Piddingworth Greg Benton
|Honour all men.
Honour the King.
|Pope Benedict XVI,
Bishop of Rome,
Chair of St. Peter
|Englishmen: St. Thomas More & St. John Fisher, by Hans Holbein|
|In Toronto, 1963, at the Anglican Congress, the late, great Michael Ramsey,
then Archbishop of Canterbury, told the assembly that he believed that because
of Anglicanism's unique history, the Anglican Church itself was meant to finally disappear
within the universal Church. It is doubtful that he anticipated that it might happen
in the current fashion. Nevertheless, the contradictions within Anglicanism that formed
it at the beginning have now caused it fall in on itself.
When in Canterbury some twenty-five years ago, I recall passing St. Thomas Becket
Catholic Church and remarking 'that's the Italian Foreign Mission'; a phrase some of
us Anglican clergy used about the Roman Church with a bit of a sniff. Not far away,
of course, is the great English Cathedral of Christ, wherein is placed the seat of the
Archbishop of Canterbury, but hold on: The foundation of this Cathedral, though built
over an original Saxon starter, was established by St. Augustine, aka,Sant' Agostino,
an Italian who was sent as a missionary by another Italian, San Gregorio,
the Pope in Rome, who was eager to evangelise these 'Angels' (Angles, aka, Anglos).
Evangelise they did and the English Church, Ecclesia Anglicana, became one of the most
significant in the whole of the Catholic Church; not least because of its multiple ecclesial
foundations of Abbeys, Cathedrals, Colleges and Monasteries; built mostly with Benedictine
oversight,devotion and sweat.
Then, over several days and months in the sixteenth century, all the people of the realm
of England were told by their King, and then their Queen, that their Church had changed
and that they must accept it. Those who did not accept the order of the King faced the
penalty of death; a rather different form of evangelisation from the original.
Famously, Sir Thomas More, the King's Lord Chancellor and John Fisher, Bishop
of Rochester were both executed and later declared saints and martyrs by the
Such a long and complicated story.
Much more blood and chaos ensued until finally a Religious Settlement was established that
shaped the institution we know as the 'Church of England' today. However, to be an
original 'Anglicana', i.e., English Catholic in England, became illegal and remained
in force for two centuries following. Since then, 'Catholics' have been most associated
with immigrants; especially Irish immigrants who have been historically loathed by the English
on both counts. Thus the fiction that Catholicism is 'foreign'. Of course, Guido Fawkes
added fuel to the fire. 'Remember, remember the fifth of November'.
In the 19th century, some in this Church of England, sought to re-discover and
restore the English Church's Catholic identity. This is commonly called the
'Oxford Movement' because of the association of it's leadership, e.g., John Keble,
John Henry Newman, et al, to Oxford and the university. These fellows stirred
a hornet's nest within the C of E. Against much resistance and the mocking
of them by the more 'established' Anglicans, they lit a candle (such a Romish thing!)
within the English Church and it's extensions abroad, that for the better part
of a century had indeed restored much of the Catholic ritual and spirituality
in many places. Those who embraced these things were called 'Anglo-Catholics'
or Catholic Anglicans; people whose faith and practice followed that of
the 'ancient' Catholic Church. In addition, even those whose convictions
were not entirely 'Catholic' adopted some of the forms and rituals inspired
by the movement and have become common in Anglican life.
Fast forward to the current, quite extraordinary, news of an arrangement,
called a 'personal ordinariate', offered by Pope Benedict XVI, a German, wherein Anglicans
of Catholic conviction may enter in union with the Catholic Church and, not only that,
but will be permitted to retain much of their own English traditions in liturgy, spirituality
and there's more: these Anglicans, will have their own 'ordinary' over them, i.e., a bishop
or senior priest, who will govern their communities separately from that of the Latin Rite
bishops in their dioceses. It is a rememdium of sorts; a healing or 'cure' for
a very large number of people.
