Thursday, 31 December 2015

December 2015 - Unitas Newsletter - Priest Director's Message

The continuing assaults on Christians in Nigeria, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Syria reveal both the basic solidarity of all the baptised in a time of crisis, as well as our urgent need of the visible, organic unity of Christ’s Church. Towards the end of 2014, Pope Francis went to Istanbul to say to the Ecumenical Patriarch that, above all ecumenical objectives, he seeks communion with the Orthodox Church. The corporate reunion of East and West in communion with the Successor of Peter at Rome has been an objective of the League since its inception. In the mind of its leading founder, Father Henry Fynes-Clinton, reunion with the East forms the context for his immediate concern about the West: to end the detachment of the two provinces of York and Canterbury, and the Church of England’s reintegration as an entity in its own right with the Roman Catholic Church – “united, not absorbed”, as Dom Lambert Beauduin observed at the Malines Conversations. 

During the year that has followed the papal pilgrimage to Constantinople, the necessity of the voice and leadership of Peter for all the Churches has been obvious. Ecumenists are accustomed to cast the role of the Pope as a “Petrine ministry”: a focus of unity in such remnants of the faith that Christians hold in common; an exhorter and encourager; an indispensable servant of communion and its most persuasive advocate of the binding nature of the truth; an authority to appeal to, rather than one to take action. These tasks are already part of the Pope’s role; but Catholics also have a lively sense of the local immediacy of the Universal Church of which he is pastor “with a care for all the churches.”  It is not just because their bishop is in communion with him, or even across Church divisions a common faith identifies them: it is because the office of Pope, together with the teaching and acts of each successive Bishop of Rome, is part of our life and identity as Catholic Christians, when we articulate the faith of the Church in witness to the truth of Christ. Our Catholic straining for unity in one Body in Him, is not for streamlined administration, central control, or corporate take-over. It is “so that the world may believe”, when the Church speaks with one voice, credibly giving a single account of the hope that lies within us and the bearing of our Faith on the world of humanity. Thus we, and other Christians too, rely on the Pope to speak when others are not heeded – to speak “not as the scribes, but with authority”.

We are all one to those who hate Jesus

So, when Coptic migrant workers were murdered on the shore of the Libyan Mediterranean Pope Francis called the Coptic Pope Tawadros to say, “Your martyrs are our martyrs too”. Again, when last April the Armenian Catholicos at Holy Etchmiadzin canonised saints for the first time in 500 years – the 1.5 million Armenian Christians killed with many Greeks and Assyrians under the dying Ottoman Empire in 1915 - the Holy Father’s message was that, when the persecutor comes, he does not ask if you are Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian or Syrian, or Anglican, Evangelical, or Protestant. He just wants to know that you are a follower of Jesus.

He has spoken vividly of an “ecumenism of blood”, because martyrdom unites us completely with the Lord in His sacrifice on the Cross. In England, we have come to see the martyrs of our different traditions as part of each other’s stories. They are signs no longer of bloody division, but of the pains taken to reach our hoped for reconciliation in Christ. Yet Pope Francis is not merely talking about our mutual coming to terms. He is describing how the Church is “all one” to those who hate it, and yet our solidarity together in all kinds of ways stands as a massive response to those who hate the words of the Beatitudes, those who long for nothing more than that the Kingdom will not come on earth as it is in heaven.

In his autumn visit to Africa, Pope Francis visited the Catholic Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs of 1885-1887.At the pilgrimage basilica, he honoured the 22 Roman Catholic martyrs; but he also went with Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Anglican Church to the museum and shrine of the 23 Anglican martyrs, in the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI and St John Paul before him. “The blood of the martyrs makes us one,” he said. He knelt at the “torture tree”, where Catholic and Anglican Christians had been made to suffer without discrimination.

In his address to the Pope, Archbishop Stanley re-worked a local proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The principle of the Catholic League throughout has been to insist on unity in Catholic faith in communion with Peter not as the last piece of the jigsaw, but as the driving, prime objective from the outset. Thus keeping to the path towards Catholic unity has been no fast track. In recent times it has become drawn out, delayed, and even halted. The League’s founders and active members have “gone alone”, but not fast, in seeking unity with integrity – not just by holding to orthodox Catholic faith and order but by making the point, in season and out of season, that there can be no reunion, Christian unity, or ecumenism in the meantime, unless the reality is squarely faced that, for the Church to be completely the Church, it needs the pastoral care, spiritual authority and dogmatic teaching of Peter.

