Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Hope of Unity

We know that God may write straight by crooked lines, bringing unexpected blessings to dire situations. Know is the time to hope for such a result for our Anglo-Catholic brethren. The Church of England has voted to "ordain" women to the episcopate, without providing any safeguards for catholic-minded Anglicans. Coming so soon after Gafcon, and just before the Lambeth Conference, I expect this action will have repercussions beyond England for Anglo-Catholics. The apparent end of Anglo-Catholicism within the Church of England is bitter, even from the perspective of this unhyphenated Catholic.

The hope of Anglo-Catholicism was always foolishness to the world; but we Christians and particularly we Catholics should not regard it as foolishness, but as a divinely given impetus to recover the catholic faith within Anglicanism. Their view was that the Anglican Church was, after all the reforms and alterations and power struggles within the Anglican founding, left with a doctrine and practice embodied in the Book of Common Prayer and the formularies that was catholic, rather than protestant. Thus, the Anglican Church could be faithful to catholic Christian belief by recapturing what it innately was.

That hope has now been decisively disappointed- yet we should have faith that the efforts of the Oxford fathers (Keble, Pusey, Newman) and the Anglo-Catholic priests and laity that have followed their renewal have not been in vain, and may yet bear fruit beyond our imagining. I hope this occurs through reunion with the Holy See. The liturgical beauty of the Anglican heritage, their hard-fought faithfulness to historic Christianity, and their example in returning to unity are powerful forces.

Apparently, Anglo-Catholic leaders within the CofE have been having discussions with the Vatican and are confident a good result can be worked out, while the Traditional Anglican Communion, a sizeable grouping of Anglo-Catholics who had already left the Anglican Communion is anticipated to be received back into the fold of Peter in the near future. And, for what it's worth, there are rumours that an entire diocese of the Episcopal Church (USA) is considering swimming the Tiber.

All these developments indicate that there is no time better to be generous in seeking unity among Christians. In my view, unity is a matter of enormous importance. We should be willing to sacrifice all unneccessary things for unity. I hope the Holy See will respond generously, granting an independent hierarchy (perhaps even ordaining celibate Anglo-Catholic priests to be bishops); a broad allowance for traditional Anglican liturgy and parish structure; and allowing married men to be ordained for Anglo-Catholic communities. Perhaps it would be good to emphasize that the separate structure and the continued ordination of married men to the presbyterate are not necessarily permanent- after all, ideally, there should be but one bishop over a given area; and the continuation of married priests should perhaps be left on an ad experimentum basis.