Can Anglicans have a Catholic identity?

I was surprised this post Anglican Identity; Catholic Identity did not elicit more discussion.

I continue to mull over the issue of identity since a friend of mine told me about a Facebook group called Anglican Catholicism.

Though I have only been a member for a few days, it seems to be made up of Anglicans, (Continuing Anglicans? Anglo-Catholics) who believe they have a Catholic identity.

That’s interesting, because I certainly thought that during the time I was a member of the Traditional Anglican Communion that I was an Anglican with a Catholic identity.

As a matter of fact, when I applied for a contract writing for Catholic papers in 2004, eight years before I was received into the Catholic Church, I told the editors on the panel that interviewed me that I was a member of a traditional Anglican church that was in informal talks with Rome about coming into communion. I told them I deeply respected Pope John Paul II and the teachings of the Catholic Church.  “I’m more Catholic than 85 per cent of the people in the pews,” I said.  The editors exchanged glances, and then asked me to wait a moment while they consulted.  When they returned, they offered me the contract.  I think though it was more on the strength of my journalistic credentials than my statement of faith, since I had spent 17 years with Canada’s public broadcaster, 12 as a television producer. Oh, this is another example of the positive impact ecumenism has had on my personal life!

I did not realize at that moment how much more I had to learn or how much more deeper conversion would be required of me to become officially Catholic, but this much was true. I really did believe in Real Presence, Transubstantiation.  I believed in seven sacraments. I believed Holy Orders were for men only.  As far as the Catholic faith went, I could check off most of the boxes.  Many cradle Catholics scandalized me in their ignorance of their own faith. Studies have shown a majority believe the Blessed Sacrament is a symbol, not the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

I would sometimes gasp at the liturgical abuses I would witness when I attended a Roman Catholic Mass not because I was trained to be critical, but because of the contrast between the reverence with which our clergy treated the Blessed Sacrament and the casual way Our Lord was treated by some cradle Catholics.

When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Dominus Iesus I agreed with it.  I was a Cardinal Ratzinger devotee from the moment I first read anything by him.  Our parish was rooting for him in the conclave, by the way.  Yet, I hear the priests of at least one Canadian diocese were sent a letter by their bishop telling them not to be too alarmed after he was elected pope!

I had much yet to learn about ecclesiology and the role of the papacy, but interestingly, what I learned and came to accept—a Vatican I definition of papal infallibility–has now been thrown into some question.  I see a kind of creeping progressive ultramontanism afoot regarding Pope Francis that takes anything he says off the cuff on a plane or in an unrecorded interview with an atheist publisher as magisterial.

Those who were firmly loyal to Pope Benedict XVI and St. Pope John Paul II, who are now saying let’s be sure to interpret any new teaching in light of what the Church has always taught are being called dissidents by the new uber-papalists. Even inside the Catholic Church there is now a divide now among those who adhere to Pope Benedict’s idea of reform of the reform, or a view of the Second Vatican Council as “reform in a hermeneutic of continuity” with those who hold a “hermeneutic of rupture,” who see Vatican II as a welcome break from the strictures of the past.  (Or traditionalists who see Vatican II as a rupture but in a bad way).

So, these days, what does it mean to have a Catholic identity? Is it loyalty to the Pope? Well, of course.  He is the sign of unity in the Catholic Church, and it is his role to defend the deposit of faith.  But what does adherence to the Catholic faith—what the Church has always taught–have to do with Catholic identity?  For me, the importance of having a Catholic and Apostolic faith that can be traced back to the first eye-witnesses of Christ is everything.  How dangerous is it spiritually to assume the role of being one’s own pope?  Yet, just as I have been taught to interpret Scripture passages in light of the whole of Scripture, and in light of the Church’s Tradition, rather than proof-texting and basing my theology on a single verse, I will interpret papal documents in that same way, in light of the whole deposit of faith, and  not in isolation as if they abrogate what has gone before.

I consider myself a Catholic with both a Catholic and an Anglican identity.  I am juridically a member of the Roman Catholic Church, in communion with the Pope and under his jurisdiction. I believe everything the Catholic Church teaches as revealed to be true.

Yet my identity as a Catholic is suffused with distinctly Anglican accents in our worship, our hymns, our parish traditions such as Mothering Sunday with a blessed simnel cake, and our lively fellowship at breakfast—always quite sumptuous—after Mass.


12 thoughts on “Can Anglicans have a Catholic identity?

