On the Roman Covenantadmin | 21 December 2009
In October Pope Benedict issued an Apostolic Constitution entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus dealing with the reception into the Roman Catholic Church of various Anglican groups and individuals. I have been asked about my views on this matter. Here is an article recently published in The Anglican Planet (TAP), for your interest. DC
On the recent Vatican statement (yeah, that one)
By David Curry
CLEAR AND PRECISE, gracious and considerate, Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus is, not surprisingly, a very Roman document. Juridical in its tone and approach, it is very firmly set within the established norms of Canon Law in the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church.
It makes, as the Vatican press release says, “a new provision” in response “to the many requests … from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful … who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church.” The document is a clear and precise statement about that pastoral response.
It is not really an “ecumenical” document. It is not about a further development in the relationships between various constituent ecclesiological communities, along the lines of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, for instance. And with respect to the question as to why the Archbishop of Canterbury was not consulted, why should he be about Anglican groups who are seeking accommodation within the Roman Catholic Church?
In other words, the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, along with its Complementary Norms, is an in-house response of the Roman See to Anglicans who have already embraced “the Roman Covenant,” to coin a phrase, out of dismay and disillusionment with the episcopal and synodical developments within the Anglican Communion which have compromised and betrayed “the Anglican Covenant.” “The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of the Catholic Faith professed by members of the Ordinariate”(I.5). Not the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal* and the Thirty-nine Articles. This provision is for Anglicans who have become thoroughly disillusioned with Anglicanism. Sad but true. And not without reason.
It is gracious and considerate, to an extent. Post-Vatican II Catholicism has attempted to respect and understand the expressions of Christian and catholic faith “found outside [the] visible confines” of “the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him” (Introduction). The Joint Statement on Justification between Rome and the Lutheran Church, for instance, is an outstanding example of a principled kind of theological discourse that recognises legitimate but different approaches to the understanding of our incorporation and life in the Body of Christ.
Anglicanorum Coetibus genuinely reflects, I think, Benedict’s own generosity of spirit and theological acumen about the virtues of “the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony” and the intent to preserve and maintain that heritage. Exactly what is meant by “the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony” is not spelled out, nor need it be, since whatever it is will be subject to approval by the Holy See. Thus, it is not a blanket endorsement of Anglican spirituality and theology but neither is it a complete dismissal of the forms of essential Catholicism belonging to Anglican claims. The express intent, within the limits of the Roman magisterium, or teaching office, is “to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.” Generous and gracious, indeed.
Some have commented on the gentle approach to Anglican Bishops in the Constitution and the Complementary Norms. Perhaps.
But that cannot hide the brutal reality that Anglican orders are viewed as “null and void” as Pope Leo XIII’s Bull Apostolicae Curae of 1896 makes clear. Anglican bishops seeking provision within Anglicanorum Coetibus will have to be reconfirmed and re-ordained but only as deacons and priests. Only if unmarried would there be the possibility of ascending to the episcopate in the Roman Catholic Church. Laypeople would have to be reconfirmed. Nothing could be clearer than the recognition that the distinctive sacramental functions of Anglican bishops, namely, confirmation and ordination, are regarded as, well, worth nothing.
The document is, in this sense, an indictment of the Anglican episcopate in its failure, individually and collectively, to uphold the catholic norms of our own doctrinal patrimony, namely the principled legacy of doctrinal minimalism expressed in the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Thirty-nine Articles.
Constitutions are only as strong as our capacity to think and live within them. The tragedy of contemporary Anglicanism lies in the betrayal of our foundational principles by allowing social and political agendas to trump the biblical and theological basis of our polity and life. There is the wonderful irony that the Roman Pontiff should have a higher regard for the spiritual distinctives of our Anglican patrimony than many an Anglican Bishop.
Pope Benedict has recognized a fundamental problem in contemporary Anglicanism, namely, the idea that the majority principle can apply to questions of doctrine and that doctrinal questions can be entrusted to synods. They can’t and they can’t precisely according to the principles that we have received and which define an Anglican Christian identity.
We have lost the pastoral and theological generosity of spirit that used to characterize Anglicans in terms of living with differences and even confusions. A new spirit animates the episcopal world, at least in North America; it is the spirit of coercion and force about agendas that lack theological cogency but which will have their way, come hell or high water. (If you believe in global warming, perhaps it will be both.)
There is a further paradox. In embracing the Roman Covenant, former Anglicans exchange the centralizing authority of national and diocesan churches bent on practices that lack biblical or theological rationale for a central authority that mandates several doctrines for which there is no biblical basis either. Anglo-Catholics have often been quite comfortable with such teachings as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary, for example, full knowing that while a theological rationale can be provided they are doctrines that cannot be required as necessary for salvation since they lack clear biblical authority. The doctrine of papal infallibility clashes even more directly with the Anglican commitment to the idea of a fallible church, something which has become only too believable.
The project of developing a new Anglican Covenant is the attempt to hold together a fragmented and fragmenting communion.
But, as the Rev. Dr Robert Crouse observes, we already have an Anglican Covenant. It is the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Thirty-nine Articles, the principles of which are strong and free enough to guide and measure liturgical alternatives as well as the moral and pastoral life of the Church. At issue is the strength of mind and heart to will it.
In a paradoxical way, Anglicanorum Coetibus helps Anglicans who want to remain Anglicans, too, because it recognizes the legitimacy of our Anglican patrimony at a time when many are bent on jettisoning it. It reminds us that we are indeed part of “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” The Roman Covenant reminds us of what is true in our Anglican Covenant, bishops notwithstanding.
The Rev. David Curry is Rector of the Parish of Windsor in the Diocese of Nova Scotia & PEI.
* The Ordinal is the book containing the order of service for ordinations.
By permission of TAP (November 30th, 2009 edition of The Anglican Planet)