One Church’s one faith in the one Lord

No Church organisation is an end in itself. No tradition that is really Christian can rely on a separate Church to preserve it, if it cannot survive and actually flourish by finding its fulfilment in the communion of the Universal Church. Even the Catholic Church teaches that “the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her … Furthermore, the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all her bearings.” (Decree on Ecumenism 4, Vatican II, 1964). More or less the same wording would fit all the other Churches in their separation from one another too. Hence the need not only for unity of spirit - starkly emphasised by the experience of our ecumenism of blood; not only for unity of body, in which we may share our distinctive religious traditions, organisations and patrimonies, in the common life of one Church; but also for a unity of mind - a single-minded conviction of the Truth of Christ and declaring in many ways our one faith.

In October, Rachel Treweek, the new Anglican bishop of Gloucester, declared that she would not refer to God as “he” or “she”. She went on to object to the writ of summons to the House of Lords for referring to her as a “right reverend father in God” and also to the suggestion that it be amended to “mother”. She believes that both terms indicate dependency and hierarchy, rather than the true pattern of Christian leadership, which is to be “among you as one who serves” (see The Guardian, 24 October 2015). Of course, the ordained ministry and hierarchy in the Church are always to be understood in the context of Christ’s sacrificial service as the self-giving Good Shepherd;  and, to quote the Westminster Confession, God is “a most pure spirit … without body, parts, or passions”. But Mrs Treweek seems to be dispensing with a fundamental insight from the revelation of Christ, and our faith in Him that holds Christians in one: God is made known in Jesus Christ, who reveals unequivocally and repeatedly that He is Son to a Father. Thus to behold this Father-Son relationship, revealed at critical events in our salvation, like the Annunciation, the Baptism, the Prayer in Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension, is the given way to approach the mystery of God and embrace the Faith of the Trinity. It is not enough to say, “Creator, Redeemer, Guide”. Nor is it other than crude to present God as “a male”. But the idea of Father-Son in relation says something that no other analogy can; and each of the Three are those made known to us in the Old Testament as “The Lord”. Into the life of this Trinity, Mary is drawn, filled with “the Holy Spirit  the Lord” and becomes Mother of God. She is not a model of dependency, but the first realisation of theosis, the process by which we too, following after her, share the life of God as the grace of Christ’s salvation fills our entire being, in return for His sharing our life and taking away its sin.

Roman Catholics together with orthodox Anglican believers have been dismayed at the Bishop of Gloucester’s reflections. This is not because of being “against women” or reinforcing a “defunct” patriarchal view of the Church and humanity that oppresses women, but because her thinking shifts Christian religion away from its central focus – the Son of God. Christ is the incarnation of the eternal Son of the eternal Father. He did take human flesh in general, but as a person who is a man; He does not cease to be this man after His Ascension, or else He would have ceased to be human. The incarnation would have dissolved and our union with God like His with us along with it. He was not a man by coincidence, but so He could make God known as His and “Our Father”. As the beloved and holy Archbishop Michael Ramsey used to put it, “God is Christlike, and in Him is no unChristlikeness at all”. Like Father, like Son – on the Throne of heaven, in the manger, on the Cross, on the Altar, the Lord.

When I served at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in the late 1980s, I once preached on Romans 10.9, observing that those who were so vigorously promoting the ordination of women to the presbyterate were finding themselves unable to refer to God as Father and Jesus as “Lord”, and that this seemed to me risk their salvation because they could not assert one of the Church’s earliest credal formulae: “If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I was firmly rebuked for this, while the canons supporting the new theology of ministry were left unrestricted. It confirmed my conviction from that day to this, that there can be no unity in the Church and among Christians without an unequivocal declaration of faith in Jesus as Lord, who reveals the faith of the Trinity as Son to the Father; and that this Truth is not only believed by the Church, but manifested in its life, liturgy, ministry, hierarchy, pastoral care, proclamation and sacramental living “on earth as it is in heaven”. This declaration the Bishop of Gloucester seems unable to make her own. Without a unity of mind on this, from where and when will come our unity of body and spirit?

