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Not doing justice to two churches

by
15 November 2013

Martin Warner finds an apologia for the Ordinariate wanting

© robert greshoff/robert Greshoff & cathedral enterprises ltd

Not portable: the Archbishop of Canterbury's cathedra, made from Purbeck marble, in a photo by Robert Greshoff from Architecture of Canterbury Cathedral (details in caption on previous page)

Not portable: the Archbishop of Canterbury's cathedra, made from Purbeck marble, in a photo by Robert Greshoff from Architecture of Canterbury Cathe...

Catholics of the Anglican Patrimony: The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
Aidan Nichols OP
Gracewing £7.99
(978-0-85244-817-5)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20  (Use code CT734 )

WITH characteristic 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 common.

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 its origins.

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, historically considered".

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 question.

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.

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