By Robin G. Jordan
In Old Anglicanism and Modern Ritualism Frederick Meyrick coined the term “Neo-Anglicanism” to describe the tenets of nineteenth century Ritualism. Ritualism was an outgrowth of Tractarianism, the Oxford High Church movement led by John Henry Newman and others in Tracts for the Times 1833-1841. It was strongly influenced by the thinking of Newman but its adherents unlike Newman chose not to abandon the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA for the Roman Catholic Church. Those who describe themselves as “Traditionalist Anglicans” are its modern-day adherents. But as Canon Meyrick shows in Old Anglicanism and Modern Ritualism and his other works, they no more represent “Old Anglicanism” than did their nineteenth century predecessors.
“Traditionalist Anglican” is a misnomer—a term used to describe something to which it does not rightly apply. The doctrines and practices that the self-described “Traditionalist Anglicans” espouse are not those of the Reformed Catholicism of historic Anglicanism but the doctrines and practices of unreformed Medieval Catholicism and modern Roman Catholicism, with two exceptions—the doctrines of Papal Supremacy and Infallibility. Rather than being described as “Traditionalist Anglican” or even “Neo-Anglican” they rightly deserve to be called “Independent Catholic.” Except for describing themselves as “Anglican,” they are indistinguishable from Independent Catholics.
Independent Catholics are not confined to the cluster of jurisdictions that describes itself as the “Continuum.” They are also found in undetermined numbers in the Anglican Mission (formerly the Anglican Mission in the Americas) and the Anglican Church in North America. In these two jurisdictions they are likely to have been exposed to the charismatic movement and embraced its teaching. They are also likely to be more liberal in the areas of the ordination of women and divorce and remarriage.
Charismatic and liberal Independent Catholics are not confined to these two jurisdictions any more than conservative Independent Catholics are confined to the Continuum. There are a number of Independent Catholic jurisdictions that do not identify themselves as “Anglican.”
Charismatic Independent Catholics generally fall into two groups, based upon their understanding of the charismatic experience. One group shows the influence of the Wesleyan theology of Pentecostalism. The other group is more Roman Catholic in its interpretation of the charismatic experience. Both groups may be found in the same jurisdiction.
Liberal Independent Catholics range from those who accept women’s ordination and have a relaxed attitude toward divorce and remarriage to those who accept the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions and even “gay marriage.”
What are the distinguishing characteristics of Independent Catholics? Independent Catholics believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence, or the objective presence of Christ in the consecrated elements of the Eucharist. They may have different theories of how Christ is present in the elements but they all believe in the localized presence of Christ in the bread and wine. They believe in the doctrine of Eucharistic Sacrifice in some form. The Eucharist is more than a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice: It is a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice, an addition to it, or a participation in it. They recognize seven sacraments. They practice Reservation. They believe in a doctrine of participation in the Body of Christ by those devoid of a vital faith. They may practice such Eucharistic devotions as praying before the reserved Sacrament. They may practice auricular confession, invoke the saints, and light candles and offer prayers before icons and statues. They may engage in Marian devotions such as the rosary.
Among the factors that have contributed to the spread of Independent Catholicism in a number of self-described Anglican jurisdictions in the United States have been the nineteenth century Romeward movement, the 1928 and 1979 Books of Common Prayer, the twentieth century ecumenical and liturgical movements, and more recently the Ancient-Future movement. The latter has tended to romanticize the past and has been uncritical in adopting unreformed Medieval Catholic doctrines and practices. As Professor Gillis Harp observes in his article, “Navigating the Three Streams,” the Ancient-Future movement has, like the nineteenth century Ritualist movement, displayed a negative attitude toward the Protestant Reformation This is most evident in the United States.
While the adherents of Independent Catholicism present themselves, their beliefs, and their practices as “Anglican,” they, their beliefs, and their practices are, from a historical perspective, not Anglican at all. As Meyrick and others have shown the Medievalism and Romanism of the nineteenth century Ritualists and today’s Independent Catholics is a foreign intrusion into the Anglican Church. It is not traceable to the Caroline High Churchmen or Non-Jurors of the seventeenth century Church of England.
