Anglican Before, Anglican After

Hood-doff to Deborah Gyapong for posing the question “What don’t I miss” about leaving Anglicanism and becoming Catholic (while being allowed to retain aspects of the Anglican identity thanks to Anglicanorum coetibus).  What sparked Deborah’s question was reading a piece Fr. John Hunwicke had written about Newman’s Anglicanism before Newman became Catholic and his Anglicanism after he became Catholic.  (Fr. Hunwicke’s comments can be found here, in the post entitled “That Old, Oxford, Patristic Tone,” or here.)

The essence of Anglicanorum coetibus, I believe, is in the following quote from Hunwicke’s observations:

“When [Newman] put off all that was schismatic, separatist, narrow, flawed, partial, heretical, in the ethos he imbibed from the Church of England, he was free to be more perfectly and fully Anglican than ever he had been before.”

What I don’t miss about becoming Catholic is theology that is “narrow” and “partial.”

But there is a danger that this putting off of the narrow and partial can result in a simplistic rejection of the Anglican theological perspective that would deprive both Ordinariate Catholics and the mission of ecumenical dialogue, not to mention all Catholics, of what I believe Anglicanorum coetibus means to safeguard.  Indeed, if we Ordinariate Catholics go about this in the right way, it would eventually become apparent that Catholic theology has its own issues with narrowness and that the presence of the Anglican patrimony in the Catholic Church already has something to offer.

To explain this claim, I defer to Michael Ramsey.  Attached below is an extensive passage from a 1945 lecture of his (delivered when he was, I believe, a canon of Durham Cathedral and a professor in Durham University’s Department of Theology).  Ramsey refers to what Anglican theology “may have” traditionally lost due to its “neglect of the angelic doctor.”  This loss, this theological narrowness, has contributed to what Anglicans themselves refer to as theological “fudge.”

Yet—and this is where minds that resist both/and paradoxes will resist tagging along—I *would* miss the Anglican theological perspective if it disappears from the Ordinariates.  (And I optimistically assume it is already present.)  This could easily happen, since the Thomist approach is so logically compelling in its wholeness that it can overwhelm diffident Anglican theology.  This is a danger well worth avoiding because one of the benefits of the Anglican theological approach is its avoidance of the dry cerebrality (I think that’s a word) of the Schoolmen.  The Anglican theological perspective can thus speak “with a wider authority … and to the whole man rather than to a part of him.”

Ramsey is echoing what Newman had observed when he referred to St. Benedict (who influenced the Church’s monastic era of the first millennium and English spirituality) as a poet and to St. Dominic (spiritual and intellectual father of St. Thomas, the “Angelic Doctor”) as a scientist.  Anglicanism has maintained in its theological DNA a place for poetry.  If ecumenism between East and West reflects a desire that the Church breathe with both lungs, ecumenism between the Catholic Church and Anglicanism could be regarded as a matter of using both the left and right sides of the brain.

There isn’t a reason the Ordinariates shouldn’t retain and cherish the Anglican theological perspective, especially since it now lives side-by-side with the “wholeness of system which the Thomist offers.”  Too, Catholicism is about both/and instead of either/or.  And Anglicanorum coetibus helps drive the point home.

But distinctions between theological perspectives are difficult to pin down and to communicate.  They can be elusive intangibles.  This is all the more so with the Anglican theological perspective, since its want of logical, systematic thoroughness further contributes to this elusiveness.  Grasping where and how this Anglican-patrimonial intangible finds its home in—and, in some respects, returns home to—Catholic theology is all the more daunting in the fact that it calls for a long and committed process of studying, yes, the Summa, but also the Church Fathers as well as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and so on—AND of daily living the Prayer Book’s (and the Divine Worship form’s) liturgical spirituality.

This was easier for Newman when he became Catholic than it has been for many of us.  He was endowed with a much finer mind than many of us can claim.  Also, he was already well-versed in the above-referenced sources, which many of us aren’t.  But as Newman’s biography shows, his learning and thinking were attained by ascesis, not effortlessly.  It takes ascesis to change one’s perspective so that it not only knows the list of Anglican-patrimonial tangibles (liturgical prayers, rood screens, biographies of obscure English saints, and so on) but also the intangibles, such as the theological context in which the tangibles fit.  The great doctor of development would remind us that if we choose perfection rather than stagnation—which sort of seems to be the point of a good many parables in the Gospel accounts—taking up this kind of ascetical change is part of the program.

“What is Anglican Theology?”

Michael Ramsey

Now the Anglican [theological] method and direction discovered themselves in reaction from the pressure of Luther, Calvin and Trent; and it is possible that in the reaction against misleading systems there was a missing of certain valuable elements which those systems contained. Thus, though the Anglican method led to a balanced use of Scripture as interpreted by tradition and to an escape from the lopsidedness of the Reformed scripturalism, there may yet have been loss through the missing of the more “dynamic” use of Scripture known amongst the Reformed. In other words our emphasis (right as it has been) upon the “Word made flesh” may have led us to miss something of the meaning of the “Word spoken” as Reformed Christianity values it. Similarly the reaction against Rome may have led to loss through our neglect of the angelic doctor, from whom Hooker himself had learnt not a little. The day of revenge has come. The catastrophic times through which we have been passing have exposed the contemporary weaknesses of the Anglican [theological perspective]. Can it offer the wholeness of system which the Thomist offers? Does it sufficiently understand the notes of crisis and judgment which the Confessional Protestant has been making his own? It has seemed that Anglicanism has had less to say and has said it less powerfully than these two theologies upon its flanks. Its members often look to them rather than to their mother, and ask “Has she a theology of her own?” But history may soon repeat itself, and, as in the latter days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth [I], Anglican divinity may soon rediscover itself and, while claiming to say far less than the Schoolman and the Confessionalist, may speak both with a wider authority than they and to the whole man rather than to a part of him. For on the one side every sort of infallibilism demands … an infallible logician, and this means an authority speaking to far less than the whole man.   And on the other side Neo-Calvinism leads us to regard the use of our reason as a sinful titanism, and so dwells on our justification as to rob us of our sanctification through union with the divine life. If these judgments be true, the Anglican need not be too diffident or apologetic, though he may need to be more modest, in what he claims to say.


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