To no great surprise, reports of a possible reunion between the Anglican/Episcopalian and Catholic Churches were premature and ultimately false:

Archbishop Bathersby, who co-chairs the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), said in a joint statement with Anglican Bishop David Beetge that the London Times report, which carries the headline: “Churches back plan to unite under Pope”, is “unfortunate”.

Episcopalianism will always be thought of as “Catholic Light” and not without reason. They’re both lithurgical in practice, traditional in sentiment, and struggling. They’re sort of like that old divorced couple or that band that broke up and later the former participants think to themselves that maybe it was a mistake. Of course, the more time they spend around each other the more the problems become visible.

None of that is to say that there wouldn’t be benefits. It would give the Catholic Church an easier way to start allowing for married clergy. Back when the Anglican Church started ordaining women the Catholic Church made a deal with Episcopalian ministers that they could convert to Catholicism, still be married, and assume Catholic priestly duties. They remain to my knowledge the only married Catholic clergy. So liberal Catholics could see this as an opportunity to slip through an expansion and ultimately undo the prohibition that has arguably caused quite a few problems in recent years. For the Anglicans it would put butts in pews. For conservative Anglicans it would prevent the church from getting too far off track.

But ultimately there is no way around the fact that Episcopalians and Anglicans will never see the Pope as the infallible messenger of God. A significant portion of the church (including its leadership) disagree with the Catholics positions and emphesis. And to the extent that the church has an identity (at least in the west and in the United States in particular) it’s as the church that doesn’t have strict and rigid demands of its followers. It’s acts as counseller more than leader. That, obviously, isn’t true for the Catholic Church (even if it’s not as rigid as some people would like it to be).


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8 Responses to Two Holy Catholic and Apostolic Churches

  1. Webmaster says:

    Kinda a funny way for the Episcopalians to be, given that the starting beef that created them was a certain King who was angry that the Pope wouldn’t give him his divorce on the grounds that his wife wouldn’t give him a son.

    I mean, come on. The start of the entire church is based on one guy’s rotten luck with sperm.

    (slightly facetious and tongue in cheek, but that IS the origin of the Anglican/Episcopal church; Henry VIII wanted to form a church with himself instead of the Pope at its head so he could finally get a divorce.)

  2. trumwill says:

    No worries about offense. I have a pretty thick skin on religious matters.

    I’m not sure precisely what you consider funny? That Episcopalians (ie American Anglicans) worship a church where the British crown was the original head of the church? That’s true of any non-Brit Anglicans and Americans are so steeped in history with the Brits culturally* that it makes more sense here than for the church in Nigeria, for instance. But ultimately, regardless of how exactly it came to be**, it has become a distinct series of traditions that transcend nationality and one of only a few homes for those that can’t quite get on board with the Pope (or Martin Luther) and but aren’t of the charismatic protestant variety. It might make sense for the Episcopal Church to align with the Orthodox, and for a while the two shared Holy Communion with one another, but there are irreconcilable differences over the ordination of women. I am a bit surprised, however, that conservative Episcopalians haven’t simply chosen to break off and join the Orthodox church since they’re on the Orthodox side of the chief disagreement, but I’m nonetheless glad they have chosen to stick around.

    * – The church also has an American tradition as well as many of the nation’s founders were at least nominally of an Anglican/Episcopalian bent, including the man that could have been our king.

    ** – It’s worth pointing out that unlike some churches, the Episcopal Church does not consider its origins divine. No one pretends that God came to Henry VIII and told him to do what he did. Indeed it considers itself no more divine than other Christian denominations, which is why any baptized Christian is permitted to take Communion at our alter.

  3. Peter says:

    It sometimes looks as if moderation in religion is doomed. In American Christianity, at least, the vast middle-ground occupied by relatively moderate denominations such as Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism (Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran etc.) is gradually fading away. Church attendance is on the decline and these denominations just don’t seem to have much of an appeal any longer. People who once would have followed these practices are either mainly secular (though not actual atheists) or have become fundamentalist. It goes without saying, of course, that the fundamentalist churches are growing at a staggering rate with no end in sight.
    Judaism is going through the same process, by the way: Conservative and Reform synagogues are declining even as the numbers of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews grow like crazy, as are the numbers of largely secular Jews who see their Jewishness in ethnic rather than religious terms.

