Saturday, 31 December 2016

Unitas Newsletter, December 2016 - Priest Director's Message

Over Christmas, on Professor Brian Cox’s BBC Radio 4 witty scientific panel show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, was asked what the Church of England’s official position was on Christmas ghost stories, and the existence and positive or negative influence of ghosts. He redirected the question from what the Church’s settled position might be to the way Christian theology discusses it instead.  He made the good point that Christians attest to reality beyond what can simply be measured or what you can see. The work of scientists, he said, seeks answers to “What?” and “How?”; but theology helps science by addressing questions of meaning: “Why?” Thus, on ghosts, he began to say that the Church takes seriously that there is a huge dimension beyond what is merely physical, but corrected himself to say instead that it is Christian theology that takes this seriously.

While the bishop made a good and serious theological point in the midst of a fascinating but light-touch programme for the public awareness of science, it was striking that twice he declined to say, “The Church’s position is…” or “The Church teaches…” The reluctance to “give an account of the hope that lies within you” (1 Peter 3.15), which St Peter goes on to explain is through the resurrection of Christ who has gone into heaven where the spiritual powers are subject to him, seems to be a symptom not of timidity when it comes to declaring and discussing faith, but of presenting it as a matter of ideas and intuitions without their grounding in the concrete events experienced 2,000 years ago. Thus religion concerns matters of personal spiritual dispositions, rather than the certain explanation about how reality stands, in the light of Christ: “it’s all relative”, rather than “it’s all revealed”.  For it matters to the Christian faith, not whether it can provide human beings with a sense of meaning that appears reasonable in the twenty-first century over two millennia since Jesus was born, but whether the events and the Person that the disciples have consistently borne witness ever since rings true because that is how things were, and thus are. It comes down not speculation on the “non-physical dimension”, but to whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead and appeared in a new life to many witnesses. St Paul explains that the physical body of the crucified Christ, and that he himself met, had been “sown natural” but “raised spiritual” (I Corinthians 15.44). The flesh which Jesus took from Mary had clothed God himself; and now the “huge dimension beyond” clothes us in turn. It is no longer outside our physical world, because our natural life stands within the order of the spiritual.  They are no longer estranged, but reconciled. The kingdom of God is penetrating; it comes on earth as it is in heaven

As for “Are there ghosts?”, our older language answers that we concern ourselves with the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life who renders all things subject to the rule of Christ and thus the attractive force of love. “Do the dead survive for life after death?” The question is the wrong way round: now that we have seen the resurrection and ascension of humanity taken from Mary, the question is “Where is this life leading? From where do we start in order to arrive at it?” C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce portrayed the living as the shadows who haunt the earth, finally getting on a bus that goes journeys on and on, round and round, until people are able to step off and tread on the harder, firmer reality of heaven that they are not otherwise ready to endure. As always, the great questions of religious belief, that Christ answers, are not about whether we deign to “take seriously the huge dimension beyond”, but whether “the huge dimension beyond” takes us seriously, reveals itself as none other than The Person par excellence, taking birth in our flesh, sowing it natural, raising it spiritual, and showing us that the holy, the divine, the realm and sphere of heaven, and the principle of God’s person-driven Love on which the entire universe is powered are “not hereafter”, but here and penetrating through us now.

The beliefs that Mary Mother of God was conceived immaculate, by the grace of Christ’s redemption, and that she was assumed physically into heaven (“sown natural, raised spiritual”) were defined as dogma – the settled view taught by the Catholic Church – in order to protect the fundamental faith of Christianity that (a) there is one Redeemer and without him no religious faith or enlightened reasoning ultimately avails; and that (b) this salvation, like our creation and death and destiny in that “huge dimension beyond”, is worked out by God in our flesh and in no other way. In September 2016, at a brilliant lecture, as usual, by Archbishop Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, to mark the legacy of the Malines Conversations at the church of St Mary, Bourne Street in London (where the leading Anglican figure, Lord Halifax, had been churchwarden), he said that, while the Catholic Church had been accused of adding to the core of faith by imposing the necessity of these dogmas in the past, in its negative response to contemporary realisations about humanity that the Anglican Communion was, with difficulty, tackling – for instance he specified the extension of the Anglican priesthood to include both men and women, but what he said could apply to bio-ethics, the nature of marriage, and the indissolubility of sacramental marriage – he told Benedict XVI that the Catholic Church was now subtracting from the apostolic faith as it was authentically developing, narrowing it.

