Archbishop of Canterbury invites disaffected Roman Catholics to join the Anglican Communion
As Pope Benedict XVI issued his ‘Apostolic Constitution’ setting out the terms by which disaffected Anglicans are invited to cross the Tiber and join his church, in a spirit of ecclesial benevolence and with all the generosity of ecumenical reciprocity, the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited the protestantly-inclined, via-media-attracted (mainly) Tablet-reading, liberal-minded Romanish Catholics to join the Church of England.
Except Tony Blair.
Rome can keep him.
The more orthodox-minded Roman Catholics may be as delighted to see the back of the pro-Vatican II liberals, progressives and ‘trendies’ as some in the Church of England may be delighted by the departure of the ‘closet-Catholics’. But although Dr Williams was only given a few days’ warning of Rome’s intentions, the Church of England is not quite so rude. Instead, they have given His Holiness five centuries of advanced notice of the Anglican ‘Apostolic Constitution’, explaining that the Church of England offers a most generous provision to those who prefer ‘High Church’ practices: that they will find within Anglicanism a refuge for those who wish to be both Catholic and Reformed.
Dr Williams said: “It is kind of the Pope to offer a spiritual home to Anglicans distressed by vivacious vicarettes, priests in panties, bishops in brassieres and the whole gay thing. But there are just as many (if not more) Roman Catholics who are equally as distressed by misogynistic ministers, Latin liturgies, paedophile priests and condomaphobic clerics.”
Cherie Blair is one such: she has consistently demanded reformation and, echoing Luther’s protest on the door of Wittenberg Castle, laid out her 95 contraceptive ‘devices’ on the bed of Balmoral Castle.
But Rome can keep her as well.
Cranmer thinks there is an awful lot of fuss being made over the Anglicanorum Coetibus. It will be more honoured in the breach than in the observing, for those in the observing will be so few and far between that the breaches will attract far more attention than a few women priests ever did. And there is more pleasure in its reading and contemplation than there will ever be in its practice and application. If ‘Ut Unum Sint’ made anything clear, it is that unity is unattainable this side of glory, if only because of the infinite theological variety of Christian nature: God loves symphony, not singularity. The only True Church is the Church Invisible - the 'communion of the saints'. Christ may have prayed that believers might be one, might be united in Him, but an awful lot rests on what we mean and understand by ‘one’ and ‘united’.
Not to mention ‘Catholic’.
And Cranmer finds it bizarre that there are some who are positively wetting themselves with infantile exuberance over the supposed creation of an Anglican branch of the Catholic Church: in case they hadn’t noticed, there has been one since AD597. And even before Pope Gregory despatched Augustine to Kent, there is evidence of Christianity in England from the late second century. England has seen eighteen hundred years of catholic Christianity, from the Ecclesia Anglorum, through the Ecclesia Anglicana to the Ecclesia Angliae. The Church in England and the Church of England have been the geographic, cultural, legal, theological, spiritual and ecclesiological cornerstone of English identity before, through and since the Reformation.
The doctrinal history of the Church of England asserts that it is both Catholic and Reformed; Apostolic and Evangelical; Prophetic and Protestant. The Prayer Book states: ‘Whosoever will be saved, it is necessary above all things that he hold the catholic faith...’. Anglicanism is a worldwide universal communion, and repudiates some of the claims of Rome, not least its soteriology, ecclesiology, its unique claim to catholicity and and its understanding of authority. Unless salvation has ceased to be by faith; unless church governance has ceased to be synodical; unless infallible moral authority has indeed been imparted by God to one man, the doctrinal claims of the Church of England, founded on natural law through tradition, reason and experience, have as much validity now as they had four centuries ago. And let it not be forgotten that when Richard Hooker wrote The Laws Of Ecclesiastical Polity, Pope Clement VIII said of the book: "It has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning."
The outworking of Pope Benedict’s offer will be nowhere near as significant as some suggest, not least because the Anglican capacity for finding a via media through the via media is boundless. Of course, some will find deep encouragement in the Pope’s offer, and take up residence in a ‘Personal Ordinariate’. And Cranmer sincerely wishes them well in their lifelong pilgrimage. But he cannot help thinking that most of those ministers who are inclined towards Rome went 15 years ago when the first women were ordained: those who remained did so because they were Anglican, not Roman. And if they continued in their ministry believing their holy orders to be ‘absolutely null and utterly void’, it begs more than a few questions about their theological integrity and spiritual sincerity.
It is also difficult to discern precisely what is new in this document.
There has always been provision for individual lay people to be accepted into the Roman Catholic Church, and whole congregations have been excommunicated and incommunicated as successive popes have considered such actions appropriate. The papal encyclical ‘Mortalium Animos’ was promulgated in 1928, and exhorted Christian unity while repudiating ecumenism. If anything, Pope Benedict is building on this - by riding roughshod over ARCIC and by sidelining the lifelong work of Cardinals Walter Kasper and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and by insisting that Christian unity can only be had on Rome’s terms. Anglican orders remain ‘absolutely null and utterly void’: priests and bishops will need to be (re-)ordained before they can exercise pastoral and sacramental ministry. Essentially, they will be required to submit to the Magisterium, that is to all teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church: to admit that the thousands upon thousands of sacramental actions over which they have presided are deficient; that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a fraud and that every other bishop of the Church of England is an imposter: just laymen in ecclesial frocks. It is evident that Pope Benedict has little time for ecumenical pleasantries.
The ‘Ordinariate’ effectively establishes separate dioceses within Roman Catholic dioceses: it will be Anglican in the sense that certain ‘riches’ (Hooker? Laud? Herbert? Donne? Law? His Grace?) of the tradition may be retained. But Cranmer is more than a little intrigued to know which aspects of the Anglican tradition will be preserved within the new structure. Doubtless many of the XXXIX Articles must be dispensed with, and the Prayer Book considerably amended. On worship, the Apostolic Constitution says that ‘the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments... according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See’.
The liturgical books used in the Church of England are those approved by Parliament. They refer to the Queen as being the Supreme Governor. Presumably, if there is to be some accommodation in the use of Anglican church buildings by the Ordinariate, all references to the Queen’s governance of the Church will need to be eradicated. Yet the Church of England has neither the authority to permit the Ordinariate to use its buildings in order to accommodate a changed Anglican liturgy: only Parliament may do so. Yet if Parliament were to do so, they not only negate the Queen’s Coronation Oath, they undermine her status as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and deprive her of ‘the style, honour (and) royal name of the imperial crown of the United Kingdom’.
In short, by granting a Roman Ordinariate permission to use an Anglican church for a revised Anglican liturgy and prayers in which Her Majesty is no longer 'our Governor', Parliament would be committing treason.
The Anglican ship might have a lousy captain, but her bow is sound. And if she be holed beneath the waterline, Cranmer would rather reach for a bucket and repair the damage before he would abandon her to the rocks and waves. But one thing is certain: if this matter comes before Parliament – which any bowdlerised Prayer Book and amended liturgy spoken in an Anglican church would demand – they would find that erastianism may not be impliedly repealed, and Prime Minister Cameron will yearn for the halcyon days of Lisbon.