My reflections this week take the form of some notices of recent posts, a note on Catholic renewal, and then something of a rebuttal about Presiding Bishop Curry.
I want to highlight first Derek Olsen’s post “” (Oct. 28), a response to a guest post here at Covenant from Ed Watson, “What’s preventing a new Oxford Movement?” (Oct. 27), itself a follow-on from Robert Hendrickson’s piece from four years ago, “It’s Time for a New Oxford Movement.”
Derek’s post is mostly a different take, building on Robert’s post, rather than a response to what Ed said here. Ed’s point was that Anglo-Catholic pride might be getting in the way, and that we who identify as “Catholic Anglicans” must learn to live with reverence and humility, especially in our relationships with others. Derek’s point is quite different.
The elephant in the room is Catholic Anglican identity: What does it look like, what does it mean, how does it live? The chief issue that the Society of Catholic Priests has brought out into the open and laid bare is that organic “Anglo-Catholic” identity has broken down thanks to splits, departures, and arguments. It’s no longer a matter of being formed organically in a loose network of affiliated parishes; it’s largely a matter of self-study by clergy and laity grouped around a set of disconnected idiosyncratic parishes whose ritual practices and theological teachings are, again, based these days largely on the memory/dream/projection of an organic past and whatever self-study the rector/former rector thought was right (or fun, or liturgically titillating). There won’t be a new Oxford Movement for the Episcopal Church until those of us who identify as Catholic Anglicans figure out why we do and what that looks like, and how that theology is expressed, habitually and ritually. And the key point there that my friend has identified is how lay Catholic Anglicans live that stance out in parishes that aren’t Catholic and (these days) may only be marginally Anglican.
Although I wish Derek had responded more clearly to Ed, I agree to a great extent with his point here: renewal will not come until we realize and agree on what Catholic life looks like (beyond the practices of a parish here or there, no matter how exalted), and begin expressing it together.
What might add to this discussion are my questions about whether what we need really is “a new Oxford Movement.” I admire the Oxford Movement greatly, and read the work of its main figures with no little devotion. I agree we need the renewal of Anglicanism across the board, and I am convinced that this will come through a greater emphasis on the teaching of Scripture and the sacramental life and discipline of the Church. But I sometimes wonder about the evocation of the Oxford Movement: What are people really calling for?
I am concerned that calling for a new Oxford Movement evokes a particular tradition in Anglicanism, while ignoring some of its key features.
For example, I have yet to see anyone calling for a new Oxford Movement raise three issues the original highlighted: the apostolic character of the Church (not least episcopacy), the spiritual interpretation of Scripture, and the life of holiness. (Excepting Ed Watson on the latter, I should note.)
And when I say holiness, I especially mean moral rigor, and not simply devotional enthusiasm in an aesthetic key. We can say all the Ave Marias we want, bow before the Blessed Sacrament all the live long day, and share photos of beautiful churches and vestments on Instagram to our heart’s delight, but without repentance and the pursuit of a grace-filled righteousness, it ain’t gonna matter. Any “new Oxford Movement” or Catholic renewal must remember this gift of the tradition.
In the vein of the trio I mentioned (holiness, apostolicity, and the spiritual interpretation of Scripture), let me quote from a relevant section of the Venerable Bede’s Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, which was set for All Saints this past week in the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham. Bede is concerned that teachers of every generation properly pass on Catholic teaching, inherited from the apostles, and properly form themselves and the Church’s other members in the moral life. He often expresses this concern in the midst of his spiritual interpretation of Scripture, especially as he interprets biblical passages dealing with the Temple in Jerusalem, the Feeding of the 5,000, and the Wedding of Cana.
Here, he comments on 1 Peter 2:5: “And you yourselves like living stones are to be built into the edifice, spiritual houses.”
By being joined with Christ, the faithful are made into living stones, who because of their unfaithfulness had been dead stones, namely, hard and unfeeling. To them it was rightly said, “I shall take away from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).
But they are fitted like living stones into the spiritual building when at the discrimination of a learned teacher they have their undesirable actions and thoughts cut off and are squared off by the blow of a hammer, as it were. And just as rows of stones in a wall are held up by others, so all the faithful in the Church are held up by the righteous who preceded them, while they themselves by their teaching and support hold up those who come after, even to the last righteous person. …
He likewise calls the elect living stones that he may indicate the struggle of good intent or action in which they ought always to be engaged with the grace of God preceding and accompanying them.
The life of holiness is a struggle, like the passing on of true teaching within apostolic tradition and governance, ultimately reliant on the all-encompassing grace of God. But it is central to our calling as Christians, especially as “Catholic Anglicans.”
