Courtesy of Vatican Radio, below is an English language article written by Pope Benedict XVI in Thursday's Financial Times newspaper (20 December 2012). The article originates from a request from the editorial office of the newspaper asking for the Pope's comments to mark the occasion of Christmas and following the recent publication of the Holy Father's book on Jesus' infancy (The Infancy Narratives).
“Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” was the response of Jesus when asked about paying taxes. His questioners, of course, were laying a trap for him. They wanted to force him to take sides in the highly-charged political debate about Roman rule in the land of Israel. Yet there was more at stake here: if Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah, then surely he would oppose the Roman overlords. So the question was calculated to expose him either as a threat to the regime, or a fraud.Jesus’ answer deftly moves the argument to a higher plane, gently cautioning against both the politicization of religion and the deification of temporal power, along with the relentless pursuit of wealth. His audience needed to be reminded that the Messiah was not Caesar, and Caesar was not God. The kingdom that Jesus came to establish was of an altogether higher order. As he told Pontius Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world.”
The Christmas stories in the New Testament are intended to convey a similar message. Jesus was born during a “census of the whole world” taken by Caesar Augustus, the Emperor renowned for bringing the Pax Romana to all the lands under Roman rule. Yet this infant, born in an obscure and far-flung corner of the Empire, was to offer the world a far greater peace, truly universal in scope and transcending all limitations of space and time. Jesus is presented to us as King David’s heir, but the liberation he brought to his people was not about holding hostile armies at bay; it was about conquering sin and death forever.
The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the Child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize God made Man.
It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the Stock Exchange. Christians shouldn’t shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology. Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. Christians work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that, as stewards of God’s creation, we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life. Christian belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.
Because these goals are shared by so many, much fruitful cooperation is possible between Christians and others. Yet Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God. Christians have at times throughout history been unable to comply with demands made by Caesar. From the Emperor cult of ancient Rome to the totalitarian regimes of the last century, Caesar has tried to take the place of God. When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated world-view. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.In Italy, many crib scenes feature the ruins of ancient Roman buildings in the background. This shows that the birth of the child Jesus marks the end of the old order, the pagan world, in which Caesar’s claims went virtually unchallenged. Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love. He brings hope to all those who, like himself, live on the margins of society. He brings hope to all who are vulnerable to the changing fortunes of a precarious world. From the manger, Christ calls us to live as citizens of his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that all people of good will can help to build here on earth".
Thursday 20 December 2012
The Director, Fr Mark Woodruff, writes in our December Newsletter:
2013 is the Centenary of the Catholic League. This will be a year not only to celebrate a dedicated history, but also to renew our prayer for Christian Unity, in fullness of communion in the Catholic Faith and in union with the Apostolic See of Rome.
2012 has seen the continued search of the Church of England to resolve its internal differences and, indeed, for its own internal ecumenism. If the Church of England majority, which sees the admission of women to the presbyterate and episcopate as a legitimate development to the received tradition, cannot allow a place for fellow Anglicans who believe the Church should keep to the Tradition on which all can be reconciled as they were once united; and, given the uncompromising tone with which some of their number have called for the rejection and even exclusion of the minority, it sends a powerful message to the ecumenical partners of Anglicans working with them, beyond ecumenism, towards reconciliation and fullness of communion. If most Anglicans do not want spiritual ecumenism to work within their own ranks, and fullness of communion cannot be achieved within the juridical bounds of the Established Church, how can it seriously engage with the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on unity, let alone the other Churches stemmed from the Reformation?
The answer is the same basic “fact of life” that has animated the League for 100 years. There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name that does not take into account communion with the bishop of the See of Peter in Rome, not as the last piece in the jigsaw, but as the destination from the outset of our Christian ecumenical journey. Piecemeal ecumenism – such as the Porvoo agreement between the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland with most of the Lutheran Episcopal Churches, or the Union of Bonn with the Old Catholics, or the Leuenberg Agreement with non-episcopal Reformed Churches – is hopeful and should be encouraged. But where it constitutes to all intents and purposes the exclusion of the Apostolic Churches of East and West - most especially communion with the successor of Peter at Rome - there is a risk of “settling for less”, or even an ecumenism that is anti-Catholic. A substantial bloc of Anglicans and Protestants in a staged process of reconciliation that is not taking the Petrine ministry into account as a first principle (and as it is, not as some may wish it to be) is not necessarily a building block to Church union. All too easily it risks standing as a rival to Catholic faith and life; the instinct is for schism.
