High Church and Catholic

There is an interesting thread going around by e-mail, based on two articles by Fr Hunwicke: ‘High Church’ or ‘Catholic’? (1): Church of England Games and ‘High Church’ or ‘Catholic’? (2): within the Catholic Church. Is the distinction between some notion of shallow and hardly reverent ritualism on one hand and sound Catholic ecclesiology on the other (Fr Hunwicke would recommend conversion to Roman Catholicism since he is an Ordinariate priest).

The term High Church has a number of interpretations. Does it mean silly young men living in London and going to “spikey” churches for the sake of aestheticism and foppishness without any real Christian commitment, substance or asceticism? It is often an accusation levelled by “serious” Roman Catholics against Anglicans. The term can also describe historical theological tendencies and movements like the Caroline Divines, John and Charles Wesley and the Oxford Movement. Those men were far from shallow impostors and their priority was not elaborate liturgy. Their notion of God was one of transcendence who gives himself to man rather than the théologie d’en bas that makes God a product of human thought and feelings.

I have had precious little to do with the young fops in London and Brighton for many years, and I have had my life and disappointments with “serious Catholicism”. It is one that tends to lack compassion like so much of the modern world. I do find his distinction between (Anglo) Catholic and High Church somewhat precious, with the idea that the former are serious and the latter are all glitter and tinsel. When I left the Church of England in the early 1980’s, I was disillusioned with the London scene and it didn’t occur to me to explore more of the Anglican world, perhaps the more solid of the central tradition like in the cathedrals. Perhaps my life would have taken a different turn.

In the 1980’s, I noticed a parallel in the Roman Catholic Church, and offended not a few by making comparisons. Should we make distinctions between those who are “into” liturgy and the “serious” doctrinal conservatives? Fortunately, it just isn’t my problem. In my own church, of course I am interested in the liturgy. I do not use lace and tend to be loyal to the “Dearmerite” English ways. I use Sarum rather than Roman or baroque, but the years have given me an interest in all theological disciplines and a more sober approach generally. It is a very long time since I was a seminarian!

We English can get so enthusiastic about things. We talk and write about them, and not just get on with doing it. Life on the Continent gave me a different approach. One thing I have discovered about English life is our culinary tradition. Poverty and laziness produce crappy food, and people of our time look to the exotic for new sensations. We eat Indian, Chinese, French, Italian and all sorts of foreign recipes. We have forgotten our own traditions. It is the same with the liturgy. Anglicans became fascinated with “over-the-top” baroque Roman styles – and priests and laity will not pierce the barrier of rediscovering our English traditions that resemble church life in Normandy up to the end of the nineteenth century and even the mid twentieth in some places. Many of us English talk and write about Sarum, but not a soul over here is remotely interested in the uses of Rouen, Bayeux or Paris. The roots are the same. Things just don’t add up, but sometimes the English approach beats the whitewash-and-forget approach of continental Europeans. The tin lid is about to come down on all Christianity!

I find that Fr Hunwicke’s attitude is close to the “serious” hardcore of buzz-cut French and German traditionalists. After all, Bishop Williamson is an Anglican convert who has no sympathy with anything other than scholastic theology and strict moralism. I hardly see our Oxford don in lockstep with those who would see the world under men like Franco, Pinochet or some other two-bit Spanish-speaking dictator in the name of Christ’s “social kingship”! My own experience at Gricigliano showed me that the political sympathies of the Ecclesia Dei lot are just the same as the SSPX.

I have drifted far away from “serious” Catholicism, seeking something more compassionate and of the best of the English spirit of dialogue, reasoning and kindness. Perhaps the city fops go too far away from serious commitment, but we do need something to release the tension of being “serious” and above all taking ourselves seriously. This is something I see in my own Anglican Catholic Church. We are serious, I would like to believe, but I find no fanaticism or ideology. I find humour, compassion and friendliness in our Synod and Council of Advice. Some of our clergy are more “Roman” than I am, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of us wear birettas and fiddleback vestments, but are just as unselfconscious about it as many Europeans.

I tend not to use the term High Church, and I hardly ever find it in ACC circles. Some of our priests in America would prefer to identify with Old High Church than Anglo-Catholic, meaning their attachment to more central churchmanship with patristic theology and historical studies. I have a lot of sympathy with Archbishop Peter Robinson, though I prefer to use Sarum rather than the Prayer Book rite for Mass. That kind of “high church” is totally different from “lace queen” fops at St Mary’s in Bourne Street!

The distinction is often made in a derogatory fashion to make “ritualists” shrink in the face of the converts to Roman Catholicism juggernaut. The reductio ad absurdam would identify the “serious” Catholics as those who are in communion with the Pope, and those left behind are fake Catholics and deceivers – the triumph of American conservative Catholicism. For many of us who are committed (though sinful) Christians, being reduced to that bleak choice would alienate us from our own beliefs. Is it time to “die” like the rest of the population, or find new life through other and less “orthodox” channels?

