Archbishop Vincent Nichols hails 'the end of the Reformation in England'
It's funny. You hear absolutely nothing from Westminster's Roman Catholic Cathedral for months and months on end, and then up pops Archbishop Vincent Nichols - leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales - with a triumphal declaration that the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, marked 'the end of the Reformation in England'.
It's funny, because the Archbishop was present with a couple of cardinals at Canterbury Cathedral last week for the Enthronement of the Most Reverend Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. And he will have heard fulsome tribute paid to His Grace on the anniversary of his martyrdom, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and sundry other senior politicians, not to mention religious leaders from all over the world. He will have heard how the Book of Common Prayer renewed the Church, 'leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw'.
His Grace could not quite see if the Roman contingent said 'Amen' at the conclusion of his Collect, but if that Inauguration ceremony somehow represented the continuation of 'the end of the Reformation in England', then let it go on ending.
John Bingham's article in The Daily Telegraph is remarkable on a number of levels, not least of which is the adherence of an Ulster Prod to the Telegraph's house style of referring to the 'Catholic approach..'; 'Catholic practices..'; 'Catholic voice..' and 'Catholic understanding..' but 'protestant reserve' and 'protestant reformers'. Even the word 'Reformation' becomes 'reformation' beneath the title of the piece.
The Reformation has ended alright - but only in the offices of The Daily Telegraph which, under the Roman Catholic Barclay brothers, has incrementally morphed into a broadsheet tract of the Catholic Herald. Some of their (shared) journalists are pleasant, polite and generously understanding of the constitutional position of the Church of England. A few, however, are virulently, almost pathologically anti-Anglican, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Establishment keeps Christianity at the heart of the British Constitution. Those who rejoice in its weaknesses and flaws, praying daily to Mary for its demise, have seemingly little understanding of history, theology or sociology. And they certainly lack something of the humility and tenderness exhorted by Pope Francis. Even Benedict Brogan tweeted 'about time too' in response to Bingham's news of the end. Do these people not recognise the fons et origo of their liberties?
The Church of England will not be replaced by a victorious Roman Catholic Church: the alternative to the Anglican Settlement is a legal framework of secularity accompanied by an aggressive secularism, under which Christians of all denominations will find themselves despised and rejected.
The death of Diana in 1997 might indeed represent some sort of 'watershed in British history', but it is not 'the end of the Reformation in England'. His Grace has written previously about 'Dianafication': 'the seeking of a shared and public grief at any given opportunity; the idea that a method of mourning is driven more by selfishness and secularism than by sincerity of emotion; corporate emoting; cumulative and protracted obsession with feelings and intuition.'
This is not a return to Roman Catholicism, but a symptom consistent with the postmodern condition: logic and reason are supplanted by emoting and appeals to the spiritual: politics is no longer the pursuit of policy that works, but policy that feels right. The pendulum has swung towards emotion and the need for spiritual experience. People are no more yearning for the rigidities of Roman Catholicism than they are the strictures of Islam. The age of deference, of respect for institutions, of reference for authority has been replaced by a pervasive à la carte spirituality in which anything goes. The only core philosophy being sought is the self-indulgent mood of sensory satisfaction.
And prayers for the souls of the dead were pagan for millennia before the advent of Catholicism: if they are being 'rediscovered', as the Archbishop avers, that rediscovery isn't quite going hand-in-hand with wholesale submission to the Magisterium of the Church of Rome. And what is particularly Catholic about roadside shrines, flowers and photographs?
His Grace will address one final point, and that is the narrative of 'returning' and 'rediscovering'. Archbishop Vincent said that 'English people were rediscovering their ancient Catholic “voice”'. The thing is, we never lost it. The Church of England is Catholic. We recite the Nicene Creed without hesitation: 'We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.' We pray in our intercessions: 'Loving God, hear us as we pray for your holy Catholic Church'. The point was reiterated by the Archbishop of York during last week's Inauguration:
The Church of England is part of the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds; which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty- nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons...The Archbishop of Canterbury responded:
I, Justin Portal Welby, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness..The Archbishop of Burundi blessed Archbishop Justin with:
Que Dieu l’Esprit Saint vous accorde sagesse et discernement pour ouvrir à toutes et à tous les richesses de la Foi catholique.The Faith which was rendered in English in the Order of Service with an upper-case 'C':
God the Holy Spirit grant you wisdom and understanding that you may open to all people the riches of the Catholic Faith.The Church of England is part of a Worldwide ('ecumenical') Communion in which the Catholic Christian tradition is enriched and complemented by the spiritual and theological insights of the Reformation. They are not distinct and separate: they inform and enrich one another. The Catholic tradition in England heeds and remembers the Reformation protest, and the Reformation attends to and observes the Catholic tradition. Whatever the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster may preach, pronounce or believe, the Reformation in England is not at an end. As Bishop Hugh Latimer said to Bishop Nicholas Ridley as they were burned at the stake together: "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."