"…A Watershed Moment…"

This article was published on the website VirtueOnline.org. Obviously, the author is quite excited about the upcoming U. S. Ordinariate.


ORDINARIATE: This is a watershed moment in the life of the Church

By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent
Nov. 18, 2011

A "watershed moment" is defined as: "A critical turning point … An actual moment in time where everything changes … A point in time when nothing after will ever be the same as before …"

There have been several earth-shattering watershed moments in the life of the Church. The first such moment was at the instant of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – when God became enfleshed in the womb of a young virgin named Mary. When God became Incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ. That was the first time-altering watershed moment; and time, as we know it today, is measured from the time of Christ's physical birth in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago.

The next major watershed moment in the life of the Church is the Suffering, Death and, more importantly, the Resurrection of Jesus. If He was not resurrected from the dead, then His Birth would have no meaning and would be lost to history. This was followed quickly by His Ascension and then the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost at which time the First Century Church, the ecclesial Body of Christ, takes hold on the earth and time marches on …

It was during His Agony in the garden in His Night of Suffering that Christ earnestly prayed:"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me. The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved me…" John 17:20-23 (RSV)

This prayer of unity made no sense to John, who recorded it or to the infant Church because the Church was unified in the oneness in Christ. In Ephesians 4:3-6 Paul was "… eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." (RSV)

So the Church was one, hammering out any doctrinal difficulties and devotional observances that arose through prayer and the meeting of minds at the various councils that the early Church Fathers called to settle variations in theological understanding and different ecclesiastical practices.

All went fairly well for about one thousand years when then another watershed moment happened – the Great Schism of 1054, basically dividing the Church along the lines of language (Latin – Greek) culture (Western – Eastern) and creedal theology (the Filioque). This is the first time that Christendom – the ecclesial Body of Christ – became fractured and Christ's priestly prayer for unity suddenly made sense: His Church, His Beloved Bride, was no longer unified. She was no longer one in hope, one in faith, one in baptism, one in Body, and one in the Spirit. She was torn asunder. This was a "… point in time when nothing after will ever be the same as before …"

This rent has yet to be healed; almost thousand years later Christ's prayer of unity still goes unfulfilled.

In the early 1300s the Latin Church, centered in Rome, again suffered watershed events. For three-quarters of the 14th Century the stability of the papacy was being jeopardized by the Avignon Papacy in France leading to the Western Schism where up to three men claimed to be the true Catholic pontiff at the same time. This turn of events was finally solved by the Council of Constance when the papacy was again firmly re-established in Rome. These were "…critical turning points …" in the life of the Church.

The next big watershed event in the life of the Church happened on Oct. 31, 1517 when a little-known Augustinian monk, named Martin Luther, nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" on the door of the All Saints' Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. All the German monk was trying to accomplish was establish a line of communication and theological discussion and ecclesial discourse on some troubling points of current Catholic religious practice. Instead the world was stood on its ear and the Protestant Reformation was conceived which again splintered the Church; this time into thousands of different pieces rocketing Martin Luther into church history. This was another "… actual moment in time where everything changes …"

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Great Britain King Henry VIII had his own political battle going with the Church of Rome.

Tradition holds that Joseph of Arimathea was apparently an uncle to the Virgin Mary and a great-uncle to Jesus – on His mother's side. Uncle Joseph lent his own sepulcher to his Grand-nephew only to find it empty Easter morning. Joseph, a silent eye witness to the Passion events, was reportedly the first to bring the Gospel to England, landing in Glastonbury and supposedly founding the abbey there. So in the late Sixth Century when Augustine was dispatched to Britain by Pope Gregory the Great to Christianize King Ethelbert and the Anglo Saxons he found a rudimentary Christian church already in place but disconnected from the rest of Christendom and in need.

Augustine brought a fresh infusion of the Gospel and reorganized the struggling Church and was named the first Archbishop of Canterbury, establishing the oldest bishopric in England, and from whom all other Archbishops of Canterbury are numbered. Rowan Williams is the 104th man to hold the title Archbishop of Canterbury signing himself "Rowan Cantuar" or simply Rowan of Canterbury.

The first clause of the Magna Carta, penned in 1215 during the reign of King John of England, emphatically declares: "In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate …"

The Church in England has always struggled for her national identity. Then in the 16th Century along comes King Henry VIII and before his royal reign is over another watershed moment will wash over the Church and Christ's fragmenting Body will again be torn when the Church-IN-England becomes the Church-OF-England. In 1534 Henry VIII went from being the Defender of the Faith to declaring himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and overthrowing the spiritual authority and temporal power of the Roman Pontiff on British soil, and in one fell swoop Anglicanism – as a formalized religious expression – was fast becoming the Established Church. This became another "…point in time when nothing after will ever be the same as before …" setting up centuries of spiritual discord, distrust and Catholic discrimination which filters on down to this very day in England.

Anglicanism prides itself as being the "Via Media", or the middle way, between the ritual and rigors of Roman Catholicism and the "Five Solas" theology of Evangelical Protestantism. However in the intervening 500 years Anglicanism itself is now splintered dividing into several strictly Anglican branches proclaiming unity with the Archbishop of Canterbury and separating into many Continuing Anglican bodies and Anglican-like entities which have Anglican roots and heritage but are not in direct communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury nor do they participate in the four unifying Anglican Instruments of Communion. Many aren't even in communion with each other.

