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This is a guest post, written at the invitation of Lay Anglicana, by Father Andrew Cain. We are extremely grateful to him for setting out with such clarity what it is to be an Anglo-Catholic


(An ‘ordinary’ Anglican wandering into an Anglo-Catholic (Catholic Anglican, Anglican Catholic and some Liberal Catholic) Church is likely to find themselves in a worship experience that will be familiar and yet at moments rather different from the usual pattern of CofE worship – and increasingly alien to the many whose only experience of worship is popular modern evangelicalism. They may be confronted with a Church remarkably similar in style, liturgy and practice to the local Roman parish – down to the rite, prayers for the Pope and the use of guitars. Or they may find themselves in a very traditional, rather austere and confusingly alien liturgy with much bowing, incense, many statues, and candle-lit nooks and crannies.

What unites both and many other disparate styles (given that the CofE does not impose liturgical uniformity on its clergy and people) is a theological tradition that traces its roots to the reformation debates of the sixteeth century, owes much of its spirituality to the Caroline Divines in the 17th C (and was partly responsible for the Civil War) and flourished afresh and with renewed vigour throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.)

Anglo-Catholics believe themselves to be at heart deeply Incarnational – with a powerful sense of the essential goodness of creation and the reality of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. God comes to us in the materiality of the world – first and foremost in His Son and, since His Ascension, through real physical and spiritual realities that encompass our whole humanity – engaging all our senses to enable us to appreciate the beauty of God in the world.

The tap root of how this is worked out in the world is a deep devotion to and understanding of the Church as the place where God is active and where salvation is to be found.

‘We come to share in the divine life of the risen and ascended Christ by being incorporated through Baptism into his Body, the Church. Thus, we regard the universal Church neither as an institution of merely human origin, nor as a voluntary association of individual believers, but as a wonderful mystery, a divine society, a supernatural organism, whose life flows to its members from its head, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit’[1]

That life flows to the believer through the sacraments which both indicate the presence of and constitute the Church as a Community. The Sacraments make the Church and are physical, effective and real means of the grace of God to the believer. There is no room to discuss the niceties of Eucharistic theology – again there is some variety in understanding – but all Anglo-Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ and this has had powerful influence on ritual as the very presence of our Lord and God in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is acknowledged in the celebration of the Eucharist (Mass). In the taking of Communion the believer receives the very presence and essence of the resurrected Christ and is fed and strengthened for daily living and eternal life. The centrality of Communion, regular reception and proper preparation cannot be over-estimated.

(Perhaps the greatest, and most unacknowledged, influence of the Catholic movement in the Anglican Church as a consequence has been the transformation of Anglican worship over the period of Catholic ascendency that lasted until the 1960’s. [2] Regular celebration of the Eucharist, (the Parish Communion Movement), modern liturgy, the use of music and the careful ordering of worship are part of a lasting legacy.)

This belief in the Church as a divine society – unbroken and unbreakable – encompasses a devotion to the Saints – especially Mary as the theotokos, the Mother of God. The circle of the Church living and the Church in glory (and in some instances the Church awaiting glory in purgatory) remains complete, unbroken by the death that Christ has destroyed, and so conversation between and prayer for each other is possible. The presence of statues of the saints, the revival of votive candles and the popularity again of Shrines and pilgrimages is another fruit of the Anglo-Catholic tradition (and one much in evidence in churches and cathedrals where the theology behind it might be less accepted but the income welcome)

For Anglo-Catholics the importance of the Church and what flows from it has to be understood if those of other theologies are to comprehend the opposition that some of the tradition have to changes in the life, ministry and order of the Church itself. The “canon” (or rule) of St Vincent of Lerins: “What everywhere, what always, and what by all has been believed, that is truly and properly Catholic” has powerful appeal and the firm belief that neither the Church of England nor any individual Catholic Church [3]can change the what the Church is lies at the heart of opposition to women deacons, priests and bishops. The argument presumes that the Church has not had women in orders in the past and only a Council of the whole Catholic Church can make such a change (though this view of the role of women in the early church is increasingly challenged) – and there has not been a Council of the whole Church since the split between Rome and Constantinople in the eleventh century. It is simply not possible to change the Church in this way without bringing uncertainty to what has always been certain – that the Church is the unbroken and guaranteed vehicle of the grace of God. This is the argument of ‘sacramental assurance’ that is sometimes heard in debates.

