Friday, 18 March 2011

An Ordinary Anglican

As I write this, a historic gathering of Anglican Catholics (traditionally called Anglo-Catholics) along with Latin Rite (Western Roman) Catholics and perhaps some Eastern Rite Catholics in communion with Rome, will be meeting at Queen of the Apostles Conference Centre near Toronto to consider the implications of Pope Benedict’s 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (AC) and the erection of a Canadian Anglican Ordinariate in full communion with Rome.

Why should ordinary Anglicans be interested?

Speakers at this Annunciation-tide conference are to include Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, the eminent scholar Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP from England and the long-serving Fr. Christopher Phillips, founding priest of the Anglican Use Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Atonement, San Antonio, Texas. 

Fr. Phillips and Fr. Nichols have prayed for, promoted and, yes, stumped for the new Anglican ordinariates for over 30 years since John Paul II established the Anglican Use Provision in the Catholic Church until now limited to the USA.

Beyond the conference, though, there are many ordinary Anglicans with persistent questions: What is an Anglican Catholic ordinariate? Where is the Anglican Ordinariate headed?

Anglicans are those who were born into, married into, or for a variety of personal, theological or aesthetic/cultural reasons gravitated to Anglican congregations, liturgy and ultimately membership (rough numbers: Africa: 36 million; UK: 30 million; Australia: 4 million; North America: 5 to 6 million). These people span an astonishing variety of perspectives and social attitudes, not to mention theological opinions, under the broadest tent in Christendom.

Is there really any such thing as an “ordinary Anglican” then? If you will entertain for a few minutes the various, though related, uses of the word ‘ordinary’ as an adjective and as a noun, we may see some important connections:

Ordinary:
* adjective - with no special or distinctive features; normal

* noun - one exercising authority by virtue of office and not by delegation (esp. of a judge or bishop)

With the recent refusal of Anglican bishops and primates from various countries to meet together and the now regular eruptions of radically secular pronouncements and actions by US Episcopal and Canadian Anglican bishops on sexuality, marriage, ordination, etc., there isn't any longer what most would consider normal or ordinary Anglicanism. So, with these ‘changes and chances of this mortal life’ are there any ordinary Anglicans?

First of all, there are roughly 36 million African Anglicans, not to mention the large majority of other Anglicans around the world, who consider themselves ordinary Anglicans. They largely believe in the same basic statements of faith and order that Anglicans and the vast majority of Christians have believed and continue to believe with respect to marriage, sexuality, ordination and sacramental life.

Secondly, there certainly will be ordinary Anglicans and an ordinary Anglicanism in one formal and important sense: The new Anglican Catholic ordinaries (noun) will exercise ordinary (adj.) authority for Anglicans establishing a norm for Anglicanism in communion with the universal Church Catholic based upon what Anglican churches have formally believed until the recent radical changes. These changes in policy relating to marriage and holy orders as well as moral and ethical norms have been voted for by trendy synods or imposed by avant guard bishops in the UK, USA, Canadian, NZ and Australian provinces of the Anglican Communion.
Following the election and installation of Gene Robinson, and openly homosexual man, as an Episcopal (Anglican) bishop in the USA, large numbers of congregations and some dioceses have split from the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. Some are seeking communion with Canterbury while others are independent further fragmenting Christian unity.
The current Anglican Communion (those with bishops in some form of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury) has been and is now increasingly fractured with splits from the Primates' Council on down over issues of faith and morals. These schisms, along with widely varying practices from diocese to diocese and from country to country, have brought the very notion of Anglican unity or “communion” into question.

The so-called Anglican Continuum (Anglicans out of communion with Canterbury) is split along fraught political lines into a myriad of continuing ecclesial communities. These latter, largely conservative, bodies are tortuously gathered into often-tiny jurisdictions under numerous beleaguered archbishops and bishops with sometimes-uncertain episcopal orders and marital status.

So where does the ordinary Anglican turn? Well, 450 years of separation from the Church of the West in communion with Rome has given even divisiveness the appearance of tolerance and plurality. And yes, Anglicans have made a virtue out of compromise, something the English in particular have prided themselves on. But can this wide tent withstand the winds of secularism and militant Islam as well as having to deal with the instant communications of the digital universe? For example, everyone in Africa knows that as soon as another lesbian bishop is ordained in California, life for them will be very difficult in view of the prevailing mores of most African countries.

