Conversion or Restoration of Communion?

We had a discussion a few posts back as to whether the Anglican Solution amounted to a mass conversion or to a healing of schism and restoration of communion.

The news that the Anglican Bishop of Chichester is seriously considering the option gives us an example by which to consider the real nature of what is happening.

Let us consider what would happen if he was reordained as a Catholic priest in an Anglican Ordinariate. Would this mean a healing of the “schism” between the Catholic Church and the Local Particular Church which is the Anglican Diocese of Chichester (leaving behind the question at the moment of whether any Anglican Diocese is a local church in the “true sense”). In a word, no. Her Majesty would simply appoint a new Bishop of Chichester. Some of Bishop Hind’s flock may well follow him, but many would not, and so the Anglican diocese would remain intact.

This example shows clearly that what is being envisaged cannot really be said in any sense to be a “healing of schism”. Whether the term “conversion” is appropriate, well… there are many – even Fr Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory himself – who questioned whether “conversion” is the right word for what happens when a protestant enters full communion with the Catholic Church. It may be, but it may not be. If, as Fr Neuhaus maintained, seeking full communion was simply another step along the journey in the one consistent direction, then “conversion” is not strictly the right word, is it?

However, we should not lose sight of the fact that, in another sense, every step of our Christian journey is a “conversion” to the Lord. Isn’t that what Brother Martin meant when (almost 492 years ago to the day) he wrote:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Or, indeed, what Pope John Paul II meant when he wrote in Ut Unum Sint:

The Council calls for personal conversion as well as for communal conversion. The desire of every Christian Community for unity goes hand in hand with its fidelity to the Gospel. In the case of individuals who live their Christian vocation, the Council speaks of interior conversion, of a renewal of mind. Each one therefore ought to be more radically converted to the Gospel and, without ever losing sight of God’s plan, change his or her way of looking at things. (Encyclical on Ecumenism, §15)

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One response to “Conversion or Restoration of Communion?

  1. Peregrinus

    I take your point, David, but to illustrate your point that what is happening is conversion you have picked an example of someone whose decision is personal and individual. he just happens to be the Bishop of Chichester, but that has nothing to do with his decision or his actions.

    But is the example exhaustive of those who might enter the Anglican ordinariate, or even typical of them? Remember, this Apostolic constitution is explicitly a response to an approach by a group of about fifty individual bishops, who are in communion with one another but not with Canterbury, and who most certainly were not fifty individuals enquiring about being received into the Church on an individual basis. They were explicitly seeking corporate reunion for the community to which they collectively minister, and the Vatican’s initial response explicitly acknowledged that what was sought was corporate unity on behalf of the Traditional Anglican Communion. And the latest note repeats this: it says that the Holy Father Holy has introduced a canonical structure that provides for corporate reunion . Both the “corporate” and, I suggest, the “re-“ are very significant there. And the note goes on to speak about “these groups and their clergy” being “integrated into the Catholic church”. If what we are speaking of here is not quite the healing of a schism, it is certainly more than a series of personal candidacies for full communion. It is very clear that the Vatican conceives of this as a collective restoration of communion with a group or community.

    What we have is a proposal for Anglican ordinariates, each of which is to be established in consultatation with national bishops conferences. This suggests one per country (rather than one per Latin diocese, or one worldwide Anglican Ordinariate) and – is this a coincidence? – this reflects the existing structure of the TAC, which is a federation of national
    churches.

    I expect that, typically, the “core” of each Anglican ordinariate will be a member church of the TAC which has, collectively and corporately, decided to embrace communion with Rome, and which does so as a coherent community (bringing with it, for what it’s worth, whatever assets it has in the way of churches, chapels, endowments, etc). I also imagine that the “Anglican ordinariate” was conceived and designed precisely to facilitate this.

    Of course, there will no doubt be individual members of the TAC who are not ready for this. In some places they may be in the majority, so the local member church of the TAC might not enter into communion. Or it might enter into communion, but lose a significant proportion of its congregants in doing so. Or a local TAC church might split, amicably or otherwise, into two bodies, one of which becomes an Anglican ordinariate.

    And, conversely, there will be cases of Anglicans who are not currently members of TAC churches (like the Bishop of Chichester) or who are members of TAC churches which elect not to enter communion who do, personally, want to enter communion, and who do so on an individual basis, joining an Anglican ordinariate the core of which is an Anglican province/church of which they were not formerly members. Conceivably, in some instances they may join a TAC church or province before the formal restablishment of full communion with that body, but in the expectation of it.

    The big unknown (or one of the big unknowns) is what formal and substantial acts of faith will be required of those who are already members of a TAC church or province, or other ecclesial community which enters into full communion. Will they be treated exactly as if they were individual converts? I doubt it. Will they be subjected to more stringent requirements than individual converts currently are, as some have suggested? I doubt this even more.

    I take your point about the universal call to personal conversion. But, of course, this isn’t normatively something that precedes incorporation into the body of Christ; it follows it (as it must do, in a church which practices infant baptism). It’s something which is fostered within the church, and by the church. In the context of a corporate restoration of full communion, it makes little sense to demand a completed individual conversion of every member of the returning body as a condition precedent to entry into the church.