Fifty years ago the Catholic League was perceived as a deeply suspect and sinister outfit. Jesuits in disguise plotting the overthrow of the country and its Established Church by their allegiance to a foreign power. I didn’t know it was such an exciting organisation when I joined in 1961. Later that same year when I began my studies for the priesthood at Lichfield Theological College, where a few years earlier the Principal, Dr Hann, had gone over to Rome I discovered there had been a Stalinist purge. Students were compelled to resign from the League or face expulsion. I was strongly advised to do the same.
What of those holy priests who taught me the Faith? And what of the holy martyrs of Russia who were being sent to Gulags rather than deny their faith, would they have resigned from the League? Neither would this arrogant young would-be martyr. Hurtful as it often was it has to be admitted we did thrive on the thrill of persecution and enjoyed every minute of it. And behind the idealism of those Anglo-Catholic priests there was a spirituality of faithful priestly service, rather than preferment or treading carefully for one’s own advantage. Our crime was to pray and passionately believe in Christian unity, and the necessity for all Churches to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter.
One lesson we learn about the working of the Holy Spirit is how quickly and suddenly events can change. From age to age God raises up men and women to be outstanding witnesses of his love and power. Blessed John Paul II shook the rotten tree of communism and it all but collapsed. And in 1962, the year after I went to Lichfield, Blessed John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. Suddenly, everyone was talking about unity with Rome. League members were no longer third columnists but prophets. Anglican observers rushed to the Council.
From Lichfield I went to study in Rome before my ordination and saw Archbishop Ramsey when he visited Pope Paul VI. Who could have predicted, who could have believed, the transformation that was taking place? ‘We have been like two quarrelsome sisters’, Pope Paul VI said. And the ARCIC dialogue began. We were so optimistic that the principal observer at the Vatican Council, Bishop John Moorman, said unity needed just ‘one step more’. We are now rather less sanguine, new obstacles have arisen, but we still believe ‘the Lord founded one church and one church only’[i], and the League will always witness to that. We shall never give up. ‘How is it possible to remain divided, if we have been ‘buried’ through Baptism in the Lord’s death’ appealed Blessed John Paul in an encyclical which took the League’s motto as its title, UT UNUM SINT.
There have been disappointments before, human efforts ending in failure. Some of you have seen, in St. Peter’s Rome, Bernini’s spectacular tribute to Pope Alexander VII, near the top of the left aisle? Deep in prayer, the Pope floats on flamboyant drapery of porphyry, while the allegorical figures of Justice, Prudence, Charity and Truth skip around him, as they did during his life. Charity cradles a child, and Truth – if you have seen the monument have you noticed what Truth is doing? – her left foot stands on a globe of the world. She is stamping on England.
What crime had England committed to be immortalised in marble? The Church of England had rejected thirty years of dialogue initiated by Archbishop Laud of Canterbury supported by the Bishop of Chichester. The plan was to end the schism between the Catholic Church and the Church of England by a scheme that would have allowed the Church of England to keep an English Liturgy, married priests and other patrimony. Familiar? The seeds of the Ordinariate were sown three centuries ago.
When the League was founded in 1913 it was heir to much prayer and belief that God wills all his followers to be united in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, which Jesus built on St Peter. Prayer and belief that intensified during the nineteenth century as an effect of the Oxford Movement. And now, at our Centenary, we can give thanks for the triumph of love over fear, and dwell on that. For, although we are hugely disappointed that ARCIC’s vision of full organic unity has not yet been fulfilled, the foundation of the Ordinariates, as the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster both acknowledged, would not have been possible without the ARCIC dialogues of the past forty years. It is, as they both declared, a ‘consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion’[ii].
It seemed at first as though the ordination of women had ended the ARCIC dialogue. I suggested to Cardinal Hume when I met him at Walsingham, that Pope John Paul II must have been disappointed when the Church of England’s decided to ordain women. ‘He was angry’, the Cardinal told me. The Catholic Church had invested great hopes and expectations in the Catholic-Anglican dialogue. Cardinal Kasper famously declared that the ordination of women bishops will lead not only to a short-lived cold, but to a serious and long-lasting chill. But this is proving to be very far from the case. The work of the Holy Spirit goes on. Unity is an imperative part of the prayer of Christ for his people.
