From Father Stephen Jones


I much appreciated Edward Dowler’s piece entitled ‘Marginalising Catholicism’ in the November 2018 edition of New Directions.  Reflecting upon the theme of ‘Catholic Mission’, Fr Dowler sets out two ‘guiding principles’ which inform his ongoing reflection about our current missionary task.

I wish to leave aside his second guiding principle (with which, incidentally, I concur), about the use of resources from beyond the parameters of the Church of England; but I offer a brief reflection on the first.

Fr Dowler reminds us that the catholic tradition, far from being ‘an increasingly marginal subset of the Church of England’, is in fact ‘the mainstream of Christian life and faith throughout history and all across the world’.  Citing John Shelby Reed, he then proceeds to outline the loss of this sense. He tells us that Reed argues that, as a result of ritual persecutions carried out under the 1874 Public Worship Regulation Act, Anglo-Catholics gave up the original vision of the Oxford fathers, which was to raise awareness in the Church of England generally of its inherent catholic nature, settling instead for ‘tolerance and forbearance’ for themselves. As Reed states, Anglo-Catholics abandoned their goal of ‘a unified, “Catholic” Church of England’ and ‘had become content to see [their beliefs] tolerated as the mark of a party’.  In fact, Newman had already identified this phenomenon, writing in his Apologia of his thoughts as early as 1843: ‘Men of Catholic views are too truly a party in our Church’.  Fr Dowler then proceeds to outline the way in which Anglo-Catholics have ‘colluded’ in this ‘marginalisation’ of Catholicism within the Church of England.  He is right to argue that this reductive self-understanding has had the effect of implying that Catholicism is merely one strand among others within Anglicanism, rather than the Christian norm.  It is precisely the antithesis of the original vision of the Oxford fathers, as Catholics in the Church of England have been content to occupy a niche within an ecclesial community which has a generally different self-understanding, simply making our distinctive contribution.  In short, we have become domesticated, partly as a result of our own actions.

This marginalisation, collusion, domestication – call it what you will – has reached its apogee in our embracing of the Five Guiding Principles and the notion of ‘mutual flourishing’, along with the novel and uncatholic ecclesiology this embrace entails. It  is a million miles away from the original vision of what came to be known as the Catholic movement in the Church of England; and it represents an almost complete abandonment of the raison d’etré which has inspired and energised generations of laypeople and clergy.

The most pressing need for our movement now, I believe, is to find a new raison d’etré and a new articulation of our place and purpose, since it is now apparent that the vision with which our movement began in 1833 has been abandoned, or at least lost by default as something no longer attainable.


Canon Stephen Jones

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