“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.