Taking up the Cross together

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been scorned in the press for “having doubts” after the terrorist attacks in Paris. What he actually said was that, in his prayers, he had asked God where He was in all this, and received the answer, “In the middle of it”. He recalled Psalm 56’s words, “He stores up our tears in a bottle, none of our sufferings are lost”. It is at moments like this that, whatever our differences and persistent disunity, Christian leaders give the world the hint that Christ truly is one and that He is nowhere other than in the world that is His: Paris, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Middle East all the same. Cardinal Nichols of Westminster added to Archbishop Justin’s words, “We really should be solid in our commitment to each other - to stand in the face of this evil”. So, after all, we are “going together”, not going alone, and prepared to “go far” because, when the persecutor comes, it is one faith in the one Lord that we declare. He asked us not to take up separate crosses, but “the Cross” telling us it would be “your Cross”. Whether we prefer it is like this or not, we press forward on His way together.

Peter said to Jesus, “To Whom else shall we go? It is You that have the words of eternal life”. So it was significant that on the Sunday evening after the Paris attacks, it was to Christ that the most prominent representatives of the secularist, anti-Catholic French Republic turned. Standing before Christ’s Altar at the special Mass in Notre Dame, were the Mayor of Paris, the President of the Senate, the President of the National Assembly, the delegate of the President of the Republic and the past President Giscard d’Estaing, because in that moment of horror only the Prince of Peace will do, only the Sacrifice of his flesh and blood for the life of the world. This is why the cause of Christian unity and the fullness of communion in one Church with the successor of Peter, who realised there was no other way to go, remains urgent: our priority as much as it that of the office of Pope.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016

As we approach the observance of the 108th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is clear that we to “go together”, we have had to go far. It is our duty, as members of the League and as Catholic-believing Christians all together, to convince others that going far must not involve going far away – away from Catholic faith, away from Catholic order, away from the splintering life of human society that is entitled to look to the Church to be one more than any other body, the force above all that unites humanity in justice and peace, in goodness, and the reign of blessedness extolled in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

So, I invite you to use the usual leaflet accompanying this Newsletter (see sidebar for link) to pray more urgently than ever, however impossible and unrealistic it seems, for the unity of all the Christians, so that, in the heartfelt words of Father Paul Couturier, all humanity may seek to tread the path that Christ trod, grow with an ever greater holiness, and find union in God through the love and truth about humanity that is Christ Himself. We are sending you three copies of the leaflet. Please share the prayer by giving one to a friend, and pass the other to your priest. If you are a priest, please share it with your congregation at church.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Centenary Messenger

At last, the Centenary Messenger of the Catholic League is printed and published, with papers and addresses from:

Bishop Norman Banks
Father John Hunwicke
Father Michael Rear, President
Canon Robin Ward
Judge Michael Yelton

ISBN: 978 0 9928497 1 9
Price £5 (free to members and libraries)

Available from the Membership Secretary, the Revd Christopher Stephenson, 27 Moor Lane, Newby, Scarborough YO12 5SL

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Priest Director's Address and Report to the Annual General Meeting, July 2015

