Tuesday 10 November 2009

What I didn't get from the Apostolic Constitution

Call me a closet Protestant, attack me if you will, but there is one important hurdle that I don't think I'm ready or willing to jump in order to swallow whole the Apostolic Constitution, as some clergy and laity have evidently already done, and that is the absence of any recognition from Rome that Anglican orders may be valid.

The Holy Father's generosity is abundantly obvious to anybody who has read the document, and only serves to increase my fondness for a man I regard as my Pope and the legitimate successor of Peter. But generosity alone, however well intentioned, cannot completely plaster over the cracks of five hundred years of schism, and I am a little disappointed in those who rush to proclaim that it can.

My problem is this, and I'll phrase it as a question: Can those priests and bishops who have already accepted the AC in its entirety, and who desire to be reordained unconditionally as priests and bishops in the new Ordinariate, really do so with integrity? For I believe that to do so would be to turn their backs on me, and other faithful who have looked to them for guidance through our journey of faith, a journy that we have so far made together. To accept "conversion" to Catholicism, which is the faith they have been preaching from our pulpits for years, and to accept unconditional ordination, which is thereby to accept that their orders were invalid, is to say that every confession I have ever made, every Holy Communion I have ever received from their blessed hands, every confirmation and every Holy Matrimony was, all along, no more than a charade: "absolutely null and utterly void".

I hope you will pardon me for expecting something more from the phrase "Anglican patrimony" than merely the permission to use certain Elizabethan phrases in our Liturgy. To me, Anglican Patrimony in the Catholic Church means sanctioning our faith journey, which so far has been long, arduous and never for one moment without controversy or crisis. I do not want to beg the Holy See for permission to use, say, the English Missal, because I think it makes for a nice Sunday Service, but because the heroes of our Faith - Hope Patten, Frank Weston, Dom Gregory and countless others - have sanctified that particular Anglican liturgical text, and others besides, with their golden lips. To take those three as examples, Hope Patten restored Walsingham as England's Nazareth; one of the most inspired and successful initiatives of the Church of England in the 20th century. Frank Weston fought tooth and nail in Kikuyu against inter-Communion between Anglicans and Protestant non-Conformists, and he set thousands of hearts on fire at the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923 with his powerful words about Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (do I even need to quote his?). Dom Gregory Dix "shaped" so much of our thoughts about the Liturgy and the Sacraments, and his influence extended far beyond the Anglican Communion. So convinced was he of the validity of Anglican Orders that he died almost with the defense of them on his lips. All of these men lived as believing Catholics, and died out of Communion with Rome, but the legacy of these "Saints" who will never be canonised is powerful, and their witness reaches beyond time from their shrines and speeches and touches every one of us who dares call himself a Catholic in the Anglican Communion.

So what am I to do? Accept that I am not Catholic and follow my Protestant ministers to the Ordinariate where we will suddenly and magically become Catholics? Should I forgot about those heroes I hold so dear, who I know can never be called Saints of the Catholic Church, but to whose memories I cling to so dearly, and whose example inspires me? Forgive me for what seems like ingratitude or a lack of understanding, but when someone makes a journey, you can only expect them to arrive at their destination with baggage!


  1. That (some) Anglican orders are considered invalid is not suggesting that divine grace does not operate through them. It's merely stating that the Church cannot state with certainty that divine grace does. In fact it may well do. God is not limited by the Church after all. But given the turbulent times at the reformation and not having a clear idea of the situation, the Church considers it prudential to err on the side of caution and suggest that we can't be certain.

    All she is asking for (amidst her many concessions) are two things 1. doctrinal fidelity to the CCC - which many already submit to at any rate and 2. Let us make sure, for you and for ourselves and for the whole Church, that no one ever takes it upon himself to question the legitimacy of your ministry as Catholic deacons, priests and bishops.

    I don't see how that is a step too much for Rome to ask of her children. If you think of it as a gift from the Successor of Peter himself whose sacred role as entrusted to him by the Lord is to "strengthen the brethren" then you may start to think of it differently.

