Roman Catholic Churchmanship

It is not my intention to rant against Rome, because it is an Apostolic Church in direct continuity from the Undivided and Universal Church to which we as Anglicans profess our faith in the Affirmation of Saint Louis.

We repudiate all deviation of departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to these essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order:


The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by “the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,” and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.

We read this in Lumen Gentium of Vatican II:

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

Ideally, there would never have been any schisms, because the bishops of all the local Churches would have lived up to their callings. The evidence of the early Church recognising the primacy of the See of Rome is very strong in the Fathers, and the Popes always enjoyed a singular authority in their ministry. But, things went very wrong and clerics betrayed the nature of the Church. The onus is on Rome to draw us – who belong to Churches that have been cut off from that communion for reasons of resisting tyranny – to take many steps back and accommodate us full heartedly.

Roman Catholicism after the Council of Trent evolved into something quite different, amalgamating the tyrannical clericalism of popes, bishops and priests with a kind of hyper-rationalism that went hand-in-hand with a kind of religion that emphasised morality and social conformity. Vatican II was a ray of hope from the point of view of ecumenism and putting emphasis back on the mystical and sacramental dimension of the Church. Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium were monuments of these aspirations – which in practice went nowhere.

Nearly three years ago, Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote the article Is Catholicism about to break into three? There is something about that priest I don’t like, but that is neither here nor there. I am no fan of his, unlike my little friend from Los Angeles, but he does come out with some sense. I am not entirely with him in his analysis of various “churchmanships” as we would call them in the Anglican world. I remember in the 1980’s talking with a priest in Paris, suggesting that the RC Church reflected the Church of England in matters of “high church”, “low church” and “middle of the road”. He was quite offended and denied that such distinctions existed. For him, you heeded and obeyed the magisterium – even if it flew in the face of common sense. It was the beginning of the end of my time as a Roman Catholic convert. Evidently, what counts is the Führerprinzip from which the twentieth-century dictators got their ideas.

Whether the RC Church is splitting up along Anglican or Jewish lines, I could hardly care less. What is interesting is some of the descriptions I find of some tendencies. The bit on the traditionalists is quite sensationalist with the descriptions of sedevacantists and groups with their own “popes”. Priests in the “official Church” will often heap contempt on those poor unfortunates without asking themselves any questions about how such a mess occurred in the first place. From the lines of fracture being compared with orthodox, conservative and reformed Judaism, Fr Longenecker brings out the categories of “traditionalist”, “magisterial” and “progressive”. What interests me here is what he is calling “magisterial” Catholics.

“Magisterial” Catholics put loyalty to the authority of the pope and magisterial teaching first and foremost. They are happy with the principles of the Second Vatican Council, but want to “Reform the Reform.” They want to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass with solemnity, reverence, and fine music. “Magisterial” Catholics are likely to be enthusiastic about apologetics, evangelization, and a range of pro-life ministries. They think the Church needs to relate to the modern world, use new media, and connect with the younger generation, but they look to the pope and Church teachings to help them do that faithfully. They uphold traditional Catholic teaching in faith and morals, but wish to communicate and live these truths in an up-to-date and relevant way. George Weigel dubbed them “Evangelical Catholics.”

I have been most intrigued over the past few days with the fascination John Bruce has with Rev’d Allen Guelzo. It is odd that a Roman Catholic would cite a Protestant Episcopalian as an authority. The major of this reasoning would appear to be that if you want to claim to be a Catholic, you have to be Roman Catholic, a convert. Otherwise you have to be a Protestant. Being a “non-Roman” Catholic is in some way insincere and an expression of something false or counterfeit. I have come across this reasoning before, above all at the time when the Ordinariates were forming in 2011-12.

Guelzo was not originally Episcopalian, but was Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), and therefore low church. He was born in Japan of American Evangelical parents. His theological position is a sort of moderate Calvinism. Finding that the REC was giving in to Anglo-Catholicism too much, he became a low-church Episcopalian in 1997 and was ordained a priest. I have other details but I am not at liberty to go into them all here.

