A running commentary by a former Anglican priest who was baptized Catholic,

kidnapped from the Church in his youth,

and found his way back through the blessings of Anglican spirituality.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Being "Anglican" on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

Definitions can be an enormous factor in how a conversation goes. If we do not share the same defintion of a word, we can become greatly confused in what we are discussing. It is often helpful for us to stop and ask someone, "How do you define your terms?" For example, if I say "it's sick", there are a number of possibilities for what I could be referring to. I could mean physically sick (as in "that dog, it's sick"). I could also mean morally repulsive (as in "that movie should never be watched by anyone, it's sick"). A third, very modern, usage is comparable to the standard slang term, "cool" (as in "I like that song, it's sick"--I did not make this up, I am only repeating what I have heard elsewhere); though I do not use this terminology myself.

The difference in a definition could be the difference between truth and heresy. Some of the Church's early theological arguments had aspects that turned on a matter of simple definitions. Likewise for Anglicans today, much turns on how one defines "Anglican". If you ask ten Anglicans for a definition of the word "Anglican" you will likely get eleven definitions (with three so heavily qualified you cannot understand what they mean). [It was once suggested that the duck-billed platypus would be the perfect mascot for Anglicanism since it seems to be impossible to categorize!] Yet, in spite of this, all of these definitions will boil down to two distinct categories. There are some whose definition of "Anglican" has to do with certain practices and traditions. They view Anglicanism as an historical practice that carried with it certain habits and traditions familiar to the spirituality of the churches in England from a long time ago.

For others, though, this view of the term, "Anglican", is unacceptable. Their definition of "Anglican" is determined primarily by the question of authority and not of traditions. In other words, an "Anglican" is someone under a certain authority structure, or denomination. There are Anglicans who will say that all Anglican denominations are basically the same, and that each merely has some insignificant distinctives. Then on the other hand there are Anglicans who say that there is really only one denomination that is truly Anglican; the others all fall short. Regardless of their position on this latter issue, they are defining "Anglican" based on who you are in covenant with.

Hence, for the latter group (definition based on authority) it is impossible to be "Anglican" and be Catholic at the same time. The former group (definition based on practices), however, would have no problem with someone saying that he is "Anglican" and Catholic at the same time. This would be comparable to someone saying he is a "traditionalist" and a Catholic at the same time because it refers to a set of practices and traditions, not to a specific authority structure (i.e. one's manner of being Catholic).

For those who see the primary concern to be that of "who is in charge", they are mired in the need to find the group that is "Anglican enough" and does things the way that they want. I would prefer to side with the former definition and say that I am an "Anglican" and Catholic at the same time. This is not the same as those Anglican denominations who say that they do not need communion with Rome because they are already as Catholic as they need to be (in spite of the fact that schism is a direct contradiction of the very definition of the word "catholic"). My definition of "Anglican" is based on an historic understanding that views Anglicanism as a subset of traditions and culture within the larger category of Western Christianity. This means that I am first a Catholic, and secondly I am "Anglican" (by tradition, not by denomination) because of certain aspects of the Anglican heritage that I have been allowed to retain as a Catholic.

Being a priest who is incardinated in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (which is the feast for today, February 22nd), I am profoundly aware of what that title means. It reminds us that we are the Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI, and that we are specially under the authority of the Holy See. Yes, this does have to do with "who is in charge", but it goes against the grain of how many Anglicans think. Their understanding of "Anglican" being based on which denomination a person is in, means that it is only possible to be Anglican if one is not in communion with the Chair of St. Peter (because they insist on an Anglican--not Catholic--denomination). There is a factor in this that I believe they have not considered. By this same definition, there were no Anglicans before the sixteenth century, since all of England was in communion with the Holy See before Thomas Cranmer and Henry the 8th made their departure.

This kind of philosophy is self destructive, though they do not realize it. It cuts oneself off from the historic Church, and thus makes it clear what that form of Anglicanism really is; Protestant. This type of Anglicanism is not a "middle way" between Catholic and Protestant, it is merely one more Protestant denomination in the quagmire of Protestant denominations. If, on the other hand, there were Anglicans before the Church of England separated from Rome, then Anglicanism does refer to a set of traditions and practices that can be retained once they return to Rome. The "Chair of St. Peter" refers to the authority of the papacy, and it is that very authority that will protect and retain the beautiful traditions that I, and many others, appreciate so deeply.

On this last feast of the Chair of St. Peter with Pope Benedict XVI as our Holy Father, I give thanks to God for granting us such a generous and wise leader during the first year of the Ordinariate. I thank God that I can continue my Anglican traditions within the protection of the barque of Peter. I thank God that He inspired the Holy Father to choose Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson for our Ordinary; my family and I have been blessed by him in many ways. I thank God for all my brethren who are in the Ordinariates with us. And most especially, I thank God for all my (still-separated) Anglican brethren; I pray to God for them, for they hold a special place in my heart. May they all return home with the same joy that I had, and find the same peace that I have found, resting comfortably under the authority of the Chair of St. Peter.


  1. Msgr Mercer once said that he waited all his life to be able to say that he is both Anglican and Catholic, like St. Paul who was both Jew and Christian.

    Father, it's great to see that the Holy Mother Church is fully using your abilities in pastoral work, even if, for the time being, it is outside the Ordinariate.

  2. Forgive me for I just found this site, but is there an actual Anglican Use in Des Moines? I used to attend Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, TX and just relocated here a few months back. If there is one I'd love to attend.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Sorry, but no, there is not currently an Anglican Use Mass occurring in Des Moines. If one does get started, though, I'll post a notice here.