St. Wilfred of York (pictured at left) is one of the truly outstanding saints of Northumbria. Along with St. Hilda of Whitby he personifies the ancient Celtic Church as described by the Venerable Bede.
He and St. Hilda were on opposite sides of the debate that took place at the synod of Whitby that met to decide what the relationship was to be between the native Celtic Church and the Roman one. Hilda held out for continued independence from Rome while Wilfrid argued for entering into communion with the pope. They agreed completely however in their love of the Celtic Church and the true Gospel.
The compromise that was reached at Whitby was that England would be a dual primacy with the archbishop of Canterbury representing the interests of the pope, and the archbishop of York representing the interests of the native Celtic Church. Wilfrid was chosen to be the first archbishop of York under this arrangement. However it was not long in coming that Wilfrid had to go to Rome to appeal the attempted diminuation of his authority.
The arrangement of dual primacy was preserved until the Norman invasion, sanctioned by the Pope, after which the Duke of Normandy replaced all of the native bishops save one with imported Frankish bishops thus ending by military force the legal arrangement of being in communion with, but not under the direct supervision of the Roman Pontiff.
The See of Rome has through the centuries increased its claims to supremacy. At first claiming authority through Peter and bestowing such titles to the papacy that contained the name of that apostle such as "Throne, or Chair of Peter", "Barque of Peter" etc. But as the centuries passed and the wider Church came to understand that the true head of the Church is Christ, the titles began to change as well. "Vicar of Christ on Earth" was the ultimate appellation self awarded to the office of the pope.
This tactic continues to this day with our new Pope Benedict XVI (I do consider him our Pope even if we are not in communion) jettisoning the title of "Patriarch of the West." This is almost certainly a move designed to set the bishop of Rome apart from the other patriarchs of the ancient Christian Church.
The question of papal authority is the central sticking point in the reunion of orthodox Christendom. The unique claims of the papacy have always been suspect, and like St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda we need to be cautious if and when we enter into arrangements with the Vatican.
The Anglican Use Roman Catholics, for example, have realized too late that there is no mechanism for them to maintain a married clergy except by conversion of already married Anglican clerics. This is why they are desperate to bring over the Continuing Churches to Rome in hope that an Anglican Rite may be created and the deal they have struck with the Roman Church modified. The Anglican Use chapels are slated for absorption into the Roman Communion, destined ultimately to disappear altogether.
Additionally the American, English, Dutch , and German branches of the Roman Catholic Church are hungering and thirsting to go down the same road as the Episcopal Church. In my on line debates with Anglican Use and other Roman Catholics they cannot deny the examples of heresy and apostasy manifested by the Roman Church, they can only claim that they are isolated incidents and the "situation is improving" without citing statistics or trends and certainly not any papal disciplinary actions against the offenders. They are whistling past the graveyard.
So what is the point of this essay? The point is that the Anglican Catholic Church may come to be one of the last repositories of orthodoxy on the planet. That unless the ecumenism we all desire is a positive one, it might kill us. Let us all ask St. Hilda and St. Wilfred to pray that Christ's Church be one in truth and orthodoxy, and that all phony ecumenical efforts be rejected. Heresy is worse than schism.