The point has come when the two or more parties see that what is ordinary for themselves and for generations of Anglicans is distinct from what other parties believe or are putting into practice by means of Anglican synods which simply vote with prevailing social trends. In this situation it is necessary to define what is to be ordinary practice and who will have ordinary jurisdiction. This means radical realignment for those who hold classical Anglican Catholic views. Much as European national boundaries were redefined in the 20th century or as power is shifting in the Arab and Islamic world at the moment, Anglicans must decide within which boundaries they will exist, under what canon law and within which ordinary jurisdiction.

In the Anglican situation, apart from the inevitable human political jousting, there are spiritual and theological principles at stake. The understanding amongst Catholic Anglicans is that belief in God is expressed within a Christian community and must be incarnated in that community’s relationship with the wider Church in some tangible ways. This relationship must be based upon agreed moral and theological principles. The question then arises: What will that relationship to the universal Church be for ordinary Anglican Christians in the 21st century?

Enter Pope Benedict XVI after decades of polite and often erudite conversations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the various Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) gatherings. To cite one most recent instance, ARCIC has offered for consideration a statement about what the Anglican and Roman communions can jointly affirm about the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the one Church of Christ within which they both claim to share baptismal communion, if imperfect ecclesial communion. The Church of England, for one, has trouble endorsing the agreed statement of the ARCIC theologians.

With the advent of Benedict’s AC, however, the ecumenical ground has shifted and, in the words of one young Anglican Catholic, “An Apostolic Constitution is for the ages; it will be there for people to enter into full Catholic communion in 100 or 500 years.” Without overstating the case, AC is the game-changer and has opened a path on which it is impossible to determine how many Anglicans, lapsed Catholics, Lutherans and other Protestants along with many unchurched people will follow.

What is clear is that the Anglican ordinariates will establish a new norm. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is named in AC as the clear rule of faith. In terms of order and practice, the traditional Anglican liturgies along with the choral musical heritage and other aspects of Anglican patrimony will find a home within the embrace of the Holy See. Not only this, but “Ordinaries” i.e. bishops or married priests (as is the first Ordinary, Msgr. Keith Newton in the UK) have specific ordinary jurisdiction over regional groups of Anglican Catholics. These two factors offer a worldwide norm for ordinary Anglicans and others within gathered communities which look and feel Anglican while being in full communion with Rome and so are fully part of the universal Catholic Church.

These communities will, of course, feel very familiar to the Catholic-minded traditional Anglican but will have appeal to others who look for a cultural expression of faith which is not tied to the political machinations of special interest groups and the latest political wind. What many people of various stripes will find attractive is that these Anglican ordinariates will have a significant moral, doctrinal and historical continuity, which the fractured Anglican Communion and other spin-off bodies cannot offer.

There is a real sense in which this crossing of the Tiber is a homecoming. Anglicans used to speak of swimming the Tiber. Now, as some have said, a rather sturdy bridge has been built and all are welcome to cross in groups (coetibus) into full communion with the Holy See.

Latin Rite and other Catholics will be able to receive Holy Communion at any Anglican Ordinariate Eucharist. Those marrying or otherwise received as baptized members from other communities into an Ordinariate will be in full communion with over one billion Catholics around the world while maintaining distinctive cultural elements from the heritage of the Reformation and beyond.

Naturally this concerns liberal Anglicans who cannot, for a variety of reasons, accept the teaching of the Catholic Church even as they advocate an increasing number of changes to communal life within their decreasing portion of the ecclesial world. For them there never is nor can there ever be an ordinary Anglican. This is for the simple reason that, as they see it, Anglican life is an ever-changing reality with no agreed upon authority. They live in a constantly deconstructing universe always open to the zeitgeist.

The liberal Episcopal (Anglican) bishop of Massachusetts recently married two female clergy to each other in his cathedral in Boston because he has decided ‘ex cathedra’ that he would do so despite the formal opposition of a clear majority of Anglican bishops in the Anglican Communion. The centre cannot hold.

