This week the Catholic Church, together with other Christian communities, celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For those from the Anglican tradition, the origins of this week are significant, because it was the effort of Anglican ecumenists that founded what was originally known as the Church Unity Octave, and which had the express intention of the reunion of Anglicans with the Apostolic See. The involvement, in 1933, of the French priest Fr Paul Couturier saw this develop into the Week of Universal Prayer for the Unity of Christians, again, with unity with Rome at the very heart.
This article was published in the Catholic Herald on 20 November 1992. It was written by the then Anglican bishop, Graham Leonard, who later was received into the Catholic Church. I was privileged to attend his Funeral Mass in the Oxford Oratory a few years ago.
Ever since the Reformation, the Church of England has claimed to be the Catholic Church in this country. Whether or not that claim is justified, it is one which is reflected in its title-deeds, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the 39 Articles.
That claim has been based upon four pillar which in the last century were summed up in the Lambeth Quadrilateral as expressing the doctrinal basis of Anglicanism. These four pillars are Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, the creeds, the sacraments and the ordained ministry.
In recent years each of these pillars has been undermined and has begun to crumble away. The theological implications of the recent decision of the General Synod has caused their collapse.
With regard to Scripture, the traditional position of the Anglican Church has been that nothing can be required of belief for eternal salvation but that which may be concluded and proved by Scripture. Those who support the ordination of women to the priesthood have not sought to claim such sanction for it but have had to invoke contemporary fashion and call upon secular support.
But women priests will now be built into the sacramental life of the Church of England. Whatever provision is made for those who cannot accept the official teaching, the Church will now require their acceptance as a prerequisite for belief. In other words, their acceptance has become a new canon of orthodoxy.
The provisions of ecclesiastical law may make it difficult to define and reject heresy in the Church of England, but that need not prevent the bishops from making clear what is and what is not contrary to the beliefs to which the Church of England is committed.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has, in fact, devised a new heresy: that of opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood. He apparently overlooks or ignores the fact that the Acts of Uniformity forbid any cause to be determined as heresy except that which has been so judged by the authority of the Canonical Scriptures or by the first four General Councils. He seems incapable of seeing that the fact God was incarnate as a man makes it inappropriate for a woman to be the sacramental representative of Christ.
With regard to the ordained priesthood, another problem arises. The Church of England has always claimed that is has maintained the Apostolic Ministry ordained by Our Lord. In its appeals for unity, for example in the famous Lambeth Appeal of 1920, it has put this forward as to be accepted for the sake of unity. It can make that appeal no longer.
It might be argued that, at many times in the history of the Church, it has been the faithful minority which has preserved orthodoxy as, for example, in the fourth century against the heresy of Arianism.
The irony is that, which the General Synod of the Church of England regards itself as having the authority to make such a change unilaterally, the minority within it is patronised and expected to be bought off with temporary ????. The mere passage of time does not make wrong right.
There is in the legislation a built-in mechanism to ensure that the majority view will prevail. Few people realise, for example, that it will be illegal for the Prime Minister to nominate as a bishop a priest who cannot accept women priests.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as having made two astonishing statements. The first is that the “ordination of women to the priesthood alters not a word of the Scriptures, the Creeds, or the faith of our Church”. Such a statement can be made only on the basis of Humpty Dumpty’s use of the words. “When I use a words,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.
The second statements is that “there is no connection between the ordination of women to the priesthood and feminism”. Has Dr Carey not read any of the literature supporting the ordination of the women in which the connection is explicitly made?
What is just as extraordinary is his expressed hope that we will play a full part in the life of the Church when the legislation provides for us to be marginalised and finally extinguished.
What then are we to do? What are the options? Before considering them, two points must first be emphasised. First, the legislation will not become effective for at least 12 months. There is time to think, and we must not make decisions precipitately. But during this time we must make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that we cannot accept the change.
The second point is that we must not become a sect. That, in fact, is what the Church of England has become by its unilateral action. We must seek to be admitted to the communion of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and to do so not just as individuals but as a body of those who are committed to orthodox belief and practice.
It is this second point which, in my judgement, rules out the first option, namely that of allying ourselves with one or other of the so-called “continuing Church” which exist in the USA, Canada, Australia, England and elsewhere. While I admire them for having the courage of their convictions, it cannot be denied that, depending so much upon personalities, the seem to lead to further division.
