Our judgements are inevitably egocentric. Global events, historic breakthroughs, momentous sweeps of history, are judged by how they impact us and ours.
Not all that long ago I was invited by a small Brit congregation of ours to talk about hopes for reconciliation with Rome. One lady said, "I don't approve of Catholics. When I'm visiting my granddaughter I go to her church but they won't allow me to receive holy communion." I was able to answer, "But if this thing goes through, you will be able to, and when she visits you she can communicate alongside you at this altar rail. No names no pack drill, but there is a loving couple. The husband communicates here and the wife goes to the Roman church. If this thing goes through they'll no longer be divided. What's more, if your rector slips on black ice and breaks both knee caps the Roman priest could step in and take your service to help out. Alternatively, if the Roman priest breaks his knee caps your rector could step in to help them. What's more, if you are holidaying in Scotland or Wales you won't find a single solitary Traditional Anglican parish in either country, but you'd be welcome at Catholic altars – anywhere in the world for that matter. Perhaps RC bishops may give, rent or sell us a few of their churches, allow our smaller groups the permanent use of side chapels in their larger buildings". I couldn't add – because the event had not yet happened – that recently in the USA when a small community of Anglican nuns had been received into the Roman church, not even waiting for the "thing" to go through, some Roman clergy had started learning how to celebrate the [Anglican Use] for the benefit of the sisters.
"In that case", said the lady, "I'm all for unity. I don't know whose bright new idea this is, but I support it". I protested that the idea was not new, "You know that in 1950-something Archbishop Fisher went to meet the Pope; that in 1960-something Archbishop Ramsey did ditto; that they set up a dialogue called Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, ARCIC for short, which sent for two dozen years or so; that this dialogue produced a series of agreed statements about doctrine. Perhaps you studied these statements in your own parish or together with your Catholic neighbours. You know that in 1980-something Pope John Paul II went to meet Archbishop Runcie in Canterbury cathedral; that Prince Charles was present. You know that the Prince once attended the Pope's private chapel but could not receive. You know that every Archbishop since Ramsey had been to meet the Pope." No, said the lady, she didn't read the papers much, listen to the news much, she had no idea about any of this. Besides, the papers tended to garble religious news. (What a mercy she had not so as heard of the blogosphere where dwells the father of lies, the spirit of malevolence). All the lady knew was that when she was a little girl her mother wouldn't let her play with the Catholic neighbours because Catholics were not quite nice.
When I myself imagine how this Roman thing might impact others, I am delighted for some of them. I think of a couple on the Prairies who live hundreds of miles from the nearest ACCC parish. Yes, they travel when they can but given the winters and the distance, this is not all that often. Yes, they are ecumenically minded and help as much as they can in local Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman parishes, but now they'll be able to receive in the last of these. The new situation may do little to disturb the even tenor of our well established parishes but it may be of great benefit to smaller groups and individuals, to say nothing of travellers at home and abroad. But even well established parishes may be glad of, say, extra musical help on special occasions, of a pulpit exchange now and then, of joint charitable work, perhaps for Pro Life.
My regret is that this Roman thing was not a possibility thirty years ago. (Even then I was involved in optimistic dialogue: Pope John Paul II preached at Prayer Book Evensong in my former cathedral.) We had in Matabeleland a saintly country parson whom we thought of as our George Herbert. He was a late vocation. He had been a farmer and a high school teacher. English lit was his thing. His father had been a missionary bishop in Mozambique and in South Africa. John's wife was an equally devout RC. We thought of them as an ecumenical movement all on their own. She kept open the house in the rectory, did the altar guild, played the organ, cleaned the church, attended all of our services. John did handyman jobs in her church, worked for their fête, attended as many of their services as he could. How delighted every RC and Anglican in that Valley would have been to see John and Jo kneeling side by side at the communion rail, to have had the RC priest at our altar, to have had John at their altar.
As for mission in Matabeleland, why did we and Romans have to be rivals when engaged in primary evangelism? There was little Sindebele literature for either of us. We were both in need of prayers and hymns, of music, of schools, of clinics, of rural churches, of catechists and clergy. We faced the same droughts, poverty, civil war. Did we have to duplicate everything?
As for me in my small corner, I am ecstatic: what I've been praying for since my teens. I rejoice in being Anglican and in all the gifts God has lavished upon our own tradition, but now I can be in communion with the Bishop of Rome as well. (I'm writing this on the day we remember C. S. Lewis.) The Australian theologian, Mrs Tracey Rowland, has written Ratzinger's Faith. In the chapter on ecumenism she reports, "He stated that Catholics cannot demand that all other churches be disbanded and their members individually be incorporated into the Catholic church. He hoped the hour would come when churches entering into unity would remain in existence as churches, with only those modifications which unity necessarily requires". I am delighted that he thinks of the church as a communion of people in Christ rather than an administrative institution, though even antinomian I who see Galatians as the best text book on canon law, recognize that any large body of people need agreed "rules of the road" for freedom and safety of movement.
Like his three immediate predecessors in thinking globally, one of whom said the church has two lungs, East and West, and that these lungs should breathe in harmony, Pope Benedict recognizes that rapprochement between Orthodoxy and the Western church is the most urgent ecumenical goal. Mrs Rowland quotes him, "Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of the primacy than was formulated and was lived in the first millennium … the West would recognize the East as orthodox and legitimate in the form she has always had." A sense of realism about the fissiparous and unstable nature of Continuing Anglicanism, and about the fissiparous nature of Orthodoxy, discourages us from thinking that the tiny Traditional Anglican Communion on its own can heal the breach between East and West, apart from "the great Latin Church of the West", as the Lambeth conference of 1920 called the RC church. Increasingly warm relations between Pope Benedict and at least the Russian Orthodox are hopeful.
I rejoice that two brethren of the CR [Community of the Resurrection], Bishop Charles Gore and Bishop Walter Frere, participated in the Malines Conversations, unity talks between Anglicans and RC's held in Belgium in the years 1921-1925. The most recent book about these Conversations is 'A Brother Knocking at the Door' by Bernard Barlow. Chevetonge is a monastery in Belgium founded by a Pope to pray for unity between East and West. Some of the monks observe the Rule of St Basil and use the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Other monks observe the Rule of St Benedict and use the RC liturgy. The first Abbot was Dom Lambert Beauduin who also took an interest in Anglicanism. He gave us the lapidary sentence, "An Anglican church absorbed by Rome and an Anglican church separated from Rome are equally inadmissible". He gave us the proverb 'United but not absorbed'. But even Malines was not a novelty. Bernard and Margaret Pawley have written Rome and Canterbury Through Four Centuries, an historical account of off and on dialogue down the years. Canon Pawley of St Paul's cathedral in London was the Anglican church's first resident ambassador to the Vatican and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Even to this day large numbers of Anglicans and Romans do not know that there is an official operating out of such a Centre. In TAC's current relations with Rome we are nothing if not traditionally Anglican.
The whole Christian church faces increasingly dark years. Islam, the decline and fall of the West, the rising economic and military might of China. I am inevitably egocentric but even I should try to think globally. The church is not only personal, it is also universal, catholic, according to the whole, kata holos, as our Canadian Prayer Book puts it, "Let us pray for Christ's Holy Catholic Church", or as the South African Prayer Book puts it, "Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church".
+Robert Mercer, CR
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