Anglicans Turning Catholic
A forecast made in the 1930s is making its way into today’s headlines.
Those headlines would be easy enough to pass over, but they are worth taking a moment to think about. They represent a dangerous weakening of British sovereignty that first glance wouldn’t suggest. Not only that, they confirm just how far ahead of his time was the man making the forecast.
Historically, England has been distinct from mainland Europe in a number of ways besides just the geographic separation provided by the English Channel. One of the most crucial, in terms of establishing and maintaining British sovereignty and independence, has been the existence of the Church of England. From the time of England’s break from Rome in the 16th century, the British monarch has been the titular head of the church, heading an ecclesiastical structure entirely separate from the pope-centered Roman Catholicism that has dominated continental history. The Act of Settlement, passed in 1701 and still in effect, preserves this independence by requiring that the person assuming the throne be Anglican and specifically excluding a Catholic or anyone who has married a Catholic. The present queen, when she was crowned in 1953, swore an oath “to maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed religion established by law.” Upholding this oath factors heavily in Britain’s independence from Europe because, since the pope claims authority over all Roman Catholics, a Catholic British monarch would owe primary allegiance to Rome over and above that owed the British crown.
And Rome would like nothing more. “The Protestant constitution of the United Kingdom has long been a strong defense against Rome’s desires for the ‘evangelization’ of Britain, which the pope refers to as ‘Mary’s dowry’—hers by right,” explained Adrian Hilton in The Principality and Power of Europe. “The Vatican recognizes that the defeat of Protestantism here would weaken it throughout all Europe, and this has been its aim since the Reformation.”
Of course, to many Brits today, this is all nonsense. Secularism has Britain by the throat; the percentage of practicing Christians there is in the single digits. The Church of England has lost moral authority, loosening its standards on issues such as the ordination of women as priests, premarital cohabitation and homosexuality. In the meantime, in conflict with her coronation oath Queen Elizabeth ii has made unprecedented moves to reconcile with the Vatican: among them, visiting Pope John Paul ii in Rome; hosting his visit to Britain in 1982—the first pope to do so since the Reformation; allowing him to hold joint services with the archbishop of Canterbury; and appointing a Roman Catholic as her chaplain. Unsurprisingly, debate within Britain roils over whether the Act of Settlement should be trashed.
In other words, the historic fortifications safeguarding Britain’s national strength and sovereignty have been significantly compromised. What is left in this nation is a spiritual vacuum—a vacuum that provides the Church of Rome the perfect opportunity to move in. For as Britain has become more liberal, Roman Catholicism has grown more conservative, increasingly presenting itself as a rock of stability in an uncertain world.
It is against this backdrop that this headline appeared in late October: “Traditional Anglicans ask for full communion with Catholics.”
The Traditional Anglican Communion (tac) is a group of churches with a worldwide membership approaching half a million people. It formed in 1990 from a dozen Anglican churches that broke away from the 80-million-strong Anglican Communion (of which the Church of England is the heart), mostly to protest the liberalism creeping into that organization.
From its beginning, the tac has had a spiritual affinity with Roman Catholics. Shortly after it formed, it began informal consultations with the Vatican on how to gain formal recognition as part of the Catholic Church. The primate of the group, Archbishop John Hepworth, has said, “We have no doctrinal difference with Rome.”
This is quite a stunning statement coming from an Anglican archbishop. Set aside the many smaller differences the Protestant Reformed religion traditionally has with Roman Catholicism, and still there remains a very large elephant in the middle of the room: government.
The churches of the Anglican Communion are resolutely decentralized; each is independently governed. Though the most visible religious head of the Anglicans, the archbishop of Canterbury (who, under the monarch, presides over the Church of England), symbolizes the unity of the communion, he is still considered merely a “first among equals.” His authority does not extend outside his own diocese. Individual synods interpret matters differently, and as a result, as one Episcopal bishop put it, “the Anglican churches are messy and often disagree with each other.”
Authority within the Roman Catholic Church, by stark contrast, emanates from one man, traditionally called “the Vicar of Christ,” the one and only “Successor of the Prince of the Apostles”—the pope.
The tac is willing to swallow that pill. Archbishop Hepworth says, “Unity with Peter is a biblical imperative,” referring to the pope’s claim to be the rightful successor to the Apostle Peter. “What is important, and we are having to learn as a community,” he says, “is to ask not what we think, but what the church says, and five centuries of bad habits are going to die hard.”
Thus, in October, the tac sent a letter, the text of which was unanimously agreed upon by the communion’s bishops and vicars-general, formally requesting “full, corporate and sacramental union” with the Roman Catholic Church.
It is now the Vatican’s call. If Rome accepts the proposal, it will open the way for hundreds of thousands of Anglicans to return to the Roman Catholic fold en masse—the largest such move since the Reformation. Half a million instant converts.
And those in the Traditional Anglican Church (England) will thus formalize the transfer of their allegiance from the sovereign of England to the bishop of Rome.
The significance of this event is destined to grow with time. The tac, though now separate from the Anglican Communion, appears to be in the vanguard of a movement among many Anglicans who view the liberalization in the church as heading in the opposite direction from where they want to go. The Anglo-Catholicism that found earlier expression in the present queen’s overtures to a former pope is coming into fuller and fuller flower.
This extraordinary move puts the Vatican in the position not of converting people through force, as it often has in the past, but of coolly arbitrating and deciding upon the precise terms by which this half a million souls may consider themselves officially part of the world’s largest organized religious body.
This is the situation as it stands. A statement in the British newspaper Catholic Herald in December 1993 appears more and more true: “The days of the Anglican Church are numbered, and most of its worshipers will return to the true faith of their distant medieval forebears.”
Should that prediction occur, it would fully vindicate a similar, far earlier forecast.
For half a century, Herbert W. Armstrong served as editor in chief of what was, during its apex in the 1980s, the world’s most popular newsmagazine, the Plain Truth. Its pages often prophesied of an event that for decades many considered an impossibility—the unification of Protestants with their Roman Catholic mother church. Mr. Armstrong foretold the event as far back as 1934, the year the magazine began.
A sample, from the October 1961 Plain Truth edition: “The pope will step in as the supreme unifying authority—the only one that can finally unite the differing nations of Europe. … Europe will go Roman Catholic! Protestantism will be absorbed into the ‘mother’ church—and totally abolished.”
It is because of statements such as these that the Trumpet, which follows the Plain Truth’s pattern of Bible-based news analysis, has closely watched efforts by religious leaders to bring Protestant churches back into communion with the Vatican. These latest moves among Anglicans fit the mold in an astonishing way.