An edited first extract from a talk given by Bishop Martyn Jarrett to his SSC chapter, answering the questions ‘What future is there for Catholics in the CofEand how might we be better prepared to meet it?’

Some Anglican Catholics like to talk as if there once were a golden age of Anglican ecclesiology and as if the whole thing were then irredeemably shattered by the admission of women to priests’ orders in 1994. Those with a longer perspective on the history of the Church of England might like to reflect on other imperfections in its ecclesiology and indeed its orthodoxy, since the breach with Rome in the sixteenth century. Indeed, you and I might start with this very fact.

Few if any of us here today would, I suspect, want to say that a church not in communion with the Bishop of Rome, and which for many years labelled him as being Anti-Christ, was one possessed of a pure ecclesiology. The net result has been for the Church of England to take local provincial authority for things that rightly belong to the whole Church Catholic and not just to itself. Not being in communion with most of the Catholic bishops throughout the world, not least with the recognized ancient sees, would seem to suggest a major flaw in Anglican ecclesiology.

Compromised ecclesiology

There are, of course, many other glaring examples of our church being less than faithful to orthodox teaching and practice. We would be hard pressed to defend as Catholic the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI. Many of us are embarrassed by the 1662 Eucharistic Prayer. For more than four hundred years the Church of England made no official provision for the Anointing of the Sick. Though there are the often quoted references to a priest being able to hear private confessions, not least in the Visitation of the Sick, the provision of guidance for carrying out such a ministry was strongly resisted until relatively recently.

Of particular significance is the fact that from 1549 until 1662 men ordained in the reformed churches of Europe were admitted to benefices in this country without first being required to receive episcopal ordination. Those in our church, who took the same view as we would on such matters and continued to serve within it, had to wait over a hundred years before the Catholic discipline relating to Holy Orders was restored to the English Church.

Now, as then, folk who are unhappy with the current position of the Church of England have to decide whether to stay or to go, a much less costly decision to make nowadays, it has to be said, than at any earlier time in the history of our church since the debacle of the Reformation. You and I would seem, at least at first sight, to have more options at our fingertips than did some of our predecessors. I suppose, if we were to remain theologically comfortable with Anglicanism provided it were lived out within an orthodox province, we could all emigrate to Papua New Guinea or to some other part of the Communion that we deemed to be still orthodox. I have my doubts as to whether many of us would see that as a realistic option.

Some are attracted by the possibility of making common cause with one or another of the continuing Anglican Churches or even of forming their own. While I have some sympathy and understanding for those who have taken this course, not least in places like Canada where little or no provision has been made for traditionally believing Anglicans, that would not seem to be an acceptable way forward for me. Any authentic understanding of what it means to be Catholic must, to my mind, include the reality of being in communion with the rest of the Church.

Fractured communion

I fully accept that the reality of that experience has been fractured at various times within the history of the Christian Church. This is one reason for holding, as I do, that the Church of England never had a golden age when its ecclesiology might have been considered to be perfect.
It is important, too, to remember that Western Christendom lived through what we now call the Great Schism.

It may well be that the Church subsequently saw only one succession of the papacy as the authentic one. That same Church, nevertheless, has proceeded to canonize faithful Christians from both sides of the divide. Even western Catholic ecclesiology is not quite as tidy as some of its proponents like to portray it.

What is clear to me is that, were I to feel unable to remain any longer in communion with the Church of England, I would then seek out what I would see as a more authentic expression of the Catholic Church. I cannot see how it would be more authentically Catholic for me to help establish my own pure branch of the Church or to link up with someone else’s venture along that path.

Received not taken

It is worth noting in passing that proposals for a third province established by the will of the Church of England would fit perfectly within this understanding of Catholic ecclesiology, but that the wild talk of seizing a third province and somehow establishing it despite the views of the Church of England would, to my mind, be to cross the barrier and become a continuing church and, arguably, a schism. I doubt I would want any part in it.

The more obvious possibility, of course, would be to depart for either Rome or Orthodoxy. Yet, for most if not all of us, this too is not without its difficulties. Each of us here today might nuance it differently but, nevertheless, you and I will have our particular reasons for not already having taken that step. To some extent, of course, this is because, as I have already noted, you and I have not, as yet, seen some overriding reason for leaving the Church of England.

The non-recognition of our Orders is not a matter to be taken lightly. Even those among us, who hold the highest doctrine of the Magisterium as exercised by the Roman Catholic Church seem able to sit somewhat lightly to what it teaches about the Anglicanism and Anglican ordinations, even before such issues as the Tightness or not of ordaining women to the priesthood is brought into the equation. Against all this there are some firm and positive reasons for seeking to remain within the Church of England [but more of that next month].