On comprehension

S. Michael and All Angels, Queenstown, South Africa. From Project Canterbury.

The issue of comprehension has come up on the internet, where I spend far too much of my time, so I’ll address it here. That is, after all, what self-appointed experts are for.

Comprehensiveness is the manner in which the Anglican tradition has managed to keep varying traditions of churchmanship in one body.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Anglicanism proves unable to remain comprehensive. As an Anglo-Catholic who has made great personal sacrifices so to remain, I see issues from a practical, doctrinal and ceremonial perspective. For the spirit of schism, we may have to repent on the Day of Judgment.

  • We achieved inter-communion with the Eastern Churches when the Anglican Communion was comprehensive. Is it wise, in practical terms, to remain split over churchmanship when there are far worse threats to the Church?
    • The Copts recognize four Councils; the Assyrian Church recognizes two. This is an accident of history, not a result of real disunity.
    • The Romans have their progressives, Charismatics, Thomists and Ressourcement theologians. We aren’t avoiding disagreement no matter where we go. That’s vanity and vexation of spirit.
    • In the East, they still talk about how the blessing of Chrism should be sacrament eight, and they could be right. Outward physical form. Inward spiritual grace.
  • It has been argued that Anglicanism is a via media between Lutheranism and Calvinism. While some ACs regard this as unfortunate – if they accept it at all – I also think we should avoid revisionism, especially if it’s unnecessary. Reformation-era Calvinists believed in the Real Presence. The Lutherans used vestments. Let’s say Anglicanism is in fact a via media between Calvinism and Lutheranism. Given what those movements actually taught, is that even bad from an Anglo-Catholic perspective?
    • Protestant and Catholic simply are not discrete categories and no amount of insecurity will ever change that.
    • We have more in common with Low Churchmen than we have with liberal Catholics or cultural Orthodox.
      • Low Churchmen aren’t Bapticostals.
  • If the Eastern Church ever associates vestments with papal tyranny, as some Reformers did, it will immediately become low church. You watch. What will become of our favorite Anglo-Catholic hobby then? The Western Rite will demand surplice, tippet and preaching tabs.
  • A Low Churchman who celebrates Mass while so habited and sings the Psalms is closer to the Apostles than we are, even if only by accident. The ancient Church had no vestments for centuries, only the injunction that the Sacred Ministers wear white garments. There was no 1940 Hymnal or 1928 BCP in the Apostolic Era. It’s in the names, guys. The names.
  • If there were no need for candles in the ancient Church, they would never have been used, and never have been given theological significance. Nobody would argue about their number or arrangement.
    • The ancient Church used two altar-lights. The Easterners still do. The Big Six are a Counter-Reformation usage. Further, Ritual Notes advises that the candles “should rise gradually towards the Cross,” and that not all six are to be lit for every Mass. I’ve never even heard of a Roman or Anglican parish that observes those rules. Nowadays, affirming Episcopal churches sometimes use both sets of candles, as do many of us. Strictly speaking, this is incorrect. Are progressives our equals in orthodoxy?

Arguing over this stuff isn’t High or Low, it’s poseur. We’re the amateur athlete who brags to his betters because he bought a bunch of equipment that he doesn’t know how to use. In the Roman Church, nobody cares about candles and vestments. Part of that is apathy, but most of it is authenticity. What will we do next? Imitate authenticity?

In case you think I’m capitulating to Protestantism, just know that my family is Roman, and I recognize Protestant dress-up when I see it. Certain corners of Anglo-Catholicism have to move past that. The hour is coming, and now is.

If we carefully consider these things, it may not be a question of whether Anglicanism can be comprehensive. It may be a question of whether Anglicans can be truly Catholic unless we at least try to be comprehensive.

Let’s be Real Catholics, not Amateur Catholics.


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