  1. Americans who call themselves Anglicans rather than Episcopalians are of the Continuing variety. Astounded to see the anti-Trump posts on the Facebook page of one of the co-founders. They are generally a conservative lot.


    • Only a small minority.

      The overwhelming majority of Americans who call themselves Anglicans are members of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is part of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCon) formed by orthodox provinces of the Anglican Communion. GAFCon represent over two thirds of the membership of the Anglican Communion, and ACNA claims a current membership into six figures. The status of ACNA with respect to the global Anglican Communion is somewhat fuzzy, but the Archbishop of Canterbury did invite its primate to the most recent meeting of all of the primates of the Anglican Communion.



      • The logic of recognizing both TEC and a body (ACNA) which has broken away from it for doctrinal reasons would seem to be a challenge for the Canterbury Communion.


  2. Running through the membership in greater depth: a fascinating mix. Anglican Church of America, Charismatic Episcopal Church, Reformed Episcopal Church of Brazil, Anglican Church of Canada—even a woman pastor of the Celtic Catholic Church. And global reach.


  3. I think the question is not whether Anglicans can have a Catholic identity – many Anglicans have been claiming to have a Catholic identity since the Reformation, a fortiori since the Oxford Movement. For most of that time Catholics have been claiming that Anglicans were wrong in so claiming (although I will admit that there was and is much good in traditional Anglicanism).

    The question is rather whether Catholics can have an Anglican identity. That is, can those who are juridically Roman Catholic, but come from an Anglican background, whether within the Ordinariates or not, claim to have an ongoing attachment to the “Anglican way.” It seems to me that there have been some attempts since the establishment of the Ordinariates to say that they cannot. Members of the Ordinariates have been told to avoid terms like “Anglican Catholic” or describing liturgy according to the Divine Worship Missal as the “Anglican Use” Mass. This is suggested for at least two reasons: first, the “avoid confusion” so that people don’t think that the Ordinariate liturgy is something other than a form of the Roman Rite, or that “Anglican Catholics” are to be confused with various Anglican continuing churches or Anglo-Catholics within the Canterbury communion; and second, I think, as an ecumenical gesture to the Anglican Communion of not using the term “Anglican” within official Catholic terminology.

    I think Catholics of an Anglican background can and should rightly claim an Anglican familial identity, just as Ukrainian Greek Catholics or Coptic Catholics can rightfully claim a Ukrainian / Byzantine or Egyptian / Coptic identity within Catholicism, as much as some of their Orthodox or Oriental church brethren might be loath to admit it.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the Anglican identity of Ordinariate or other Anglican convert Catholics should be exaggerated. In 2013, the CDF defined “Anglican liturgical patrimony” as “that which has nourished the Catholic Faith, within the Anglican tradition during the time of ecclesiastical separation.” While I don’t think that the Anglican patrimony should be limited to the liturgy, I think that this is a very useful definition: “that which has nourished the Catholic Faith within the Anglican tradition.” Therefore, “Anglican identity” cannot include elements of Anglican theology at odds with Catholic teaching (e.g. the Thirty-Nine Articles) and need not include elements of Anglican sensibility that are purely cultural or incidental to faith (e.g. C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers may well form part of the patrimony, but P.G. Wodehouse and Jane Austen not so much, Simnel cake on Mothering Sunday, great, but tea and crumpets at the cricket match are superogatory).

    It is also important to note that it is those elements within Anglicanism that have nourished the *Catholic* faith which are to be preserved.

    I think a useful way to think of this is that the Catholic Faith in England was to some extent broken by the Reformation, and continued in this brokenness within both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England. So while Catholic doctrinal and sacramental integrity was preserved in recusant Catholicism, it retained only an essential core, much of which had to be hidden away and exercised in private from public view for fear of persecution. Many of the public and cultural elements of medieval Catholicism (which was arguably richer in England, “Mary’s Dowry”, than in many other parts of Europe) from Christmas festivities and May crownings, to choral chant, to Oxbridge patristic and classical scholarship, to the sense of public responsibility and mission for the community as a whole, was retained by the (now apostate, or at least schismatic) Church of England. The mission then of the Ordinariate and of Anglican Catholics is to bring back together the whole of the English Catholic tradition, Hooker, Laud, Andrewes, Ken, Keble and Pusey reunited with Campion, Southwell, Challoner, Wiseman and Newman, the public expressions of Catholic faith retained in the Anglican tradition with the fidelity to Catholic teaching of the recusants and later English Catholics.