Presumably they engaged each other in a discussion of Newman’s theory of the development of Christian doctrine. Doubtless Pope Benedict remained unmoved by an argument against the See of Rome’s consistent bias against addition and innovation and in favour of the handing on - purifying and clarifying as necessary - and applying in the now the faith the apostles came to then, the consequences that follow from that, and nothing more nor less.

Two of the best and most thoughtful communicators among the Church of England’s bishops have thus reflected on what the Church doesn’t so much teach as discuss, as well as what the Church ought to teach, less “narrowly”. The contribution of the Catholic Church in this conversation is that there is a hierarchy in the truth, and that giving priority to the current - even pressing - concerns of the natural order upturns the position that the physical world in which we live has its context and true meaning that comes only from the direction of the spiritual. So, the priority belongs to God revealed in Christ, who in turn reveals us as we are truly to be. Furthermore, even in the layers of the hierarchy of truths, a lesser truth is not less true and a greater truth is not “more” true. The truth is one, and truth is not relative but binding.

I wish to all members of the Catholic League, who hold to this truth about God, and about ourselves, the creation and our place in it, redeemed for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, a truly hopeful and inspired 2017. We begin it with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in which we make Our Lord’s prayer our own, “Father, may they be one, as we are one, completely, so that the world may know that you have sent me.” And it is vivid that Christ produces this prayer out of another – that we following Christ in turn may be made holy by the truth of his Word, not ours (John 17). Christ founded but one Church, not divided denominations, and, as Metropolitan Platon of Kiev (1803-1891) said, “the walls of separation do not rise as far as heaven”. Let us pray that the sovereign unity of the Trinity, from which the Church receives its own unity, may penetrate from heaven the Church of Christians on earth. And, the Spirit making us holy, may we see “the unity of all humanity in the charity and truth of Christ” (Fr Paul Couturier, 1881-1952, re-founder of the Week of Prayer, Apostle of Unity). MW

Monday, 11 July 2016

Annual General Meeting 2016 - Priest Director's Address and Report, 6th July 2017

Report on Activities and Future Plans

During the course of 2015 and 2016 so far, we have continued to promote the principles of the League:in short, the unity of all Christians with the Apostolic See of Rome - especially Anglicans and Catholics - and also the promotion of the Catholic Faith and its spiritual life.

From within the perspective of English Anglicanism, to which many of our members belong, Papalism has never been a mainstream cause, and the wariness with which it was viewed made it a badge of pride, an unmistakable mark of a strong identity. What frequently gets missed, however, is that this was not another Anglican identity over and against that of the Church of England. For the cause was that of a dual ecumenism – the first within the Anglican world, in which Catholic faith and spirituality was shared, and drew in other Anglicans to enrich and inspire them; the second an ecumenism with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox worlds. Thus, even in pre-ecumenical times, it was a drive to reunion, a movement to find how the provinces of the Church of England as it had developed, but in faithfulness to its truer Catholic identity, and how the Catholic Church, as it too had developed, could recover their old union within the re-composition of the wholeness of the Church of Christ’s inherent communion.

Today, Papalism is an unpopular cause for other reasons. A small but significant body of our members has entered into union with the Apostolic See of Rome through a new ecclesial body, specifically created so as to receive and promote the historic Anglican religious patrimony in a renewed mode, where it is to express the Catholic faith no longer in separation but in fullness of communion. Some therefore now think that the cause of Papalism within Anglicanism has reached its ultimate realisation – nothing more can be added to what the Petrine See has already discerned and provided.

