In July 2013, the Catholic League reached its hundredth anniversary. Founded shortly after the beginnings of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908 at Moreton-in-the-Marsh (and New York), as well as the modern Ecumenical Movement at Edinburgh in 1910, its voice has not always been welcome. It has stood out against mere amalgamation between ecclesial institutions; it has been impatient with mere, good inter-church relations; it has resisted being a pressure group for Catholicity only within and upon the Anglican world. Each of these purposes is beneficial, but they are never enough on their own.
Ecumenism is not enough
As history has shown, without something more, each of those approaches tends to leave us where we are. In England, the merger of the Congregationalist Federation and the Presbyterian Churches of England in 1972 created the generously ecumenical United Reformed Church; but other denominations opposed to the union spun off from it, ironically meaning more institutional disunity than before; and we are still waiting for the Methodist Church and the Church of England to join it in full communion. Sadly in recent years, this noble representative of the post-Reformation “Old Dissent”, ejected from the English Establishment with the triumph of High Anglicanism following the Restoration Act of Uniformity in 1662, has been the most declining of all the traditional denominations. In the same period, despite its enduring sense of common belonging rooted in the establishment and thus the coherence of the Church of England, the international Anglican Communion has been developing into three distinct groupings at various degrees of mutual non-communion. This demonstrates how the institutions of Churches that arose out of Western Latin Christendom, following the Protestant Reformation movements in the 16th century, have not been able to summon from within themselves the forces that compel towards the Church’s Catholic unity - even when they have recovered the episcopal ministry in the Church’s threefold order, embraced renewal in liturgical and sacramental life, especially the Eucharist, and wholeheartedly undertaken close relations and ecumenical collaborations at local, national and international levels.
Settling for less
The latest report from the World Council of Churches on the shape of future unity is based on the mutual theological dialogues of the last 50 years, as well as sustained pastoral and evangelistic co-ordination, notably in the many instances of sharing church buildings, resources and ministers. The Church: Towards a Common Vision is the result of 30 years of thinking about the nature and purpose of “the Church and the Churches”, and also about where Baptism, the Eucharist and the Ministry fit in the Church overall, as well as in the personal discipleship and Church membership of individual Christians. Thus it asks how the Church as a whole brings unity and justice to all humanity, in the service and realisation of the Kingdom of God. It marks a considerable degree of mutual sympathy and theological convergence through the Faith & Order Commission (a joint endeavour between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, to which the Reformed, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Anglican and Orthodox Churches belong). It is the latest drive for mutual recognition of baptism in each other’s churches, in the hope of mutual recognition of each other’s churches as churches. The objective is that each church’s ordained ministry can become mutually recognised for the purpose of achieving eucharistic fellowship, so that, in united sacramental life, the churches can bear a common witness to the societies in which they live that is convincing. For, as the Lord himself prayed, “may they all be one, so that the world may believe that it was You that sent Me.” But it somehow seems to be another instance of that “settling for less” on which we have often commented – good relations, occasional eucharistic and liturgical sharing, even close collaborations; but yet without visible fullness of communion in life, faith and body, the Body of Christ.
Unchurching the Church
Meanwhile in England, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, whose tactical prophecy has intervened unbidden in the leadership of now two of his successors, has opined that within one generation the Church of England will effectively have collapsed as a national institution. Those of us who remember his own archiepiscopate a generation ago have reason to reflect that the theological relativisation, in which there is more than one truth and several integrities; the polarisation and divisiveness that has prevented what Archbishop John Habgood of York once lovingly called “the Soul of the Nation” from cohering as a strong and still centre in England’s shared sense of values and spirituality; and the resulting secularisation of a decreasingly interested society, can each be laid squarely at his door. The Catholic League, as a fellowship of long-time friends, keeps some of this memory. Most members have roots in our Catholic life and pilgrimage together in the remarkable movement in the Church of England that inspired generations to seek above all - for the sake of the salvation of the world - the restoration of the Church’s visible unity reconciled within one, organic Body. It was with an urgent appeal not to harm the reconciliation of the Anglican Communion with the Catholic Church and its apostolic ministry that, out of love for their own church, classic Anglicans, led by the then Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, left at the end of a rally at Wembley in summer 1992 to go straight to Lambeth Palace. There Dr Carey told Dr Leonard and the other bishops who accompanied him that, as each was to retire before long, their influence was passing. The following year, hundreds of Anglican Catholic priests gathered at St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road, for a direct debate with Dr Carey, pleading a truly Catholic loyalty to the Anglican Church they belonged to, but reminding him of the urgency of Catholic unity and the consequence of not pursuing it: hundreds of missionary-minded pastoral clergy, he was told, would in conscience consider themselves ejected (the Shades of 1662) and compelled to resign. His response was to say - asked the likely number - that a thousand clergy could easily be replaced by newly ordained women priests. Thus having urged the departure of hundreds of loyal pastors, Archbishop Carey set a tone for the church of which he was chief pastor, characterised not by ever greater cohesion through common participation in the Truth, that once famed “Anglican comprehensiveness”, but exclusivity, making the Church less than the Church, and unchurching people from it, alien to the spirit of the classic Anglicanism so magnificently exemplified in his two great predecessors, William Temple and Michael Ramsey.
