Evangelical Catholicism Revisited

A few days ago, I had my rant (Evangelical Catholicism and New Evangelism) about the kind of Christian evangelism that resembles modern business and marketing methods. Everywhere we turn, we find advertising (Wikipedia article that equates advertising as a kind of psychological totalitarianism, to be resisted by political means or taxed out of existence). It invades our homes and privacy, and we find it in all public places. The prospective customer exists for business, for someone else’s money. We don’t need to buy, but they need to sell. This is the world some call The Pit! Not only we are told that the product exists and our lives would be better with it, we are “worked on” by means of psychological manipulation. Business is ruled by offer and demand, so the businessman has to increase the demand to suit his offer.

However, there is another angle, and I have appreciated Bishop Chandler Holder Jones’ article Authentic Anglicanism: Catholic and Evangelical. He puts this message over in ten points. I take them up and paraphrase them into my own words:

  • Is our faith a personal relationship with a living Christ or some kind of ideology? This is significant when the “Christian commitment” of some is really only a political ideology.
  • Is this relationship having any effect on our lives, bringing us to holiness? We all have efforts to make. Has this Lent made any difference?
  • Do we love the Bible and the written Word of God? Do we feed on our lectio divina as the source of our living faith and participation in the Church?

If we do not read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures with the most careful dedication, we shall never grow or mature in our faith, nor shall we become the Christians and Saints God wants us to be. The Bible, in its theological, spiritual and moral application, should serve as the unique, indispensable and inexhaustible resource for the faithful Anglican Catholic. Let’s go to Bible Study!

  • The Sacraments and our devotion to them, their role in our holiness.
  • Orthodox liturgical worship. The liturgy is vital, and we have to get beyond the externals – but without abolishing them. We should study liturgical theology in the works of authors like Dom Odo Casel and other lights of the twentieth-century liturgical movement. We need to learn about the traditional rites and learn to celebrate what corresponds with our own local and cultural traditions. The  ars celebrandi is vital, for it conveys the sense of wonder and mystery through which God’s presence is conveyed to the faithful. Indeed, the Mass does matter.
  • The liturgy has to be accompanied by good preaching and catechesis, and what St Cyril of Alexandria called the mystagogical catecheses. Such teaching enables the faithful to participate in the liturgy in the deepest meaning of participatio actuosa. Devotion to the Sacraments needs to transcend the mechanical and superstitious level and reach a spiritual level. This is not done by abolishing the Sacraments and liturgy, taking away the child’s sweets, but by education in the true meaning.
  • Objective standards of faith. Roman Catholicism has, especially since the Council of Trent, insisted on the Magisterium, the teaching coming from the Pope and Vatican dicasteries. These days, this notion is most defended by conservative zealots rather than the Roman authorities themselves. Outside of Roman Catholicism, not all is private judgement. For this, we need a profound understanding of Tradition and the loci theologici, for example the Bible and the liturgy, the Fathers of the Church and the seven truly Ecumenical Councils (Nicea to Nicea II). The Church in which we live is governed by bishops and the priests they delegate for the ministry, and this magisterium too is a part of Christian Tradition. We need to forsake the sola principle, that of affirming one good thing at the expense of another. We can have, and should have, both faith and good works – for example. We need to approach the Church with a spirit of humility and obedience rather than affirming our own opinions as absolutes.
  • We are disciples, called to deepening our relationship with our Master and being perfected by grace. We have to collaborate by being open and putting ourselves in a situation where this happens – in the communion of the Church.
  • We are called to evangelise, not selling vacuum cleaners and clockwork toys, but all participating in the mission of the Church – spreading the Gospel and baptising the newly-converted. There is the problem of clericalism and anti-clericalism. We need to deepen our understanding of the Catholic priesthood and the non-ordained priesthood of all the baptised, the people of God. A deeper understanding of this truth would help to balance the clergy and the laity into a single communion instead of two opposing forces. We need to make our churches welcoming places, not by invading people’s privacy with yet more ‘advertising’, but showing them genuine kindness and friendship.
  • Fidelity and commitment to our own tradition. There has always been a certain amount of diversity and flexibility in the Anglican tradition, and also a certain amount of hypocrisy. For example, Anglicans sometimes say that the Book of Common Prayer is the bedrock of their identity – but yet flinch from it when it is a question of using the rite of Holy Communion instead of a traditional Eucharistic rite for the Mass. It might be more accurate to say that the Prayer Book is a valued monument of our tradition since the Reformation, but has been added to and supplemented by traditional and pre-Reformation sources. We have a lot of work to do to define Anglican Patrimony and expand it beyond the parsimonious and “either / or” mentality that prevails in such quarters. There needs also to be a new path forward for understanding between those with “low church” sensitivities and those favouring the “high church” approach. Many of the dangers of “Anglo-Papalism” could be offset by a deeper knowledge of the pre-Reformation English Church and its traditions together with comparative local traditions elsewhere in France and northern Europe. Likewise, the Thirty-Nine Articles are a historical monument rather than a universal standard for all periods ever since the sixteenth century. For this reason, as in the liturgy, there is a need for further definition of Anglican Patrimony.

I don’t think I have “outdone” the good Bishop in these ten points, but we need to stretch the limits in order to escape the influence of late medieval Nominalism which would seem to be the greatest contributor to the “either / or” mentality instead of the universal and all-encompassing.

The “new evangelical” approach needs more clarity of thinking. The cores are there such as the authenticity of commitment rather than pretending to be Christian to avoid punishment or social shunning, and the primacy of lectio divina over traditional medieval and Counter-Reformation devotions. At the same time, there is room for both. It is the same in the liturgy – it is not iconoclasm and “taking the sweets away” that does the trick, but increasing understanding at a spiritual level beyond the intellect.

I suspect the good Bishop is still struggling with a kind of “Thirty-Nine Articles versus Affirmation of Saint Louis”, and this dogs the Continuing Anglican Churches. We all struggle to one extent or another. For me personally, my having been a traditionalist Roman Catholic for some fourteen years (swimming the Tiber there and back if you like the analogy) put things into perspective, as emphasis is then placed on being Catholic in a particular cultural context.

Before propagating something, we first have to identify and understand it. I hope my few thoughts on this Holy Saturday will be of help.

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