Perhaps many of the fops we denigrate have the compassion and love that eludes the rest of us or the “serious” set. The Church has always been of weak and strong, and those of us who discover through having been attracted to the spiritual by things like beauty and sensuality. I too am done with the Pharisees and inquisitors or our time, and would like to see a kind of Christianity that may have to die like all of us, but one that has not betrayed the spirit of Christ and the Gospel.

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29 Responses to High Church and Catholic

  1. I have known Anglo-Catholics of certain stripes to dismiss such and such a parish (often of an AffCath persuasion) as not really Catholic but “just high-church.” I think I understand the distinction they are driving at, but I take it to be an inversion of the terms’ meanings. “High” to me designates theology and ecclesiology: a high view of the sacraments, the institution of the church, communion of saints, etc. etc. On that view it would be possible to be “high church but not Anglo–Catholic, as indeed there were high churchmen before the full Ritualist flowering of the Anglo-Catholic movement, but an Anglo-Catholic must by definition hold to those “high” theological and ecclesiological precepts (I’m thinking especially of Fr John Alexander’s excellent and nonpartisan definition of ACism).

    In those terms, to be “high-church, but not Anglo-Catholic,” would mean sharing the “high” theology of Anglo-Catholics, but not the external trappings. I think this is the opposite of the (generally pejorative) meaning intended by the interlocutors I have described.

    • You seem to understand it the way I do – the historic meaning of “high church” involving study of the Fathers, church history and a high view of the Incarnation and Redemption by Christ. It is not easy to find a term for the caricature of people who find the liturgy a “fun game” without any religious commitment, spirituality or moral discipline. I take the view that all those who are interested in liturgy for any reason have some religious commitment and attachment to the Christian way. I refuse the systematic trashing of those who don’t belong to the elite of the “pure of the pure”.

    • Paul Goings says:

      Mr McLarney and Fr Chadwick are entirely correct about what the expressions mean definitionally, but the connotative meanings are useful, and I tend to think that they are more generally understood in that sense today. Certainly they provide a convenient way to distinguish between those who have particular theological convictions from those are are merely interested in ceremony, vestments, and music.

      • I wouldn’t judge the latter too harshly. With some, the more “serious” aspects are discovered by being attracted by the “sugar coating”. It was certainly my case. If all I had known was either strict Protestantism or Irish / American conservative Catholicism, I don’t think I ever have bothered with religion! It’s a progressive journey for us all.

  2. Stephen K says:

    Well, I’ve read Fr Hunwicke’s commentary and I think it is a simplistic and partisan one. It seems simplistic because Anglicanism, say, here in Australia, presumably just like in the UK and the USA, permits and illustrates a wide spectrum and diverse illustration of what is understood or referred to as “High Church” vis-à-vis “Broad Church” and of course “Low Church”. People generally have the idea of what they mean. At one end of course there are the Anglo-Catholics, Anglo-Papalists – but what will pass as High Church will be clearly ritualistic in some form or another with traditional vestments and services. The point is that few people think that just because the priest or vicar in Parish X wears a cope and uses particular prayers and incense, and that the next one along in Parish Y doesn’t, that the former is somehow less serious than the latter, or vice versa.

    Yes, we’ve all encountered the liturgically effete, who fuss and think the world is coming to an end if a single rubric is overlooked or not bothered with, but they can be found in both the Anglican AND Roman Churches, and even so, religion is as people are, and there is a place in God’s many-roomed mansion for everyone, I’m given to understand. It seems partisan because Father Hunwicke appears to use the term “High Church” in a derogatory sense, comparing it to “Catholic” or “Ordinariate” or whatever. This no doubt reflects his conversion and own religious trajectory. But in fact they are not opposites, for High Church has generally meant only ‘the use and preference for elaborate religious ritual’, and has not signified anything of the theological or spiritual quality of the churchman.

    For a vivid portrayal and sense of the religious, Anglican, spectrum, right through to Roman Catholicism, a wonderful and poignant work is the autobiographical The Altar in the Loft by Rupert Croft-Cooke (1960) who describes his religious journey or discovery as a young schoolboy at Tonbridge and his progression through the forms of English religion. I recommend this book as particularly relevant for English Anglicans or Anglo-Catholics.

    • Neil Hailstone says:

      Over the years I have attended Anglo Catholic churches in London, Oxford, North Buckinghamshire and now here in the West Country. So far as I can recall I have not met any Young Fops of the Anglo Catholic sub species to which reference has been made. They certainly sound exotic. Aarrgh but be they mythical?

      • Some Anglo-Catholic churches are places of assignation for homosexuals. That’s what put me off Anglo-Catholicism more than the liturgical eclecticism of some rectors: the men camp outrageously.

  3. Neil Hailstone says:

    I have extensively worshiped in Anglo Catholic circles for a long time and with a wide range of people. There is a current trend in the blogosphere and elsewhere to depict Anglo Catholicism as being somehow the preserve of homosexuals. It is not. The vast majority of the people I have met and with whom I currently attend Holy Mass, including priests, are heterosexual. That said I do not adhere to the view held by some Evangelicals and others that to have an innate same sex attraction is sinful in itself.
    I do not pry into the sex lives of my fellow christians but without doubt there will be a minority of homosexuals
    attending Anglo Catholic Churches.

