One of the greatest difficulties in discussing Anglicanism is in understanding what the beliefs actually are. I recall when I briefly attempted to do an “Ask the Catechist” page on our website, that often I would get a question of the sort, what does the Episcopal Church belief about…? The answer needed a caveat about the challenges of defining doctrine in the Episcopal Church. Anglocatholicism, as a subset of Anglicanism, suffers from the same problem, although to a lesser degree.

When I first returned to the church, I had never heard of the term Anglocatholicism. Over time, of course, that changed. What I came to learn, both by reading what would become the core text of our adult formation (to be renamed the Catechumenate later on), and by simple observation, was that we were basically very Roman, both in practice and in belief. In fact, outside of Papal infallibility, and perhaps indulgences, there is nothing I can recall that would separate us from Rome. We had a Mary altar, occasionally the benediction of the sacrament, including the annual vigil before the sacrament on Maundy Thursday, and many other practices that would remind one of being in a Roman Catholic parish. In fact, in the post Vatican II era, we could be described as more Catholic than many Roman parishes. We sold rosaries in the gift shop (we never had a formal rosary recitation, although it was discussed). Even at that, we weren’t as bad as some parishes. One that I attended in London, still had significant portions of the service in Latin.

I would come to adopt the Anglican Breviary – the book of hours companion to the Anglican Missal. Both books could be found amongst more “hardcore” AngloCatholics and AngloCatholic parishes. The breviary celebrated all of the Roman Catholic Saints and Feast Days established prior to the start of the 20th century. I struggled at times with some of this – for instance the Immaculate Conception, and some of the teaching on transubstantiation which appeared in the Breviary.

My point in describing all of this, is in order to compare this information against the writings of the Oxford Movement. It is interesting to note, especially when compared to Tract 38, which 9.West quoted, the degree to which this sort of Anglicanism would have been objectionable to the early Tractarians. Of course, by the time Tract 90 came along, some of these beliefs would have been less problematic, as John Henry Newman was actively trying to make excuse for his beilefs in light of the 39 Articles, which, until the 20th century, had been binding upon Anglicans. Just a few years later, of course, he would write “On the Development of Christian Doctrine,” which would effectively justify every Roman Catholic Doctrine (and any other innovation they would seek to introduce).

John Henry Newman’s point in Tract 38 was to seek to return Anglicanism to its roots in the reformation, In 1834, at the time of the writing of Tract 38, that seemed reasonable. By 1841, at the writing of Tract 90, the contradictions both between Newman’s beliefs and the writers of the 39 articles were becoming apparent, and the contradictions between ancient Christianity and the English reformation were becoming apparent, as well.

It is interesting to note that in the late 19th century, a series of books was published called the Library of AngoCatholic Theology. In it was much of the material of the early Anglican Divines. According to the John Henry Newman of 1834, this was the stuff of authentic AngloCatholicism. When I decided that the near Roman Catholicism of 20th century AngloCatholicism wasn’t really the right path, I decided to go the way of the early Anglican Divines, and was able to locate one of these volumes vs. bookfinder (perhaps the most dangerous websites for bibliophiles). It was a book called Hammond’s Practical Catechism. I figured a Catechism was a good place to start.

Unfortunately, Hammond’s Practical Catechism, while holding a lot of “catholic” views, wasn’t entirely that way. Nor was it entirely in agreement with AngloCatholicism of any stripe. It took me all of a minute to discover that. I couldn’t remember when I was thinking about it the other day, what i ran across that convinced me of that. A review of Hammond’s work quickly led me to at least one such disagreement. Hammond, like Zwingli, believes that the Eucharist is merely symbolic. In no manner is Christ present in the Sacrament. That is in stark contrast to both Tract 38 and 90, and most certainly to 20th Century AngloCatholicism. My recollection is that there are other problems, as well.

The question in all of this, then, is, what is AngloCatholicism? Is it the nearly Roman Catholic views of 20th Century AngloCatholicism? Is it the Via Media that John Henry Newman espoused in 1834? The version he espoused in 1841? Or is it the Anglicanism of the Reformation?

