"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015


With thirty four years in Peru and my ecumenical interests being directly aimed at the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, the Anglican Church has become almost a distant memory.   Almost, because  the memory has been kept alive by my continued pleasure when I read anything by C.S. Lewis.  However, with the coming of Pope Francis and the almost simultaneous ascent of Justin Welby to the see of Canterbury, my interest in the Anglican Church has been given a new lease of life.  When the Archbishop-elect was asked what kind of person he would like to see as pope, he answered, "Someone I can pray with."  God must have been listening because he certainly got what he had asked for.

In fact, they come from opposite ends of the ecclesial spectrum.  There is no doubt that the pope is a dyed in the wool Catholic, and Justin Welby would not hesitate to say that he is a Protestant, belonging to the "evangelical" wing of the Anglican Church.   Yet both men have had a faith journey in which their versions of Christianity have ended up looking very much like each other.  As I said in the last article, I don't believe there has been any time since the Reformation when a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury have been so close, so spiritually akin to one another.   One could even draw the conclusion that God was involved in both appointments!

Yet it has happened at a time when the Anglican Church is showing itself to be a church so very different from the Catholic Church and from the other apostolic churches like the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox that unity appears a distant dream..

All these Apostolic churches, like the Catholic Church, believe themselves to be bound by Tradition.  Tradition is how the Gospel has been understood, lived and passed down from the time of the Apostles.   This understanding, living and passing down is the result of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church as body of Christ, and is intimately bound up with the epiclesis and the corresponding Spirit's activity in the Mass. In fact, the liturgy is the main expression of what Catholics normally call the ordinary magisterium: lex orandi, lex credendi. The sacramental nature of the Church means that the Church's understanding of the Gospel is more than the sum total of the opinions of the individuals who make up the Church.  It is the communal mind of those who share in the liturgy.  When a new question arises, it cannot be simply answered by a majority vote: it has to be shown that the answer is faithful to Tradition.  

The problem with women bishops and priests is that they have been unknown in Christianity for two thousand years, even though there were women who were witnesses to the resurrected Christ, and even though priestesses existed in pagan religions and must have been available as models to the early Christians.   For this reason, both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI simply said that they had no authority to make such a change.  The various patriarchs would say the same. It is not because they are conservative and don't want to: it would inevitably mean that we would have to revise our understanding of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Tradition. For churches with their roots in apostolic times, Tradition is above law because Tradition is a work of the Holy Spirit as well as a work of the Church, while law requires only human prudence.

In contrast, the Protestant Reformation abolished the authority of Tradition and put in its place "sola scriptura".   Each individual interprets the Bible for himself, helped, it is hoped, by the Holy Spirit.   If they interpreted Scripture according to a tradition set by their founders, they did not notice it.   The Anglican Church is Protestant in that each individual is his own interpreter of revelation. The bishops can only reflect those beliefs. Many have given up the distinctive principles of the Reformation and have embraced the Christian faith of the Fathers (High Church) or even of modern Catholicism (Anglo-Catholic), but they do so like Protestants, picking and choosing as they go along.   Others are very definitely Protestant Evangelicals.  Actually, this is the most alive wing of the Angican Church. Famous parishes like All Souls, Langham Place in London or "Platt" in Manchester - I have forgotten its name - hum with activity and enthusiastic holiness. It is from this wing that the present Archbishop comes.

In the middle are the middle-of-the-road Anglicans, vaguely Protestant, for whom all doctrine is mere opinion, who normally embrace with what enthusiasm they can muster the values of the day, because they have no clearly held Christian values of their own.  Let us not dismiss them too promptly because they are the majority of English people; and it is largely due to them that Britain is the second largest doner in the world of aid to third world countries, and has contributed more aid to the Syrian refugees than all the other European Union countries combined.

Simply because the beliefs of the Anglican Church are equal to the sum of all the individual beliefs of Anglicans combined, the Church of England could resolve the problem of women priests, and then of women bishops  by a simple vote, thus showing the difference between them and the other episcopal churches with whom high churchmen usually wish to be associated.   

Just at that time, when ecumenism appeared to be in the doldrums, the episcopal chairs of St Peter and St Augustine were filled by two people who could be soul-mates.  I suspect that it is the Charismatic Renewal that has opened up the world of each of them to the other.  I suspect that both would agree with the words on ecumenism spoken by Peter Kreeft, a convert to Catholicm:

Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby put a great emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ which urges us to pray and to announce the Good News, introducing Christ to others.  Here is the pope speaking on evangelisation.   What is the most important thing?  Jesus.

Here we have Archbishop Justin Welby talking about evangelisation:
His message, especially in the second video, is typically Evangelical.  Yet, as we have seen in the previous article, his spiritual director is a Swiss Catholic priest, he adores Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, goes on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and he is a Benedictine oblate of what used to be Nashdom Abbey.  This is not a "typical Anglican fuzziness", but a sign of his growing vision of what Christianity is.   He is especially convinced of the need for the testimonies of religious communities.
He has a Catholic but ecumenical community in Lambeth Palace called Chemin Neuf:
There is now a brand new "monastic" community called the St Anselm Community.

