Recent news reports have highlighted the possibility of a formal Schism threatening the Anglican Communion because of the growing rift over such moral issues as homosexuality, same sex- marriage, and the ordination of women (among yet other matters). Contemporary Anglicanism has been in yet another crisis for the last 12 years when the U.S. Episcopal Church ordained its first openly-homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson. It is the traditionalist Anglican leaders in the African nations of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and other countries who have opposed the more liberal, permissive, and relativistic Western branches led by the archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Justin Welby.
Calling for a meeting of his 37 fellow Primates, Archbishop Welby clearly seeks to maintain the fragile fabric of the 80-million Anglican Communion by recasting it as a loose confederation permitting its various national branches to disagree over key issues of sexuality without the severance of all ties with Canterbury and one another. The lived tensions among Anglicans has now resulted in the suspension of the Episcopal Church of the USA for three years over the latter's decision to endorse same sex marriage. Termed "historic" in media reports, an Episcopalian pastor upon being interviewed has responded, "No, this is so much bluster over little." He added:
"The Primates of the Anglican Communion have absolutely no hierarchical authority over any Province, except their own. And in the case of the Episcopal Church in the USA, our Presiding Bishop doesn't even have that since the General Convention is our decider. It is hardly news that the provinces of the USA, Canada, Scotland, Brazil, Japan, and soon England are supportive of the LGBT community. It makes for great headlines, but the applicable paragraph in Archbishop Welby's short 8-point resolution dealing with the USA is:
'It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However, given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years, the Episcopal Church USA no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision-making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.'
Actually pretty tame stuff. Other Provinces will soon follow us into this sit-in-the-corner foolishness. And since we provide nearly 50% of the funding for the head-office of the Anglican Communion, I am sure that the Archbishop of Canterbury will be reluctant to say much else."
It is ironic that Anglicans and their Episcopalian counterparts in the
USA should be exercised about the possibility of schism when they have long been
afflicted with schisms that make a mockery of the visible Unity with which Christ has
endowed His Church. Since the schismatic rupture with the Holy See begun by the
tyrant Henry VIII together with the flood of heresies marking Edward VI's and Queen
Elizabeth's reigns, dogmatic disunity has typified the Church of England and its offshoots.
Moreover, this disunity in Anglicanism is nothing new.
As the Anglican convert Fr. Dwight Longenecker recently wrote:
"Part of the historic Anglican mentality is to maintain corporate unity at all costs. Incredible theological sleight of hand, "reinterpretations" and ecclesiastical double-think has been used down the centuries to keep Anglicans together - some who believe in women priests and some who do not, some who believe in the Sacraments and some who do not, some who believe in the Bible and some who do not."
It is not surprising that a Catholic observer at a recent Anglican conference was obliged to note the wide range of doctrinal differences exhibited among those in attendance. He lamented the "spiritual Amnesia and ecclesial Parkinson" afflicting Anglicanism and now exacerbated by capitulation regarding such moral evils as fornication, cohabitation, contraception, abortion, divorce-and-remarriage, homosexuality, and same sex marriage.
Already, in the last century Catholic writers had noted the wide doctrinal divisions between the various factions (actually sects) co-existing in the Church of England. The sight of High Church Anglo-Catholics seeking to restore Catholic doctrines and practices, comprehensive Broad Church members boasting of their liberalism and modernism, and Low Church evangelicals desperately clinging to biblical supernaturalism - only revealed Anglicanism as a system of profoundly divided belief, thought and action:
- Catholic dogma and doctrine concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary;
- the Sacrifice of the Mass;
- the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist;
- the Sacraments of Confirmation, Penance, Marriage;
- Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders;
- the Invocation of Saints;
- and Purgatory
were and remain either accepted by a few, denied by many, or ignored by others.
There was no doctrinal continuity with the past centuries when England was regarded as a faithful daughter of the Holy Roman Church. Pope Leo XIII's declaration in "Apostolicae Curae" (1896) that ordinations under the Edwardine Ordinal were "absolutely Null and utterly Void" remains to trouble Anglicans concerned with authentic liturgical worship of God. It also remains true that an ecclesiastical body which cannot trace its origin beyond the 16th century cannot be the Church which Christ founded.
It became clear to the eminent converts of the 19th c. Oxford Movement (Blessed John Henry Newman, Cardinal H.E. Manning, W.G. Ward, T. W. Allies and others) that the doctrinal disunity in the Church of England was intrinsically linked to the fatal rejection of the Petrine Primacy of the Pope defended by such martyrs as St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. It was these saints who represented the voice of the ancient Catholic Church regarding its social and hierarchical structure intended to maintain the Church's perpetual unity and integrity.
Fortunately, certain recent Anglican theologians and historians have emitted a more positive view of the papacy than their predecessors wedded to the negations of Cranmer's infamous "Thirty-Nine Articles" which arrogantly declared, among other things, that "the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith."
The question of the Papacy, wrote John Macquarrie, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, is one that:
"cannot be bypassed.... If the New Testament makes clear the special status of the apostles, it also makes clear that St. Peter had a certain primacy among them. He was obviously the leader, and is reported as the first to have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and the first of the apostles to have seen the risen Christ. More specifically, Christ declares him to be the rock on which He will build the Church; and it is to St. Peter that the risen Christ commends the care of the Church in the postlude to the Fourth Gospel... The papacy emerged [in the history of the Church] earlier and more definitely than many Protestant historians have been willing to acknowledge. And finally, can one not say (and surely one can!) that the papacy too was invaluable in nurturing the Church and in preserving its unity and integrity in the early centuries..."
(Principles of Christian Theology, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966; pp. 369-370)
Prof. Macquarrie's view of the nature and scope of Papal supremacy, however, was flawed with his open rejection of the Church's infallibility. Nevertheless, such candid admissions concerning the biblical and historical foundations of the Petrine Primacy by prominent Protestant scholars hold great promise for more distressed Anglicans to board the Barque of Peter for the salvation of their souls.