    I follow the clear teaching of the RCC Catechism in the matter and advocate celibacy for my brothers and sisters who are same sex attracted. Whether those who attend do or do not follow this teaching they are very welcome at Holy Mass which as Pope Francis has said is not a reward for the righteous but strong medicine for the weak. My own position is that I obey the RCC Cathechism in the manner in which I interact with homosexuals. This involves no unjust discrimination, loving them in a christian manner and making all of them welcome.

    I do not stand upon a hill casting Brimstone Bolts from an Evangelical Viewpoint. My own position in Christ’s Holy Catholic Church is a penitent member of the Holy Laity. In case I have caused any offence to anyone, my use of the term ‘exotic’ was made in line with ordinary general use of the word as found in numerous dictionaries and not in any way as anything else.

    • Stephen K says:

      Thank you, Neil. You speak rightly. Whilst my own reference to “liturgically effete” was prompted in part by the calling to mind those of extravagant or flowery mannerisms I’ve seen in various sanctuaries and chancels, in retrospect it would have been better had I referred rather to the “rubrically precious” because I think talk of homosexuals in this context – being a discussion of what “High Church” and “Catholic” signified in the Anglican Church, and what kind of Catholic traditionalism is better in the Roman Church – somewhat misplaced, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, whatever a person’s sexual orientation happens to be can hardly have any intrinsic relevance to the quality of their religiosity, or spiritual faith, nor does anyone have any business to claim religious or spiritual superiority. The search for union and harmony with God and the working out of one’s life in a form of religious faith is not a competition and sexual orientation is irrelevant. Heterosexuality is no less of a “broad church” (no pun intended) and as we well know is no guarantee of virtue any more than its counterparts. Secondly, homosexual orientation is not confined to one style of Anglicanism but may be encountered in many religious environments, including modern and Roman ones.

      I think Father Hunwicke’s point, when all boiled down, was that for what he thinks is authentic Catholic traditionalism, ritualism is not severable from the doctrinal and theological elements and not the most important. However, I think it’s important we remember that we all sit along a spectrum of enculturated religious sensibility and comprehension and bias. As I said, religion is as people are; the kind of religious purity he seems to be advocating appears to me to be as impossible empirically as it may be undesirable.

  4. Neil Hailstone says:

    May I add just one more comment for clarification? There will be readers around the world who are not familiar with the ‘ins and outs’ of Anglo Catholic christian worship. Anyone is welcome to attend Holy Mass.
    None should receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ without prior confession of sins
    either in private prayer, in the General Confession or within the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  5. Matthew C says:

    OK. I think I’m in the “serious” Roman Catholic camp.

  6. Stephen K says:

    [With Father’s permission, I’ll put my reflection earlier posted on the RC Blowout link here, since I thought it belonged here too, and for the usual reader’s convenience.]

    I was daydreaming today; I imagined an interviewer asking me what Catholicism was. I’ve tried to put this in my own words many times but I always find any attempt to definition unsatisfying and incomplete. Today it struck me that sometimes the simplest and most intuitive impression is the surest guide in such things. In other words, Catholicism is what Catholics do. And what do they do? Light candles, say repetitive litanies, burn incense, have ritualistic forms of worship, pray to saints and worship, in various degrees, God through visible effigies – hence statues and processions. The psyche that lends itself to this also tends towards various kinds of idolatries – Mariolatry, papolatry, Aquinolatry etc etc.

    What do “Protestants” do? Why, they read and memorise the Bible, preach and listen to sermons, cultivate sobriety, refuse to bend the knee to any man (or woman!), and the psyche that lends itself to this also tends towards various kinds of deliberate controlledness and even joylessness.

    Now it is clear that these are…..not so much caricatures, but…….very broad strokes. Indeed, the truth has for some time dawned on me that religious expression is spectral – i.e. expressed along a spectrum not by a sharp dichotomy – and is also individualistic – i.e. no two people will be exactly alike. I also recognise that the pietistic expressions I have attempted to describe are products in a sense of intellectual and theological systems or propositions, so it is not simply a case of praxis, but also doxa.

    Still, it seems to touch at the root of the question at one level at any rate. If we use this criterion, we immediately see that that there are many Romans who are not Catholic and many others who are. But more closely we see that amongst all people we will see “Catholicist” elements and “non-Catholicist” elements. None of us are pure exemplars of anything…perhaps.

    Once upon a time, “Catholic” meant “Western Christian”. It has meant for about 500 years, “Roman”. It is thankfully now meaning something else, because in some ways the whole modern progressive program – which I, in an admittedly idiosyncratic way, endorse – has released the spirit of whatever is Catholicism from its purely artificially Roman prison.