Archbishop Welby launches monastic community at Lambeth Palace
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/archbishop.welby.launches.monastic.community.at.lambeth.palace/65148.htm 5 days ago
Young people and their families gathered in the Archbishop's Chapel at Lambeth Palace today to celebrate the launch of the community of St Anselm; a monastic-style year-long programme focused on prayer and service to the poor.

It was a relaxed affair; though featuring a number of sombre prayers of commitment and traditional hymns, the service was undoubtedly a celebration - punctuated with worship songs from countries around the world, choral arrangements by the St Martin's Voices were met with bongo drums. The 36 new community members - all aged between 20 and 35 - come from five continents and countries as far flung as Kenya and Australia, and parts of the service were conducted in French, Spanish and Swedish. As Archbishop Justin Welby called each member by name, they stood to acknowledge their new role, declaring "I am here" in their native language; echoing the words of Moses in Exodus 3 which was read at the beginning of the service.

Welby began his sermon with his trademark jovial style. Noting that many bishops have been consecrated in the chapel, he said to appreciative laughter, "this is a place where people have gone from here to suffering, to martyrdom, and here we are today...I'm sorry, that's probably a bad illustration."

He spoke of the importance of grace found in community, adding that St Anselm is not unique or rare, but is rather joining a tradition of religious communities that have existed throughout the centuries. "They are ancient and current reflections of the love of God seen in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in which people risk everything to emulate that love," he said. "A love that is so great that it overflows infinitely into the world from the Father, in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and in the sending of the Holy Spirit. Changed by the love which finds and directs us, changed by that grace, we too are to be sources of love and renewal."

Lambeth Palace20 of the members will be living in Lambeth Palace as residents, while 16 will continue working and join the community part time. All will follow a 'Rule of Life', drawn from the 6th century monastic group of St Benedict, and will take part in Ignatian prayer, while also following the example of Pope Francis in serving vulnerable people. It's likely to be a far cry from what many are used to; 23-year-old Peter Angelica spoke of coming to London from the US, where he has been working as an analyst in an investment bank. He admitted to having previously had doubts about leaving the noise of New York for monastic living, but said the value of being embedded in a loving community was evident. Another young woman, Frances Germain, has been a doctor working in A&E for the past two years, and will continue to do that alongside her commitments at Lambeth.

The Palace itself has, historically, "been a place of privilege, of power, even oppression in darker times," Welby said, adding - to laughter - that its prison is still usable. But the community will endeavour to embody grace - "the most beautiful word in the language of God".
RELATEDApplications to 'spend a year in God's time' at Lambeth Palace open todayLambeth prayer community is 'a thing of God, it can't be anything else' says new Prior'Working for peace begins on our knees': Archbishop's chaplain on prayerThe young nuns: Justin Welby invites young people to live monastic life at Lambeth Palace"In that prison, there was no grace," he said. "In this community, we offer the invitation to grace."

When he became Archbishop, Welby declared that his first priority was for the renewal of prayer and religious life across the Church. Today, he said he hopes the community of St Anselm will be prophetic; challenging both the Church and wider society, and speaking "God's truth to itself and to the world."
"Grace reaches out to those who are going nowhere - to the lost. Even when they think they have everything sorted, or there is no hope," he said, speaking directly to the new members before they took their vows.

"Grace is not hidden only in the holy places, but flaunts itself for us in the open air. In community, you will find grace in the ordinary...the grace of Jesus will find you, and you will discover and be discovered in the most mundane moments. Say yes with great expectation."

Mucknell Abbey

Just before I left England for Peru, I visited Mucknell Abbey; and, as the abbot is a friend of the Anglican bishop in Lima, my visit to Mucknell resulted in an invitation to the episcopal ordination of three Peruvians in the Anglican cathedral in Lima towards the end of July.
Conventual Mass at Mucknell

I used to know Nashdom.  Mucknell is a very different type of monastery.  There are about twelve religious, the majority being monks and a few nuns.  There are three  ordained ministers, the abbot, one of the nuns and a Methodist minister.   I attended the conventual mass of the abbot.  It was very devout and well celebrated, using a modern Anglican Eucharistic text.  The Methodist has special permission of the Methodist authorities to be a monk.  He goes out to Methodist chapels on Sundays and takes his turn for the  conventual Mass during the week, using the Methodist rite.

The monastery is a converted farm outside Pershore in Worcestershire, and has been built of ecologically sustainable materials, with solar panels on the roof.   All is very silent and contemplative.   I had a long talk with the abbot who is a very kind person.  It seemed to me to be a very good monastery that was not pretending to be anything else but Anglican.


Bishop Harold Godfrey, Anglican Bishop of Peru
The ordination of the three Peruvian bishops confirmed my impression that there is a real convergence between the "Catholic" and "Evangelical" wings of the Anglican Church.  When I last visited this cathedral thirty four years ago, it was straight down the line "Church Missionary Society" evangelicals, smelling of floor polish.  The bishop of that time, David Evans,
 was very pleasant, humerous and a good host; but it was all very Protestant.   They gave us our first hymn books.