What seems to have attracted John Bruce was this “evangelical” Catholic tendency. I am not sure he ever understood the issues with Anglo-Catholicism or RC traditionalism in its spectrum of “positions”. He wants to give the highest priority to the authority and magisterium of the Pope, to clericalism. He would prefer a reverent Novus Ordo, but would accept any other by default. He will be hot on apologetics – get as many people into the “true church” – and put the blame on them if the conversion was not “successful”. He will certainly favour the John Paul II or Francis style papacy with its use of the cult of personality and being “media savvy”. Bruce barely conceals his contempt for Benedict XVI. For him, the RC Church is the ideal “mega church”.

I don’t mind what he prefers. It’s a free world, but we can get a clearer idea of what he wants Anglo-Catholics to adopt after having sacrificed everything that brought them to faith in the first place. Perhaps he gets his jollies out of seeing others suffer in their consciences and spiritual lives. Such people exist – it is a simple matter of evil. Perhaps we can all reflect on what it means to be Evangelical, which etymologically means “of the Gospel”. Unfortunately, in reality, it does not simply mean fidelity to Jesus’ teachings and works in the Gospel, but distinctively Protestant and Reformed doctrines presented in a dampened-down way as to be nominally compatible with RC doctrines. The spirit of it is felt acutely, especially in an American context. It is not for me to judge what is Christian or not Christian, but I know that it would not attract me to Christianity.

As an Anglican (ACC), I believe that we should dialogue with Rome as much as possible without giving in to the whims of sinful human nature. We recognise the historical primacy of the See of Rome, and that unity with the successor of St Peter is the ideal. Centuries have passed by and the issues are not those of mariology, sacramental theology, other things discussed at the Council of Trent – but issues of authority and the authority’s respect for legitimate diversity. Much of the dialogue from all sides has been little more than hypocritical clap-trap and hot air. I don’t think we will get anywhere, but we must always keep hope and goodwill.

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31 Responses to Roman Catholic Churchmanship

  1. Caedmon says:

    I think a split in the RCC would be very difficult now, as whoever broke away would lose all church property and have to build from scratch. That should act as a powerful restraint against schism. Aside from that, Roman Catholics who don’t like what is going on in their church ought to be able to find a home in an already existing group.

  2. If there is a split in the RCC, the more Ultramontanist, Papalist faction would undoubtedly emerge triumphant. They always have.

    • Dale says:

      Yes, they would hold the property as well as establishment respectability (the present popularity of the “People’s Pope” amongst millions is well known). It would follow, without the burnings at the stake, the division between new rite and old rite in the 17th century Russian Church.

      • That already happened with Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX. Much of the traditionalist movement was “recovered” under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and has oddly not been touched (other than two religious communities) by Francis. The SSPX has a lot of money and property, and invested in schools and seminaries, which the Continuing Anglicans could not afford to do. They had the “critical mass” we never had, from the 1970’s – due to a strong and unified reaction together with a measure of fanaticism. The RC Church may look impressive, but it is surely folding like the Church of England.

        In terms of numbers and “connection with modernity”, the Evangelicals are the future, but it is an expression I detest. John Bruce might be betting on a winning horse in the terms of this world, but it is not the Undivided Church.

      • Dale says:

        I agree with you Fr Anthony. But, I fail to really see too much difference between the emotion driven Evangelicals and the pop-star status Pope worshipers. They both glory in bad taste and a fixation more on personalities than any thing else. Personally, I find the papolatry of the modernist Roman Church far more offensive than the Evangelicals; the Evangelicals will be gone soon, but the pope-fixated new Catholic church? I think it will be around for quite some time.

      • I rather agree with you. I was attracted to Christianity by beauty and music, which led me to want to learn about prayer and the Church’s understanding of Scripture and Tradition. I was encouraged by holy men of God like Canon Cant of York Minster and Canon John Hodgkinson of Kendal Parish Church. I only found conflict and inner trouble in the RC Church. No Church is perfect, but I found my place in the ACC. A friend who is a schoolmaster wrote to me:

        You are spot on. No RC admit that the church is in pieces with a veneer of unity provided by “being in Communion”. The progressives think they represent the real new Spirit filled Vatican II-Francis-church. The conservatives believe that anyone on their Left or their Right is wrong and schismatic-heretical. The bishops just want to keep the peace and are happy (as Cardinal Nichols does here in England) to don the pontifical Dalmatic when it’s put out or tap his toes to the Praise band. We are a comprehensive church and don’t worry too much about doctrine. The Emperor has no clothes – but don’t tell anyone. (…) At least Dwight Longenecker is sharing a bit of honesty.