    In fact this question of ensuring valid apostolic succession is something that Anglican clerics have been wrestling with for decades. It's clear that many too have their own doubts about the validity of their orders - why else would so many seek ordination with old Catholic bishops. Some even produce "genealogy" lists. In order to erase any doubt in their minds and that of the whole Church, it seems prudential and sensible that candidates who wish to exercise a sacerdotal ministry in communion with the Bishop of Rome and the whole Church be absolutely sure of their orders and their ministry.

  2. The only sensible journey for all Christians is to go home to the Church of the Fathers and of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which means integration and not absorption.

  3. Very insightful thoughts; I doubt you will ever get a satisfactory answer, just the typical scholastic – legal double talk from any so-called “informed” Clergy with a Roman – Popish bent.

    Don’t feel bad that Roman doesn’t accept Anglican Holy Orders as being valid, neither do the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches, but then they, the Eastern & Oriental Orthodox Churches also don’t accept the Roman Church as having valid “catholic” orders either.

    I was a Monk/Priest in the Latin Church for close to twenty five years and when I left and went to the Orthodox Church, (I couldn’t stand the abuses, liturgical & theological anymore) I had to be not only make a profession of faith, be Chrismated (Confirmed) but once again receive the Tonsured and Priestly ordination.

    Father Yohannes

  4. What some people who are waxing lyrical over this Apostolic Constitution, fail to realise that for people like Joseph, and thousands others of laity and priests besides, the Church of England IS home, a home they are being asked to leave.

    There was absolutely nothing stopping anyone from converting to Roman Catholicism before, and indeed many have done so, and there nothing now. However, the very fact that people have not, despite often bitter persecution, is that they wish to remain faithful to the Church of their Fathers too. It is all well and good for Roman Catholics to urge people like Joseph to leave all behind for 'greater unity' but in the process that will cause just more disunity. Like all catholics, many wish the church to be one preferably under the See of Peter. However, to require submission from one party with almost no concession on the other is not the way to achieve that.

    Given the comments of Fr Yohannes, I wonder how many Roman Catholics would even consider leaving the familiarities of their communion, in the event of the Orthodox Church making a similar 'generous offer' to them?

  5. yes Anon but it is also a home that has changed. Where once we had a seat at table and a room to sleep in - we are now beig abused and mistreated and asked to live in the shed....

    ...I too adore what WAS the C of E but sadly it died some time ago...heads in sand will not help us avoid what is only going to get worse and not better for Catholic Anglicans.

  6. The shed is exactly where those who take up this offer will find themselves: disowned by Anglicans and mistrusted and resented by most Roman Catholics.

  7. I made an individual submission to Rome a little while ago. I am concerned that people are debating about whether to stay or go, the time for debate in this area is over, and the only debate is how you come home. If Anglo-Catholics remain in the Church of England then it proves that the call to Rome for help was not a call for help, but an attempt to make the general synod provide for you, lest you leave. Please, please do not take this offer in vain, accept it and cherish it. This is last chance to come home as a community. Mark Wharton

  8. Joseph, bless him, has hit the proverbial nail on the head.

    To "Catholic Anglican": are you a Catholic?

    Catholic Anglican: "Yes"

    So you believe your Sacraments are valid?

    Catholic Anglican: "Yes"

    Why are you converting to Rome then?

    Catholic Anglican: "Yes"

    You didn't answer the question!

    Catholic Anglican: "Yes...?"

    Frankly this is how the discussion reads at the moment. Joseph has every right to assert what he has been taught to believe about the Sacraments he has received. It comes to something when his teachers state their intention to deny what they have taught, and don't proffer him an explanation or an apology.

  9. There have been so many contributions from "anonymous" that are unsigned that it makes it difficult to decipher whether they are from the same person. Therefore, quoting the post of the 10th of November at 23.43:

    It is all well and good for Roman Catholics to urge people like Joseph to leave all behind for 'greater unity' but in the process that will cause just more disunity.

    I think we should all remember here that this is not a case of Rome suddenly deciding to urge Anglicans to convert to Catholicism. This is Rome's response to persistent requests that Rome has received from Anglicans to work out a way to receive them corporately. In that sense, it is no different from Apostolicae Curae, which again, was not, as it is often portrayed, a propos of nothing, but was Rome's response to a specific question put to it by Anglican bishops. Had they not asked the question, Rome would likely not have commented on the matter.

