“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jaroslav Pelikan
The other day, I overheard someone describe Anglican Catholics as people who want to preserve the English Missal in aspic. It was quite clear that they identify Continuing Anglicanism with Pelikan's traditionalist. This person certainly regards us as having a dead faith. Indeed, I was told by a former Director of Ordinands in the Established Church that I was loyal to a church that had passed away.
So is our Tradition dead? Are we merely observing traditional elements for the nostalgic sake of it? What growth can there be from something so fixed?
I argue that the Anglican Catholic tradition is not only living but living very healthily. There are 7 criteria for determining biological life: regulation of the internal environment, corporate organisational union, metabolism, growth, adaptation to the environment, response to stimuli, and reproduction. While these are biological criteria, it seems very reasonable, given the organic nature of Christianity and its association with a central biological entity (to wit: the Body of Christ), to apply these criteria correctly interpreted to Traditional Anglicanism.
1. Corporate Organisational Union
St Ignatius of Antioch gave the basic organising principle in "Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." There are distinct organs within church which function according to the needs. Every Anglican Catholic, like every Christian, is a unit which belongs to the Church and makes present the reality of Christ in the world.
The fact of Apostolic Succession (i.e. that there is a historical episcopacy according to Biblical principles) forms a principle of organic growth according to the Ignatian principle. This means that the Traditional Church does not grow by simply accreting matter (i.e. people who just call themselves Christians) , but that there is a principle by which the organisational structure of the Church replicates through the formation of parishes and missions. Priests are ordained according to Tradition and unified by adherence to the Church's traditional doctrine. But this is a little theoretical. We have a pattern for growth to occur, but is that growth actually occurring? The answer is yes. In the Eastern Province of the ACC and the African Dioceses there is indeed marked growth. Even in the tiny Diocese of the United Kingdom, there has been a decent growth for several years. The growth is real.
This means that the internal environment of the organism is regulated to maintain a constant state. According to Traditional Anglicanism, the internal environment is maintained through corporate worship. The Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered as they always have been. The fact that people are receiving the same sacraments as the first Christians gives a good genetic link which gives the Church her character and identity.
What nourishes the Church and what does the Church reject? An organism requires the ability to take in nutrients by breathing and by ingesting. and then by excreting that which is waste or poisonous to the system. From the outset, the Church has drawn on the Breath of God, to wit the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost inspires but does not contradict what He has given us in Scripture and Tradition. The nourishment of course comes from the Mass and we receive nourishment from being part of the Vine that Christ spoke of. This Vine reaches throughout Christianity and the Lord explains how we need to be part of that Vine if we are to receive nourishment. The Traditional understanding of the Real Presence gives us that nourishment.
But the Church also rejects. It rejects Evil - full stop! The Traditional Church knows what Evil is because it trusts in what has already been revealed to it. A church which starts confusing what to accept and what to reject starts ingesting toxins which slowly poison the life of that church.
5. Response to Stimuli
When a child is born, it is embraced into the Church and incorporated into it through Baptism. When someone sins, they can find comfort in God's forgiveness through Confession. When a man falls in love with a woman, they are united in Holy Matrimony. For every life, the Catholic Church has something to offer: counsel and advice from the storehouse of ages, Sacraments to offer for the comfort of the soul, a Canon for living to help individuals find stability of life and a wealth of teaching to help one on the quest for the Divine. For every stimulus, the Church can make a response from its Tradition.
The critics of the Anglican Continuum would see this is where we might fail and the cause of our imminent demise. However, let us consider what it means to adapt. Adaptation means making an appropriate response to the external environment. One can look at History and see how the Church has responded. In many cases, the answer has been "not very well" and the reason for that "not very well" comes from a rejection of Tradition especially that vitally central part of Tradition of "Love thy neighbour" which comes straight from the mouth of God. However, this is where the Church has the potential of making more appropriate adaptation. However, this adaption cannot be radical. A cat cannot immediately adapt by becoming a dog when it finds itself trapped in a dog kennel. One doesn't open the windows to air the room in the midst of a roaring gale. The tenets by which the Church can adapt are at its heart. If those tenets are kept, there will be no be no further Crusades nor witch-hunts.
But the Traditional Church has had to adapt especially when it has been shunted out of the mainstream and Established Churches. Since Traditional Faith does not rely on impressive buildings and stipends, nor on robes, birettas and cruets, it can thrive wherever the will to do so exists. There is a will to do so. Anglican Catholics may find themselves worshipping in Cemetary Chapels and in housegroups, but those chapels and houses quickly become fitting places for the sacraments. There is adaptation in the Traditional Church, but without abandoning those traditions.
Ah the Church is sex mad! Well of course it is, though "mad" seems a bit of a misnomer, but then "sex-sane" doesn't sound so meaningful. The Church celebrates life, and life is brought forth through sex. Sex is a real part of humanity and the Church is real. The fact of the matter is that with human reproduction comes the great miracle of life that the Church celebrates. For the Church, there is great joy in seeing a tiny bundle of humanity brought into being out from the warmth of mum into the cold air of the world. What comes next is the responsibility - a hard, but potentially very joyful responsibility - for the nurture, development and happiness of that tiny little person. The Church is capable of reproduction via evangelism, but more through the development of family life. There is no better evangelism than presenting healthy and happy families who live out their faith. Again, is this happening? The answer is yes! The greatest growth in the Traditional Church comes from families. Many atheists would call this brainwashing, but why isn't what the atheists do called brainwashing? The Church that promotes healthy human sexuality can grow. The Traditional church binds together, and does not split things up in some kind of reductionist fallacy.
It seems to me that far from being dead, Traditional Anglicanism is actually alive and life-giving through the grace and provenance of Almighty God..