So, where do we go from here? Can the Catholic League be prophetic again? Vatican II, in the Constitution of the Church, spoke of the Holy Spirit ‘bestowing upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts’.[iii] Many homilies this last weekend have been preached suggesting that Peter, the rock and leader, represents the hierarchic gifts of the Church, and Paul, its outstanding preacher, the charismatic. The ARCIC discussions have dealt almost exclusively with the hierarchic gifts, with doctrine, ministry, sacraments, the Petrine ministry, authority. And remarkable agreement and consensus has been achieved as a permanent legacy. The Catholic League has played her honourable part in promoting and explaining ARCIC’s Agreed Statements.
But the Council spoke of ‘charismatic’ gifts as well as ‘hierarchic’. It put new emphasis on the Priesthood of the Faithful. And since the Council we have witnessed the formation and flourishing of new ecclesial movements, over 200 of them in the Catholic Church, and some in the Anglican Church too. Preaching to 280,000 members, gathered in St Peter’s Square on Pentecost 2000, Pope John Paul II said, ‘The movements and new communities, providential expressions of the new springtime brought forth by the Spirit with the Second Vatican Council, announce the power of God’s love which in overcoming divisions and barriers of every kind, renews the face of the earth to build the civilization of love’. They are at the heart of the new evangelisation. I think the future growing into unity between our Churches will increasingly focus on the charismatic gifts, ‘overcoming divisions and barriers of every kind’.
Now, following all these new movements we even have an ‘evangelical pope’, a pope who shows that you can be both catholic and evangelical, a good friend of fellow-Argentinian Luis Palau, the successor to Billy Graham, who relates, ‘Whenever we pray together he says “lay your hands on me and pray for me, that God will keep me as servant”… He’s really centred on Jesus and the Gospel, the pure Gospel’. At his Wednesday audience a fortnight ago Francis told the crowd that he had spent 40 minutes that morning praying with an evangelical pastor. Pope Francis has spoken of preaching the Gospel of grace, warning that ‘when we leave grace a little to one side in our proclamation, the Gospel is not effective... Evangelical preaching flows from gratuitousness, from the wonder of the salvation that comes; and that which I have freely received I must freely give’.
In recent years Anglican evangelicals have become notably less hostile to the Catholic Church, which once they regarded as the scarlet woman. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Papal preacher, is a welcome preacher at Holy Trinity Brompton, and Cardinal Koch, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, spent time there. Nicky Gumbel went to the Synod of New Evangelisation in Rome last year at which Archbishop Rowan Williams was invited to speak, and Alpha is spreading widely in the Catholic Church. Archbishop Welby and his wife are deeply involved with the new Catholic Movements, and spent a weekend before his enthronement with the Chemin Neuf Community in Switzerland. And when he met the Pope Francis they spent time praying and speaking of what God had done in their lives.
This is a new dialogue, a new ecumenical development, typical of the way in which the Holy Spirit surprises us. Pope John Paul II went so far as to say, ‘certain features of the Christian mystery have at times been more effectively emphasized’[iv] by those with whom we are not yet in union. There has never really been a spiritual dialogue between Anglican Evangelicals and Anglican Catholics, but now the opportunity is arising. A spiritual dialogue, a dialogue of prayer; for the deepening the spiritual life is one of the objects of the League. And Jesus showed us in his prayer to the Father that prayer, not human effort, is the way to unity, and prayer for unity has always been at the heart of the League. The new movements in the Catholic Church illuminate this way and give us confidence, and my hope is that just as the Catholic League has for a century pioneered and continues to lead the Anglican Church into a deeper understanding of the hierarchic nature of the Church, and the necessity of unity with the See of Peter, so it will now help the Church to grow into an ever-deepening appreciation of the charismatic gifts the Holy Spirit bestows upon us all, ‘building bridges from all sides towards reconciliation through the Catholic faith’[v]
Michael Rear, President
Catholic Church of the Assumption & St Gregory, Warwick Street, LONDON
July 2nd, 2013
[i] Vatican II Unitatis Redintegratio, para. 1.
[ii] Joint Statement by the Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury, 20 October 2009.
[iii] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, para. 4.
[iv] John Paul II, Ut unum sint, para. 14.
[v] Catholic League, Our Work, Catholic Ecumenism, para. 1.