Monday, 5 December 2011

Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt

In our post discussing the introduction of Anglican liturgies in Anglican parishes where the Roman Rite had previously been used, we asked the following question.
So is it unkind, or is it actually rather merciful, for the Bishop of London to have written his letter in this way at this time?  Is he kicking people when they're down, or is he doing everyone a favour and asking them to make a decision about the future they truly want?
The more we think about it, the more we think that, whether this is what he intended or not, the Bishop of London is probably doing everyone a favour by forcing them to re-examine their positions.  Events are such that people need to give some thought to what is going around them.

John Betjeman, in his poem Summoned by Bells, cited the mocking questions often asked to him and fellow Anglo-Catholics as to why they seemed to "ape" some features of the Catholic Church:
Those were the days when that divine baroque
Transformed our English altars and our ways.
Fiddle-back chasuble in mid-Lent pink
Scandalized Rome and Protestants alike:
"Why do you try to ape the Holy See?"
"Why do you sojourn in a halfway house?"
And if these doubts had ever troubled me
(Praise God, they don't) I would have made the move.
What seemed to me a greater question then
Tugged, and still tugs: Is Christ the Son of God?
Betjeman was writing at a very different time from the one in which we live.  The Anglo-Catholic thesis, the branch theory, held then as much as it ever did.  Among other efforts to promote unity on the part of the Church of England, Saepius Officio and the "Dutch Touch" were very serious and sincere attempts (whether one considers them to have been succesful or not) to align the Church of England's orders with those of the Catholic Church.  Fr John Hunwicke talked of the Dutch Touch in the following terms :
Some sixteen years ago I coined the phrase 'the Dutch Touch' to describe the participation after 1933 of Dutch schismatics with indubitably valid orders in Anglican episcopal consecrations (the technical details are in my paper in the volume Reuniting Anglicans with Rome). The secret archives in Pusey House, Oxford, make absolutely clear that the intention of the very highest levels in the Church of England and the Dutch Old Catholic Church was to introduce the 'Dutch Succession' into the Church of England and so, after two or three generations, render Apostolicae curae obsolete. Remember that in 1662 the Cof E had made the formulae in presbyteral and episcopal ordination (which [Pope] Leo [XIII] had asserted were insufficiently clear), more explicit. Although the plotting of 1933 was done in private (so that nobody could say 'Ah, the Anglicans do realise they are not real priests'), it clearly represents a formal and ecclesial act.
Who in their right mind would argue that the approach of the Church of England would be the same today?  The Church of England has taken the approach that it has the right to vote on making whatever changes it likes, and if this leads to the creation of significant differences with the wider Church, whether in the East or the West, then that's just tough.  Not exactly Ut Unum Sint, is it?

Cardinal Walter Kasper, at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, said the following as part of his longer address :
We would see the Anglican Communion as moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant churches of the 16th century, and to a position they adopted only during the second half of the 20th century.
The 1966 Common Declaration signed by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey called for a dialogue that would “lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed”, and spoke of “a restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life”. It now seems that full visible communion as the aim of our dialogue has receded further, and that our dialogue will have less ultimate goals and therefore will be altered in its character. While such a dialogue could still lead to good results, it would not be sustained by the dynamism which arises from the realistic possibility of the unity Christ asks of us, or the shared partaking of the one Lord’s table, for which we so earnestly long.
No-one, when trying to come up with examples of ultra-hardline, ultra-conservative or anti-ecumenical Catholics would ever come up with Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Kasper.  It's not just us pesky Catholics, of whatever hue, who are worried by the new approach of Anglicanism.  No, it's also the Orthodox, with whose spirituality a certain kind of Anglican cleric often likes to claim affinity.  At a 2010 address to the Nicaea Club at Lambeth Palace, Metropolitan Hilarion, of the Russian Orthodox Church, after recalling the warm history of co-operation between Anglicanism and the Orthodox, and having taken several none-too-subtle swipes at the über-liberal practices of certain parts of the Anglican Communion, went on to comment that the Church of England's approach on certain issues was not conducive to Christian Unity.
We have studied the preparatory documents for the decision on female episcopate and were struck by the conviction expressed in them that even if the female episcopate were introduced, ecumenical contacts with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches would not come to an end. What made the authors of these documents so certain?
Betjeman's concept of a "greater question" seems to have a completely different meaning now.  The "greater question" today is whatever happens to be on General Synod's agenda, and as long as the right legal and procedural niceties are respected, that can be just about anything.

