Editor's Note: In the following review, Dr. Tighe shares a number of details concerning the dialogue between the Traditional Anglican Communion and various organs of the Holy See, which, for various reasons, have yet to appear anywhere online, including on The Anglo-Catholic. Students of the history behind the Apostolic Constitution will no doubt find both the review and Fr. Fleming's book interesting.
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CONVINCED BY THE TRUTH: EMBRACING THE FULLNESS OF CATHOLIC FAITH
by John I. Fleming
Modotti Press, 2010
(124 pages, $22.95 AUD)
To order click here.
This book, released only a few days ago on May 5, 2010, ought to be of particular and exceptional interest to all who are interested in the genesis and background of Anglicanorum Coetibus and in the deliquescence of world-wide "Anglicanism" of which it is one of the more conspicuous results. Fr. Fleming is himself a well-informed "insider:" an Australian Anglican priest from 1970 to 1987 (Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC was once his Curate), he, his wife, their three daughters and his mother became Catholics in 1987, and he was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in 1995. He is, of course, also a regular contributor to this blog.
Like Gaul, it is divided into three parts. The first part (Chs. 1-3, pp. 1-57) is autobiographical, written in the form of a letter to his three daughters, Rebecca, Jane and Jessica to explain the reasons why their parents became Catholics. The second part (Chs. 4-7, pp. 58-91) is a defense and explanation of the Mass as a Sacrifice and of Transubstantiation, written in the form of a letter to "two young friends," one a Catholic, the other an agnostic – at its end we learn that the agnostic has become a Catholic and that the two have married. The third, written together, in alternating subsections, with Archbishop Hepworth (Ch. 8, pp. 92-112) is an historical account of the TAC's relations with the Holy See up to the end of December 2009. Finally, an appendix ("The Portsmouth Petition," pp. 113-122) presents in full, for the first time published publicly, I think, the letter to the Holy See that the TAC "college of bishops" approved and delivered to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in October 2007 [Actually, we published the full text of the Petition here in January. --Ed.]. I will not discuss the second section further in this review, save to note that it is concise, direct, "user-friendly" — and convincing.
I have heard it said that Fr. Fleming left the Anglican Church of Australia over the ordination of women, specifically, over the ordination of women to the diaconate, which that church's General Synod approved in the year that he left. The book demonstrates, however, that such statements are untrue; and, in fact, he became a Catholic several months before that decision of the Australian Anglican General Synod. Rather, he had assumed throughout the years of his Anglican ministry that the Anglican churches and the Catholic Church were converging, and the growth of the movement for women's ordination (henceforth WO) first upset him because its unilateral character on the Anglican side seemed to present an obstacle to this convergence, and subsequently brought to the foreground of his thought and concern the related problems of church authority and "catholicity." In addition, as the book recounts, from the early 1980s onwards he had immersed himself in the study of Catholic moral theology and the natural law tradition of ethics, and this had slowly effected "an intellectual conversion" to the Catholic Church in his mind and heart. Possibly (he writes) he would have become a Catholic earlier had he not been dissuaded by Catholic priests who had told him that after Vatican II the Catholic Church discouraged "individual conversions" and that he should, as he was told, "stay where you are and assist the ecumenical process." Nevertheless, it should never be forgotten — and it is clear in the book — that the WO question was the issue that raised "the issue of authority" in an acute way, and which destroyed the Catholic ecclesiological credibility of Anglicanism for him.
In his Chapter 3, "Anglican Chaos — Self-Inflicted Wounds," he discusses this issue in greater detail, turning in part from the autobiographical to the expository. The most revealing sections of this chapter concern his intellectual engagement with the foremost Australian Anglican proponent of WO, Keith Rayner, Archbishop of Adelaide from 1975 to 1990 (and subsequently Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate until his retirement in 1999), who had challenged him on the issue in 1976 after he had written a newspaper column in opposition to it. He characterizes Rayner (as did an Australian historian at the time) as a "Whig historian," referring by that term to those 19th and early and mid 20th Century historians who treated British History from the Reformation onwards as "a continuous … and generally glorious story of social and political progress … such that we move onwards and upwards to better and better social and political conditions." In terms of WO, what this means is that the task of the Church and her leaders and teachers is to "accept the inevitable" and devise theological rationales not only for that acceptance, but to promote and foster it, even if that means wresting the Scriptures and denigrating the Christian dogmatic and moral Tradition to do so. This is clearly to identify the "Spirit of the Age" with the Holy Spirit (the Zeitgeist with the Heilig Geist), and it is just as clear that such an argument in favor of WO will work equally well in the matter of what I call SS (the blessing same-sex "marriages" or "life partnerships;" sanctified sodomy for short), as the more recent history of the Anglican Communion has demonstrated.
