2013 is the Centenary of the Catholic League. This will be a year not only to celebrate a dedicated history, but also to renew our prayer for Christian Unity, in fullness of communion in the Catholic Faith and in union with the Apostolic See of Rome.
2012 has seen the continued search of the Church of England to resolve its internal differences and, indeed, for its own internal ecumenism. If the Church of England majority, which sees the admission of women to the presbyterate and episcopate as a legitimate development to the received tradition, cannot allow a place for fellow Anglicans who believe the Church should keep to the Tradition on which all can be reconciled as they were once united; and, given the uncompromising tone with which some of their number have called for the rejection and even exclusion of the minority, it sends a powerful message to the ecumenical partners of Anglicans working with them, beyond ecumenism, towards reconciliation and fullness of communion. If most Anglicans do not want spiritual ecumenism to work within their own ranks, and fullness of communion cannot be achieved within the juridical bounds of the Established Church, how can it seriously engage with the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on unity, let alone the other Churches stemmed from the Reformation?
The answer is the same basic “fact of life” that has animated the League for 100 years. There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name that does not take into account communion with the bishop of the See of Peter in Rome, not as the last piece in the jigsaw, but as the destination from the outset of our Christian ecumenical journey. Piecemeal ecumenism – such as the Porvoo agreement between the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland with most of the Lutheran Episcopal Churches, or the Union of Bonn with the Old Catholics, or the Leuenberg Agreement with non-episcopal Reformed Churches – is hopeful and should be encouraged. But where it constitutes to all intents and purposes the exclusion of the Apostolic Churches of East and West - most especially communion with the successor of Peter at Rome - there is a risk of “settling for less”, or even an ecumenism that is anti-Catholic. A substantial bloc of Anglicans and Protestants in a staged process of reconciliation that is not taking the Petrine ministry into account as a first principle (and as it is, not as some may wish it to be) is not necessarily a building block to Church union. All too easily it risks standing as a rival to Catholic faith and life; the instinct is for schism.
This is not even true to what the Reformers thought they were achieving by their reform of the Church, and its tradition as they had received it. To employ the terms of Pope Benedict for a different controversy, their thinking was that of a “hermeneutic of continuity and of reform”, and not of “discontinuity and rupture”. Continuity with the rest of the Latin Church has long been part of the Anglican apologetic, even though, along with the other churches of the Reformation, the new direction for the English Church led to rupture, because of the imposition upon it of the boundaries of a nation state. So it is surely a sore in the spirits of all belonging to the League that our Anglican members are seemingly forced by events further from their lifelong hopes for the reconciliation of their Church with the Church of the Apostolic See of Rome, the more faithfully they seek to live by the Common Tradition which has formed us all. As Pope Benedict put it, when he spoke to representatives of all the Christian traditions at Westminster Abbey on his Apostolic Visit, the account of the hope that lies within us that will be convincing to the world does not lie in a facile accommodation to the spirit of the age or theological relativism, but an ever deeper unity in the apostolic faith.
One of the things that has become apparent, in the two years since the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established, is that those who have joined it as they realised long cherished hopes for Anglican-Catholic reunion (perhaps not the way once planned, but the way that has been opened up by Divine Providence in the Church that God has given us) have moved by their conscience, not without cost; and that this has been rewarded by the focussed efforts of the Catholic Church to create, within its otherwise largely regimented system, new space that makes sense of 450 years of Anglican custom, culture, heritage and tradition. As Fr Aidan Nichols OP has recently observed, with an urgent need for a new evangelisation of an old Europe, it is seeking to fill a gap in the Catholic Church’s mission that it did not realise was there. The Catholic Church in England is a marriage of many worthy families - the recusants, the body of converts from the last two centuries, the Irish and Scottish diaspora of in the same period, and nowadays a large number of Catholics settling here from all over the globe. But what of our engagement with England, its people, its culture and its spiritual sensibilities? This is the question the Ordinariate will be addressing in its worship and mission. Properly understood, it is the most profound ecumenical signal that the Church’s supreme authority, exercising the Petrine ministry, has acknowledged that the Anglican tradition is not only an essential tool in the Christian Church’s mission across the Anglophone world, it is also to be seen as an integral component in the Universal Church as the Catholic Church understands it and hopes it can better manifest.
