By Robin G. Jordan
“This pope understands Anglicanism better than any other pope. He sees clearly that ecumenism with the Church of England is dead. The ordination of women, the consecration of women bishops, the rationalization of homosexual unions, the doctrinal apostasy and the openly moral degeneracy has led Benedict XVI to conclude that the new ecumenism is not a diplomatic building of bridges, but a bold establishment of a new kind of Anglicanism within the greater fold of the Catholic Church. The Ordinariate will begin small and it will be persecuted. There will be difficulties and defections. There will be many problems, but history will show that the Anglican Ordinariate will provide for the ultimate preservation of the Anglican patrimony….”
In the twenty-first century the Roman Catholic Church is launching a new attack upon historic Anglicanism. This attack masquerades as “the new ecumenism,” and involves the establishment of personal ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church composed of defectors from the Anglican Church—Anglo-Catholic converts to Roman Catholicism. Since the nineteenth century the Anglo-Catholic movement has sought to represent its beliefs and practices as the only genuine form of Anglicanism and to appropriate the Anglican brand name for itself. It has sought to undo the English Reformation and to change the identity of the Church of England and her daughter churches. The idea was to introduce and promote Roman Catholic beliefs and practices in the Anglican Church so that it would eventually become acceptable to the Pope and he would readmit the Anglican Church back into the Roman fold.
The new attack takes Anglo-Catholic defectors from the Anglican Church and forms them into their own jurisdictions within the Roman Catholic Church. It proposes to use them to do what the Anglo-Catholic movement did in the last two centuries—to represent their “new kind of Anglicanism” as the only genuine form of Anglicanism and to take possession of the Anglican brand name. The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and its Complimentary Norms and the personal ordinariates they erects join the list of threats to historic Anglicanism along with Anglo-Catholicism, Convergentism, liberalism, modernism, the normalization of homosexuality, the ordination of women, pluralism, and syncreticism.
Those who desert the Anglican Church for the Roman Catholic Church abandon any claim to being seen as Anglican in any way whatsoever. They have become Roman Catholics. They take no Anglican patrimony into the Roman Catholic Church with them. They have turned their backs on that patrimony. Let them not delude themselves or seek to delude others. The moment they were received into the Roman Catholic Church they ceased to be Anglicans if they were ever really Anglicans in the first place. In embracing Roman Catholic beliefs and practices before their reception, they had already adopted an identity that was at odds with historic Anglicanism. They had already distanced themselves from the Anglican tradition. The Anglo-Catholic via media theory was an attempt to justify claiming to be Anglican while maintaining Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. It was a fiction that was entirely unconvincing those who were well read in Anglican Church history. Like a sieve pierced with many holes it did not hold water.
I am not suggesting that all who subscribe to High Church principles are not Anglican. Being High Church is not necessarily synonymous with being Anglo-Catholic albeit since the Oxford Tractarian movement it has often been the case. My point is that the Anglo-Catholic who embraces Roman Catholic beliefs and practices places his Anglican identity in question. The more he embraces these beliefs and practices, the less he can be regarded as an Anglican. He comes to a point where he ceases to be an Anglican and becomes a Roman Catholic in the Anglican Church. The Roman Catholic Church may not recognize him as such but that is what he is. He is confronted with a choice. He can back away from Roman Catholicism or he can embrace it fully and become a Roman Catholic both in faith and in name.
Before the nineteenth century and the Oxford Tractarian movement High Churchmen, like their Evangelical brethren, regarded themselves as Protestants. They upheld the Catholic heritage of the Anglican Church but did not confuse Catholicism with Romanism. They had a high view of bishops and the sacraments but they did not unchurch the Continental Reformed Churches because they lacked the historic episcopate. They recognized the orders and the sacraments of these churches. While they viewed episcopacy as a divine institution, they held that it was of the fullness of the Christ’s Church, not of its essence. While some of them subscribed to the views of Arminius and his disciple Grotius, others were Reformed in their theological outlook.
The establishment of the so-called Anglican personal ordinariates in the Roman Catholic Church, while it presents a new threat to historic Anglicanism, can also be viewed as a positive development. Anglo-Catholics who sought to move the Anglican Church Romeward no longer have any justification for remaining in the Anglican Church. With the issuance of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and its Complimentary Norms the Vatican has signaled that the Pope is not going to accept the Anglican Church back into the Roman fold. The Holy See welcomes Anglo-Catholics who convert to Roman Catholicism and offers them a place in the Roman Catholic Church but that is far as it is going. Anglo-Catholics who do not accept the papal offer must come to terms with being Anglican and Protestant. They cannot go on acting as if they are the Roman Catholic Church in the Anglican Church. They can explore the Anglican Church’s heritage of Protestant High Churchmanship and become its modern day representatives. They can make inquiries into classical Evangelicalism and join the ranks of conservative Evangelicals in the Anglican Church. Or they can succumb to the pressures of liberalism and modernism and become a part of a problem instead of a part of the solution.
It is this writer’s considered opinion that the best defense that the Anglican Church has against this new attack from Rome is an alliance between a revitalized Protestant High Church party and a revitalized conservative Evangelical party in the Anglican Church. These two parties have historically been committed to the classical Anglican formularies and opposed to Roman designs on the Anglican Church.
Where does this leave those who have been influenced by the charismatic movement and the Ancient-Future movement? They need to decide where their loyalties lie. Are they committed to the Protestantism/Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Church or the unreformed Catholicism of the Independent Catholic Churches and ultimately the Roman Catholic Church? Choosing the first means trying everything by the test of Scripture—antiquity, personal revelations from the Holy Spirit, tradition. It also means giving much thought to how we interpret Scripture to ensure that we arrive at the true meaning of a passage and its possible applications. Choosing the second means following a different path from the Anglican Way, a path that leads away from Anglicanism.
Things cannot go on as they have been. At one time all clocks measured time, using clockwork, a mechanism of wheels and springs or weights that caused the hands to move around the face of the dial and to mark the hours and the minutes and sometimes in tower clocks the halves and the quarters. Clockwork consisted of interlocking cogwheels, wheels with projections on their edges that transferred motion by engaging with the projections on other such wheels. If one cogwheel moved so did the others. While clockwork is not as common as it once was, things are still interlocked much in the same way as the cogwheels of an old-fashioned clock. The establishment of the personal ordinariates will affect everybody in the Anglican Church or in any way connected with Anglicanism. It is unavoidable. It will also affect those have no connection with Anglicanism.
Those contemplating a new life in the Roman Catholic Church are not the only ones facing a choice. We all are—everyone of us. The future of Anglicanism hangs in the balance. Will we make the right choice?