Tuesday, 6 January 2009

United, but not absorbed?

Fr Giles Pinnock at Onetimothyfour has some interesting things to say about the ultimate destination of Anglican Catholics in the shipwreck which is the Anglican Communion:

“…. the fear of being assimilated by something far greater than oneself is an underlying motif manifested throughout western society – and sometimes in quite unexpected places.
For instance, ‘Anglo-Catholics’ have understandably a definite fear of assimilation by the CofE. We like our Flying Bishops and the Act of Synod because it appears to allow us to preserve our liturgical and cultural diversity such that it is not simply assimilated into florid but vacuous High Church Anglicanism.
But ‘Anglo-Catholics’ also have what is to my mind a bizarre ambivalence about being assimilated by the collective that they crave and yet seem instinctively to fear – the Catholic Church.
Being Catholic – by which I mean here specifically a member of the Catholic Church – is, alongside being Orthodox if that is what you already are, to be as fully Christian that it is possible to be this side of trying on your Resurrection body, and yet many of us seem to want to find our own way, our own definition, our own version of being Catholic.
We want the benefits of the collective, without surrendering the liturgical and cultural diversity of the smaller group that we presently inhabit, in which individuals are readily identified and known – as eccentrics, characters and ‘outspoken’ bloggers. The smaller pond in which it is possible to be a bigger fish – and what is the smallest pond in which it is possible to be the biggest fish of all? It is the solipsistic ‘I’ pond that liberal protestantism trains all westerners – Christian and not – to swim in, so fundamental are its assumptions to modern western culture.
Some have said that one of the appealing things about Anglo-Catholics for the Catholic Church might be our liturgical and spiritual heritage – we could add that in, so it is said, in the manner of our dowry, or a peace-offering for having been absent from the Catholic Church for four-hundred years that shows we haven’t been wasting our time being complete protestants. But I am not so sure ...
True, many Catholics in the CofE are liturgically pretty skilled. But the oft-touted claim that all or most Roman liturgy and preaching in the British Isles is dreadful and somehow in need of Anglo-Catholic redemption is not true, which you discover if you go to Mass in Catholic churches with any regularity. There are some howlers, but I reckon the all-age ‘Godly play’ and self-consciously non-Eucharistic approach to worship of much of the CofE can at least match any of the less-polished Roman offerings for dreadfulness.
And in the rediscovery of the Extraordinary Use of the Roman Rite, and the (re-)training of at least some Catholic priests to celebrate it, some of the formality and grace of the older form will I would imagine osmose itself back into the celebration of the Ordinary Form, where it is at all lacking.
There is certainly a body of spiritual writing and hymnody of great value that comes out of certain threads running through the history of the CofE, but it is hardly a hidden gnosis that will be unveiled at the due time by its Anglo-Catholic custodians – it’s all published and there for the taking on the shelves of Amazon as well as real bookshops.
What Catholics of the CofE have to offer the Catholic Church is, I would suggest, ourselves – not as a rare and precious ecclesial delicacy it should consider itself fortunate to get its hands on, but as a body of men, women and children who seek to make a small contribution to the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed by stepping across the breach of the Reformation and back into the fold of Peter, a few small steps towards there again being one flock and one shepherd.
I see that less as absorption or assimilation, and more like reconciliation. And of itself, that doesn’t scare me at all.”

That is exactly the point. We can scarcely be surprised if Rome is (if reports are true) somewhat wary at the prospect of an influx of Anglican Catholics if we constantly offer ourselves as (literally) God's gift to the Catholic Church. Many of us were ordained to the priesthood in the mid '80s - for us the heady years after the Papal visit to England & Wales. The hopes and dreams of full & visible unity with Rome have all proved to have been illusory -at least in the sense that we imagined was possible. Those days will never return; if our yearning for unity meant anything, we should now be prepared (not only prepared, but eager) to make even a small contribution to the healing of the wounds of the fractured Body of Christ and to make the necessary step together. For many of us the cost will be great, but surely we have no choice but to pay it. As to "Anglican" identity, there is a valuable cultural and theological ethos which has largely formed us, but you are right: we don't possess it in the sense of a unique treasure which belongs to us and only us and can be offered as a gift to the Catholic Church. We can only come with nothing in our hands, asking for the gift of unity with the rock from which we were forcibly hewn in the 16th Century. There were no "Anglicans" before the Reformation, but there was a "English" Catholic ethos which did nothing to detract from unity with Rome. Perhaps we can make a small contribution to that in the 21st Century, and ask for the prayers of John Henry Newman in making it so.
We as Anglo-Catholics, Anglican Catholics or whatever, need urgently to begin / continue the debate on this. Will we accept any provision from General Synods or Governing Bodies (not that we have been offered anything at all in Wales) and completely abandon the search for full & visible unity with Rome, for the dubious privilege of remaining in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and within an ecclesial body where we clearly have no future?

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