    With that in mind, it should come as no surprise in either case to learn that a substantial number of Anglicans have no interest in what Rome's position is, whether it be the question of orders or of ways to become Catholic while retaining an Anglican patrimony. It is not to these people that Rome is speaking but rather to those, such as the TAC and those of similar mind, who have for some time now been actively petitioning Rome to make accommodation for them.

  10. As for Joseph's original point, it is a difficult one for me to respond to. My own departure from the Church of England came precisely because my exploration of the history and of the Faith of the Fathers brought me to the point where I ceased to be able to convince myself that the CofE, and the separated Roman church before it, were still within the fold of the Church, with all that this implies for understandings of salvation and sacramental grace. In that position, I remember the reactions of those who felt that I had betrayed the Anglo-Catholic cause, and who felt that through no longer accepting the beliefs that I once shared with them, that I was abandoning them. Some people became very hostile as a result. For my part, I couldn't understand it. As far as I could see, this was my journey of faith and, while it had obvious implications for how I perceived my former home, I did not make any sort of campaign out of constantly pointing this out to those good people who still remained within it. I wondered why, therefore, my journey caused them such discomfort. If they were truly secure about their own beliefs about their church then my personal beliefs really shouldn't have affected them to such a degree. I would have thought that they would simply have considered me misguided but genuine, and wished me well.

    This, I think, is what it boils down to, and has already been picked up on above by justin. There is insecurity among many Anglicans about the position of their own church. This is especially notable among Anglo-Catholics who share much in common with historic Christianity with regard to their understanding of sacraments and much else, and who feel a sense of familial unity as a result, but who are constantly aware that the the two major bodies to whom they look do not recognise them as part of that continuation, at least not in its fullness. How else can the antics of the Order for Corporate Reunion be explained?

    In spite of these similarities, the differences in ecclesiology are glaring. The branch theory, in its various forms, and with the various criteria of what constitutes a branch, really acts as a comfort blanket to cloak these differences. The loose thread in the blanket is the knowledge that it is not accepted by the other branches. Pull at this thread and the whole thing unravels, and that, I think, is what is happening here with the practical reality having to be faced of how to receive people who believe they have already received certain sacraments into a body that does not believe that they have.

    (cont'd below)

  11. (cont'd from above)

    When I reached the point where I knew I had to leave, but before I had set the ball in motion to be received as a catechumen, I still peformed my duties at church but I could no longer receive Anglican sacraments because of what I believed. It wouldn't make sense for me to do so. From that position, I can share Joseph's questioning about the integrity of those Anglican clergy who, while planning to accept what Rome teaches, continue to perform their roles as priests. What exactly do they believe is happening when they stand at the altar, and what exactly do they believe will be happening if they are ordained by Rome? These are legitimate questions.

    I have seen some attempts online to answer this vaguely but even they have revealed a marked distinction between the ecclesiology of Rome and that adhered to by the Anglican clergy who wish to become one with it. I don't know how to resolve that and it isn't my place to try. All I can say is that I believe that the disappointment that many will face as a result of this is the inevitable result of the idiosyncratic ecclesiology to which many Anglo-Catholics adhere. It is unfortunate, and I sympathise, because many people have been taught this from childhood, as indeed I was, and many fervently believe it, as I did, but none of that changes the fact that it is an idiosyncrasy and always was. The only difference now is that the practicalities of being received by Rome have put it in the spotlight and forced people to look at it more closely.

    I would suggest reading the ecclesiological epistles and treatises of St Cyprian of Carthage.

    With my prayers,

  12. This is a very good post, but I have to ask the question:

    Isn't this Apostolic Petrine offer similar to what the "tier" programs within the Anglican Communion (i.e. Forward in Faith*) are doing? Defining who/what is suitably catholic and who/what is not?

    They set up alternatives for those dissatisfied with their province. The litmus test may be female priests, gay priests, strict dis/belief in certain doctrines, or how pretty the Bishop's mitre is. (If I claim to be an Anglican Catholic, and I receive Communion from a woman, am I still a Catholic? Says who?)