Interestingly, the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is very different from the caricature sometimes found in press and online comment. It is not a monochrome club for ultramontanist Anglo-Catholics; for here we find Prayer Book Catholics, Vatican II pastoral-renewal liturgists, William Temple’s Central Churchmanship, exuberant admirers of the Baroque, reserved middle of the roaders, and those who have made their journey from Evangelical Protestant to Evangelical Catholic. It is a young manifestation of the Church, as well as of the very late-in-the-day inculturation of Catholic faith and worship in the register of Anglophone post-Reformation religious culture, with its distinctive tones in preaching, music & hymnody, pastoral mission, liturgical texts and corporate life and governance. The way it lives with its patrimony, as a means for conveying the Catholic faith to our society and new generations, lies towards the future, not the past. So in some ways it can be a seedbank microcosm of the vanishing world of classic Anglicanism, but in other ways this is so that it can function as an experiment in the New Evangelisation. We, as the Catholic League, remain wholly committed to this work of divine Providence in the Church of this land. Currently, I write a monthly column in The Portal magazine, to promote the Ordinariate’s importance and potential as none other than God’s gift, comparing it with the other manifestations of Catholic Christianity in the Eastern Churches. I wish to thank my fellow members of the executive, David Chapman as general secretary and Cyril Wood as treasurer, who also support The Portal and the Ordinariate in numerous practical ways. The Portal has a considerable international readership – it not only commends the value of the three Ordinariates, it projects around the Catholic Church the immense riches that belong to Anglicanism, and specifically to the Anglo-Catholic movement in faith and practice, that have now become spiritually available in full communion with Peter to the wider Catholic Church beyond the bounds imposed by division.

Yet there are still others, including members of the League among them, who believe in conscience that their vocation is to remain in the Church of England, where they were set from their baptism, and to continue in faithfulness with their witness to the faith of the undivided Church that it once received and that they were raised in, whatever changes have arisen since in the polity and thus the teaching of most Anglican churches and their leaders. One cannot, after all, fail to notice the continuing gift of the Holy Spirit of ordinations to the Sacred Ministry, and vocations to the religious life. Thus, during the year, the League has been of help to two Anglican bishops in their work that perseveres with promoting the reunion of all Christians with the Apostolic See of Rome in the fullness of Catholic faith and communion. First, Bishop John Hind sought our help for a keynote speech at an international conference for Catholic Anglicans, in which he wished to set out how Anglican Papalism, far from being a marginal pursuit, had been an insistent influence leading up to the establishment of modern-day Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue and relations. After all, it was Papalists who brought about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; it was a Papalist who re-established the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to serve as the heart of Anglo-Catholicism ever after; it was Papalists who kept up regular contacts between Anglicanism and continental Roman Catholicism when no one else did in the first half of the 20th century for the two Churches to build on in the second half; and thus it was an Anglican Papalist, Bishop John Moorman of RIpon, who represented the Church of England at the Second Vatican Council, leading to the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the permanent establishment of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. Yet within a few years, Papalists were sidelined as these institutions became mainstream. It was Bishop Hind’s point that they thus lost their edge and impetus towards Catholic union. Thus the much expected progress towards reunion, almost in reach in the early 1980s, slipped from the grasp of us all.

We have also maintained a conversation to help another bishop who, in the light of this, wishes to consolidate a distinct set of relationships with Rome from among classic Anglicans within the juridical framework of the Church of England. These are those who are not seeking to join the Ordinariate, yet who wish to increase spiritual unity with the Catholic Church and – somehow – to seek closer communion. How this can be achieved is perhaps unimaginable as things stand; but we believe that good will be served through encouraging honest conversations and friendly, spiritual contacts. No good can come of anti-Catholicism, or taking refuge in baseless anti-Roman resentment to corroborate an alternative position, the mark of the old High Church approach that has no place in the times since the Decree on Ecumenism and the establishment of ARCIC. The anti-Catholic Anglo-Catholic remains a paradox for both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in their common ecumenical quest towards fullness in communion in life, faith and sacrament. Clearly, then, there is work for us still to be done in strengthening the resilience of the classical Anglican Catholics who continue, as always in the past, to hope and work for the unity of their Church with the Rock whence it was hewn, in completeness of Catholic faith. It will take a miracle to bring about such a unity, but that is for God. For us it lies to dismantle what divisions we can, rather than stand around pointing at the insurmountable barricades, regardless of who put them up and when.

In 2015, we were able at last to publish as a Special Edition of our now occasional Messenger, containing all the papers and addresses from our 2013 Centenary. I repeat our thanks to the remarkable contributions from Fr John Hunwicke, Judge Michael Yelton, Father Michael Rear, Canon Robin Ward, and Bishop Norman Banks. Closely connected with this publication and the celebrations that preceded it is the project to produce a thorough and honest history of the Catholic League and Papalism in the 20th century. This has been entrusted to the hands of the eminent Catholic papal historian, Dr Michael Walsh, to whom I am indebted for his keen interest and dedication to getting at the true purpose of this movement’s objectives, people, and influences. Also now in hand is an intention to collect the oral history of the League’s leading lights and personalities.

