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IX. Anglican Catholic Identity.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Anglo-Catholics have been benefactors of this search for holiness, concern for sin and repentance, emphasis on sound teaching, pastoral and missionary zeal, and willingness to suffer for the Faith. These “attributes of the Catholic movement add up to a vital ingredient of any church life.” 1

The Oxford Movement, the Tractarians and the Ritualists can be credited for initiating Anglican Catholic Identity. Arguably, it can be said that they infused a new life into the Church of England by altering its appearance as it grew and spread. They transformed the style of worship by bringing back Catholic tradition.

Tractarian ideas were achieved with the use of an ordered worship that was true to the Book of Common Prayer. “That worship, at once Biblical and Sacramental, carries through all that is best in the spirit of the past; yet preserves the flexible and synthetic character of Anglicanism.”2 Anglicans, who hold dear in their hearts the Catholic Faith, have taken from their nineteenth century Church Fathers a firm foundation that they can rest their beliefs upon.

God the Father

Anglican Catholics Glorify God. It is through the cultivation of a sense of reverence, awe, and mystery revealed in ceremonial worship that brings about the presence of God. “Such expressions are used because we have no language in which to describe the actions of a spirit. We have no other way in which to convey any ideas of the actions of God.”3

Anglican Catholics are joyful to bear witness the beauty of God’s Creation. The world is viewed as ‘Sacramental’ and they wish to see God’s presence and goodness in all things created. Anglican Catholics believe that art, music, and even incense, represent a sense of gratitude for God’s gift of creation and that gratitude is offered back in the form of devotion to the Creator.

God the Son

Anglicans Catholics praise Jesus Christ. The word 'incarnation' signifies ‘the taking of flesh, and humanities salvation began when Christ, the anointed, took that flesh by becoming a human being. “By this amazing act of condescension, He did not cease to be God, but He added a pure human nature to His divine nature.”4 In essence, God became a human being in order to transform humanity, thereby allowing us to take part in the divine life.

The Collect for Christmas day from the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer reflects Anglican Catholic thought quite well; "Almighty God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:

Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen..."5

God the Holy Spirit

Anglican Catholics exalt The Holy Spirit are freed by its very presence. It is through the strength of the Holy Spirit that properly administered Sacraments become empowering and not simply a dead ritual. The Holy Spirit enriches the Christian. It is at the heart of life and liturgy. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, worship becomes a power filled event.

The liturgy is the work of the devoted and offered by a ‘spirit-filled’ people. The Holy Spirit is given in the Sacraments of the Church. It is God’s way of presenting us with His Grace so that we can glorify His name through our lives in Ministry and help bring about His Kingdom.

The Holy Bible

Anglican Catholics study The Scriptures and follow the lectionary in daily worship. They stress the significance of the Bible in daily life. God’s word is studied as a whole and bits are not parsed for partisan purposes. It is through the Holy Spirit that the scripture becomes alive. We benefit little from seeing scriptures as mere words. This is also the same with receiving the sacraments.

The Church

Anglican Catholics belong to The Church. The Church is the ‘Body of Christ’ alive in the world. In his Essay On the Development of Christian Doctrine, Newman clearly states “that Christian doctrines, while respecting the demands of logic, are the fruit of far broader dynamics, most notably of power of assimilation: They grow by what we might call organic development.”6 The Church can be understood as a living entity, “possessing the faith but not yet fully possessed of a total understanding of it.”7

Anglican Catholics extol The Communion of Saints. The church is made up of both Christians here on earth, known as the ‘Church Militant’; the faithfully departed, who continued to grow in the knowledge and love of God; known as the ‘Church Expectant’; and of the saints in heaven, who have reached Journey’s end, ‘Church Triumphant’. In this way, the Christian has the fellowship of all who live in Christ. Therefore, Anglican Catholics affirm the belief of praying for the dead and petitioning the saints in Heaven for their prayers.

The Sacraments

Anglican Catholics experience The Seven Sacraments. "The incarnation is the union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. The union is extended in his mystical body; the Church, through the sacraments as a means of grace". 8 God becoming a human, is the greatest and most wonderful Sacrament of all. Anglican Catholics believe that Jesus Christ communicates his life, presence and grace through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Orders, Matrimony and the Anointing of the Sick, thereby empowering Christians to become united with both God and humanity in faith, hope and love.

It is through Baptism that we become part of the church, the ‘Body of Christ’. It is at this point, that we begin to share in the Divine life of Christ. The Church can be perceived as a mystery, a Divine society, a living supernatural entity, which pours its very essence into each member.

Baptism gives the new member an imprint as a child of God and heir to the Kingdom of Heaven; though free will can have us deny this inheritance. However, the Church is simply not a voluntary amalgamation of individual believers, but a corporate body commissioned by Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue Christ’s work on earth.

Anglican Catholics adore The Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ becomes present in the bread and wine and because of this ‘Eucharistic Adoration’ is a vital part of Anglican Catholic devotion.

Anglican Catholics also acclaim Holy Orders. Going back to the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholicism has held up the three fold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons as essential to the faith. “The Sacrament of Holy Order, like Holy Baptism and Confirmation, imprints a mark or character upon those who receive it, which ever remains; and therefore ordination cannot be repeated. There is no such thing as reordination.”9 For the Anglican Catholic, Apostolic succession is God-given. ‘‘Apostolic succession is the sacramental form of the unifying presence of tradition." 10 The validity of the Sacraments depends upon the faithful protection of this Divine gift and any innovations threatening the authenticity of the Apostolic orders prompts a negative response from Anglican Catholics.

