I Was Wrong

 These excerpts are from my recent essay on the Covenant blog of the Living Church.

    The late Bishop Paul Moore of New York liked to describe the Episcopal Church as “the Catholic Church with freedom.” In New York as in many places, the big church against which we Episcopalians defined ourselves was the Roman Catholic. The idea was that we were, at heart, truly a catholic church, and perhaps we were able, in some manner, to be more truly so than those we referred to as “the Romans.” . . .

    I came into the Episcopal Church during college, during the final years prior to the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The church’s proper name then was the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. That word “Protestant” stuck in many an Episcopal craw, and the standard narrative was that we were really catholic, a church that had a particular history in England going back to St. Alban, the first martyr. That is (we would emphasize), Anglicanism did not start at the Reformation, which was in truth a rather regrettable period of history; and the way forward was to focus on and more explicitly recover our catholic heritage. Thus the movement to have Eucharist on every Sunday—a movement whose success is enshrined in our 1979 Prayer Book. . . . 

    I’m sure I’m not the only Episcopalian of a certain age who caught this spirit of the times. We said (and I believed) that the best of the Episcopal Church was its catholic heritage. Protestant elements in our heritage and in our worship were regrettable and should be minimized or ignored. We who were new clergy should seek to use incense whenever we could, to chant prayers often, and to do such other things as would accentuate the catholic side of Episcopalianism. True to this form, I got a thurible donated to the parish where I was a curate, and later a monstrance donated to the parish where I was a rector. . . .


    I think it is true that the Episcopal Church has Catholic substance in it. But also I think I was wrong to put so much emphasis upon that. I no longer think Anglicanism is essentially an alternative version of Catholicism. Instead, it seems to me its own thing.

    Can we say what, positively, constitutes Anglicanism? It is not, in my opinion, the Eucharist, although that rite has always been essential to Anglicanism (along with baptism, it is understood to be necessary for salvation). Look instead to our rites of Morning and Evening Prayer. Here the genius or “charism” of Anglicanism is manifested in services that are uniquely “stereo” in our thinking, i.e., we read both Old and New Testaments, one lesson from each, morning and evening, day after day. . . .

    To say we are Protestant is to say: We do “protest” the truths of Christianity, “protest” in the positive sense of proclaiming them, affirming them, owning them—not least those truths that pertain to the comforting of a troubled soul. “Jesus has died for you” is not a manipulative sentence but a liberating one.

    Even as to confess the Christian faith (as in the creeds) leads also to the confession of sin, so the protestation of Christian truth leads to a personal affirmation that is liberating. I need no longer be trapped by my past, limited by my accomplishments, concerned over whether my resume is good enough. I need only—only!—recognize in me the sin of the world in my personal form. “Alas, my treason” we sing in passiontide: “Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.” Salvation is not in “vain” repetition of prayers or “multiplication” of masses or any other “works” of any character, but in the surrender of the heart to Jesus who intends to remake it a living heart, as prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, a heart that pumps in accordance with God’s own Spirit, a heart that will know from within itself (and thus delightedly live by) the law of God.

    We Anglicans need not be embarrassed by being Protestant. Yes, we need to claim being Catholic, but without making that our sole or over-arching identity. To my mind, today especially we need to recommit to daily Morning and Evening Prayer, with Old and New Testament readings heard in stereo and allowed to speak of themselves directly to the heart.


    The entire essay “I Was Wrong” can be found here: https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2023/10/24/i-was-wrong/


    Out & About. I am to preach for the “Remembrance Sunday” Eucharists at Bethesda Church in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Nov. 12 at 8 and 10 a.m.

    I will be teaching the Advent class at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, on “An Adult Christ at Christmas.” The class will meet on Sundays at 10 a.m.: Nov. 26, Dec. 3, and Dec. 17. We are starting a week early and skipping Dec. 10 because of street closures for the Dallas marathon on Dec. 10.

    The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be on Shakespeare's King Lear on Sunday, November 26, at 5 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Anyone who reads (or watches) the play is welcome to join the conversation.

    You may register now for the Christian Ethics course at the Stanton Center, which will meet one Saturday per month (for three hours, generally on the third Saturday) from January through May. I will be teaching this course. It involves reading and writing before each class, but no exams or other papers. In-person discussion of the assigned texts is the backbone of the course. For more information, drop a line to Erica Laysenik,

The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: