I can’t imagine being interviewed virtually every day. On top of that I can’t imagine the ambient stress of not knowing the motivations of the interviewer and the purpose of the subsequent publication. Furthermore, I can’t imagine having a position of such responsibility that my words will be reported to nearly 100 million people who are (somewhat) vested in my words. In other words, I can’t imagine being the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is with due recognition of my ignorance of his burden that I bring up a recent interview in the Spectator. When asked about Anglican priests who convert to the Roman Catholic Church (commonly referred to as “swimming the Tiber”), he responded with a seemingly flippant, “Who cares?” He went on to say that he is happy for those who respond to God’s call and that the Roman Catholic Church is a source of great inspiration. I think I know what he meant and I think we should receive it with charity. But I think it also needs to be said,
It should be self-evident that I have great affection for the Roman Catholic Church. Not only great affection, but I also have great solidarity. The same is also true for the Orthodox Church. I am a convert to Anglicanism, which means I made a conscious choice after prayer, study, and exploration. I was received in the Anglican Communion because I am convinced it is a part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I am convinced, intellectually and not simply sentimentally, of the historic catholicity of her order and sacraments. I am convinced, intellectually and not simply emotionally, of the validity of my priesthood as a catholic priesthood. To join the Roman Catholic Church is to say none of this is true. I would probably be happier in Rome, but I would also be a liar. One cannot say they are embracing the Truth if they must first tell a lie. The moment, the moment, I am convinced I am no longer a catholic priest, I will stop saying “mass.” My conscience would demand it.
I care because if I don’t, it would be an implicit denial of what Christ has given us.
This morning, on the Conversion of St Paul, I sat in my stall before Morning Prayer and read 1 Timothy. I have a devotion to Timothy as he is the patron of my parish and we are celebrating our patronal feast this weekend. After his greeting, the very first thing St Paul says to St Timothy is:
I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. (1 Timothy 1.3-4)
I am not a Pauline scholar, but I wonder: was Timothy wanting to leave? Did he want to find greener and more hospitable pastures for his ministry? Did he have frequent correspondence with his spiritual father about crossing the Bosporus or some other metaphorical body of water?
I urge you, as I did before, to stay. I care.
If I believe that I belong to the catholic Church and that I am a catholic priest, leaving a place of unsound teaching and inhospitable structures would be abandonment. I am not making judgments on those who have left. I have friends-in-the-flesh and friends-on-Facebook who have dried off the Thames for the waters of the Tiber. Two of my friends-in-the-flesh, incidentally, have returned to Anglicanism; one in his forties and one nearly twice that age. If an Anglican priest truly feels called to Rome, they must acknowledge their ordination was absolutely null and utterly void. If that is the case, their departure would be an act of duty and I would applaud it. If not, I urge you to remain in Ephesus or wherever you are.
We need to care.
Reading 1 Timothy was a helpful reminder of the truth in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Our forebears, even from the beginning, have fought the same struggles we face with doctrine, order, secularism, etc. Anglo-Catholics know this and we even take pride in the fidelity and resistance found in our Victorian heroes. This past Tuesday, Anglo-Catholic social media was alive with remembrances of Fr. Arthur Tooth, who was imprisoned 142 years to the day due to ritualistic practices. His crime? He used incense, vestments, and (gasp) candles; things that most every Anglican parish has tucked away in their sacristy cupboards.
In our generation we are more likely to be imprisoned or deposed based on rituals we won’t do. Theological conviction will be dismissed as antithetical to justice and traditional practices will be viewed as ecclesiastical MAGA hats, even as we rent our clothes pleading our cause. The spiritual masters call on us to embrace humiliations, so much more easier said than done. We will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Heaven knows we’ve misunderstood and misinterpreted others. But let’s give our people a witness of charity and prayer that will force skeptics to re-examine our words and the reasons behind them.
These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4.11-12)
If you care, I urge you, remain. If you remain, I urge you to care.