Another interesting comment from Rowan Williams’ recent address focuses on the importance of the Anabaptist/Mennonite churches:
One other crucial focus today is, of course, the act of reconciliation with Christians of the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. It is in relation to this tradition that all the ‘historic’ confessional churches have perhaps most to repent, given the commitment of the Mennonite communities to non-violence. For these churches to receive the penitence of our communities is a particularly grace-filled acknowledgement that they still believe in the Body of Christ that they have need of us; and we have good reason to see how much need we have of them, as we look at a world in which centuries of Christian collusion with violence has left so much unchallenged in the practices of power. Neither family of believers will be simply capitulating to the other; no-one is saying we should forget our history or abandon our confession. But in the global Christian community in which we are called to feed one another, to make one another human by the exchange of Christ’s good news, we can still be grateful for each other’s difference and pray to be fed by it.
This strikes me as one of the few (I can’t think of any others, actually) occasions where I’ve heard someone of such high ecclesiastical office from one of the magisterial traditions take the Free Churches and their vital contributions to Christianity with some amount of non-patronizing seriousness. And for that, I am quite appreciative.
We’ve had plenty of discussion about the recent apostolic constitution from Rome regarding the admission of Anglo-Catholics into communion. Clearly there has been a lot of less than informed commentary from a variety of news outlets in the whole discussion. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Anglo-Catholicism from all this its that they are one bizarre group. Indeed, if you ask me this whole thing says far more about the nature of Anglo-Catholicism than it does about the Roman church. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Rome wants as many people as possible to become Roman Catholic. This has always been true. To be sure there are voices of ecumenical opposition from within the ranks, like Walter Kasper and Hans Kung who would like to see mutual recognition and reconciliation between Roman and Protestant churches, but in the main, the Vatican has always and unapologetically desired and sought the integration of all other Christians into itself. That’s simply business as usual. A traditional Catholic self-understanding seems to require an orientation such as this. Nobody should be shocked by this.
However, pause and consider for a moment what this whole thing says about the nature of Anglo-Catholicism (or at least the sort of Anglo-Catholics who are likely to convert to Rome through this recent pronouncement). Apparently Anglo-Catholics desire union with Rome because they truly believe everything that Rome teaches. Ok. But if that’s the case one wonders why they haven’t joined up with the throne of Peter long before now. After all, if I really truly believed that in order to be a part of Jesus’s church I needed to be submitted to the Pope, I’m pretty sure I’d get right on that.
But what we actually see here is an intricate process of making sure that any Anglo-Catholic parishes that come into the Roman fold are able to maintain their polity and liturgical practice. Being able to have their cake and eat it too is at the center of this whole arrangement. Now none of this is to say that the Anglican rite that will be preserved in these churches is somehow silly or irrelevant or worthless. I’m sure its a rich tradition that should be preserved. All I’m saying is that the level of priority it seems to be being accorded by the Anglo-Catholics is pretty crazy. If they really believe that the Pope is the successor of Peter and that all Christians must be in communion with him to be fully catholic, why the hell would they insist that they get their liturgical guarantees beforehand? If being Roman Catholic is as important to them as it seems to be to most Roman Catholics, why does this whole thing turn on them getting to make sure they can run their parishes and liturgies the way they want to?
It all seems to come down to an attitude of, “Well, we’d like to be Catholic, as long as we can still basically do our own Anglo-centric thing.” I suppose I get that and everything, and I’m definitely a fan of enculturated forms of liturgy, but there seems to be something pathological here. The bottom of this whole thing seems to be an issue of sentimentality rather than theology. The Anglo-Catholics seem desperate to preserve their distinctly Anglo nature more than anything else. If Rome is up for accommodating them, they seems happy to jump on board. But one wonders, would the Anglo-Catholics end up converting without these concessions? Would they want to be part of a Roman Catholic church that didn’t give them all their demands in advance? Would they want to be part of a Roman Catholic church that stuck by their doctrine and practice and required them to do so as well, rather than making special arrangements to accommodate their national and cultural sensibilities?
In short, the way this whole issue turns on liturgical preferences and being able to keep married priests says a lot about what sort of mass conversion this would really be if it happened. By bowing to the aesthetic and cultural sentimentalities of Anglo-Catholicism, Rome has made sure that any conversions that come from this will be of an utterly Protestant nature. The sort of Catholic longing that we see in Anglo-Catholicism seems to me to be little more than a sort of sublimity. What we have here is an aestheticization of catholicity which ultimately undermines the credibility of any Anglo-Catholic claim to really take catholicity itself seriously. If this whole debacle showcases anything it is that the “Anglo” designation is far more determinative of Anglo-Catholicism than the “Catholic” one.
Kung has some harsh words for the recent apostolic constitution from the Vatican seeking to bring Anglo-Catholics into the Roman fold:
As I wrote in 1967, “a resumption of ecclesial community between the Catholic church and the Anglican church” would be possible, when “the Church of England, on the one side, shall be given the guarantee that its current autochthonous and autonomous church order under the Primate of Canterbury will be preserved fully” and when, “on the other side, the Church of England shall recognise the existence of a pastoral primacy of Petrine ministry as the supreme authority for mediation and arbitration between the churches.” “In this way,” I expressed my hopes then, “out of the Roman imperium might emerge a Catholic commonwealth.”
But Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions. Evidently, the papal primacy – which Pope Paul VI admitted was the greatest stumbling block to the unity of the churches – does not function as the “rock of unity”. The old-fashioned call for a “return to Rome” raises its ugly head again, this time through the conversion particularly of the priests, if possible, en masse. In Rome, one speaks of a half-million Anglicans and 20 to 30 bishops. And what about the remaining 76 million? This is a strategy whose failure has been demonstrated in past centuries and which, at best, might lead to the founding of a “uniate” Anglican “mini-church” in the form of a personal prelature, not a territorial diocese. But what are the consequences of this strategy already today?
First, a further weakening of the Anglican church. In the Vatican, opponents of ecumenism rejoice over the conservative influx. In the Anglican church, liberals rejoice over the departure of the catholicising troublemakers. For the Anglican church, this split means further corrosion. It is already suffering from the consequences of the heedless and unnecessary election of an avowed gay priest as bishop in the US, an event that split his own diocese and the whole Anglican communion. This friction has been enhanced by the ambivalent attitude of the church’s leadership with respect to homosexual partnerships. Many Anglicans would accept a civil registration of such couples with wide-ranging legal consequences, for instance in inheritance law, and would even accept an ecclesiastical blessing for them, but they would not accept a “marriage” in the traditional sense reserved for partnerships between a man and a woman, nor would they accept a right to adoption for such couples.
Second, the widespread disturbance of the Anglican faithful. The departure of Anglican priests and their re-ordination in the Catholic church raises grave questions for many Anglicans: are Anglican priests validly ordained? Should the faithful together with their pastor convert to the Catholic church?
Third, the irritation of the Catholic clergy and laity. Discontent over the ongoing resistance to reform is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Catholic church. Since the Second Vatican Council in the 60s, many episcopal conferences, pastors and believers have been calling for the abolition of the medieval prohibition of marriage for priests, a prohibition which, in the last few decades, has deprived almost half of our parishes of their own pastor. Time and again, the reformers have run into Ratzinger’s stubborn, uncomprehending intransigence. And now these Catholic priests are expected to tolerate married, convert priests alongside themselves. When they want themselves to marry, should they first turn Anglican, and then return to the church?
Just as we have seen over many centuries – in the east-west schism of the 11th century, in the 16th century Reformation and in the First Vatican Council of the 19th century – the Roman thirst for power divides Christianity and damages its own church. It is a tragedy.
Now, I realize that in the minds of many Kung is simply an ultra-liberal Catholic who should be cast out into the street. I can’t really say. I haven’t read enough of his work to really know. But something about this doesn’t really sound crazy to me. It actually sounds kind of honest.
H/T: Sub Ratione Dei
David Gibson has some interesting commentary on the unexpected way Ratzinger’s papacy is turning out, as seen most recently in the whole move to bring in the disaffected Anglicans:
Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time.
Of course a “reformed reform” doesn’t equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict’s reforms are rapidly creating something entirely new in Catholicism. For example, when the pope restored the old Latin Mass, he also restored the use of the old Good Friday prayer, which spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews and called for their conversion. That prayer was often a spur to anti-Jewish pogroms in the past, so its revival appalled Jewish leaders. After months of protests, the pope agreed to modify the language of the prayer; that change and other modifications made the “traditional” Mass more a hybrid than a restoration.
More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic — such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest — are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.
That is revolutionary — and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.
And that could be the final irony. For all the hue and cry over last week’s developments, Benedict’s innovations may have glossed too lightly over the really tough issues: namely, the theological differences that traditional Anglicans say have kept them from converting, as they could always do.
I’ve already made some comments on the recent apostolic constitution released by the Vatican designed to establish a smooth fast track for incorporating as many Anglican Christians, congregations, and priests as possible.
I’ll withhold extensive comment here because I actually just want to hear what other people think of this development. My basic sense is that this is only good if one’s sole idea of ecumenism is simply conversion to the Roman church. So, basically I don’t really think this is a good thing in any way, though of course I understand why many Catholics might. The timing of the matter is what I think is really problematic though.
But enough on that: what do other people think on this?
Okay, I know that there have always been “special dispensations” and exceptions and the like for married priests converting from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism and remaining priests. But now it looks like Rome is doing everything it can to bend over backwards and make this transition as easy as possible for as many Anglicans as possible.
So clearly, what’s happening here is that Rome is more than willing for a big influx of married priests which would oversee numerous flocks, right? Well, as I understand things clerical celibacy is not a dogma of the church, rather it is a pragmatic pastoral practice that the church has adopted and could, ostensibly change (after all it has been quite different at points throughout the church’s history).
Now, if clerical celibacy is a pragmatic pastoral practice it seems like it should be, well, pragmatic. In other words it should have some distinct practical advantages that make it preferable. But doesn’t this move to include any married Anglican priests reveal that the Vatican clearly doesn’t believe this? I mean, if being married really was an impediment to caring for a congregation, why would they be so eager to make space for it with Anglicans?
It seems patently odd for a church to make exceptions for its converts that it refuses to dispense to its faithful lifetime members, doesn’t it? And if being married in and of itself isn’t problematic for Anglican clergy who convert, why would it be problematic for Catholic priests to begin with?
It also seems undeniable to me that clerical celibacy has contributed to the decline of the Catholic church, at least in the West if not elsewhere. The massive shortage of priests has been documented at length. So, given that, and the fact that, at least for Anglican converts, marriage doesn’t pose a practical problem for ordained ministry, why does the hierarchy insist on retaining mandatory celibacy as the clerical norm? What possible advantage does it have? I really can’t think of any. And if its supposed to be somehow a practical move that helps the practice of pastoral ministry it seems like this is an utterly vital question.