Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Panther and the Hind: Anglican and Roman Catholic Differences

Finally, to finish answering the question on the differences between Anglicans/Episcopalians and Roman Catholicism! The original question was this:

Dear Leslie,
Sometimes Episcopalian is referred to as "Catholic Lite" - what are the primary differences between the two religions?
Catholic at Heart

For those who missed the beginning of the discussion, I went through a brief history of the Anglican Communion and its theological developments in this post:  And then I discussed the recent news of the hundreds of British Anglicans who will be joining the Roman Catholic Church this spring here:

What I’d like to add to the previous posts is this: while it is in some ways difficult on the level of appearances to see many differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion (our liturgies, for example, look very similar), the unfortunate reality is that the Anglicans as the ‘closest relative’ of Catholicism have in some ways become the furthest apart due to the splintered doctrine and theology that was built in to the very history of the Church of England. 

I would say that the main difference between the two churches lies in the issue of authority – as I mentioned before, while Henry VIII tried to maintain a sort of Catholicism-without-Rome, you simply cannot have Catholicism without authority. And to be frank, I’d say that the modern Anglican Communion is seeing the ramifications of their own lack of authority as hundreds of Anglicans return to Rome. To balance my own perspective as a Catholic layperson, I found what an Anglican Bishop had to say on the matter of the differences in authority between the two churches: 

“The Archbishop has no legal authority outside of the Diocese of Canterbury. He serves as spiritual leader and symbol of unity… Unlike the Church of Rome, with its admirable clarity of decision-making, the Anglican churches are messy and often disagree with each other” (Anglican Bishop Pierre Whalon).

Really, every difference that I can think of between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion stems from this fundamental difference in authority, so I’ll just leave the discussion of differences at that for the time being.

The best book I’ve read on the subject is The Panther and the Hind – A Theological History of Anglicanism by Aidan Nicols, O.P. I found an extensive (and free!) online preview of the book – please check it out if you’re interested:

 I read the book quite a few years ago now, and Nicols published the book in 1993. There is a reason that I mention this: in the book, Nicols explains that while some see Anglican pluralism as a key to Christian unity, there are many others who view the many strands of opinion contained within the Anglican Communion as an obstacle to any serious ecumenical dialogue. These critics of Anglican pluralism see the lack of definite theological consensus within the Communion itself as an impassable barrier to serious efforts toward reconciliation. And then he goes so far as to say that people who hold this view

“…might prefer to see the collapse of Anglicanism into its constituent parties, Evangelical, Catholic, Phil-Orthodox, Liberal, and so on” (xviii).

I remember being deeply struck by this line, so much so that it has stayed with me through the near-decade since I first read it. And when I heard of the hundreds of Anglicans worldwide petitioning the Vatican for a way to be reunited with Rome, and now preparing to return to Catholicism this spring, I couldn’t help but think of it again.

Nicols titled his book after the poem of John Dryden, “The Hind and the Panther.” I’ve included one of the poem’s most striking passages below, where Dryden compares the Catholic Church to Joseph of the Old Testament, and the Anglican Communion to his youngest and best-loved brother:

 Not more did Joseph o'er his brethren weep,
  Nor less himself could from discovery keep,
  When in the crowd of suppliants they were seen,
  And in their crew his best-loved Benjamin.
  That pious Joseph in the Church behold,
  To feed your famine, and refuse your gold:
  The Joseph you exiled, the Joseph whom you sold.

At this image of the brothers rejoicing together after their long separation from one another, I also could not help but think of those Anglicans now coming into communion with Rome.

In closing, let us recall Jesus’ own prayer for unity:

"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:20-21)

I hope this has been helpful!

Peace and all good,

P.S. The women in their forties have taken the lead in the age poll ----->
But there's still time to vote! What kind of virtual prize would the winners like? :)

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