Apostolic teaching, the nature of the Church, and moral rigor are a concern elsewhere this week, especially in a recent document from the Church of England Evangelical Council: “Guarding the Deposit: Apostolic Truth for an Apostolic Church” (Oct. 28). I’ve yet to read the whole thing, which is framed as a response to the Church of England’s recent Shared Conversations on Sexuality. I may respond or comment on it further at a later time.
Another way that a concern about episcopacy and holiness has played out among Anglicans of late is in a concern, repeated more than once now, about the presence of Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, at the ecumenical events in Rome at the beginning of October. It’s been something of a slow-burning fire among particular groups. See, for example:
- David Virtue, “A Tale of Two Conferences,” VirtueOnline (Oct. 4)
- Chris Sugden, “A History of the Global South,” Anglican Mainstream (Oct. 4)
- Bill Atwood, “God’s Grace: Never Late, Rarely Early,” American Anglican Council (Oct. 11)
- Nicholas D. Okoh, published in “Okoh chides Welby over Rome visit with Curry,” Anglican Ink (Oct. 31)
The main point of contention is whether Curry’s presence in Rome violated the requirement in the recent Primates’ Meeting communiqué in January (“Walking Together in the Service of God in the World”) that “for a period of three years the Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies.”
The short, clean answer is No. (If you want more details, read the next several paragraphs. Otherwise, skip to the end.)
The events in Rome celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre there, as well as the incredible meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1966. The events included a one-day conference at the Gregorian University, an ecumenical service of Vespers, and a gala fundraiser, among other moments of prayer, discussion, and celebration. You can see fuller reporting on the events from The Living Church here, here, here, here, and here, among further material from ACNS and others.
One wishes that objectors could at least get their facts straight. Bill Atwood, for example, does not name the Anglican Centre correctly. And the events were certainly not an “ecumenical council,” as David Virtue alleges. He needs to Google the phrase, then come back to the table.
On the other hand, those present in Rome included over 300 pilgrims and supporters of the Anglican Centre. Presiding Bishop Curry was part of this group, along with many other Episcopalians. He was not “a prominent member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s delegation in Rome,” as Abp. Okoh suggests.
This is the main point: Most of the events were public, open to all who cared to attend. Other events were open simply to those who had donated money to the Anglican Centre.
As far as I know, the only private event Curry attended was an audience with the Pope. I can understand some of the unease at this point, which Chris Sugden reported from the recent Global South meeting. But Presiding Bishop Curry was not a representative on any ecumenical body. That is, quite simply, a different thing, like the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission or the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, whose members the Archbishop of Canterbury appoints.
The primates did not require that Episcopalians avoid meeting Roman Catholics at all, and we can be sure that the Vatican understands where the Episcopal Church has chosen to depart from other Anglicans on issues of human sexuality, since Anglican divisions were front and center during our time in Rome, noted explicitly at several of the events. Nobody was pulling the wool over the Pope’s eyes, or those of global Anglican leaders.
Anyone who says otherwise is confused, mistaken, or sowing seeds of Anglican division.
The question of Bishop John Bauerschmidt’s presence on the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) is rather different, and only raised by Bill Atwood. First, unlike what Atwood implies, Bauerschmidt is not the “the appointed ecumenical representative for the Anglican Communion” on IARCCUM.
First, there are multiple Anglican members, drawn from across the world, as news services have reported extensively. He represents the Episcopal Church.
Second, membership on IARCCUM is drawn partly from the dialogues of national churches: Bishop Bauerschmidt is the co-chairman of ARC-USA, the Episcopal Church’s dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike theological dialogues of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury does not appoint the members of IARCCUM to represent the Communion. Its members therefore do not fall under the purview of the primates’ requirements, nor could Archbishop Welby easily remove them.
Do the critics mean to suggest that the Episcopal Church is not free to pursue the goals of IARCCUM: namely, joint mission between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in their respective contexts? This would go far beyond the January statement.
To return to my earlier theme, we need a real pursuit of holiness in the Anglican Communion. One aspect of holiness is truth-telling, dependent in part on careful investigation and recounting of facts. Our words and accusations matter, often to the detriment of the Communion.
We are all called to a zeal for the Church’s apostolicity, unity, and catholicity, especially as we pursue Anglican renewal. But we must also pursue its holiness, not least through reverence and humility in our relationships with each other. In this way, we may truly be made “living stones,” built on the example of all the saints, but chiefly on the Church’s one foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord.
 Such councils only happened in the first millennium of the Christian Church; Anglicans have traditionally recognized primarily the first four: Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. (See also Fr. Jonathan Mitchican’s exploration of Anglicanism and the councils at The Conciliar Anglican, or Catholicity and Covenant on the seventh ecumenical council, for more developed thoughts.)