Former Anglican Bishop, Catholic Convert, Jeffrey Steenson on Anglocatholicism

Steenson as an Anglican Bishop

Former Anglican Bishop Jeffrey Steenson is widely revered among Anglicans as a man of profound integrity and service in the Lord’s vineyard. Last week he spoke at the Anglican Use Conference. He spoke with his usual clarity and Anglican eloquence. Welcome home, Jeffery.

His full address can be found here.

It all begins with the conviction that the Catholic Church simply is. She is not one option amongst many. People who become alienated from their own churches will sometimes think that the next step is to go down to the marketplace and see what is on offer: which church is going to give me the best deal? Those people seldom find the Catholic Church because they have missed the essential point – the fullness of Christ’s blessings is not distributed across the ecclesial landscape but flows from the one Church.

“The one Church of Christ, as a society constituted and organized in the world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him.” This is the ecclesiological North Star. On the other hand, Anglicanism’s branch theory of Catholicism cannot be located on the map because it is a utopia, ou topos, a place of nonexistence. This is a difficult truth, but the idea that Catholic Anglicanism exists sui generis is an illusion that must be let go of in order to experience the fullness of Catholic life. Many Anglicans have intuited this, but it is hard to overcome the notion we were taught, that Catholicism is simply the sum of all the Christian churches, kath’holos, according to the whole. The Catholic Church has a different understanding: “Particular Churches are fully catholic through their communion with one of them, the Church of Rome, ‘which presides in charity.’”

The extent to which Anglicanism does indeed depend on the Catholic Church is remarkable, a relationship that runs much deeper than the normal interchanges between two great church traditions. Let me give a personal example. There were many times in my 28 years of ordained Anglican ministry where, at critical pastoral junctures, what I needed to say to my parish or my diocese or to individual souls was, “This is what the Church teaches.” However, there was so little to which I could point and say clearly and unambiguously, “the Church teaches.” In the Anglican churches the exercise of authority is almost always personal and provisional, and as a result, the care of souls tends to lack that firm grounding which makes spiritual progress possible. In the quiet of my study, what kept me focused and connected were the writings of John Paul II. “He’s my pope too!” I would say to myself, and I am sure that many Protestant clergy were saying the same thing. John Paul II exercised the Petrine ministry beyond the visible sheepfold of the Catholic Church, and during his long and fruitful pontificate he gave much hope to a multitude of separated brethren.

Anglicanism has for the last quarter century proceeded quite intentionally from the principle that truth not only is discerned primarily in the experience of the Christian community but also that the community itself has priority over truth. This approach has produced a very meager and inconsequential harvest, and the great legacy of Anglican theological scholarship has been lost. The contrast with the Catholic mind is striking. As an Anglican I would take in hand, for instance, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and ask, could my church have produced a work so penetrating and comprehensive? No, it has neither the capacity nor the confidence to speak its mind in such a way. Why? Because it has deliberately cut itself off from the tradition.

Pope Benedict XVI has called for the Church to engage in a hermeneutic of continuity, and this is an enterprise of extraordinary spiritual power. His Wednesday audiences are astonishing, as he opens up the rich treasury of Christian thought and faith and invites all to participate. For those who yearn for a living encounter with the apostolic tradition, the impact of this is transformative.

Video interview of Bishop Steenson just following his announced conversion to the Catholic faith (of particular interest is the part beginning around minute 18:15).

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17 Responses to Former Anglican Bishop, Catholic Convert, Jeffrey Steenson on Anglocatholicism

  1. ultraguy says:

    The clarity of reasoning in his full testimony is, frankly, startling. He argues (if I’m reading him correctly) that it’s virtually inevitable for severed limbs to wither. it’s just that some take longer than others… Or to use another analogy: shacks on the beach hold up just fine when the weather is pleasant, or even drizzly. When the millennial storm hits however, they are doomed. Deep food for thought for this protestant and, I suspect, others…

  2. [...] Former Anglican Bishop, Catholic Convert, Jeffrey Steenson on Anglocatholicism [...]

  3. Robert says:

    ultraguy,

    It really is a good analogy. I much admire the zeal of my Protestant friends, but I wonder how long it will last. Will it transmit to their children? Or will it, so to speak, wither and die? And what trace of it will there be left? I love their zeal, but wonder how much staying power it really has, and whether it will indeed dry up and vanish when their vibrant and zealous personalities no longer serve as a locus for association between their fellow Protestants.

    Anything which sprouts up quickly and without effort is likely to disappear just as quickly.

    Ratzinger has some interesting points on the ‘new evangelization’ which I think are somewhat relevant to that point.

    He says, ” The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises. ”

    And, ” Large things always begin from the small seed, and the mass movements are always ephemeral. ”

    And against this I see the Catholic Church in the background, slowly and surely transmitting the gospel, slowly making saints as she slowly makes most saints– drip by drip just as the monastic model slowly but surely brings many monks to a life of outstanding virtue and holiness– slowly yet surely.

  4. ultraguy says:

    Robert – Right on. Of course, it can’t be said that Catholic children don’t also fall/drift/run away sometimes, and maybe often… and that some protestant churches are actually pretty good at keeping the kids into adulthood (I know of a few). But if we’re talking overall batting averages (big picture): no question. I.e., one doesn’t have to look far to realize that protestant numbers are dwindling. Ultimately, the difference between growing and dying can come down to one person on the margin.