I agree with Fr. Fleming's employment of the term "Whig historian," but I prefer another: Erastian. Thomas Erastus (d. 1585) was a German Calvinist physician who in the arguments over how the church should be organized in the Rhineland Palatinate after that territory embraced Calvinism in 1562 argued that every aspect of Church organization and discipline should be controlled by the Prince (or the State), including the vital matters of the determination of doctrinal standards and the excommunication (exclusion from receiving communion) of moral offenders and doctrinal dissidents. In this he opposed those Calvinists (a minority, but who included Calvin himself) who believed that "spiritual matters" such as these should be the preserve of the clergy, assisted by those "lay elders" who were a feature of most Reformed (or Calvinist) churches wherever that particular form of Protestantism took root in Europe (save for England). "Erastianism" is the belief that the State should control the Church, and, more loosely, that the laity should have equal say (at least) with the clergy in making decisions concerning church practices (such as WO and SS today) and, implicitly at least, of the beliefs that underlie such practices.
The Church of England since the Reformation is clearly an Erastian organization. From 1534, when the English Parliament recognized Henry VIII as "Supreme Head on Earth" of the Church of England (and of Ireland) to 1554, when the legislation recognizing and enforcing that Royal Supremacy was repealed so as to allow the healing of the breach with Rome, the monarch effectively replaced the Pope locally as head of the Church of England, and in practice exercised a far more thoroughgoing and despotic power over it than popes ever did, unlimited in legal theory by anything except his (or her) will and conscience; but after 1559, when the English Parliament conferred the title and authority of "Supreme Governor" on Elizabeth I, that power was, in legal theory if not (initially) always in practice, not so much a "personal" endowment of the monarch, but one conferred upon that "political construct," the King-(or Queen)-in-Parliament, in other words, upon the State as such; and as the monarch's political power and role in government has declined and become purely "formal" over the past three centuries, that has become plainly apparent. In 1994 the British judiciary formally ruled, in a case brought by a clergyman of the Church of England, Paul Stewart Williamson, to try to prevent the first ordinations of women in the Church of England on the basis that such ordinations were incompatible with the doctrinal standards of the Church of England, that such arguments were irrelevant: even if they were true, Parliament was the ultimate authority in determining the doctrine of the Church of England, and in enacting legislation to allow for WO, Parliament had altered the doctrine of the Church of England to allow WO, for the doctrine of the Church of England was whatever Parliament determined that doctrine to be — a decision confirmed in 1996 and 1997; see here.
Outside England, no Anglican church is an Established Church. The Rev'd Dr. Geoffrey Kirk, however, the Vicar of St. Stephen's, Lewisham, and long a leading figure in the Forward-in-Faith/UK organization, has coined the felicitous contrast of "the Established Church" in referring to the Church of England, and "the Church of the Establishment" for The Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC for short), "the Establishment" being the upper-crust elite (or those that fancy themselves as such) who attempt to determine policy and influence public opinion in accordance with their opinions and sentiments — in other words, those whose views are considered to constitute "bien-pensant public opinion." No doubt such a phrase would apply as well in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, to mention only a few. So alongside the legal "Erastianism" of the Church of England I postulate a "Social Erastianism" in the United States and elsewhere that operates to the same end of conforming the doctrine and practice of Anglican churches to the promptings of the Zeitgeist. Beside the obvious examples of WO and SS, we can see the same process at work earlier in the 1930 Lambeth Conference's acceptance of the practice of contraception (earlier Lambeth Conferences in 1908 and 1920 had condemned contraceptive practice unreservedly) and in the widespread acceptance of remarriage-after-divorce, even "church remarriage," in TEC since the 1950s and in England since the 1980s (from 1604 onwards the Church of England had the strictest stance against remarriage after divorce of any Christian church, not excluding the Catholic Church).