During the course of 2014 and into this year, it has been clear that the Catholic League is still to fulfil a role and a purpose. Our main preoccupation since the 2013 Centenary Celebrations has been to attend to recording and writing the history not only of the League, but the cause it represents – a recomposition of the integral unity of Christ’s Church. The modern Ecumenical Movement dates from 1910, just before the League’s establishment but it has not had quite the same aim and it has thus prevented itself from re-integrating the Church. Its first aim was to ensure concerted efforts among Protestants in mission at home and abroad, and thus undermine the presentation of the Gospel by rivalry. A larger aim was reunion among historic institutional Church denominations through better mutual understanding and going back along our respective paths to our common point of origin, in the hope of retracing steps forward, but this time knowing in advance how not to be estranged as we discipline ourselves to keep together in company and agreement, lest we go our separate ways again and the prospect of communion almost in our grasp slips away once more. But the Ecumenical Movement came to imagine a mechanism for negotiation towards amalgamation, rather than the recomposition of the integral unity of which the Church is already possessed – as the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism put it, the reintegration of its unity, something that is “already”, even if in the world it is prevented or overwhelmed by separation. This is what the Catholic League means by “corporate reunion”- not the reconciliation of the incompatible, but the faithful pursuit of the visible and organic unity of the only Church that Christ founded. Vital, spiritual, practical and theological as the Ecumenical Movement has been – and it has truly made us all much better friends and collaborators than ever before and closer than at any time since our divisions – it seems unable to take us further than the impasse of what many call the Ecumenical Winter, after such high hopes from the 1960s to the early 1980s. This is because the Churches have imagined the Unity of Christians in a similar way to the diplomatic efforts of the United Nations, in the hope that by negotiation and partnerships between institutions you could achieve binding treaties, de-colonisation, streamlining, or even the ‘ever closer union’ that was an aspiration of many Europeans for the old European Economic Community in the aftermath of a two-century long process of European disintegration including two World Wars that undermined the old certainties of a European Christendom.

But it has been the League’s purpose not just to re-Catholicise England towards reunion, but also to hold English Christians, especially in the Anglican world, to that full, visible and organic Church unity which is not a distant object or a painstaking process, but integral to the Church’s very nature as the Body of Christ. In other words, communion with the apostolic see of Rome and the primacy of the successor of Peter as the pastor responsible for “strengthening his brethren” in the episcopate of the whole of Christ’s Church, is essential not only to the Roman Catholic Church but to all the Churches that compose the once visibly unified Universal Church. It may not be convenient because of what we think or believe; but that is our problem. It is the declared will, prayer and command of Christ that His disciples be one and that Peter be the one to feed His sheep. It is the first question to be faced in ecumenism, not the one to be put off to last. One of the fruits of our history project was a paper delivered by Dr Michael Walsh, who has undertaken the task of researching and writing the history, at the Third International Receptive Ecumenism Conference at Fairfield, Connecticut in July 2014. He noted that the Anglican Papalists, while few in number, had been decisive in establishing what would later go on to be the mainstream of ecumenism, from which, ironically, official channels went on to steer them away. His view is that this important historical contribution needs retrieving and reading back into the narrative of what happened and who was involved. The Malines Conversations have become very important in the corporate memory of Anglican-Roman Catholic engagement, but those involved were few in number and without a wider, more long-lasting constituency behind them to develop their ideas for a separate, additional Anglicanism alongside and in communion with Latin Roman Catholicism. The times were not right and there was no momentum until it gathered pace with the establishment of ARCIC and, in a new way, the conception of the Personal Ordinariates for groups of Anglicans with their own distinctive patrimony. But it was the League’s founders who popularised what we now know as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Britain. It was Father Fynes-Clinton whose links with figures in Rome and in Orthodoxy in the turbulence between the World Wars enabled the Anglican establishment to relate to both. (He seems almost on his own to have saved the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ability to be supplied with new priests.) It was the League’s leaders, with the support of the members, who maintained contact with Rome and friends in the Catholic Church on the continent, most notably Fr Paul Couturier, who re-invigorated the Week of Prayer when no one else would or could. It was the League that led the Anglican Catholic world to converge around the renewed pastoral-liturgical approach of the Second Vatican Council towards a better mission to our times. It was the League that impressed upon Anglican Catholics all the way through the twentieth century the central importance for the Church of England of reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury as essential to both in the enduring mission of Christ and His Church to England. It is so significant that the English Anglican observer at the Second Vatican Council was Bishop John Moorman of Ripon, a convinced Anglican Papalist, whom I had the privilege of knowing when I was an undergraduate at Durham and he was in retirement, urging a new generation to take forward the torch. From this time forward, the pressure within recent Anglican history was not to embark on variations to apostolic faith and order, not merely because they were “not Catholic”, not because they would “harm the chances of reunion between Rome and Canterbury”, but because they were contrary to the essential nature of the One Church in Christ.