    In a leadership role I played at a protestant church I used to belong to, one of the most remarkable things I discovered in crunching U.S. Census data on church affiliation and attendance was that particular evangelical segments would grow for a time, and that the number of evangelical segments was growing rather robustly (spawning, splitting — green shoots on dead branches), but that overall the total number of adherents (i.e., attendees/worshipers) was at best stagnant, and, depending on how you interpreted the numbers, declining rather precipitously. Same for mainline denominations except without as much splitting.

    The only major Christian group growing consistently and robustly is and has been, Catholicism. Period.

    I laid out those undeniable facts to my UCC pastor and leadership team. Their reaction was basically denial. I.e., “how can that be? and if it is, who cares? what’s your point?”

    I laid out the same facts to my Methodist pastor. Her more nuanced reaction: you’ve got to be careful because those numbers include kids. (I.e., a higher birthrate.) To which I thought (but did not give voice because she’s a wonderful, godly pastor): and the reason those kids wouldn’t count as legitimate adherents would be… what, exactly?”

    Slowly, yet surely indeed.

  5. Robert says:

    That’s a good point, and I agree. In fact, we’re abysmal at handing on our faith. Imagine if we actually taught the faith to our children in its full splendor and with the fervor with which evangelical youth receive their faith. I submit we’d be unstoppable. :) Because, quite frankly, I’m often worried about the staying power of the more fundamentalist brands of Protestantism because when you look deeper, they’re not particularly intellectually defensible (such strict biblical literalism with regard to young earth creationism), that I wonder if this creates more disaffected lost sheep in the long run. But there’s some pretty good intellectual frameworks for understanding the Catholic faith which stand up very well to criticism. But sadly most people are completely ignorant of them, and like myself, need to stumble across them by chance.

    “particular evangelical segments would grow for a time, and that the number of evangelical segments was growing rather robustly (spawning, splitting — green shoots on dead branches), but that overall the total number of adherents (i.e., attendees/worshipers) was at best stagnant, and, depending on how you interpreted the numbers, declining rather precipitously.”

    Indeed, this has been my hunch as well.

    “and the reason those kids wouldn’t count as legitimate adherents would be… what, exactly?””

    If only we’d have more children. I’m convinced that it’s the best way to win. Outbreed your opponents and pass on your beliefs to your children. :) We’re going to need to do that if we don’t want to be swallowed up by global Islam.

    Btw, I don’t mean to be rude, but when are you becoming Catholic. We need people like yourself to do that thing we’re so bad at– to pass on the faith to the young. Let’s be frank, you need us and we need you. It’s a pretty good deal. ;) God bless.

    -Rob

  6. ultraguy says:

    Rob – I appreciate your boldness. It’s complicated (isn’t it always?) but both this head-rational tack, plus some spine-tingling signs and dreams have led me to set up lunch with a priest-friend in less than two weeks. Prayer would be extremely helpful (isn’t it always?) Thank you.

  7. Robert says:

    ultraguy,

    You are welcome, for the boldness. You see, for the past year and a half I’ve had so many old Church ladies tell me they’re praying for me to become a priest, I no longer think it’s weird to tell people to be Catholic/a priest/ a nun, etc. Being on the receiving end of boldness can be quite refreshing.

    Or as me and my best friend like, “go to church!” and, “get holy!” :)

    As for prayer– you’ve got it. Mine, and Mary’s and the whole communion of saints.

    I understand that this is a very personal process, but please feel free to keep us updated on how things are going. We’re always open to prayer requests, or if you need help with a question regarding the faith, with that as well.

    God bless.

  8. Fr. J. says:

    Ultraguy,

    Thanks for sharing yourself here. You are definitely in my prayers.

    I grew up in a home divided between an evangelical father and a Catholic mom. I have done the compare and contrast charts in my mind since I was about 6, so I know a little about your thinking at this juncture. I would only recommend that you commend the thoughts of your mind to the Lord. Thoughts can sometimes be as fickle as feeling, as one point of view jockeys for your mind with another point of view. Just pray that you will have the courage and stamina to follow where the Spirit prompts you. Let Him be in charge!

    God Bless,
    Fr. J.

  9. man_in_tx says:

    ultraguy writes: “I.e., one doesn’t have to look far to realize that protestant numbers are dwindling. ”

    Huh? What planet are you living on, dude? Not mine.

    You mistake the dying old-line Protestant denominations (like your old UCC) for the main event in Protestantism today.

    This is not to say that all that is going on in Protestantism today is great, but …. DWINDLING?

    Come down to San Antonio (a “Catholic” city), and you will see the “dwindling” Protestant churches down here.

  10. man_in_tx says:

    “The only major Christian group growing consistently and robustly is and has been, Catholicism. Period.”

    Hmmmm. No mention of the influx of millions of predominately Roman Catholic illegal aliens in your analysis.

  11. Karl says:

    Bishop Steenson was my Bishop in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. My Roman brothers and sisters are welcome to him. Good riddance Jeff.

    Karl

  12. That you logged in to share that speaks volumes.

    Back to your lesbian priestess weddings, you!

  13. Hmmmm. No mention of the influx of millions of predominately Roman Catholic illegal aliens in your analysis.

    One wonders, on a global scale, if those same illegals have been heading to China and Africa.

  14. [...] election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female presiding bishop, that coaxed the then Bishop Steenson onto a new path.  These issues were monumentally troubling to his church and he was himself,  [...]

  15. LEEANN says:

    I LOVE BISHOPS AND CARDENLS AND OUR POPE OF ROME

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