Anglican Catholics believe in the The Atonement. Anglican Catholicism focuses, not only on the humanity of Christ, but also on his sacrifice. The image of Jesus on the cross is a deep reminder to Christians about the horror of human sin, as well as the price that was paid for the redemption of all people. For Anglican Catholics, to be a follower means a life long endeavour of turning away from sin and moving toward God. The Sacrament of Penance is a valuable aid in this process because it gives the individual follower a fresh start on their faith journey.

Anglican Catholics uphold The Sacramental. The incarnation, God becoming a human, is the greatest and most wonderful Sacrament of all. The knowledge that God would want us to know and experience him, then offer himself up on the cross in order to obtain salvation for us, is an awesome thought. Anything relating back to this Divine reality is considered a blessing and can be held up as a gift from God. It is ceremoniously recognized as such by the 'Body of Christ". Anglican Catholic worship is based upon this sacramental principal.

The call to holiness and to be living examples of Christ, in a world that seems to be turning more and more away from the Sacred, is as great as it was when the Oxford Movement was trying to resuscitate the Church of England. “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.”11 The question that still remains, for all Anglicans, is “the place of authority and value of dogma as opposed to private judgement.”12

The Deposit of Faith

Anglican Catholics uphold Traditional Anglicanism. Anglican Catholics affirm that Anglicanism is a true part of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church. The prophetic vocation of Anglican Catholics is to bear witness the Catholicity of Anglicanism. It has at times been a difficult vocation, requiring unpopular stands against developments that threaten Catholicism.

Anglican Catholic identity has been based on following the faith and practice of the early, undivided Church. Anglican Catholics have also taken on the responsibility of upholding Anglican institutions and being accountable to the higher authority of the universal church. If one looks beyond the smells and bells, one can see the attempt to maintain the inheritance of faith believed given from Christ and the Apostles.

Anglican Catholics believe that the Church is appointed to mediate between God and the world. “This takes the form of Tradition, the living process by which the themes and emphasis of the faith-experience arrange and rearrange themselves.”13 With tradition as its foundation, the Church can speak to the culture with authority. However, this can only be fully realized when the Church has developed the ability to assimilate into the culture.

Anglican Catholics can look back at a long tradition of good teaching “They have based their liturgy and preaching on the revelation of God in Christ, which is found in the Scriptures, and which, demands their full obedience…”14 As Anglican Catholic identity continues to develop in its own sense of awareness, the need to bestow ‘Christ among us’ is greater than ever. Anglican Catholics, as Traditional Anglicans, have embraced their Catholic roots within the framework of the ancient English Church; prior to the Protestant Reformation. It has indeed accepted the exalted place of authority and dogma over private judgement.

Sources for this Article

  1. Marginal Catholics - Celebrating the Faith of Marginal Catholics - Chapter XX - Page 268

  2. Worship - The Anglican Tradition The Realization of Tractarian Ideas - Chapter XV - Part IV - Pages 334-335

  3. The Catholic Religion - The Anglican Principle As To the Truth - Part II - Chapter XIII - Section II - Pages 78-79

  4. IBID - Part Three - Chapter XIV - Section III - The Articles of Faith - Subsection III - Part I - The Doctrine of the Incarnation - Page 102

  5. Book of Common Prayer 1962 Canada - The Anglican Church of Canada - The Birth-Day of Christ - December 25th - page 104

  6. God Encountered - A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology - Volume II - Understanding The Christian Faith - Chapter X - Christian Witness: Conduct and Creed - Christian Teaching and its Structures - Section 51 - Teaching Related To Conduct: Community and Fidelity - Part 4A (Taken from An Essay on The Development of Christian Doctrine chap1; chap 5, sec 3 and 4; chap 8 and 9 Pages 57-75,189-197, 337-75) Page 257

  7. The Shape of Catholic Theology - Tradition as a Source in Theology - The Sense of the Faithful - Part Four: Chapter 16 - Page 226

  8. The Catholic Religion - Introduction: The Sacraments - Part Three - Chapter XVI - Page 150

  9. IBID - The Sacraments - Section V - Holy Orders - Part Three - Chapter XVI; - Page 172

  10. Anglicans and Roman Catholics: The Search for Unity - The ARCIC documents and their reception - Chapter XXII - Expert Opinion Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Anglican Catholic Dialogue-Its Problems and Hopes (1983) Page 259

  11. Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith - The Paradoxes of Christianity - Chapter VI- Page 100

  12. Anglicans and Roman Catholics: The Search for Unity - The ARCIC documents and their reception - Chapter XXII - Expert Opinion Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Anglican Catholic Dialogue-Its Problems and Hopes (1983) (From the Church of England’s Rev. William Ledwich’s 1984 Article: (With Authority, not as Scribes)…Page 275

  13. Catholic Identity after Vatican II - Rearrangement and the Tasks of Theology - Chapter I; Page 9

  14. Marginal Catholics - Sound Teaching - Chapter XVIII - Page 232

Next Article: Recognizing Anglican Catholic Identity: From Conception to Birth

This article was taken from the Master's thesis The Oxford Movement: Anglo-Catholicism and the Birth of Anglican Catholic Identity. The link for the complete thesis can be found at Library and Archives Canada: extension://elhekieabhbkpmcefcoobjddigjcaadp/https://centr X6UzP3r74_R AQh3MhGkYbLi7crXkUyMK4FAUYBpKs

© Dr. Charles Warner 2005

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