Another thing that has become clear is that Anglican Catholics are not “Romanisers”, or (as the press would have it) people of suspect loyalty, threatening to destabilise the Established Church and “defect” to Rome if they don’t get what they demand. They are Anglican churchpeople by conscience, devoted to Christ and his work in the Church and in the world, believing in the Catholic faith “as the Church of England has received it”, serving the ideal of Catholic unity, in the way that luminary Anglicans have striven to do throughout history, and convinced that they have an integral place within the communion of their own Anglican Church, none to say them nay. It has been sad, therefore, to hear this confidence and hope expressed in terms of recrimination against those who have accepted the Holy Father’s invitation. Indeed it is ironic that Catholics in the Ordinariate are enjoined by Rome to observe the provisions of their Anglican patrimony, while there are Anglicans whose ecclesiastical bearings are expressed in adhesion to Roman Catholic patrimony. This is not, however, the occasion for rivalry or a spirit of estrangement among those who are united in what Pope Paul VI called the “communion of origins”.
When the Church of England bishops and the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales first met as bodies together, they agreed that the task of mission and evangelisation in this country is so large that neither can encompass it alone and so, faithful to the integrity of their respective principles, must not work in competition but in mutual charity and peace, side by side. In the same spirit, there must be no condemnation from the Catholic side of those Anglicans who, believing in conscience that they must be faithful to the Tradition and remain committed to the Church of England, reminding it that, while its foundational principles may be Scripture, Tradition and Reason, no one may prevail and all must agree. By the same token, on the Anglican side there must be an end to hostility directed at the Ordinariate and those who have entered it no less as a matter of conscience, obedience to the Christ who calls us all, and in a spirit not of division but of healing the wounds in the Body of Christ that human sin has shown to be divided in this world.
In a society which is indifferent to the Gospel and the Church, even hostile, with our two Churches as leading fellow members of Churches Together in England, we rely on each other. Those who share the “communion of origins” in the Anglican patrimony by which we have been formed in the Spirit of God need to work together from both sides to draw Christians together, not apart. According to what is required by our times, it is up to us on both sides to remind the Church of England (and the wider Anglican Communion) that the Church cannot transmit God’s Holy Tradition in the new way that is called for, without passing on the Church’s doctrine, “pure and whole, without attenuations or distortions” (Address of Blessed John XXIII at the Opening of the Second Vatican Council). And it is up to Catholics and Anglicans together to reveal to the rapidly changing society in which we find ourselves, that its deepest questions, its spiritual sensibilities and its distinctive religious culture have a place in God’s purposes, not as an isolated, possibly declining, and even marginalised phenomenon, but as a key to the re-evangelisation of culture in the struggle for the soul of Europe that is currently being waged.
Anglican Catholics must restore their Movement to its original state – a relentless obedience to the logic of Catholicism, that it cannot be consummated without communion with Peter. And Catholics in England, members of the Ordinariate and members of the dioceses alike, cannot allow the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church to function as a self-sufficient club to the exclusion of those with whom we share the fact of Christian division in this world. The Catholic Church dropped the futile idea of itself as the “perfect society” at the Second Vatican Council, whose Decree on Ecumenism taught that the Catholic Church is somehow not Catholic in all her bearings so long as there are Christians and church communities separate from us. The impulse to Catholic unity is what drives our sacramental life, the pastoral mission of the Holy Father with a special care for all the Churches, and our relations and encounters with other Christians. Schism in Christ’s Church, and false ecumenism that settles for less, should make Catholics restless.