So it has been sad to see orthodox, Papalist Anglican Catholics progressively marginalised from the theological and ecumenical leadership in their own Church. Others have noticed this. Not only Dr Walsh in his initial readings of our archives, but also two bishops in England and some leading Catholic ecumenical analysts abroad, have seen that those Anglicans with which the Catholic Church has much in common, pastorally, ecclesiologically and theologically have not been part of the decades long dialogue process and their voice has been missing. The observation of Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, the former Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and a serving member of ARCIC III, bears repeating: until Anglicanorum Coetibus emerged as an answer to the Anglican constituency actively seeking reunion with Rome, it had not occurred to Anglicanism at ARCIC to identify what its “offer” to a reunified Church might be. What is Anglican patrimony and what would it look like if the Churches could reunite? A theological dialogue that had become grounded in discussing areas of Catholic teaching problematic to post-Reformation Anglicanism in all its forms had lost touch with the classic Anglican orthodox tradition, just as Bishop Graham Leonard had said, after the diagnosis of Fr Aidan Nichols, OP in The Panther & The Hind. One recalls Cardinal Kasper’s hope, when he was President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, for a new Oxford Movement if Anglican-Catholic rapprochement were to find a fresh starting point for a new drive towards unity, communicating on the same wavelength rather than constantly being at cross purposes. The bishops who have conversed with us seek not a “continuing Anglican enclave” but a space within the institutional Church of England that recovers its original “Anglican mind”, a space where Anglican Catholics can speak for themselves in relationship with those in other Churches, especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Could this be a spur to unity?

Convinced Anglican members of the League will forgive a Roman Catholic reflecting on these matters, because what has united us in the League is our own version of the “communion of origins” that Blessed Paul VI spoke of at the canonization of the Forty Martyrs – not as signs of division but as symbols of reconciliation. Our communion of origins is Fr Fynes Clinton’s central principle that the Church of Christ is one in its nature and essence and that this must be manifested not only in pursuing a Catholic way of life and faith but in the visible reunion of Churches to manifest the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, through Christ’s Body before the world. This is why one of the League’s objects remains important – “fellowship among Catholics”. To this end, we are grateful on occasions such as these when we are able to benefit from the hospitality and welcome of the parish of St Silas, Kentish Town, which has become such a spiritual home to the League under Father Graeme Rowlands’ leadership. We are most grateful to him for his support and friendship because here it is easy to see that we not only pray with and for each other with ease, but we also see the bonds of fellowship and spiritual, religious closeness through a shared faith and hope. I venture to say that this was something Cardinal Koch (Cardinal Kasper’s successor) saw for himself on his visit several years ago to see a truer picture of Catholic life and belief in practice among Anglican priests parishes and people working and hoping for Catholic unity. Fr Rowlands is the Priest Director of the Sodality of the Precious Blood, instituted by Fr Fynes Clinton for celibate Anglican clergy bound by the recitation of the Divine Office of the Latin Catholic Church in a pioneering instance of ‘Receptive Ecumenism’, a contemporary ecumenical movement promoting the exchange of riches and gifts belonging to one Church with those of another. The Sodality is constituent body within the League and thus it remains an integral part of our witness and work towards unity. For this, we again thank Fr Rowlands.

Perhaps the most prominent area of the League’s work and purpose each year is our annual Pilgrimage to Bruges, where for five days we, as Anglican and Catholic members of the League and our friends live something of the unity that we aspire to. This pilgrimage was founded by our much loved and missed past General Secretary, Geoffrey Wright. He was a dedicated Anglican Catholic, but in his many and joyful visits to the Church on the Continent of Europe, to monasteries and shrines, and, as Edward Forse’s book title had it, Queer Sights in Foreign Churches, he saw reflected in reality the vision he lived by and hoped to see realised in England through its two main Churches’ reunion. This vision and joy were infectious and we have been faithful to them ever since, as each September we gather to honour Our Lady of the Vineyard at the Beguinage in Bruges, and Our Lord’s Holy Blood at the Basilica nearby, joining in the Gregorian offices of the nuns and attending each other’s Eucharists – as well as enjoying the great delight of being together again in a beautiful city and all its artistic and recreational delights. 2014’s speaker was Ian Knowles, who founded an Icon School in Bethlehem to preserve from destruction and to give a future the Holy Land’s only tradition of icon painting, which perhaps predates all others. We were most moved to hear Ian’s reflections on relations and tensions between Jews and Arabs, between Jews, Muslims and Christians, the emergence of Islamism, and the hope that can be borne in and of the beleaguered local Christian Church, continuous from the time of Our Lord Himself, especially through the love, protection and prayer of the Mother of God. What had drawn Ian to Bethlehem was a commission from the Melkite Catholic nuns there to paint an image of the Virgin, a sacred focus of goodness and prayer, on the evil Wall of Separation that divides the city from the rest of the Holy Land and Jerusalem.