A second option is to seek hospitality from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. While they are very sympathetic, they are so closely related in this country to the indigenous Churches of which they are part that it is difficult to see this as a realistic possibility.
The third option is to seek relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. This we would have to do as suppliants and without presumption, asking if a way could be found for us somehow to preserve our Anglican identity while being in communion with the See of Peter. I do not think that it is for us to suggest how this might be achieved. We can only hope and pray that the Vatican and the hierarchy here in England will give sympathetic consideration to any possibility of a way forward.
We know of the provision for the Anglican Rite in the USA though little of how it works in practice. It may be that with some modifications it could be adapted for this country. There is provision in the Code of Canon Law for Personal Prelature. We are aware that so far this has operated only in respect of Opus Dei, but the Code envisages a winder use. I appreciate that it is primarily a clerical institute in ecclesiastical law, but Canon 296 does provide for lay persons to be associate with it on terms to be determined in the statutes.
However, the Canon which us most encouragement is Canon 372. Having referred to the territorial nature of dioceses, paragraph 2 reads as follows: “If, however, in the judgement of the supreme authority in the Church, after consultation with the episcopal conferences concerned, it is thought helpful, there may be established in a given territory particular Churches distinguished by the rite of the faithful or by some other similar quality”.
The situation which has arisen in the Church of England will bear particularly hard upon the younger clergy who cannot accept women priests and for whom there can be no future. But it will also bear very hard upon the orthodox laity. It may be that for a time their local Anglican priest will be orthodox, in which case they will be able to worship in their parish church. But the time will come when they will not be able to find one where they can do so in good conscience. It would be god the greatest benefit to such people if, possibly as an interim measure, they could be permitted to make their communion in the local Catholic Church.
There is, of course, the question of Anglican Orders, which does present a problem for many orthodox Anglican clergy. Out of pastoral care for those to whom they have ministered, they would find it very difficult to accept that their ministries are deemed utterly null and void.
However, there are responsible people in the Roman Catholic Church who suggest that although the Bull Apostolicae Curae applied to the situation existing in 1896, subsequent developments – and particularly the participation of old Catholic bishops in Anglican consecrations – could warrant a different response (at least for those ordained since then).
I would want to stress that we are not asking for recognition to continue an Anglican ministry, but as those who have accepted the magisterium and are in communion with the Holy See.
Mgr Keith Newton, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, gave this paper on the future of ecumenism at St Mary Magdalen, Brighton, last week. It forms part of a series of lectures organised by Fr Ray Blake, to celebrate 150 years of the parish’s life:
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being gently mocked? During his homily at my first Mass, Fr Stephen quoted a little phrase I’d used to describe the journey from Anglicanism to the full communion of the Catholic Church. When I preached on the Ordinariate during my first few weeks in the parish, I described it as ‘moving from the gatehouse to the manor house’. I know…
However – despite the ribbing – I do think it’s a pretty decent analogy: moving into the fullness of Catholic Communion, away from the fringes and the partiality of that unique bond between the baptised and the Church, and coming into the full splendour of the unbroken Catholic tradition, with all the rich cultural, liturgical and theological patrimony which that involves.
Last week the Catholic League published the complete special edition of the Messenger, a journal which was released to celebrate the announcement and development of the Personal Ordinariate. It is full of great articles, all of which can now be read freely here. Copies are free to a good home, so if you want a hard copy you can still get them from the Catholic League directly.
Amongst the excellent pieces (some critical, some full of hope – this was before January 2011), is the sermon given by a good friend and mentor on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of Pusey House, Oxford. The title of the sermon is The Sinews of Behemoth, taken from Job 40:17 (The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted), and I apologise to anyone who’s already familiar with the content.
With his typical amusing tone and wit (“Which leads me inexorably back to Behemoth’s testicles…”) the preacher negotiates the history of the Anglo-Catholic movement which found space to flourish to fantastically in many of those Oxford institutions: St Stephen’s House, Pusey House, the Cowley Dads, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, and Fairacres.