The Caroline High Churchmen were not Medievalists or Romanists. They sought to restore what they believed were liturgical usages of the ancient Church and which they also believed were consonant with the Scriptures based upon their reading of the Scriptures and the early Church Fathers. They were not sympathetic to the Church of Rome and after their experiences in exile during the Interregnum even less so. They rejected the doctrine of the objective presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements. However, a number of the Caroline High Churchmen did embrace a doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice In The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, J. I. Packer describes this doctrine.
“Some with the Carolines and the Wesleys, have spoken of Christ always standing before God’s throne, presenting, offering, or pleading his earthly sacrifice. Then the church’s sacrifice is explained in terms of pleading Christ’s death for the remission of our own and others’ sins as we offer all that we are and have to God. This pleading is said to be a ‘re-presenting’ (not a symbolizing, but a fresh offering or a ‘making present again’) of Christ’s sacrifice to the Father in union with Christ himself as he re-presents it; and the church’s corporate self-offering in Christ, within which our re-presenting of cavalry finds its place, is seen as the main purpose of, and the central action in the eucharistic liturgy.”
Packer goes on to write:
“Of a piece with this is the fancy (it is hardly more) that the ‘remembrance’ (anamnesis) of Christ in the liturgy is directed Godward, as if Jesus’ words ‘do this in remembrance of me’ had mean ‘do this to remind my Father of me’.
This particular notion is based upon the misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:26: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” Modern translations such as the English Standard Version render the Authorized Version’s “shew” as “proclaim.” The Lord’s Supper is a visual proclamation of Christ’s saving death on the cross, directed not at God but at those celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It is not as some mistakenly infer a reminder to an absent-minded God of what His Son has done. Rather it is a reminder to us of what God has done for us through the death of His Son.
The notion that Christ stands before God’s throne and presents, offers, or pleads his earthly sacrifice is also unscriptural. It is based upon the misinterpretation of Hebrews 7:25. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” It ignores what is written in Hebrews 7:26-27: “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.” It also pays no attention to Hebrews 9:24-28: “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” It in addition gives no heed to Hebrews 10:12: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” In doing so, it disregards Article 20: “…yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”
One of the shortcomings of the Caroline High Churchmen was a tendency to interpret verses of Scripture out of context or without consideration of what is written elsewhere in the Bible. While they regarded the Bible as the Word of God written and as the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice, their hermeneutics were flawed. They also relied too much upon the opinions of the Patristic fathers in regard to what a verse of Scripture meant.
The Caroline High Churchmen at the Restoration would resist the temptation to reshape the liturgy to reflect this doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer contains no oblation of the bread and wine either at the Offertory or during the Prayer of Consecration.
The Non-Jurors developed their own particular doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. They believed that Christ did not offer himself for the sins of mankind on the cross at Calvary but at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He only was slain on the cross. Thomas Deacon explains this doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice in his Comprehensive View. The priest, he writes:
“…does as Christ did...he next repeats our Saviour’s powerful words ‘This is my Body,’ ‘This is my Blood’ over the Bread and Cup. The effect of the words is that the Bread and Cup are made authoritative Representations or symbols of Christ’s crucified Body and of His Blood shed; and in consequence they are in a capacity of being offered to God as the great Christian Sacrifice....God accepts the Sacrifice and returns it to us again to feast upon, in order that we may be thereby partakers of all the benefits of our Saviour’s Death and Passion. The Bread and Cup become capable of conferring these benefits on the priest praying to God the Father to send the Holy’ Spirit upon them. The Bread and Cup are thereby made the Spiritual, Life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, in Power and Virtue.”
This is the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice expressed in the Scottish Non-Juror Prayer of Consecration of 1764, which Bishop Samuel Seabury persuaded the General Convention of the fledgling Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA to adopt in a modified form in the 1789 Book of Common Prayer in place of the 1662 Prayer of Consecration. Both doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice are inconsistent with the principles laid out in the Thirty-Nine Articles, as J. I. Packer shows in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today.
The Caroline High Churchmen, unlike the nineteenth century Tractarians and Ritualists and today’s Independent Catholics, maintained a positive attitude toward the Protestant Reformation. They recognized that Protestantism and Catholicism, when they are properly understood, do not conflict with each other. While they did not deny the possibility of salvation to Roman Catholics, they regarded the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as false and heretical. They believed that the Church of Rome had departed from the true Apostolic and Catholic faith, and therefore its teaching presented serious obstacles to the salvation of Roman Catholics.
