The Anglican Apostolic Constitution: “What does this mean for us?”

“What does this mean for us?” is Luther’s classic refrain in his Small Catechism. And it is a question that some Lutherans around the world (and others) are asking. Will the new Apostolic Constitution open up possibilities for Lutherans and others to come back into communion with the See of Rome?

On the Lutherans Persisting blog, Michael Root writes:

The personal ordinariates could be a testing ground for just what the slogan ‘united, but not absorbed’ (used in the Vatican statement) might mean as a description of unity with Rome. …At the very least, these structures will be a sign of Rome’s willingness to accept diversity in its own ranks…

Might there be a model here for catholic-minded Lutherans? Maybe. There is not at present a sizable body of interested Lutherans as there is a body of interested Anglicans, so the question is somewhat moot. (The Vatican statement refers to requests from twenty to thirty bishops – presumably Anglican bishops – for something like the new provision.) More significantly, Lutheran dissent from Rome has been essentially theological and doctrinal. The Vatican statement notes that the Anglicans seeking communion with Rome “share the common Catholic faith as it is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and accept the Petrine primacy as something Christ willed for the Church.” Some, but not so many, Lutherans would be willing to go this far. And among Lutherans who would go that far, how many would prefer a ‘personal ordinariate’ to an integration into the wider Catholic Church, with a greater opportunity to witness to what is of permanent Catholic value in the Lutheran tradition?

So, the Anglican ‘personal ordinariates’ may be having their fifteen minutes of fame, or we may be seeing the start of an ecumenical re-arrangement of possibilities. Time will tell.

Well, I was “willing to go that far”, as Root puts it. That’s why I converted. But Brett Salkeld, on the Vox Nova blog, points out that this is less about “conversion” and more about “healing a schism”, which does not, per se, involve what we have traditionally call “conversion”. He has this to say:

At dinner last night one man spoke up and said, “As a Mennonite, this looks like an answer to what I’ve been asking: Can I be a Mennonite and a Catholic at the same time? How can I be in communion with the bishop of Rome, and thus the whole Church, without forsaking my Mennonite identity?”
These ordinariates give us a way to imagine just that…

One of the problems of the ecumenical movement is that it has never had a clear picture of what a return to full communion would actually look like. Before Vatican II, Catholics assumed that, in the West at least, it would look exactly like the Roman Catholic Church. Since the rejection of this ‘ecumenism of return’ and our entry into the wider ecumenical project, it has been unclear how reunion would take place. Despite all the advances that have been made in theological agreement, not a single group of western Christians had reunited with Rome – until this week!

It seems to me that no matter what one thinks of the way this was handled by the Vatican, or by the media, or what one thinks of the particular group of Christians that will come into communion with Rome, or any of the difficulties it creates canonically and logistically, what may stand out from this announcement in 500 years is the fact that Rome has found a way to reunite with other western Christians without requiring their conversion. This gives all of us in ecumenical dialogue a kick in the imagination. We now have a picture and a precedent with which to work when discussing the reunion of the western Church.

If the Anglicans can keep their liturgy and even some canon law, what might other groups be able to bring to a reunited Church? Doctrinally the question is even more interesting. And, before we get too hasty in suggesting that there can be no divergence of doctrine whatsoever, it will be useful to remind ourselves just how easygoing Catholics can be on the filioque when we talk to our Eastern brothers and sisters.

Interestingly, one of the strengths of this canonical construction is that it works well for groups large and small. One of the difficulties of doing ecumenical dialogue with Protestants is that it is difficult to find someone to speak for such groups given the diversity of structures and lack of centralized authority. Ironically enough, this vehicle might be better suited to congregationalist Christians than episcopal ones.

This does not mean that there are not immense difficulties ahead of us. This does not mean that every group that seeks unity with the Bishop of Rome will use this exact procedure. What it does mean is that we have made a start.

Pope Benedict has often been portrayed as a radical conservative… But there is one thing that this Apostolic Constitution makes clear, and it is perhaps of historic importance: the ecumenism of return is dead and Pope Benedict XVI is the man who buried it.

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16 responses to “The Anglican Apostolic Constitution: “What does this mean for us?”

  1. Peregrinus

    This “communion not conversion” analysis is very enlightening.

    Communion is something that, pretty much by definition, we can only achieve in community. The “Anglo-Catholics” who will become “Anglican Catholics” are already in ecclesial communion with one another. (Yes, there are issues from the Catholic perspective over the extent to which this is a true eucharistic communion, but park those issues for the moment.) If I understand Salkeld aright, the Anglo-Catholics will become Anglican Catholics not by a series of individual conversions, but by a collective decision to affirm communion between their existing ecclesial community and the universal church.