    I want to push the proposition further, however. I want to propose that the good people on this forum should not have to feel oppressed by the obligation to be “Catholic” or part of a broad “Catholicism”, except if it is taken very generously. I believe the single most toxic doctrine that has infested and poisoned, not only the Roman Catholic institution and its millions of adherents over the centuries (certainly since c. 1100) but also, in a way, since 1453, all Christianity, is the proposition that the Roman Catholic Church has metaphysical and theological continuity with a brainstorm in Jesus’ mind, and that it is divinely founded. Any sane view of history should show that that is preposterous and impossible.

    No Christian sect or church or institution, I believe, can claim this, and it is, to my way of looking at things, a huge blasphemy, and an idolatry.

    Therefore, I believe the theme of many threads here which I often detect, i.e. a case or argument to show how Catholic this or that position or church is, is misconceived. There is nothing “divine” about “Catholicism” (or its opposites, whatever they are or may be described). Being “Catholic” is not a privileged state – it is just an inevitable or expectable expression of how humans have often and may express their religious instincts.

    It is far more to the point, I think, to try to show that one is “Christian”.

  7. Stephen K says:

    [Once again, I feel a comment I made on the RC blow-out link fits here too, for those who might not customarily be inclined to read an RC-linked comment. Father Anthony has made a pertinent point about my earlier characterisation of “catholic” religiosity and what follows is an attempt to clarify the essential thrust of my earlier comment.]

    That is also a very valid perspective, Father. Indeed, I have heard “protestantism” characterised this way – as a kind of western islam – before, and I see why it is so said. The other thing you say, that is, about the natural paganism and connection of nature is also something I had in mind about “Catholicism”. I think that is also true and why one often hears it said that “catholicism” is “incarnational”.

    But notwithstanding that, I think it is important to remember the spectral and complex array of religious expression – in the Roman Catholic Church, for example, you have “Islamic” puritanism in the ever-more-rigorous expressions of monasticism – in say, the Trappist version of the more moderate Benedictinism. And so on. There would no doubt be examples in other denominations, and the natural fall of Low, Broad and High Anglicanism – as there no doubt is in Lutheranism – also spring to mind.

    What I am proposing is not that puritanism is better than paganism, or that sobriety is better than sensualist religion; no, I am saying that, to the extent that “catholicism” is the latter rather than the former, it is just an expression amongst several, even if it is the more easy or natural path. What I am suggesting is that the toxic claim on the name “Catholicism” by the Roman Church in particular may have given everyone a guilt complex to the extent they feel they fall short the less “catholic” they are. I think that is a tragedy and the cause of continued cultural religious neurosis.

  8. ed pacht says:

    I’m afraid I get worn out by the interminable discussions of what is the ‘true’ meaning of a word, and of how someone else should be using it. This is less than helpful, generating much more heat than light. Whether I like it or not (I don’t!) it seems obvious that Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty had a valid point when he declared that “a word means what I want it to mean” (inexact quote).

    A speaker means what he means when he speaks, and a hearer hears what he hears, and it is not infrequent for the speaker’s intent and the hearer’s understanding to be quite different. One or both of them may be misusing the words as they are understood in ‘approved’ usage. (“Approved by whom?” becomes a valid question here) – or both may be quite correct from the viewpoint of their environment.

    Technical terms, especially, are likely to have different meanings in different environments, which is true in science and in theology. My doctor, for instance, has a quite different meaning for ‘elegant’ than does a costumer. “Christian”, depending on the speaker can include or exclude Unitarians, Mormons, and others, and is often so restricted by Evangelicals as to include only those with a particular kind of conversion experience. “Catholic”, the term under discussion, has no one universally accepted definition. It will have a quite different meaning in the mouth of a Roman Catholic, or an Orthodox, or an Anglican, or a Lutheran, of a Fundamentalist, and each of them will declare with fervor that they have the ‘correct’ definition. The result is that we talk past each other without understanding what the other is trying to convey.

    How are we to come to an understanding? Surely not by insisting that the other use “my” definition. That simply won’t lead to anything but a squabble over words. What is required is that we labor to understand just what the other means by his words, and make maximum effort to understand what he is trying to say. Once we understand, then we are able to answer what is really being said, instead of what we thought we heard. Caution! In answering, it does no good to do so by insisting on our own definition of the same terms. That will not be heard by most disputants. It takes imagination to find ways to express what we really intend in words comprehensible to the other. What it takes is to remember that technical terms are shortcuts to express more complex thoughts – and that these can be expressed in other ways.

    RCs style themselves, “Catholic,” and that won’t change. So be it. It’s their shortcut for a set of concepts with which I disagree in part. Episcopalians that ordain women also style themselves, “Catholic,” and it’s their shortcut for a set of concepts that RCs will (or by their own formularies should) reject. I also use the term, in ways that neither of them will accept. That’s not going to change. So be it. We have to find ways to cease talking past each other, instead of quibbling over misunderstood words.