During the year, we published two editions of our Newsletter. I am grateful to Fr Chris Stephenson, membership secretary, for assuming as well the responsibility of Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, which he has taken to his heart. Not only does this commend to the members our regular prayers for unity. It also serves to unite the members with the intentions of the Holy Father, so that those in all the Churches, regardless of earthly divisions, may be of one heart and one mind, indeed one Body at prayer.

It is our intention that in the forthcoming year there will be two more editions of the occasional Messenger, completing long-term projects. The first will commend the healing of memories in our respective martyr traditions, a cause now dear to Pope Francis because of his vigorous ecumenical engagement. The second  will examine the progress of the implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus six years on and after five years of the Ordinariates’ life. Much has been written and considered; the League remains in a unique position to record and assess this as a service more widely.

Earlier in 2015, the League was a co-sponsor of perhaps the most significant regular event towards unity in Catholic life, and the development of the spiritual life. This is the biennial Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage to Walsingham, for which Cyril Wood, our Treasurer, and I both serve as trustees. Walsingham is closely associated with the purpose and history of the League; and the recent inspirational developments in the renewal of the Catholic Shrine, complementing those at the Anglican Shrine in the past, are something we have wanted to encourage strongly. I am glad to say that the General Secretary, David Chapman, and the Treasurer, serve as a trustee of the Walsingham Association at the Roman Catholic shrine, which continues to invigorate our constant links and involvement with England’s Nazareth, with its central purpose in pursuit of Christian Unity.

My predecessor, Fr Philip Gray did much to promote the role of reconciliation that can be played at Walsingham. Thus the League helped to furnish the Martyrs’ Chapel at the old Sue Ryder Home, where Fr Nicholas Mileham, sub prior at the monastery that tended the shrine, was held before his martyrdom for holding to the Catholic faith in the honour and powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The League’s members provided the altar, newly designed in memory of our much loved general secretary, the late Geoffrey Wright. The Home has now been acquired for pilgrimage groups by the Roman Catholic Shrine, and the chapel will be reinstated as a place of joint honour of the martyrs and of reconciliation for the Christians of today. I am again grateful for Fr Chris for faithfully maintaining the altar in his own guardianship, enabling it thus to be restored this year. The League is also paying for vestments to be used in this chapel.

Another work of the League in the past year has been the annual pilgrimage for unity to the Holy Blood in Brugge and to Our Lady of the Vine at the Beguinage. We are a regular group of about 20 – and the addresses of the speakers each year, together with the experience of time together, worshipping, enjoying good food and Belgian beer, as well as our deep friendship with the sisters, is – I am convinced – a powerful aid to the work of our respective Churches in maintaining contacts and friendships, and in making such steps as we can towards unity, even if for the moment it is so hidden from us. This last year, the speaker was Brother Theodore de Poel from the Monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium. It was good to be able to see Mgr Leo Declerck, rector of the Beguinage Church, and a friend of the group’s for 20 years, for the last time before his retirement. The sisters are now down to seven in number with three more in retirement at a nursing home in eastern Belgium. It is a privilege to accompany this community reaching the end of its faithful life and distinguished history – we pray for its future, and the future of the Beguinage as a place of spirituality for 800 years. After all, the community of Beguines almost died out 100 years ago, until the last Beguine became the mother foundress of the new Benedictine priory. We and they share confidence in God that, whatever happens in the world, in the Kingdom God is always bringing his new creation to perfection.

I should mention two other grants we have offered during the year. One is to the French Catholic TV network, KTOTV, which is to adapt into English a beautiful film on the life and work of the Monastery of Chevetogne in Eastern Belgium. It has strong links with the Church of England and indeed from its foundation it has sought to promote unity between Catholics and Anglicans, through a deep appreciation of the Anglican liturgical and theological and spiritual patrimonies. I am an oblate of this monastery and was asked to contribute to the documentary when it was filmed last year. We aim to make copies widely available on disc and online, so as to keep at the forefront of the Churches’ attention the importance of prayer, religious life, and a shared engagement in the beauty of life in Christ, since this is at the heart of our firm confidence that the unity for which Christ prayer as essential to his disciples will come to pass as he promised.

Secondly we have made a grant to the Anglican Centre in Rome for bursaries for students, especially from poor parts of the world, to be able to come to Rome to study and learn more about the Catholic faith, the Catholic Church and the importance of unity with Peter in full communion.

