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.