Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Saturday, 21 August 2010

Thoughts on the Ordinariate

I have had several conversations in recent weeks with various friends about the proposed Ordinariate, and it occurs to me that this might be an appropriate time to draw the various strands together.

The July meeting of the General Synod made it quite clear that there was going to be no provision made for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, now or, let's face it, in the future. As Ancient Richborough has argued this really is the end of the road. I understand there will be meetings of Ebbsfleet and Richborough clergy in September to discuss the way forward. It is reasonable to get the holiday season out of the way and have time to reflect. However, what is there to reflect upon? There are two options - stay with the Church of England (and all that implies in 2010 and for the future) or look elsewhere - and that in reality means Rome, with Anglicanorum Coetibus already issued. Simple.

One can respect individuals needing to take time to pray and reflect, and also to make practical decisions. I sympathize with the wish to retain one's habitual place or worship - that is a real wrench in prospect for some. Nonetheless the fundamental choice is clear - clinging on, as an ever declining group, unloved and unwanted by so many of their fellow Anglicans, hoping against hope that there will be a new Oxford Movement - yes, I have heard that argued in recent months - or entering into union with the Catholic Church, reuniting with that body from which the Ecclesia Anglicana was severed, along with not a few human heads, and, to borrow a phrase, going Forward in Faith.

Yet, almost a year after Anglicanorum Coetibus was announced and then published, and allowing for Synod meetings and all the necessary practical discussions, things seem not to be moving very far. That is not to say discussons and planning may well not be happening - I assume, and hope, they are - but that is not the public perception. The process appears to be losing momentum. Thus,whilst individual parishes are looking to their future, the larger scheme, in England at least, seems uncertain.

Thus one Anglican friend tells me that his church is considering the option of Rome or Cconstantinople - Benedict or Bartholomew - well, yes, fine, but for one parish to be playing hard to get with the greatest sees of Christendom does seem a little bit presumptious. He added "Well, we've four years." True - unless you are run down crossing the road.

So there we have a version of ecclesiastical politics. Trouble is, this is not negotiating your way through a prospective "hung parliament" or "hung synod" - yes, I know some of you are saying would that it were. This is about Truth, it is about the Faith. If it is about a political compromise we have have not moved on from the mid-Tudor polity, but it may be bit less bloody.

Meanwhile individuals are making the move across the Tiber, or are making their plans to, regardless of the Ordinariate. Some need or are anxious to fufill contractual or moral obligations before they go, but go they will. As a fellow convert I am delighted for them, and believe they will be not only valuable additions to the Church, but will find a safe haven therein.

Looking back at the Anglican shore I am somewhat surprised by evidence of more than one Anglican clergyman who would identify themselves as being in the Anglo-Catholic tradition showing elements of hostility to the forthcoming Papal visit and beatification of John Henry Newman -it smacks of the "Papal Aggression" agitation of 1850.

So we wait for the Ordinariate to come into being, but when - will it be September? October? 2011? It seems such a missed opportunity not to have had it at least with some members when the Pope will be here. Yes, there are practical issues to resolve, but that can take till Kingdom come, and this is about the Kingdom.

Church politics four centuries ago got the Church in England into this mess, and more politics will not solve it. The Pope, as even the dreadful Ruth Gledhill can see, has made an offer that cuts through centuries of accumulated practice and prejudice, and not only is it an offer of historic significance, it is also the best one on offer now, or in the future. Seeing if the Synod will offer something better is not only daft, it is ungracious. Looking elsewhere is the path to separatism or eccentricity. Remember the fate of the Non-Jurors? How many Non-Juror churches do you know?

Cradle Catholic friends are bemused and somewhat irritated by this lack of response. They can accept the need to make plans for a move, but cannot see why, when such an offer is made, and it is what so many have said they have wanted, that there is not a more enthusiastic public response. They also feel some of their worst fears about Anglo-Catholics and Anglicanism are being justified when the impression is being created that Anglo-Catholics are playing one bidder off against another, and not realising that they may be less well placed so to do and more in need of a helping hand - and that is what Anglicanorun Coetibus is. I stress to such Catholic friends that those who want to avail themselves of the provisions the Pope has offered are very much "full Faith" and that they can add very considerably to the life of the Universal Church. However I do increasingly understand what they think, and begin to think it myself. If not now, when?

2 comments:

  1. With respect, I don't understand how anyone can be described as "full faith" who believes that it is legitimate to conduct oneself as a Christian outside the communion of the Roman Catholic church. It is an article of faith that membership of the church - i.e. visible communion with the Holy See - is compulsory for all, and those who wilfully abstain from such communion put their salvation in jeopardy.

    By even discussing the possibility of remaining within the C of E, or reaching some deal, Anglo-Catholics show that they do not accept this item of Faith. If they did, they would head for Rome without delay. If they don't accept this doctrine then - whatever their personal sincerity, intellect, gifts, charm - they have a deficient ecclesiology and cannot be described as "full faith".

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  2. That is why I put the phrase in quotation marks - clearly the logic of being full Faith is union with Rome, and once you have arrived at that point intellectually and spiritually, not delaying. Many of the Anglo-Catholics have been on a pretty fast learning curve in recent years and months, and that is probably why many are more likely to make individual submission rather than wait on a group admission. Their current non-membership of the visible Church is not wilful until they realise that they really do need to be a part of it. The nature of Anglo-Catholicism, and maybe its danger, is that one can, in good conscience, believe oneself to be "full Faith" and still not see the logical necessity of that need for union. I hope the Ordinariate can speed up the process of realisation for people; if not then people should and must do as I and others have done once clarity dawns, and make the journey into full peace and communion.

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