Finally, I thank Mrs Mary Bacon as a fellow trustee and executive member for her help and encouragement during the year. I also with to thank Fr Graeme Rowlands, as always, for his deeply appreciated friendship and the encouragement that he unfailingly gives to the search for Christian Unity and the solidarity and spiritual unity of dear and good friends. As Priest Director of the Sodality of the Precious Blood he is a member of the League’s executive and so his beautiful Church here at St Silas’ Kentish Town has long been a spiritual home to us – it is not only a sacred place, but also a delight to come here to enter a part of heaven on earth. Thank you so much.

Priest Director’s Notes and Address

I would like to close with some observations on the constitutional crisis in which the United Kingdom is now embroiled following the referendum in which a majority of those voting approved by a narrow margin withdrawal from the European Union.

It surprised me that in the weeks and months before this fateful vote, there was no guidance from the Catholic Bishops on the issues at stake in terms of Catholic social teaching or indeed the interests of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in this country. After the result was known, Cardinal Nichols called for calm and mutual respect, but there has been little setting of this decision and its aftermath in the context of Christian faith and discipleship. Since the League is devoted to the communion of all with the Apostolic See of Rome, the promotion of Catholic faith and the Spiritual Life, it is important that we look forward to the next year with its undoubted upheavals ahead with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus Christ our pioneer and the perfecter of our faith and the life we pass through in this world.

Today, I have heard of a French bistro in south London with its windows smashed; a charity considering a new office in Germany to protect its work across European borders; a Belgian employee confronted in public with a threat that her job was shortly to come to an end; and we have all heard of numerous incidents of physical and verbal assault ranging from the xenophobic to the unvarnished racist.

To this I would say that the Kingdoms of the World have become the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ, and that the Kingdom of God transcends all our ideas of patriotism, nationality, nationalism, state- interest. Here, says St Paul, we have no abiding city, for our true homeland is in heaven. The Lord Himself says to seek first the Kingdom of God. At Vatican II, the Church taught that the authority of the Church and of civil society are free of each other and operate in their respective spheres. This does not mean that the Gospel and the authority of the Church fail to apply to the world, and that the Church must refrain from interfering in the affairs of society. On the contrary, it is the teaching of the Church that the objective of both Church and State, Religion and Society, is to serve the realisation of God’s Kingdom on earth. It is thus the Church’s prophetic duty to call the world, its leaders, its governments, its cultures, and societies to constant repentance, to return again and again to the principles of the Beatitudes, to strain repeatedly to ‘hear the Angels sing’ of glory to God and peace on earth to those of good will, and thus to direct and orient the entire world to the blessed state that is ours by virtue of creation in the image of God.

Secondly, it is vital to recall that what has now become the European Union, whatever you think of it, was established largely by Catholic Christians intent on this Kingdom of God in the hands of people of good will, transcending states and languages and divisions, so that the resources of the world could never again be used in Europe for making war, or for oppressing the dignity of human beings to live to the full before God, in faith and hope and love. No more Fascism and Nazism; no more atheist materialist communism. Everywhere confidence in truth and justice.

What has emerged in the last few weeks has clearly been lying under the surface for years and now feels unbound and empowered to assert itself. Yet it must be the heartfelt duty of every Christian, who believes above all else the Catholic faith and the Universal Reign of Jesus Christ over all peoples and nations, to withstand all thoughts, words and deeds that contradict His design for humanity’s perfect liberty in Him, and that contradict the dignity of all human beings, regardless of colour, race, religion, age, sex, or language, or outlook. It must be that Christians who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness declare unrighteous, unChristian, all that stands against Christ’s will for us all to be both one in His own humanity, and to thrive as He has appointed us to be in His single creation with all our differences and backgrounds and origins, seeing that by the Holy Spirit and Providence He has both penetrated our society and societies so that they may become more like His Kingdom, and seeing that He is even now redeeming from all its ills, oppressions, cruelties and acts of spiteful pride and wickedness, by the power of His holy Cross.

