This week’s reading tells the numerically small story of the Dioceses Extra-Provincial to Canterbury. It is a particularly curious story within the Anglican Communion, dealing as it does with either regions seen as marginal on the world stage or with cultures seen as far removed from the heart of Englishness. Yet, strange or marginal as these places might be within the global Anglican Communion, their story does indeed reveal something about the nature of the illusive Anglican identity.
[What follows focuses on the two Anglican dioceses on the Iberian Peninsula (the other two extra-provincial dioceses are Bermuda and the Falklands—the latter being technically a parish).]
The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church can trace its theological roots to the foment of the Reformation—which did indeed penetrate the Iberian Peninsula, despite the best efforts of the heirs of the Catholic Monarchs. Its institutional roots, however, are three centuries later. Like so many Anglican churches elsewhere in the world, the Spanish Anglican church began not as a mission to natives but as a chaplaincy for expatriates. The Rev. Juan S. Cabrera largely created the indigenous Anglican church. Like others among the magisterial reformers, Fr. Cabrera did not exhibit wholesale hostility to all things Catholic. Like them, he did not intend to create something new but turned to the roots of Spanish Christianity—in this case, resurrecting the Mozarabic rite. Although his appeals to “sister Churches” were met by silence and even hostility form the English, Fr. Cabrera’s consecration by Irish Anglican bishops ensured that the churches he shepherded would remain in the Anglican Communion.
The story in Portugal bears similarities: a church started for expatriates became “indigenous” under the leadership of a Spanish formerly Roman Catholic priest—in this case, the Rev. Angelo Mora. The Portuguese similarly sought and eventually received episcopal oversight from non-English Anglicans (Americans this time). The liturgy was also linked to the Mozarabic rite, as well as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the Roman Mass.
Both stories show the Englishness of Anglicanism—both started as English-language churches for ex-pats. But both stories also show the adaptiveness of Anglicanism, its appeal for and empowerment of non-English Christians. In their countries, these churches are distinctively evangelical, because they are not Roman Catholic. Yet in their shared emphasis on the ancient Mozarabic rite and in their desire to receive episcopal oversight in apostolic succession, both churches reflect a desire to remain Catholic—yet not Roman. The Portuguese Synod in 1880 offered as beautiful a reflection of the Anglican spirit of reformed Catholicism as one could hope to find:
We do not desire to found a new religion, but simply to cleanse the Christian religion from the corruption of the ages, and to reconquer the ancient liberties of the early Lusitania Church—so long subjected to the foreign yoke of Rome—and to spread through all this country a doctrine, which shall be Catholic and Apostolic, in a church that shall be Portuguese not Roman.Perhaps the best that can be said for this strange, paradoxical Anglican tradition is that it reforms while retaining Catholicity, that it places the highest possible emphasis on the authority of Scripture without dismissing the Church from which the Scriptures came. And while Anglicanism generally comes dressed in English trappings, such a creature—a Catholic, Apostolic Church that is Western but not Roman, Orthodox but not Eastern—can persevere even when the presence of the English is no more, and when the appeal of Englishness is spent.