R.R. Reno on why he left The Episcopal Church–and why he stayed so long

R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things Magazine, is eligible to be a member of the Ordinariate!

Anyway, he has a long piece in First Things in which he explains why he stayed so long in the Episcopal Church even though he felt he was living among ruins and why he eventually concluded he must become Catholics.   A couple of excerpts to whet your appetite (my emphases):

I clearly saw that the apostolic inheritance bequeathed to the Episcopal Church—a liturgy more medieval than reformed, a veneration of the ancient creeds, a love of the Church Fathers, a scriptural piety that did not confuse being learned with being critical—was being dismantled by a revisionist ideology that knew no limits. But I did not see myself as a prophet who hectored at a distance. I appealed to the scriptural figure of Nehemiah’s return to the ruins of Jerusalem. The gates of the Temple had been thrown down, but rather than leave in despair, we should follow Nehemiah’s pattern and live in the ruins of the Church with redoubled loyalty.

Well, everything he thinks he may have lost in leaving the Episcopal Church, we thankfully have taken with us to be renewed, cherished, unpacked in the Catholic Church in the Ordinariates for former Anglicans.

He writes:

Modern Christianity is modern precisely in its great desire to compensate for what it imagines to be the superannuation, impotence, and failures of apostolic Christianity with a new and improved idea, theory, or theology. The disaster is not the improving impulse. I certainly wish that all Christians would expect more from their teachers and leaders. The problem is the source of the desired improvement. For Newman, “theory” is a swear word because it connotes the ephemera of mental life, ephemera easily manipulated according to fantasy and convenience. Yet in my increasing disgruntlement, there I was, more loyal to my theory of staying put than to the actual place that demanded my loyalty. It was an artifact of my mind that compelled me to stay put. Unable to love the ruins of the Episcopal Church, I was forced to love my idea of loving the ruins. With this idea I tried to improve myself, after the fashion of a modern theologian.

Modern theology is profoundly corruptive. The light of Christ must come from outside, through the concrete reality of the Scriptures as embodied in the life of the Church. The whole point of staying put is to resist the temptation to wander in the invented world of our spiritual imaginings. St. Augustine wandered thus, and, as he reports, the motion was circular and futile. Now my real loyalty to the flesh and blood of an actual, existing church was disappearing, and I was in danger of trying to navigate by my own ideas. My situation was all the more dangerous because my ideas had the tone and tenor of good old-fashioned Augustinianism.

This is key:

What changed was the way in which I had come to hold my ideas and use my arguments. In order to escape the insanity of my slide into self-guidance, I put myself up for reception into the Catholic Church as one might put oneself up for adoption. A man can no more guide his spiritual life by his own ideas than a child can raise himself on the strength of his native potential.

And so is this:

The Catholic Church did not deliver me from apostasy and false teaching. I teach at a Jesuit University, so I am not naïve about just how insouciant about orthodoxy priests can be. Nor did Catholicism provide me with a neat, efficient, and trouble-free church. I do read newspapers. What my reception into the Catholic Church provided was deliverance from the temptation to navigate by the compass of a theory. The Catholic Church has countless failures, but of this I am certain: Catholic Christianity does not need to be underwritten by an idea.


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