Recent comments prompted by Jessica’s reflections on the Anglican tradition and women as priests, included the reflection that my own journey into communion with Rome had been prompted, in part, by the decision of the Church of England to ordain women. As Evelyn Waugh might have put it: “up to a point Lord Copper.” Which, is, of course, English understatement meaning “not quite the whole story.”
Nonetheless, cross the Tiber I did. But, as some elsewhere have pointed out, that does not make me the same as a cradle Catholic, which statement, whilst true to the point of being a truism, omits more than it says. Cradle Catholics come in a variety of forms, after all, and the same is true of converts and reverts. A very common feature of the latter is what some have called “convertitis” – that is to say becoming almost more Catholic than the Pope (here I shall insert a mental pause for people to add what they will mentally).
I never thought to cease being an Anglican, and in very many ways not only can I not cease being influenced by that inheritance, I would not want to be. It was not that I did not understand the arguments being used to justify the ordination of women, or that I did not appreciate the decision to allow those of us who could not, in good conscience accept it, it was that it seemed to me that the Church of England was on a journey on which I should have been an unwilling passenger. I firmly believed, yes and truly, that the Church of England was part of the universal Church, but as I looked around me, I could see only that it had, unilaterally, taken a decision that cut across decades of ecumenism.
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 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 even 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 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, it is about being in the place where my long journey with God is best placed.
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