Meeting the Challenge of Anglicanorum Coetibus
By Robin G. Jordan
January 24, 2011
In the nineteenth century the Oxford Tractarian and Ritualist Movements, which are jointly called the Romeward Movement, sought to change the identity of the Church of England, to erase the Protestant and Reformed character of the English Church and make the Church more like the Church of Rome in doctrine and practice. Their aim was to make the Church of England so like the Church of Rome that the Pope would readmit the English Church into the Roman fold.
Among the claims of the Oxford Tractarians and the Ritualists was that the Evangelicals and Protestant High Churchmen were not true churchmen. They maintained that they were the only true churchmen and the other church parties or schools of thought had no place being in the Church of England. While they urged the Protestant High Churchmen to adopt Romish doctrine and practice, they demanded that the Evangelicals leave the Church of England and join the Non-Conformists.
What made this demand particularly outrageous was that the Evangelicals were conforming to the doctrine and practice of the Church of England while the Oxford Tractarians and the Ritualists were openly defying the canons of the English Church and the law of the land with their Romanizing. They were the non-conformists.
The struggle between the Oxford Tractarians and the Ritualists and the Evangelicals in the nineteenth century was the precursor of later struggles in the twentieth century. These struggles have persisted unabated into the twenty-first century and have grown in their intensity. They revolve around critical issues such as the authority of the Bible. Among these issues is the identity of the Anglican Church and the criterion for Anglican orthodoxy.
Each group has tried to reconfigure Anglicanism, representing its definitions of Anglican and Anglicanism as the authoritative definitions of the terms, and seeking tacit acceptance of its definitions in the Anglican Church. The confusion and disarray that one sees in the contemporary Anglican Church is attributable in part to the competing definitions of Anglican and Anglicanism vying for acceptance in the Anglican Church. The first Global Anglican Future Conference tried to establish some order in the confusion and disarray with the Jerusalem Declaration, which recognizes fourteen tenets underlying Anglican orthodoxy.
The latest group to enter the fray is the Roman Catholic Church. Since the sixteenth century one Pope after another has sought to undermine the English Reformation and to bring the English Church back into the Roman fold. The latest is Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict is appealing to a disaffected segment of the Church of England that is faced with the unwelcome prospect of women bishops in the English Church. He is calling upon them to defect to the Church of Rome and he is making it easier for them to defect than in the past. He is establishing an Anglican Church within the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time he is claiming what he is doing is in keeping with the spirit of ecumenism of the last forty odd years.
The Pope has little to lose if his ecclesiastical adventurism is unsuccessful. If the ordinariates erected under his plan do not prove viable, they can be absorbed into the archdiocesan structure of the Roman Catholic Church. The former Anglicans in the ordinariates may not like it. However, they chose to become Roman Catholics.
The leaders of the Church of England, lulled into complacency by decades of ecumenical dialogue, have been caught napping. General Synod rejected a proposal that would have created a non-geographic third province within the Church of England for those whose theological convictions prevented them from accepting women in ordained ministry. General Synod eliminated the provisions providing flying bishops for these folks. General Synod created an opportunity and the Pope seized it.
The idea behind the personal ordinariates for former Anglican in the Roman Catholic Church is fairly similar to the idea behind the proposal for a non-geographic third province within the Church of England. The personal ordinariate is not a new concept in the Roman Catholic Church. Peculiarities-chapels, churches, districts, and whole islands under the oversight of a bishop different from the bishop of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction in which they are located-are not a new concept in the Church of England.
The English also had their own licensed chapels in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The English Prayer Book was used in these chapels and the Scottish bishops had no jurisdiction over them.
No matter how the Vatican and the Roman Catholic media try to construe it, the creation of the personal ordinariates for former Anglicans in the Roman Catholic Church is by no stretch of the imagination a friendly act. It is certainly not a new ecumenical initiative or step toward Christian unity as it is being portrayed.
I have been posting articles about the Personal Ordinariates as part of a new feature on Anglicans Ablaze, which I title "Ordinariate Watch." The idea behinds this feature is to keep my readers informed about not only what is going on but also how it may affect the Anglican Church.
What caught my attention in one article were the words of the Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols, the homilist at former Anglican bishop Keith Newton's first mass as a Roman Catholic priest. He described the Our Lady Walsingham Ordinariate as "nothing less than the reconfiguring of Anglicanism by union with the Petrine centre and its criteria of orthodoxy".