        I hope all is well with you and yours.

        Let’s get back to the Five Variants, John Ireland: The Holy Boy, Delius and Howells: Master Tallis’ Testament – have a Youtube-Fest.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I don’t remember Fr. Longenecker from, for example, the Oxford Lewis Society, the Oxford University LIFE Group, the Oxford University SPUC Group, or the Oxford LIFE Group – but I’m not quite clear about just when he was ‘up’ (and, for example, the excellent Dr. Michael Ward remembers me from the Lewis Soc where I, sadly, did not remember him!).

    I have seen one thing or another of Fr. Longenecker’s where (as I remember it) he objects to people who are not in communion with the Holy Father considering themselves ‘Catholic’ – which (in a certain sense) seems odd given the original texts and various translations of the ‘Apostles’ Creed’ and the ‘Nicene Creed’ (such as the Prayer Book ones with “I believe in […] The Holy Catholick Church” and “I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church” respectively) – my experience in the Netherlands (and further reading) is (to me) how curiously ‘Reformed’ Churches with those Creeds avoid the words in their own language which sound anything like ‘Catholic’ preferring other adjectives which have the same etymological sense! (Perhaps also curiously, the Dutch in communion with the Holy Father cheerfully describe themselves formally in all sorts of contexts as (the Dutch equivalent of) ‘Roman Catholic’.) Lewis has an interesting little discussion about how problematical such terminology can be, in his Sixteenth-Century contribution to the Oxford History of English Literature.

  4. “The evidence of the early Church recognising the primacy of the See of Rome is very strong in the Fathers, and the Popes always enjoyed a singular authority in their ministry.”

    Roman primacy was from the very beginning a political thing, based on the mystique of the City of Rome as the (former) capital of the Empire (see the infamous 28th canon of Chalcedon). Whether that should apply to-day is questionable, since the Roman Empire no longer exists. The same goes for the See of Constantinople. All these remnants of the old world can well be done away with as we look at reality. Rome is, for want of a better word, buggered; compromised by an insurmountable weight of corruption and heresy. Constantinople is a ghetto-ised parish church and compromised by CIA protection, and infiltration. I’m afraid nobody in the Orthodox Church takes poor old Bart seriously! Why then should anybody who is not a Roman Catholic take the See of Old Rome seriously? Why do people become spellbound by popes? I have seen popes in the flesh and felt nothing, and looked on aghast as people rushed to get a closer look at a passing popemobile. I can’t understand it.

    As for your second claim, that popes always enjoyed a singular authority, there is no very strong evidence of that. On the contrary, there is strong evidence that such singular authority was staunchly resisted, whenever it was exercised against bishops outside the Roman patriarchate or not seldom within it; especially during the Gregorian revolution.

    Why can’t we just go back to having bishops with clergy and faithful around them, with no imperial and pretentious titles and entitlements? We’re not pagans.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Servus Servorum Dei is not an easy title to ‘live up to’… (neither is ‘Servus Dei’, in my experience, anyway – to put it mildly!). I was once visiting a Dutch Russian Orthodox Church under the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe when a missive had just arrived from Bartholomew (then a decade and more into his Patriarchate) – in English, and the friendly priest invited me to help translate it at sight to the congregation – I believe this was in the early days of the ‘Greenness’ – in any case, I recall finding it all rather astonishing – and seeing that the parish priest did as well! Curiously, the current Bishop of Rome as he often prefers to style himself, and, I think, any number of Anglican bishops, seem quite, emulously, enraptured with the ‘Greenness’…

      • But in that same letter Lewis dissents from the view that the pope of Rome is a “punto d’incontro,” saying (as Fr Anthony himself says): “nam de nihilo magis quam de auctoritate papae dissentimus: ex qua dissensione ceterae fere omnes dependent.”