Since those days, over 700 Anglican priests and untold numbers of lay faithful have looked for the fullness of the Church’s communion in their apostolic faith through being received into the Roman Catholic Church, nonetheless still hopeful of the greater unity of Christ’s people that they had always believed in. Most recently, well over a thousand people with their priests have become Roman Catholics in the special provision of the Ordinariate, which offers one way of bearing witness to the ecumenical vision - held by the Catholic Church since Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism - that it is somehow not completely itself unless it makes space for the authentic tradition of others, so that they may belong as well. Thus a space has been cleared for a manifestation of the Anglican Tradition alongside the Latin Roman Catholic Tradition. Alongside the Byzantine and other Eastern traditions, all our Christian traditions of the one apostolic faith are needed together in concerted harmony, if the “coming Great Church” is truly to embrace, reconcile and integrate all the people of whom it makes disciples for Jesus Christ. The Ordinariate is not the whole story of Anglican Tradition, of course; but it is an attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to make sense of the indigenous English-speaking religious and liturgical tradition, and to find the authentic and fruitful points of unity with it. There are many orthodox Anglicans who in good conscience persist in their witness to Catholic faith and unity within the Church of England, even in the midst of great adversity. Their faithfulness to the apostolic faith and tradition, to which Pope Benedict recalled all English Christians on his unforgettable visit to these shores, recalls Cardinal Walter Kasper’s appeal, as President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, for Catholic-minded Anglicans to start a New Oxford Movement. People’s articulation of adherence to this historic Anglican tradition makes uneasy listening to their fellow Anglicans who oppose them, as if it were so objectionable in the contemporary Anglican Church as to justify calls for their departure, ejection or canonical inhibition. How those who say they believe in Christian unity, and who follow the Christ who said, “Let the children come to me; let no one hinder them, for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of heaven“, can call on people to “leave the Church”, or any church that constitutes it, is beyond us. The League has constantly stated its support for its members from all churches who believe the Catholic faith and thereby seek the communion of all Christians with the Apostolic See of Rome. We ask no one to leave; only, as Pope Benedict once said, to enter deep into the mystery of the Church where they are can discover that it is but one.
The Spirit of Communion; the spirit of schism
In all this, what is missing? The sole principle for which the Catholic League came into existence. This was not to promote the Catholicity of the Church of England; nor to be an apologist for the Anglican position; nor to promote interest in and closer relations with the Orthodox and Catholic Churches; nor to inculcate particularly Catholic forms of devotion or ways of life; nor even to work for Church unity as a manifestly good cause in general. These have all formed important aspects of the Catholic League’s work and witness. But the main principle is that the ultimate object of unity in the Catholic faith must always and inescapably be its first step - not the last piece of the jigsaw, but the only aim from the outset - union, or reunion, or fullness of communion (whichever you want to call it) in the Catholic faith with the successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome.