This is not even true to what the Reformers thought they were achieving by their reform of the Church, and its tradition as they had received it. To employ the terms of Pope Benedict for a different controversy, their thinking was that of a “hermeneutic of continuity and of reform”, and not of “discontinuity and rupture”. Continuity with the rest of the Latin Church has long been part of the Anglican apologetic, even though, along with the other churches of the Reformation, the new direction for the English Church led to rupture, because of the imposition upon it of the boundaries of a nation state. So it is surely a sore in the spirits of all belonging to the League that our Anglican members are seemingly forced by events further from their lifelong hopes for the reconciliation of their Church with the Church of the Apostolic See of Rome, the more faithfully they seek to live by the Common Tradition which has formed us all. As Pope Benedict put it, when he spoke to representatives of all the Christian traditions at Westminster Abbey on his Apostolic Visit, the account of the hope that lies within us that will be convincing to the world does not lie in a facile accommodation to the spirit of the age or theological relativism, but an ever deeper unity in the apostolic faith.
One of the things that has become apparent, in the two years since the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established, is that those who have joined it as they realised long cherished hopes for Anglican-Catholic reunion (perhaps not the way once planned, but the way that has been opened up by Divine Providence in the Church that God has given us) have moved by their conscience, not without cost; and that this has been rewarded by the focussed efforts of the Catholic Church to create, within its otherwise largely regimented system, new space that makes sense of 450 years of Anglican custom, culture, heritage and tradition. As Fr Aidan Nichols OP has recently observed, with an urgent need for a new evangelisation of an old Europe, it is seeking to fill a gap in the Catholic Church’s mission that it did not realise was there. The Catholic Church in England is a marriage of many worthy families - the recusants, the body of converts from the last two centuries, the Irish and Scottish diaspora of in the same period, and nowadays a large number of Catholics settling here from all over the globe. But what of our engagement with England, its people, its culture and its spiritual sensibilities? This is the question the Ordinariate will be addressing in its worship and mission. Properly understood, it is the most profound ecumenical signal that the Church’s supreme authority, exercising the Petrine ministry, has acknowledged that the Anglican tradition is not only an essential tool in the Christian Church’s mission across the Anglophone world, it is also to be seen as an integral component in the Universal Church as the Catholic Church understands it and hopes it can better manifest.
Another thing that has become clear is that Anglican Catholics are not “Romanisers”, or (as the press would have it) people of suspect loyalty, threatening to destabilise the Established Church and “defect” to Rome if they don’t get what they demand. They are Anglican churchpeople by conscience, devoted to Christ and his work in the Church and in the world, believing in the Catholic faith “as the Church of England has received it”, serving the ideal of Catholic unity, in the way that luminary Anglicans have striven to do throughout history, and convinced that they have an integral place within the communion of their own Anglican Church, none to say them nay. It has been sad, therefore, to hear this confidence and hope expressed in terms of recrimination against those who have accepted the Holy Father’s invitation. Indeed it is ironic that Catholics in the Ordinariate are enjoined by Rome to observe the provisions of their Anglican patrimony, while there are Anglicans whose ecclesiastical bearings are expressed in adhesion to Roman Catholic patrimony. This is not, however, the occasion for rivalry or a spirit of estrangement among those who are united in what Pope Paul VI called the “communion of origins”.
