I have suggested that authentic Anglicanism is Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Reformed. But what do we mean when we say that Anglicanism is truly ‘Catholic’?
The term ‘Catholic’ is open to considerable misunderstanding. Almost five centuries of use to distinguish the Roman church from evangelical Protestantism has made it difficult for many to understand it apart from these institutional overtones. To suggest that a Protestant denomination might be ‘Catholic’ seems like a betrayal of its distinctiveness or, at best, ecclesiological confusion. One is either Catholic or Protestant, certainly not both together. This is at least part of the popular Protestant unease with retaining the word ‘Catholic’ to describe the church in contemporary translations of the Creeds.
In addition, since at least the nineteenth century, the term has been used to describe an emphasis within certain strands of Protestantism which has re-centred Christian corporate life on the sacraments, priesthood, notions of apostolic succession, and the like. In this way ‘Catholic’ describes one tradition within Anglicanism (alongside, and in certain tension with, evangelical and charismatic traditions). One is either Catholic or Evangelical, certainly not both together. A century or more of tension between the catholic and evangelical traditions within Anglicanism has made it difficult for some to accept the word ‘Catholic’ as an appropriate description of authentic Anglicanism.
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