Author’s note: I wrote the first draft of this article in June 2010, before the organization of the first ordinariates. Since then, an ordinary has been appointed in England and Wales and the canonical structures that will sustain him and his flock have begun to fall into place. Nonetheless, there is comparatively little in my original text in terms of commentary, prescriptions and predictions that I would alter. My few changes have been added in bracketed italics. The illustrations accompanying this article are taken or digitally adapted from the late Michael Francis McCarthy’s excellent Manual of Ecclesiastical Heraldry (Thylacine, 2005) unless otherwise noted.
Of all the elements that will constitute the cultural patrimony of the new ordinariates, one of the most colorful and intriguing may be the rich heraldic tradition of Anglicanism. It also may prove to be the most under-appreciated, given the continuing neglect of this ancient science in the Catholic Church and in the wider world. In spite of this unfortunate disinterest in the shorthand of history, the dogged pursuit of heraldic scholarship and good armorial design in a few lucky corners of the Catholic world gives us much reason to hope.
While the Anglican patrimony, as Pope Benedict conceives it, is more than simple Englishness, it is significant that Britain maintains one of the purest and most beautiful armorial systems in the world. After a period of decadence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it has become a model to heraldists everywhere in its preservation of precedent, its emphasis on clarity, and its ability to adapt and invent where necessary. This tradition has flowered spectacularly in some of Britain’s former colonies, with the heraldic authorities of Canada and South Africa particularly known for their handsome, distinctive designs.
Such work amply illustrates that the science of arms is by no means a forgotten or forgettable art, and deeply relevant today in our own relentlessly democratic age. American readers will note that as unimpeachable an authority as George Washington thought a system of “coat-armor,” as he called it, was a fitting ornament on a newly republican society, and his own ancestral arms became the direct inspiration for the flag of his nation’s eponymous capital. They may well have even influenced, in a more roundabout fashion, the American stars and stripes.
This rich armorial tapestry that so characterizes Britain and her cultural diaspora is also in evidence in the constituent members of the Anglican Communion. From the red cross of St. George that flies atop the square Norman tower of many a village church to the diocesan arms picked out in embroidery on the kneeling-cushions of a communion rail, there is a noble, distinctive and systematic tradition worthy of preservation and further development. However, how it will be integrated into the larger system of the heraldry of the Catholic Church, while retaining its distinct identity, is a question far more difficult to answer.
This complex issue is compounded by the unprecedented juridical composition of the ordinariates themselves. It is still unclear how many ordinariates will be erected in each country, and whether they will be composed of both former Continuing Anglican clergy and members of the local Episcopal church, or whether separate ordinariates will be established for both based on differing liturgical and cultural practices. It is possible that Australia may see two separate ordinariates for Traditional Anglican Communion members, while in the United States, the Roman Catholic parishes of the Anglican Use have already begun a close working relationship with the Ordinariate-bound parishes of the Pro-Diocese of the Holy Family.
Each of these organizations, as well as international institutions such as the Traditional Anglican Communion, have their own arms, or sort of emblem. The various member churches of the Anglican Communion, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States, and their constituent dioceses, also have their own distinctive ensigns, as do the dioceses of some T.A.C. member churches. [Particularly noteworthy is the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, which has had arms granted it by the Canadian Heraldic Authority; any successor body ought to continue their use if it is legally entitled to those arms.] The Roman Catholic Anglican Use itself has also adopted a variety of semi-official badges and insignia of their own.
All of these ought to be considered in the actual design of any arms that are devised in the future for the ordinariates. While often handsome in and of themselves, many of the arms of various Continuing Anglican groups bear a strong familial resemblance whose similarity may become more of a liability in the future. In devising arms for the new ordinariates, it is important to ensure the results are sufficiently distinct from both one another and from Anglican bodies outside the Catholic Church. Arms are, after all, first and foremost, intended to clearly identify their bearers.
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