Well, here goes – my reasons why those best of enemies, Affirming Catholicism and Forward in Faith, really need each other – or to be more accurate, really need the Catholic insight that the other holds. Equally loud screams ensue from some on either side at the very idea that there might be anything to learn from the other …
So a bit of quasi-historical overview; you could argue with some chance of success that there have always been two major strands in Anglican Catholicism: one that regarded the others as not really Catholic, and the other regarding its others as not really Anglican. With some inevitable exceptions, you could map these two streams onto Affirming Catholicism and Forward in Faith. AffCath represents those Anglican Catholics who recognise in the Church of England an authentic part of the Church Catholic in its own right. As such, Anglicans have the right and responsibility to govern their own life, which includes matters of doctrine, liturgy and orders of ministry – the whole lot. Although it is a tragedy that the whole church is divided and cannot make these decisions jointly, Anglicans are not beholden to any one before deciding how their church should be organised. In particular, we do not have to wait for the Roman Catholics or the Orthodox Churches to endorse a change before it can be made. The Catholic appeal from this position is particularly to the undivided tradition of the Church – not so much as a template from which nothing can change, as a source of theological truth which cannot be disregarded or treated as mere secular history.
Not nearly Catholic enough, FiF would reply. They represent the Anglo-Catholic tradition which sees the Catholic claims of Anglicans as rooted in the historical link to the Western i.e. Roman Catholic Church. The Church of England is an unfortunately detached part of the Western Church, and its Catholic identity is dependent on that origin. So the more divergent Anglican and Roman Catholic structures or doctrines become, the more endangered is the Anglican claim to Catholic identity.
OK, so this is so much of a summary that it’s nearly a parody, but this is a blog not a monograph. If there’s something in this typology, it leads into a clear complementarity between the two approaches – a mutual corrective that neither ‘side’ might particularly want, but which each needs if it is to live out a Catholic vocation in an Anglican setting. If the Catholic tradition is to engage creatively within Anglicanism it needs to have confidence that this church has its own vocation within the Church Catholic, that its individual contribution (patrimony, perhaps?) may be part of what God is doing. Hankering after Rome is not a way of living out the gospel.
But equally, the Catholic tradition within Anglicanism needs that continual reminder that Catholic identity entails answerability to others, not just those with whom you happen to agree; it demands that changes be made in the light of tradition, and only if it appears that the tradition is unfolding itself into a new thing which the Spirit is revealing. It demands a recognition that the unity of the Church is not sometihng that just happens when everyone finally agrees about everything: it needs to be sought, sacrificially.
So each ‘side’ needs the other, precisely in order to prevent it from falling into the less truly Catholic tendencies of its own set of preferences. Any chance? Probably not yet, but I’m still looking. And it doesn’t stop me (to mention one current issue) being thoroughly in favour of women bishops in the Church of England (but for that see the next post …)