I fear that this will require of us great strengths in the time ahead as we make a new history, and that this will involve the further vilification of the Church and of God’s Kingdom, indeed the profound sacrifices for the sake of the truth and for the love of God. But the evil that is now at work will not prevail. It must bow, for the earth is the Lord’s and the Lord alone is King. Him alone do we serve.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Unitas Newsletter, June 2016 - Priest Director's Message

2016 sees two landmarks in the slow history of the Church’s reunion. First is the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican Centre in Rome. It was dedicated by Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1966, as one of the first concrete ecumenical results from the Second Vatican Council, part of the same hopeful drive towards the reintegration of Church unity  as ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission), for which Father Paul Wattson, Father Spencer Jones and Abbé Paul Couturier in their work to establish what is now the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, then Anglican Papalists in the Catholic League led by Fr Henry Fynes-Clinton and followed by luminaries such as Dom Gregory Dix, and also the members of the Malines Conversations - in which Dom Lambert Beauduin imagine a Latin Catholic Church with an Anglican Church “unie pas absorbée” – had steadily laid foundations in the preceding six decades.

As a student at St Chad’s College, Durham, in the late 1970s, it was remarkable to be befriended by two great figures from this hopeful moment just over a decade earlier for Anglican-Catholic rapprochement. First was Archbishop Ramsey himself, who urged us to have a large vision of the Catholic Church, in which the Anglican tradition was a providential English Christianity, integral to the mission of the Church as a whole in this land, its culture and society. He felt that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Anglican Church were ends in themselves – as things stood, their need to be one was mutual. It was not to be exclusive of Orthodox and Evangelical or Reformed Churches (Ramsey’s family background was in the Congregationalist tradition), but a unity in which approaches and understanding could be learned and appropriated by others as appropriate - not for amalgamation or homogenisation, least of all subordination, but so that each in ways that were right for them could be enriched by the other, and thus the Gospel of the Kingdom grow in people’s lives.

This idea of the exchange of spiritual gifts, in which different Christians could outdo one another in a sort of joyous race to grow in holiness as all the runners converged ever nearer upon Christ and union with Him, had been very dear to the heart of Paul Couturier, partly inspired by his contacts with a range of Anglican traditions in the 1930s. Devoted Catholic as he was, he re-cast the old Church Unity Octave  as the Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, hoping exchange in the gifts from God that make us holy would be the means by  which all Christians will find unity in Christ, with Peter and through Peter. This spiritual ecumenism is a theme authoritatively commended in Unitatis Redintegratio, Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, and elaborated by St John Paul II in his Encyclical on Christian Unity, Ut Unum Sint, in which he speaks not only of mutual exchange of gifts but an exchange of riches, identifying work towards ecumenical reconciliation as a particular duty of the Pope’s leadership of the Catholic Church. In so many places you look in the different churches, you see this has been taken up quite naturally – from the evident acceptance by Protestant traditions of visual imagery and media, including even icons from the Eastern Christian tradition, to a deeper engagement with the Scriptures in Catholic piety, to active collaboration in local communities in serving those at risk and in need, to making vocal common cause on matters of life and death, justice and peace. All this, and much more, was already lying deep and amply within our respective traditions; but ecumenism in the face of a divided and brutally secularised society has renewed its present, active reality and thus brought us spiritually closer than ever before, even if the constitutional and doctrinal divisions seem insuperable. Thus the powerful integrity of Christ’s one Church as His very Body in the world continues to insist we bear Michael Ramsey’s larger vision of Catholic communion, and not to acquiesce in the tale that in our separated bodies we all somehow refract the unity of one People of God, and instead to strive for much more than informal inter-denominational links and schemes of co-operation between separate earthly institutions. We are to be unsatisfied until we manifest on earth the Church as it is in heaven from the perspective point of the Father’s sovereign will, Whose providence of but one Church accords with His Son’s prayer the night before He died.

The second figure was John Moorman, Bishop of Ripon, renowned scholar on St Francis, and Anglican observer at Vatican II. From the ages of 18 to 21, the outlook of several successive cohorts of students was imbued with his love for the Church – a conviction of the heart - the serious need to serve it, the vast cause of recovering our lost Christian Unity, and the scandal of the Churches’ persistence in mutual isolation. It is telling that Moorman, like Ramsey, had come from an Independent background (the Congregationalist tradition). He was thus very sure that the Church of England, of its nature, could not be a Protestant body and that, whatever the influence and history of the Reformation and the Broad and Progressive constituencies within it, it must be reconciled to its truest self as an English Catholic Church as the only, logical consequence. The only option for its future work and identity was to come to terms with working out all the implications of the faith it bore for its own doctrine and life, and with the wider Catholic Church, “united not absorbed”, and this included reconciliation with the “other” English Catholic Church, that other remnant of the one Church in England from before the break with Rome in the 16th century.