    Stephen, your final statement disturbs me: … the toxic claim on the name “Catholicism” by the Roman Church in particular may have given everyone a guilt complex to the extent they feel they fall short the less “catholic” they are. I think that is a tragedy and the cause of continued cultural religious neurosis. I’m afraid that the insistence that someone else adopt “our” definitions is at least as toxic as anything you have referenced, and that liberal/critical assertions are at least as likely to produce religious neurosis, and, for that matter, are frequently at least as narrow and judgmental as those we deem overly restrictive.

    Requirement #1 for debate: an intense effort to understand what the other is saying, not to assume that we do already.

    Requirement #2: an intense effort to make ourselves understood, not assuming that the other knows what we mean.

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear ed, I understand everything you say. But I don’t think I’ve insisted on anything. All I’ve done is offer my opinion about a state of affairs. If I characterise a particular correlation as toxic, or I try to encapsulate what I think is a problem, or describe a situation where instead of talking about God we argue about “churches”, as a “religious neurosis”, then it goes without saying that I am saying I think something is but, in the spirit of Bolt’s St Thomas More, that I think it, and that I think it. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it and fully accept that it represents a personal sliver of experience and perspective. But it’s certainly a proposition for discussion…..if anyone is interested in responding with their own.

      And, dear ed, without suggesting you did not consider my propositions with due regard to the whole tenor of my theological and religious positioning as I’ve tried to express it over the years, I must also protest two more things: firstly, that rather than insisting what the “true” meaning of the word “Catholic” means, I have instead shown and suggested that its meaning has changed, and meant to imply that, to the extent that it may continue to do so, it cannot stand sufficiently or completely for the things I think it historically has meant; and secondly, though the inference may not have been as able to be clearly drawn by readers as I would have wished, there is nothing in my post that was intended to suggest that I was any less subject to, or conditioned by, the cultural or religious neurosis to which I referred!

      Ut sint semper lux et pax in loquendo .

      • ed pacht says:

        rather than insisting what the “true” meaning of the word “Catholic” means, I have instead shown and suggested that its meaning has changed, and meant to imply that, to the extent that it may continue to do so, it cannot stand sufficiently or completely for the things I think it historically has meant;

        Dear Stephen,
        This quote from your post is (so far as I can see) a perfect example of what I was pointing to. Who says the word “Catholic” has changed in meaning? On what authority do you say that? I grant that thee are those (perhaps a considerable number) who would likely agree with your definition, but there are a great number (myself included) for whom that definition has not changed. What I said above still stands: this disparity in definitions does preclude mutual understanding which will not be resolved by trying to get the other to accept your definition, however tentative.

        Your first paragraph here, except for the opening, “I don’t think I’ve insisted on anything,” seems to be a fair expression of the views I’ve been hearing from you over time, many of which I tend to agree with. But you miss my point. You do tend to insist on a certain vocabulary, even when your words do not convey your ideas to the listener. Those of us who are more conservative tend to do the same thing. Thus we talk past each other without communicating. That’s what wears me out.

        You and I are both capable of expressing our opinions (agreements and disagreements) without cant, without fighting over words in the way we so easily do. My point is that it just might be a good idea to put extra effort into doing so.

        “Ut sint semper lux et pax in loquendo.” …just what I’m trying to talk about.


      • Indeed, I have written before about categories and labels. We try to see things from the “liberal” and “conservative” points of view. I have seen how all religious conflicts in history have been over the meanings of words, right from the very beginning. It would be interesting to know whether the same thing has happened in other non-monotheistic religions. It is tempting to say “I am done with it all” as many have done, embracing “spirituality” or materialism. We probably need to develop thought about our concepts, and also about our use of language.

        We also need to be aware that our theological talk means about the same thing to most people as brain surgeons discussing their slightly different techniques and approaches to pathologies and “how to do it”. We are seeing a polarisation of Christianity into several “camps” and the one that will probably win out would be the Evangelicals, the “western islam” I discussed in which not only “eros” has to be sacrificed but also the humanism acquired by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The future might be indeed bleak. I have given thought about strict monasticism being compared with the “western islam”, but the essential difference is the liturgical life and the use of symbolism even when the iconography is poorer. The real root is the pessimistic Augustinian notion of man, which when taken to the extreme limit, condones killing and genocide of “undesirables”.

        What a mess humanity is in! Western materialism against the type of Islam represented by Daesh, ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and others!

        Pacific islands, anybody?

      • Stephen K says:

        This quote from your post is (so far as I can see) a perfect example of what I was pointing to. Who says the word “Catholic” has changed in meaning? On what authority do you say that?

        Goodness gracious, ed! I told you I was giving you my opinion. The authority for my opinion is………me! Are you insisting I use the conditional subjunctive in every single sentence? Are you insisting I should not yet have formed any judgment…….on anything?

        I wonder, if perhaps, (that is, assuming I am not mistaken – for any number of reasons), you might have confused a dialectic thesis inviting an antithesis, with what might be characterised as a kind of ‘dogmatic end-statement’?

