|Dr. Jeffrey Steenson|
It all begins with the conviction that the Catholic Church simply is. She is not one option amongst many. People who become alienated from their own churches will sometimes think that the next step is to go down to the marketplace and see what is on offer: which church is going to give me the best deal? Those people seldom find the Catholic Church because they have missed the essential point – the fullness of Christ's blessings is not distributed across the ecclesial landscape but flows from the one Church. "The one Church of Christ, as a society constituted and organized in the world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him." This is the ecclesiological North Star. On the other hand, Anglicanism’s branch theory of Catholicism cannot be located on the map because it is a utopia, ou topos, a place of nonexistence. This is a difficult truth, but the idea that Catholic Anglicanism exists sui generis is an illusion that must be let go of in order to experience the fullness of Catholic life. Many Anglicans have intuited this, but it is hard to overcome the notion we were taught, that Catholicism is simply the sum of all the Christian churches, kath’holos, according to the whole. The Catholic Church has a different understanding: "Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome, which presides in charity.'"
Anglicanism has for the last quarter century proceeded quite intentionally from the principle that truth not only is discerned primarily in the experience of the Christian community but also that the community itself has priority over truth. This approach has produced a very meager and inconsequential harvest, and the great legacy of Anglican theological scholarship has been lost. The contrast with the Catholic mind is striking. As an Anglican I would take in hand, for instance, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and ask, could my church have produced a work so penetrating and comprehensive? No, it has neither the capacity nor the confidence to speak its mind in such a way. Why? Because it has deliberately cut itself off from the tradition.
How could an individual person hope to comprehend and understand everything that the Catholic Church teaches? To think that one must do so before giving assent is a very Protestant exercise of private judgment. People come to the Catholic Church not because they have worked out every point of doctrine but because they trust that what the Church teaches is true. This is no blind act of faith but the conviction that the Church of Rome is the principal witness to the apostolic tradition. The early Church Fathers were very much aware of the unique vocation of the Bishop of Rome to speak with the voice of Peter in matters of faith.
It is no small matter to be taken to the woodshed by the Vicar of Christ at a carefully organized ecumenical event, and it demonstrates how seriously the Pope regards the disintegration of Anglicanism as a communion.