Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Becket, Peter and the Church

One of the arguments in favour of the Anglican Church is that it is the continuation of the Catholic Church in England as founded by St. Augustine, and has inherited the spirit of the Celtic Church (pre-Whitby?); that it is Catholic and "reformed" , being cleansed of the accretions that came with a misguided development of Papal authority. The argument cannot be sustained.
In the Divine Office for the Memoria of St. Thomas Becket, we have an extract from his letters.
He speaks of the importance of the Papal office;
"Who can doubt that the Church of Rome is the head of all the churches, the source of Catholic teaching? Who does not know that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter? Is not the whole structure of the Church built on Peter's faith and teaching, so to grow until we all meet Christ as one perfect man, united in faith and in our recognition of him as Son of God?"
As much as I love and respect my Anglican brothers and sisters, I have to say that the Catholic Church was not reformed by Cranmer and then re-Catholicised by people like Laud. No, the Catholic Church was already undergoing its true reformation with the arrival of St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Dominic, and this was later taken up again by figures like St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Pius V (etc). The Holy Spirit did not abandon the Catholic Church, nor did the Spirit move only in the hearts and minds of the English Protestant reformers. This is not to say that most of those reformers were not spiritual or holy people, but that they were mistaken. The real mistake is to walk away from Rome (as, in the legend, Peter himself almost did). Looking at Becket's understanding of the importance of Rome and the Pope can it really be argued that there can be any genuine continuation of Catholicism without Peter? Is such an argument sustainable? I don't believe it is.
The Church is always in need of reform because it is a Church of sinful men and women, as well as being holy because it is founded by Christ and is inhabited by the Holy Spirit. But this Church, to be recognised as holy, must be one, and there can be no unity without Peter. This seems resoundingly obvious. The Church of Augustine was the Church of Rome - of Peter. We cannot forget that he was sent by Gregory the Great, nor was the Celtic Church anti-Papal. There is a sense in which anti-Roman does not mean anti-Pope, and honesty forbids reading into the Celtic Church before Whitby a desire to be entirely free of the Pope. In any case, there was agreement after Whitby in the sense that the Church remained one. There are many Catholics in the world and many in England, but the truth is that there is only one Catholic Church. It is not as it should be. We need to be re-united with our brothers and sisters in the East. Until that day we are weaker than we should be, and the Gospel is not preached with the power that will conquer the world. The need for unity is very great indeed. We should be passionate about it, and ready to die for it because it is a sign of the Kingdom.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Father. I say something similar here:
    As an Anglican I can afford to be less polite than you are towards what has happened since Henry VIII! Also, many thanks indeed for your good wishes after my recent accident.