Monday, 5 November 2007


I, as no doubt you, too, have been reading about the application made by the Traditional Anglican Communion for corporate union with the Catholic Church. It is a pleasing prospect, and this morning I've been doing a bit of research.

The TAC is not a part of the Anglican Communion. It considered itself as being so until February 22nd 1994, which is presumably when the issue of womens' orders became irrevocable.

It has a strong attachment to the Book of Common Prayer and, at least in the US, permits no deviation from the 1928 form. In the UK, it permits the use of the English Missal—an English translation of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

In its St Louis Declaration (which is really the closest it comes to a formulation of doctrine) it professes belief in the seven sacraments, and the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist.

On the minus side, it lists the 39 articles as being amongst its authoritative documents. How it reconciles one or two of these articles with the last observation is beyond me. I was never convinced by Newman's Tract 90.

The TAC isn't a large operation in the UK: only twelve parishes in England, as far as I can tell, and I've not a clue as to how large these are. Some of them have websites: here, and here. I see that in the latter case, Letchworth, they have already canonized Henry VI themselves.

The Letchworth parish worships in a Liberal Catholic building, and has posted photographs of a High Mass there. I should have thought that the Liberal Catholics (who cheerfully ordain women) were very strange bedfellows for the TAC.
The Liberal Catholic Church has as one of its basic tenets freedom of thought. It "permits to lay members entire freedom in the interpretation of Creeds, Scriptures and Tradition, and of the Liturgy. The Church holds strongly that belief should be the result of individual study or intuition, not its antecedent. A truth is not a truth for a man, nor a revelation a Revelation, until he sees it to be true for himself." ("Statement of Principles")
And I recognize the celebrant: he has attended various services that I have been involved with in the past.

In the end, all Christians who seek reconciliation with the Holy See have to be made welcome if they recognize its truth and desire communion. The 'Uniate Anglican' system in the States has worked very well, on the whole, and there seems little reasons why it should not do so in the UK. In the States, they willingly accepted a modification of the Book of Common Prayer, though it was a little weird—the Novus Ordo offertory was incorporated, with 'you' language instead of the 'thou' used elsewhere, and the Roman Canon in Miles Coverdale's 16th century translation—and as far as I know continue to use it, though some churches now celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and others the Ordinary Form.

There is another issue, and perhaps my friend William might like to comment if he is reading this. The TAC, I'm sure, consists of worthy and saintly clergy and people. But as far as I can see, it is, well, fringe, to put it at its most charitable. All things considered, at least in the UK, it isn't a major player. However, there is a much larger group which is more mainstream, if I can put it like that, and this is the SSC; the Societas Sanctæ Crucis, or Society of the Holy Cross.
I have known a number of SSC members over the years, and have found them to be, largely, an admirable body of chaps. They are in communion (if uneasily) with the C of E, but are unquestionably at the 'Catholic' end, and nearly unanimous in their opposition to womens' orders. What is particularly impressive is that they have a real spirituality; there is a rule of life which they are expected to follow, there are retreats and days of recollection. It consists of both celibate and married clergy. They are organized into regional chapters which, for many of them, take the place of the 'official' liberal diocesan organization. Probably most of them account themselves under the authority and sacramental ministry of the 'Flying Bishops'. The majority use the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite in their Eucharists.
If Rome is to accept the TAC into full Communion, then it should keep an eye also on the SSC. It would be a great shame if the TAC were to call all the shots and, effectively, queer the pitch for a much larger and more coherent (in both senses of the word) group who are increasingly interested (it seems to me) in making the same sort of move.
Perhaps more in later posts.


William said...

As chance would have it, I have just returned from a joint meeting of two SSC Chapters, where much of the talk revolved around the TAC.

Two weeks ago I had a long discussion with one of the signatories to the TAC letter to Rome. Though were was some doubt before the gathering of TAC bishops as to how many would go along with it, in the event it was signed unanimously by all (28 or 29, I think) bishops worldwide (plus some others). This was accompanied by the signing by all present of a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, affirming their belief in its contents in toto. I get the impression that instead of them trying to square this with the 39 Articles, the Catechism now takes precedence over the Articles, but I'm not absolutely sure.

The TAC is negligible in Britain - even the figure of twelve parishes you mention is unrealistic - really there are four functioning communities here, with a total adherence of around 150 souls. They don't have a bishop over here, and have no plans for one (TAC, unlike some other Continuing Anglican bodies, has always been very restrained in consecrating bishops). But they are far stronger elsewhere - USA, Canada, Australia etc. - and I am assured that the total figure of 400,000 which has been put about is not unrealistic. (Would that be the largest mass conversion since the Union of Brest?)

The strength of the TAC is typically in inverse proportion to the generosity of the provisions made for orthodox traditional Anglicans, and the "flying bishop" arrangements in England & Wales (even if less than satisfactory in many ways) mean that over here there has been no real need for the TAC. (I'm afraid I and many of my colleagues have always been rather sniffy about it.) But the situation elsewhere is very different - indeed the number of SSC brethren who have been driven by the intolerance of liberal hierarchies into the arms of the "Continuum" has become something of an issue for the Society lately.

An appendix to the Statutes of SSC states: "We affirm our commitment to working for the visible unity of all Christians under the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome so that the mission of Christ may be advanced". There's a feeling that SSC's ambivalent situation - organisationally in, but spiritually and sacramentally out of, present-day Anglicanism - has perhaps made it too cautious, not taking proper advantage of opportunities to realise its vision. (One priest at today's meeting brandished a copy of today's Catholic Herald, exclaiming "Why isn't this headline about us? This is exactly where we should be making the running!") Hopefully, the TAC's move will prompt a less cautious approach from SSC - it should indeed be there at the forefront of any moves to corporate union with the Holy See. An opportunity like this may not come again in our lifetimes.

