Friday 1 May 2015

Priest Director's Newsletter - May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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