    Now, there’s a sacramental issue here, obviously. When an individual Anglican is received into the Catholic church, he or she makes a sacramental confession, is sacramentally confirmed, and formally celebrates his/her first Eucharist. My understanding of what Salkeld says suggests that this would not be envisaged here. Park that issue too; I’ll come back to it.

    There’s also the doctrinal issue, which Salkeld points to. An individual Anglican being received into full communion makes a profession of faith in “all that the Catholic church holds and teaches” (or something very like that). We can take it for granted, though, that few Anglicans believe, or practice, what the Catholic church teaches with respect to contraception; the Anglo-Catholic attachment to “Roman-ness” has never notably included an attachment to this particular teaching. We can assume also that a great many Anglo-Catholics doubt, to put it no higher, that the orders of Anglo-Catholic priests are “utterly null and void”, and they doubt the consequences which flow from that for the validity of sacraments celebrated by those priests. They are also quite likely to doubt the continuing validity of first marriages ended by divorce, and the invalidity of second marriages after divorce. And it seems that they are going to be received en masse without these various issues being rigorously confronted on the individual level. Many of them won’t even be making, at the personal level, the Newmanesque commitment which David has already mentioned to reconcile themselves to many, many things and put them into God’s hands.

    And yet, on reflection, this is not so problematic as it might first appear. Presumably this is more or less what happened in the ultimately abortive reunion of East and West at the Council of Florence.

    And, when you think about it, the church already has many, many Catholics who have reservations, doubts and outright denials on every conceivable issue from adultery to [here insert theological term beginning with ‘Z’]. And the response is not to sling them out of the church, to denounce them or to excommunicate them or to sling them out, but to commit to fostering formation and growth in communion.

    So presumably that’s what’s going to happen here. Anglican Catholics will be in communion not because the agree with church teaching on e.g. contraception (which they probably don’t) or even on e.g. the ordination of women (which they probably do) but because they want to be in communion, and because there is a sufficient agreement on the fundamentals of the faith to make communion possible. Disagreement with Catholic teaching is a problem, of course, but it’s a problem that will be addressed within the context of communion rather than outside it.

    And that, I think, is how the sacramental issue will be addressed. Within the Anglican Ordinariate, doubts about sacramental validity disappear. Whether or not people’s earlier Eucharistic celebration have been sacramentally valid, their future ones certainly will be. They can decide for themselves whether they want a special celebration of their First (Valid) Communion; my guess is most will want to celebrate this as the perfection of eucharistic communion with the Catholic church, not as their first sacramentally valid eucharist. Those who have already been confirmed in the Anglican church will be challenged to consider confirmation in the Catholic church, but not required to accept confirmation if they do not feel called to it. (I’m talking of lay people here, obviously; anyone seeking to minister as a priest will be required to be sacramentally ordained in the Catholic church, and so sacramentally confirmed also.) And people will be challenged to encounter the sacrament of reconciliation, not required to do so. And I suspect the Anglo-Catholic custom of rare recourse to sacramental reconciliation will continue.

  2. Which all makes it sound like Catholicism-lite with an imprimatur to me.

    As far as the Lutheran question is concerned (WHat does this mean?), I agree with Root, the question is moot.

  3. P., I think your analysis (complete with such jargon terms as “challenge”) rather too liberal in the pejorative sense.

    Of course, as adult comers-into-communion, they will be confirmed! It would be quite unimaginable to think that Pope Benedict would make that optional so as not to hurt their feelings!

    And similarly, to imagine that a smooth path will be laid whereby they may come in believing only “fundamentals” but not the whole kit and kaboodle is quite antithetical to the whole Catholic thing, which is about believing “with the whole” as the very noun suggests.

    The type of conversion you describe is what was accorded Tony Blair by a certain now-retired Cardinal who’s not very happy about the Pope’s very different approach.

    Remember, the TAC bishops to a man have signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, signifying their submission to the doctrines proclaimed therein: it has been already noised about that these Anglican incomers will do the same, which would in any case be but making more explicit what is said by converts in the rite already: I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches.

    It would be bizarrely out of character, to say the least, for the Pope to permit such “Catholic-lite” shenanigans – it is, however, how liberal Catholics like to think about being Catholic.

    (The sad truth that most cradle Catholics barely adhere to even a bastardized fragment of the full panoply of the Deposit of Faith is a scandal, but hardly a model to be copied! And it would be naive in the extreme to think that such a state of affairs may somehow lead to a deepening over time: on the contrary, it is the product of a white-anting shallow preaching and confused, even dissenting catechesis.)

    Whose daydream about being in communion is this, I wonder?

