The elusive option

Aidan Nichols OP continues his reflections on the character and development of Anglo-Catholicism by considering the possibility and practicality are moving towards an Anglican Uniate Church

The question of an Anglican Uniate Church is the question of whether all that heritage – or most of it, or a significant part of it – could be preserved in a union with Rome, not through absorption by the modern Latin-rite church in England or elsewhere, but in union with the Petrine office, whose continued steadfast guardianship of classical Catholic Christian doctrine in faith and morals remains remarkably unshaken among the squalls of the contemporary world.

In a wider context, how might the way to union with such smaller bodies – the way of Uniatism, in a word – be possible? What are its chances of success, and what the pitfalls on its way?

Coming together

There is a need for all Catholic-minded Christians to come together. For the future of Catholicity, the greatest potential rapprochement is in theory that between Rome and Orthodoxy. But the historical and emotional obstacles to this from the Orthodox side are such that in practice more is to be expected from convergences from the side of the Western communions that split off from the Latin church in the course of the modern centuries. Speaking from a Roman Catholic standpoint, this question falls in one sense outside our responsibility to answer.

It is up to bodies like the Polish National Catholic Church emerging from the Union of Utrecht, the Nordic Catholic Church emerging from the Lutheran Church of Norway, the Continuing Churches of the wider Anglicanism, and the free province of St Augustine of Canterbury, which Forward in Faith may or may not succeed in establishing, to decide what it is they ask of Rome, whether by ‘Rome’ we mean the Catholic Church generally or the Holy See. We can, however, take steps to prepare for a response from our own side.

Desire for communion

Firstly, it should hardly need to be said that groups seeking Catholic communion but retaining a distinctive ecclesial life must manifest that desire for communion by a willingness to find in and as the Word of God the doctrine of the Catholic Church in its entirety – everything taught by Peter. If you want the communion of Peter, you must have Peter’s faith. This is a sine qua non, and needs to be recognized as such.

Secondly, if we take the model of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which is the only model for Churches united but not absorbed that we have, we need to say that petitioning groups must be able to specify what it is about their distinctive patrimony that they wish to safeguard through having what used to be called a ‘ritual Church’ of their own and in the present Codes of Canon Law is termed a Church sui juris, which I think should be translated ‘by its own right’ rather than ‘with its own law’.

Anglican Catholics need to specify what it is theologically, liturgically, spiritually, that it would be both legitimate and desirable to retain in communion with Rome. This is a particular difficulty for English Anglo-Papalists who are already what one well-known representative of their number described to me as ‘Roman-rite Anglicans.’ The Book of Divine Worship produced for the Anglican Use parishes in the United States is a start here – though it may not be easy to commend it to Forward in Faith UK, whose view of anything connected with the Prayer Book tends to be ‘We can’t go back to that.’

Archbishop John Hepworth, the Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, has called it at least in private a basis for a definitive book. One reason for regarding it as not yet definitive are the criticisms put forward by well-informed orthodox-minded Latin-rite Catholics who point to the desirability of some further fine-tuning of the Cranmerian texts it includes.

Distinctive ethos

At the meeting I attended in Arlington, Texas, the Revd David Moyer, who, controversially, was ordained a suffragan bishop in the Australian Diocese of the Murray by bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion in a ceremony in his own embattled parish church in Philadelphia, spoke of the need for at least one theological college which would cultivate a distinctively Anglican Catholic ethos as well as for a married presbyterate and episcopate.

I doubt myself that Rome would permit a married episcopate, except possibly by way of dispensation for a single sacramental generation, but the theological college would certainly be indispensable. There must be some way of transmitting a tradition with a small ‘t’ within the Tradition with a capital ‘T’. One cannot be forever living from hand to mouth. This is already a problem even now for the Anglican Use parishes of the Pastoral Provision, since despite the word ‘provision’ no provision has been made for a future supply of pastors willing and able to lead their parishes on the basis of the Anglican Use.

Anglican classics

As I see it, such a college would take for its textbooks not only Roman Catholic works of impeccable orthodoxy but also within that framework Anglican ‘classics’, any deficiencies in whose doctrinal understanding would be catered for in advance through contextualization by Catholic works.

All this would have to be presented prudently to the wider Catholic public. It can certainly be pointed out that the Second Vatican Council goes out of its way, in the Decree on Ecumenism, to give a special place to Anglicanism among the ecclesial communities that emerged from the Church crisis of the sixteenth century, and assurances that whatever is valid in the patrimony of Anglican worship, thought and spirituality, could be preserved in Catholic unity have been forthcoming, if in very general terms, from post-Conciliar popes. Places to look would be, for instance, the speeches of Paul VI at the canonization of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales and of John Paul II on his visit to Canterbury Cathedral.

St Thomas Aquinas, when speaking of the variety of religious orders in the Church, liked to cite the psalm which, in its Latin version, describes the Church as circumdata varietate, surrounded by variety. The pains and purgatories of the post-conciliar period have taught us to treat ‘variety’ with some caution, since pluralism comes in two forms, the legitimate and the anarchic. But an Anglican Uniate body, defined with discernment and sensitivity, could I believe join the ranks of the Churches sui juris which give Catholicism an indispensable dimension of its plenary or holistic quality.

2017-09-27T16:25:24+00:00 October 2005 Articles|