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'Our persecutors already see us as one', Papal official tells Synod

24 November 2015


Sign: Fr Raniero Cantalamessa said that his invitation to preach to the Synod indicated that moves towards the unity of Churches were already underway

Sign: Fr Raniero Cantalamessa said that his invitation to preach to the Synod indicated that moves towards the unity of Churches were already underway

UNITY, not only among Anglicans, but across the great historical divide between Churches was the vision set before the tenth General Synod at its inauguration on Tuesday.

In a sermon delivered before the Queen and the whole Synod, the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, praised the Reformation, urged Christians not to remain “prisoners of the past”, and called for unity to begin with the “big Churches”, already seen as one by their persecutors.

“Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart desire for unity,” he said. “In many parts of the world, people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes, we are one. Let us be one also in our eyes, and in the eyes of God.”

In a “post-Christian world”, this unity must start with “the big Churches . . . putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them,” he said. The Anglican Church had a “special role” to play in achieving unity, he said. “It must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches.”

A Franciscan Capuchin priest, theologian, and author, Fr Cantalamessa has held his Vatican appointment since 1980. His presence as preacher at the service was, he suggested, “a sign that something of this kind is already happening”. Reconciliation is one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s three stated priorities.  

Fr Cantalamessa urged Christians to ensure that the fifth centenary of the Reformation was not “wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish people’s rights and wrongs”. The Reformation had brought “great theological and spiritual enrichment”, he said. Instead of ignoring this, or “desiring to go back to the time before it”, he hoped that Churches would allow “all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are free from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies”. Justification by faith, for example, “ought to be preached to the whole Church – and with more vigour than ever before”.

He went on to invoke two men historically regarded as heretics by the Roman Catholic Church: Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer. He was “convinced” that, were they alive today, they would have preached justification by faith in the way that he understood it: “in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves . . . Self-justification!”

Since the Reformation, times had changed “dramatically. . . The majority of the people around us live and die as if he [Jesus] had never existed. How can we be unconcerned . . .?”

Unity was also a dominant theme of the Queen’s address to the Synod at Church House after the service. Fr Cantalamessa’s presence would not have been possible “but for notable advances” since 1970, she said. Among the other examples of ecumenical progress she mentioned were the Anglican-Methodist Covenant and the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace.

The Synod would have to “grapple with the difficult issues confronting our Church and our world”, she said. “On some of these there will be many different views.” She urged its members to draw on “that precious Anglican tradition of unity in fellowship”.

To laughter, she thanked the Archbishop for “setting today’s proceedings in a wide historical context”. He had spent much of his introduction to her address reflecting on “many twists and turns” in the relationship between the Church and State, and the part played by the Supreme Governor. He recalled how, in 1710, Queen Anne had been reluctant to allow the Convocation of Canterbury to convene, such was her antipathy. Her minister had urged her to allow it, with the proviso that: “If they prove extravagant, they hurt but themselves, for we shall pack them off to their parishes.” These were wise words that he and the Archbishop of York would “bear in mind”, he said.

He noted that Church House, opened 75 years ago by the Queen’s parents, had been damaged by bombs within three months. The new Synod was meeting “at another moment of uncertainty and conflict”, he said. It would “pray earnestly for the leaders of nations as they grapple with problems so intractable that solutions are likely to be neither simple nor quick”.

When the Synod adjourned for lunch it emerged that a Russian jet had been shot down over the Turkish border.

The global security crisis was prominent in the Archbishop’s subsequent presidential address, in which he reminded the Synod that it met “in the shadow of Paris”.

“We will not likely ever be forgiven if this Synod turns inwards, thinking only of ourselves and our own preoccupations, and neglect that all around us is a great struggle, described recently by Lord Alderdice as the Third World War,” he said. As theology was “at the heart of this conflict”, people of faith were called to “overwhelm extremism not by other extremes but with hope and love”. It was time to shun an “inward-turning, self-indulgent frame of mind”.


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