Read the whole piece. It is, though, the rather stark challenge of the final paragraph which I tentatively reproduce here – as much to confirm my own sense of what the whole Ordinariate-Project is about, as challenge those who might be reading from another shore:
Pope S. Gregory the Great in his great commentary on the book of Job known to us as the Moralia, took this verse [Ed: The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted] as a type of the perplexed conscience – the constriction of the sinews being the sign of the entangled nature of the moral choices which confront us. You do not need me to tell you that Catholic Anglicans are in a place of acute perplexity at this time. Our mission, the mission of this House and of all those who have served the Movement since its inception, is founded on a confidence that we have an authentic ecclesial mandate grounded in Scripture and Tradition, and sacramental assurance in the ministrations which arise from that mandate. We must be frank when we admit that the great majority of the Churches who name themselves catholic in faith, order and practice have always seen this in us as more a matter of assertion than fact. But for us it has not seemed to be a house built on sand. S. Gregory tells us that if we are hemmed in and held captive, then the best rule is to jump off where the wall is lowest – the shortest fall makes for the softest landing. If we are not to be entirely strangled by our perplexity we are going to have to learn to jump, because the basis on which we have carried out our mission in recent years – the doctrine of a Church of England with two integrities – is coming to an end. Blessed Pius IX told Dr Pusey that he was like a bell summoning people to church but never entering it himself; might we not hope for a better future in a larger room for Pusey House?
Might we not hope for a better future for the whole Anglo-Catholic project? Is not the wall at an unprecedented low point? Is not the landing as soft as we could ever, really, hope? I believe so. Pope Pius IX’s analogy of Pusey is as sad as it is amusing – do we truly want that for ourselves? I suspect not. As someone said just before I was received – the future’s bright; the future’s yellow and white.
Yesterday morning I was visited by a French journalist from Pèlerin, a weekly Catholic magazine. I wasn’t expecting the visit, but Gwénola de Coutard (@gdecoutard), the journaliste, is in the UK to write a feature on women clergy in the Church of England and she wanted the view of someone who had become a Catholic as a result of such developments within Anglicanism.
Two alarms bells rang in my mind – first, do I really want to get into the ins and outs of becoming a Catholic again, just to have things skewed into a frenzy of words like ‘bigot’, ‘misogynist’, and ‘defector’ and, secondly, do I really want to speak to a Catholic magazine that wants to write a feature on women priests. But all of these concerns were laid aside when we started talking, and I realised very quickly that actually what was wanted was an apologetic defence of the Church’s teaching on the Priesthood, and an explanation that the ordination of women was not – is not – in itself a reason to become a Catholic, but rather represents a symptom of a wider question of authority outside the Catholic Church. So we talked.
When I was preparing to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church just last year, I knew that it would be exhilarating to be in communion with well over a billion people. I knew that visible communion with the Successor of St Peter, with the bishops, and with those great figures of sanctity whose writings had lined my walls for years, would be immense. And I have not been disappointed. But beyond that I have experienced a profound and genuine sense of peace – a peace which comes from letting-go of individual opinion and debate, and resting in the safe assurance of the Church’s teaching.
After the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Jeremy Paxman interviewed Cristina Odone and the-then-Fr Patrick Burke on Newsnight. In the interview Mgr Burke, who was a student of Cardinal Ratzinger and now works in the CDF, paraphrased a line that is often quoted from Ratzinger’s own writings – “The Truth of Jesus Christ is not measured by public opinion”.
For those of us used to tackling the biannual wave of General Synod votes, such a line rings very true. But, more than that, it reminds us that it is not our individual decisions to assent or dissent from Church teaching – in relation to the nature of the Eucharist, or the Priesthood, or Marriage, or any other area of faith, morals, and doctrine – that makes something true or false. Rather, that relates to our own relationship with the Church. And if we believe that Christ is truly present in the Church, that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth, then those decisions impact on our relationship with the Lord also.
We can’t hold the faith in isolation, not just because we need and desire communion with the Church, but because an individualistic faith where we decide on the rights and wrongs of doctrine, isn’t one which is Holy, Catholic or Apostolic. We don’t claim to be guardians of ‘natural religious instincts’ loosely basing our lives on a man-made moral code (see Fr Stephen Wang’s post on this here), but the mystical body of Christ, living and witnessing to his truth in a world where man-made moral codes come, change, and disappear to suit the age.
I’ll be interested to see what Gwénola writes. I know she’s hoping to speak to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet too, but if I’m honest it won’t keep me up at night worrying, because if there’s one thing I’ve grown to know and appreciate more than anything else, it’s that there’s no ‘I’ in Catholic.