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Yes: their whole discussion, back and forth (as far as we have it) is what I was commending to (re)reading and considering. I may also be mixing it with (my memories of) other letters of Lewis discussing the Papacy – e.g., acting unifyingly. Lewis also somewhere discusses his calling the Pope ‘the Holy Father’, respectfully counteracting Ulster childhood ‘bogey-making’ (so to call it – I’d have to search for just what he says, where).

    • I incline to historians of the early Church, among whom some Anglican scholars. From there to accepting a tyranny of the later Papacy is another matter and I agree with you. Being an argument to have people convert to Roman Catholicism is nonsense. The Papacy as it became was just about the single cause of each and every schism.

      I would agree that the Church is where you have a college of bishops, each in his own diocese with the priests needed to serve all his faithful. We in the ACC have a Metropolitan, but he has no primacy of jurisdiction over the other bishops in their dioceses. He presides the college of bishops and respects subsidiarity.

      • Some years ago I served a schismatic mass celebrated episcopo vagante. During the Canon I noticed that he named the then reigning pope (Ratzinger). Afterwards, I asked him what the point in that was, since, if you’re in schism, surely you cease praying for bishops of other churches. His response was that it was simple affection, or something like that.

        It’s one reason I can’t take these splinter groups seriously. They’re all spellbound by the Papacy in one way or another. If they just stopped thinking that a crotchety old celibate who lives on the banks of the Tiber is somehow necessary for salvation, they might then see the futility of their situation and seek admittance to the Orthodox Church.

      • Our practice is not completely uniform, but I name our Metropolitan Mark, our Bishop Damien and our Queen Elizabeth. “Una cum” is interpreted in the strict canonical meaning. That is why the sedevacantists get so hot under the collar about it!

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I have vivid but fuzzy memories of Rome among the other Sees in Eusebius (in Williamson’s translation) – especially re. such things as the Quatrodeciman controversy… I should do some rereading…

        Lewis and St. Giovanni are interesting in their (largely) Latin correspondence (which I have read in the late Martin Moynihan’s translation, with forays into the Latin text) on “Papam esse il punto d’incontro” (‘the Pope is “the point of meeting”).

  5. Caedmon says:

    I don’t believe that there is any connection between the papacy and anything Jesus may have said or done. But there is an unwritten rule in Christianity that all new developments in faith and practice have to be be projected back to the days of the apostles.and be what the church has always taught. (In Protestantism this is more along the lines of what the church used to teach before it became corrupted.) So when the papacy had evolved and was claiming to have theological significance it had to be projected backwards in time and New Testament proof texts had to be found.

    • This seems simple but so plausible. These are the issues that were plentifully discussed in the 19th century among German and English theologians becoming ever more sceptical about the foundation of Christianity. We strike this stumbling stone every time we try to appropriate the truth for ourselves. It collapses when it comes under honest intellectual examination. Christianity may be no more historical than Novalis’ European Christendom! However, I won’t be resigning from the priesthood any time soon, because it is true – but its truth lies above us and beyond our understanding and nostalgic longing! It is this other level of understanding that has kept among us the notion of who Jesus really was, and not some Roman emperor or super-king of Israel. The clues are there in the New Testament, which mostly go ignored, and which do not suffer the fate of contradiction.

      One Church will die and others will be born in which the one Church will continue to subsist and live. It could well be that Francis’ mission is to continue Benedict XVI’s work of putting an end to the Papacy. Those who keep the Christian way of life and mystery will be those who have for a long time been weaned of things like “magisterium”.

      • That’s the first I’ve heard of either Ratzinger or Bergoglio putting an intentional end to the Papacy! What are you basing that on? Ratzinger’s resignation? Bergoglio’s cavalier attitude? Despite superficial differences, both men are cut from exactly the same cloth and believe very much in the “system.” So Bergoglio has a somewhat flippant approach to bits of protocol and ceremony. What does that really indicate? He certainly has enough confidence in his special charism and unique ministry that he can water down RC conventional doctrine and discipline with a few casual remarks.

      • I have no proof that this would be their conscious intention, but the idea goes round because of the abdication and the political correctness of Francis. I do think that Benedict XVI wanted to transform the Papacy and phase out the infallibility and cult of the personality. Who knows, with two retired Popes in the Vatican or when Francis dies? Business as usual? Some big change?

