The recent discovery of Richard the Third’s body, buried under a parking lot, has set off an argument about where he ought to be re-interred. The last of the Plantagenet kings lived before the Reformation. Therefore the Roman church claims that she ought to rebury him. The Anglican Church disagrees.
The significance of the basis of the Anglican disagreement with Rome is not widely understood- even by Anglicans. Both claim that he ought to be reburied by the church to which he belonged. That is agreed. To which church did he belong? That is the disagreement.
John H comments on this over at Boars Head Tavern.
At its heart, this comes down to the question of which church stands in continuity with the pre-reformation Ecclesia Anglicana. Of course the Catholics believe that only the present day Roman Catholic Church qualifies for this. What alarmed me was some Catholics’ apparent ignorance of the fact that the Church of England also claims this, and that for the Church of England to hand Richard over to the Catholic Church would represent an abandonment of its entire self-understanding.
To read one or two tweets on the subject, you’d think that the Church of England’s claim to be the reformed Ecclesia Anglicana was a self-evidently absurd insult made up on the spot as an excuse to steal the last Plantagenet’s bones from under Catholics’ noses. I can understand that Catholics regard the Church of England’s claims to catholic continuity as false, even absurd. What I can’t understand is why some of them can’t or won’t see that, however ridiculous they may find it, the Church of England makes and has always made precisely that claim, and isn’t about to give it up lightly.
The Anglican Church confesses that the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic church of England (as identified by a communal life centered on catholic scripture, liturgy, creed, sacrament and Episcopacy) began when the gospel was first planted in Britain. At the time of the Reformation, that very same church cut her ties with the Roman Pontiff and continued on her way. On the other hand Rome insists that true catholicity must necessarily include submission to Papal authority. When the church in England broke ties with the pope, it ceased to be the catholic church. Any institution that went forward thereafter, was by definition something else- something new.
Of course the test of Papal Supremacy is a distinctive of the Roman church. It is denied by the entirety of the Eastern Churches, the Anglican Church and (quite frankly) history.
All of this has reminded me of an ongoing aggravation: each year my children have come home from their Honors History class having had their faith openly denied in class by the instructor. The Anglican Church is a mere denomination (they were taught by the State of Georgia), which began with Henry VIII. Of course this is Rome’s version, and I’ve always resented my home state siding with Rome on this.
Honestly, I’m sure it was done unawares; and more because of an allegiance to post-enlightenment individualist presuppositions than anything else- which makes strange bedfellows of individualists (both secular and Evangelical) and Roman Catholics. Truth is stranger than fiction, they say.
Anyway, according to the Anglican accounting of things, the Ecclesia Anglicana was not born at the Reformation; rather she washed her face at the Reformation. There’s a difference.