There are, however, plenty in the Church of England who see what is happening as a very good thing, and of course they have every right to do so.  This is perhaps where the events of the past 20 years in the Church of England might be seen as having a positive outcome.  As suggested so compellingly in William Oddie's excellent and very prescient book The Roman Option, perhaps this is an opportunity for those who want to be clearly Catholic to become so, in full communion with Rome, and an opportunity for those who do not to be free of the shackles (as they might see it) of having to take into account the position of the Catholic Church on certain matters.

Even amongst those Anglicans who have felt themselves having difficulty with some of the Church of England's changes, there are different schools of thought.

There are people in the Church of England who, bravely and with great honesty, are deciding that in fact perhaps the label of Catholic or even Anglo-Catholic doesn't tell their whole story.  This must be difficult for some (but possibly joyful for others), and we must all hope and pray that for such people it represents a new and positive dawn.

Then there are those who are in a dilemma, who want to adhere to Catholic faith and practice within the Church of England.  These people, who see impaired communion as the only difference between them and their friends in the Catholic Church, need our prayers, support and sympathy.  There are difficult times ahead for them, and hard realities to be faced. 

There is a third category, one that includes many clergy: those who are in denial. 

Their view is that the Church of England will remain catholic (more so than the Pope indeed, who they feel has got many things wrong), no matter what General Synod decides on any issue.  Theirs is an Anglo-Catholicism steeped in an almost congregationalist approach, taking the John Keble line that as long as they run their parish, all is well.  Après moi le déluge.  They hark back to times long gone, to the era of the magnificent triumphs of the Anglo-Catholic conferences, when people, such as exemplified in the fictional Fr Hugh Chantry-Pigg, talked disparagingly of the Italian Mission and the Irish Mission.  The dramatic transformation in the ecclesial body around them is irrelevant, they believe.  They don't need to listen to the Bishop of Rome, they say, although they will pick and mix their way through the liturgies of his many predecessors, blending the concoction that best pleases them (one wonders how the Anglican Bishop of London, who disapproves of the use of the new translation of the Roman Missal by his clergy, feels about the use of never-authorised translations of pre-1955 Holy Week rites in his diocese).  

Those in denial are, to be fair, enjoying something that is truly appealing and truly great fun to a certain number of people.  Many a present and former Anglo-Catholic fully understands the temptation to take the "pull up the drawbridge approach".  What is unfair though, is when such people criticise the Ordinariate.

Other Catholics who have not had full information on what the Ordinariate is, quite rightly ask questions about the Ordinariate.  Many on the liberal wing of the Church of England do not like the Ordinariate, perhaps as a result of synodical battle scars incurred over many years, even if we would argue they should be happy to see us go.  Similarly, what Damian Thompson might rather bluntly call the "tabletista tendency" in the Catholic Church is not always thrilled by the existence of the Ordinariate.  All that, we can take, we can understand, and we will all come to a mutual understanding free of the fears of the unknown on all sides.  The Ordinariate engages actively in a programme of explaining its mission as widely as possible.

Sadly, those "in denial" usually like to make a big point of how the Ordinariate is irrelevant to them.  They don't need to join the "Roman Church" and even if they ever did so, they proclaim that they would not join the Ordinariate.

Why do the "deniers" act like this?  Perhaps, to some extent, fear of the unknown (and we can all understand that).  Perhaps a sadness at having to face up their dream of a Church of England as the Catholic Church in this Land slipping away (again, an entirely legitimate emotion).  There may be other reasons too.