        ….there are a great number (myself included) for whom that definition has not changed

        Exactly. Youropinion. I put forward a proposition and a broad context or rationale. You disagree with it. You opine a contrary, which you can choose – hopefully – to expand upon, or simply state it. If you disagree with the proposition – as distinct from my syntax – do so. I am actually quite interested in the possibility I may be countered or persuaded otherwise. How else can we discuss on this page?

      • ed pacht says:

        …illustrating my point succinctly. If your authority is you, then you are indeed doing a Humpty Dumpty — words mean what “I” want them to mean. That’s my point! I can have any definition of any word that I desire, but changing a definition is NOT an argument for anything. Much of our argument tends to be predicated on differing definitions of the same word. When you say “Catholic”, you mean something different from what I mean, and thus we are not talking about the same thing at all — merely playing word games. If I should tell you that “horse”, in my opinion, is a six-legged flying creature, I’ve changed the subject and am no longer talking about what is, in your opinion, a “horse”. Thus, your redefinition of “Catholic”, so far as I can see, is changing the subject, and communication is breaking down. That’s all I’m saying — but I do think this is important if these issues are to be discussed at all. Otherwise, as I keep saying, we are talking past each other.

      • Stephen K says:

        Okay, ed. I’ve no issues with the importance of making sure we use terms – in any given dialogue – in the same way. But I assure you, I am not interested in a question of language per se.

        Let me, therefore, re-state the proposition.

        I suggest that the insistence by Roman Catholics – asserted again to me in so many words only the other day – that it was to be wholly and sufficiently identified, to the material exclusion of all others, with the spiritual institution established by Jesus has been unfortunate. I used the word “toxic” – that is, “harmful”, “injurious”, “poisonous” – for it’s a claim that I believe lies at the root of much historical Christian divisiveness on the human and spiritual planes. An element or corollary of this theological claim is, I discern, the claim on the label “catholic” or “Catholic” to the point where, in the popular mind as well as in the propaganda war of the last few centuries or so, it appears to have come to signify “Roman”. At any rate I see, in a significant portion of discourse about religious authenticity or legitimacy or liturgy or doctrine – in which I too engage – a kind of defensiveness or struggle to counter-claim what is “more” or “equally” “Catholic” (either in the narrowed Roman sense or a wider or different sense); I concede this often characterises or underlies some liberal/progressive apologetics as well. And I called this defensiveness or struggle a kind of cultural and religious “neurosis”. It sucks the joy out of religious experience, and distracts us from what I think is or ought to be the true focus of spiritual Man.

        I do not think it is the only culprit but I feel it is a significant one. Now, in one sense, it may be unavoidable precisely because it is rooted in our actual history, and because our religion(s) are simultaneously products and sires of the cultures in which we are immersed and by which we might be said to be effectively or indelibly tattooed. And, therefore, if it is something which we cannot avoid, or escape, I suppose it might be countered that to the extent that labouring under its force is intrinsically human it cannot properly be neurotic. [But I don’t know about that. Although neurosis might be considered human, hence natural, at any rate we might still be justified – and I think most would agree – in saying it is not healthy. Perhaps you have a view on that. ]

        Perhaps you have a view on any of the above: (1) whether or not you think it is true, partially or wholly, or in any sense, that “Catholic” has been or has become, at any time in history, a label signifying “Roman”; (2) whether or not you also detect a kind of defensive pre-occupation with “Catholic” identity or legitimacy – using whatever sense might be applied to it – in contemporary religious and liturgical controversy; (3) whether or not you yourself would characterise any such preoccupation or defensiveness as “neurotic”; and, in light of, and depending on, your views about the preceding, (4) whether or not you could agree that what I summarise as the Roman claim (and any similar claim from any other direction) to be an exclusively sufficient and theologically perfect embodiment of the Christian Church could be characterised as toxic or any of its synonyms.

        In other words, and finally, for the avoidance of doubt, (5) whether or not you think that any of my propositions or perceptions reflect any degree of truth or correspondence to reality, or are so unshared and unshareable by anyone else, so idiosyncratic, that you conclude they are delusional.

      • ed pacht says:

        Thank you. That was hard work. This rewrite brings out the issues I thought you meant to present, but I wasn’t sure. Seriously, words do matter, and much of religious discourse founders on the use of identical words with incompatible definitions. It often is necessary to deal with “language per se” before issues of substance can be identified.

        On “Catholic” as a denominational label, well, I have no more problem than with “Orthodox” as a denominational label. I consider myself as both, but, in context understand full well what is meant. I tend to avoid “Catholic” as a formal theological term unless I am talking with people who share my preferred definition, and in that context use it as a shortcut for concepts I’ll express more fully in other situations.