The Church of Rome was so shaken by the ultimate turn of events in England and the spiritual unrest in Europe that in 1545 the Council of Trent was convened to solidify Catholic doctrine in an attempt to stem the tide of the Protestant Reformation sweeping the continent. This is when the Latin Tridentate Mass was formalized, which has become a beloved version of the traditional Catholic Mass that has stood the test of time even down to this day. Again the Council of Trent became a "…critical turning point…" in the life of the Church.

"I want to throw open the windows of the Church …" Pope John XXIII declared in 1959, thus ushering in another watershed moment for the Church in the form of Vatican II. This was another "… actual moment in time…" during the tumultuous 1960s "…where everything changes…"

Now comes a tremendous watershed moment for Anglicans "… a point in time when nothing after will ever be the same as before …" This historic watershed moment comes at the hands of Pope Benedict XVI who throws opens the doors of the Catholic Church to welcome back into her fold the Anglican brothers and sisters who have been away for almost 500 years.

The door was first cracked open in England on New Year's Day 2011. And now the door will be flung wide open in the United States on Jan. 1, 2012 for those who feel drawn by the Holy Spirit to humbly and gratefully walk through with their heads held high.

It is a thrilling thing to watch this spiritual event unfold. To be a witness to history and to record the story for future generations to ponder as finally Christ's priestly prayer of unity is starting to be fulfilled – one soul at a time which is "…a critical turning point…" in that person's life, faith walk and salvation.

Only a handful of these time-altering watershed moments have happened in the two thousand year long life of the Church and only a few people have been on hand to witness them. Some of these blessed few have included: the Virgin Mary … St. John the Divine … Augustine of Canterbury … Martin Luther … Henry VIII … Pope Leo X … Archbishop Cranmer … John Fisher … Pope John XXIII … Rowan Williams …

As Jan. 1, 2012 approaches all of us will be privileged to be witnesses to an incredible historic watershed moment in the life of the Church "… an actual moment where everything changes … " and "… a point in time when nothing after will ever be the same as before …"



—Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

7 thoughts on “"…A Watershed Moment…"”

  1. If I recall correctly the author was present at our first Gathering at Our Lady of the Atonement Parish and she is Catholic, too.

  2. Indeed. I should add that the Church takes great care of those people with a particular patrimony, no matter how few they are: I have recently discovered that another Ordinariate, the Ordinariate of Gherla for Armenian-Catholics in Romania has only a little more than 500 faithfuls in two parishes. And yet they are recognised as a sui juris Church, with their own ordinary…

    + PAX et BONUM

  3. the Virgin Mary … St. John the Divine … Augustine of Canterbury … Martin Luther … Henry VIII … Pope Leo X … Archbishop Cranmer … John Fisher … Pope John XXIII … Rowan Williams … in one list! Beginning with the Blessed Virgin (Ummu'llah) and ending with Rowan Williams. Who would have thought these individuals had something so uinique in common?

  4. Overall this ais a very helpful little essay. She offers some good historical perspective, and i think her notion of watershed events is certainly applicable to AC. I was also pleased to see that David Virtue published it.

    I would note a few factual errors, of which one in particular is very instructive. The church was not really as united as she claims prior to 1054. There are two schisms worthy of note. The Nestorian schism still exists in the Assyrian church of the East, although it is very small. My chiropractor is an Assyrian Catholic, part of the group from that church that reunited with the Holy See.

    The other group is the Oriental Orthodox Churches. This is, and continues to be, a major schism. It compromises six churches: the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India) and Armenian Apostolic churches. Together they comprise some 82 million; and have probably suffered the most severe persecution in their history of any of the major Christian groups.

    They are important not only for this reason, but also for the reasons and consequences of the schism. They separated over the doctrine of the two natures after the Council of Chalcedon. I do not doubt this doctrine was a necessary and useful development in Christology, but the schism in fact had far more to do with the aggressiveness and overreaching of the Eastern Roman Emperor than with any real dogmatic difference: if you look at how St. Cyril and his successors use the Greek word nature, "physis", it means much more "person" than nature. The result of this schism left the door open to Muslim invasion and conquest of many Christian lands, with disastrous consequences for the faith.

    Like the later schism between Constantinople and Rome, it had far more to do with pride, prestige, bigotry, and the desire for control and strict uniformity as a sign of control than with doctrinal issues. To this day, for instance, the Eastern Orthodox patriarchiates of Antioch and Alexandria use the Byzantine rite, and not the native rites of those sees.

    Sadly these destructive qualities that largely caused this schism have been amply demonstrated and continue to be demonstrated by those in both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and thus continue, to this day, to be a source of division and discord among Christians, severely harming the Church's mission. For this reason, while I believe in Chalcedon and in the papacy, I cannot help but be sympathetic to the Oriental Orthodox churches, who have produced and are producing many martyrs, and who have a talent for tolerance and diversity among those with whom they are in communion, from which we might learn.

    1. The orthodox Church, a talent for tolerance??? Ask the Byzantine Catholics… The orthodox Church was Stalin's best ally in eradicating the Catholic religion in USSR!

      + PAX et BONUM

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