One of the ultimate bêtes noires of the deniers is the question of ordination, and as a layman, I am going to steer well clear of that topic.  The only thing I will say is that people who are anxious about how their own ministry up to that point will be regarded (very favourably, is the answer, including in a prayer of thanksgiving in the Ordination Service), should understand that the Ordinariate is one way in which the Holy Father shows that he most definitely values the existing ecclesial, liturgical and religious life of Anglicans, and that he wants to bring them in to the Catholic Church without treating them as if they knew absolutely nothing.

The establishment of the Ordinariate was about many things, not least a response to groups of Anglicans across the world who had asked for a way to come into communion with Rome as groups.  However, it was also about recognising that Anglicans have something to bring with them.  There has been much discussion about what Anglican Patrimony means, but certainly, one of the thing that the existence of the Ordinariate recognises is that incoming Anglicans do not arrive with a year zero level of knowledge.  Often, a tailored programme of catechesis will be provided (in the same way that a tailored programme of priestly formation is provided for Ordinariate priests), acknowledging that these Anglicans are in a special position, they are not totally new to the Faith.  One of our most popular blogposts talked about the shared beliefs between Anglo-Catholics and those already in the Catholic Church.
The Ordinariate should be understood for what it is, a means to welcome Anglicans in, if they want to make that journey, on a basis that values all that they have done thus far, that will build on their existing experience, knowledge and gifts, and doesn't treat them as if they know nothing.

If readers will permit me this moment of vanity, I conclude with the last few paragraphs I wrote in an email announcing my departure from the Church of England :
This is not a decision taken lightly or in the heat of the moment. It is not a decision made out of hurt or disappointment. It is a tremendously difficult decision made out of a conviction that the right home for people with views such as mine is the Roman Church.
In May 1843, Blessed JHN wrote :

"At present I fear, as far as I can analyze my own convictions, I consider the Roman Catholic Communion to be the Church of the Apostles, and that what grace is among us (which, through God's mercy, is not little) is extraordinary, and from the overflowings of His dispensation. I am very far more sure that England is in schism, than that the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith"

I think that about sums it up. I am infinitely less uncomfortable with the trickier parts of Roman "innovation" than I am with what the CofE is doing.

Making a separate point, how apt that this Newman extract was also cited by Fr Aidan Nichols OP in his homily at the "first mass" of Fr Andrew Burnham (the inverted commas were used by the Oxford Oratory too, they are not mine). Fr Nichols made a reference to Newman saying that there was "not little" grace among us in the CofE, and referred to Fr Burnham as Bishop Andrew - so like Fr Aidan and Fr Andrew, I do not regard what I am about to do as a rejection or a negation of anything I have done, rather, to paraphrase Fr Nichols again, this time from his sermon at the deaconing of the three former Anglican bishops, a "quiet rectification" of my position.
It seems that Dr Chartres's words will bring people closer to accepting the reality of their situation.  Some will be delighted with the new situation, others will feel called to think seriously about making a change.  The outcome for both is surely positive, even if there will surely be trials and challenges along the way.


  1. I am intrigued that you head this article with a quote from Betjeman, but then ignore the point that (I think) he makes:

    What seemed to me a greater question then
    Tugged, and still tugs: Is Christ the Son of God?

    This, surely, the point. Arguing about "Is this the true church" etc etc is, largely, a blind alley, and has created far more heat than light over the past 1,500 years or so.

    The true "authenticity" of a church is, at the last analysis, for God to judge, not us. Working through what faith in a God who became man on earth is really what it's all about. Following Jesus commands is more important that worrying about how the CofE fits into the church, and according to the gospels, the criteria we will be judged by when the time comes (e.g. Matt 25:31-46)

  2. Anonymous, I'm guessing that you're not coming at this point from the perspective of the Catholic Church or of the catholic wing of the Church of England. If so, then obviously we're likely to have to agree to disagree, but to summarise briefly the purpose of citing Betjeman, here is a short(ish) answer.

    Betjeman's point, as I see it, was that he felt that the things that kept us apart were of secondary importance. His view, the Anglo-Catholic view of the period, was that the Church of England was part of the one universal Church, separated by accident of history and by a few consequent variations. The differences were not huge, and paled into insignificance beside the "greater question".

    The Church of England's Saepius Officio and the "Dutch Touch" both show clear and sincere signs of the Church of England's hierarchy making positive steps towards achieving unity, towards reducing the things that kept us apart. Our home when when we were Anglicans, St Mary's Bourne St, contains a memorial to a famous past Churchwarden, Lord Halifax, honouring his works in the cause of "Catholic Unity".

    (Unity is a Gospel imperative, and so we are bound to strive for it, rather than to set it aside as a "nice to have" or, to be controversial, to allow it to be endangered by the results of votes on other issues. Our Lord, on the night he was betrayed, prayed that "all might be one".)

    The approach of General Synod now is not the same as that earlier approach. When General Synod debates issues that might take the Church of England further away from unity with the wider Church in the East and in the West, its members do not say "Let's not go ahead with this, the greater question is "Is Christ the Son of God?" When the votes in favour go through, those in favour cast them with only one question in mind, the question of the day, with no regard for any "greater question" at all, certainly not the question of unity.

    If you don't come at this from a Catholic (or Anglo-Catholic) perspective, then you might say "So what?", the Church of England can vote through any changes it likes, whatever the effect on the likelihood of greater Christian Unity. Indeed you are right, the Church of England can and indeed does do that : but you will understand why that seems a tragedy to people who were part of the Church of England for so long, and who prayed and strove for corporate reunion and Catholic Unity while they were there.

    The "greater question" remains the one Betjeman posed. Would Betjeman have thought that the Church of England now, or the US Episcopal Church now, was still insignificantly different from the wider universal Church of East and West? It's impossible to know of course, but if you're interested, you might want to read another of our most popular posts in order to get a bit more background into the perspective of the Catholic Church and indeed of Anglo-Catholicism on this.

  3. When will they realize that Rome doesn't want them?....

  4. Well, the Catholic Church would love to welcome all who wish to be welcomed. The doors are open, very much so : they always have been, but with the Ordinariate now in existence, that is clearer than ever.

    Having said that, there are those who do not accept the teachings of the Catholic Church, and some who do not accept Rome and Petrine supremacy. The door remains open to them too, but while invitations will be issued to all the highways and byeways until the end of time, no-one is forced to come in.

    Our recent post entitled Christian Unity (25th January) included a extract from Fr Colven in which he cited Cardinal Vaughan :

    "...of course we desire to convert all – especially our own countrymen – to the Catholic religion. Could it be otherwise?”

    1. ....except that the term 'convert' is inappropriate when discussing the reception of Anglicans under the terms of AC. The Anglican Church has 'impaired' communion with the Catholic Church and members who switch to the Catholic Church are not starting from scratch - hence are not converts. This is the official line promulgated from the priests at Allen Hall.

    2. John, you are absolutely right, of course. I think - and hope - that the only time I used the word "convert" is in this quotation of Fr Colven quoting Cardinal Vaughan. I plead guilty to having used the word in its usual rather lazy sense, implying anyone becoming a Catholic, when I should have made the distinction you mentioned.

      In fact, strictly speaking, a Christian becoming a Catholic (whether through Anglicanorum Coetibus or not) cannot entirely correctly be referred to as a convert.

      To prove that I was just being lazy with my words and that I do agree with you on the distinction, do please take a look at this post dated 3 October 2011, when the need to look for real converts, not just those existing Christians coming into the full communion of the Catholic Church, is mentioned.

      All that said, I think the point still applies. The Catholic Church wants to receive all who wish to be received, whether they can correctly be referred to as converts or not.

  5. There is also the 'elephant in the room' represented by issues of personal lifestyle and sexuality in particular. The application by an existing Anglican priest is subject to quite deep scrutiny by the CDF and includes a psycho-social-sexual assesment of some rigour with a 48 hour residential session at St Luke's Clinic in Manchester.