In this, he was supremely certain of the catholicity, apostolicity and integrity of the Church of England and its distinctive religious tradition. He was not a Romaniser and was amused by the outward manifestations from ultramontanists who did not really resemble Roman Catholics and thus advance their pro-Roman cause to Anglicans, or represent the catholicity of their own Anglicanism to Roman Catholics. Like many Anglican Papalists of the past, he was against individual “conversions”, even though he respected people’s conscience, because he was holding out for the reunion of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England “entire”. He was High Church in the sense that in English Christianity he privileged the Church of England over the old Dissent (his own family origin) and Methodism – not out of Establishment superiority, but for the sake of mission and the greater prize of a comprehensive unity that, in the 1960s and even into the 1970s, seemed not unthinkable. He was a Prayer Book Catholic, too, and believed that this tradition, more than any other, spoke to regular people in the towns and dales of his Yorkshire diocese.

He believed that the Catholic Church needed this Anglicanism, both in the form of the Anglican national institution and in its unique set of outlooks and approaches – what we would now call, since Anglicanorum Coetibus, its patrimony - to further the mission of the whole of Christ’s Church. I remember he said of the parish I was first sent to, a busy “English Catholic” parish in Leeds that had once been at the progressive forefront of the Parish Communion movement and of a singular form of parish Eucharistic mission (masses from before dawn to night in people’s homes, workplaces, pubs, schools, shops and, of course, primarily the church), that it had become abnormal as an Anglican parish and it was in danger of serving neither the Church nor the parishioners - “I had to bring it back into the Church of England.” The solid, classical Anglicanism, convinced of its Catholic faith and directly addressed to the need of a rapidly changing contemporary society to be able find a place to stand firm in Christ, resonated with what he found, just the same, in the concerns of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, and was what, likewise renewed, he felt could be offered from the Church of England to a shared new endeavour with the Roman Catholic Church.

Most of all, for all his delight in the splendours of the Church of England and his keen sense of being a diocesan Bishop in it, John Moorman was a Franciscan. He realised that the utterly simple dedication of Francis to living the Gospel of Christ was something not very far removed from the spiritual intuitions of the Reformation traditions. Thus Catholic reconciliation in Evangelical simplicity could be contemplated. He also realised that Roman Catholics in England were mostly not like the Catholic cultures of the continent that had drawn ceremonial emulation across Anglo-Catholicism. He told us that, from the Irish communities in the cities to the Duke of Norfolk, they were “Low Church” people, practising the faith taught in straightforward, clear teaching and nurtured by reliable patterns of private piety and dutiful frequenting of the sacraments, they were matter-of-fact Christians, all with conviction and commitment about the Catholic Church because of a history when this a matter of life and death, conspicuous in society not by exuberance or stridency, but by their unshowy way of quietly but resolutely getting on with who they were and what they stood for. “The Church of England as a national Church feels similar to the position the Catholic Church occupies in France and Italy, which is why we often feel we have more in common with it there than we sometimes do here. But the daily task priest and people in our parishes in faithful worship and pastoral ministration alongside each other suggests we have much more in common than some would have us believe.”

One of the great “what if” moments was at the British Council of Churches’ Nottingham Faith & Order conference in September 1964 which took up the optimistic language of the 1961 New Delhi Assembly of the World Council of Churches in calling for a covenant reconciling divided Churches for united mission and service of “all in each place”, leading to organic unity by Easter 1980. Bishop John Moorman, as the leading Anglican observer at Vatican II, had seen the developing drafts of the Council’s forthcoming Decree on Ecumenism. The earlier working document had been circulated in the press in 1963 and much discussed. Cardinal Heenan of Westminster had welcomed the advent of dialogue to increase mutual understanding and love, but said that the ultimate aim of ecumenism – the visible union of all Christians – was “not within our power”. Of course, under God this is true. But Moorman knew that the vision of the Universal Church (which “subsists in” the Catholic Church) and the consequences for the unity of baptised Christians discussed at the sessions of the Council and in the myriad side-conversations were bolder. What the World Council of Churches had said had been studied, and the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism, taken with the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, due to be released simultaneously that December, would be the Catholic Church’s considered response, as it set out its course for the times ahead. He urged the Nottingham conference to wait until the Decree on Ecumenism and the Constitution on the Church were released, to see what was said, to enter into dialogue with it and then to take new ecumenical steps only in the light of it. Unfortunately, he was not heard. When Unitatis Redintegratio came out, the other Churches in England had already committed to the Covenant, and it was not possible for the Catholic Church to engage with it, or even now to consider joining the British Council of Churches. What if Dr Moorman’s voice had prevailed and the other English Churches had entered upon a process of receiving the Decree and Lumen Gentium in a spirit of dialogue with the Catholic Church?

