In the last post I wondered aloud why more Anglicans had not taken up the Vatican’s offer of the Anglican Use Liturgy, married clergy and full communion with Rome. An Anglican priest took the time to comment, and I post his comment below in full. The comments are articulate and express pretty clearly the point of view that I believe most Anglicans would take. (Although because the Anglican communion is very diffuse and varied there are also many Anglicans who would not agree with the commenter.

I encourage Catholics readers to take time to read the comment and my Fr.Z style fisk on the text in order to understand the reason why thoughtful Protestants do not see the reason to convert to the Catholic Church. I want to make it clear that I do not comment on the Anglican priest’s views in any judgmental way. 

It’s clear that I don’t agree with them, but my point is not to debate, but to show readers how Anglicans (and most other Protestants) think about this matter, so they can see just how far most Anglicans are from taking any step towards re-union with Rome at all.

The Comments:

As an Anglican priest and not a ‘gooey liberal vicar’ type (I do enjoy the satire in those posts by the way…), my initial reaction to your query as to why more Anglican priests have not made use of the “Anglican Use” option in the RCC is threefold.

One, loyalty is in question of such priests in some quarters.I know for a fact there are quite a few Roman bishops in this country that are, while maybe not hostile, are none to thrilled at allowing discernment for would-be Anglican priests from converting. I think they fear the ultimate loyalty of converted Anglican priests. In my experience he is correct, however, I don’t think loyalty is the Catholic bishop’s main concern. I have found that the Catholic bishops who are wary of Anglican converts are often worried that those who are coming across are either ‘dangerous conservatives’ or that they are converting for the wrong reasons.

I had one RCC bishop tell me point blanc one time, “If they convert once, what is to stop them from converting again when the going gets tough and liberal tide in the Catholic church starts ascending again (as in the excesses of Vatican II.)” Basically, though the Bishop I was talking to didn’t outrightly say this, he was insinuating to me that if they are disgruntled Anglican priests, what makes anything think they won’t end up being disgruntled Catholic priests? This is a view I heard as well. It shows a sad misunderstanding among Catholics themselves (including not a small number of priests and bishops) that Anglican priests are converting simply because they “don’t like women priests.” It is understandable that lay Catholics may have their understanding of the issue determined by yesterday’s headlines, but it is astounding that Catholic bishops do not understand the real reasons for conversion. Despite numerous books and articles in which the converts explain very clearly their reasons for converting i.e. the question of authority in the Church; still some bishops think the only reason is women’s ordination. 

They are right in one point. If a man does convert simply because he ‘doesn’t like women priests’ or ‘doesn’t like women’ the bishop is right to be wary of him. In my work with the St Barnabas Society we found the few who did fall into this category either didn’t convert at all, or they soon scuttled back to the Anglican Church when they found the Catholic Church not to their liking.

Secondly, to sum up a long pontification by shorter means, ‘all that glitters is not gold.’ The Anglican use rite really strips core Anglican sacramental theology out of the liturgy. They did a good job of turning the Roman mass into “Anglican sounding” liturgy, but if you really start comparing and contrasting substantive sacramental theology, it’s still Roman, despite however much it is gussied up to look Anglican. 

I hope my commenter will not be offended, but this shows an astounding lack of understanding of Catholicism. The whole reason the Catholic Church disapproves of the Anglican liturgy (and by extension Anglican orders) is because we regard Anglican sacramental theology and ecclesiology to be faulty. Of course the Anglican Use liturgy is Roman and not Anglican. Does the commenter really believe that the Catholic Church would want to enshrine the doctrine of receptionism (or any other Anglican sacramental understanding) within the accepted liturgy?

Blaming the Catholic Church for making sure the Anglican Use liturgy is ‘still Roman’ despite being ‘gussied up’ to look Anglican is like blaming the American government for insisting that one of their citizens dressed up like an Austrian yodeler still carries an American passport.

The Catholic Church is trying to make the point in the Anglican Use that certain other venerable liturgies can be used to confect a valid Mass, but for that to be the case the language used still needs to conform to the order and theology of the Catholic Church.

