The Panther and the Hind, by Aidan Nichols, O.P.
This book has been on my "do a blog post about this" list for several months now, so many that its details have begun to fade. One aspect of it that will not fade, though, unless I am overtaken by senility, is the clarity with which Fr. Nichols makes the case that Anglicanism was a theological muddle from the very beginning, and that the possibility of something more definite forming itself from the muddle is remote. This is not to deny tendencies such as that of the American Episcopal Church to become pretty well unified along liberal (to use the polite term) theological lines. But that sort of evolution is not an expression of the unity of Anglicanism, but rather of its splintering, as those who hold other views depart, either individually to other communions, or corporately into a schism which holds itself to be the continuation of real Anglicanism.
Over the past thirty or forty years it has become increasingly difficult to hold that there is any one thing that can be called Anglicanism apart from saying (tautologically) that it is whatever is formally encompassed within the Anglican Communion. And even that requires excluding from the picture those bodies which persist in calling themselves Anglican but are not part of the Communion.
Fr. Nichols does not use the word "muddle" (as far as I recall). But that is what he describes. The crucial analysis is found early in the first chapter, under the subheading "The Theological Structure of the English Reformation."
In dealing with the theological, as distinct from the narrative, structure of the English Reformation, we can single out four factors. These I would term the Wycliffite, Erastian, Lutheran, and Reformed elements.
I'll summarize his summary, following his structure:
A. The Wycliffite element: the current of thought which is perhaps most recognizable to Americans in the form of Evangelical Protestantism. There is no visible Church, and the Bible is its one authority.
B. The Erastian element: the Church is subordinate to the state; "the [element] likely to be overlooked by the modern student--whereas the historian Maurice Powicke wrote in his The Reformation in England, 'the one definite thing which can be said about the Reformation in England is that it was an act of State'".
C. The Lutheran element: scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone; "the chief practical effect of Lutheran ideas lay in the dismantlement of those forms of mediaeval piety which were meaningless or indefensible in terms of justification by faith alone"; the visible Church remains, but mainly as the vehicle for transmitting those three central doctrines; sacramental practices remain, but are largely redefined.
D. The Reformed element: Nichols is referring here to Calvin and the others who systematized Lutheranism, and worked out some rather chilly doctrines about predestination and the like as logical deductions from Luther's ideas; I think this is in Nichols' view almost a matter of theological approach and culture, in its recourse to abstract ideas, an approach to which the English were not necessarily sympathetic.
Many of those elements may be reconcilable at the level of systematic theology, although probably at the cost of agreeing to disagree about some fairly important things. But some conflicts--for instance those between A and B, and D and everybody else--can only be accomodated within one institution by sacrificing truth (as conceived by one party) for unity. It is not surprising that the more radical elements of the Reformation soon became bitter enemies of the Church of England.
At any rate, there is no place among those four elements, either within any one of them alone or the group as a whole, for a Catholic party. Those who continued to believe along Catholic lines regarding questions apart from the nature of the Church could find ways of existing within the Church of England, but could not plausibly regard themselves as having any sort of official place. I use "plausibly" from my perspective; of course many of them did believe that they had a real place, and a Catholic party did exist. Although Newman's journey was the story of his coming to the conclusion that Anglo-Catholicism as he wished to understand it was not in fact tenable, Anglo-Catholics who disagreed with him remained in the Church of England.
But as I understand (and remember!) Nichols, it is part of his thesis that the Catholic party could never be anything more than a party or a faction, and that this was so not by historical accident but intrinsically, because it was in the very foundation of the Church of England that it must accomodate factions animated by mutually exclusive ideas, and decide in favor of none. You can argue that this is not a muddle, but rather a healthy tolerance. But you can't reconcile it, institutionally or theologically, with Catholicism. It simply won't fit. Anglicans and Catholics can't hope to attain unity by following Augustine's counsel about agreeing on the essentials and letting the rest go because we don't agree about what the essentials are.
Nichols goes on to trace Anglican theology up to the time of his writing, 1993, and I will leave it to those interested to follow him by reading the book itself, which is not very long and an excellent place to being for a Catholic who wants to know something of the history of Anglicanism. Much that is either Catholic or entirely compatible with Catholicism found its way back into Anglicanism, taking on an English flavor (and including, of course, some very rich writing), but always as a minority view. Nichols ends, not surprisingly, with a pessimistic view of the possibility of institutional reunion, and a suggestion that will sound both plausible and familiar to many:
Supposing, as I believe to be the case, that Anglicanism is so very much three churches within one that no satisfactory ecumenical negotiations can ultimately be carried out with it (not, at any rate, to the point of organic reunion), what is to be done? An Anglican church united with Rome but not absorbed, an Anglican Uniate church, is perfectly feasible....
Such an Anglican Uniate community might be relatively small in numbers, yet, provided with its own canonical structure, liturgical books, parishes, and means of priestly formation, it would enrich Roman Catholicism with its own theological patrimony....
Well, that pretty well describes what Pope Benedict created in 2009 with Anglicanorum Coetibus: the Anglican Ordinariate. It was an answer to the prayers of many an ex-Anglican, including myself. And I'm lucky enough to have a local Ordinariate group and an Anglican Use Mass. But I fear the Pope's gracious move may have come too late--about thirty years too late. In 1980 John Paul II established a much more limited accomodation for Anglicans, the Pastoral Provision, which allowed married Anglican clergy to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood and provided for an Anglicanized liturgy in parishes which came over as a group, along with their priest. But there was no institutional structure, and only a few Episcopal parishes availed themselves of the offer.
Moreover, that period--the early 1980s--was probably the peak of dissatisfaction of Catholic-leaning Episcopalians with the Episcopal Church. In the interim, many of the dissatisfied have struck out into various continuing Anglican bodies--some of them no more sympathetic to Rome than the Episcopal Church of, say, 1900 way--or come over to Rome as individuals. Most of those who remain, even if they are unhappy with the leadership and general direction of their church, have resigned themselves to living with it. What we've seen in the Ordinariate is a few clergy converting, but no substantial movement of lay people.
I'm a bit disheartened by this. And I've been less surprised by the lack of converts from Anglicanism than that the movement has not met with more interest from Catholics who might be drawn to the Anglican liturgy; my impression is that the usual reaction is "That's weird." (Naturally, Catholics who love the liturgical trends of the 1970s are appalled; I read somewhere a comment from one of them describing it, bizarrely, as "narcisisstic.") But the story is certainly not over, and there may be happy surprises yet to come. At any rate we will continue to try "to enrich Roman Catholicism" in whatever ways we can.
"The Panther and the Hind," by the way, is the title of a long poem by Dryden written on the occasion of his conversion to Catholicism in 1687, and arguing the Anglican-Catholic controversy. I've never read it, but I intend to, based on the excerpts from it included in this book, for instance this, on sola scriptura:
Suppose we on things traditive divide,
And both appeal to Scripture to decide;
By various texts we both uphold our claim
Nay, often ground our titles on the same:
After long labour lost, and times expence,
Both grant the words and quarrel for the sense.
Thus all disputes for ever must depend;
For no dumb rule can controversies end.
By the way, the only edition of the Nichols book that I was able to find available at reasonable cost is published by T&T Clark of Edinburgh, and is somewhat poorly printed. The binding and the paper are fine, but the type looks as if it was printed at inadequate resolution and then scanned.