Page 8, 29th September 2006

29th September 2006
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Page 8, 29th September 2006 — Stopping just short of Rome
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Stopping just short of Rome

Geoff Canister argues that Anglicans tortured by the 'conversion question' need to decide, once and for all, on which side of the Tiber they wish to make their home ACharterhouse Chronicle artick about the dilemma facing many "high" Anglicans on their possible conversion to Catholicism struck many loud resonant chords with me. Certain key adjectives and phrases leapt out at me, in describing the dilemma felt by Peter Mullen and Robert Gibbons on the question of conversion. "Perplexed", "muddle" and the all-telling "collapsed spiritual authority of our [Anglican] hierarchy", describe precisely the concepts and feelings I grappled with on my own rocky road to Rome — a long and soulseeking journey, finally ending in my conversion three years ago from "high" Anglicanism to Catholicism. Having arrived at the Eternal City, I found exactly what I was looking for: a bedrock of spiritual truth.

The most vital aspect of that spiritual truth is, for me, the "reality" of the Eucharist and other sacraments, thanks entirely to the unbroken Apostolic line which, in the case of Anglican and other separated churches, was so brutally severed at the Reformation by the then English state — a central point which was absent in Peter Mullen's article, where he mentioned the validity of Anglican orders.

I genuinely sympathise with the tortured feelings that many high Anglicans have towards Rome, feelings that even drive some of them to receive the Catholic sacrament under the false pretence that they are confirmed Catholics. This happened, for example, earlier this year when a group fmm my former (high) Anglican church went on a parish pilgrimage to Rome, where they were told by their own vicar that it was OK for them to receive the Catholic sacrament incognito, and that it was simply a "matter of conscience". This same vicar and his wife occasionally receive the Catholic Eucharist in Britain, again incognito, on the erroneous basis that if Anglicans allow Catholics to receive the sacrament in their churches then, they claim, Catholics should reciprocate — an extraordinary point of view, rooted more in corporate mutual dealing rather than doctrinal theology.

When I suggested to those involved in the "Rome pilgrimage incident" that maybe their actions were somewhat disrespectful (quite apart from being deceitful), surprisingly and sadly, their response was not one of embarrassment or apology, but of angry defiance, best summarised by the bizarre notion that "the Catholic Church should not have the right to decide on its own doctrine in such matters". This lovehate relationship towards Catholicism appears to be fairly common among high Anglicans (or "Anglo-Catholics" as they tend to call themselves), but it does seem to be confined to that group and does not invade the mainstream of Anglicanism as portrayed in The Vicar of Dibley.

In fact, by coincidence, one evening recently I just happened on a repeat ofthd fust-ever episode of the series. Although I was already busy working, I was drawn in by something rather magical about the performance, and ended up (unusually for me) staying with the programme. It was one of those all too rare moments in drama where the essential core of a slice of life had been captured by the collective and inspired talents of writer and actors (something that was absent in most of the subsequent formulaic episodes in my view).

The slice of life captured — that of mainstream Anglicanism — rekindled in me a nostalgic flicker, as it depicted the very essence of middle-of-the-mad Anglicanism so well.

Essentially, this particular brand of Anglicanism is one of those peculiarly English inventions — an amalgam of quirky yet comfortable English culture, with only just as much religion as you wish to add, rather like deciding how hot to 4ike your curry. The scene conjures up a mildly religious, comforting glow H a timeless feeling of being bathed protectively in the golden rays of the setting sun streaming through the west window at Evensong — as English as Constable or cream teas. So I understand and empathise fully

with Peter Mullen when he describes his feelings of belonging "among those Anglican hymns and psalm chants, the rhythms and cadences of the Book of Common Prayer, Choral Evensong". I too have been there hundreds, if not thousands of times and, as a choir member, have been fully steeped in that heady, comforting bahn.Although such an image of Christianity is hardly what was going through Our Lord's mind during His Passion, nevertheless I feel sure that this particular and peculiar face of Anglicanism has its place somewhere in the great Christian mystery.

Such mainstream Anglicanism contains a simple spiritual honesty which is at ease with itself. Can the same be said, however, of the confused pick'n'mix Anglicanism-Catholicism practised by many Anglo-Catholics?

In essence, it seems that angst-ridden Anglicans tortured by the conversion question simply have to decide whether they are hungry enough to commit to a life lived through the real, undiluted deposit of faith handed down by Our Lord to St Peter and the other Apostles, and protected to this day by successive popes and bishops, or whether they're content to stay with a warm Anglican comfort blanket, which they can pull up or cast off according to their personal choosing at the time.

I suppose the advantage of the latter is that when the Anglican Synod bends, straw-like, in the wind, to the next liberal-secular whim, be it gay bishops, women archbishops, adoption into same-sex partnerships or whatever, the blanket can simply be pulled up a bit further — right over one's head if needs be.




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