Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Newman and Anglicanorum Coetibus

The Newman Cause website has posted what is, in essence, a response to the Tablet's recent editorial  about the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. Those who have seen my earlier posts (here, here, here and here) on this subject will realise that I have reservations about the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution. To an extent, these reservations are about the substance of the provisions themselves; but I feel they are more fundamentally about how the provisions might work themselves out in the reality of how Anglican groupings respond to them.

The Newman Cause post takes issue with the Tablet's view that Anglicans should feel, and perhaps be made to feel, a sense of "conversion" in being received into the Roman Catholic Church, a sense of rejection of their past. Rather, the post suggests, the Anglican experience is more like that of Newman himself, who had no sense of leaving behind anything from his Anglican life. Instead, what happens is an experience of completion and fulfilment of that Anglican life.
‘Anglo-Catholicism’ is essentially interrogative. Can Anglicanism’s entanglement in the distortions of the Reformation be overcome, so as to vindicate its ‘Catholic credentials’? One remains an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ for as long as one believes that this question can be given an affirmative answer.

The Anglican communities addressed by the Apostolic Constitution have concluded that an affirmative answer is impossible. The Tablet’s desire to impose upon them a model of conversion as ‘transformation’ is irrelevant to their experience. It is Newman’s description of his conversion – ‘it was like coming into port after a rough sea’ – which will better capture these communities’ embrace of Roman Catholicism. For ‘Anglo-Catholics’ typically have the Catholic Faith; what they lack, until they become Roman Catholics, is the Church in which that Faith is truly at home. The Tablet’s own position inverts this progression, and this is why it misunderstands ‘Anglo-Catholicism’ and fears the Apostolic Constitution. The Tablet has the Catholic Church; what it is all too clearly unsure about is whether it wants the Catholic Faith.

As far as individual Anglican's is concerned, they may well find themselves in a position absolutely analagous to that in which Newman found himself, in which case the point being made by the Newman Cause post is quite correct. I do, however, have a couple of reasons for wondering whether, at the corporate level (parish or grouping such as Forward in Faith, Traditional Anglican Communion) the Anglo-Catholic of today really is in the same sort of position as was Newman.
Firstly, a lot of non-Catholic water has passed under the bridge of the Church of England during the years since Newman was alive. The longer the Anglo-Catholic groupings have accepted, or at least tolerated, the non-Catholic practices of women priests etc through participation in the rather artificial mechanisms of "guidance and oversight" from Catholic minded bishops who remain in some sort of essentially sociological communion with bishops who reject their Catholic beliefs; the more they have then come to live an inadequate idea of ecclesial communion that is not Catholic because it lacks reference to unity in belief and moral life. I happen to feel that a conversion (in the sense of move towards fulfilment) may be needed now that was not needed in Newman's time - a conversion in the sense of the ecclesial communion that will be lived in the Catholic Church from that which is lived in Anglicanism. It is not just a question of finding the Church in which the Anglo-Catholic beliefs are really at home; it is now also about having a proper sense of the idea of communion within that Church. The provisions of the Apostolic Constitution could, I think, address this issue more clearly.
And secondly, but not unrelated, is the response of some, notably in Forward in Faith, which suggests that they see the Apostolic Constitution as providing in the Roman Catholic Church exactly the kind of positioning that they have been seeking in the Anglican Church, but which it now looks as if they will not be given there. This seems to me to be a manifestation of an idea of ecclesial communion without reference to unity of belief, and so an inadequate manifestation of such a communion. The position of those in good standing with Anglo-Catholic groupings but whose life situations are at odds with Catholic moral teaching (I'm trying to be diplomatic here) suggests an inadequate living of ecclesial communion from the point of view of unity in moral life. 
I think the proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it - as the Bishop of Fulham observed, many Anglo-Catholics may now find that their bluff has been called.

And, as a PS and recognising that I may well not find the time to do it, I think there is a dialogue to be had with the Newman Cause's observations with regard to the nature of dialogue!


Fr John Abberton said...

This is a good post. I have some Anglo-catholic friends. They do not all believe the same things, although, by and large, they are united in some fundamentals such as the Real Presence and the importance of Our Lady.

In the end, each person will have to respond to the Pope's invitation in their own way. There can be a block movement (as there was in Walsingham a few years ago), but we cannot assume that everyone who attempts to cross the Tiber will understand or accept some very important aspects of RC teaching.

