March 1990By James Prothero
James Prothero, who lives in San Juan Capistrano, California, is a high school English teacher.
In February 1989, after some nine months of deep questioning and vacillation, my wife and I left the Episcopal Church and started attending Mass at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was a hard move for me. Some in my family were upset; few understood. We left behind many good Anglican friends. I was fortunate to have Paul Ford, Peter Kreeft, and Thomas Howard for guides. My reasons for converting were hardly new or unusual. Between the Episcopal Churchs hemming and hawing on basic doctrines of Christianity and the inexorable question, What is the Church?, it was more or less a matter of honesty. Anything I could say on the subject of why? has already been better said by Tom Howard and Sheldon Vanauken, but there are some discoveries I have made that bear telling.
Discovery is the proper word. In encountering the immensity which is Roman Catholicism, I feel as if I have touched land on an enormous continent and find myself in uncharted terrain. Certainly, this continent is well inhabited, but I am just now beginning to learn the language of the natives and the paths they walk. My first discovery has been pain. There is pain in leaving an old friend like Anglicanism. Her ways were familiar and one felt linked to all Christendom. What I loved most about Anglicanism was its Catholic elements, notably the liturgy.
Being an Anglican was like living with a woman out of wedlock: It had the advantages of marriage with none of the inconveniences. The forms and appearances of Catholicism were largely present but without the commitment to the disciplines of Catholicism. Yes, Anglicanism was a comfortable place to be. My evangelical and fundamentalist friends might cast a leery eye, but ultimately we Anglicans passed the Protestant litmus test. Toward Catholics, we Anglicans felt a certain kinship, mixed, to be sure, with some enjoyable condescension.
Another aspect of the pain was the final reason for leaving. What is the use of having Apostolic Orders if present-day bishops smile benignly on heresy? If a bishop can do no more than make vague, inoffensive comments while elements of the church blithely dismember the Gospel, lets off with the miter and call him what he is: an elected official, a politician. But enough of this nonsense of citing Apostolic Orders when the teachings and traditions passed on by the apostles are called into question!
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