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.