The first installment of the lecture given by Dr Benjamin Vallejo Jr to the Catholic students ministry of the University of the Philippines, January 25, 2012, Delaney Hall, UP Diliman.
Who are the Anglicans?
I always believed that Anglicans do not convert to become Catholics. They just come home. After all the word “Anglican” means “of England” and could also be used to describe the Catholic faith as practiced by the English, especially before the Reformation. But then the Reformation happened.
Father Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk nailed his 95 theses on the west door of Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517, a date so important in Church history which the Protestant Churches celebrate as Reformation Day. The theses are nothing but academic points of debate on certain church practices that Fr Luther found unacceptable. It is true that the Medieval Roman Church has abused its power to care for souls. Fr Luther objected the “sale of indulgences” simply because another priest Johann Tetzel made the whole idea of praying for the souls in Purgatory a business transaction. The Church needed the money to finish constructing St Peter’s Basilica.
If one day if you have the chance to visit Rome, I bet that you will marvel at the priceless expression of the Catholic faith in St Peter’s especially in art but was St Peter’s worth the Reformation that made it possible?
Perhaps all Christians whether they be Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or Anglican may have asked the question. St Peter’s is both a sign of our division and our unity as Christians. St Peter’s Basilica can both repel us with its ostentation and the cost of dividing the church but still unite us since all of this was made for God’s glory. But still we are drawn to St Peter’s and to most of all to St Peter. St Peter is probably the wimpiest of the Apostles, yet even if he denied the Lord and was hesitant to lead, the Lord selected him and gave him a great responsibility. He was already old when he was crucified like Jesus but upside down exactly on the place where St Peter's Basilica stands today. Jesus foretold of this and even in his weakness Peter accepted the commission. And for that the great church is built on Peter's grave.
The Church is built on Peter since he received that important commission from Christ which you can read or better yet hear in the Gospels at Mass. What we recall of that commission is the "Keys" and that Hell won't prevail over the Church. But the Reformation made it more difficult to see that truth since there was a Holy Catholic Church but she was run by sinners and the holy alike. But most of the time, it was the sinners who were on top. But it is Faith that allows us to see beyond the shadows and darkness, thanks to the witness of the Saints, whose vocation was really authentic reformation. For that truth many Catholics gave their lives and for me the most notable would be Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher, who gave their lives when the Reformation came to England. Many followed Peter to martyrdom. Thus England has been blessed by the witness of hundreds of martrys some of which are known only to God. Of these we know probably at most 80, forty of which have been canonized as the "Forty Martyrs of England and Wales".
King Henry VIII in 1536 since he had no male heir would do anything to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine who gave him only a daughter. For this he in a series of acts of parliament, separated the Church in England from the Catholic Church and made himself the “Supreme Head of the Church” in England. This is a new title for the Pope never had considered himself as the “Supreme Head” which is a title only for Christ. The Pope as we all know, even today is the Bishop of Rome (his most important title) and with it “Vicar of Christ”, which means only that he only acts in the name of Christ. King Henry appropriated a title which is not by the law of God, his. For this More and Fisher lost their heads and became Catholic saints.
The Ecclesia Anglicana or the Church of England was created by the King’s wish. It considered itself as a continuation of the Catholic Church but reformed by doing away with the perceived abuses of the Pope. The doctrine of the Catholic Church was held and Henry did not tolerate the Lutheran doctrine (much earlier the Pope granted his the title Fidei Defensor). But the Reformed doctrine was influential among the aristocracy who benefitted from Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries. The English people resisted the Reformation for at least three generations that by the time of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, a religious settlement had to be made since the people had shed much blood in matters of religion. Mary I, Elizabeth’s elder half sister brought the English back to the Roman obedience but it was not to last. The Reformation had made its impact. The Church of England will have the Queen as “Supreme Governor”, a title roughly equivalent to the Pope’s title as “Vicar of Christ”. Elizabeth’s title was granted by Parliament while the Pope was by Christ through St Peter’s. And as a result of the religious settlement Anglican belief would be defined in such a way that it is possible for it to be understood in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant sense. The result is a large degree of ambiguity. This is so evident in the Anglican belief in the Eucharist which I shall touch on later.
