Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Ecumenism II: the Episcopal boogaloo

In the comments under ‘Ecumenism’ recently Fr Methodius left a link about the charismatic movement he was active in as an Anglican priest in South Africa. In black Africa with its conservative Anglicans apparently it’s doing well. That started me writing this about that denomination and ecumenism.
One still heard echoes of the old refrain, “We must work ecumenically and not denominationally”, but the awareness that that just doesn’t work seemed to be expressed more forcefully.
I don’t follow Anglican news (I don’t have to) but looking back it’s interesting, and a little sad if you were on their losing ‘Catholic’ side, to see their ecumenical lurchings. (I’m not broken up about it at all now because I think I understand it.) They recognized non-episcopal Protestants when it was diplomatically useful for England. (Everything was for the state.) There were brief attempted and proposed mergers with them, with the German Lutherans in the 1800s (the joint bishopric in the Holy Land), then the proposed Episcopal/Presbyterian merger in the ’40s that high churchmen including Anglo-Catholics narrowly defeated. (The dominant Protestants among the Episcopalians got revenge by threatening to out the married, secretly homosexual Bishop of Chicago, forcing him to retire young.) You had the South and North India mergers in which the non-episcopalians became Anglican episcopal. The ’60s had, in England, the proposed Anglican/Methodist merger that failed like the Presby one in America, and America had the COCU proposed mainline merger (sort of like South India; the mainline Protestants would have bishops in the Episcopal line). Now the Episcopalians and the big merged liberal Lutheran denomination are merged, with the bigger, latter denom slowly getting Episcopal orders, and non-episcopal ministers grandfathered in. (Not to be confused with the non-mainline, conservative, semi-Catholic Lutherans such as the Missouri Synod.) I think all the American mainliners are now in communion even if completely interchangeable ministers (Episco-Lutheran/Presbyterian/Methodist/UCC etc.) isn’t happening, yet.

But at the same time, with the Catholic legitimate liturgical movement and Vatican II (yick) in the early, good ’60s, Anglo-Catholics seemed to dominate (even though they were really a minority). More Anglicans started having full vestments and Communion as the main Sunday service, the Catholics gave the Anglicans a nod at Vatican II, Pope Paul gave the Archbishop of Canterbury one of his rings, ARCIC got under way, even the liturgical modernizations (‘facing the people’, ‘and also with you’) were mimicking what the Catholic Church was (wrongly) doing, the charismatic movement was another thing that brought Catholics and some Anglicans closer (orthodox but low-church, 25-40 years ago it was huge in the Catholic Church, one of the few official options for the theologically conservative, but it seems to be dying out), and so Anglo-Papalists (a kind of Anglican) thought maybe, just maybe... I remember the media buzz when the Pope first visited Britain and thought the same thing. ‘We are one...’

Not so fast! Anglicanism’s true self was there all along in the ’60s and after: for example the Episcopalians spared an unbelieving bishop, ex-Catholic James Pike, a heresy trial (many Anglicans have been discreet skeptics since the ‘Enlightenment’, such as America’s founding fathers), the world denomination unofficially decided there was no reason not to ordain women (what about all the high-churchifying to get ready for reunion with Rome?) and the Episcopalians started doing it. Game over. In Catholicism, the matter of the sacraments isn’t up for a vote.

Obviously they didn’t become Catholic (or Orthodox like Fr M). They got so liberal that, getting away from classical Protestantism (their Articles of Religion that trash Catholicism), they weren’t offended anymore by Catholic trappings so they adopted more of them, which can be misleading to the casual observer. They have liberal high-church people who believe the same things about the creeds and the sacraments that we do, except they believe the church is fallible, which is why they’re not with us, so they believe the matter of the sacraments is up for a vote.

Long story short, they obviously don’t want union so let them be!

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