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    • One needs to be very careful in the use of terminology. The Catholic Church defines apostasy, heresy, and schism as the three principal sins against the unity of the church.

      >> “Apostasy” means complete abandonment of Christian faith.

      >> “Heresy” means egregious doctrinal error short of apostasy.

      >> “Schism” means severance of ecclesial communion.

      Schism may, but need not, be a consequence of apostasy or heresy.

      As best I can tell, the Church of England has not fallen into apostasy (yet). It still professes the creedal statement promulgated by the Council of Nicaea as a summary of essential Christian belief in its entirety. The Anglican Schism originally did NOT involve heresy, either, unlike the Protestant Reformation on the continent, though some Protestant heresies did creep into the Church of England several decades after the schism. Not having studied the “thirty-nine articles” of Anglicanism or the logical implications thereof, I won’t attempt to identify which of them might or might not be heretical.



      • Anglicanism was undoubtedly founded in an act of schism and was pretty clearly heretical from fairly near the beginning. True, the initial diving issue was merely Roman or monarchical supremacy, but under Archbishop Cranmer, especially under King Edward VI, Lutheran and Calvinist heresies came in thick and fast. These were somewhat mitigated during the period of Richard Hooker and the later Caroline divines, who reached back to Catholic tradition and sought to find a via media (a term associated with Hooker, although he never used it) between Catholicism and Protestantism. Apostasy might have been too strong, but after all the Oxford movement began with a sermon by Keble denouncing “National Apostasy” (by which he meant the subjection of ecclesiastical to civil government). But even if the Anglican Church was schismatic and taught heretical doctrines, that does not mean that every member of the church is guilty of schism or heresy. My point was that even within a church marred by schismatic and heretical foundations, that elements of the true Catholic faith still managed to survive and in some cases flourish.


      • Norm … when you state, “not having studied the “thirty-nine articles” of Anglicanism or the logical implications thereof, I won’t attempt to identify which of them might or might not be heretical”. But I would assume that you have at least read these ? I have always found several rather “heretical” or at least “problematic”.


      • Yes, it’s very clear that Protestant heresies DID creep into the Church of England after the original schism. Indeed, the whole gist of the bull Apostolicae curae promulgated on 18 September 1896 by Pope Leo XIII is that the modifications to the Anglican rites, motivated by such influences, created a material defect of intent that rendered all ordinations thereby invalid, and that the use of this rite for a period of more than a century made it utterly impossible for any trace of valid apostolic succession to have survived within what is now the Anglican Communion.

        As to moral culpability, the obligation of obedience that diocesan clergy profess at their ordination and renew annually at the chrism mass is to their own diocesan bishop (or to the prelate who is equivalent in law — that is, to the administrator of a vacant see or to the ordinary in the case of clergy of an ordinariate). The interesting question is what happens if the diocesan bishop goes into schism, since the commitment contains no exception for that case. Thus, the whole diocese typically goes into schism with its bishop. Of course, it’s the diocesan bishop who bears primary moral culpability in this situation.

        That said, the two distinguishing factors that make the Anglican Communion a special case are (1) the fact that its foundation was schismatic and political rather than heretical and (2) the fact that it does still have the distinctly Catholic segment of which you speak.



  4. I agree that when the definition of Anglican Patrimony is extended to cover fiddleback chasubles, or mass settings by Palestrina and Victoria because these were/are popular in Anglo-Catholic churches the meaning of “Anglican” becomes confused. And it certainly should not be used to mean merely a tasteful liturgy where the servers wear black shoes and the congregation doesn’t all leave during the last hymn. The implication is obviously offensive. Likewise, current Anglicans are understandably going to be offended by the appropriation of the term “Anglican” by former or non-members, for the same reason that Jews don’t warm to the lyrics of “O come, O come Emmanuel”.


    • If “Anglican patrimony” is misunderstood to mean reverent liturgy, we who are “cradle Catholics” need to do more to hold our diocesan pastors accountable for the shabby liturgical celebrations that pass for Sunday mass in the parishes of far too many of our dioceses here in the States.

      If “Anglican patrimony” is misunderstood to mean good preaching, we who are “cradle Catholics” need to do more to hold our diocesan pastors accountable for the slovenly homilies to which we are subjected far too often in the parishes of far too many of our dioceses here in the States.

      As a church, we need to fix the problems that give tragic credibility to such misconceptions.



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