic”? I said specifically in the post that I was talking about “the sort of Anglo-Catholics who are likely to convert to Rome through this recent pronouncement.”

    However, since we’re now talking about Anglicanism as a whole, its not that I somehow think Anglican theology is “more” determined by its cultural ethos than other traditions. That idea doesn’t even make sense to me. The problem I have with Anglicanism (and the reason I would never become one personally) is the fundamentally national nature of the ethos itself that I find problematic as a unifying principle. The problem is not that Anglicanism is “determined by context” the problem is the material nature of the tradition itself. You’ve down a perfectly fine job of showing how diverse Anglicanism is, but that just makes my point. For all its diversity what does the various parts of Anglicanism have in common? What makes them some sort of unity? Clearly it isn’t episcopacy, or even a firmly articulated body of doctrine as Anglicanism, by its very nature tries to make room for about any theological belief possible.

    The only thing that I see unifying Anglicanism is a vague sense of “Anglicanness” that is deeply rooted in a kind of nostalgic Anglophile sentiment. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate Anglicanism and many of the great things its produced (I love Rowan Williams and N.T. Wright and many other Anglican thinkers). Merely to say that what defines Anglicanism doesn’t seem to be doctrine or even specific ecclesial practice. Rather it is a sort of sentiment, deeply rooted in a kind of Anglo-Saxon ethos. That’s not the worst thing in the world or anything. I just don’t find it theologically compelling.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  16. adhunt wrote:

    Toward the beginning of the post you said: “If there’s anything I’ve learned about Anglo-Catholicism from all this its that they are one bizarre group.” – and I took that to be a broader critique but upon a second reading it seems that you consistently used it to refer only to those who are ready to look to Rome.

    I was, in my mind, incorporating the various discussions I have been a part of in your recent posts on the “Apostolic Constitution” which often as not ended up discussing the phenomenon of Anglo-catholicism in general.

    I can appreciate that you don’t find Anglicanism compelling. What is hilarious to my mind is that practically everything you said that keeps you from finding Anglicanism convincing is exactly what I found compelling. For me it was Anglicanism or “emerging” and I’m pretty sure I made the better choice.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    Well, I’d choose it too if “emerging” was my other choice!

    Some sort of Walter Sobchakesque comment seems in order here.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  18. Doug Chaplin wrote:

    It is generally true of the kind of Anglo-Catholic at whom Pap Ratzi is taking aim, that they believe passionately in episcopacy, while ignoring their bishops. The advantage of staying in that state which they (rather misleadingly) call Anglican is that they can also express a passionate belief in the papacy while ignoring what the pope actually requires. Their problem is that, if they cross the Tiber, they might actually have to accept the authority of actual instantiations of episcopacy and papacy.

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  19. Heather wrote:

    I hope it’s okay to push in and ask (from a mongrel protestant perspective) something.

    Is the “emerging” of which you speak the current trend toward the attempt to find common ground amongst all religions?

    If so, I’m wondering if there is concern that after the Roman Catholic Church is done wooing “stray” Christians back into it’s fold, there might not be a move to somehow make peace with non-Christian religions–thus ultimately “emerging” as a gigantic inter-spiritual conglomerate?

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  20. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Are you saying that Anglo-Catholics aren’t “emerging”?

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:


    Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  22. Tony wrote:

    “If there’s anything I’ve learned about Anglo-Catholicism from all this its that they are one bizarre group.”

    That’s the statement, in my view, which has caused all the trouble. Dismissive and downright ungenerous, ignorant and facile in its generalization.

    Friday, November 6, 2009 at 5:03 am | Permalink

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