  4. Anglo-Catholics themselves – as their own discussions online and in public prove – well know that if they come in, they must believe “all Roman doctrine”, and strive to live moral lives, as all Catholics ought. As a convert myself, having made the conscious decision to believe, entirely accepting as Mother and Teacher the true Church of Christ, and, having gone a bit fuzzy in a lax period after my reception (i.e., I was a bad Catholic), then further resolving to deepen my understanding and to adhere firmly to the Magisterium, I know that for all who come home to Rome, one makes a very conscious decision to be a Catholic with all that entails.

  5. Peregrinus

    As a convert myself, having made the conscious decision to believe, entirely accepting as Mother and Teacher the true Church of Christ, and, having gone a bit fuzzy in a lax period after my reception (i.e., I was a bad Catholic), then further resolving to deepen my understanding and to adhere firmly to the Magisterium, I know that for all who come home to Rome, one makes a very conscious decision to be a Catholic with all that entails.

    But you were a convert, Joshua. Salkeld’s point is that the institutional healing of a schism is not normally spoken of, or seen as, the “conversion” of those involved. The Council of Florence did not seek to achieve the “conversion” of Orthodox Christians to Catholicism, but the restoration of communion. If and when the Lefebvrists ever come home, we will not say that they have “converted” (or, I suppose, reverted) to Catholcism.

    The Anglo-Catholic-becoming-Anglican-Catholics won’t, Salkeld suggests, be converts either; they are members of ecclesial bodies which, as bodies, are entering into full communion. With the fullness of orders those ecclesial bodies will become churches or parts of churches, and simply by retaining their communion with those churches individuals will become Christians in Eucharistic communion with Rome, and so Catholics.

    In some ways – and I don’t want this to sound patronising – they can be compared with children, who are baptised before they have made any choice or commitment and certainly before they have in any sense “converted”. They are called, as we all are, to a complete conversion, but this is something which can, as it does for cradle Catholics, follow on from communion, rather than preceding it.

    Apart from anything else, consider the practicalities. Converts spend up to a year, sometimes more, in intensive – as in, weekly – preparation, in a process which normally involves more Catholics than it does candidates. If this endeavour is even moderately successful, this is simply not going to be possible. The Anglican communities joining Rome will have to be responsible for the formation of their own members – as, indeed, any functioning ecclesial community should. And I suspect that’s going to be a journey those communities will be making after establishing formal communion, not before. Apart from anything else, communities led by ordained ministers can form and teach with an authority otherwise not available to them.

    On reflection, you’re right about confirmation. Adult Christians should be sacramentally confirmed, and this will be expected of all who enter the church by this route. But not, I suggest, necessarily as a “condition precedent” to formal reception – this is something which can follow the reestablishment of communion. And, again, the ministers of these communities can’t confirm the members until the ministers have themselves been ordained. And we should remember the sensitivities here; the whole point of the exercise is to allow these traditions to preserve their distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony, part of which is that confirmation is not something routinely administered, or something which people are encouraged to accept if they are unsure; confirmation is very much the adult choice of the individual Anglican Christian, and you don’t get confirmed until you feel ready.

  6. Kiran

    Perry, I disagree on a minor matter. Communion should in adults as well as children follow on from confirmation and not the other way round. The way it happens in most of the west today is a historical and liturgical anomaly.

    That said, perhaps there should a special case be made for Anglican converts in this case.

  7. Kiran

    Also, whatever confirmation is, the Eastern practice, which is older, I think, suggests that it is only really accidentally anything at all to do with “accepting one’s baptismal faith.”

    • Peregrinus

      Ah, look, I agree that eucharist before confirmation is anomalous, but it’s an anomaly that has survived for a very long time in the Latin church, and as the Anglican Catholics will be part of the Latin church it would seem churlish to deny them their particular variant on that anomaly.

      Beside, if I undertand correctly, at least one strand of Anglicanism not only celebrates confirmation at a relatively late age, and on foot of a definite personal commitment, but also defers eucharistic participation until that happens. If so, they would be less anomalous than your average Latin Catholic.

      The point really is that the whole thrust of this is to accept an incorporate Anglican spiritual and liturgical practice. Given the diversity which we already practise with regard to when confirmation is celebrated, it would surprise me if the Roman side made this a sticking point for participation in the Anglican Ordinariates.

      • Kiran

        Yes. Yes. Mine was a nitpick more than anything else.

        Which group is this, that makes confirmation at a relatively late age?

        • Peregrinus

          My (admittedly patchy) encounter with Anglicanism suggests that confirmation is normally celebrated in the mid- to late- teens, but that there is no expectation that everyone will be confirmed at that age (or at all). The result is that confirmation candidates are late teenagers or older, with a fair spread of the “older”. By contrast, as a Catholic I was confirmed at the age of 11, as was every single boy in my year. It would never have crossed our minds that we had any choice in the matter.

