In my previous post, I argued that according to the theological principle lex orandi, lex credendi, and the fact that the Nicene Creed contains the line “We believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” Anglicans ought to lay a claim to the term Catholic.
Now, I think that if you ask most Roman Catholics, and even most American Christians, “What is a Catholic?” after scraping away knee-jerk responses about tradition, formality, scandals, and Notre Dame football, you would get some kind of mention of the Pope. To be a Catholic is to be under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.
But here is a simple argument: Anglicans believe in the Catholic Church, Anglicans do not hold to the universal authority of the Bishop of Rome, thus Catholic must mean something other than “allegiance to the Bishop of Rome.” So, both Anglicans and Roman Catholics have to share the term “Catholic.” Let me elucidate what I see as a principle on which we can base this sharing.
I would like to suggest that the necessary and sufficient principle upon which those Christians can appropriate the term “Catholic” for themselves is holding to the historic episcopal order of ecclesiastical structure. Simply put, those Christians who are in communions (or denominations or what have you) whose structure includes Bishops as their leaders and authority figures are Catholic Christians.
Fr. Sam Keyes surfaced an intuition in his comments to my last post that I think many people share such that, “the Orthodox are Catholic as well and the Roman Catholics are Orthodox.” Add this intuition to my suggesting that Anglicans by virtue of their endorsement of the Nicene Creed are Catholic as well, and we have to wonder on what basis, then, do all these groups get to use the term “Catholic.”
Let’s think about Fr. Sam’s intuition and compare the Catholicism of the Orthodox with that of the Roman Catholics. Is the sharing of the term based upon the same beliefs? Surely, there is much that these two communions agree on, but I imagine both will tell you that there remain many areas of divergent belief. What about liturgy or tradition? Certainly, these communions are liturgical and traditional, but they have markedly different liturgies and traditions. So what do they share? As I want to say, they share the episcopal form of church government. For all their divergences in belief, liturgy, and tradition, they both have the office of bishop as key in their authority structure.
I think this principle has the advantage of specificity and concreteness over other competitors. For instance, some define Catholic Christianity as being in touch with the traditional, liturgical, or sacramental aspects of Christianity. But these qualities are hard to nail down, hard to be specific and concrete about. Just what is tradition, aren’t there a lot of traditions in Christianity? How sacramental must one be to cross the threshold of Catholic?
On this view, one can actually point to the Catholic Church. One can say, “you see that man over there wearing the funny hat? He is a bishop. Submit to his ecclesiastical authority and you are a Catholic.” You can even get it in writing, as in when one is confirmed.
Now, looking around the Christian landscape, who else has bishops? Ah, yes, Anglicans.
So, if you recall in my previous post I noted my large, scary looking conversation partner in high school asserting that he was, “Catholic, not Christian.” On the view I am sketching, that would be inaccurate, what would be possible would be to be “Christian, but not Catholic” i.e. any Christian who is not under the authority of a bishop. But if you really put yourself under that authority structure, whose head is ultimately Christ himself, then Catholic is a sub-category of “Christian.”
Thus, to be a Catholic is to endorse and be under the authority of a bishop. Those who wish to place themselves in this structure are welcome to call themselves Catholic. If one wants to get specific about which Bishop they place themselves under, they are certainly welcome to designate as much (ie “Roman” Catholic). However, there are some who wish to say the Nicene Creed and yet not place themselves under the authority of a bishop, to them I suggest: lower the “c.”
 I appreciate Fr. Sam Keyes’ comments on fighting “a losing battle over vocabulary with the vast majority of the Anglophone world.” But isn’t this how vocabulary is changed in the modern world? One blog post at a time? Or perhaps we should all be Tweeting this.
 Or, more specifically, “Anglicans means something else by ‘Catholic.’”
 I’m aware not all bishops wear miters, but you have to admit that is one of the coolest pieces of ecclesiastical gear.
 Ok, and Lutherans and Methodists…which is why we’ll have to think more about the “historic” aspect of the “historic episcopacy” later.