Friday, April 29, 2011

William Johnstone on the Ordinariate

The UK Catholic Herald published this column by William Johnstone, himself a convert from Anglicanism. He brilliantly places today's Ordinariate in the context of the history of the English Reformation and its aftermath:

This new development could also help with our peculiar religious history. Most English people have a complicated attitude to Catholicism. On the one hand there is a degree of hostility. This often stems from ignorance about what Catholics believe. There is also suspicion of an uncompromising Church authority. On the other hand there is a fascination with the Church and a recognition that England was once a land of saints and martyrs. The warped genius of Henry VIII in implementing his plan of secession was to rebrand the Catholic faith as un-English. Those who adhered to the old faith were disloyal. This attitude has remained deeply embedded in the English psyche.

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham could provide a solution to this historical wound. There are significant numbers of Christians who are doctrinally Catholic but culturally Anglican. Many of these cultural elements have their roots in the pre-Reformation English Church. A mechanism is now available for people to enter into full communion with Rome while retaining something of this heritage as well as their group identity. This is not going to be a soft option. The conversion required is real and individual. But there is no reason why an identity rooted in a legitimate English tradition cannot be maintained.

He also describes how the Ordinariate fulfills the true purpose of the ecumenical talks that were established in the 1960s between the Catholic Church and the Church of England:

Quite recently, I happened to read some of the original Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) documents. This gave me a new understanding of the ordinariate and a conviction that it is a profoundly ecumenical gesture. The explicit desire of ARCIC – initiated by Archbishop Michael Ramsay and Pope Paul VI in 1966 – was for visible unity between Catholics and Anglicans. It was not about remaining in separate bodies while appreciating each other’s traditions. This is the mistaken mindset of much that has passed for ecumenism in recent years.

The desire was to fulfil the Lord’s command that we should be one. It was to be done without the Anglican tradition being absorbed.

This seems to be what
Anglicanorum coetibus has achieved. The original aim of ARCIC involved the whole Church of England rather than a small section of it. But with developments in the Anglican Communion over the last few decades this vision is now unrealistic. As Cardinal Walter Kasper pointed out at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Anglican self-understanding seems to be more rooted in the 16th century than the first millennium. This does not mean that we should cease striving for unity. But the fulfilment of this goal will only happen with Christians who have a shared understanding of faith and morals.

Although I'm over here across the pond and I am a cradle Catholic, I still think my two year old book provides an excellent survey of this history--from Henry VIII to Blessed John Henry Newman and beyond--describing both what Catholics in England endured and also why the Church of England faces such crises in this century. If you haven't read it yet, check my website for links to suggested retailers. Thank you very much.

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