Saturday, January 26, 2008

may they be one

Last springtime, I walked into the Anglican parish church in the draughty old fen. It was the first time since my early teens that I'd attended a liturgy that wasn't Roman Catholic (the term non-Catholic annoys me, its exclusion is so inclusive).

The last time had been for a nephew's Baptism at the local Church of Scotland. I'd never seen an altar without candles before, or experienced a Service made up forthe most part of preaching - to which the congregation listened raptly! In a typical RC church, if the priest dare preach a homily (sermon) that lasts more than 7-8 minutes then people start shuffling, bulletins are conspicuously read, and cases of acute bronchitis spring up all over the place.

Anyway, as I walked through the old wooden doors, all at once several things didn't happen: there was no lightning-storm, the floor didn't swallow me up, angels failed to weep, and nobody ran about in a panic because a left-footer had entered their midst. I found - just as I find in my RC church in Cantabrigia - a gentle, well-paced liturgy with an intelligent sermon and pauses just long enough to let the gravity and joy of what the celebration is about sink in.

The disagreement between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches on the validity or otherwise of Anglican orders was brought to a head in 1896 when Pope Leo XIII published Apostolicae Curae "derecognising" Anglican orders; the penultimate paragraph states that the contents of the encyclical "are and shall be always valid and in force and shall be inviolably observed". The reply from Canterbury, prepared under Archbishop Edward Benson and published by his successor, Archbishop Frederick Temple, all but ends no less thunderously: "that error, which is inveterate in the Roman communion, of substituting the visible head for the invisible Christ, will rob his [Pope Leo's] good works of any fruit of peace."

Arguably, there may have been a perception in Rome that the fallout of the ritualist controversy that troubled Victorian Anglicanism may have caused more to follow in the steps of John Henry Newman, and that Apostolicae Curae might be both the stick and the carrot that would aid individuals to "cross the Tiber". So we then had the curiously-shaped triangle whereby the Roman Catholic Church recognised the orders of most of the Eastern churches (despite the split of 1054 not being due to political and other relations but to a fundamental difference regarding the nature of the Holy Trinity Itself), the Eastern churches recognised the orders of the Anglican Communion, but the Roman Catholic church did not recognisethe orders of the Anglican Communion. Convert the terms into x, y and z, and the resulting equation would give an algebraist apoplexy.

Things have not stayed so, thank God. In the RC church we had the Second Vatican Council, which today is unfortunately infamous for changes in the church which many see as not for the best, but blame for which cannot be fairly laid at its door...but that's another story. Para 13 of 1964's Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism) states that "among those [Communions separated from the Holy See] in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place". Shortly after the Council was closed, Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited Pope Paul VI and they composed a joint declaration, summarised by one particular passage:

This encounter of 23 March 1966 marks a new stage in the development of fraternal relations, based upon Christian charity, and of sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and re-establish unity.

The favour was returned when Pope John Paul II knelt in prayer with Archbishop Runcie in Canterbury Cathedral.

A continuing dialogue between the Anglican Communion and and the Roman Catholic church has been maintained bu ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) I and II and IARCCUM.

Unfortunately, this dialogue has slowed almost to a stall because of Rome's opposition to the ordination of women. Since many of those Catholics who still hold Apostolicae Curae as infallible are also against the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion this opposition is unusual, as by their lights Anglican orders are invalid anyway. But an interesting footnote occurred in 1994 when the Anglican Bishop Graham Leonard converted to Catholicism and was "conditionally ordained" following a statement by Cardinal Hume voicing "prudent doubt concerning the invalidity of priestly ordination received by an individual Anglican minister".

Like many Anglican priests, Fr Graham was converting in protest at the ordination of women. As the point where the case against female bishops becomes unanswerable, perhaps Rome sees the Tiber as swimmable once more. So we have the situation where male clerics who are opposed to female ordinations become Roman Catholics, sometimes on that single issue alone, which sets back the cause for the ordination of women and married cradle Catholics, but strengthens the supporters of the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion and weakens them in the RC church.

Personally, I hope to see a day in the Roman Catholic Church when gender or marital status will not be a barrier to ordination. I do not say this lightly, because the Pope says otherwise: and if you're a Roman Catholic, then it's a basic tenet of how you practice your faith that you try to be obedient to the Pope.

On the other hand, supporters of the Priestly Society of [Pope] St Pius X (SSPX), who hear Mass according to the Tridentine Rite, have an interesting take on obedience. They say obedience (an evangelical counsel) to Papal authority must be at the service of faith (a theological virtue).

Someday, maybe Rome will listen to the many of us who yearn for equality of all sorts in the Church. It has always been a listening and responding organization - for example, the Council of Trent, first convened in 1545, addressed the challenges raised by the Reformation; Pope Leo XIII (of Apostolicae Curae fame) wrote Rerum Novarum in 1891 to propose a middle way between communism and unbridled capitalism - and, of course, the Apostles found a middle way between the differing evangelical needs of Jewish and Gentile converts to the incipient Christian church in the Council of Jerusalem of Acts 15.

Late last year, I went to an Advent Fair in the draughty old fen in the village centre. Both the Rector, who voluntarily lives as a single person, and her Curate, who attended with her young family, were present. I am sure that the gift each of them gives to the community, which is not fixed to their priesthood as a necessary condition of it, is all the more valuable for having been freely chosen.

Perhaps the last word, for now, belongs to the final paragraph of the Benson/Temple reply to Leo XIII:

God grant that, even from this controversy, may grow fuller knowledge of the truth, greater patience, and a broader desire for peace, in the Church of Christ the Savior of the world.


  1. And one more thing: Equality does not mean Sameness. Equality for women in the Church does not equate to Sameness with Men. How could it, even outside of the Church, in reality? When women assume identical roles to men it does not MAKE them equals. Seems to me it makes their sex seem inferior, as if they cannot be seen to have equal worth unless they are doing Men's Work - as if Women's Work were not worth every bit as much as Men's Work.

    I would much rather be a homemaker and spend the larger part of my day taking care of and educating (in more ways than schoolwork!) my children, than work in an office with a bunch of men. I think the former job is worth vastly more to society as a whole, too, whether society appreciates it or no.

  2. I couldn't agree more with you. A movement which started out saying that women should have the choice how to live their lives ended up saying that there was something wrong with women if they didn't out-"man" men in the field of work - as Labour/Lib Dem politician Shirley Williams put it, women have to "lead two lives". In workplaces I've experienced, in fact, women who want to get on can only get to a certain grade by doing the work equivalent to two or three grades above that post.

    I'm dead set againt the "melting pot" ideology that says we are all the same, whether that be in terms of ethnicity or gender. I value the "differentness" that women can bring to the priesthood.

    My wife's visiting her parents right now; when she comes back I'm going to show her your comment about being a homemaker. With the hassle she's had for being a housewife, predominantly for women, I think she'll appreciate it!

  3. What I've seen of women "priests" has not been admirable. Even the less than satisfactory male priests have been far (far) preferable. There has always seemed an element of paganism buried within. (Jungian psychology comes to mind.) It scares me. I don't believe it is their intentions that are bad, but good intentions misplaced are often (very often) dangerous.

    To my knowledge, there have been no women priests in all of Judaic history. Seems to me there must be a reason beyond "disrespect for women". Probably a good one, I should think.


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