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Sir Joseph Pilling

Struans and I have been continuing an occasionally waspish (as is our fashion) discussion in the comments boxes on an old post of mine, here. He is a ‘candid friend’ of Rome who, as is the case with those who style themselves such (and I take that claim seriously) tells it as he sees it; that is good for us all. In the spirit of Geoffrey’s advice on how to disagree, let me try to say something on the other side of the case.

For me, as for all Roman Catholics, the issue is one of ‘by whose authority do you say these things?’ Struans comments here:

As to bishops and definitive teaching, there is indeed a definitive authority in the catholic church – bishops in ecumenical council. That is why your jibe about there being no definitive teaching in Anglicanism is a shot that is far wide of the mark. Anglicans don’t claim to be able to issue definitive teaching for themselves and the rest of the church – whereas Romans do.

Two things come to mind here: deciding to unilaterally change the teaching of the Universal Church on who can be ordained a priest is changing a definitive teaching; one can play with words all one likes, and Anglicans are masters of it, but that is claiming the authority to change something formerly agreed upon; by what authority do they do it? The second is the old Orthodox saw of ‘bishops in ecumenical council’; when was the last time any Church save that founded on the faith of St Peter held one of those. Struans is fond of bringing up ancient Catholic documents and quizzing us as to whether they are still in force, but that last time Canterbury took part in an ecumenical council was when? That would be when it acknowledged the authority of Rome, and the arguments were well set out by Henry VIII in his defence of the seven sacrmamenets; he never, oddly enough, issued a thorough account of why he changed his mind about the authority of the Pope.

Struans’ church seeks, he tells us ‘corporate reunion’ with Rome. That was certainly my hope as a young man. If Struans could mark out the things which his church has done to show its sincerity to set against the things it has done which suggest it has no such real intention, I would be grateful. My list is a short one: it took the unilateral decision to ordain women – which divides it from the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church; and it has allowed its members to contract ‘same sex’ marriages, whilst, oddly enough, denying that ‘right’ to its own ministers. These actions speak more loudly to intent than any number of documents and ‘indaba’; I do hope Struans has some actual actions in mind to back up the claim he makes that the Anglicans want corporate union; ‘wanting’ and ‘doing; are quite different things here, it seems.

Struans asks:

Out of interest, why do you criticise Anglicanism so much? It is to confirm to yourself why you left? As you have no real need to seek union with Anglicans, as Rome believes itself already to be the whole true church, and therefore there is not so much of an imperative to repair Christ’s Body, it has crossed my mind that there might be some truth there.

I criticise it as a ‘candid friend’. I see no reason for ‘corporate union’, and I tend to talk about Anglicanism only in the context of claims made by Anglicans abut my own Church. The Anglian Church marched off in a direction which looks like the one the Episcopalians have taken, and if that is their desire, that is fine, but it was not mine. I always find it a little cheeky of Anglicans to ask why I left? It was not me who changed the nature of the priesthood unilaterally.

It comes down to authority. Until the 1530s the English were loyal Catholics. They were knocked out of this in the most brutal fashion by the State. That State lacked theological authority; it still does so. The Anglican Church has no authority from any Ecumenical Council it ever attended. It borrows much from its Mother Church, but the further it gorws away from its origins, the more the question ‘by whose authority do you do these things?’ becomes pertinent. To say by the authority of bishops in ecumenical council is to point back to the authority of Rome.

Of course, if one takes the view that authority is something other than it has been taken to be by the Apostolic Churches, then fair enough, it ceases to be an issue as one has been ‘born again’ by ‘the Spirit’ and that is all that is required. It seems not to be a stable model or one which leads to much by way of unity, but it works for those it works for; but that is not the Anglican claim. That claim appears to be to appeal to its own authority, as the senior bishop of the Episcopalian Church has been doing in pursuing the break away churches for premises and funds, but to deny that of others (maybe in suing them, she was offering ‘tough love’, who knows?). If I am waspish about the Anglicans, it is their wanting their cake and eating it attitude which is its cause. No one made them take actions which widened the divisions, and if they mean what they say about the love of Christ, why in His name are they pursuing breakaway Anglicans as they are?