      • Would you like to elaborate?

  6. There are only two ways for the Papacy to end; one is by material force, like an international army invading the Vatican. The other is by God Himself, which may indicate that the Papacy has some apocalyptic role to play as either the false prophet or Antichrist or beast from the sea, whatever. Both Napoleon and Garibaldi had the opportunity to abolish the Papacy and didn’t.

    Otherwise the system is irreformable. I’m not personally expecting any big change in policy, and even if there were I would be deeply suspicious and think that it would just be papal supremacy by the back door anyway. Rome hasn’t changed all that much in a thousand years.

  7. Caedmon says:

    Rome hasn’t changed much in several thousand years. Things like universal jurisdiction and papal infallibility are just part of the Roman church’s inheritance from the Roman state. A good book to read on this subject is Peter Heather’s ‘The Restoration of Rome’.

    • Caedmon, exactly. There are times I think that Christianity having become the official state religion of the Empire was perhaps the worst thing that could have happened; in the West it ensured the rise of the Papacy in the aftermath of the collapse of the imperial regime; in the East it just guaranteed schism and hatred, which lasts to this day (I have in mind here the outcome of the Council of Chalcedon and the Arab conquests).

      I have never read Heather’s book but I have added it to my Amazon wishlist!

      • Ecclesia persecutionibus crevit; post quam ad christianos principes venit, potentia quidem et divitiis maior, sed virtutibus minor facta est (The Church firstly languished under persecution. After this, she turned to Christian rulers who gave her wealth and power, but she thereby grew weaker in virtue). – St Jerome. I found this quote in a book by Vladimir Soloviev.

      • What should the official religion of the Roman Empire have been instead?

      • Mithra, La déesse Raison, who cares?

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I think that is an interesting subject – in the wake of the back-and-forth between Constans and Constantius in the 340s, the Empire-wide State promotion of Arianism by Constantius in the 350s, and then Julian and his systematic official pagan structure, could they have as easily returned to the openness of Constantine as ‘proceeded’ to the decisive ‘solution’ of Theodosius II?

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I took Pope Benedict’s abolition of the title ‘Patriarch of the West’ as a little bit of ‘clarifying’ ‘strengthening’ of the Papacy as understood in Rome as opposed to some (e.g., Orthodox) understanding of Papal distinction. Speaking under correction, there now seems an odd sort of ‘strengthening’ of Bishop’s Conferences which some fear would result in a quasi-autocephaly or collegial patriachates (to coin two phrases), yet I can imagine those somehow combined with a sort of ‘Papahyperdulia’ (to coin another) of authoritarian monarchical exercise – though how that would ‘work out’ I do not know.

  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Somewhat tangentially (at least), but not perhaps without relevance – I just encountered a commenter elsewhere in a discussion of Thomas Cranmer linking this, hitherto unknown to me (unless as a reference I never followed up!):

    Sadly, the transcription has various mistakes (happily, the MS. Is pretty readable in the scan included). Intriguingly, this would appear to refer on the BCP side to the 1549!

    One might have hoped King Edward and his Privy Council member would have been interested in encouraging the learning of Latin as widely as possible (and, Winch-like, in ascertaining what its level already was, in practice). Some 8 years would pass before the first Latin translation of the BCP…

    It would be good to see discussions of this letter – e.g., what is the exact sense/weight of “the keeping whereof should be a let to the using of the said Book of Common prayers” and “or be at any time & [>a] let to that godly and uniform order” (could they be otherwise harmlessly kept and used, for study, etc.?, but what in this context of “or any other private use” – ‘use’ in the sense of “the use of Sarum, Lincoln, York Bangor, Herford”? (and to what would “private” then apply?) of as meaning ‘devotional purposes’?).

    • My impression of this text is that the authors intended to force clergy and people to forget and lay aside the old liturgical books, because they would be an obstacle to the exclusive use of the BCP. Happily some old service books survived, and people could be very clever at hiding things, though the timescale involved often led to things being forgotten in their hiding places. The bitterness of that era would have been unimaginable, unequalled even by the traditionalist RC’s in the 1970’s.

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