A decade ago the Anglican Catholic Church welcomed to some of our synods members of what I believe was called the Anglican Use Society: mostly former Anglicans who had become Roman Catholics but retained an interest in or preference for some elements of what was often later called the ‘Anglican Patrimony’. Those elements included the liturgical language of the Prayer Book tradition and the music represented by Anglican hymnody, composers, and the great cathedral and collegiate choirs. It was our assumption in the ACC that there was some coincidence of interests involving Anglican Use and Anglican Catholic people. We assumed that fans of Anglican Patrimony within the Roman Church might help the Romans to appreciate us more. We also assumed that a strong Continuing Church might strengthen the hand of former Anglicans within the Roman Church who were pressing for a higher status for Anglican usages. The sense of common interest and cordial mutual sympathy came to a crashing end when many of us, whose addresses had been obtained by the Anglican Use with our cooperation, received a come-hither mailing titled ‘A Message from Members and Friends of the Anglican Use Congregations in the Catholic Church of the United States to other Christians of the Anglican Tradition on Restoring Communion with the See of Rome’.
Apart from the mailing being an instance of questionable manners and perhaps an abuse of hospitality, what I noted at the time most strongly was this sentence from the mailing:
Those of us who have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church have taken with us our Anglican/Episcopal heritage of faith and liturgy, devotion, hymnody and scholarship developed and matured especially as a result of the Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholic Movement as represented by figures such as…Dr. Eric L. Mascall….
I am sure that the paragraph was true after a fashion. That is, I am sure the group that addressed us did experience their conversion to the Roman Church as an outgrowth of aspects of their Anglican past and that most of them had been Anglo-Catholic. The paragraph grated on the nerves of readers for its question-begging (its assumption that ‘the Catholic Church’ and ‘the Roman Catholic Church’ are simply coterminous) and its refusal, maintained throughout the mailing, to refer to Anglican clergy, such as Father Mascall, as ‘Father’.
More substantially, the specific reference to Eric Mascall in an invitation to submit to papal obedience was deeply inept. Here is what Father Mascall himself actually wrote about the papal office in a very well-known book (Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and Eucharist. London: Longmans, 1965. 2nd ed. Pages 17f.):
…the Church, as a visible and tangible society, living in the historic process, needs a visible and tangible organ of its unity, though that union is, as I have emphasised, an interior and mystical unity and not a moral or political one. The Church is a visible and tangible society, but it is a sacramental one, and the organ of its unity will be a sacramental organ. This is why, as I see it, the apostolic Episcopate precisely fulfils the requirements for such an organ, for the episcopal character is conferred by a sacramental act. And this is why it seems to me impossible to locate the organ of the Church’s unity in the Papacy, for the papal character is not conferred by a sacramental act at all, but by the purely administrative and organisational process of election. Whether the Papacy has, by divine providence, a unique status in the Church and, if so, what are the functions which rightly attach to it are, of course, important questions, but by its very constitution the Papacy does not, so far as I can see, possess the nature which is required in the organ of the Church’s unity.
I find this argument utterly persuasive and entirely in keeping with the Church and Fathers of the first millennium, including the well-known epistles of (Pope) Saint Gregory the Great that reject as impious the (modern papal) title of ‘bishop of bishops’.
I have no objection at all to the ideas of Petrine primacy or to a place for the papacy in the articulation of the mind of the Church. I think it is conceivable that Pope (Saint) John Paul II’s invitation in Ut Unum Sint to join in a collaborative discussion of the papal office might reach very fruitful conclusions. But there is no way to misunderstand Father Mascall’s clear meaning. ‘Impossible’ is not a complex concept or a term hard to be understood.
Father Mascall’s argument is interesting in part because the issue is usually argued in terms of historical evidence, battling citations, and practicality (there must be a final authority and court of appeal). Mascall’s argument instead flows from systematic and sacramental theology, and is entirely accessible to people operating with Roman Catholic beliefs about the sacraments.
At the time of the Anglican Use Society mailing and my public notice of the Mascall quotation, Professor William Tighe reported a conversation with Father Mascall late in Mascall’s life when he was in retirement at Saint Mary’s, Bourne Street, London. This was around the time that the Church of England was contemplating or had recently approved the supposed ordination of women to the priesthood. At that time, Dr. Tighe reported, Mascall was wavering about the Roman Church. I do not doubt Dr. Tighe’s reliability as a reporter. That said, however, Mascall’s actual reasoning, when not under the very distressing pressure of General Synod folly, is on the public record and is quoted above. The stupidity or heresy of Anglicans does not have anything to do with the truth of the papal claims of Vatican I. The argument Mascall made in 1965 is sound and still can be made forcefully by any orthodox Anglican or any member of the Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox Churches. In brief this is the argument: all that is essential for the Church is given through the sacraments; the unity of the Church is essential: therefore the unity of the Church must be rooted in the episcopate, which is bestowed by a sacrament, not in the papacy, which is bestowed by a non-sacramental election.
It does not follow, of course, that the Vatican I papacy has no purpose. At present in the Roman Catholic world dissent is widespread and grave errors in many places bubble barely below the surface. In such a context, the end of Vatican I claims (universal, ordinary jurisdiction; infallibility in the pope even apart from the bishops and a Council) might well be disastrous in its effects. This line of thought, which one sometimes read during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, is heard less often in the days of Francis I. But in any case, the practical helpfulness of an erroneous claim does not render it any more true or less erroneous.
So Anglican Catholics remain more Catholic than the pope and on the issue of the Petrine Office stand with Eric Mascall and the Orthodox and with the first millennium and against Vatican I.