Friday, 6 November 2009

'Ten thousand difficulties do not make a doubt'

The Society of the Holy Cross, I understand, has long had at its heart the notion of union with Rome as being an essential part of Catholic Unity, and hence it is not surprising that we saw many signs of euphoria from its members when Pope Benedict heard the appeal of the TAC.
Now, however, it might be that the Holy Father has called the bluff of some. Now that the time is fast approaching when the fleshpots of Neasden (or wherever) must be abandoned for the partially unknown, then somehow, to some, lady bishops don't seem so bad after all. 'At least I can stay here till I retire, and then it doesn't matter' said one ABC resolution vicar not far from here to an (Anglican) acquaintance of mine. An attitude I find shockingly selfish.
A real issue, articulated by some, refers to the part of Anglo-Catholicism that treasures parts of its Protestant heritage also. Bishop Martyn Minns, an American flying bishop, supplied by conservative Africans, commented to the New York Times: 'I don't want to be a Roman Catholic—there was a Reformation, you remember.' The bishop of Fort Worth has said similar things, and I thought I detected a similar tone (though much more cautiously expressed) in the speech of Bishop Nazir-Ali at the Forward in Faith conference. Just how Catholic is Anglo-Catholicism?
To that there is no one answer. There are probably as many Anglo-Catholicisms as there are Anglo-Catholics. But a very real issue, as expressed by some, is the requirement (for those contemplating the new arrangement) to subscribe to Catholic doctrine as the TAC have done. This was immediately picked up by the press and pushed home.
Most Anglo-Catholics subscribe to most of Catholic doctrine, though to some it may be a little nuanced. What I mean is that there may be an enjoyment of the liturgical expression of, say, the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, or her Assumption, but if an actual profession of faith in these things as fact is required, then that may be another matter.

Am I alone in sensing an ancient Reformation issue here? I suspect that it is not Justification, or Scriptura Sola that is the most fundamental issue that divides Catholic and Protestant, but rather the method by which doctrine is made known to us.
Is it the Church that teaches, or must I make up my own mind, doctrine by doctrine, trusting the Holy Spirit to enlighten my reading of Scripture, even if I do add a healthy dose of tradition and reason too.

To a Catholic mind, doctrine comes from the Apostles; 'he who listens to you, listens to me…&c' and is not something that a priori derives from my intelligence or conscience (enlightened or otherwise). Thus a Catholic may question a doctrine in his or her mind without doubting for a minute the divine constitution of the Church that was founded to bring the teaching of Christ safely to the twenty-first century, and every century. 
The Italians grasp this very well: as I read amusingly the other day (I've forgotten where), an Italian man describes himself as 'Cattolicissimo' because his wife never misses Mass on Christmas Day. Italians have a lordly disregard for the moral law, but never question either it, or the Church's right, even duty, to teach it. Now I am not suggesting that this is a good state of affairs, simply that it is Catholic. The principle is always there, to be dusted off by the devout: the pilot light is more than lit; the stove is alight, simply turned down low at the moment.

The devout Protestant agonizes over every doctrine; the non-devout Protestant doesn't bother at all and either descends into liberal Christianity or ceases to believe and becomes, in Evangelical terms, a non-Christian.

So, if the Reverend Septimus Harding comes to me and asks anxiously 'do I really have to subscribe to Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the evils of artificial contraception and all that stuff?', I might want to say that this is probably the wrong place to start. If you can accept that our Lord did not come to write more books of the Bible but to found a Church that would bring his presence to every age, and which could genuinely speak, teach, bless and heal in his name (and that would, in the event, write more books of the Bible), in fact, be his Mystical Body, then that makes you a Catholic. The rest follows in due course. We may fail for now to understand the details, but we acknowledge the Church's divine right to teach, and that is the essential sine qua non.

Perhaps, as a postscript, one ought to observe that liturgical observations of some of these dogmas is the only form of catechesis on the subject that many Anglo-Catholics have received, even clergy. No doubt some theological colleges teach the Marian dogmas (St Stephen's House, Mirfield), and a little Catholic moral theology, but there must be many clergy (such as those trained by correspondence course) who have never been given the grounding to understand the basis of these dogmas, and suspect that they are supposed to believe in our Lady being assumed into heaven like a sky-rocket with hordes of angels holding her up and steering her past the Ryan Air planes. Many will, of course, have continued to read and study, but many others will never have found the time, their grasp of the doctrine remaining sketchy. On what basis, then, can they be expected to make a doctrine-by-doctrine examination of the faith? This would, in any event, I think, be the wrong way to approach the Catholic faith. As I have suggested.

