Separated Doctors: The Anglican-Patrimonial Difference

Father Hunwicke has posted here a statement made by Father Aidan Nichols, O.P., in 2002.  (The post does not include further bibliographic information.  Does anyone happen to know where one can find the original statement?  Nichols’s _The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism_, a likely source for such a statement, was published in 2000.)

In any case, the quote itself:

“Contemporary orthodox-minded Roman Catholics look with admiration at those Anglican divines who, in various historical periods, sought to restore the authentic portrait of the Church and the faith of the Church. One thinks, for example, of Thomas Ken and John Keble, as well as, closer to our own day, Gregory Dix and Eric Mascall. These are separated doctors in whom the Church of Rome can recognise the overwhelming preponderance of the apostolic patrimony she has received. Your task now is not only the negative one of defending their work but the positive one of completing it.”

What Nichols suggests is that the Anglican patrimony goes much deeper than what we might call tangibles and externals, including textual differences–and especially those that appeal to anglophiles.  The use of “thee”s and “thou”s in liturgical texts, chorister ruffs, Canterbury sleeves, hymns from the English Hymnal, and so on, are fine, in and of themselves.  But as Father Nichols reminds us, we have a task, a responsibility, to go deeper than that.  This includes coming to an understanding of an Anglican way of doing theology and “completing it” in line with orthodox Catholic theology.

As notable Anglicans, including Archbishop Michael Ramsey, have admitted, Anglican theology has not generally been able to claim a systematic approach as one of its strengths.  Once one delves into a systematic work such as St Thomas Aquinas’s _Summa Theologica_, it is easy to understand why Catholicism in the thirteenth century—especially on the continent—more fully embraced the scholastic approach to theology and hardly ever looked back. Patristics were passées.

But the patristic approach to theology, which is what so captivated Ken and Keble, and which is the golden thread through English spirituality and the centuries of Anglican theology, is not without its immense value as well.  Father Nichols’s comment reminds us again that there are important aspects of being Anglican that are wholly consonant with “orthodox-minded” Catholicism precisely because these aspects of the Anglican patrimony have their roots in the apostolic and post-apostolic and patristic tradition.  (All of which continued to be the normal way of doing theology, on both the continent and in Britain, through most of the Middle Ages.)

As St. John Henry Newman said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”  This statement could also be paraphrased to read: “The deeper one goes into history, the more fully Catholic one becomes.”  This is where reading the “separated doctors” can be beneficial for all Catholics.

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