Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Protestant or Catholic? Anglicans must decide

Ruth Gledhill, of the London Times, reports:
Hard words for Anglicans from the head of the Council for Christian Unity in Rome. Cardinal Walter Kasper has told the Catholic Herald that now, with Lambeth approaching, is the time for Anglicans to decide whether they are Catholic or Protestant. 'Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong?' he said. 'Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium -Catholic and Orthodox - or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions.' The genius of Anglicanism has always been its ability to straddle the divide, but maybe the Cardinal is right and the Communion's present difficulties reflect the impossibility of continuing to do this.

A response:

It was the fifth century saint, Vincent of Lerins, who expressed the meaning of Catholic in what has become known as The Vincentian Canon:
Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

Recovering the faith that was held universally, from antiquity, and by all, is what many of the Reformers believed they were doing in protesting against the medieval innovations and errors of the Roman Church. While the Radical Reformers did not care whether they rejected Rome and catholicity as well, our Anglican forebears were careful to demonstrate that their teaching was in accord with both Holy Scripture as it was understood and interpreted by the early Church Fathers and Councils of the undivided (Catholic) Church. So are Anglicans Protestant? Yes, in that our forebears protested against Rome's departure from true catholicity. Are Anglicans Catholic? Yes, in that our forebears always sought to maintain the Catholic Faith--as Vincent of Lerins would have recognized.

So, while, in one sense, Cardinal Walter Kasper seems to be presenting a false dichotomy, what he really means is this: Are Anglicans going to follow the Protestant Churches of the sixteenth century, the modern, "mainline" expressions of which are (almost without exception) departing into heresy, apostasy, and immorality? Or are we going to remain true to the teaching of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? That is not a difficult choice at all for orthodox Anglicans. But it remains to be seen whether the various national Churches that make up the Anglican Communion, particularly the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, even have any desire to try to be Catholic Churches. In that sense, Cardinal Kasper's words are a welcome and needed challenge.

I would simply add that Anglicans who think of themselves as Protestants don't need to be afraid of the word "Catholic." It means that we are true to the Faith of the undivided Church; it doesn't mean we are Papists. And Anglicans who consider themselves Catholics shouldn't be afraid of the term "Protestant;" because protest is what you have to do sometimes when the Church departs from catholicity at an official level, be it in the controversies of the sixteenth century or the controversies of the twenty first century.

1 comment:

Battersea Boy said...

Very well said, indeed.

I was converted almost forty years ago through a Church of England-based youth organisation. In my adult life I have also worshipped at Baptist churches, Independent Free Churches, Assembly of God Churches. And I have always considered myself a catholic, not a Roman Catholic, but one who shares the holy catholic and apostolic faith. I think I am correct in saying that all the churches in which I have worshipped would consider themselves to be catholic churches, thereby disassociating themselves from orthodox churches.

To my mind that is the real distinction: are you catholic or orthodox in your doctrinal views?