For many of us, of course, firmly in the Catholic tradition and devoted to its rich and joyful understanding of our place in this world, these arguments do not hold weight. The gender of the priest (or Bishop) is of secondary importance – since every priest acts as in the image of Christ in the celebration of the Sacraments it is His humanity and divinity that is key and not His gender. I am indebted to Mo Marjorie Brown of St Mary’s, Primrose Hill for pointing out Gregory Nazianzus’ statement ‘The unassumed is the unhealed’.  If Christ did not take all humanity (male and female) into Himself then why baptise girls and if He did then a woman is as appropriate as a man to represent His humanity and indeed for completeness sake both male and female priests may be required to reflect His full humanity – and ours.

For accepting Catholics the guarantees of the Faith are found in the apostolic faithfulness of the whole Church, which ordains and commissions the clergy, and not simply in an individual’s gender (or for that matter sexuality – though that is another argument..).That Christ only appointed male disciples makes a category mistake of equating the disciples whose number is as (more?) important than their gender in representing the leaders of the tribes of the New Israel with modern priesthood against the apostolic commissioning of many, both male and female  – Mary Magdalene and Paul – to serve the community and spread the faith.

An acceptance of Biblical criticism and a strong belief in the ‘leading into all truth’ promised in the Gospels as well as experience of the enrichment of ministry and worship brought by gifted and called women reinforces the welcome given to this development under God without undermining or challenging the essential Catholic Faith.

Because of its sensitivity to history and belief in tradition the Anglo-Catholic movement has always been more prone to archaism than other forms of Anglicanism. Loyalty to the Faith becomes loyalty to the ways of the past and worship ossifies and changes are resisted. In recent years the Anglo-Catholic movement has lost its way and come to be seen as the preserve of negativity and often hostility within the Church and that has to change if we are once again to find confidence and a refreshed vision for the Church. I believe Anglo-Catholics need women Bishops – because this is what God wants – and because until it happens we cannot concentrate on living out what it is to be the Church in a world which needs the sense of community, joyfulness and the ‘beauty of holiness’ that is central to our faith.


Fr Andrew Cain
Vicar, St Mary with All Souls, Kilburn & St James West Hampstead.

[1] What is Anglo-Catholicism? A Response in Six Parts by the Revd John D. Alexander, SSC

[2] The ‘mark’s of Catholic worship which were increasingly introduced into the Church of England from the 1860’s onwards and despite opposition and even prosecution have, with some variation become commonplace – vis. the use of Eucharistic vestments such as the chasuble, stole, alb; the use of bells at the elevation of the host; the use of incense;  the use of candles on the altar;  the use of unleavened (wafer) bread in communion;  eastward facing celebration of the Eucharist (less so since the 1960’s); making the sign of the cross; the mixing of sacramental wine with water

[3] The Anglican Church is part of the ‘one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ and the branch theory of Catholicsm is essential to Anglo – Catholics. There is one Catholic Church – which has many branches – Roman, various Orthodoxies, Old Catholic and Anglican. Each individual yet part of the whole.

29 comments on this post:

Erika Baker said...

Thank you for this insightful article!

So it seems that the real crunch point is not the question of women as priests and bishops but the question of whether such a decision can be made by individual churches or whether it requires the Council of all of the Catholic Churches.

On what grounds do some people believe that the Council is necessary whereas others believe that, in this case, it is not?
And what kind of common ground could be found among Anglo-Catholics there?
And is this debate actually taking place?

Fr Andrew said...

Thank you – the debate is between those who believe that the ordination of women is a first order change – substantive enough to warrant a whole Council – and those who think gender is a second order matter and appropriate for local decision. There is disagreement and to be honest those who proclaim the first order argument do so in the knowledge that no full Council will be called for many centuries if ever again and so they can safely maintain their opposition.

I suppose the real test will come if and when the Roman Church ordains women, which it will in time. The argument for many Anglo Catholics will then be over – though they will not be happy!

Unless Rome splits of course, which the good Professor McCulloch confidently predicts anytime soon!
Fr A

Kepha said...

As an Anglican who has returned from Orthodoxy to the Anglo Catholic fold I feel we owe no apologies to anyone…
In fact I predict that within a few decades, unlikely as it might appear, the Orthodox and Rome will be casting sideways glances to see how we fare, as the crumbling reactionary edifices around them totter even more under the weight of their history.,

13 November 2012 15:30
13 July 2012 08:40
13 July 2012 08:13
UKViewer said...

Fr Andrew,
Thank you for a very useful explanation of Anglo Catholic beliefs, history and tradition. Coming from a RC background, most of the things that you describe in terms of practice and liturgy, strikes strong notes for me, mainly, in the Catholic Church, pre-Vatican II. Changes after that, changed things hugely.