    Either way, it's a big mess, and with no central authority other than Scripture, Reason and Tradition, we're left to muddle it out.

    However I am confident that we will indeed muddle it out, as we always have.

    The Pope's offer both simplifies and complicates matters. The question you're asking is a good one, and I think represents the best of Protestantism, which - properly observed - is an ongoing and necessary movement within the Church Catholic. The vows you made and the Sacraments you observed were not invalid in the sight of God, and Christ does not withhold himself from our altars simply because Rome has not given her express written consent.

    It must be a fascinating time in the CoE. This Constitution won't affect many of us in North America - those whose want to leave have already left.

    (*Side note: To be fair, the provinces that ordain women/gays are creating the headache that "tier" systems operate within. However, this just happens to be the "divisive issue of the moment," and the Church will never run out of divisive issues, so it's best to not set a precedent of building "tiers," which is just another word for "walls.")

  13. Fr. Yohannes wrote:

    "Don’t feel bad that Roman doesn’t accept Anglican Holy Orders as being valid, neither do the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches, but then they, the Eastern & Oriental Orthodox Churches also don’t accept the Roman Church as having valid “catholic” orders either."

    Well yes and no ... His Grace Hilarion Alfeyev (Moscow Patr.) recently affirmed that the (Russian) Orthodox Church recognizes the validity of RC sacraments. Also in the past there have been Orthodox recognitions of Anglican Orders (including St. Tikhon of Moscow).

    There is NO one position among the Orthodox about the validity of orders outside the Orthodox Church. I would hope we move further into the direction in which Bp. Hilarion points us (and include the Anglicans).

    Fr. Gregory +

  14. Her Majesty has just appointed a bishop to the
    Diocese of Peterborough. Perhaps you should read his understanding of Orders, the Eucharist, etc and compare it to your own. It may help to bring a different understanding to the Catholic Churchs position regarding Anglican Orders. How two fundamentally different theologies can exist under one roof and claim to be ... is something that eludes me. Four hundred and fity years is a rather long time to try and resolve that conflict.
    A solution to the dilemma is on the horizon and whatever choice is made it will be painful
    regardless of the road taken. Our Lady of Walsingham intercede for all.

  15. I would respectfully suggest, Fr Gregory, that the position is actually more nuanced than your comment seems to suggest. I have not read what Vladyka Hilarion said so cannot comment specifically on that although I would be wary of reading more into these statements than there is.

    You will know that Orthodoxy does not entertain the Latin church's concept of sacramental "validity", and that we don't think of the Holy Mysteries in the same way. However, because the language of discussing these matters in ecumenical circles has been formed in large part by the Latin and Protestant use of particular words to refer to certain concepts, Orthodox people involved in those discussions often find themselves trying to explain Orthodox concepts using terminology that really doesn't fit an Orthodox framework, and the result can be mutual misunderstanding. I have heard an Orthodox hierarch speak of the baptisms of certain non-Orthodox churches being valid, but it was clear from the context that he was in no way suggesting that baptisms carried out outside of Orthodoxy can truly be recognised as the sacrament of Baptism as things stand. He was referring to the externals of baptism being present in those non-Orthodox rites (water, the trinitarian forumla, and so forth) so that, if the person were to become Orthodox, economy could be extended and it would be possible to complete and make real through chrismation the baptismal form that had previously been administered outside of the Church. This was in opposition to what he referred to as invalid baptisms, by which he meant those that were missing the trinitarian formula and could in no way be redeemed if the person were to become Orthodox, a proper and full Baptism being what would be necessary to receive the person.

    If you read carefully the declarations made by various Orthodox local churches in the 1920s and 1930s, you will see that what they were saying is that the externals of Anglican ordinations are complete - the tactile succession was in place and they had no problem with the ordinal. For the most part, what those declarations were speaking about was the possibility of accepting former Anglican clergy without the need for ordination in the event that the Anglican church were to unite with Orthodoxy, and they were overwhelmingly in favour of it. However, they were not suggesting anything about the status of Anglican ordinations in their current state of separation from Orthodoxy and I think it would be unfair of us to lead our Anglican friends to believe that this is what was being suggested.