  4. trumwill says:

    It sometimes looks as if moderation in religion is doomed. In American Christianity, at least, the vast middle-ground occupied by relatively moderate denominations such as Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism (Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran etc.) is gradually fading away.

    You’re right and it’s true internationally, too. Anglican Churches of a more conservative bent abroad are doing quite well. Meanwhile, in Britain it’s slated to become secondary to Catholicism (though western European immigration has a lot to do with that) and it’s problems in the US are well documented. It bothers me a little bit to be a part of the problem (a moderate-to-liberalish Episcopalian who’s largely inactive and who married a Deist), but c’est la vie I guess.

  5. Webmaster says:

    As for the downfall of the “moderate” churches, two possibilities come to mind.

    The first possibility is that extremism is appealing to more people by its nature: when you appear wishy-washy or “nuanced”, it’s hard to put the kind of fire and appearance of sincerity into your voice and speech than if you’re a fire-and-brimstone evangelical.

    The second possibility comes from politics, and I blame the left more than the right (though not exclusively) for this one: the Left and the left-controlled media outlets have been spending the past 20-30 years absolutely trying to demonize religion in general.

    The problem becomes that there are two alternatives for someone who considers themselves religious and liberal or even moderate then: they can either embrace religion, or embrace politics.

    As an example, for the past 6 years one of the big memes of the Left has been to attack George Bush for being “ultra-religious conservative” (even though he’s probably, on the policy scale, more classically “liberal” than Clinton was). Therefore, anyone who disagrees with Bush, ergo, has to disagree with religion in general, not just with Bush’s brand of religion or Bush’s take on religion.

    As far as Judaism is concerned, I’d say that the flow from Reform/Conservative to Orthodox/Hasidic has a lot to do with the fact that Israel is so embattled right now; those who identify with their Faith are seeing it under major attack, and while the Reform/Conservatives are wishy-washy, the Orthodox/Hasidic are pretty straightforward about which side they’re on.

  6. trumwill says:

    I think that the first possibility is more likely than the second. People turn to religion for answers and those churches that have the most answers (whether they’re right are wrong) are most likely to thrive. Also, those that preach that their way is the only way to avoid the trappings of hell are more likely to garner attention than those that say where one goes after they die depends on how virtuous they were. It’s a lot easier to praise Jesus than to live a good and moral life.

    The problem becomes that there are two alternatives for someone who considers themselves religious and liberal or even moderate then: they can either embrace religion, or embrace politics.

    The problem is that outside liberal leadership, most liberals believe in God and follow a religion. Less than conservatives, of course, but many have found a way to embrace both.

    Therefore, anyone who disagrees with Bush, ergo, has to disagree with religion in general, not just with Bush’s brand of religion or Bush’s take on religion.

    One could easily turn this around and say that many religious conservatives are antagonistic towards those of a more moderate faith. As an Episcopalian, I’ve seen this not infrequently.

  7. Peter says:

    People turn to religion for answers and those churches that have the most answers (whether they’re right are wrong) are most likely to thrive. Also, those that preach that their way is the only way to avoid the trappings of hell are more likely to garner attention than those that say where one goes after they die depends on how virtuous they were.

    That would explain the growth of the fundamentalist churches but not necessarily the decline of the mainstream churches. Some of the children and grandchildren of the people who filled the pews of mainstream churches a generation ago have gone fundamentalist, but more of them have simply drifted away from organized religion (though many retain nominal church affiliations and very few are atheists). Why don’t they continue to attend the mainstream churches? Most denominations of this sort place relatively few demands on their adherents, so it’s not like attending one is a big ordeal.

    Speaking of the fundamentalist churches, their growth tends to obscure the fact that many of them have a high “churn” rate, with people bouncing around from denomination to denomination quite a bit.

  8. trumwill says:

    That would explain the growth of the fundamentalist churches but not necessarily the decline of the mainstream churches.

    I think it explains both. Why bother going to church if it doesn’t have all the answers and your eternal salvation doesn’t depend on it?

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