My friend Servus Fidelis has many virtues, not the least of them being the ability to spot things some of us can’t see for looking. He kindly pointed out to me that what ginnyfree might be looking for was: ‘how you from an Anglican became an Orthodox only to become a Roman Catholic.’ That set me to thinking, and my reaction goes something like this: I didn’t, I began and ended as a Christian, but labels matter.
Even now I am a Catholic – well I have the certificate to prove it – some would say I’m not, and at least one person has commented, elsewhere, that my Roman Catholicism is ‘shallow’. Much the same thing happened when I was Orthodox, and if it didn’t when I was an Anglican, it was because there are many types of Anglican. Critics would say, in a shallow way in my view (and I’m qualified to judge on that one) that that is because Anglicanism is so amorphous anyone can be one, who who can tell? The truth is more like Anglicans partake of a general English reluctance to make windows into men’s souls; our history has done that to us. I quite enjoyed that, still do, and find the eagerness of some Orthodox and Catholics to tell others what they believe as weird as I do Bosco’s insistence that he can tell who is a follower of Jesus and who isn’t. My thought is that it is remarkable that a chap can tell the fate of one’s immortal soul, but has no idea what next week’s lottery numbers might be – which shows what an odd world it is.
I never thought to cease being an Anglican, and there are those who would say that’s about the size of it. But the Church of England did something which to me was not within its remit; it ordained women. Believe me when I say I have heard all the arguments, and I have prayed on the subject until my knees ached and my throat hurt, but all I ever heard back was that the Church cannot do this, any more than it can make a woman a man. The Church decided that it would go with what the Western world now regarded as normative, I stayed where I had always been and where it had always been. So, orphaned, as it seemed to me, I cast around me for an ark as the waters rose.
Had I been a Protestant, I daresay that would have been fine, but I am not. I was a High Anglican, and stood where Newman stood in the 1830s, but also where Pusey stood all his life. I admire Pusey greatly, and he had kept me steady – but the Church moved beyond where it was in his day, and so I did what other High Anglicans did, which was to refer to their own history, remember the admiration the Caroline Divines had for the Orthodox, and went in that direction.
Like Pusey, I had the view that the Catholic Church in the Latin Rite had added things to the faith once received, which might, or might not be warranted, but which only an Ecumenical Council could prescribe; there being none, and the Papal claims being exaggerated, the Orders of the Orthodox Church were the ark of refuge. There I found great holiness, great prayer, great love for God, and a liturgy the angels in Heaven participated in in envy of man’s gift. But, but, and but, something was not right.
Part of that was cultural. Orthodoxy’s history has tended to make it very much a cultural phenomenon, and whilst some quite liked turning themselves into Russians (I know one Englishman who ended up speaking with a foreign accent!), that was not me. But it was more than that. Was I right about the Pope and the additions? How far was that the Anglican in me?
That was Newman. Before ever Newman was declared Blessed, I had a devotion to him, and I asked for his help, that being the sort of thing a High Anglican/Orthodox might do. I thought I’d understood what he was saying about development of doctrine, but I hadn’t – not with my heart. I stopped reading it and prayed about it.
As I did, the clearer it became that what I, and the Orthodox, said were ‘additions’ were true developments. If there was a ‘eureka!’ moment, it was the one Newman had had long before me: Peter was the Rock, the Pope was Peter’s successor, not being in communion with Rome was to be in schism and, most likely, heresy!
But I did not want to be a Roman Catholic; tough, if I wanted to be in Christ’s Church, that was what had to happen. Now, were I fortunate, I might have a branch of the Ordinariate nearby, and life would be easier in that respect. But this was before all of that, and so it was necessary to go through the whole process. It was a curious one, not least since most of it was more than familiar to me, and there was a great deal less veneration of Our Lady than my Anglican background had given me. But there it was, and I could do no other.
All of this was not a search for Christianity, it was a search for the right place in which to be a Christian. I remain grateful for the Anglican spirit which allows me not to rush to judgement on my fellow Christians. If a fellow is doing his best by the lights given to him, it really is not my job to throw stones at him, but rather to talk with him, or her, on the way, and swap notes and stories, as pilgrims do. It isn’t about turning myself into the best Catholic, having been the best Orthodox and the best Anglican, it is about being in the place where my long journey with God is best placed. Those who don’t think I am a proper Catholic may have a point, but they need to take it up with the chaps who guided me here – a duo by the name of Holy Spirit and Newman.