        You are correct that there is neurotic thinking and behavior manifest in a lot of religious discourse. Much of it comes from precisely this linguistic/semantic confusion, and from our insistence that others use words in the same way that we do, when they manifestly do not. You see, I am fully convinced and confident that I am a Catholic Christian, fully within the ancient tradition and practice – according to the understanding that I have of the word. I am just as fully aware that I am not a Catholic in the sense of the word as used in the Roman Church, as, for them, the definition inescapably includes union with the Roman Pontiff. They are not going to convince me to add this idea, nor am I going to convince them to admit it. We have different definitions and need to recognize that. It is neurotic to get all upset about a reality of this nature. It is what it is, and has been this way for hundreds of years, and the issue is not “Catholic”, but whether the papal claims are true. Both sides need to get over the wordplay and start focusing on the issues themselves. The same problem arises when one grouping (traditional sorts like me) defines Catholic as having a male-only priesthood, and another defines it as including a two-sex ministry. It is neurotic to try to make the other group conform its definition to mine. They are incompatible. Between “traditional” sorts and “liberal” sorts there are also other differences of definition. There’s no need to fight over words; so, instead of labels, we need to look at issues and work them through.

        As to issues, the first thing to remember is that we don’t agree. The next thing is to find out where it is that we disagree, and why we think it important. It is NOT neurotic to have a difference of opinion, but it is neurotic to become all prickly and defensive. One can hold firmly to one’s opinion without seeming to accuse another of being blind, stupid, mad, or evil for thinking otherwise. What is, is, and the attempt to come together starts from there, and from the earnest desire to identify what differences can simply be allowed to be and what ones will limit fellowship.

        Now, I do not expect the Roman Church to recognize me as Catholic. I don’t ask that of them. I most certainly will class myself as such, but I do not accept the Papal claims, which are, quite simply that Jesus founded one visible organization centered upon the see of Peter. I believe that to be dreadfully wrong. They are what they are, and I recognize that, perhaps hoping they will ultimately change, but not expecting to see it. I am what I am, and ultimately it makes little difference to me whether a body I’m not part of agrees. I’m not happy with aggressive convert-makers, but I’m not particularly concerned with their opinions, I’ll cooperate with Rome as far as possible, but I’ll also respect the differing standards they have, and refuse to come to them as an aggressive convert-maker myself.

        Precisely the same applies as between me and mine and the Liberal wing of Anglicans. It’s neurotic to be upset that they refuse to become like me, and it is equally neurotic for them to be upset that I don’t become like them. We are what we are, and need to approach one another rationally, cooperating as far as possible, but respecting that there are differences, and that some of them produce limits to how far that cooperation can carry.

        Are we somewhere near the same page?

      • ed pacht says:

        Father and others,
        I hope this hasn’t been too much of a digression. I’ve felt as though it was necessary in the context of Father’s post leading this discussion. If this has been too much, I do apologize.

    • Stephen K says:

      Wonderful! Thank you, ed. It’s clear I expected you to infer or read ideas that were not in a sufficiently fit state to be so inferred or read, and to that extent, I thank you with some heartfelt humility. Nevertheless, we have got there! We are definitely on the same page. I do not disagree with anything you say. I fully accept that you are as you are, as I am as I am, and that to expect or demand compliance by any other is not only futile but totalitarian and oppressive itself, no matter the direction. This issue is at the heart of “religious liberty”.

      One last thing: I don’t myself see our dialogue as a digression but very relevant to Father’s original post, which had its genesis in another article purporting to define “Catholicism”. I thought the premise of that article was wrong and it prompted my reflection on what I considered to be a root problem in any discussion of that kind. I accept that others may not have considered there to be a problem at all, or may not have considered the problem I described anything of a problem, or may even have been content just to read and follow whither our dialogue went. It will be a bonus if we have turned over a rock to reveal a biosphere beneath, or shed some light along the way.

      • Thank you both for this thought-provoking discussion. It occurs to me that if I were the Devil and I wanted to show my fiendish fangs, my plan would be to concentrate everything into one basket and then set fire to that – meaning making everybody put everything they have into labels, force everyone to believe that only Roman Catholics are Catholics, destroy the credibility of that Catholic teaching (by destroying the notions of metaphor and allegory and force literalism – Bible, dogmas, canon law, every sneeze and expression of the Pope, etc. – so that it appears as nonsense to all with an ounce of critical thinking). Then, Hey Presto, the whole “basket load” is discredited and there goes Christianity! Then my little antichrist has free reign for his fiendish fangs…

        That way of thinking would provoke us to diversify so that not everything can be destroyed in a single fell swoop. Medieval Catholicism was very difficult to destroy because it was diverse and very little regulated.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father, I understand your point and am broadly sympathetic to it, but I feel your final statement Medieval Catholicism was very difficult to destroy because it was diverse and very little regulated needs some qualification. Firstly, as ed has made abundantly clear, we have to be clear what we might mean by “mediaeval Catholicism”. I suspect, but I confess I don’t know, what you mean by the term, and that is that you mean “pre-Reformational” Catholicism, or pre-Tridentine Catholicism.

