I want to explore what has happened to Anglo-Catholicism in the wake of the Ordinariate. To ask important questions that those with open minds might be helped to “think through” what is going on in the ecclesial landscape in 2015.
This could undoubtedly rattle those who, feeling threatened on all fronts, have grown very sensitive to criticism and debate in recent years. To them I say this. If you are not ready to confront the questions the Ordinariate asks, in its hunger for unity, then remember this is an opt-in blog. There is no need to read further. Secondly I welcome debate. So feel free to come back at me and respond. But please do using reason and not just emotion. Theological debate demands that we apply the head as well as the heart.
So what of the Anglo-Catholicism today? From this side of the Tiber, despite fantastic work at the local level, the movement seems to be experiencing deep crisis in the 21st Century. And those who did not take up the offer of Anglicanorum Coetibus are struggling to define or to defend what it actually means to be Catholic in light of that decision. Not least when the Church of England itself now navigates an obviously liberal and protestant path that leads ever further from a Catholic conclusion.
This point was made by theologian Fr. Mark Langham. He suggests Anglo-Catholicism, as well as Anglicanism in general, needs to “think through” its decisions as regards ecclesiology and unity. I found his words helpful and a refusal to “think things through” is one of the changes I witness within Anglo-Catholicism. Can you believe some have even taken to singing the Catholic hymn “faith of our fathers” which speaks of the English Martyrs who suffered at the reformation? A hymn whose last verse reads:
Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.
Have those singing paused to think through the use of that hymn in this setting? Do they realise the very martyrs they uphold died at the hands of the body they belong to and precisely because they refused to be English Christians without the Pope? And what do they mean by saying they shall win the country back? back to what? Certainly not what Faber who wrote those words imagined! A small incident, you might think, but it underlines the massive disconnect I discern at present between belief, claim, practice and reality within Anglo-Catholicism.
If the singers of that hymn really do desire unity, via Mary’s prayers, in a united Catholic England – then how do they justify not joining the Ordinariate? And if they do not want the unity the Catholic church has offered, and prefer to belong to the Church of England, then why refuse to accept the authority of Canterbury? It makes little sense so that one must ask what does it mean to be Anglo-Catholic? What is the aim and purpose of this movement post Ordinariate? Logic surely demands it is time to either truly embrace Anglicanism or delight in the historic offer of unity laid down by Rome?
This point is emphasised when one ponders the ecumenical landscape. Let’s get real. The ordination of women, and the ordination of practicing homosexuals within Anglicanism has killed hope of formal unity between Canterbury and Rome. Conversation will continue. We must maintain good relations. But hope of a formal union is over. So anyone claiming to work for the sort of unity that seemed possible forty years ago is living in la la land. And if one is not working for such unity- as the shift of liturgical clothing by Anglo-Catholics from cotta and stole to hood and scarf in recent years might suggest- then what exactly is the Catholicism to which you adhere?
Because the Church of England has made a permanent statement about its Catholic claim when it tinkered with the three fold order. Pope Francis said the door is forever closed on women priests for Catholics. He is right. Therefore the Church of England would need to release every woman ordained and then refuse to create more for true unity to be possible. And this isn’t going to happen. So what do Anglo-Catholics make of this dilemma?
Today’s Anglo-Catholics are hoping to live unaffected by the wider decisions of Anglicanism. To this end they formed a “society”- the manifestation of post Ordinariare Anglo-Catholicism- an imagined “church within a church”. Validity proved by membership. A letter from the secretary one’s celebret. But this is problematic because whatever makes for authentic Catholic order- it is hardly a letter from a group that lacks authority from on high. The game is up then surely? It is hard to see how anything beyond hospice care is possible.
In many ways the Society attempts to be a group akin to the Ordinariate but minus the Pope. It doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. First in terms of unity. For membership of the Society leaves one out of communion, not only with Catholics the world over, but with all other Anglicans too. Whereas membership of the Ordinariate puts you in communion with 1.4 billion and leaves you part of the Catholic mainstream. Why then opt for the Society instead of embracing the offer of unity laid down by Rome?
Secondly in terms of official recognition. The Ordinariate is sanctioned by Rome and comes with blessing and approval. We are entirely legitimate. But the Society was formed with no public recognition from Canterbury. It might serve those who belong but who beyond its membership will take the movement seriously? Will the Eastern Orthodox? Or the CDF? Or even Lambeth Palace? What then is the Society to be about? This is the question I would ask Anglo-Catholics today but the silence is deafening.
So to my challenge. What is the long term aim and purpose of the Society? What are the achievable goals and how do you reconcile these with the current ecumenical landscape? And how will you deal with the Ordinariate into the future as a group given that it is Rome’s answer to the question of unity? I would love to hear answers.
I would love the Society to put forth a coherent explanation of what it is actually about. That I might understand it and see its purpose beyond preservation for the sake of resisting change. Is anyone up to the challenge? I would happily let you have a post on this blog…
And finally what do the Society make of the photograph above? Where the new Bishop of Burnley- Philip North (a traditionalist who does not recognise the ordination of women) poses with the first female bishop- Libby Lane. Many assume the photograph is a wonderful expression of “better together” and making things work. I say think it through a little more…isnt it just a smiling acceptance of deep disunity? They might be chums, they might grin and cuddle for the cameras, but they cannot stand at the altar together and they do not preach the same faith. How can these two positions flourish together? Did not Jesus himself suggest that a house divided on itself must fall? Surely they are pitted against each other and only one of this visions can win out in the end? And the next two photograps suggest the battle is already won…
The consecration of Libby Lane with most every bishop present. It stands in strong contrast to the next ordination in which very few were there.
Am I alone in discerning a token gesture given to those whose hope of reclaiming the Church of England is now long gone? To those who find themselves in such an impossible situation I simply say this. The Ordinariate was created for you.