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Issue 09 – Lent 2022

Historia Ecclesiastica


On Anglicanism.


Sitting down to write this article closer to the generous deadline than I first imagined, I was delighted to learn that The Lamp shares a name with the long-defunct publication of the Society of the Atonement, founded in the Episcopal Church by the Reverend Paul Wattson in 1898. From its origins, the Society of the Atonement had a mission to promote the visible unity of Christians. The modern-day Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded by Wattson and his fellows as an octave of prayer, quite intentionally located between the old feast of the Confession of Saint Peter (January 18) and the Conversion of Saint Paul (January 25). The Society and its prayer established a definitely Romeward direction of travel, and so it was only logical that Wattson and his community were received into the full communion of the Catholic Church in 1909.

The story of the Society of the Atonement and its journey to the Catholic Church is one of countless tales of groups of Anglicans becoming Catholic. Some of these ramshackle outfits achieved their goal admirably, whilst others achieved it only in part, and others still languished and failed. But the prevailing narrative in formal ecumenical circles has for many years been uniform in condemning them all as eccentrics, embarrassments even, who obstruct the real work of ecumenism. One ecclesiastical historian described their endeavors as “the fantasy of reunion.” I would like to make the case that the truth is, in fact, rather more nuanced.

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About the author

James Bradley