        If that is so, then I think that is simply shifting the problem back a few centuries from today. The historical reality appears to show rather that the dogma of ecclesial exclusivity was just as strong and central then as it ever was from Trent. It appears to have led to the schisms with the Eastern Church(es). It was operating when Catharism and other “heresies” provoked crisis.

        It is my observation – my interpretation if you will – that we are, and things are, different when-opposed-to-something-else, than when we, and things, are when alone. Every single so-called heresy appears to have caused a kind of ‘ricochet’ effect on Christianity, or the “Church”, so that it becomes something different from what it might have been or appeared to have been before said heresy caused it to redefine – and reduce – itself. The presence of various liturgical forms – the Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Sarum and Paris usages etc – may suggest that “Catholicism” was diverse, but it may have been the diversity of mutual convenience, where nothing was required to be at stake. (e.g. None of us are racists in theory, but when our own personal inconvenience is threatened, watch out!)

        As a general impression from my reading, I think Catholicism has been a label for a very long time. It is interesting, and perhaps salutary, to read the Rev. Fredrick Meyrick’s article on “Catholic” in “The Protestant Dictionary (1904, H&S) where he writes: ‘Christendom therefore and the Catholic Church are commensurate. “Where Christ is”, says Ignatius, “there is the Catholic Church” [Ep. Ad Smyrn. C. viii].’ He then goes on to say ‘The Roman use of the word Catholic is the exact opposite to that of the early Church…….the Roman Church as adopted the position of sectarianism and isolation and calls it catholicity.’

        Even more relevant to the theme I have been discussing as a result of Fr Hunwicke’s article, is his next sentence or so: ‘Ritualists ordinarily give the title of Catholic to any mediaeval tenet or practice which they desire to introduce.”

        Whether the Rev. Meyrick has or has not characterised things fully in these excerpts, the issue seems to be that whether whatever could be called mediaeval Catholicism – Christendom – after the schism from the East, could be considered something essentially different from its post-Tridentine counterpart. I think the so-called mediaeval Church was as jealous, as territorial, as ambitious, as intolerant as any of its grand-children.

        Of course, that is only my interpretation, but I think that, liturgy aside, there was nothing in Western Europe before the 15th century that was essentially not subject to a Roman absolutism about the matter, and nothing that in this sense was meaningfully diverse or free.

      • Perhaps there is a point to be made about medieval Catholicism. It was no paradise. In some places, the slightest non-conformity would land you in an Inquisition torture chamber and the “purifying fire” that you had to accept with joy (!). In other places, it would be a little more like what I have heard about Greek Orthodoxy on the Greek Islands. It has been my understanding that England before the Reformation was a lot less regimented and less under the shadow of the Inquisition than in places where “heresy” was rife (Cathar territories in southern France and relapsing forced convert Jews and Muslims in Spain. Perhaps you are right and there has never been any tolerant Christianity until late nineteenth century German Lutheranism à la Harnack or Bultmann, what conservatives now call Christianity-Lite. Whose washing powder washes whiter than white?

      • ed pacht says:

        Were Harnack and Bultmann advocates of a ‘tolerant Christianity’? Not hardly! They fumed and sputtered at anyone who felt traditional views to be even acceptable. In this day and age there is no one so rigid and brittle as a “Liberal” Episcopalian who will use any and all legal methods to keep others from holding and practicing traditional views. The pre-reformation period (a century or two before the event anyway) for all its burning of heretics, was far more tolerant of divergent views. Even the Real Presence was a matter of debate in Aquinas’ day — and Jan Hus, who had been condemned for heresy by the papacy was nonetheless venerated as a saint by the “Utraquists” of Bohemia, fully in communion with Rome, right up until the 18th century.

      • Stephen K says:

        No argument from me, ed, that intolerance is a widespread problem against which none of us are immune.

        I found this statement of yours interesting: The pre-reformation period (a century or two before the event anyway) for all its burning of heretics, was far more tolerant of divergent views. Even the Real Presence was a matter of debate in Aquinas’ day.

        Isn’t this the point, namely, that divergent views are tolerated, or co-exist, so long as nothing is defined as a penal dogma? The Real Presence was a matter of debate, I gather, until all variants but one were officially condemned. Once someone, faced with a new insight, cries not merely “Eureka!” but “Consummatum est!” – capital T “Truth” gets handcuffed.

        I’m something of a Romantic myself, but in my soberer moments I reflect that no period is a perfect golden age. I like and am moved by the great mediaeval cathedrals but they don’t tell all the story. I think, rather, that we are born into our own season and are called to strive to make our own the best we can, given what we are now.

      • ed pacht says:

        It is necessary, however, to determine in what way and how strongly a divergence affects the kind or degree of fellowship existing: at one extreme whether it has produced a different and incompatible religion, and at the other extreme whether it is an opinion which should have no divisive effect, or at all the intermediate places with various kinds and degrees of problems. This is and has to be an ongoing process, undergone with love and a real desire for full unity, but at the same time with a commitment to integrity of teaching and practice. Frankly, anyone who thinks there are simple answers to these questions is nuts. It will never be easy, but must be attempted.

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