It is not enough to simply assert that all of these are valid positions, as they are, at times, opposed to one another. For example, according to Tract 38, invocation of Saints and veneration of Icons is idolatry. By Tract 90, not so much, by the 20th Century , not at all. The problem is that if something is truly idolatrous, then to engage in it is quite simply not permissible as a Christian. If you attempt to take a position that is in the middle, you are still saying that those holding the Reformation view have to be wrong. So the middle position isn’t really quite in the middle. That is the situation with most of the conflicting views between Protestantism and Romanism that AngloCatholics, at least those of the Tractarian stripe, find themselves in.

9.West holds out hope that Anglicanism, specifically AngloCatholicism, might be the mechanism for ultimate reunification of Rome and the East. In other words, the Via Media of AngloCatholicism might actually be the Via Media between Rome and the East. This is a familiar view – I used to believe that myself. The assumption was that AngloCatholicism was Orthodox in much of what it believed, but of a Western flavor. I’ll look at that notion in a future entry.

Attitude Toward the Ancient Church

Virtually all religious groups that align themselves with Christianity make claims about their connection to the early Church. These claims can generally be divided into types – those that claim continuation with the early Church, and those who claim to be restoring the faith to it’s early roots.

The first question is, what is meant by the early roots. Almost always this refers to the Church of the New Testament era, and generally not a day later. Some have asserted that the Church began to fall away almost immediately after the death of St. John the Evangelist. The Anglican Church, however, has tended to make the argument that the Church continued on for a period after the repose of St. John, but later fell into error. More recently, I’ve seen writings by modern groups (most notably Reformed Baptists) that seem to imply that they, too, see the Fathers of the post-apostolic age as continuing on in the doctrine to which these groups adhere. The one thing that all of these groups have in common is that doctrine is the entire definition of the Church. That is, any group holding to the same doctrines as the early Church, are thereby members of that same Church.

Of course, “holding to the same doctrines” is a bit of a tricky question. One has to determine what those doctrines are. To some, all doctrines are contained within the covers of their 66 book Bible. Others, as I mentioned, believe that these doctrines are contained both in Scripture and in the writings of the early Church. There is little effective difference between these two views. In both cases, one needs to come to the text with an interpretive framework that helps you understand the text, and deal with those parts which are either unclear or appear to be contradictory. In both cases, as well, there is no foundation in either Scripture or the writings of the Fathers to hold to the belief. St. Paul, himself, clearly refers to teachings that are not contained solely in his letters, but that were transmitted orally. These teachings are part of the παραδοσισ of the Church. The word, often translated as tradition, refers to that which is handed down. So, the teachings of the Church are part of a larger body of knowledge that has been transmitted, or handed down, throughout the history of the Church. Yes, this includes Scripture, and the Church Fathers, but it also includes the prayers, the hymns, and also an oral tradition.

However, the Church has a much different view of itself. We find that view in St. Paul’s epistles, where the Church is described as the very body of Christ. This is not simply some rhetorical device, its a statement of fact. There is an organic wholeness to the Church. It is certainly the case that holding the same beliefs is a key component to what unites us, but there is also something more. That something more is Baptism and Chrismation. It is through this mystery (the two are done together in the ancient Church, and Orthodoxy has preserved this), that we are united to Christ, and therefore united to the Church. In the traditional forms of the Baptism service, either the Godparent or the new member are asked to state three times that they unite themselves to Christ. This, then, points to another aspect of being united to the Church. It is through our will (or those appointed to speak for us), and therefore we must have the capacity to depart as well. Historically, this, of course, has happened, and the Church has had to decide how to bring those who have left back in, if they so desire. Frequently, this is through Chrismation, as the Church has always been very concerned to not baptize anyone more than once.

So, the only way to be truly connected to the early Church is doctrinally and temporally – that is, being physically and spiritually part of that body which has existed since Christ established it. Realistically, any other approach is simply man made.