John Hunwicke responds to Edwin Barnes’s notion of personal prelature and adds a few ideas of his own

It is a long time since anything Anglican has cheered me up very much; but Bishop Barnes’ paper (December New Directions) did just that. It gave me something to hope for and something to Affirm: and that is exactly what I felt I needed.

Let me admit: I do have some sympathy with “Affirming” Catholics; because we are supposed to be in the business of Affirming the Good News – and, at first sight, ‘Thou Shalt Not Have Women Priests’ looks grim and stern and negative rather than joyous and liberating. I would like to see our Integrity as the real Affirmers, and the ones with the joyful vision, rather than as a sad group of people who hope to be able to survive. And what the Bishop has offered us to work for and to Affirm is a vision of Christian Unity. I believe that we should refuse to let his call gradually become a yellowing page in a back-number of New Directions; or a pious aspiration for the middle- or long-term. What better moment is there than God’s Now?

Our vision, surely, must be a place, with a united East and West, for the inheritance and faith-history of Catholic Anglicanism. for while it is true that the Orthodox Churches are currently having problems in their relationships with Rome, partly in the aftermath of the collapse of communism, there is a strong underlying current of rapprochement between Byzantium and Rome. We, surely, have a vested interest in this, anyway: Catholic Anglicans have long had a warm sympathy for and interest in Orthodoxy; yet we are natural subjects of the Western Patriarchate.

It is my own belief that God is calling us to discover ways in which we, from within our tradition and faith-history, can understand, accept and willingly affirm what two Vatican Councils have defined about the Pope’s “Petrine” ministry. But, as a community with a tradition, we share with the Orthodox the fact of separation from Rome and the fact that the Roman doctrinal consolidations of recent centuries have taken place in our absence. We have, many of us, a natural sympathy for post-Vatican II Western Catechism, and, many of us, a desire to accept the ministry of Unity which the Successor of Peter has within the Communion of the Churches. (I for one, have trouble understanding how any Catholic Anglican could read Dom Gregory Dix’s skilful explanation of the Decrees of Vatican I and still have problems. But our Group Remembrance is of division. Might we not have some ministry in the convergence of the Great Churches?)

“What now?” asks Bishop Edwin, “If the PEVs were able to persuade another church, whether Orthodox or Catholic, that the faith of the traditionalist part of the Church of England was, indeed, recognisably that of the whole church and was a distinct prelature, is it unthinkable that such a prelature might enter into a new relationship with that other part of the Universal Church, while remaining part of the Church of England?”

May I make four brief observations?

(1) We should get rid of the problems which Rome still has about Anglican orders by institutionalising, within our Prelature – yes, let’s start calling it that – a process of sub conditione ordination (perhaps with Dutch help?) such that our orders and sacraments are beyond any question from a Vatican standpoint. I would willingly accept sub conditione ordination twice weekly if it would help to put the divisions of the past truly behind us. And the PEVs, when ordaining new clergy, should incorporate the prayer of ordination from the Roman rite. “The Question of Anglican Orders” is a question which need not exist.

(2) If our Prelature were to be found to have grown into a canonically unimpaired relationship with the See of Peter, what a source of joy this would be. But we would still find ourselves “wounded” by an imperfect relationship with our friends further East, for whom we would retain numerous and urgent ecumenical obligations. If our explorations left impairments in our relationship with Rome but full acceptance from, say, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, there would again be a mixture of joy and sorrow: sorrow that we had still not succeeded in fully internalising among our communities the Petrine ministry of Unity. But we would still have, in the eyes of Rome, the same position as Orthodox particular churches both in theory and in practice.

Theory: a particular local church (bishops, priests, people) separated from Rome is “united to the Catholic Church… and therefore merits the title of a particular Church. Indeed, through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature, for in every valid celebration of the Eucharist the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church becomes truly present” (Letter of the CDF, 28/5/1992, para. 17, which goes on to say that such a Church is “wounded” by the separation, just as the Roman unity itself is wounded by the separation.)

The present Pope has encouraged the habit of referring “to the particular or local Churches gathered around their bishop” – he has in mind the orthodox – “as sister Churches” (Ut Unum Sint para. 55) and has twice said “the Church of Christ is one. If divisions exist, that is one thing; they must be overcome, but the Church is one, the Church of Christ between East and West can only be one, one and united.” (Orientale Lumen para. 20). He called for an attempt at unity “perhaps even going beyond the forms already tried in history”. May we not see Bishop Barnes’ prophetic article as a response to these exciting words?

Practice: the Ecumenical Directory of 1993 (para. 122ff) “allowed and encouraged” sharing “even of the Eucharist” between Roman Catholics and Orthodox who share with them a valid Ministry and Eucharist: Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and the anointing of the sick to members of the Eastern churches who ask for these sacraments of their own free will and are properly disposed.” In effect, we would be in a situation of what used to be called “Intercommunion” with our local Roman Catholics.

(3) Finally, the means. I have not see much discussion of some recent remarks of the Pope himself which clearly refer to ARCIC (23 August, 1995). Observing that within a single communion it is not rare to notice differing doctrinal trends, with divergences concerning even the substance of the faith”, he went on: “It is… necessary to recognize that the broad doctrinal diversity existing in [ecclesial communities of the post-Reformation] makes the full reception of the results achieved [by bodies like ARCIC] somewhat difficult within the communities.”

Absolutely. ARCIC is an irrelevant talking-shop. What we need are new bodies for dialogue between one Prelature and the Great Churches – bodies which will be able to Affirm because they will have that doctrinal homogeneity which ARCIC has always lacked.

John Hunwicke is Head of Theology at Lancing College.