          In the Catholic church, “adult” confirmations are typically celebrated at the Easter vigil, along with the confirmations of newly-baptised adults and already-baptised Christians entering the church from another denomination. In my parish, converts aside, we had one such confirmation this year, and none at all in any of the previous five years, and I’ve no reason to suppose that we are untypical.

          • Peregrinus

            I think with Anglicans entering the church there’ll be two distinct issues. One is those who haven’t chosen to be confirmed yet, and who may be resentful of an emphasis on the need to be confirmed, which may not be consistent with the Anglicanism they are accustomed to. The other will be those who [i]have[/i] been confirmed, and who are unhappy with the view of that confirmation implied by being confirmed again. All in all, this will require careful handling and, if the Anglican ordinariate means anything at all, it will be the Anglican ordinaries and the Anglican Catholic priests and bishops who determine how best to handle it.

  8. P., pursuant to your comments here and elsewhere on David’s blog, I see from comments elsewhere (such as Hepworth’s) that the ordinariates will indeed be all but dioceses for laity – the parallel with military ordinariates is exact: for in them the military personnel have as it were parishes in their military bases, with chaplains to care for them. I must confess ignorance of the relationship between these chaplains and their flocks, and the local diocese.

    Also, P., recall that there are existing structures, such as Prefectures and Vicariates Apostolic, and Abbeys Nullius, which are stand-ins for dioceses, but do not necessarily have a bishop as their head (though they can).

    In the future Anglican Ordinariate of, oh, let’s say Van Diemen’s Land, whether or not it will have a bishop or priest for an ordinary seems hardly to matter, since these days priests are already often delegated to confirm folk; if the ordinary were not in episcopal orders, he would just need to get the oils from the local Roman Rite bishop (or even from one of the other Anglican Ordinaries who is a bishop), and ditto for any ordinations…

    • Peregrinus

      Hi Joshua

      I guess time will tell, but I remain to be convinced that the parallel with the military dioceses will be “exact”. All that the Vatican has said is that the “structure” of the ordinariates will be “similar in some ways” to that of the military ordinariates; that leaves plenty of room for ecclesiologically important differences.

      And we know of one important difference already; the Anglican ordinaries will not, except coincidentally, be bishops. The significance of this cannot be overstated, given Catholic understandings of what “church” means.

      Yes, priests can be delegated to perform confirmations, but they are delegated to do so by their bishops, and this is important. I’m not sure that priests can be delegated to perform ordinations, and even if they could be I’m pretty certain that they never are. So far as I know, the ordinaries of vicariates apostolic, etc, are always ordained as bishops. There are ordinaries who are not ordained as bishops, e.g. the superiors of monastics and religious, but they can’t then act as bishops, e.g. either confirming or delegating their priests to confirm.

      Of course these problems are not insoluble; I’m not saying that Anglican ordinaries must be akin to religious superiors. But the Vatican statement stresses that they won’t be bishops, and this does mean something; the inference that some have made that they will be “bishops in all but name” ignores Catholic ecclesiology. Not being a bishop means rather more than simply going by “most reverend father” instead of “my lord”. It also means more than having to get a delegation in order to confirm. Every Catholic has a pastoral relationship with his bishop; this is what makes him Catholic. It is his most important pastoral relationship; more important than his relationship with his parish priest, and more important than his relationship with the Pope. Every incardinated priest who ministers to Catholics does so in assistance to the bishop. If the Anglican ordinariates were to dispense with that, or to treat it as a matter of form only, then Anglicans entering the church would be embracing a much more protestant ecclesiology than the one they currently have. That makes no sense.

  9. Alexander

    By contrast, as a Catholic I was confirmed at the age of 11, as was every single boy in my year. It would never have crossed our minds that we had any choice in the matter.

    I was confirmed at 12; it crossed my mind and seemed very strange to me that we should get confirmed as a matter of course, given what I was told it meant. How many of us “confirmed” Catholics are practically or essentially or actually no longer Christian? (It’s entirely possible, and quite probable, that my understanding of confirmation has been clouded by improper teaching.)

  10. Yes, well, obviously I’m just thinking out loud on all this, P. – however, by “ditto for ordinations”, I meant “get the local bishop or some other to do the ordination”! Wasn’t that obvious?

  11. Too true, too true; I know a priest in Geraldton who told his bishop, “We’re administering Sacraments to pagans!”

    Without the recipient having faith, Sacraments are not much good (prescinding of course from the special case of paedobaptism)…

    Pearls before swine?