The Ritualist movement to which the Independent Catholics are the successors was a Counter-Reformation movement in the Church of England and her daughter churches. It formed a key element of what is known as the Romeward movement. This was a deliberate attempt in the nineteenth century to re-establish Roman Catholic doctrines and practices in the Church of England and her daughter churches. The goal was to Romanize the Church of England and her daughter churches to the point that the Pope would accept them as a uniate province in the Church of Rome, reuniting the two Churches. To this end the Ritualists not only sought to revive the doctrines and practices of the pre-Reformation Church but also to introduce those of the nineteenth century Roman Catholic Church.
The Romeward movement was dealt a blow in the nineteenth century with Pope Pius’ declaration that Anglican orders were null and void. It was further dealt a blow more recently with the issuance of Anglicanorum coetibus by Pope Benedict. Anglicanorum coetibus left Catholics in the Anglican Church unwilling to accept its terms, to use an old phrase, “all dressed up with no place to go.” The cherished hope of uniate status in the Church of Rome evaporated with Anglicanorum coetibus.
The Independent Catholics, while they do not stand in continuity with historic Anglicanism, form a large segment of the North American Anglican Church. They have appointed themselves that task of interpreting Anglicanism to the world although themselves are not genuinely Anglican. Their redefinition of Anglicanism excludes those who subscribe to the tenets of historic Anglicanism. The Independent Catholic influence is discernable in the Reformed Episcopal Church, which has abandoned the Protestant Evangelical principles of its founders. The Independent Catholic element in the Anglican Mission has exported Roman Catholic doctrine, practice, and church order to the Anglican Church of Rwanda, the Anglican province with which the Anglican Mission is affiliated as a missionary jurisdiction. Through the Church of Rwanda this element is seeking to spread their influence throughout the African Provinces affiliated with GAFCON. The Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America caters to the Independent Catholic element in the ACNA as the Common Cause Theological Statement catered to that element in the Common Cause Partnership. More recently the Church of Nigeria recognized the Independent Catholic orders of an ACNA bishop, showing that it, like the Church of Rwanda, is susceptible to Independent Catholic influence, originating in the ACNA. The Basis for Full Communion that the Victoria Congress of Traditional Anglicans issued this past week portrays as “Anglican” what is a strong articulation of Independent Catholic beliefs. The statement makes no reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles, the confession of faith of the Protestant Reformed Church of England, and the centerpiece of authentic historic Anglicanism, and affirms doctrines that the English Reformers disowned and rejected at the Reformation in the sixteenth century. The recent announcement of a trial prayer book, ostensibly for the Reformed Episcopal Church and based upon the partially-reformed, transitional 1549 Prayer Book, also points to the strong Independent Catholic influence in the REC and the ACNA.
What is missing in the North American Anglican Church is a strong Protestant Evangelical and Protestant High Church element to counter Independent Catholic influence and the continuing movement of the North American Anglican Church away from authentic historic Anglicanism. This element is sorely needed if the North American Anglican Church is to retain a genuine Anglican identity. Outside North America Anglicans who are committed to upholding the faith and doctrine set forth in the historic Anglican formularies need to be on their guard against the North American Anglican Church’s exportation of its particular brand of Catholicism, in its conservative and liberal varieties, to their provinces and dioceses. It is NOT the Reformed Catholicism of the authentic historic Anglicanism albeit its champions may misrepresent it as that. It is alien to the spirit of historic Anglicanism, which submit all human thought to Scripture and confidently declares, “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” (Article 6).
The English Reformation was no mistake. It restored to the English Church the long-lost gospel of grace. It brought light and salvation to millions of people who would otherwise have perished in darkness and sin. The gospel of grace is the true Anglican patrimony. Whatever else we may cherish, if we do not cherish the gospel, we throw away the pearl of great price, and treasure cheap baubles in its place. The true Anglican Christian, whether he is a Protestant Evangelical or a Protestant High Churchman, is a gospel man, first and last and above all else. He more than proclaims the gospel. He lives and breathes the gospel. The gospel—Christ crucified, risen, and reigning as Lord—is at the heart of his ministry. He would have it no other way.