Roman Catholicism

John Wesley, in many ways a Hanoverian Protestant high churchman, shared the prevalent suspicion and fear of Rome and late in his life his stance against Catholic Toleration played into the hands of Lord George Gordon, instigator of anti-Catholic riots. Yet he was drawn to Catholic holiness, encouraging his followers to read two minor Catholic Reformation saints, Gregory Lopez and M. de Renty. In 1749 in Dublin he wrote an open 'Letter to a Roman Catholic' which is one of the most remarkable documents of early ecumenism, pleading that Catholics and Protestants 'reason together'. To the outrage of the Roman Bishop Richard Challoner, some charged Methodism with being covert Catholicism, seeing the class meeting as the confessional.

There has always been a certain kinship in the pursuit of holiness, and Catholics have found the Wesley hymns spoke to them, not least in devotion to Christ's passion and the doctrines of the Real Presence and Sacrifice in the Eucharist. Methodist suspicion of Rome continued until World War II and beyond. But theologians such as R. Newton Flew emphasized affinities and Vatican II, together with the Liturgical Movement, made dialogue possible. Since 1967 joint RC and World Methodist Council Commissions have issued regular reports; and the English Methodist-Roman Catholic Committee, meeting since 1972 and superseded in 1990 by the British Methodist-Roman Catholic Committee, has published its own findings on 'Christian Belief' (1970), the Eucharist (1974), 'Ministry' (1975), authority in the Church (1978), Justification (1988, 1991), and Mary as a 'sign of grace, faith and holiness' (1995), as well as 'Can the Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches be Reconciled?' (1992). The 50th anniversary of the dialogue between Methodists and Roman Catholics was celebrated in Rome in October 2017.

The 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint was a significant expression of Roman Catholic commitment to continuing ecumenical dialogue, though the subsequent Dominus Iesus (2000) was widely seen in Protestant circles as a setback. In 2004 the first church built for shared use by Roman Catholics and Methodists was opened in Nelson, Lancs. Some hardline RC ethical attitudes (such as those of the pro-life movement) have Methodist supporters, such as the distinguished American Stanley Hauerwas. The dialogue, at international and national levels, is not likely to be broken off and there are Methodists, influenced by the best RC theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, who will not rest satisfied with any union which does not include Rome.

See also Mason, James A..

  • R. Newton Flew, 'Methodism and the Catholic Tradition', in N.P. Williams and Charles Harris (eds.), Northern Catholicism: Centenary Studies in the Oxford and Parallel Movements (1933)
  • John M. Todd, John Wesley and the Catholic Church (1958)
  • Jean Orcibal, 'The theological originality of John Wesley and continental spirituality', in History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 1 (1965) pp.81-111
  • Brian Frost and Leo Pyle (eds.), Dissent and Descent: essays on Methodism and Roman Catholicism (1975)
  • J. Munsey Turner, '"Of Methodists and Papists Compared"', in WHS Proceedings, 41 (1977-78) pp.37-38
  • Colin Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century England (1993)
  • David Butler, Methodists and Papists (1995)
  • Geoffrey Wainwright, Methodists in Dialog (Nashville, 1995) pp.37-106
  • David Butler, 'The British Roman Catholic-Methodist Dialogue, 1984-2002', in Epworth Review, 29:3 (July 2002) pp.9-15
  • John Munsey Turner, 'Methodism, Roman Catholicism and the Middle Ages: a contextual approach', in One in Christ, vol. 38 (2003) pp.47-70
  • David M. Chapman, In Search of the Catholic Spirit: Methodists and Roman Catholics in Dialogue (Peterborough, 2004)
  • Peter Nockles, 'Charles Wesley, Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism', in Kenneth G.C. Newport and Ted A. Campbell (eds.), Charles Wesley, Life, Literature & Legacy (Peterborough, 2007) pp. 141-64
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge (ed.), John Wesley's Writings on Roman Catholicism (n.d.)
  • Methodist Recorder, 27 October 2017