When the Church of England bishops and the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales first met as bodies together, they agreed that the task of mission and evangelisation in this country is so large that neither can encompass it alone and so, faithful to the integrity of their respective principles, must not work in competition but in mutual charity and peace, side by side. In the same spirit, there must be no condemnation from the Catholic side of those Anglicans who, believing in conscience that they must be faithful to the Tradition and remain committed to the Church of England, reminding it that, while its foundational principles may be Scripture, Tradition and Reason, no one may prevail and all must agree. By the same token, on the Anglican side there must be an end to hostility directed at the Ordinariate and those who have entered it no less as a matter of conscience, obedience to the Christ who calls us all, and in a spirit not of division but of healing the wounds in the Body of Christ that human sin has shown to be divided in this world.
In a society which is indifferent to the Gospel and the Church, even hostile, with our two Churches as leading fellow members of Churches Together in England, we rely on each other. Those who share the “communion of origins” in the Anglican patrimony by which we have been formed in the Spirit of God need to work together from both sides to draw Christians together, not apart. According to what is required by our times, it is up to us on both sides to remind the Church of England (and the wider Anglican Communion) that the Church cannot transmit God’s Holy Tradition in the new way that is called for, without passing on the Church’s doctrine, “pure and whole, without attenuations or distortions” (Address of Blessed John XXIII at the Opening of the Second Vatican Council). And it is up to Catholics and Anglicans together to reveal to the rapidly changing society in which we find ourselves, that its deepest questions, its spiritual sensibilities and its distinctive religious culture have a place in God’s purposes, not as an isolated, possibly declining, and even marginalised phenomenon, but as a key to the re-evangelisation of culture in the struggle for the soul of Europe that is currently being waged.
Anglican Catholics must restore their Movement to its original state – a relentless obedience to the logic of Catholicism, that it cannot be consummated without communion with Peter. And Catholics in England, members of the Ordinariate and members of the dioceses alike, cannot allow the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church to function as a self-sufficient club to the exclusion of those with whom we share the fact of Christian division in this world. The Catholic Church dropped the futile idea of itself as the “perfect society” at the Second Vatican Council, whose Decree on Ecumenism taught that the Catholic Church is somehow not Catholic in all her bearings so long as there are Christians and church communities separate from us. The impulse to Catholic unity is what drives our sacramental life, the pastoral mission of the Holy Father with a special care for all the Churches, and our relations and encounters with other Christians. Schism in Christ’s Church, and false ecumenism that settles for less, should make Catholics restless.
Wednesday 19 December 2012
The first event to mark our Centenary in 2013 is fittingly the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which the League has done so much to promote throughout our history. Leaflets to help you pray this week most earnestly for reconciliation within the Church, are available for download from the left hand side of this website.
The second event is a Celebration Centenary Festa on the weekend of March 15-17 with a Pilgrimage to the at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This will include both Catholic and Anglican elements, and it will be led by our good friend, Fr Luke Miller, Archdeacon of Hampstead. The League was the first to make an organised pilgrimage to the newly restored Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the 1930s, and I hope that you will want to mark our place in its history and give thanks for our own 100 years. We would like as many to be there as possible, at least at some point in the weekend. Please do not think you cannot come because of the cost - £90 (£45 a night for two nights, full board, dinner on Friday to lunch on Sunday). Because it is a special year, we can make concessions – it is most important that you can come if you want to. Please contact the General Secretary, Mr David Chapman, to book your place.
Also during the year there will be a special Mass of Thanksgiving at a Catholic Church in London, near the July date of our foundation.
We also plan a launch for a new history of the Catholic League, its significance and achievements, now being prepared by the eminent historian of the papacy, Dr Michael Walsh.
In September we make our annual Pilgrimage for Christian Unity in Bruges to Our Lady of the Vine and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The dates are 5th to 9th September 2013. Please write to the Director if you are interested in coming.
Finally, the year will be crowned by a Centenary Celebration of Christ the King at the Anglican Church of St Silas, Kentish Town on the weekend of 23rd and 24th November 2013.
On behalf of the officers and executive, I look forward to seeing you at the events, especially in England’s Nazareth. Meanwhile, please pray hard for the healing of divisions between Christians and especially for the peace of the Church throughout the Middle East region: “that they all may be one, as I am in you and you are in me, so that the world may believe it was you that sent me”.