THE year I went to theological college, the Jubilee Group was formed. The year I was ordained priest, 1978, Catholic Renewal was initiated with the Loughborough Conference; my bishop, Eric Kemp of Chichester, chaired the planning committee. When Affirming Catholicism was founded in 1991, I attended some of its meetings in Oxford. In 2013, I went to the service that launched Anglican Catholic Future.
These are only some of the attempts to renew Anglican Catholicism which I have witnessed since the 1960s. The Jubilee Group, whose members included the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was disturbed by “the trend in the Catholic movement towards a sickly pietism and a right-wing reactionary stance in social and political issues”. Catholic Renewal sought to “challenge the false values, both spiritual and material, which confront society”.
Affirming Catholicism initially sought to develop a renewed Catholic theology of history and culture, fed from the past, but dynamic and future-orientated. It rapidly became associated with issues of homosexuality and the ordination of women.
ANGLICAN Catholic Future seeks to avoid party rivalries and “to concentrate on the work of Christian mission and ministry rooted in Catholic practice, piety, and theology”. It is in this spirit that it has set up, with Forward in Faith, a conference on Catholic mission to be held in September 2018.
This November, the Society of the Faith will be holding a day conference to reflect on a document, Catholicity, from 1947, which was, perhaps, the last great statement of Catholic principles in the Church of England.
Its authors were responding to a request from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, to explore the main points of division between Catholics and Protestants, and to see whether a synthesis, or at least co-existence, was possible. The group included Fisher’s successor, Michael Ramsey; the liturgist Gregory Dix; the theologian Austin Farrer; T. S. Eliot; and other luminaries of the day.
Their report works from an understanding of primitive unity — a fine balance of beliefs potentially in tension with one another. It goes on to show how that balance was upset in orthodox Protestantism, in the liberalism stemming from the Renaissance, and in post-Tridentine Catholicism. Its conclusion points towards a recovery of the fullness of tradition.
The report was heavily criticised by Free Church theologians in The Catholicity of Protestantism (1950). A more serious cause of its neglect, however, was the rapid changes that were about to engulf the Church of England and its Catholic wing — changes ecclesial, intellectual, and social.
Catholics had secured the widespread celebration of the eucharist as the main Sunday service, the acceptance of vestments, and a more Catholic liturgical practice. The possibility of dialogue with Rome began under Fisher, and was enhanced under Ramsey with the formation of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. Yet Vatican II set up a division between Anglo-Catholics who accepted its changes and those who adhered to the old ways.
In 1963, Bishop John Robinson’s Honest to God raised popular awareness of liberal theology. This was taken forward by figures such as Dennis Nineham, Maurice Wiles, John Hick, and Don Cupitt, and eventually challenged not only the idea of a primitive unity, but also basic beliefs in the incarnation and the Trinity (The Myth of God Incarnate, 1977). But the enthusiasm for “demythologising” carried with it no social message, and no workable theological synthesis for use in parish teaching.
Academic theology was also beginning to go its own way and lose respect or interest from the wider Church. Moves from an academic post to a place in the hierarchy became increasingly rare. So, too, did books by academic theologians seeking to provide clear and coherent theology for lay people in confirmation or parish study groups.
Then there was rapid secularisation. Many great institutions were widely challenged. Fundamental questions were asked about sex, marriage, gender identity, social welfare, and armaments. Anglican Catholics struggled to keep up with some of these issues while maintaining the Catholic tradition of priestly service in socially deprived areas. What it meant to be a priest or bishop also became increasingly unclear. Priests abandoned their posts to become social workers. Bishops adopted the language of management, appraisal, and strategising.
IT IS easy to summarise too simply the great changes that have affected Catholicity in the Church of England. But before we begin to think about Catholic mission, it may be important to understand and learn from the experience of the past 70 years. To see where we have come from enables us to see better who we are. Good history creates better definitions of the questions that confront us.
John V. Taylor, Bishop of Winchester, once said that mission required us to ask “Who is sending whom, to whom, and why?” Catholic mission requires us to think deeply about our belief in God. It requires a wholeness of Catholic understanding. We need to ask ourselves, and our congregations, how far we belong but do not believe.
Catholic mission also requires a renewed Catholic understanding of the office and work of bishops, priests, and deacons, and how they can unite with all the laity in strengthening and extending the Christian community.
Catholic mission requires us to balance equally prayer, belief, and holiness, as that is what we seek to bring to our society in equal measure. As Ramsey pointed out, belief without prayer and holiness is ab-
stract and arid; prayer without belief and holiness can be complacent piety; moral enthusiasm without belief and prayer ignores the complexity of our sinful humanity.
The two Catholic conferences have big and continuing agendas if Catholicity in the Church of England is really to come in from the cold — and stay here.
Fr Tucker is a retired priest and most recently Vicar of Hampstead.
For information about the November symposium, visit www.catholicity.org.uk . For the conference on Catholic mission in 2018, visit anglicancatholicfuture.org or forwardinfaith.com.