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).