Whither ordinary Anglicanism? The secure structures of the Ordinariates, albeit very small initially, are being erected for those who are returning to communion with Rome from all over the English-speaking world and in other countries influenced by the English Reformation. Yes, returning not ‘defecting’ (the favourite word of the nervous British press). After all, Ecclesial Anglicana was in communion with Rome for 1000 years before the unfortunate disruption about 450 years ago.


The English Church has actually returned to full communion with Rome once since the initial split under Henry VIII. Cardinal Pole with Queen Mary formally rejoined the Church of England with Rome. After Elizabeth Tudor defected again from the Catholic Church, the C of E almost rejoined for a second time under the Stuart kings.

Despite the ‘Black Legend’ which seeks to vilify all English Catholics, the Anglican Catholic relationship is developing again into a different kind of marriage with much of the anti-Catholic prejudice of the past marginalized if not eradicated.

The current return of “groups of Anglicans” referred to in AC is a historic moment. It changes the direction of ecumenism generally and provides an ordinary way for Anglicans to be truly Anglican in every important and sustainable way while in communion with the universal Church. Along with the prayed for establishment of further unity with the Eastern churches this initial healing on the western side of the Body of Christ portends much hope. This is hope for the many who do not deny the need for development in the Church but insist, with John Henry Newman, that change must be accomplished in continuity with the faith of those who have gone before and according to agreed authoritative principles (see his theory of the Development of Doctrine).

Ordinary Anglicans, then, will find in the Ordinariates the language of the Book of Common Prayer, the creeds, music and other aspects of Anglican life preserved and developed within the unity for which our Lord prayed in his great high priestly prayer, ut unum sint (that they all may be one)  John 17:21.

Without prejudice, let us recognize that talks will continue between Catholics, the Anglican (Canterbury) Communion and all the other ecclesial communities. These are worthwhile and, in fact, an essential part of the new evangelism, not to mention just good neighbourliness. But let us be clear, the radical changes to the nature of faith and order through the decisions of regional synods and the unilateral actions of liberal Anglican and Episcopal bishops in North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand are erecting a wall of separation with the Catholic Church that amounts to an ecclesial Berlin Wall. It may come down but it appears as though it will be there for some time. In the meantime, Anglicans and others seeking faith and freedom in the wider ecumenical Church will look for a way to escape the dictatorship of relativism.

They can do so, thanks to Pope Benedict, in the gathering of groups with their own distinct character, quality and language. The pattern established by AC for groups many believe is the forerunner of arrangements for other such ecumenical groups seeking to restore unity in the Body of Christ.
Lutherans meet with Pope Benedict

Some Lutherans in the US have already decided to come into full communion under the AC umbrella. In due course, these groups and their practices will become an ordinary part of the Church. Married Anglican priests in communion with Rome will be seen as ordinary Catholic priests in the Ordinariate. The English Missal (the Book of Common Prayer modified and adapted to Catholic norms used by Anglo-Catholics) slightly modified is likely to take its place with the revised Novus Ordo and the Extraordinary Form (traditional Latin form) of the Mass. Catholics generally will pay more attention to and respect the various rites, liturgies and patrimonies of the Melkite, Ukrainian, Antiochian and other smaller Catholic communities all in communion with the Holy Father, the ponitifex or bridgebuilder.

So what will be ordinary seems new at the moment. This new ordinary, however, unlike the novelties of the late 20th century is in continuity with what the Christian Faith has been since its beginnings and is in communion with the largest number of Christians in the world today as well as with those billions whose life and faith is found in that even wider communion which Chesterton referred to as the democracy of the dead. This is a development which has both deep roots and a future. As Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman might say, it is in accord with the principles of development which have their origins in the ordinary lives of the Apostles, Augustine, Jerome, Athanasius, Basil, Aquinas, Thomas More, Edmund Campion and the millions upon millions of Christians who have shaped the multiple cultural expressions of Catholic Christianity.

May they all pray for us as we give thanks for Anglicanorum Coetibus and look forward to its fruit for ordinary Anglicans and others who seek the unity for which our Lord prayed - ut unum sint (that they all may be one).


An Ordinary Anglican
Quinquagesima, March 6, 2011
Toronto, Canada