THERE has been much debate in recent months about the question of those members of the Anglican church who wish to "come over to Rome". I am indebted to Ivan Clutterbuck for the following piece in which he attempts to pinpoint exactly who are these "Anglo-Catholics".
As Rome looked outward at Vatican 11 she saw separated brethren all over the place and if, as at the Creation, she could not see everything good, at any rate it might have been a lot worse. She saluted the Orthodox Church vigorously, no doubt recalling that they could well stand up for themselves, and had a friendly nod for the Reformed Churches as a reward for their Bible life style. "You've forgotten somebody", the pariti were told. "The Anglicans have a pedigree as long as the early Fathers". So in the Decree of Ecumenism there were inserted the words, "among Churches separated from Rome . . . the Anglican Communion has a special place.
And the Church of England was very pleased to receive this mention in dispatches. It would not have been 150 years ago when any self-respecting English Anglican would have shuddered at being associated with the "Purple Woman" and would gladly have settled for being just a department of the British Government.
But the Tractarian or oxford Movement changed that. Dons at Oxford defied popular opinion and academic wrath to dig deep into their Book of Common Prayer and find their Church was founded not only on the "foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ being the head corner stone", but also, on "the godly and decent order of the Ancient Fathers" (Preface: Book of Common Prayer). Under the leadership of men like Keble, Pusey, Newman and others the Anglican Church recovered its traditions, good name and hidden treasures of sound liturgy and spiritual discipline.
In the next stage, they went out to conquer the world and since the slumland of our country was the nearest to hand they set to work on that, building fine churches or heavily ornamenting those already there. The Eucharist was not celebrated with careful ceremonial vestments, lights incense, the lot. Confessions were heard, children taught, monastic orders restored. Soon every part of Britain was astonished to see the Anglican Church brought back, like Lazarus, from the dead.
After 150 years there is no part of the Anglican Communion untouched by this aggiornamento and yet its handiwork is constantly endangered by those who have not fully understood the meaning of Catholic tradition. Do not be misled, I beg you, by the outward show. Behind the chasuble, the mitre, and even the thurible may lurk unsound views on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the ministry and marriage discipline. This is to mistake the sugar icing for the cake beneath. But a modern miracle is that new generations of priests still emerge who have inherited the fire of Catholic teaching and it is too easy to understand why such ehurchmanship has attracted great men like T. S. Eliot, Lord Halifax (father and son) and leading political figures of the day. Because such renewal has been carried on in the face of bitter opposition (some priests went to prison in the last century for wearing vestments), such Catholic faith and practice sets an example which Catholics in other Churches could admire.