April 2, 2009
I have recently completed a history of and reflection on Anglo Catholicism in England. W. S. F. Pickering first published Anglo-Catholicism: A Study in Religious Ambiguity in 1989 and it was re-released by James Clarke & Co. last year. The ambiguity of a continuing catholic expression of the faith within the Church of England seems to come from a fundamental problem with the nature of authority within Anglicanism. Pickering spends some time trying to distinguish Anglo Catholics from Tractarians and other sub-sects of the movement but basically does a decent job of summarizing the roots of the movement in the work of Newman, Pusey and Keble in the Nineteenth Century. There is so much that we take for granted today that was the subject of serious battles in days past: Eucharistic vestments, candles on altars, the reserved sacrament, seasonal colors and so on. These things served to deepen worship for many but they grew from a theological and ecclesial outlook that really liked the authority expressed in the Roman Church even if there were many who did not find converting to Rome to be attractive. It is that view of authority that seems to be at the root of Pickering’s ‘ambiguity’. It is difficult for an ordered church founded on intellectual assent to doctrinal propositions to exist within a communion that has, for the most part, judged relationship a prior to doctrine in many important ways. And so there is a ‘kicking against the goads’ feel to the Catholic movement within the C of E as described by Pickering. After reading his book, I believe that attempts to win over the Church to a catholic perspective is doomed to fail and that those so inclined would do well to join Tony Blair, Newt Gingrich and others who have converted to Rome. Along with Archbishop Akinola and those who earnestly believe as he does, I am convinced that they are seeking to define as ‘Anglican’ something that is inimical to the Spirit and History of the Communion.