For a number of reasons which I am not going to rehearse here (but which are, I hope, abundantly clear if you know me at all, or care to surf around upstream from this post), I am not a candidate for the provisions set forth in the new Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. But I am certainly a sympathetic observer. So I first want to say some positive things about this overture from Rome, because it is itself, in my view, a positive thing. Then I want to offer some observations that will be more—what’s the word?—challenging, because, as good as it is, it could still be a whole lot better.
Why am I a “sympathetic observer”? First, because I have a lot of friends and colleagues for whom this is an option that they are looking at very, very seriously. Their decision will affect my relationship with them, so it will affect my life. Second, because I am committed with all my being to the visible unity of Christ’s Church, and I am persuaded that the See of Rome has been given a charism by the Holy Spirit to be the focal point and guardian of that unity. (I am not, obviously, persuaded that submission to Rome is essential, in an absolute sense, to ecclesial validity or even ecclesial fullness, or else I would have swum the Tiber long ago.) So any initiative that is configured toward manifesting a higher degree of visible unity is of interest to me. Third, there is a part of me that is envious of my friends for whom it is a live option. I share their joy (even as I will be grief-stricken when we can no longer share the Eucharist at the same altar). I want it to work for them.
In several respects, the details of the Constitution (and its supporting documents) exhibit a degree of pastoral sensitivity on the part of Pope Benedict that is almost breathtaking. While it is not surprising that there will be no allowance for married bishops, Ordinaries who are former Anglican bishops will be bishops in all but name. It appears that permission will be readily granted for them to wear the “insignia” of episcopal office, which presumably will include miters, rings, and pectoral crosses. The only part of their former job description they won’t be able to take with them is actually ordaining. It is also noteworthy that provision is made for items of governance that are more conciliar than is customary in mainstream Latin Rite dioceses, including what American Episcopalians would recognize as a sort of “Standing Committee,” a body of priests within an Ordinariate whose responsibility it is to act as a check on the Ordinary’s exercise of authority.
There are, of course, some questions and some ironies. Precisely what liturgical materials will be authorized for use? In the Anglican Use, heretofore limited to America, there is a volume that is clearly modeled on the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It even has forms in “Rite One” and “Rite Two” language. But even within the Catholic “wing” of Anglicanism, there is a dizzying degree of liturgical diversity. American Anglo-Catholics tilt in the direction (though not exclusively, by any means) of pre-Vatican II ceremonial (i.e. Tridentine), using Elizabethan-era language. Their British counterparts, on the other hand, tilt very strongly (but again, not exclusively) in the direction of essentially emulating contemporary Latin Rite ritual and ceremonial, to the point of using the Novus Ordo word for word rather than any officially authorized Anglican liturgy. (One might plausibly inquire, then, precisely what part of the “Anglican patrimony” they will be bringing with them across the river.) This is a much wider range of practice than is currently possible within the mainstream Latin Rite. I would have to assume that Vatican officials are aware of this, and it will be interesting to see how they ride herd on what can only be described as the “messiness” of Anglo-Catholic liturgical praxis.
As the news of the new Apostolic Constitution broke a couple of weeks ago, speculation was rife that it signified the victory of one section of the Vatican bureaucracy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), headed by Cardinal William Levada, over another, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, in an ongoing internal tug of war. The scuttlebutt was that Pope Benedict, whose previous job was Levada’s at CDF, reached a point where he no longer held out hope for achieving ecumenical rapprochement with Anglicans via the “front door” strategy of official bilateral and multilateral negotiations, concluding that “Anglicanism” is too amorphous to speak with a united voice, and is therefore not a viable ecumenical partner. At the same time, there are (ostensibly) whole communities of Anglicans ready to batter the gates of Rome for admission. Better to make a deal with them and achieve some tangible results than rely on painstaking negotiations with official Anglican bodies that have borne some significant fruit over the years, but which are constantly—and, it appears, hopelessly—undermined by the behavior of one Anglican province or another.