After King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, the Roman Church had to meet the challenges of the Reformation in the Council of Trent which successfully reformed the Church in what historians would rather inaccurately call the Counter Reformation. The Anglican Church will go on its separate way and developing its own distinct liturgies and spirituality. Yet in this separate way, many elements of Catholic Church belief and practice were preserved. The Anglican Church preserved the ministries of the bishop, priest and deacons but the Eucharist was said in English and no longer in Latin. Anglican clergy can be married while Roman Catholic clergy can’t. The Roman Catholic Church insisted on Latin until after the Second Vatican Council when the Mass could be celebrated in the vernacular languages. Thus in a way the Catholic Church followed the Anglican reforms in liturgy, although 500 years late.
With England becoming a world power in the 17th to the early 20th centuries, she planted Anglican Churches in her colonies including what became the United States. These churches eventually became independent of the Church of England headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They became the Anglican Communion since they are in communion with Canterbury. In the United States, the Anglican Church is called the Episcopal Church since this church had its first bishop consecrated by the Scottish Episcopal Church (which is not under the Church of England). When the Philippines became under the Americans in 1898, The Episcopal Church sent its missionaries to the Philippines and later on the Anglican/Episcopal church in our country became the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP). The ECP is notable in our church history since right from the start in 1902, she refused to convert Roman Catholics instead focused her missionary efforts on non-Christians. The first Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines the Rt Rev Charles Henry Brent would not “build an altar over another”. Of all the non- Catholic (Protestant) missionaries in the Philippines, only Bishop Brent recognized that Roman Catholics were Christians too!
But with so much in common even if we are separated, it would be inevitable that many Anglicans would feel an affinity for the Church of Rome. Thus in the five centuries of separation, Anglican theologians would take great care in differentiating what they believed in from Protestantism while maintaining their difference from Roman Catholicism. They believed they are the middle way or in Latin “Via Media”. Fundamental aspects of Protestant (Puritan) practice were suppressed as well as Roman Catholic devotions like those to the Virgin Mary. The Anglican Church is the church of the English state and any excessive emphasis on Protestantism (Puritan) or Catholicism was considered a threat to the state. Elizabeth I famously said she “won’t look into men’s souls” which meant that one can hold Roman Catholic or Puritan beliefs as long as one keeps this private. If not Elizabeth I considered these grounds for treason. Many martyrs both on the Roman Catholic and Puritan side lost their heads for their conscience since they rejected the idea that they should live their faith in private.
Of course the Via Media won’t hold as John Henry Newman realized. The Rev Dr Newman, perhaps the most renowned 19th century Anglican theologian or Divine as the English would say it, was one of the founders of the Oxford Movement in the mid 19th century which sought to restore the Catholic element in the Anglican Church. The Oxford Movement restored to the Church of England the Devotion to the Blessed Virgin especially in her title of Our Lady of Walsingham. It also restored a more sacramental way of celebrating the liturgy. Thus many Anglicans today have a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. While this led many Anglicans to believe in many things Catholics believe in, but even so Newman in his studies and prayerful reflection realized that the idea of a Church of England would make no sense unless it is united with the Church of Rome, where she came from. [It was a Pope, St Gregory the Great, who sent St Augustine to Canterbury to preach the Gospel to the English]. Newman also rejected the idea that the state should have anything to do with Christian doctrine. Newman became a Catholic, was ordained to the Catholic priesthood and became a Cardinal. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him in 2010. It was not only Newman who came home but many Anglican clergy and laypeople, some very famous, some are celebrities but most are ordinary men, women and children. And they are still coming home as of this minute. They reached the same conclusion as Newman did more than 150 years earlier.
And most of them don’t consider themselves converts but just people who came home!