This follows three decades of requests from Anglo-Catholic clergy and laypeople
to find a place within the Catholic Church while at the same time keeping their
'Anglican' traditions to which they are so deeply attached. In addition,
according to much precedent, priests already married may carry on as usual
although bishops, also according to precedent within the universal Church,
will be single and, if married, accept the ministry of the priest. Perhaps the most
famous example of this previously is that of Graham Leonard, the former Bishop
of London, who gave up his mitre and crosier and became a Latin Rite priest.
The Vatican had already earlier established what are called 'Anglican-Use' parishes
in the United States where whole parishes, clergy and people, came into union with
the Catholic Church but remained under the authority of the local Roman Catholic bishops.
In the meantime, hundreds of Anglican priests, like myself, have since entered into communion
with the Holy See and many, including married priests, continue their priestly ministry.
For many of us who have left the Anglican Communion, it is important to emphasise that
the choice is not a denial of the grace and witness we experienced in the Church
of our baptism and ordination of which so much abounds. Rather it is an affirmation
of the truth of the Catholic faith made in the face of the utter repudiation of the same made
by those contemporary Anglican authorities, i.e., bishops and synods, through their
deliberate assault on the faith, doctrine and order that, at least in part, held the Anglican
Church since it's inception within the fundamental tradition of the Catholic Church
founded by Christ.
The Church of England, along with other national Anglican Churches,
has, since the 1970's, radically departed from itself and, in doing so, has caused
such division and confusion and scandal among it's adherents that have allowed it,
outside of Africa, to decline and become moribund.
It's primary faultline being a lack of authority, the meanderings and wanderings
of it's leadership in a sea of subjective relativism dedicated to the service of the
popular culture and worldly pursuits, has caused so many of the faithful to be abandoned
and lost. Some created their own 'Continuing' Anglican communties. Others, such
as the Forward In Faith group, isolated themselves from those bishops and parishes that have embraced the 'new' order.
For those 'Anglicans' whose limited commitment to the Church consists of attending
at Easter and Christmas, Christenings, weddings and funerals, (the 'hatched, matched
and dispatched' type of Anglican, this invitation from the Pope will make no difference.
For them, their religious rituals have more to do with cultural and familial
sentiment than living the Christan faith and this historic step isn't about the music
at the Carol Service. I recall a choirmaster once remarking to me that some so-called
'die-hard' Anglicans would 'sing to the Devil himself as long as it was to one of their
favourite tunes'. Oh, dear.
For those evangelical Anglicans, whose devotion to Christ remains deep and whose
Protestant convictions also run counter to the liberalisation within the Communion,
but to the claims of the Catholic Church as well, theirs is another choice. Our
prayers are with them and all those whose desire is to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures
and the enduring truths they proclaim.
For all those sincere and devoted Anglicans 'in-between', this is a challenge
for the conscience and the act of faith, but not a threat. Most will stay exactly
where they are and our prayer in deep charity extends to them as well.
Not surprisingly, the acceptance of these traditional Anglicans within the
Catholic Church seems to be a threat to those 'liberal' 'Catholics' who
have spent much time and energy trying to get the Catholic Church to
be like the Anglican Church has become, not just in respect of the ordination
of women, homosexuality, and married clergy but for abortion and euthanasia
as well. They are wasting their time, of course. The Catholic Church's
doctrine and faith given once and for all to the saints, has endured two millenia
through many cultures and empires. It's mission is to change the world's culture,
not become it.
A happy aspect of this invitation from the Pope is that it will afford Anglicans
of Catholic conviction, the ability to preserve their Anglican identity and thrive
in coming generations when, perhaps in time, it will have helped to restore the
Church in England, not only to it's original roots, but to the principles since the
Reformation that had sustained it for so long.
'if [the Gospel] be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye will not be able
to overthrow it; lest perhaps ye be found even to fight against God' (Gamaliel, Acts 5.39)
G.B. 29 October 2009