In some places, if you go to an RC low mass, you would experience a service which could be a mainstream CofE service. So, the roots that Anglo Catholicism is based on are going, or are gone.

I’m aware that the Catholic Church seem intent on winding back Vatican II changes, I’m not sure whether that is a good or bad thing. But they seem desperate to re-claim the ground they held, in the face of a huge decline in attendance, falling vocations and hugely bad publicity linked to various abuses in the Western Church coming to light, nearly daily.

It’s helpful to understand the Anglo Catholic perspective, and I visit the Affirming Catholicism website to find resources to better inform me, there I see a real effort to place a ‘reformed’ (forgive the pun) Anglo Catholicism at the heart of the Church and I wish them well with that huge undertaking.

The thing that will overcome is listening with grace, love and charity to each other, which I can see you are willing to do, Oh that more of us would do the same.

Fr Andrew said...

Good to hear from you – though i should say that Anglo Catholicism is not about aping Rome. ( though some do in what seems to me to be a rather sad way)

We see ourselves as Catholics alongside you Romans not following! Our tradition reaches back through the history of the Church in this country in an unbroken continuity to Augustine and the early Christians of this land. Some Catholic Anglicans have stressed this in English Catholic ritual based on Sarum rites and colours from the medieval period, though this attempt never developed much of a following beyond the hymn book Percy Dearmer produced – The English Hymnal.

Personally I have huge respect for Rome – I spent a year at the English College and was impressed. But I am English and therefore Anglican and the Reformation insights of our Church are important to me alongside the historic catholic faith. I often think many modern Romans are more Anglican than they know!

Fr A

UKViewer said...

Andrew, thank you for your kind reply. I should have made it clear that I am now Anglican, having left the Catholic Church in the 1980’s.

My Parish is a 5 church benefice, some of the churches have a traditional or Anglo Catholic heritage. I also attend services across the spectrum of traditions within the CofE and believe that we are all one family, albeit, with a different slant on things.

I suspect that my middle of the road leanings might be inclined to the Reformed Catholic heritage, which Dr Rowan Williams uses to describe the Church.

As my Benefice is near Canterbury, I also have ready access to Cathedral worship, which is life giving, particularly Choral Evensong.

I love the Church and despair at some of the things that are happening at the moment, but hope that with a little grace and love and a lot of prayerful listening these difficulties will be overcome to allow the church to affirm all of it’s traditions.

13 July 2012 13:17
13 July 2012 08:52
13 July 2012 08:33
Erika Baker said...

Thank you for your reply!
I’m finding it interesting that you say the RC church will in time ordain women. Because many of the people who have left the CoE for Rome or more recently for the Ordinariate, have been extremely sure that there have been so many statements about women not being able to be priests from the Pope that it is by now completely impossible for future popes to change the policy on this.
This certainty seems to be one of the things that has attracted a number of these converts.

13 July 2012 10:12

This is a very helpful summary of where Anglo-Catholicism – in which tradition I fully and enthusiastically place myself – now stands.

I sense we are at a crossroads, thrown into sharp focus by recent disputes over women’s ministry (I, like, you am in the “pro” camp, though it’s not a casus belli for me) but whose roots are much older than that. I suspect Anglo-Catholicism has lost a good deal of its self-belief and some of its integrity over the last 50 years – partly by having given up on or downgraded the virtues which commended it to the urban poor and others of the previous 100 years. I touched on this last year in my little post about +Brian Masters:

But I do not believe that it is dying. Out of all the bitterness and hurt will emerge a new and vigorous Anglo-Catholicism which will once again pitch its tent in the midst of the messiness of people’s ordinary lives. Its women deacons, priests and bishops will more fully reflect the human race and thus the incarnational reality of the Church of Christ. This is the end of the beginning for Anglo-Catholicism, not the beginning of the end.

13 July 2012 10:34
Erika Baker said...

Can I ask another question, please?
The Canons of the CoE don’t foresee there to be anything on which the church cannot make its own decisions.
How do Anglo-Catholics reconcile the idea that there are some first order issues that require a Council of all Catholic (!) churches with the fact that the CoE as a whole does not see itself as a Catholic church and that its own polity lays down its own discernment process for arising theological questions?

If anyone truly believes that there are 1st order issues that cannot be discerned by the CoE, can that person really remain in the CoE with the comittment expected of ordained priests?

This is not a snipe or an attempt at getting rid of those who don’t agree with the current proposals. It’s a genuine question because I still have not understood the underlying complexities properly.