While our work on our own is limited nowadays because of the change to the pursuit of ecumenism and reunion in the Anglican world, we nonetheless see in our relations and collaborations with other societies that our objects can be realised. Foremost among these is our support for the Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust, whose biennial pilgrimage to the Shrine and centres at Walsingham sees 80-90 people from so many and varied traditions in English Christianity coming together to experience one another’s worship and to hear reflections, talks and artistic presentations from fascinating speakers and experts. We are also linked with the Society of St John Chrysostom, dedicated to the unity of Eastern and Western Christianity, another founding objective of the League’s through Fr Fynes Clinton’s work with the Orthodox Church. Our occasional links with the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham and the Holy House, the renewal project for the Catholic Shrine and with the important work of the Anglican Centre in Rome remain. Mention should also be made of our occasional link with the Society for Ecumenical Studies, which we substantially supported to hold a conference to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism in autumn 2014, the only observance in the capital of its kind. In early 2016, we hope to bring you the addresses from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Reformed and Liberal Protestant speakers. As you would expect, there were the highest ideals and principles that we would recognise; but there was also the persistent frustration that seems to me to be the choice between unity in faith and order on the one hand and on the other the system of ecumenism that can be geared to preserving differences at the cost of unity. One example: a speaker from the floor promoted his book, Reforming Rome, which is a paean to recasting the Catholic Church on classic Protestant lines, such as the Reformed Church observers at Vatican II detected in the new emphasis on Scripture and collegiality. Yet, as Pope Benedict reminded us, the Vatican II reforms were not a new reformation but a renewal in continuity coming out of the old tradition, never a rupture from it. And the speaker from the floor had no conception that, meanwhile, all the post-Reformation Churches are hardly "classic Protestant" any more: by embracing relativism and the idea that faith, order and Christian discipleship can and should change to correspond to circumstances, they have utterly recast themselves - more re-formed than reformed. As Pope St John Paul once famously said to a visiting group of modern Lutheran theologians, “If you had been truly Lutheran, we would have been one by now.” Similar observations by both Anglicans and Catholics have been made on English Christianity and its reunion. Nevertheless, the conversations and ecumenical engagements – conferences, dialogues, pilgrimages, partnerships and friendships - illustrate how vital concerted efforts and warm personal contacts are to re-establishing understanding among us and furthering the objects we each hold dear: catholic unity is not a fringe interest but essential to the Church whose belief we confess in the Nicene Creed; it is essential to our lives as Christians. To this we bear witness.

For the future, once again, I have to say that, with regret, new issues of The Messenger have been delayed for a mixture of technical reasons, lack of time, and the slow development of completed articles and papers. The publication of the Centenary Messenger is imminent and this should be followed in the later part of the year by two more delayed special editions. One of these, seeing the renewed stress Pope Francis has given to St John Paul’s teaching on the healing of memories and the reparation and reconciliation surrounding our respective martyr traditions, will pick up on his theme in the present crisis of persecution of all kinds of Christians in the Middle East on “the ecumenism of blood”. The plight of our fellow Christians under persecution will be our special intention as we prepare to make our 2015 Pilgrimage to Bruges to venerate once more the Holy Blood, Bruges’ spiritual glory.