The last section, concerning the TAC background of Anglicanorum Coetibus, will perhaps attract most attention. It stems from sources intimately involved in the process, and nothing that I can write on it is nearly so well-informed. But it may not be amiss to suggest that it is not a complete account, and that some aspects of that history await their proper narrative. The first half of Chapter 8 (pp. 92-99), Fr. Fleming's portion, begins with an account of his continuing affectionate concern for Anglicanism and then, after a brief account of the origins of the TAC and its founding in 1990 and of the TAC's "first contact" with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) in 1991 and that PCPCU's subsequent seeming indifference to further approaches from the TAC, moves rapidly to the luncheon meeting on December 28, 2005 between Archbishop Hepworth and Bishop Chislett of the TAC and Fr. Fleming at which the approach of the TAC petitioning the Holy See for "corporate reunion … without conditions," including the bishops of the TAC all individually signing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as a token of their unconditional acceptance of all of the dogmatic and moral teachings of the Catholic Church was presented to the group by Fr. Fleming and accepted on the spot by the two Anglican bishops — proposals which had been accepted by synods of TAC bishops throughout the world by the time that all the TAC bishops and vicars general signed the Catechism and petitioned Rome for reunion in Portsmouth, England, on October 5, 2007. The second portion, from Archbishop Hepworth (pp. 99-112) begins with his investiture as TAC Primate in November 2003, and the agreement of the TAC bishops present at that event to seek for corporate unity with the Holy See, although he also mentioned the polite "brush-off" that he received from the PCPCU when he approached that body some little time before his investiture, as well as the significant contacts which he made in Rome when he travelled there in spite of the cool response to his approaches from the PCPCU. It then goes on, after briefly mentioning the December 28, 2005 luncheon meeting, to describing how synods of the English Province, the Southern African province, the Indian province, the American province and the Canadian province of the TAC all endorsed the proposal between early 2006 and April 2007, and how in 2007 he received word from the CDF in Rome that Hepworth and others would be cordially welcome to come to Rome immediately after the conclusion of the TAC Plenary Synod in October of that year to meet with the American Dominican Fr. Joseph Augustine DiNoia (then Undersecretary of the CDF, the third-ranking member of that dicastery, now, as Archbishop DiNoia, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and second-ranking member of that dicastery) to report on the synod. It was at that synod that all the TAC bishops and vicars general signed the letter to the CDF that appears as "The Portsmouth Petition" in the appendix to the book under review, and signed also the CCC and its Compendium. After the conclusion of the synod, Archbishop Hepworth and Bishops Robert Mercer and Peter Wilkinson of the TAC travelled to Rome to present the petition and other documents at the meeting with Fr. DiNoia, who, after responding "This is a moment of history!" assured the bishops of his enthusiasm and support for their petition. Archbishop Hepworth's account goes on to discuss their subsequent wait, the arrival of word from Rome in July 2008 that all was going well — but at the same time a hint that the CDF was aiming at creating a structure that could embrace a wider portion of "the Anglican Diaspora" than the TAC — an intimation early in 2009 that the CDF's proposal was encountering opposition in Rome, and, finally, the announcement of the news conferences in October 2009 at which the Vatican's decision was announced, the formal release of Anglicanorum Coetibus on November 9, 2009 and the letter from Cardinal Levada to the archbishop of December 16, 2009 which constituted the formal Roman acceptance of the TAC's petition of October 2007.
What remains to be told is the full story of the TAC's dealings with the PCPCU during the years, 1989 to 2001, when Edward Idris, Cardinal Cassidy was President of that body, dealings which came to an end as Archbishop Falk and the other TAC bishops slowly came to realize that the cardinal's "bonhommie" concealed a lack of any real interest in pursuing substantive conversations with the TAC; and then, also, concerning the manner in which the TAC's attempt to renew its dealings with the PCPCU after Walter, Cardinal Kasper succeeded Cassidy as its President met only with silence — until a fortuitous and hastily-arranged meeting in (I think) Lent 2002 between Archbishop Falk and an influential Curial cardinal who was visiting in America resulted in that cardinal's making a direct personal approach on behalf of the TAC to the late Pope John Paul II, who, in turn, made his displeasure at the PCPCU's unresponsiveness known to those concerned with it. The result was an "early retirement" on the part of a PCPCU bureaucrat, and a reopening of long-blocked avenues of communication. Then there is the story of how the Prefect of the CDF, one Cardinal Ratzinger, became aware of the fact that the TAC was seeking "corporate reunion" and not "ecumenical dialogue," and of how, as a result, at some point in the course of 2003, responsibility for the conduct of Roman relations with the TAC was removed from the PCPCU and given to the CDF, with the provision, however, for the inclusion of Cardinal Kasper of the PCPCU among those who were to be kept apprised of how the conversations developed. Or so I have been told — although in that case I find it hard to understand how Cardinal Kasper can in recent years so consistently have "misstated" the nature and purpose of the TAC's dealings with Rome, insisting as recently as November 2009 that the provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus were intended primarily for "elements" in the Church of England, and only incidentally, if at all, for the TAC. That there remain aspects of the story of the TAC's dealings with Rome that have yet to be told does not detract in the least from the immense importance and salience to present events and future prospects of this ever engaging account, for which we owe its author our gratitude and thanks.
I urge all readers of The Anglo-Catholic to obtain copies of this book for themselves, which they may do through the link that I have placed at the top of this review.
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