I also feel that some Anglican responses are worrying. In particular I am getting a bit fed up with the position that "we will move if we really cannot find a home in the C of E". This suggests that such people do not accept that the Roman Catholic position is the Truth. Ultimately it is about Truth with a capital "T". This was Newman's cause, and it should be any Christian's cause. Unfortunately there are signs that some Anglo-Catholics have simply not grasped the main point in all this - that they must follow their consciences not their desire for some kind of spiritual/cultural home. As Newman found, the pursuit of Truth demands sacrifice - sometimes great sacrifice. My own feeling now is that if Anglo-Catholics do not accept the Petrine ministry as a fundamental part of the Christian Church, they should not attempt to move to Rome. It is a mistake, I think, to assume that most Anglo-Catholics looking to Rome are in any way like Newman. Some of them are in a different category altogether. I am not happy about the Tablet article, but at the same time, I am becoming increasingly concerned that this offer to Traditional Anglicans is actually revealing that the only way forward for those who believe in the Papacy and other fundamental RC things is personal conversion.

Joe said...

Fr John

Thank you for your comment. I think the reference to the Petrine office is helpful. In some ways, the Apostolic Constitution's allowing the Catechism as the reference point for belief perhaps allows some Anglo-Catholics to fudge this point in their own thinking - though objectively, of course, it is not fudged. The Petrine office is the touch stone of communion.

I do feel rather lonely as someone who is "orthodox" but wary of soem of the implications of Anglicanorum coetibus. My views are too informed by conversations with converts from the Church of England.

NewmanCause said...

Thank you for your thoughtful reflections on our Editorial. May we make a few remarks to carry the discussion forward?

You are right that contemporary 'Anglo-Catholics' are not necessarily in the same position as Newman on the eve of his conversion. But in saying this, it's important not to exaggerate the smoothness of Newman's transition from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

You summarise our position as follows. In becoming a Catholic, Newman 'had no sense of leaving behind anything from his Anglican life'; his experience upon conversion was 'of completion and fulfilment of that Anglican life.' These propositions are in a crucial respect different from those advanced in our Editorial. We spoke of Newman's Catholic beliefs, not his 'Anglican life'. Similarly, we did not speak, as you suggest, of 'finding the Church in which the Anglo-Catholic beliefs are really at home.' We spoke, instead, of the Catholic Church as the true home of Catholic beliefs held by Anglicans.

Newman's 'Anglican life' had been a 'rough sea', as he says. He was referring not only to the controversy his Anglican career had provoked, but also to the painful development of his own convictions. It was only in 1843 that he felt ready to retract his public criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church, and only by the late summer of 1845 that he finally saw his way clear to embracing Roman Catholicism. It was in reference to this decisive moment that Newman wrote the words we quoted in our Editorial: 'I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change etc.' Up to that point, the evolution of his Catholic convictions, though continuous, had been neither rapid nor inwardly serene.

Our point against The Tablet was not to play up the continuity between Newman's 'Anglican life' and his conversion to Catholicism. It was to point out that when, at the very end, Newman was ready to become a Catholic, he was not conscious of the kind of 'transformative' experience (changing 'one world view for another') which The Tablet commends.

It seems to us that you do not want to defend The Tablet's conception either. Your point is more subtle. It is that the Anglican groups addressed by the Apostolic Constitution will, if they become faithful Catholics, experience true ecclesial communion for the first time. This, of course, would have been true of Newman as well. It is what we meant by saying that 'Anglo-Catholicism' as such is in search of the Church.

But we are not sure that we agree with you that this experience of ecclesial communion is something which the Apostolic Constitution could have done more to address. The Constitution, after all, imposes the Catechism (whereas The Tablet would prefer a more abbreviated attestation of Faith). Beyond that, it seems to us that whether or not these former Anglican groups experience true ecclesial communion in the Catholic Church depends – as it does for everyone else - upon individual conscience. As Catholics, if they follow their consciences they will enjoy true ecclesial communion; if they don't, they won't. We think it is asking too much of the Apostolic Constitution to suppose that it could do more to ensure the former outcome rather than the latter.

Crucially, it does seem to us that the cause of true ecclesial communion would not have been advanced if the Constitution had followed The Tablet's recommendation of reception into the Church through parish-based RCIA schemes following 'a journey of faith involving instruction from a parish catechist'. Professions of the Faith expounded in the Catechism seem to us in every way preferable.

If you have the time, we look forward to having a dialogue about 'dialogue'!

Joe said...

Newman Cause:

Thank you for your comment, which I am very happy to post.