I also think that most Anglican priests understand that no church is perfect, and that Catholics/Orthodox/whathaveyou all have their issues. Just trading one church with issues for another church with other issues is in the long run not all that attractive, given the work involved for completely redoing the entire formation process, as would be required, and a drastic cut in pay and benefits (not that that in itself is a valid excuse when standing before the Almighty.) 

Now we come to the crux of the matter. The commenter expresses the essential and basic Protestant ecclesiology: that the visible church is a useful fiction, that all the Christian churches are, for the most part, necessary evils. Some are better than others, but they all have faults. This is because they are all human institutions. Therefore you simply choose the one that works best for you.

If this is the case, then of course, conversion to the Catholic Church is pointless. Conversion to Catholicism is no more necessary than conversion to Methodism. Of course Catholics do not believe this about the church at all.

Most Anglicans do however, and it is important for Catholics to realize this. It is especially important—very very important–because Anglicans (among all Protestants) are the ones who claim not to be Protestant. They really do believe they are the continuing Catholic Church in England. They do not like the term Protestant but their ecclesiology is almost always totally Protestant (otherwise they would see a pressing need to convert to the Catholic Church)

Incidentally, the commenter also reveals another trait of typical Anglicanism. He calls Catholics ‘Romans’ or ‘Roman Catholics’. He may do this out of intentional rudeness to Catholics, but he probably does not. He calls Catholics ‘Roman’ or ‘Roman Catholic’ because he believes that he is Catholic too. He is just English Catholic or ‘Anglican’.

What most Anglicans never stop to consider is how there could possibly be more than one Catholic Church. They like to talk about the ‘branch theory’ in which the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglicans are equal members of the ancient Apostolic church–sadly divided, but working bravely to re union one day. This is a fiction. By definition there can be only one Catholic Church.

Thirdly, though most Episcopal clergy these days don’t want to admit it, there still hovers the Puritan work ethic, especially in the American Episcopal context. There is just enough Scotch-Irish influence (and stubbornness) that looks at fleeing to another Church (even if its the Mother Church) as cowardice. As my grandfather (as Scotch-Irish as they came) used to say, “If you quit, you’ve let the buggers win!” We would just as soon go down in flames than admit defeat. 
Again, probably not a good excuse when standing before the Almighty, but that’s just the way some folks are. 

This is an argument I hadn’t heard before. If converting is ‘quitting’ then I suppose it can be argued. However, the writer himself accepts that it is a pretty weak excuse, and I think it is really just a smoke screen for what he reveals in the next paragraph.

Again, going back to the spectre of Puritanism that a lot of Episcopal clergy carry against their wills is also the Puritan notion of Providence. God has set me here for a reason, and if I truly believe that God is working to bring all things unto himself in the ages of ages, then one has to believe that, even with its problems, God has a plan for the Anglican church and hopes that one day it will be reunified with its Catholic brothers and sisters. And, as I see it, if Anglo-catholic priests leave, then its never going to happen because we have handed over our church to people who have no desire now or ever to be reunifed with Catholic Christianity. 

Again, the writer states a pretty standard Anglican position. There’s a kind of Calvinism within Anglicanism, and this writer is brave to admit it. Deep in the roots of Anglicanism there is a Puritan, and therefore Protestant mind set. It is deeply anti-Catholic not only in a biased way, but also in its how world view and perspective of history, culture and the Christian faith.

This is a profound foundation for the Anglican mind, and not one which is shifted very easily. It is also the reason why most Anglicans find Catholicism so alien. It is not because Catholicism is Irish or Polish or Italian, but because it is, well, Catholic. The Protestant philosophical and theological foundation on which Anglicanism is built, and on which most Anglicans based their religion and their world view is deeply inimical to the Catholic world view. That is why those of us who are converts of over ten of fifteen years still admit that in many ways Catholicism still has not got fully into our bloodstream as much as we would like.

It takes decades to rebuild a vineyard after an earthquake, and how can that occur if the workers called to tend the vineyard all leave?

To extend the analogy, we invite the laborers in the vineyard to come work in the vineyard which still thrives. I could go on about the vine keeper pruning the vines and cutting out the dead branches and putting them on the fire, but I will leave the reader to draw what conclusions he may.