Nevertheless, the Anglican Centre was established and John Moorman became the first Anglican co-president of ARCIC, the first commission of which envisaged the possibility of “substantial agreement” on the doctrine of the Eucharist, and on priesthood and ministry, which gave many Anglicans high hopes that, after all, reunion could be achieved. In my last conversation with Bishop John before I left Durham, he lamented the new voices and movements emerging in the Church of England to draw it away from what he saw as its truer Catholic identity, away from unity with the Catholic Church, away from its opportunity for mission in the world and the service of Christ’s Kingdom within our society. “What shall we do?” I asked. “I am retired and can do nothing now. It’s over to you boys to carry things on.” I owe to that one comment, which confirmed my resolution to offer myself for the sacred ministry in the Anglican Church, my life’s commitment to live and speak and think for Catholic Christian unity.

Thus I am delighted to say that, at the last meeting of the Executive, the League allocated funding for scholarships so that Anglican students without resources could go to Rome and learn about the Catholic Church at its heart, at the same time as sharing with Catholic Church leaders and students in Rome a better understanding of Anglicans and Anglicanism from around the world.

The second great event in 2016 is the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, to take place in Crete at Eastern Pentecost this June. When the League was established, it was not intended to be concerned exclusively with English-Anglican and Catholic reunion, but with the re-composition of the wholeness of the entire Church of East and West. Thus Fr Fynes-Clinton designated that with respect to the Latin West our patron under Our Lady of Victories (Mary, Mother of the Church) would be St Joseph, and for the East our patron would be St Nicholas of Myra. So the momentous Council – the first the Orthodox Church has agreed and managed to convene in 1200 years - is of direct importance to our spiritual society of the League, praying and hoping for the unity of all Christians in communion with the apostolic see of Rome, in the way that it existed before the catastrophic breach between Rome and Constantinople in 1054. Never intended to last a thousand years, the schism led to centuries of distrust, strife and resentment, spurred by misdirected military adventures for recapturing the Holy Land from Islam that effectively undermined the Eastern Orthodox Church, until the Byzantine Christian Empire itself was finally defenceless before tis conquest by Ottoman Muslims. Under the weight of this cross to bear, the disagreements over doctrine, ecclesiology and authority sharpened, until in 1965 Pope Paul went to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem, within months of the Decree on Ecumenism, to lift the old anathemas, to express sorrow for the past and to work for unity on what they called a new “Dialogue of Love”.  Thus the best of the working documents of the Council is said to be the draft on relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians and others in the world (see online at It offers a renewed commitment to ecumenical engagement, as well as possibly a unified Orthodox approach to Christian witness in the world alongside other Christians. Unlike Vatican II, there will not be observers from other Churches taking part in the sessions, but there will be important opportunities in the surrounding discussions with theological and other experts for invited representatives from other traditions to convey views, reactions and insights that can aid and illuminate at this turning point in Orthodox history and Church life.

For those of us who desire the unity of the Churches as they are familiar to us in the Latin western tradition, it is important we also pray for the good of another part of the Church, and for its unity too, because our unity is nothing without theirs, nor theirs without ours. We all share a sense of and a belief in the Church as Universal - the mystical Body of Christ in this world as in the next, the one People of God - and the Church where we belong to it as somehow or even fully manifesting that One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Sometimes the way we speak describes our Church to the exclusion of others. It is a temptation to which Anglicans, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox can all alike succumb. Yet what Michael Ramsey and John Moorman impose on our minds is a larger vision that is not only about the effectiveness and plausibility of our common mission as Christ’s one Church in the world. It is the very vision of the mission of the Creator to His creation, the articulation of the Word made Flesh, which places the entirety of humanity into the path of the Three-in-One, that is to turn none way and must, in Christ lifted up on His Cross, draw all people to Himself (John 12.32), as He thus reconciles all things (Colossian 1.20).