Friday, April 29, 2016

Why I am back as a priest in the Episcopal Church

Many people have asked me why I have gone back to the ministry of the Episcopal Church, after spending a number of years living in the Roman Church, and what I am doing back here, as it were. My apologies for not getting this completed earlier, as I had promised. The short answer is that years ago I made a promise as a priest in the Episcopal Church, and am trying to follow my conscience before God in doing so. However, I think I owe you all a fuller explanation.

Among other things, I think I made the mistake of mistaking ideology and this-worldly institution for Tradition and Church. Coming from the Anglo-Catholic tradition, it seems useful to begin there, with some things that may at first seem trivial, and I apologize if this seems round-about, but my argument depends on examine the problem of tradition, and especially of liturgical praxis, since "the law of praying establishes the law of believing."

I think one serious mistake that many Anglo-Catholics made, that I made, was to take current Roman Rite practice in the Roman Church as their model. We have our own tradition, which goes back to St. Augustine of Canterbury, and that tradition already includes everything of consequence that the Anglo-Catholics strive for. I am not saying we cannot learn from, or even borrow from RC's (including baroque-style vestments), but the model must be our own tradition. Likewise this does not mean that recovery is not part of the program. It must be our duty to "restore those things that are gone to decay" and I would include among that the venerable Roman Canon. So, while I would not now use the current Roman Missal, I am sympathetic to the English and Anglican Missals, using the latter, which happily provides Sarum options. Latin in the liturgy is another thing we need to revive, although it never fell out entirely, being in use at the two ancient Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, (which also maintained, through its celibate fellows, the spirit of monastic life until the revival of that in the mid- 19th century). I celebrate in Latin as often as I can, that is whenever I am not dealing with a congregation who would be alienated by its use, and for my private prayers use a form of the ancient Roman office that was in use in England prior to the Reformation (key elements of which were likewise long preserved in the universities), and taken up again by religious communities during the Catholic Revival.

To take another problem, taking the position that Anglican-style vestments, with their pre-Reformation origins, are somehow Protestant, seems to me a very un-catholic and sectarian approach into which some Anglo-Catholics have fallen. Many Anglo-Catholics also adopted the Novus Ordo. However, when I look at the Novus Ordo Missae and the ethos that produced it, it seems to me the product of a repressed sexuality, especially homosexual desire, that came out in destructive anger towards the liturgy. (I believe it is sacramentally valid. I believe it can be celebrated reverently, and I know of good priests and congregations that do so—but they are a decided minority.) I would say that there is much about it that is consequently un-catholic. There is a lot in the current Anglican liturgies that is an improvement, but for Anglicans to have taken on so much of the Novus Ordo and its ethos, the whole a deeply flawed and foreign product, and one that is the result of a deeply conflicted and repressed sexuality, seems to me a terrible mistake. To my fellow Anglicans I would say that we need to get over being governed by other people's neuroses, deal with our own, and get back to the fullness of our own tradition. Further, our approach to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason gives us a much better theoretical basis to address the crisis in human sexuality, if only we will use it.

Some would say that the ordinariates for former Anglicans set up by order of Pope Benedict XVI in Anglicanorum Coetibus allows for us to keep our traditions in union with the Roman Church. However, the fact that the ordinariate in this country does not use Anglican-style vestments, does not use the traditional Anglican lectionary, and was forbidden the use of the traditional Latin liturgical forms, is to me more than sufficient evidence of the un-catholic and sectarian spirit behind its the implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus (though not about the Pope who authored it) , and the un-catholic and sectarian approach of the Bishop's Conference and the Roman dicasteries, commission, and bureacracy that implemented it. In short, insofar as the presumed goal of the ordinariates was catholicity, they have failed by failing to respect the Anglican tradition, and this reveals a profound and wider failure in the Roman Church—one which made keeping the legitimate traditions that I received impossible.

Nor could I become Orthodox, which means accepting the Byzantine Liturgy and ethos as normative: it is certainly catholic in itself, but its exclusive use to the denial of others is not, and I was raised in and received my faith from the Anglican Tradition, in the Episcopal Church. Nor could I ever in good conscience commit the sin of sacrilege by being absolutely re-ordained in either the Roman or Byzantine churches, as they require, and certainly by the traditional Latin Catholic approach to ordination, I have never had cause to believe that my ordination was invalid.

