Sunday, 6 February 2011

Why I shall stand firm ...

.. in the Anglican catholic tradition" is the heading of the Credo column in yesterday's Times newspaper. It was written (the column, that is, not necessarily the headline) by Rt Rev Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. It is a very articulate explanation of why an Anglo-Catholic might wish to remain in the Church of England after the double impact of the prospective ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England and the establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Roman Catholic Church. It is of interest because it argues from theological principle and does not speak at the political level of "staying and continuing the fight". It is also an extremely courteous article in every respect.

I was interested to read how Bishop Rowell understands the departure of five Anglican bishops to join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and therefore how he understands the idea of the ordinariate itself. He writes of
..the ordinariate set up by Pope Benedict for Anglicans who wish to give priority to the quest for unity and reconciliation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, which Anglicans as a whole had welcomed warmly in the days of Archbishop Michael Ramsey..
Bishop Rowell views the welcoming of Anglican patrimony in the ordinariate as an affirmation of the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and a challenge to Anglicans to identify exactly what that patrimony is and was. He goes on to suggest that the Anglican Covenant (and the Declaration of Assent required of Church of England clergy - see foot of the page linked) defines the nature of Anglicanism and that it is never a matter of an "anything goes" idea of Anglicanism. In essence, it is suggesting that the Anglican Communion is a part of the wider, universal Church of God expressed in different ecclesial bodies. It is very cogently argued, but there is a distinct feel that it is about giving a Catholic interpretation to something that would equally bear a Protestant interpretation. It is classical Anglo-Catholicism in the tradition of the Tractarian movement, with the plea that goes with that:
Ever since [the English Reformation] Anglicans have held that those ordained as bishops, priests and deacons, are ordained as bishops, priests and deacons of the Church of God. Change in that ordering of ministry is therefore a matter not just for the Church of England or the Anglican Communion but for all those Churches who claim to share that ministry. Developments in faith and order need this wider reference.
Towards the end of his article, Bishop Rowell gives an account of a meeting in November last with Pope Benedict XVI.
At the end of November I was privileged to have an audience with Pope Benedict, and was able to say to him that, as an Anglican bishop, standing in the catholic Anglican tradition, I - with others - wished to continue to witness to the catholic identity of Anglicanism, and received his encouragement to do so.
It would be something quite interesting if, in a kind of mirror to the beginning of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, there were to be a renewed witness to the catholic tradition within the Church of England. Clearly, in the historical context, this should be looked for at the level of charisms, the level of testimony, rather than that of the structures of the Church of England. Such a witness would be an impulse towards unity and it is this that enables us to understand why, in addition to his natural courtesy, Pope Benedict gave the encouragement to Bishop Rowell that he did.

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