Friday, 1 May 2015

Priest Director's Newsletter - May 2015

When Father Henry Joy Fynes Clinton brought about the foundation of the Catholic League in 1913, it was not solely an Anglican-Roman Catholic concern. In Father John Salter’s biography, The Anglican Papalist, we were given the picture of a man focussing on a host of different things at the same time, each within the context of the others. Thus, while the League with our companions in the Sodality of the Precious Blood may be the last Papalist body for Anglican-Catholic corporate reunion standing from the time before the modern ecumenical movement, and while friendly relations and collaboration (if not the passion for reunion) between the members of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion show that our original aims have become the ecumenical mainstream, Fynes Clinton envisaged the re-integration of the Latin Catholic West to rest upon the reintegration of the whole Church, not just parts and pieces of it. He therefore appointed as the League’s patrons beside Our Lady of Victories, recalling the concerted effort of western Christendom that turned back the Ottoman Empire and its fleet at Lepanto in 1571, whom we venerate as Mother of the Church, and St Joseph, patron of the Universal Church from the Latin West’s point of view - but also St Nicholas of Myra, the holy protecting bishop beloved of the Orthodox East.

Fynes Clinton’s concern for the Christian East was realised in aid and activity in parallel with his promotion of Anglican reunion in the West. Fr Salter credits him with doing perhaps more than anyone else to achieve the stability of the Serbian Orthodox Church in its time of trial, by ensuring a desperately needed new generation of priests was trained in England. In this he assisted the Archbishop of Canterbury and thus cemented a bond between the Church of England and the Serbian Church to this day. Fr Fynes even saw a chance in the collapsing years of the Ottoman Empire for the Aya Sofya mosque in Istanbul mourned by Christians as the lost Hagia Sophia, the Great Church, to be restored by British power to the Patriarch of Constantinople. This cause may appear quixotic with hindsight; in any case he abandoned it, as it became clear that shadowy interests in the Roman curia did not wish to assist the recovery of the suffering and persevering Orthodox Church of the Eastern Roman Empire (which in Christian charity would have been the right thing to do), but hoped instead that in the power vacuum the Papacy could insert itself, install a Catholic patriarch at Hagia Sophia, and drive East-West reunion the vantage point while all else was in disarray; they certainly did not want an Anglican brokering arrangements with the Orthodox that would get in the way. While this was no less Quixotic than Fynes Clinton’s flight of imagination, it was much less innocent. The patriarchate did not forget the Anglican kindness borne of a desire for the Church to manifest its intrinsic unity: the foundation of the Nikaean Club and the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius, to foster Anglican-Orthodox mutual affection and solidarity belong to this era, as does the 1922 recognition of Anglican priestly orders. The particular bond between the Church of England, with the Archbishop  of Canterbury taking a leading role, and the Orthodox Churches of the Christian East has persisted to this day. It is important to keep in mind how important the involvement of Anglican Papalists in official ecumenism was in its formative stages, and this was because of their principle that reunion is not about piecemeal amalgamations or bilateral arrangements, but the intrinsic unity of the Church in the fullness of communion that must involve all Christians in each of the Churches, especially led by the apostolic Churches. This necessarily involves the ministry and proper authority of the Pope, the Bishop of the First See and successor of St Peter, as integral to the ecumenical objective from the outset, not a role to be added on when desirable and acceptable as some last piece of the jigsaw.

It is a cause of dismay that this principle is so lost even among the best people involved in contemporary ecumenical activity. It is a regular criticism of Anglican ecumenical policy that it fields different people taking different tones when talking to Catholics from those it fields when talking to the Orthodox, or Evangelicals, or Lutherans, or Reformed Churches. To an extent, the specialisms and interests of experts in each Church make this inevitable. We all warm to aspects of other Churches that we find resonate with us or stimulate fresh insights for our life in our own Church. This reflects how the Church is the Universal Church that manifests itself in the life of each Church with its gifts and graces, the holiness of the people and the faith that belongs to us as one. The Catholic Church understands that this Universal Church fully “subsists in” it, although according to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, because of the barriers separating Christians that yet they share in common, it is difficult for her “to express in actual life her full Catholicity in all her bearings”. In other words, we need each other in order to be the Church on earth in full; we need each other in order to manifest ourselves in the world as the Spotless Bride of Christ with which Christ the Bridegroom unites Himself across both heaven and earth in His own divine life, never to part. Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus? (Romans 8.35) Much, it seems.