Just as our ability to keep the sixth through tenth commandments (5th-10th in some numberings) is dependent upon our good will towards our neighbor, as expressed in the tenth commandment, "Do not covet," so our ability to keep the commandments outlining our duty towards God are, in traditional rabbinical interpretation, dependent upon our keeping the 5th commandment, and honoring our Fathers and Mothers who teach us the faith. (Hence this commandment is reckoned by the Rabbis as part of our duty towards God.) My job as an Anglo-Catholic priest is to keep and pass on the tradition as it was given to me. It is not my job to waste my time worrying about the stupid and wicked things done by my fellow Anglicans, our Bishops, General Convention, or the Archbishop of Canterbury—any more than it is my duty to worry about the stupid and wicked things done by the Pope in Rome and those who work for him. I am bidden to practice and teach the commandments of Christ, the "Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of Christ," and to do so as the Episcopal Church, a member church of the Anglican Communion, has received them, and it is this to which I have sworn a solemn oath. (If I had been raised and received the faith as a Roman Catholic, or Russian Orthodox, with a particular tradition in that church, which tradition I was sworn to uphold, I would be obliged in conscience to act rather differently.)

The fact that the fundamental unity of the Church of Christ is hidden in this world by heresy and schism is not a problem that I can solve, though it is indeed something I am obliged to work for and help correct: I am not allowed as a Christian to accept or settle for division as normal, but am to do all I can to work the visible manifestation of the unity of the Church. I pray regularly, especially and particularly , for my own bishop and the bishop of the diocese in which I am resident, but also for all Christians including especially the Roman Pontiff as first among the bishops and Patriarch of the West — and in doing that manifest at least in my prayer the communion that is not now visible. However, as a catholic Christian, I can only work for that unity by keeping the commandments, and that includes the commandment to honor the tradition that I have received, and those who passed it on to me, which leaves me only one moral option at this moment, and that is to be the most faithful Christian priest I can be, and to do so in the Episcopal Church.


  1. Of course we disagree but as you know you still have my respect. Your slightly different idea of the church is among those I call alterna-Catholicisms, which exist largely as a reproach to us Roman Catholics for our human failings, which have driven people away; good people in some cases. They fascinate me because they always have a point, yours not least because I started out in Anglicanism thanks to my father's marriage conversion before I was born. I respect churchmen who don't quite buy the papacy on principle.

    A few points: you're obviously not a lockstep liberal, but the Episcopal Church, face it, is committedly liberal. Granted, its semi-congregationalism (something we "Romans" can learn from) gives conservatives space locally, even being a hedge against liberalism, but I couldn't live with being ruled ecclesiastically by heretics. Second, William Tighe and the books he has shared with me (from Eamon Duffy to Michael Davies) have convinced me that Anglicanism only makes sense when you think of it as Reformed, not Catholic. The Episcopal Church acts just like its Congregationalist cousins in the United Church of Christ with its liberalism; only the trappings differ. Both are sons of the English "Reformation."

    Nor could I become Orthodox, which means accepting the Byzantine Liturgy and ethos as normative: it is certainly catholic in itself, but its exclusive use to the denial of others is not.

    You have perfectly expressed why, having tried the Orthodox, I couldn't stand them and came back to Catholicism. You recently wrote elsewhere that whenever one takes an aspect of one's Christian life, such as one's rite and/or one's culture, and puts it above the others, even in Christ's name, one has made it a substitute for Christ, an idol. That's exactly their problem. (Basically, they think they're hot stuff because they used to have an empire.) It's their real reason to exist, so of course, objective truth aside, it's a reason they are failing in the United States as they inevitably lose most of their people to assimilation. (The Uniates lose people like crazy in America too; Eastern Christian cultures just have no staying power here.)

  2. "However, when I look at the Novus Ordo Missae and the ethos that produced it, it seems to me the product of a repressed sexuality, especially homosexual desire, that came out in destructive anger towards the liturgy."

    Can you unpack this? I don't think I quite understand how liturgy is the product of repressed sexuality...