Archbishop Justin meets Pope Francis
Archbishops of Canterbury have been meeting with popes of Rome for more than 50 years: it is a sign of ecumenical progress and fraternal love. The Pope of Rome is head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is spiritual leader of 77 million members of the Anglican Communion, so it's good to talk.
There are basically two ways of viewing this latest meeting. One is the sour and ungracious fashion of the infallible Catholic Herald, which believes that Anglicans are so far beneath the infallible way, truth and life that we aren't even worth talking to. The other is to value all dialogue as a positive expression of hope and grace: not to insist on ecclesial uniformity but to recognise that we all see in mirrors darkly.
There is no point talking about women priests: the two churches simply do not agree. If the Pope of Rome sees that as a barrier to unity, so be it. The Archbishop of Canterbury similarly sees the Council of Trent as a barrier to unity, and so be that, too. As the XXXIX Articles declare, 'The Church of Rome hath erred.' We do not agree on so very much, and that's a fact.
But surely we can work together where we do agree. Surely we can both love our neighbours? Surely we share the same concerns about poverty and the global economic crisis? Surely we agree on the imperative of restoring dignity to the poor and hope to the marginalised?
There is so much spiritual and missionary work to do that all ecumenical dialogue serves a purpose. Roman Catholics like William Oddie may speak ecclesiological truth, but its tone is so manifestly un-Christian that he must speak on behalf of so few of his co-religionists. He is like the older brother of the Prodigal Son - proud, aloof and judgmental. - consistent with neither the spirit of Pope Francis nor that of Archbishop Justin. Today they meet as brothers; fellow bishops and pastors of the Church. The Pope has said that the Ordinariate is 'quite unnecessary' and that the church 'needs us as Anglicans'. Whatever our theological differences and historical disputes, we are friends.
Our task of preaching the Gospel is primary: everything else is secondary. We may differ on the mode of that justfication, but every step toward salvation is one to greater truth. Surely, for Christ's sake, in this aggressively secular and increasingly intolerant cultural environment, we can stand together against those who assert that every public manifestation of the Christian faith is both an obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect.
Overcoming the obstacles to full, restored communion is never-ending this side of Glory. But we must encourage each other in that which engenders holiness; not tear down by harsh words. If we can stand together to recite the Lord's Prayer, we acknowledge the primary mission objectives of the Church. One senses that this is the primary calling and beating heart of Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis. Following the more cerebral and penetrating theological engagement and reflection of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan, today is about Gospel action and readiness to respond to the most urgent needs of our time.
As Pope Benedict said at his Inaugural Mass in 2005, Christ takes away nothing that pertains to human freedom or dignity or to the building of a just society. 'If we let Christ into our lives we lose absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Only in his friendship is the great potential of human existence revealed.'
The presence of Justin and Francis in Rome as fellow bishops is itself a sign of unity. The tedious bureaucracy of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission is largely irrelevant compared the task of working to establish the dignity of all human beings, and to resisting the aggressive secular-humanist-atheism which tolerates nothing of the transcendent in human affairs. Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis agree that we must be able to testify, argue and protest for the Faith that was bequeathed to us by our forefathers. If we are no longer free to proclaim the truth to persuade our neighbours that Jesus is Lord, we are no longer free.
So, in today's meeting in Rome, pray for holiness, hope and a life of transparent joy. The alternative is a myopic existence of isolation,. doubt and fear. As Cardinal Newman said: "It is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart."