It can come as no surprise that we find ourselves wholeheartedly in agreement with what Mgr Newton says (and no, we are not saying that simply because he is our Ordinary).
To prove that, do please note that we have often referred (for example here and here) on this blog to our sadness that the warnings given by many, including by Cardinal Kaspar in 2006 (to the Church of England's House of Bishops) and in 2008 (to the Lambeth Conference) have not been taken into account. His 2006 speech called for the Church of England not to erect new impediments to unity. Cardinal Kaspar's 2008 text included 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.The advice of those such as Cardinal Kaspar has been ignored even although senior clergy from the Orthodox Church have addressed leading Anglicans on the same point (certain kinds of Anglicans like to turn a deaf ear to Rome, fondly but vainly imagining that Constantinople or Moscow will say something rather more to their liking). 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?The effect of what is now happening is that the underlying raison d'être for the no doubt friendly and sincere ecumenical dialogue that carries on is fundamentally different from that envisaged by the 1966 Common Declaration. No longer does even the most Panglossian optimist think that any kind of corporate unity is likely in the lifetime of anyone living today. The unquestionably warm friendships and contacts at the parish and personal level continue, but the true Unity for which Christ prayed is further away than it was. The conclusions of ARCIC I and the zenith of hope for reunion that was attained when Blessed John Paul II knelt in prayer beside Archbishop Robert Runcie in Canterbury Cathedral seem so very far distant now.
Well, that's all old ground, you might say. Cardinal Kaspar and Monsignor Newton have said it all rather better than you, and indeed you have written of this in the past. All true. We'll leave it there.
However, what we would want to do is to pick up on something else that Monsignor Newton mentioned. He talked of an address given by the Archbishop of Canterbury to a symposium at the Gregorian University in Rome in 2009, marking the centenary of the birth of Cardinal Willebrands, the first president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Dr Williams talked of the many things upon which Catholics and Anglicans agree being first order issues (by which he meant important points), and of those upon which we did not agree being second order issues (by which he meant less significant matters that ought not to get in the way of the bigger points). He also talked of how the way that the Anglican Communion handles differences might be a potential model for Catholic-Anglican discussions, but we shall make no comment upon that, sticking rather to his differentiation in significance of topics.
When reading of Dr Williams's talk at the time, my reaction to the first order and second order analysis was that I wanted to apply it rather differently. If these points really are second order (in an Anglican understanding thereof), why then (of relevance to Anglicans) does General Synod not only spend seemingly all of its time discussing them, but also (of relevance to Catholics too) place such a high value on them that they are allowed to wound shared understandings of first order issues?
Whatever we might think of any of these "second order issues", do any of them really trump the following:
Ut omnes unum sint, sicut tu Pater in me, et ego in te, ut et ipsi in nobis unum sint, ut credat mundus, quia tu me misisti.In this context, Anglicanorum coetibus can indeed be seen very clearly as a practical ecumenical gesture, as Monsignor Newton rightly said. To Anglo-Catholics who didn't wish their response to the Gospel call to Unity to be subject to second order issues, it was indeed the perfect ecumenical gesture.
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Let us conclude with two musical settings of the words of Psalm 132 (or Psalm 133, depending on which counting system you follow....). The first version is very definitely Anglican Patrimony, it is Anglican chant sung by the choir of King's College, Cambridge. The second is a setting that has featured previously on this blog, written by Fernando de las Infantas in 1570 to commemorate the founding the Holy League, the alliance of Catholic Nations that in 1571, under Don John of Austria, would emerge victorious from the Battle of Lepanto, as Fr Hunwicke evoked so clearly for us at St Mary's Bourne St in 2010.
Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum, habitare fratres in unum. Sicut unguentum in capite, quod descendit in barbam, barbam Aaron. Quod descendit in oram vestimenti eius, sicut ros Hermon, qui descendit in montem Sion. Quoniam illic mandavit Dominus benedictionem, et vitam usque in saeculum.
Behold how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down unto the beard, even unto Aaron's beard. And went down to the skirts of his clothing, like as the dew of Hermon, which fell upon the hill of Sion. For there the Lord promised his blessing and life for evermore.