The Protestants are still there, unbowed and at ease; but the bishop is an oblate of what was Nashdom and, although there were some scarves among the stoles, everything was unself-consciously friendly.   The cross without a figure is still there, but there are more candles and a tabernacle in the wall.

  Again, I felt they were at ease with their differences, and the uniting factor was not indifference but concentration on the kerygma, the Good News.

Dr Idowu-Fearon, secretary-general of the Anglican Communion and a Nigerian, also congratulated the diocesan bishop “for his willingness to give up his large territory and carve out three new missionary dioceses for growth.”
In an address to the congregation, he said that the three new bishops “are to focus on proclaiming the Gospel. Doctrines are helpful but only the Gospel saves. They are to proclaim Christ, serve the people and the church will grow.”

We have seen that the Anglican Church does not easily fit into any known category of church.  All the churches with apostolic pedigree are an organic unity that springs from the Eucharist that has been celebrated from the time of the apostles, developing and expressing their communal understanding of the mind of Christ.  In contrast, the members of the Anglican Church can pick and choose. Because the Anglicans have adopted women clergy and have shown by this that there are things more important than unity, fresh attempts to look again at the problem of Anglican Orders were shelved, and Rome began to think of the Ordinariate as a way of preserving Angican tradition within the Roman communion.   Our attitude towards the Anglican ministry became that Anglican orders are valid and effective and a means of grace for the needs of the Anglican Church, but they are not identical to the Catholic priesthood because the Anglican churches are not equivalent to local Catholic churches, as are the Orthodox, Assyrians, Copts etc.  Hence, we treat their clergy as our colleagues on the mission to evangelise etc; but, should they become Catholics, we ordain them into the Catholic priesthood.  What can be said of their Eucharist?   We simply don't know: that is up to God.  All we know is what we experience, that their eucharist can lead to real holiness.  All things are possible with God.  We don't have to have all the answers. 

The Church is communion in Christ.  As a Catholic, I believe that the basic structure of the Church is complete in Catholicism; but, because it is communion, as Brother Alois says in the video that terminates this post,  all our churches are qualitatively deficient because we are not in visible communion with everybody who is in communion with Christ.  The damage is reciprocal and our ecclesial lives reflect this.  The Anglican Church, with other Protestant churches, have their own weakness in that people decide on doctrine as individuals instead of adopting the truth as an organic whole as members of a eucharistic community and as found in the communal experience of the Church.  There are "liberal Catholics" who would like the Catholic Church to be like that, but it isn't.  Nevertheless, in the Providence of God, Anglicanism can serve Christian unity by solving within itself the problem of disunity.

Perhaps in the conditions of chaotic disunity among Christians, the Anglican Church has its own vocation which is based on its main weakness,  subjecting Revelation to the hazards of individual choice; and this makes it different from other episcopal churches. After all, God often bases a person's vocation on his weakness rather than his strength.  More than in any other church, the divisions in Christianity are also the problems of Anglican disunity. Perhaps evangelicals and anglo-catholics finding peace, identity and community in the Lima Cathedral of the Good Shepherd has wider implications for Christians at large.

Just when the ecumenical movement seemed to have stopped in its tracks, at least as far as Anglicanism is concerned, along comes a Pope who is keen to cross the lines and to choose evangelicals as allies, not as enemies;
For Francis, the essential thing is to have a relationship with Jesus.  That makes us already one in him: he is in us and we are in him.   This also is Archbishop Welby's conviction.  We must learn to love one another: then the problems that keep us apart will be solved.  Thus, Francis has visited evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and he has received any that will respond positively in his home.   In Rio de Janeiro, he was going by car from one event to another in the World Youth Day.  He was passing a Pentecostal chapel which was going at full swing.   He stopped the car, got out and entered the chapel.  He gave them a Christian greeting, asked them to pray for him, was with them for some minutes, and then left.

What is the theological justification for all this?   It is simply that, from a Catholic point of view, the fullness of Catholicism is not an institution but a Person.  As St Paul says in 1st Colossians,
 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, not by its own power, the Church is his body in whom he is present at all levels.   When he is in me and I in him, I am united to all, because he holds all things together.  As his body, we are organically united to each other in him,"that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (Jn 17)   "We can be damned alone, but we cannot be saved alone"  We can only be saved "in communion" with others in Christ, because that is what salvation is.

Catholics and Evangelicals agree that we are saved in and through the Good News.  We disagree on some of the implications of this; but Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby believe that this is enough to allow us preach the Good News together.

Also, Anglican history has shown that, if people hold some Catholic truth together, then more can be discovered. Although we cannot agree with Anglican individualism, we marvel at the grasp of the truth of C.S. Lewis, of John Henry Newman before he became a Catholic.  The Uganda martyrs are Catholic saints, but some were Anglicans, but our divisions don't reach heaven.  The Christian life is so organically inter-related that the acceptance of one Catholic truth implies all the rest, even if this is not realised.

I think we should look at the Taize community which has members from different Protestant churches; but, together with their Catholic co-members, they go to communion at the same Mass because, as a community, they have reached a sufficient fullness of faith and belief, even though they haven't left their original denominations.  There is hope.
This post is meant to be read together with: 

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