It was this witness that made the League the first body in England to promote observance of the Church Unity Octave, when it was seen as a dangerous Romish ruse. Now it is observed in every part of Christendom as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was this witness that brought Fr Paul Couturier to England to see those in the Church of England, led by our co-founder Fr Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton, who lived a Catholic life and ministry in it. Couturier and Fynes-Clinton both saw the urgent missionary and pastoral need for the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches somehow to achieve at last the corporate reunion that had eluded various attempts at reconciliation in the past. It was the same witness that influenced the Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic movements so thoroughly that Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher - no High Churchman - could say that the Church he led had no faith of its own but only that of the Catholic Church, before in due course becoming the first Anglican leader to be able to visit Rome and see the Pope. It was witness to the same truth that enabled Archbishop Michael Ramsey to be the first to make an official visit to the Pope and establish the Anglican Centre in Rome, in order to speed the reunion of the two Churches. It was this witness that ensured that the representative fielded by the Anglican episcopate as its chief observer at the Second Vatican Council was a convinced Anglo-Papalist, the great Franciscan scholar and Bishop of Ripon, Dr John Moorman. It was this witness that helped to win over the Catholic movement in the Church of England to embrace the renewal of the Catholic continuous tradition, as it reached out to other Christians and a rapidly changing world in the aftermath of Vatican II. It was this witness that made us all think, when Blessed Pope John Paul visited in 1982, that unity was merely “one more step” away. It was this witness that has continued to fire the 50-year-old Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission on its dialogue towards our re-convergence in the one faith we have in fact shared from our origins before our separateness.
Sadly, in the last few years, there have been those who mar this vision. A tiny but vocal section of the Ordinariate has denounced the Anglicanism which formed it and its own Catholic vocation, calling for the Catholic Church – and the League – to abandon its determination to achieve institutional communion - demanded by the Lord - between the two communities that are the Catholic Church and the churches of the Anglican Communion as “futile”. Turning the back on fellow Christians because of doubting their good faith, however, or making the Catholic Church exclusive of others, or unchurching those who are fellow members of the one Church through sharing the sacrament of Baptism, is not faithful to Catholic teaching; nor is it being faithful to the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis with a care for all the churches - still less his great predecessor Pope Benedict. Furthermore, by the same token, certain Anglican-Catholic voices, regardless of their deep concerns over the reshaping of the nature and purpose of the Church and its ordained ministry within their own Anglican Communion, have been arguing for the perpetuated separation of the Anglican Church over against Roman Catholicism – specifically separation from the person and office of the Holy Father - as preferable to Catholic unity, despite their beliefs in the Universal Church and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in relation to it. It has been ironic to hear some Anglo-Catholics, who otherwise sense a close affinity with the Roman Catholic Church, espouse markedly anti-Catholic sentiments. It is part of the same temptation to unchurch the other. It serves no useful purpose in promoting the Catholic faith or the Catholic spiritual life, or in serving the ministry of reconciliation, of which St Paul speaks, that is laid upon all those who desire union with God in Christ. Moreover, we have encountered a small constituency of Anglicans who are not participating in their own Church’s mainstream ecumenism in England, and yet who want something different from Anglicanism’s mainstream engagement with the Catholic Church through ARCIC. They reject the offer made by Pope Benedict (which had, after all, been made in response to Anglican requests over many years) to take part in a project – the Personal Ordinariates – that could serve to unite significant elements of the Anglican religious tradition with the Catholic Church on a basis that genuinely respects its integrity. Instead they call for a Catholic-Anglican unity that excludes “former Anglicans”, a unity of their own, on their own terms; not the Church’s, whether Catholic or Anglican, but something different. Seemingly all of us in our different Church bodies are tempted to something that is exclusive; something that views reunion as the prevailing of one viewpoint or interest ahead of another; something that prefers guarded ecumenical relations in separation; something that recoils from the call to repentance of the pain-inflicting spirit of division, a spirit that truly has nothing to do with the principles of faith that each rightly holds dear, that keep us apart and yet we seek to resolve. Our dialogue towards reconciliation cannot honour principles that we use as reasons to perpetuate division.
Fortunately, in the face of this, in our hundredth year, the members of the Catholic League, Anglicans and Catholics together, rooted in old friendships and the communion of shared origins of which Pope Paul VI once spoke, are united in witness to the only principle that matters: communion of all churches and all Christians in the single binding truth of the Catholic and apostolic faith with - from beginning to end - the successor of Peter. For this truth is the force from the Holy Spirit within the Body of Christ that compels the Church to complete unity and that bestows on it everything that is indispensable and necessary for it to be the Catholic Church in and for this land and its people.
