I was moved by one of the comments on my last post, the link from Scoop to a friend’s blog wherein the latter, a recent convert to Rome, lamented both the state of the current Pope and the Church, but expressed his joy at being in the right Church, the one founded by Jesus. I felt his pain, as I feel that of Scoop. It can’t be easy to be an orthodox Catholic at the moment. It’s a feeling which I know drove some Anglicans out of the Church of England into Rome, some via the Ordinariate.
I have a sense from those I know that those in the Ordinariate are happier than those who converted and joined their local Catholic congregation, though would be delighted to be wrong on this, as I know, from personal experience, how bitterly awful it can be when you and your church seem constantly at odds, and I can well understand why people change church. But I have also observed how often it does not bring what the person converting hoped it would bring.
At the centre of much of this is the question of the Pope. If you sincerely come to believe that the only Catholic Church is the one headed by the Pope, then the Tiber must be crossed, though quite what you do if you conclude Pope Francis isn’t the Pope, I am not sure. I guess wait out the storm and hope for better days. But, outside the Roman tradition, no one else believes that the one infallible mark of being the Catholic Church is recognising the Bishop of Rome as the supreme authority. It was not so in the Church of the Fathers, and not all the selective cherry-picking of quotations will ever make it so. It would be hard to convict the Eastern or non-Chalcedonian Orthodox of a love of novelty, and neither of them holds the Bishop of Rome in that role. My own Church takes the same view.
I am a Catholic in so far as the Church to which I belong recognises the historic Creeds and the Councils of the undivided Church, and it adheres to the ancient orders of the Church – deacon, priest and bishop. For those who feel that these orders can never be held by women then the Orthodox Church or the Roman Church is the place to be. For those, such as myself, who are unconvinced that such a view is based on more than a patriachal insistence on reading Scripture in that way, the Anglican Communion is the place to be.
Is it perfect? No more than any other Church. But the idea that unless you are communion with the Bishop of Rome you are bound to hell is a confection of late origin, designed by Rome to strengthen its hand against Constantinople. This insistence by Rome helped shatter the unity of the early Church, just as Rome’s insistence on having its own way shattered the unity of the Western Church. This, naturally, is not how Rome reads it, but it is how all the other Catholic Churches read it. It may, of course, be that Rome alone is correct, but its own openness to ecumenism since the Seconf Vativan Council suggests a willingness to move beyond old disputes, which many of us welcome. No-one is happy to see the Bishop of Rome separated out from the other Apostolic Churches, though I doubt anyone much thinks that the way to union is easy, or near.
I can do no more by way of concluding with what that great Christian, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes wrote about the Church of England’s fundational beliefs:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.
Andrewes introduced two other related features which became characteristic of Anglicanism and which differentiated it from both Rome and Geneva – a reserve about points of doctrine which are not central, and a freedom of private judgement outside these central articles of faith. If you want to make windows into men’s souls, fine, but I have to say that I prefer the Anglican way.