Thursday, 11 October 2007

Regarding Independent Catholics

I need to express here my many thanks to Bishop John Kersey of The Liberal Rite and the Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship for his assistance to me in commenting on my essay about Free Catholicism and Liberal Catholicism. His comments were detailed and showed an extensive knowledge of the movements and personalities in the Independent Sacramental Movement (and I suspect that he knows plenty about all the others too, from correspondence).

Incidentally my essay is a commentary; the actual detail is better covered in pages provided by the Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship (which John Kersey administers). There is only so much value in copying what is already there, and that is towards the argument I want to make - an argument increasingly open I should say. I started off with many assumptions, then had these challenged by ranging around the various sources, and then had these challenged again by further detail and explanation.

I suppose I am somewhat drawn to this Free Catholic and Liberal Catholic matrix of groups (via their consecrations and ordinations, and then various patterns of beliefs) and then I do some head scratching.

If there is a common position among them, then it is that valid consecrations and ordinations, that place an individual into a relationship with a valid bishop and his or her group (incardination) is the means by which grace is delivered through the sacraments, about which there is then leeway on content of belief (including even real presence - I got that wrong). In other words, the liberalism that results is in the space generated once there is this grace. It is utterly anti-literalist. Then, there is the related preference for the spiritual and even universal - the mystic - over the historical, and this even includes the lines of consecrations and ordinations considered as valid by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Independent Catholics.

The universalism is a route to Theosophy that was, and is, still important in many groups - though this is often misrepresented. So is the Spiritualism of H. P. Nicholson and a working it via his own beliefs through to an effective Liberal Catholic position. As is pointed out to me, even in the origins of the Liberal Catholic Church (the most Theosophical), James Ingall Wedgwood thought Theosophy would become one day less important as the basic Catholic system continued - that of valid and placed consecrations and ordinations. As is also pointed out to me, additional consecrations sub conditione are principally about attaching ones ministry to more valid lines from other Catholic traditions (as well as, say, Anglican Catholics worried about their Orders getting themselves attached by re-ordination to one of these valid lines).

This is where I scratch my head. First I do because if a line is more sound spiritually rather than historically (the way that a family tree becomes its identity into which we are set, never mind what the milkman did one day in the past and the resultant child was passed off as the husband's), then this can mean that the main Anglican (as ever) line might still be spiritually sound. Nevertheless, it is this validity that they find important, and what allows these groups (and individuals attached) to find their identity, and therefore ties Independent Catholic groups in with the lines of consecration that allow the rejection of Papal dogma and Eastern sterility. Presumably issues of validity come down to historical record where available, and argument going back into the mists of time.

From a Roman Catholic point of view, and Eastern Orthodox, there are valid but illicit bishops - and then there are those who share the faith but without valid orders. But theirs is but one opinion, which raises a quick head scratch, I suppose, about why one should want to follow Roman views about validity at all (unless it is also your own view) when such comes with the added tag of illicit.

The third head scratch is over the rejection of Protestantism and the priesthood of all believers and its double routes of both literalism and liberalism. Liberalism was derived from theological revisionist movements from reading the Bible literally (discovering no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, that it is extra Biblical and later) and then, later, biblical criticism and moving from the Bible to individual conscience. Arguably the thrust of liberalism within Christianity comes from the Protestant side, and indeed in part also comes from those groups that gave up episcopal governance.

Unitarian liberalism comes, early, and later, from this: and from the desire for broad based geographical ministry (the parish). In between Unitarian liberalism had a different source, which was the ideology of the Enlightenment and how it fused into the first Unitarian biblical literalists. This is the world of John Locke's ideas and related.

There is, of course, Catholic modernism, of grace and space, but any working out of a broad based Christianity (such as by Hans Kung) begins to look somewhat in agreement with Protestant scholarship.

The liberal inspiration that generated the Free Catholicism of Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas was the Protestant revisionism within the Presbyterian Richard Baxter, and on to the broad universalism of James Martineau in connection with that. This connects with, in Anglican terms, the Broad Church rather than High Church. Nevertheless, it overlaps with High Church, and the move towards symbolic individualism (collectively - if evolving - liturgical, individually interpreted) by James Martineau was taken a further step into High Church or the Catholic side by J. M. Lloyd Thomas and W. E. Orchard.

So here is a fourth head scratch: this liberalism does, of course, question the rigidity of having these Orders, whether the liberalism is Protestant or Enlightenment in origin. Reasoning asks, and questions, what are you doing having elaborate liturgies and hands on heads? Does this rely on magic and the supernatural?

This is why Weberian Sociology sees hands on heads and liturgies as traditional authority, whereas liberalism is modernist (or bureaucratic authority, or after Weber). Interestingly The Liberal Rite is itself human relations authority in its Troeltsch-Mysticism (he linked this voluntary organisation of freely made religious groups to the Enlightenment) and congregationalist basis. There is a clash here, and it is in maintaining the fixed basis of the Orders being defended: supernatural or magic. They can be is a means of identity, and inherited practice.

This is the peculiar thing. Without seeking to defend it, for all its expressions of Catholic and Protestant dogma, these elements qualify one another in the Church of England and introduce liberal doubt about not only its dogma but also the need to maintain valid lines. In some ways the Church of England becomes more liberal on some points of organisation than the Independent Catholics. The Church of England is more muddled and confused with all its overlaps, whereas Free and Liberal Catholicism seems to have a clearer separation between the need to maintain valid lines of consecration (where it can) and the liberal content of faith - whether Unitarian or Theosophical inspired (or both). It may be that such a separation is not so possible with the impact of the modern and postmodern, although a variant of John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy or perhaps Lindbeck's (or Liechty's, as this would be liberal, ethical and broad) Postliberalism might be a get out of jail card here).

Anyway, one upshot of this is that an Anglican who stresses High Church principles can never be quite so high and clear as the Free and Liberal Catholics, not without re-ordination, unless they also value the Reformed tradition as a qualifier of such claims or the liberal tradition that questions everything. Another matter is I am persuaded that the Church of England has engaged in black propaganda against the Independent Catholic Movement (some of my earlier assumptions) and much of this can be easily dismissed. The Movement originated in particular by Arnold Harris Matthew (and, also important, Ulric Vernon Herford) are genuine and sincere and followed necessary paths according to convictions not ambitions.

Lots of source webpages are here including a range from The Liberal Rite and the Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship.

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