Thank you.

13 July 2012 10:37

The Preface to the Declaration of Assent (which those bing ordained have to swear to on oath) begins: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church…”. It’s the “part of” that leads some to claim the CofE cannot change certain things unilaterally.

Erika Baker said...

Thank you!
And that preface is not in conflict with the Canons in an instance like this? Especially when we take into account that Rome already does not see Anglo-Catholic priests in the same light as Roman Catholic ones?

For me as an outsider, the difference between the churches and their ways of discernment is so obvious that I am always astonished when CoE priests suddenly say that there are some things their church “cannot” do.
And again, I’m not doubting their sincerity or integrity, I’m merely trying to understand better.

13 July 2012 11:07
13 July 2012 10:58

The reality is that the CofE is an independent part of the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church, and in practice can change what it chooses without needing the approval of other parts. However Christ prayed for the unity of his Church; and so there is very proper desire (as we have seen over the gay issue) not to do anything unilaterally that damages what unity we have. That doesn’t, in my opinion, mean that we should only ever do what other parts of the Church are in agreement with. It’s just possible that we are right and they are wrong.

Erika Baker said...

That’s an interesting comment. It suggests that it is possible that the principle of first order issues having to be agreed by all the churches sometimes only applies until we believe that we are right to make a different choice. Which, to my mind, would be a very principled view that takes our individual responsibility before Christ seriously, but which is not the Roman way of doing things.

Or are you saying you do not believe in that principle, or that it does not apply to women’s ordination?

13 July 2012 11:48
13 July 2012 11:18

It would be arrogant for me to say what constitutes a “first-order” issue on which we should try to seek universal agreement. But for what it’s worth, I’m personally persuaded that women’s ordination is not such as issue (partly because I agree with Fr Andrew that the RC Church will come round to it eventually – and for entirely pragmatic reasons); but that, for example, “lay presidency” is.

13 July 2012 13:29
Erika Baker said...

How does one decide what constitutes a first oder issue, are there any objective criteria?

Fr Andrew said...

No! And hence the debate!

13 July 2012 20:40
13 July 2012 14:03
Mike Truman said...

I find the middle para of this revealing. I’m sure it is true, but equally it surely should not be? If the Anglican church cannot change the ordinal without a full Council, then the Roman church can’t either?

Lay Anglicana said...

Hi, Mike. I am lurking in the background as I obviously do not know the answer – I expect someone will come along, if not I will contact Andrew again.

13 July 2012 15:24
13 July 2012 15:18

I’m a long way from being any kind of expert in this area; but my guess at an answer would be that the RC Church regards all other denominations – including Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism – as essentially having broken away from it – “The One True Church”. Therefore it believes it does not need to consult them to change its view on anything (since it is the ultimate authority).

Others may have a more informed view.

Erika Baker said...

It is precisely because of that that some Ordinariates and FiF people I know are so sure that there will never be women priests in the Catholic church – because its hands are tied too.

14 July 2012 09:10
13 July 2012 16:02
Graham Richards said...

Excellent piece Andrew, thank you for explaining so much to me, despite my working in the CofE with all traditions for 16+ years! I’ve always been inspired by the positivity of the Affirming Catholicism movement, which seems so hopeful & celebratory, compared to the entrenched defensive and negative attitude that eminates from the Forward in Faith camp. It’s like the latter are dying, but can’t admit to it, so cling on to anything they can in the hope it will save them.

13 July 2012 16:26
Lauren Gough+ said...

These discussions are wearisome for me. After 30 years of parish ministry this is all rather trivial. I am a priest and have been recognized as one for over a generation. I was called by both God and church to serve. As a former RC sister, I know what catholicism is. It is not about theology, ecclesiology or liturgics. It is about making Christ known.

If we are still operating out of an Augustinian (Hippo) mentality of the City of God–then we are not being true to the reality of our faith of our own era. It is also not being true to even the Anglo-Catholic movement which was about mission and ministry to the poor. All of this aping of Romanism will not recognize the need for reform that the Church MUST be about. Being stuck in the arcane doesn’t spread the news that God is doing a new thing for a new era.

If Anglo-Catholicism turns its back on women to ape Rome, then the value of Anglicanism to Christianity is nothing. The richness of symbolism will be lost as an expression of faith. What we have done is literalized the liturgy just as surely as the evangelicals have literalzed the word.

Our faith is based upon a relationship with the Holy One and is filled with wondrous vagaries of manifestation.

Fr Andrew said...

