Saturday, May 09, 2009

What's Stopping Anglicans Who Want to Join the Catholic Church?

Musings Prompted by Bits from Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua,



As you may know, John Cardinal Henry Newman was a famous convert to Anglicanism in 1845, and he is being considered for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. The first time I tried to read Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Defense of One's Life), I found it dull. Praise I'd previously seen for Newman's writing style was always of the sort on the back cover of my paperback edition of the Apologia. The blurb claims that Newman is "is one of the great masters of English prose." After recently revisiting the book, I found that at the very least the ideas it expresses are growing on me, so I'm glad I gave it a second look.

Yesterday I grabbed the Apologia Pro Vita Sua to have something to read while I was eating breakfast. Opening at random to an appendix, I found some apt observations that are related to modern issues around ecumenism, and to the reception of Anglicans into the Catholic Church.
Newman wrote:
I am bound to state plainly what I feel and have felt, since I was a Catholic, about the Anglican Church. I said, in a former page, that, on my conversion, I was not conscious of any change in me of thought or feeling, as regards matters of doctrine; this, however, was not the case as regards some matters of fact, and, unwilling as I am to give offense to religious Anglicans, I am bound to confess that I felt a great change in my view of the Church of England. I cannot tell how soon there came on me,—but very soon,—an extreme astonishment that I had ever imagined it to be a portion of the Catholic Church. For the first time, I looked at it from without, and (as I should myself say) saw it as it was. Forthwith I could not get myself to see in it any thing else, than what I had so long fearfully suspected, from as far back as 1836,—a mere national institution....

Newman went on to write about the good that the the Anglican Church has done to him and to many others and how he could not wish to oppose it as long as the Anglican Church was teaching authentic doctrine, especially since the Catholic Church in England at that time was so small in numbers.

Not for its own sake but for the sake of the many congregations to which it ministers, I will do nothing against it. .. What our duty would be in a different time and in other circumstance, supposing for instance the Establishment lost its dogmatic faith ... is another matter altogether.
Doubtless the National Church has hitherto been a serviceable breakwater against doctrinal errors, more fundamental than its own. How long this will last in the years now before us, it is impossible to say, for the Nation drags down its Church to its own level; ... I should wish to avoid every thing ... which went to weaken its hold upon the public mind, or to unsettle its establishment, or to embarrass and lessen its maintenance of those great Christian and Catholic principles and doctrines which it has up to this time successfully preached..

I don't doubt that Newman would now say that the "different time and other circumstances" he mentioned are now upon us, in the face of how the Anglican Church apparently has "lost its dogmatic faith."
To give one example, one Anglican bishop, the Bishop of Durham (in 1985), announced his lack of belief in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection and implied he was not alone among Anglican bishops to disbelieve in these doctrines. When I looked into the Episcopal Church in the 1970s, Episcopalianism being the American version of Anglicanism, I found that they prided themselves in being all-inclusive in doctrine. For example, whether you believed in the Transubstantian or not, the church wanted you to feel at home. The doctrinal deviations and the ordination of women and of even flagrantly practicing homosexuals as priests and bishops has driven droves of Anglicans into the Catholic Church.
It inspires me that whole groups of Anglicans are attempting to swim the Tiber together. I have read of whole congregations from the Church of Ireland and the Traditional Anglican Communion (which has been separated from the Anglican Church for twenty years), who have petitioned Rome to be admitted. I also heard a passing reference once to Episcopalian congregations in the United States who have also done the same. I can't find any details about any the outcomes of any of these requests except at the website of the Traditional Anglican Communion. The last communication they received about their September 2007 petition to join the Catholic Church was a letter from Archbishop Levada in July 2008. Levada's letter was cordial and encouraging, but the letter seemed to put the TAC request into a holding pattern.
I am not diplomatic by nature or by training, and so it seems wrong to me that anyone who wants to join the Catholic Church would being denied. But at the same time I know that the Church has to carefully consider many issues that are outside my ken.
The letter to the TAC from Archbishop Levada mentioned that their request had to be considered in the context of how the situation within the broader Anglican church had "become markedly more complex." Maybe the Church does not want take in the TAC in fear that it would close the door forever on the possible reunion of mainstream Anglicans and Roman Catholics, even though the chances for reunion between two religious groups with such divergent beliefs seems well nigh impossible to me.
Knowing what I do about how hard it is to get even a few people to agree on matters of faith, I believe it is a downright miracle that whole groups of Anglicans have been converted together and desire now to worship in union with Rome. My heart is with them. I pray that the Anglicans who are united in this desire will be welcomed home.
I'll end with another quote from Newman:
I cannot deny, what must be ever a sore point with Anglicans, that if any Anglican comes to me after careful thought and prayer and says, 'I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, and that your Church and yours alone is it, and I demand admittance into it,' it would be the greatest of sins to reject such a man, as being a distinct contravention of Our Lord's maxim, "Freely ye have received, freely give."



Further reading:
Damian Thompson's "Holy Smoke" article, "Anglicans facing ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’ says Cardinal at Lambeth"<
John Cardinal Henry Newman's "Apologia Pro Vita Sua
Fr. Richard Neuhaus, the late editor of First Things journal, was a convert also. When Fr. Neuhaus died recently within a month after the death of Cardinal Avery Dulles, another convert, a blogger at the blog of a third prominent Catholic priest convert, Father Rutler, wrote: [W]hat a great time he and Dulles must be having being introduced to Cardinal Newman and that really great convert -- St. Paul!"
On a personal note, I couldn't be an Anglican or Episcopalian for the simple reason that these religions were started by Henry VIII. Watching The Six Wives of Henry VIII gave me a pretty good idea of what kind of a man HE was.
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