The Nature of the Church
The Anglican Catholic Church is a Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, his sacramental extension and presence in human history in the world. As the Body of Christ the Church does what Jesus Christ originally did in his incarnate Person: it teaches and heals the world, it reveals the Father’s will and his nature of love, and it gathers a company of disciples to worship the glorious Trinity. The Church as the gathered company of all faithful people is centered in the revealed word of God, in prayer and the sacramental system, and in her bishops, whose ministry is the constitutive element that makes a mere human organization be the organic, sacramental, transcending, saving Presence of God in the world.
As the Body of Christ in the world the Church is turned towards the world as the continuation of Christ’s Incarnation after his Ascension and until his Second Coming in glory for the judgement of the quick and the dead. But insofar as the Church also turns towards God himself in worship and adoration, Scripture reveals the Church to be the Bride of Christ, his beloved spouse. The Church’s turn towards God occurs especially in the Eucharist, when the baptized people of God in a particular place gather around their bishop (or a priest as the bishop’s deputy) to receive God’s blessings and his very and true Body and Blood in Holy Communion. It is in the episcopally-based Eucharist that the Church becomes not merely a human organization, but also an organic, sacramental reality, the fundamental sacrament (Ursakrament), which constitutes God’s objective offer of salvation and grace to his people and Bride.
The ministry of the bishops, therefore, is essential both for the Church’s constitution as Christ’s continuing Body and presence in relation to a needy world and also for her constitution as the Bride of Christ in loving and responsive relation to her Lord and Spouse. The bishop before the altar stands in a literally pivotal place. As the bishop turns towards the altar he presents to God the worship and praise and petitions of the Bride. As the bishop turns from the altar to the people he is the alter Christus, the ‘other Christ’, who bestows upon the people the absolutions and blessings of God and also Christ’s Eucharistic Body and Blood.
The Essence of the Church
The Church is revealed through the Biblical images of Body and Bride as an essentially sacramental, organic reality. But all human things have temporal structures, organization, and constitutions, and so too does the Church. The Anglican Catholic Church, like all Catholic and Orthodox Churches, has the essential elements of Church constitution and structure, and these are bestowed through the episcopal office. The episcopate, in turn, is bestowed, like all things essential to the Church’s life, through a sacrament, namely Holy Orders. The Church is not essentially constituted by something non-sacramental, such as papal election, sound preaching, or synodal structures, though all of these may have a place. The Church is essentially and necessarily episcopal, while it is not essentially and necessarily papal, synodal, congregational, or presbyterial.
Since ancient times the Church has been composed of Provinces, which in turn are composed of Dioceses. The Anglican Catholic Church today also is so composed. At each level of its organization (Church, Province, Diocese) the Church has a bishop as its leader and president. The faithful gather around their bishop to become and be the Church in a given time and place. However, while the diocese and diocesan bishop are necessary and essential to the existence of the Church, the structures of Provinces, and even the higher structures of a full Church composed of Provinces and their metropolitans are not absolutely essential. That is, if there were only one bishop in the world and one group of baptized Christians gathered around him, everything essential for the existence, continuation, and expansion of the Church would be present.
The Unity of the Church
The Apostolic Succession and the essentials of Catholic faith and order have been maintained in the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and in a few other small bodies such as the Philippine Independent Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church. The largest of these Churches, however, the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox, are not in communion with each other, and the ACC at present is not in communion with either of them. What of the unity of the Church, given this manifest lack of communion?
The unity lies in the bishops and their role as successors to the Apostles. This is particularly true as those bishops celebrate the Eucharist, in which the one Lord Jesus Christ is truly present for his people. If those bishops, through some personal failing or feud or private error or historical accident, have failed to maintain an outward amity and visible communion with all other bishops, the essential unity established by and in the episcopal office and the holy communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, is present nonetheless.
The ACC shares with the late John Paul II a desire to see the fulfillment of Our Lord’s prayer “that they might be one” (John 17:21). For this to occur, there must be an open and charitable exchange. While the links to the right are by no means a comprehensive statement of the Anglican Catholic position vis-a-vis Rome and the East, they do provide a summary from which, we pray, further dialog will flow.