Fr. Rear, 11/6/2009

This offer was 400 years in the making


Fr Michael Rear says that new provisions for the reception of Anglicans should not surprise those who are familiar with English history

Years before Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, and absolved the people of England from their allegiance to her (at a stroke turning Catholics into traitors), years before the threat of a Catholic invasion and plots to unseat her, Pope Pius IV had invited the Queen to send Anglican bishops to the Council of Trent, and, it was rumoured, was willing to approve the use of the Book of Common Prayer in the English Church.

The next initiative came not from Rome but from King James I, who wrote to Pope Pius V offering to recognise his spiritual supremacy and reunite the English Church to Rome, if only the Pope would disclaim political sovereignty over kings. The offer was rejected. Too late would a new pope, Urban III, succeed to the papacy two years before James died, and declare: "We know that we may declare Protestants excommunicated, as Pius V declared Queen Elizabeth of England, and before him Clement VII the King of England, Henry VIII... But with what success? The whole world can tell. We yet bewail it in terms of blood. Wisdom does not teach us to imitate Pius V or Clement VII."

Hopes ran high under Urban VIII. Archbishop Laud of Canterbury mentions in his journal that on the very day he was appointed he was seriously offered the dignity of being a cardinal. Nothing more is known of this mysterious offer, but soon a Benedictine monk, Dom Leander, was sent to England by the pope to report on the English Church. Dom Leander, a close friend of Archbishop Laud from their student days, had been expelled on suspicion of being a Catholic from St John's College, Oxford, where they had shared a room.

Dom Leander made extensive contact with Anglican bishops and his report was optimistic and lengthy.

"In the greater number of the articles of the faith the English Protestants are truly orthodox... they contend they have been treated unworthily as heretics and schismatic; that greater differences than theirs were tolerated by the Council of Florence; and that the importance of Great Britain and its dependencies renders it an object of as much importance to reconcile her to the Roman Church, and as much worthwhile to call a special council for the purpose, as it could have been to obtain the reconciliation of the Greeks." But he did note that the Puritans were very numerous and fierce. Dom Leander suggested a way of reconciling "moderate Papists and moderate Protestants". This was by allowing:

1) Communion under both kinds;
2) Marriage of the clergy;
3) Liturgy in English;
4) The admittance of English Protestant clergy to benefices (coming to agree in points of faith) either by re-ordination sub conditione, or by way of commenda;
5) To allow Roman Catholics to take the Oath of Allegiance to the monarch.

The plan hotted up. Gregory Panzani was sent as an agent and spent two years in England in detailed discussion with the King and others in Church and state. Opposition to unity, he noted, came from Jesuits and Puritans. Most Anglican bishops were in favour of unity. Some, particularly the Bishops of Gloucester and Chichester (nothing changes) were very keen, and only the bishops of Durham, Salisbury and Exeter "were violently bent against the See of Rome". But like Leander, he spoke warily about the rising power of the Puritans. The Civil War broke out. King Charles was beheaded, going to the scaffold declaring: "I die in the Christian Faith, according to the profession of the Church of England." Archbishop Laud was impeached for corresponding with Rome and treating with the pope's men in England, and he too was beheaded.

And for the next 15 years there was no Anglican Church. All the bishops were banished, imprisoned or fled. Priests lost their parishes. The Book of Common Prayer was banned. Presbyterianism became the new religion.

The restoration of the monarchy under Charles II restored the church. Enough exiled bishops were alive to consecrate new ones. The king opened Parliament calling for religious toleration and the repeal of laws against Catholics, but the House rejected his proposals and actually increased the discriminatory legislation. Nonetheless, it was in the reign of Charles II that what amounted to a Uniate Church was proposed:

1) The Archbishop of Canterbury to be designated Patriarch, responsible for governing the Church in the three realms, except a few rights reserved to Rome;
2) A Roman Legate, a native Englishman, to reside in England to exercise the rights reserved to the pope;
3) Existing archbishops, bishops and clergy to remain in office if they accept Catholic ordination;
4) An annual General Synod to be convened;
5) The King to nominate bishops;
6) Complete religious freedom for Protestants;
7) Priests and bishops could be married, though celibacy would be introduced later;
8) The Eucharist in two kinds for those who wish;
9) Mass in Latin, with English hymns;
10) A Catholic catechism based on Scripture to be published;
11) Some religious orders to be restored;
12) The most disputed questions, like the infallibility the Pope and his right to depose monarchs, not to be discussed either in the pulpit of in writings, though Catholic preachers could dispute with Protestants, providing they avoided the narration of miracles or speaking of a material purgatory.