If there is any truth to this scenario, it is difficult to fault the Holy Father. He is passionate about visible unity and is eager for results. He is, after all, in the twilight of his life. But it is worth raising the question, and meaning not a micron of disrespect: Was even this bold stroke too timid? Is Rome perhaps even now squandering an opportunity for a truly game-changing move? One that would stretch, but not undermine, the disciplinary tradition of the Latin Rite?
What are the “liturgical, spiritual, and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion” that Anglicanorum Coetibus is intended to help preserve? Is it Cranmerian liturgical draftsmanship? Choral Evensong? Hymns with soaring treble descants? (Or, some have joked, hymns where all the verses actually get sung.) Sarum blue vestments for Advent? If we’re talking about these elements, or others like them, that’s something that I’m sure will be appreciated by those who opt in to the personal ordinariate scheme. But all that does is peel off a stratum of Anglicanism made up of people who are attached to such things and who also are already yearning to be in communion with Rome, to the point where they can no longer stand not to be.
But it’s a move that leaves a lot of unplayed cards on the table, because there are many more—many times more, actually—Anglicans who are very pre-disposed to fall in behind Benedict’s inspiring (and inspired) leadership in striking back at the forces of secularism. There are even some prominent Anglican evangelical voices in this particular chorus, which is really quite astonishing. Even though I write as an Anglo-Catholic, I realize that the “patrimony of Anglicanism” includes the evangelical stream, and I am loathe to make the move into the bosom of Rome without some, at least, of my evangelical brethren (realizing that the most resolute Protestants will likely never come along). Is comprehensiveness a necessary evil that worked for Elizabeth, but no longer serves us well? Perhaps. But it also may be a gem, something we as Anglicans can bring with us, if we are allowed to, as we hold ourselves to a higher degree of accountability to the wider Catholic Church in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome.
Another facet of that gem is a 450 year tradition of a married priesthood (and episcopate) that, on balance, has served us well, fostering a dynamic in the relationship between pastor and people that has a tendency to be health-giving. This does not denigrate the benefits that have derived from the charism of celibacy within the Latin Rite. It does suggest something different, something additional, an element of comprehensiveness. Yet another facet is a tradition of intellectual spaciousness that, to be sure, carries attendant risks, but which is demonstrably an effective force for the sanctification of the faithful by the renewal of their minds. It may not be consonant in every detail with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but, in dialogue with (tethered to?) that valuable document, could represent a channel of divine grace. Another facet of the gem represents the “saints” peculiar to Anglicanism—Hooker, Donne, Herbert, Simeon, the Wesleys, Keble, Underhill, Eliot, Lewis, and others. There would be no need, I suspect, for any of them to be canonized in the technical sense. But for those spiritually formed in Anglicanism, there would need to be some provision for bringing these folks along posthumously. They have been used by God to shape us, and we cannot deny them.
What I, in my fantasies, would like to see—I may as well come out and say it—is a true Anglican Rite Church, alongside the Maronites, Melkites, Ukranians, etc., an Anglican Uniatism. In such a church, the gem that is the Anglican tradition could be allowed to shine in all its comprehensive glory, not just temporarily and partially, but indefinitely, until the Spirit works to bring all the strands of Christianity into fruitful unity. This would include permanent permission to retain a married priesthood. Yet, this church would be anchored firmly to deferential communion with the Roman Pontiff exercising his Petrine ministry of fostering unity among all the faithful in Christ, and thus be protected from evolving in ways that compromise the integrity of the faith. Now, I understand the technical reasoning behind the decision not to move in such a direction, that Anglicanism is a spinoff from the Latin Rite that needs to be reunited with its parent, and not, properly speaking, an ancient church with a patriarchate of its own. That is a completely coherent response. But it is also a failure of imagination, and possibly a deficit in the cardinal virtue of fortitude. The potential harvest of Christian unity is incredibly rich at this moment. But reaping that harvest demands not just a bold stroke like Anglicanorum Coetibus. It demands a leap of faith.
Your Holiness, carpe diem!