Anonymous said...

That's a lot to digest! thankyou..

highchurchman said...

Whilst I am not a member of the `TAC 'or even an admirer, to compare them to the SSC is a little unfair.

The SSC are as I understand it priests within the Communion of the C.of E, which to my mind allows membership to anyone no matter what he believes in. Certainly Calvinism, women's orders or practising homosexuality doesn't appear to be a problem.

The TAC, have at least tried to hold fast to the Catholic Faith as they understand it to have been held and practiced for some two thousand yrs.

Whilst the SSC have largly been a failure in their approach to the faith within the C.Of E. They were amongst those who were refered to as ''The Party,"and considered to behave more like politicians than priests.

William said...

Highchurchman's second paragraph appears to be trying to persuade us of a false syllogism: Anglicanism admits Calvinism, women's orders and practising homosexuality; SSC is Anglican; therefore SSC, at least implicitly, admits C, WO & PH.

Simply as a matter of fact, SSC does not accept these things, implicitly or explicitly, and I have known members who have had to resign because they were unwilling to accept SSC's doctrinal and disciplinary standards in these and like matters. Highchurchman's third paragraph could be said at least equally well of SSC.

Whether SSC has been a 'failure' is not as easy to judge as he seems to think. (And has TAC been such a rip-roaring success?) Without the influence and faithfulness of SSC priests among others, the crisis of 1992 could well have seen the total demise of the Catholic element in the CofE.

I have never heard it said that SSC is part of 'The Party'. If that is supposed to mean that it is part of a cosy, mutually supportive ecclesiastical establishment, the idea is laughable. It is well known that there are CofE bishops who refuse absolutely to licence SSC priests anywhere within their dioceses, and in earlier generations the discrimination against such clergy took the form of open persecution, with some being imprisoned for their use of Catholic liturgical practices, and others (even in recent times) having their licences summarily revoked. Accepting the cost of faithful witness within a highly antipathetic body - seeking to be the leaven within the lump - displays, to my mind, incomparably more integrity than the TAC's decision (up until now) to take their ball away and invent their own game.

Fr Justin said...

Perhaps at least part of the issue is that in England provision was made for those who could not accept the ordination of women. Those who left were financially compensated, those who remained could make use of the 'flying bishops', and, in theory at least, could carry on at least to some extent as before. Therefore the continuance of a body such as SSC. Elsewhere, this has not been a solution. The only choice given in other lands has been 'put up or push off', and hence the TAC has been the only real option for those who wanted to maintain some sort of integral Catholic-style life according to the Anglican tradition. Or rather, there has been another choice for those in the US, the 'Uniate Anglican' status. But I can well understand that any group would want to think well and hard about the implications of being not just Catholic-style, but being Roman Catholics. The TAC have thought, and concluded that this is what they want. God bless them. I wish them every happiness. If, as William mentioned in his first post, they really have subscribed to the Catechism, then the Church has no option but to make some arrangement for them, assuming they aren't asking for the impossible.

highchurchman said...

is entitled to his opinion of the SSC as he finds them and I wish him well. My experience of them is different . I too have met those who have had to resign because of their opposition to the current moves within the C.Of E. Usually this takes place when they are old enough to get a pension.

As I said at the beginning I am not an admirer of the TAC, nor a member,but they do have a slightly more positive attitude towards the Catholicn Faith as expressed in Anglicanism than the SSC . No matter how ineptly this attitude has been expressed they have not sat still on the side lines. They are miniscule in numbers, I admit, but at least they are constant. They do ,however have some things in common with the SSC and it is their continual looking over their collective shoulders to see what Rome is doing and if that Communion approves of them.

Further we have to remember that the SSC, have provided the leadership on Catholic wing during these troubles we have suffered over the last few years and inspite of two thousand years past history of the Church in this country, have never managed to provide an essential analysis of the problem or an answer.

As I see it the SSC is a safe refuge from the problems suffered by our Church. Catholic maybe?
Strong and safe? Never.

William said...

When an enemy invades your city and sets about destroying all that is most dear to you, there are basically three options: (1) submit, (2) resist or (3) flee. If you're not going to submit, then which of (2) or (3) you choose will depend partly on temperament and circumstances but also partly on what responsibilities you have.

TAC withdrew from the battle in the interests of preserving purity of doctrine, away from corrupting influences; and I can understand that that was sometimes the best course of action for laity, who are not charged with the same spiritual responsibilities to others as clergy are. On the other hand, most of SSC (a priestly society rather than a church-within-a-church) considered that their responsibilities obliged them to remain and fight, even when it became clear that the battle for the city was likely ultimately to be lost. Like any resistance movement (sorry if that's over-glamourising it!), it is, I acknowledge, far from perfect, but one hopes it has at least been able to give succour to those who remain, as well as providing covering fire for those who are looking for a way to get out. That, I suggest, should be the generally expected course of action for those bearing pastoral responsibilities. (But then even those who choose course (3) will need to be pastored … so things are never quite as simple as they look …)

There may be something of a parallel here with the situation of SSPX vis-à-vis RC traditionalists who remained (often in real hardship) within the mainstream Church. Pope Benedict, if I've understood correctly, seems to be indicating that both avenues are ones which have been taken by faithful Catholics, and it's time now to use the energies of both groups, instead of disparaging one another, to pull together instead. Perhaps there's a moral there for trad Anglicans too …