Friday, 18 July 2014

Francis or Thomas? Thoughts on a catholic Anglican future

There might be more of a preference for Francis among members of Affirming Catholicism and for St Thomas Aquinas among those associated with Anglican Catholic Future.

The above is an extract from +Stephen Conway's article, entitled 'Affirming a Liberal Catholic Future', in the Affirming Catholicism 2014 Review.  It is a fascinating sentence, suggestive of how catholic Anglicanism is developing in a different manner than the title of the article implies.

The reference to Thomas Aquinas surely points us towards Radical Orthodoxy.  In an overview of Radical Orthodoxy's first decade, John Milbank described the movement as a "return to Aquinas".  In the RO reading of Augustine, Thomas looms large, restoring "an authentically Augustinian view".  Milbank and Pickstock's volume on Thomas, of course, also restores an Augustinian reading of Thomas, a definitively Christocentric Thomas against the abstractions of Neo-Scholastic Thomism.

So, then, is ACF the RO wing of catholic Anglicanism?  Bishop Conway's words perhaps imply this.  If so, this does indicate the growth of an 'affirming' catholic Anglicanism more robustly and rigorously ecclesial, creedal, Augustinian, doctrinal than might be seen in a 'liberal catholic future'. 

But what of that contrast between Francis and Thomas?  Dante, of course, provided a beautiful answer to those who placed the two traditions - Franciscans and Dominicans - in competition.  Francis' Canticle of the Creatures can thus be read as a devotional expression of Thomas' theology of participation.  Thomas' breaking off of his writing of the Summa becomes a Dominican expression of Francis' experience before the Crucified of San Damiano. 

What also united the traditions of Francis and Thomas was the response of the secular clergy to the popularity of their communities.  In his study of the religious culture of the Italian city states of the 12th and 13th centuries, Cities of God, Augustine Thompson, O.P., notes this response:

Secular priests went complaining to Pope Innocent IV about the laity's deserting their proper chapels to go to the churches of the mendicants: "these two orders celebrate Mass so well that the people turn to them".

The "more edifying liturgy" (Thompson's words) offered by the Franciscans and Dominicans, together with the spiritual direction they offered, their preaching and devotional life caught the imagination of a culture which had ceased to be surprised by a Church which had become banal, unimaginative, predictable. 

Rather than contrasting Francis and Thomas, a catholic Anglican future shaped and inspired by the challenge and depths to which both saints witness, offers the potential of again capturing the culture's imagination with strange word of the Gospel.


Matthew Dallman said...

See also "The Purple Headed Mountain" by Martin Thornton, which reflects on those two saints along with Hugh of St Victor with respect to the relationship between creation properly understood and penitence properly understood. Archbishop Ramsey's Lent Book of 1962, and one of the first Thornton works Akenside Press will reissue.

BC said...

Matthew, many thanks for the comment. "The Purple Headed Mountain" is now on my reading list!