Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus is not all it seems

There is much about the Roman Catholic Church that I have come to appreciate over the years: Catholic colleagues whose fellowship has been the source of much blessing, occasional opportunities at Catholic worship that have enriched, and joint projects with Catholics that have been fruitful. Having grown up with a somewhat negative Protestant attitude toward the Church of Rome, I have come over the years to benefit from their particular graces and charisms.

Yet, alas, there seems to be almost an imperialism about the Catholic tradition that allows for little variance from their church's dogma.

Given the concerns Pope Benedict has about the secularism and godlessness of Europe (and so out into all the world), it seems that some kind of common front under the charmanship of the Bishop of Rome would be of great benefit to the churches. This, of course, would require a measure of acceptance of the differing emphases of other Christians by Catholics, especially those of us who are rooted and grounded in the historic creeds and statements of faith of the church. However, it is sad that Rome is not able to stretch that far.

The whole recent flap around the Pope's overtures to dissident Anglicans is an example of this. I understand very well that there are fellow-Anglicans who have lost confidence in the Anglican tradition, and if their own faith is more happily accommodated in the Roman setting, then so be it. But as we mull over the small print it seems to be more hard line than the gentle invitation of concerned fellow-Christians.

A genuine, fraternal invitation, for example, would at the very least turn the expectation of re-confirmation and re-ordination into conditional rites, but Rome seems unwilling to reconsider the 1896 declaration that Anglican orders are, in effect, no orders at all. This un-churching of Anglicans has a tang of dishonesty about it because on the ground in most settings Anglican and Catholic clergy work alongside one another, mutually accept one another's status as ministers of word and sacraments.

The Apostolic Constitution makes it quite clear that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is definitive theologically and doctrinally for all those who move along the path Rome is offering, which, in effect, obliterates theology that is distinctively Anglican and nullifies the richness of the Anglican tradition. You can come in, we are being told, but you have to leave what we perceive to be Protestant baggage at the door.

As I read the small print of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is phrased in such a way as to suggest that only certain Anglican liturgical texts will be acceptable for use by those who want to make this transition, which would suggest that anything that does not dot the 'i's and cross the 't's of Roman Catholic eucharistic theology, etc., will be unacceptable. This would then probably declare out of court much of the historic Prayer Book tradition which has been the foundation of Anglican life for nearly half a millennium.

While I don't really wish to nitpick to death this document that codifies an invitation that some are likely to take up, the more I look at it the more I suspect the spirit in which this invitation has been made. It comes from a mindset that because it believes it is the one true expression of the Christian faith, it possesses the trump cards, and can demand rather than entering into conversation accepting the graces and charisms of another tradition.

Last week I cooperated with the most gracious Roman Catholic priest in the funeral Mass and burial of my nominally Roman Catholic brother-in-law. The priest was a prince among men, godly and caring, and the manner in which he presided over the Eucharist was both sensitive and genuinely moving. He was genuinely embarrassed that he could not invite to the Lord's table those Christians of other traditions, so there I sat behind the altar, with my faithful Anglican extended family sitting in the pews (together with a few family Baptists), while the handful of Catholics present took participated in the sacrament.

This to me was an acted parable of the situation in which we find ourselves as two Communions that maybe respect one another, but nevertheless talk past each other. By excluding Anglicans from their sacramental life they are treating us as non-Christians, while at the same time in the day-to-day elements of church life in local communities considering one another to be believers. The are plenty places in the world where Anglicans and Catholics even share the same buildings. If the Catholic priest had not thought me a Christian, would he have allowed me to preach in his church, and would he have accepted that committal by me according to the Book of Common Prayer was appropriate in any shape or form?

In the Apostolic Constitution the Roman Catholic Church is saying, "Well, if you jump through the hoops we think necessary then we will accept you," while all the time jumping through those hoops is a negating of what are already our convictions -- in which they may see inadequacies, but little fundamental heresy.

The challenge facing us is missional, and it gets more pressing as each day passes. While accepting that each church has its own ordering that should be respected and taken seriously, it would seem that the time has come for Rome to be willing to enter a conversation with the same generosity as is expected of Anglican Christians.


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Anonymous said...

Not a comment but am I missing something? Surely Fr. Richard, you have posted something since November? I keep logging on in the hope of a new post from you, but no...

Anonymous said...

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