Nothing happened. The Protestants were far too powerful. But as the centuries went by the vision of unity was kept alive by many individuals. The 1833 Oxford Movement of Newman, Pusey and Keble gave it fresh impetus. The Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom was formed in 1838. At the first Lambeth Conference, in 1867, the Bishop of Salisbury presented a petition signed by more than 1,000 clergy and 4,500 laity urging the Anglican bishops to end the long separation of their church from Rome.

The Catholic League was formed to promote reunion. Many do not know this, but the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 1908 as an Anglican initiative to promote unity between Anglicans and Catholics; only from 1936 was it decided, under the influence of a French priest, Abbé Paul Couturier, to widen its scope to embrace all Christians.

After the Appeal for Christian Unity at the 1920 Lambeth Conference, Cardinal Mercier of Belgium and Lord Halifax gathered a group of theologians into what became known as the Malines Conversations, producing a plan for a Uniate Church similar to that proposed in the reign of Charles II. The talks ended when the Archbishop of York visited the Pope, the first Anglican archbishop to visit the Pope, and explained that Lord Halifax had no official standing.

It was not until the Second Vatican Council that the time became more auspicious, and through the visit of Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul VI in 1996, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC)_was created "to work for the restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life". Archbishop Ramsey had already indicated what form he thought it might take.

Building on the plans of past centuries he suggested: "Unity could take the form of the Anglican Communion being in communion with Rome, having sufficient dogmatic agreement with Rome, accepting the Pope as the presiding bishop of all Christians, but being allowed to have their own liturgy and married clergy and a great deal of existing Anglican customs; that is to say, it would be in a position rather like the Eastern Uniate Churches in relation to the see of Rome."

Bishop Butler in 1970 picked up the old idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury becoming a Patriarch of the English Rite "with its own bishops, liturgy and theological tradition". Later the same year Pope Paul VI stressed there would be no seeking to lessen the prestige and usage proper to the Anglican Church, which he called a sister church. He returned to the theme, assuring Archbishop Coggan in 1977: "these words of hope 'The Anglican Church united not absorbed' are no longer a mere dream".

To suggest now, as some have done, that Pope Benedict is seeking to undermine the Anglican Church is unfair and untrue. He has not undermined it; it has undermined itself. Strictly speaking, there is now no such thing as the Anglican Communion. It would be more accurate to call it a Federation of Anglican Communions, for there are several groupings, which are no longer in communion with each other or with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Cardinal Kasper addressed the Anglican bishops at Lambeth, pointing out the difficulty this presents. " In several contexts, bishops are not in communion with other bishops; in some instances, Anglican provinces are no longer in full communion with each other." How can the Catholic Church maintain a dialogue for organic unity with an Anglican Communion so divided in itself? The ARCIC conversations were inevitably downgraded to cooperation and friendship, but are still most important for all that, and more so now when relations are under strain.

For there are very large numbers of Anglicans, like the allegedly 400,000 Anglicans of the Traditional Anglican Communion, and others no longer in communion with their diocesan bishops, who have separate "episcopal visitors". Many of these have earnestly requested Rome to complete the ARCIC process with them. This put Rome on the spot. Cardinal Kasper referred to the dilemma at the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

He asked: "Should we, and how can we, appropriately and honestly engage in conversations also with those who share Catholic perspectives on the points currently in dispute, and who disagree with some developments within the Anglican Communion or particular Anglican provinces?" Not an easy question to answer.

What would the Anglican Church do if 400,000 Methodists asked to come into the Church of England while being allowed to keep their distinctive traditions? My guess is that it would be churlish to refuse, and they would be warmly welcomed, despite the possible risks. Rome has drawn from the precedents of history, and this favourable response is neither a novelty nor a surprise.