The present state of the world and the Church shows that Christian Unity is no mere aspiration, “if only”; it is a matter of life and death. At Pope Francis’ moving visit to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in November 2014, both spoke of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches united in the loss and thus the honour of our present day martyrs – Nigeria, India, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Libya. In February this year, Pope Francis declared St Gregory of Narek (951-1003), the great Armenian mystical poet and philosopher theologian coming from the Oriental Orthodox tradition which has not been in communion with the See of Peter since the Council of Chalcedon in 451, as a Doctor of the Catholic Church. The infamous Ottoman Empire’s genocide of the Armenians in 1915 cost the lives and dispossession not just of Armenian Orthodox, but also Armenian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox and Catholics, and Greek Orthodox in Turkey too. Recently, the Catholicos of All the Armenians, Karekin II, canonised all the 1.5 million Armenian martyrs, who died on account of their profession of the Name of Christ, in the first such ceremony in 500 years. Present in solidarity were envoys from the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, whose faithful suffered not in separation but in the deepest union between Christ and his faithful at the taking up of His Cross. And when the 21 Coptic Christians were murdered by the ISIS blood cult on the Mediterranean shore in Libya with the Name of Yeshua on their lips, Pope Francis phoned the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II, saying that they were not just martyrs of the Coptic Church, but of the Catholic Church too. In a country like Britain which views its history in terms of progress, and its economic and social wellbeing in terms of growth, it is a stark challenge to see the Christianity which shaped our civilisation disregarded here and forced to its knees in the lands of its birth and the regions evangelised by the Apostles themselves.

A decade ago, thanks to our past Priest Directors Father Philip Gray and Father Brooke Lunn, as the Catholic League we paid close attention to the much needed power of mutual reparation in our dealings in England between our Churches and our different takes on a history that we share. Father Philip dwelt on how England is scarred with the ruins of the destroyed monasteries and the disfigured churches that stand as monuments to Christian dissension and mutual recrimination that has not even now been fully come to terms with. Later we had a memorable pilgrimage to Walsingham at which the vicar, now Bishop Norman Banks, took us on a tour of the local churches and landmarks, describing them as other marks of Christ’s Passion in His people: by His wounds you have been healed (I Peter 2.24). On the same occasion, we blessed a new altar in memory of our much loved and long serving General Secretary, Geoffrey Wright, for the Martyr’s Cell where Father Nicholas Mileham is believed to have been held on the night before he died as a witness to our concern for the healing of memories. Father Brooke Lunn was instrumental in ensuring that an annual commemoration of the Carthusian martyrs at which Anglican and Catholic leaders could participate in common to honour them, a few hundred yards moreover from where many Protestant martyrs also died at Smithfield, as part of the story of our Churches that Christ designed to be one on earth as it is in Heaven. There followed observances at the Tower of London to honour the reformer Bishop Nicholas Ridley and Saint John Fisher alongside each other, and at Tyburn Convent to honour not only the Catholic martyrs but also the Anglicans, Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians and others who lost their life for seeking to be faithful to the Truth about Christ and following Him perfectly to the end, the same name, Yeshua, Jesus, on their lips as this year on the Copts’ in Libya.

Pope Francis has frequently reflected on the ecumenism of blood and we will be revisiting our earlier work on the healing of memories, to use Pope St John Paul’s memorable phrase, to add our spiritual support as concerned ecumenists, Anglicans and Catholics together, who recognise that while Christian unity may look impossible from so many angles, it is not only an aspiration, or even an urgent task for which Christ prayed. It is vital as the lifeblood of the crucified Church in the historic Christian East, from which our faith and Church in England originated. And it is no less vital if the words on our lips in England, as Pope Benedict told us on his visit, are to give a convincing account of the Risen Christ and the hope that lies within us.

Our Lady of Victories, pray for our unity. Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for its reconciliation. Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, pray for its restoration. All holy martyrs for Christ’s Church and His Gospel, pray for the victory of His Kingdom over death, hell and destruction. Christ, Who is risen from the dead, trampling death by death and to those in the tomb giving life: have mercy on us.