November 2014 marked the fifth anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which established personal ordinariates for Anglican converts to Roman Catholicism “so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift”¦and as a treasure to be shared.” Anglicanorum Coetibus was not greeted with universal applause among former Anglicans already in communion with Rome, at least not among those of my acquaintance. These converts, who had left Anglicanism for what they had come to believe was the true Church, and who had been attending ordinary Novus Ordo parishes, sometimes for decades, wondered what substantial patrimony Anglicans could bring into the Church. To be sure, Anglicans have (or used to have) splendid liturgies, and their church music was incomparable, at least into the middle decades of the past century. But what do Anglicans have to give to the Church that is not of common inheritance from the pre-Reformation centuries or simply Protestant heresy?
A number of writers has tried to answer this question by taking an inventory of the strong and attractive characteristics of the Anglican heritage ”” for example, the Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible, theologians like Richard Hooker and Jeremy Taylor, poets like John Donne and George Herbert, not to mention moderns like C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot. This method is useful, if only because it sets us thinking about what Anglicanism really is; but it does not arrive at the essence of Anglicanism.
The answer lies instead in the origins of Anglicanism at the beginning of modernity….