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In a recent talk at Pusey House, Oxford.  to a group of Anglo Catholics considering the Pope’s invitation to form Anglican Ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Eamon Duffy sought to question the claim that the English Church after the Reformation was the Catholic Church Reformed.http://www.theanglocatholic.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Anglicanorum-Coetibus-24042010-10-Professor-Eamon-Duffy-Talk.mp3

Among other arguments he suggested that only the influence of Queen Elizabeth I prevented the leadership of the Church embracing a thoroughly Reformed Protestant religion.  In passing he did give a role to the Elizabethan Prayer Book. He ascribed the appearance of a Catholic tradition to the 17th. Century High Church party, a group of young activists, Dr Duffy remarked, much like John Milbank and company in the contemporary theological scene.

Mercifully Dr. Duffy didn’t resurrect the Nag’s Head theory, doubts about Bishop Barlow’s consecration or the matter of “intent” in preserving the Apostolic Ministry. What he seemed to press was a gap theory, a gap in continuity fatal to Anglicanism’s claims to be truly Catholic.

I hasten to say that I agree with Dr Duffy’s assessment that much history produced to stress Anglicanism’s continuity with the Medieval Church has been wildly fanciful.  I would even agree with him that the Church of England was pretty assured in its anti-Romanism in the 16th Century and felt kinship with the Continental Reformed churches, a kinship which they did little about. Certainly the works of Bullinger and his cohorts, the use of the Geneva Bible all had their influence. Having said that, I doubt very much Dr. Duffy’s claim that there was no difference between the sectaries or proto-puritans and mainstream “Anglicans” in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I except that CofE folk obeyed the Queen.

What I believe Roman Catholics miss, or dismiss, is another form of continuity, that of place and sacrament.  By place I not only refer to the continuity of the parish system which embraced the entire population, nor  solely the Provincial, Diocesan and Parochial systems, and a succession of Bishops in See, but the daily round of Common Prayer, Sacrament, and the “churching” of the most important features of family and community living. This second strand flows into what I term sacrament, perhaps not entirely in its precise usage, although that too, but in the continued setting apart, making holy and offering of life and living.  And this continuity remained offered to all. It did not follow in practice, whatever the popular theological emphasis of the moment, the sectarian ideal of a gathered community of true believers to whom alone the sacred is offered.

I would also note that this continuity provided the fertile ground from which in a fairly short period of time, a more robust “Catholic” appreciation of the English Church grew, a growth which, in part, brought it into a mortal struggle with Puritanism.

I believe this to be a more realistic approach to the matter of the meaning of Catholic continuity. The emphasis is placed not on a type of theology in vogue at a given moment, nor even on the toxic effect of moments of theological novelty at given moments in the history of the Church, but rather on fidelity to doing that which our Lord commanded.  I would identify such fidelity in a continuity of worship, including Trinitarian baptism, the Eucharist with the intention of “doing this for a remembrance (recapitulation) of me”,  reading, marking and hearing Holy Scripture, within Apostolic Order and pastoral and missional practice.

I would place a much lighter burden on the Church getting its theology right about these things at a given moment. It was no mere attempt to score points against Roman Catholics which impelled Elizabethan Anglican Divines to search the Fathers to “prove” that contemporary 16th. Century Roman theology did not always square with Early Church theology. And even when the Fathers were used to score points, much as in modern times biblical texts are hurled to attack this or that position, the side effect was that an appeal to the Fathers remained respectable, the study of Patristics encouraged, so that when the writings of earlier Fathers gained a rehabilitation at the beginning of the 17th. Century it did not seem revolutionary or anti-biblical for the High Church party to use Patristics to affirm the continuity of Anglicanism.

The time frame is important.  A scarce forty years elapsed between the Anglican restoration under Elizabeth and the beginning of what would perhaps misleadingly be termed the “Caroline Divines”. And if God used a monarch and a Liturgy as means of continuity, so what?

Now I write this piece not primarily to enter the lists against Professor Duffy or engage in comment about Anglican Ordinariates, but rather to draw some sort of a parallel between what happened then and what is happening now, and to suggest that all this has something to say to those of us who remain within TEC.  Now it will not come as any great surprise to my readers that I think contemporary TEC is getting its theology wrong, not only about sex, but about salvation, not only about the necessity of baptism but about the ontological nature of ordained ministry. Why then stay in?  I am old enough to retire and join those who leave. So it is not a matter of pension and benefits!  I stay in, as many parsons must have done who were ordained in Henrician times, because the minimum tools for ministry remain to exercise parish ministry within the “Catholic” context.To make myself clear, I am not writing about “bells and smells” and the Angelus. I am affirming my belief that tactile continuity remains, a touching not only by episcopal hands, but in Word, Sacrament and pastoral care.  It is dreadfully hard for some priests and laity to function in a minimalist setting. It must have been hard for the parson in Elizabethan days surrounded by avid followers of Calvin, to whom Perkins, Travers and Cartwright were godly men and Hooker an oddity. But the Parson stayed, “read prayers and preached”, baptized, married and buried, and prayed with the sick and dying:  faithfulness in the worst of times is a virtue.

Yet God honors those who preserve the minimal necessities for Catholic mission, not always in their generations but in the next, where things thought dead burst into Holy Flame and God’s promises to be with and in the Church are seen to be true.

2 Responses

  1. I am writing to encourage as the Parson and the Parson’s ministry is both precious to me, even though retired and for me the heart of why one might stay or leave TEC. I have moved on. MY role in the cure was coming to an end and it was time for another parson.

    Meanwhile I really do not give a fig for Apostolic Succession as so frequently touted. It is faithful ministry in word and sacrament in fulfillment to ones cure AND congruency with the Apostolic tradition. It never ceases to amaze me when the US Baptismal Covenant is cited in such a way as to focus on the last commitment while any commitment to the Apostolic Gospel is cast aside in favor of the latest novelty in the name of “justice.”

    Thanks Tony – let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

  2. I’m not sold on this. But nicely put.

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