Catholics of the
Anglican Patrimony: The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of
Aidan Nichols OP
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use
code CT734 )
hospitality, the Benedictine community at Worth Abbey recently
invited its Anglican neighbours to be present at the blessing of
the new Abbot. After the liturgy, a Roman Catholic layman who had
been at Winchester Cathedral that same day made an interesting
observation about the atmosphere of worship in both places. He
identified the Benedictine tradition as something that they had in
That patrimony has indeed
exercised a degree of influence for nearly 500 years in many
cathedrals in the Church of England, a different communion from the
one in which Benedictine life began and continues to develop.
Catholics of the
Anglican Patrimony by Aidan Nichols is an account of the
Ordinariate and its establishment after the promulgation in 2009 by
Pope Benedict XVI of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum
Coetibus. Nichols provides a useful outline of the range of
groups for whom this initiative was intended, but it is the account
of "'the Canterbury Communion Anglicans' and above all the English
among them" which provides the book's main focus.
The sketch of "unionism" as
it existed in the 17th century is a valuable reminder of the long
history of ecumenical relations with the Holy See. A considerable
silence covers the years of the 18th century. But then the
narrative is a familiar one, as a variety of influences within the
Church of England claim to represent the Catholic strand that
complements its reformed identity.
The account is succinct.
References are given to events, people, and statements, but there
is little analysis that enlarges on the spectrum of ethos,
self-understanding, practice, and belief within the Church of
England. In short, Nichols does not tell us much about how this
patrimony functions, or what happens to it when it is detached from
In this regard, cathedrals
are an interesting point of reference. For example, they hold the
history of a see, embody the culture and heritage of a particular
region, represent past and present patronage of the arts, provide a
stage for moral debate, and sustain patterns of worship which model
and define the Church of England's theological identity.
Within this mix, the
patrimony of Benedictine influence may be an important foundational
element. But the differences from contemporary monastic practice in
the Benedictine tradition will be at least as great as the marks of
influence and similarity found in an Anglican cathedral today. A
cathedral's civic and political interaction regionally would be one
example of this; another would be the range of influences on public
worship, or the increasingly collaborative nature of governance.
Patrimony is not an obviously transferable commodity.
The lack of an assessment of
how patrimony functions also undermines the chapter on the mission
of the Ordinariate. Nichols writes generously about some aspects of
evangelism which members of the Ordinariate might bring to "fill
the gap" in English Roman Catholicism and make it more easily
presented as "the natural form of the spirituality of our country,
I believe, however, that
Nichols does the Roman Catholic Church in England an injustice,
while at the same time seeking to clutch at an elusive prize. In
terms of primary evangelism, the people of this country are on a
different page. They might take notice of the fruits of Christian
discipleship, particularly in the area of public service. They are
unlikely to be swayed by patrimonial claims.
Finally, the chapter "Pope
Benedict and his Vision" raises some important ecclesiological
issues. It would be impertinent of an Anglican to press for an
explanation of the relationship between the Ordinariate and the
local Church, but the terms in which Nichols writes do prompt that
And the ecclesiological
vision is where Nichols concludes, with a moving quotation from Fr
Henry St John OP, a former Anglican who became a Dominican on his
return from the trenches in 1918. Sadly, Catholics of the
Anglican Patrimony is not commensurate with the breadth of St
John's vision of receptive ecumenism: "Towards unity with her the
Churches now outside the Catholic Church will move. The Church will
open wide its arms and accept all that is good and true in custom
and in usage, in ways of thinking, worshipping and government that
these Churches have practised and valued in their separated lives.
By this the Church of Christ will be enlarged and enriched."
Dr Martin Warner is the Bishop of Chichester.