Lauren – its always good to meet someone who is clear that the outworking of our faith is mission and ministry. That comes from our understanding of ourselves before God – not before it. Without that understanding there is no foundation to our mission and no ground for our ministry..

These discussions remain necessary even if they are at times tedious and repetitive, especially so perhaps for those who have been in ministry for many years as both you and I have been.

I am also very clear that the Church of England, in any of its strands does not ape Rome — there is much to admire there but much that is wrong, both in theology and practise and I have no desire to be a Roman.

‘Eclessia semper reformanda’ is a good motto for our Church and that includes those of us who draw inspiration and motivation from its Catholic heritage. That said Anglo Catholicism is not all of Anglicanism and if some do turn their backs on the ordination of women many of us remain and proudly so – the value of Anglicanism remains and is not lost as a witness to the possibillity of that ‘semper reformanda’ in a Catholic Church even if some choose not to share in the journey with us. Rome will in time have to ordain women – there is no other way. The journey we have taken and the gifts that women have brought and the ministry they exercise now will be an encouragement to those who want to make that journey in Rome.

Fr A

13 July 2012 20:37
13 July 2012 16:37
UKViewer said...

I’m not sure that either Fr Andrew or Fr Stephen are talking about aping Romanism. Mention is made of some elements of Anglo-Catholicism seemingly trying to emulate Rome. There was controversy recently when the Bishop of London wrote a Pastoral Letter about the use of the Roman Missal in those places – I’m not sure it changed anything, but at least it laid down how the Canon’s of the Church should ideally be applied.

It seems to me that the strand they are is very much on the lines of Affirming Catholicism, whose statement of who they are is here:

There is much that I can agree with there in particular the Sacramental aspects, which are also central to my faith.

As I said earlier, I identify with the Reformed Catholic nature of the Anglican Church and see much to commend it, while not taking anything away from other traditions.

I also identify as a liberal, in that I believe very much in an inclusive, not exclusive church and work to the two greatest commandments as my template for my faith, life and action.

13 July 2012 17:23
JCF said...

The “canon” (or rule) of St Vincent of Lerins: “What everywhere, what always, and what by all has been believed, that is truly and properly Catholic” has powerful appeal and the firm belief that neither the Church of England nor any individual Catholic Church [3]can change the what the Church is lies at the heart of opposition to women deacons, priests and bishops.

This is EXACTLY the point that Catholicism (any flavor of Catholicism) Jump-The-Shark into Popoidism (I need a phrase to similarly describe *toxic* varieties of Eastern Orthodoxy!)…

…but the second point (footnote 3) is actually a SYMPTOM of the first: the *nonsense* of the “Rule of St Vincent” (I’ve actually never heard it attributed before).

Popoidism became a toxic warping of Catholicism, precisely when (no later than Vat1) it turned its back on its own tradition of faith-seeking-understanding scholarship. Instead of seeking through history and Biblical studies to understand the Faith (including the politics that made winners and losers!), all such study was condemned. At that point sayings like St Vincent’s were fetished into an actual claim.

As a result, when one is determined that IDEOLOGY shall drive scholarship (such as it is), it becomes easy to see how (for example) the apostolic and ministerial role of women in the early church can be completely *squelched*. Voila! “What everywhere, what always, and what by all has been believed” now BECOMES “only men can be bishops, priests and deacons”.

Re-writing history (or the Bible translation/interpretation) to fit a predetermined ideological ain’t Catholic (no matter what the newly “infallible” Bishop of Rome may say)

Far be it from me to claim that Anglo-Catholicism of the so-called “liberal” flavor is the only True catholicism—but it does have the best bonafides! 🙂

14 July 2012 07:30
JCF said...

to fit a predetermined ideological *outcome*.

[Really miss having a Preview window in this format. :-X]

Lay Anglicana said...

If you tell me how you want to edit your post, I am at your service 🙂

14 July 2012 08:11
14 July 2012 07:32
Lay Anglicana said...

This has been a very full discussion on Anglo-Catholicism. However, if your appetite is whetted for more, you might enjoy the discussion on ‘The Ship of Fools’ at;f=2;t=016600

30 July 2012 09:28

Hi all, I am part of an anglo-catholic church in Los Angeles, California. It is Saint Thomas the Apostle in Hollywood. We as a diocese have two women suffragan Bishops. We enjoy having our bishops and all the angllcatholic parishes in the Los Angeles Diocese have no objection to this. Maybe we are a rarety? We believe in traditional worship and progressive thinking.

17 March 2014 00:03

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