This suggests that the Roman Catholic Church has joined the groups seeking to make their definitions of Anglican and Anglicanism the accepted or predominate definitions, adding another voice to the chorus. It might be more accurate to say that the Church of Rome has modified its strategy for redefining Anglican and Anglicanism. The ecumenical dialogue of the past forty years has comprised a major part of that strategy.
What the Anglican Church needs right now is a strong champion for authentic historic Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church. Due to the history of the Episcopal Church and its effect upon Anglicanism in North America, the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Mission, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and the Episcopal Church are not equipped to be that champion. None of these bodies evidences a strong commitment to authentic historic Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church albeit individual congregations and clergy within them display such a commitment. The commitment of such bodies appear to more to what is represented as latter-day expressions of Anglicanism, for example, modernism, pluralism, syncreticism, and universalism in the Episcopal Church.
The philosophy of the church with which I have been sojourning is, "If you see a need, don't walk away. Do something about it." See a need. Meet a need. What we have here is a clear need. The question is, "What are we going to do about it?"
Meeting the Challenge of Anglicanorum Coetibus-Part II
By Robin G. Jordan
In my previous article, "Meeting the Challenge of Anglicanorum Coetibus-Part I," I drew attention to the challenge that the personal ordinariates present for the Anglican Church and the need for a strong champion of the authentic historical Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church. We should not take this challenge too lightly. North America presently has no group that has the influence, the resources, and most importantly the will to champion authentic historical Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church.
As my readers may know, I advocate the formation of a network linking together North America Christians committed to authentic historical Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church and linking them with like-minded Christians outside of North America. The aims of this network would be (1) to spread the gospel in North America and throughout the world, (2) to encourage and support network members and other Christians sympathetic to network aims and core principles wherever God has placed them and in whatever ministry God has placed them; (3) to promote cooperation, fellowship, mutual assistance, and unity between network members and other Christians sympathetic to network aims and core principles, in and outside existing Anglican bodies, in and outside of North America; (4) to establish and grow new Anglican churches in North America and assist and strengthen existing ones; and (5) to promote authentic historic Anglicanism and the Church of England's Protestant and Reformed heritage. These aims are not particularly unique and are shared by a number of existing organizations. This network would bring them together in one organization.
I also advocate the formation of a non-geographic diocese or sub-provincial jurisdiction within the Anglican Church in North America to enfold in that body congregations and clergy committed to authentic historical Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church in North America would in creating this subdivision waive the provisions of its constitution and canons that would interfere with the formation of a subdivision of this type within that body. The present move in the Anglican Church in North America to transition to territory-based dioceses without consideration of theological differences will in the long haul replicate the kind of conditions that have historically existed in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church with one group dominating each diocese and other groups maintaining only a marginal existence in the diocese, if they are able to maintain an existence at all, and which underlie the serious conflicts that beset these bodies. My proposal would apply the homogenous unit principle and place in a subdivision all congregations and clergy that shared a common set of beliefs and values. The subdivision itself could then be divided into episcopal area or dioceses, uniting the combined resources of the congregations in a particular geographic region in support of a common mission. The Anglican Mission has been successfully applying this principle in its church planting networks.
I further advocate the formation of a North American non-geographic convocation of Anglican churches like the Church of England's Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe and the Episcopal Church's Convocation of American Churches in Europe that would enfold congregations and clergy which are committed to authentic historic Anglicanism and the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church and which for a variety of reasons are not attracted to the Anglican Church in North America or any other North American Anglican body. The extent to which this body might cooperate with the Anglican Church in North America would depend upon the willingness of the Anglican Church in North America to modify its present fundamental declarations and to adopt in their place a more neutral set of principles not aligned with any particular theological school of thought but consonant with historic Anglicanism. Local cooperation would depend upon individual congregations.
This is admittedly an ambitious set of proposals but I believe that they would resolve a number of tensions between different groups in North American Anglicanism and would bring them closer together while at the same time respecting their theological integrity. Some groups may not want to have any kind of formal relations with others even in this structured environment, believing that in doing so they are compromising their beliefs and values. The convictions of such groups should be respected.
I believe that this approach, while it may at first glance appear complex, would be an effective response to the challenge of Anglicanorum coetibus. Who is to say that God is not using the Pope's scheme to unite Anglicans but not in the way the Pope intends-within the Church of Rome. A Roman Catholic criticism of Protestantism is its many divisions. However, a Protestantism that is despite these divisions united in a common purpose-spreading the gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ-is beyond criticism. It is carrying out what Christ has commissioned his Church to do. The Anglican Church may yet fulfill its potential and provide a model for Protestant cooperation that is biblical and apostolic.
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