Conceiving the term “Catholic” from a Thorntonian perspective means that catholicity emerges when a particular parish is seen as the whole/holy Church in microcosm. Thornton’s theology is anchored in parish life, and hence his sense of what Catholic means is fundamentally parochial, as well. Distilling from Benedictine/monastic order a highly original “parochial theology” (a term he coined), Martin Thornton must be seen as a Benedictine teacher of the Faith. He shows that Benedictine spirituality (both liturgically and ascetically) is at the heart of genuine Anglican patrimony, its historical “ethos.”
Here is an excerpt that epitomizes Thornton’s teaching on parochial theology:
The consecrated elements are Christ to the communicant; wholly and completely Christ, divine them into ten thousand fragments and each is the Body and Blood of Christ. So the parish is the Catholic Church in microcosm. This Church, moreover, is threefold. The holy concourse in paradise and in heaven does not split itself up into insular parties of patrons-per-parish. If the whole Body is complete at every altar, the whole communion of saints are in attendance at every altar. As Lady Julian saw all creation in a hazel-nut, so her hazel-nut comes to universal size. When parochialism is organic and when ye are the Body of Christ, it is the antithesis of narrow but it is, in place, the Catholic Church. There is but one Bread, so each altar is microcosmic of the Throne of the Lamb in heaven. There is one Church and one Body, so that the work of each server, each organist, each verger, each good lady who arranged the flowers is of Catholic significance because it is truly parochial. This is why the Church’s Office, said by two souls in the village church on Monday night, is an infinitely tremendous thing; the “special” service with its teeming congregation is trivial by comparison. (Pastoral Theology, chap. 4)
In a Catholic parish (whether Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, etc.), the ascetical life and celebration—centered around the Altar, prepared daily through Divine Office and extended through personal Devotional ministry within the local community and environment according to the Bible; this is the threefold Regula—can make for wholeness and complete participation by the Angels, Archangels, all the company of heaven, and can do so in a way recognizable to the wider Church as it lives elsewhere in parish and monastic communities around the globe: recognizable even in contextual diversity. The particular, local parish is the Church, for Jesus is one, as He and the Father are one, and we are His by the sacraments.
That the local/particular is analoguous to the whole/cosmic is what I suggest is the most constructive, even useful definition of “Catholic,” for the etymology of the term, of course, means “according to the whole.” And let it be emphasized that “whole” means the threefold Church: in visible creation (Militant), in the intermediate state of Paradise (Expectant/Purgatory), and in the full company of Saints and all Angels in heaven (Triumphant).
For Thornton, a parish or monastic community is Catholic within the Church Militant when its ascetical life and culture is analogous with— corresponds to—the threefold whole/holy Church. To this theological sensibility Thornton invites the Church, through its particular local parish churches around the globe, to practice and live out in their particular gifts and vocation: their reasons for being.
Let me also say something about our condition today in the Church, that being what is called “schism.” That there is separation between major Catholic traditions in the Church cannot be denied, but what kind of separation do we actually have?
The Body of Christ is one and whole; it cannot be separated, ontologically. So the “schism” we experience today is not ontological schism, but rather an existential schism: a schism rooted historical conditions of our existence. Real, to be sure, yet another word for all of that is “political,” which is the true nature of our schism and explains why it endures. Ontological schism, on the other hand, is impossible because Christ cannot be anything but One, and humans are utterly incapable of altering that.
The People of God are likewise incapable of being ontologically separated from Him: we are one in Christ by Baptism. And because the threefold Regula repeats and enacts baptismal reality—not only Eucharist, but also Divine Office and Devotional ministry, are the repeatable parts of Baptism—the way beyond political separation or schism can only be found through a more profound embrace of Regula doctrine, amid its diverse expressions throughout the Church, as our true means of existential unity—of true Catholic identity.