Apologia pro mutatione mea, pt. IV.

As I suggested in part I, I become afraid when I talk about my experience of Anglicanism. There are so many brothers-in-ministry and living examples of a profound Catholic faith that I have left there, I would be loathe to think that any of them might consider these words an insult to their lives and various ministries. I can only re-iterate again and again that they are not. As I have tried to express in the preceding passages, it is simply a matter of me no longer being convinced that I could continue to live out an unapologetically Catholic life within the Anglican Church.

The Nature of the Disagreement 

In conversation once with a friend, the idea that the Catholic Church did not recognize Anglican Orders arose as a real source of contention. He considered it an insult to his ministry that the Catholic Church did not see him as a priest, to which I responded that neither did we regard Lutheran pastors as priests but their ministry was no less valid for being Lutheran ministry. As far as I know, Lutheran ministers (at least of the non-Scandanavian sort), never claimed to be priests. Rather, theirs is a clearly-defined ministry seperately established from that of the Catholic Church. I can not imagine a Presbyterian minister being insulted if told by a Catholic that he was not a priest. Yet Anglicans can get upset about this quite easily, for they hold – informed as they are by the Prayer Book – that the English Reformation did not constitute a repudiation of the priesthood.

Yet even while the Prayer Book uses the term, it became clearer and clearer to me over time that what it meant by the term was something different than what the Catholic (and Orthodox) Church meant. It seemed to me an Anglican conceit that, no matter what the Reformers did to dismantle and reconstruct the meaning of the term, as long as the term was still used, Anglican ministers were, in fact, priests. The problem as I see it is, according to its own formularies, the Anglican Church retained neither the form nor the intention of Catholic priesthood.

I am quite familiar with the arguments over the minutiae of the Anglican ordinal, and how it is that Anglicans have argued in favour of a priestly interpretation of its meaning (after all, I used to make them!), but I eventually failed to find the arguments convincing. The reason I came to find them unconvincing is that I failed to find evidence of an explicit intention that an Anglican, once ordained, is to be united with the priesthood of Christ in the offering of the Sacrifice of Calvary. In fact, had there been, I rather suspect that a number of my Protestant-minded colleagues would not have felt so comfortable in ordained Anglican ministry. Yet the fundamental union between the action of the ordained and that of Christus sacerdos is a sine qua non of priesthood. As the priest stands at the altar, he is making manifest in time an action that is eternal. If Christ is the Eternal High priest, then Christ must eternally do what priests do by definition. He must offer sacrifice; which of course he does, in that his work on the Altar of Calvary is eternal. In the end, no Anglican can rightly claim that they are ordained to say: Unde et memores, Domine, nos servi tui, sed et plebs tua sancta, ejusdem Christi Filii tui Domini nostri, tam beatae Passionis, nec non et ab inferis Resurrectionis, sed et in coelos gloriosae Ascensionis: offerimus praeclarae majestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis, hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, Panem sanctum vitae aeternae, et calicem salutis perpetuae.

There is an intrinsic beauty to the Prayer Book, both linguistic and spiritual, that can hardly be said to have ever been surpassed. Yet theologically, for all we might employ Newman’s techniques as he brought them to bear on the 39 Articles in Tract 90, I think that we are hard-pressed to argue that this masterpiece of prayer and language ever intended to express the same thing that the Church has always expressed, if one takes serious account of Patristic and medieval developments. For if it did, the iconoclasm that is so rife in Anglicanism, the ecclesiology that has permitted so many bizarre innovations in recent decades, the liturgical theology that has permitted so many divergent interpretations and revisions from the beginning: these things would not have happened.

I am quite sure that in saying these things, I am simply exposing my own former misconceptions. I suspect, actually, that almost none of my most naive assumptions would have been shared by my brethren. This must be the reason that I felt the need to go as I did while they have not. We used to talk about the Reformers and assume that what they had to say to the Church in the 16th century was legitimate, so perhaps they were able to accept what we often referred to as the ‘reformed Catholicism’ that was Anglican with far less reserve than I was. For whatever Anglicanism was, or was meant to be, five hundred years ago, by the end of the 20th century, it was manifestly more ‘reformed’ than Catholic’.

On which note, I think I should give the final word to Umberto Eco. Most readers will have seen this before, but in a back-page article written for the Italian weekly Espresso in 1994, he offered some thoughts on the nature of personal computing and the differences between PC and Mac operating systems. His allusion to Anglicanism is most insightful. Enjoy.

Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. It’s an old idea of mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with meThe fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers.  I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant.  Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ‘ratio studiorum’ of the Jesuits.  It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the Kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation. DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic.  It allows free interpretation of Scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself:  a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh.  It’s true:  Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions; when it comes down to it, you can decide to allow women and gays to be priests if you want to….

to be continued…

One Response to Apologia pro mutatione mea, pt. IV.

  1. HanseaticEd says:

    Since it was only posted today, I add it here under comments, but the Pontificator has just added a quotation from Bishop Kallistos Ware on his blog that is of immense relevance to my comments above. See it at

    http://catholica.pontifications.net/?p=2185

    It very much expresses thoughts that fermented in my mind over time as an Anglican, but which I came to see were unavoidable.

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