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 www.orthodoxcouncil.org). 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).