The 106th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
2014 brings with it the 106th year of united Anglican-Catholic prayer for Christian unity, corporate reunion, institutional communion. The path is not the sweeping avenue we once hoped for, but leads through a narrow gate. We should have expected nothing less; and go to and through it all we must, because we believe, like Mary, that what the Lord has prayed for is a promise that He will fulfil. Thus we in the Catholic League, with its Apostolate of Prayer, re-commit ourselves to this true “Common Vision” of the Church, of full, visible and organic communion. Our annual leaflet of prayer for unity, based on the work of Fr Paul Couturier, an apostle and pioneer of unity that Fr Fynes-Clinton brought over to England to further the cause of Catholic-Anglican reunion, can be downloaded from our website, www.unitas.org.uk . At the forefront of our minds in the Week of Prayer is the apparent sheer impossibility of the task of achieving Catholic-Anglican unity in such an utterly changed situation. We will be thinking, “How can what we are praying for come about?” We will also be thinking of Pope Francis who is determined to make common cause with Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, a man of profound spirituality, an Evangelical influenced by Catholic piety and devotion to the Eucharist, who wants to share with the Catholic Church a common approach to the problems of society - in England and around the world - where there is injustice and no peace. Surely all Christians are united in the face of the intense sufferings endured by the Church in the Middle East, parts of Africa, India and the far east. Given the exceptional persecution of the People of God by those of other religions and secularists alike, we will also be recalling that the Lord prayed for us to be one, “so that the world may believe”. More than Christian solidarity, the need for the Church’s organic and visible unity – the institutional communion between all the Churches of Christ – has never been more urgent. Those charged by you, the members, with responsibility for the League urge all our members to take this particular Week of Prayer to heart, in the confidence that, whatever appearances there are in this world and between our respective churches, nonetheless unity is a thing to be prayed for because it will inevitably happen, for no other reason than that the Lord has determined it. It is He who has said it will come. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
We know that it is not enough to say, “Of course, we are one in spirit”, or “We are of one mind”. The hymn boasts, “We are not divided; All one Body we; one in faith and doctrine, one in charity”. Nevertheless, we know that its untruth makes us ashamed and causes scandal before the world. How can we make truth-tellers of ourselves and bring about the institutional communion that has eluded us for centuries, that is far more than the mere merger of organisations, and that integrates our many Christianities in the one Body of Christ that is His Church? The League’s answer is always first to pray, and second to bear unswerving witness to the belief that there can be no unity that does not involve our reconciliation together in communion with the Bishop of Rome as successor of Peter - the depths of the Church’s one faith that comes to us from the apostles.
In 2014 you will receive several long delayed editions of our journal, The Messenger. One issue will look at reconciliation and the healing of memories, what Pope Francis has recently termed our ecumenism of blood. Another will complement our major contribution to understanding Anglicanorum Coetibus and will seek to assess the significance of the various Ordinariates in the three years since their establishment and their relation to the Church’s cause of Catholic-Anglican unity. A third will collect the splendid addresses and lectures that attended our July 2013 celebrations to mark the Centenary of the League’s history and service to principled Catholic corporate reunion, an almost solitary witness for much of its lifetime. A fourth will enable us to share with you the beautiful devotions led by Archdeacon Luke Miller in March 2013 at Walsingham, drawing on the spirituality of the Roman Catholic St Thérèse of Lisieux and the Anglican Fr George Congreve SSJE, and his Stations of the Cross.
Later in 2014 we hope to see the publication of the League’s 100-year history by the distinguished papal historian, Dr Michael Walsh. The year will further be marked by an invitation from the Third International Receptive Ecumenism Conference to address it on the League’s witness to what ecumenists now call “institutional communion”. We can be grateful to God that our century-long insistence on the integrity of the whole Church as seen together - not the piecemeal amalgamations or temporary acts of personal eucharistic sharing that have attempted and not achieved the solution to our divisions - is what draws once more the hearts and minds who long for that for which Christ prayed.