  16. Anonymous (not me) wrote above about the Church of England 'How two fundamentally different theologies can exist under one roof and claim to be ... is something that eludes me.'

    Perhaps he or she would care to read through a few issues of the 'Tablet' and then anything written by Damian Thompson, not to mention publications of the Latin Mass Society or SSPX, and report back. Those who think Rome speaks with one voice have their heads firmly buried in the sand.

  17. I cannot for the life of me see the retention of the mitre or crosier as anything but a sop towards the vain and silly bishops who would request it. Many, it would seem to me, have too much time on their hands if they are not already actively doing the works of mercy Christ calls us to do rather than waste time striving for some sort of ritual purity.

    Yet Another Anonymous

  18. As a former Anglican and now RC, I would like to point out two thoughts which pushed me over the edge: 1) the very fact that Anglo-Catholics always seem to be obsessed with proving that they have valid orders means that their standard for acceptability of orders is still what the Roman Church says it is, that should be instructive. No Roman priest ever spends the slightest moment worried about whether he has orders or not. And 2) if the Articles of Religion say that, in the Church of England, Orders is not a sacrament instituted by Christ, and the Roman Church says that Anglican Orders is not a sacrament instituted by Christ, then aren't we actually saying the same thing?

  19. In all this "typical scholastic – legal double talk" there is one thing missing it seems to me as a mere lay observer. Jesus and God himself. Do you really think they care about these nuanced arguments? Surely the focus is on the wrong things. This desperate search for "purity" and "perfection" is distracting and disturbingly far from what might be considered to be real message. you may well ask which club to be in? Well how about the one that Jesus would be interested in? The one where we try to be how he wanted us to be. He was forever telling the Jews off for being to obsessive about their rules and regulations (which they sincerely no doubt based on their "spiritual integrity".

    I also detect a real irony in the Pope's offer in relation to those of our AC priests who are gay and not in favour of women priests. Come and be Roman Catholics lads if you don't like the idea of women priests. But remember we don't really like gays very much. In fact our doctrine states that they are "intrinsically flawed". Not a point of view I believe in of course. So if you are gay AND a AC priest (and there are many many of you) you may wish to revel in the freedom and liberty you have had in the AC church and perhaps you might just be able to put up with women priests as real, proper, human beings with a equivalent abilities and qualities in a priestly role too.

  20. If you see the bishop of Rome as "my Pope and the legitimate successor of Peter", then surely that translates practically into accepting his authoritative judgment on questions of faith and morals. Leo XIII judged that, owing to the rupture represented by the Reformation ordinal, orders conferred by Anglican bishops are not valid: they do not confer the sacrificial priesthood in the sense in which the Roman Catholic Church understands it. (Incidentally most Anglicans - who see themselves as Protestants! - would tend to agree; just look at the fallout over Tract 90 back in the day.) John Paul II confirmed the binding nature of the decree of Leo XIII. So, either one accepts this papal decision, or one's recognition of the papacy is more sentimental and nostalgic than concrete. Of course one could admire the incumbant of the Roman see for human reasons without being convinced of his doctrinal authority. So I suppose the question is, what do you mean when you say you see the pope as the successor of Peter? What consequences does this involve for you?

    I can certainly understand that on a personal level it could be difficult to entertain the idea that Anglican orders are invalid, when you consider all the good things you have received as a member of the Church of England. (Have you read Monsignor Benson's "Confessions of a Convert"?) But do these things come from the Church of England AS SUCH?

    As a side note, the marriages witnesses by Anglican priests are valid, since it is the bride and the groom who are the ministers of the sacrament, so you need have no worries there! Speaking as a Roman Catholic who accepts without reservation the authority of "Apostolicae curae", I would simply say that, even if your confessions and holy communions were "invalid" in the sense that they did not confer the specific sacramental grace that can be given only through a validly ordained minister, nonetheless it is reasonable to assume that your pious reception of these rites nonetheless served as the means by which divine providence sent you abundant actual graces. To say that Anglo-Catholic priests are invalidly ordained is not to say that their ministries were useless.