8 comments:

berenike said...

Yes to what you said :-)

fidelisjoff said...

Could we swap our Anglo protestan priests and laity for the Anglo catholic vicars and laity - pun intended

Sir Watkin said...

"If you can accept that our Lord did not come to write more books of the Bible but to found a Church that would bring his presence to every age, and which could genuinely speak, teach, bless and heal in his name (and that would, in the event, write more books of the Bible), in fact, be his Mystical Body,"

This is, interestingly, a very good summary of the traditional High Church position (tho' it must be said that the working through of its implications produced a variety of results).

Ironically "High Church" has come in recent years to be a pejorative term amongst Anglo-Catholics (and indeed many other Anglicans), indicating those who enjoy some of the externals of Catholic worship, but whose "Catholicism" begins and ends there. Originally it indicated almost the precise opposite: a high view of the Church (very much as you have expressed it) as a fundamental principle, from which everything else followed. (Opposed to this was a "low" view of the Church as little more than a collection of individual Christians.)

It was this high view that Keble contended for in his Assize Sermon. From the start the Oxford Movement was about ecclesiology. And it's what the present crisis among Anglicans is (ultimately) about too - as Cardinal Kasper has accutely observed.

Incidentally, it is a little misleading to cite evangelical bishops like Minns and Nazir-Ali in connexion with Anglo-Catholicism. It's also worth noting that the situation amongst Anglo-Catholics in the U.S.A. is very much sui generis. There is little than can be read across directly to the British situation.

Peter Porter said...

You write, Father, with a Catholic mind. This way of thinking hardly exists outside the Church where even the 'papalists' have arrived at their position on selective grounds. When I was being instructed I quickly realized that the Anglo-Catholic and Catholic understanding of truth is marked by a distinction between the derived and the given. For converts it takes time for a Catholic way of thinking to develop and for some it never does. That is why those who immerse themselves in what used to be called 'Tridentinism' find themselves locked in a selected (rather than selective) trap.

A key example of this kind of convert is Moyra Doorly who behaves like a disappointed child at a party who does not like most of the other guests because they are not enjoying it as she expected before arriving. The recent 'correspondence' between her and Fr Aidan Nichols OP in the Catholic Herald demonstrates the difference between one who has not developed a Catholic mind, and one who has. Miss Doorly's mind remains essentially Protestant, despite her protestation to be more Catholic than the post-Concilear Church. What has long surprised me about Fr Nichols is that he does not seem to have noticed this mental characteristic in the Anglo-Catholic mind. I cannot help thinking that his attraction to Anglo-Catholicism is largely aesthetic.

In my Anglican days I noticed, as you have, enormous variety of belief and interpretation among Anglo-Catholics, even the most extreme. Your illustration of disinterest among elderly Anglo-Catholic priests on the verge of retirement could be replicated without end. If ever they do become Catholics they will be certain of a retirement house and pension first and, on a pragmatic level, that is understandable.

What I could not fail to notice when I listened to the recorded speeches given at the recent Forward in Faith Conference was the enthusiasm of the young for the Holy Father's invitation compared with the lukewarm caution and, from America, decidedly Protestant reactions from older men.

Their bluff has indeed been called and from now onwards nobody will be able to use the fantasy of corporate reunion as a political ploy within the General Synod or elsewhere. In many ways I feel sorry for these men because the carpet has been swept from beneath their feet. The fact remains that they stay where they are because they believe in their mixed interpretation of the Church of England above a true understanding of what Catholicism actually is. And the reason for that is because they are part of a self-authenticating tradition established on a deduced basis.

gemoftheocean said...

But if they don't examine the doctrines, they will end up being cafeteria Catholics. We have enough of those already!

Pastor in Valle said...

I don't think so, Gem; the point is that, trusting the brand, you buy the package. There is no need to worry about every detail of the small print: that can wait, because it is far less significant.
Cafeteria Catholics are the ones who don't trust the brand and feel that they must pick and choose—a Protestant characteristic.

The Cardinal said...

And so what do you call the many Catholics who do trust the brand but don't believe every single detail of the small print (e.g. Humanae Vitae)?

Pastor in Valle said...

Your Eminence: obviously, Italian-style Catholics! The stove is alight, just not cooking very well.