Whatever parallels there are between the position of the Anglican Church and the Orthodox Churches, two reservations must be entered: firstly that the Bishop of Rome is patriarch of the West in a way he never has been of the East; and secondly, that in deciding to ordain women, the Anglicans have taken a decided step away from unity. To Catholic Anglicans these two things matter a good deal.
The first one means that, as quiavideruntoculi noted in his first comment on yesterday’s post, all Catholics in the West ‘owe’ allegiance to the Pope, even if they do now all ‘own’ it; that was a good point, well-taken. This is not so in the East. No Greek or Egyptian Christian ever acknowledged the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, and no Bishop of Rome ever claimed it in the time before the Schisms. An Orthodox Christian can, in good conscience, claim the sanction of antiquity for his attitude to the Pope; no Western Christian can do likewise. Indeed, in the end, for me this was the decisive factor in crossing the Tiber. If I were Orthodox and asked what my forefathers had done with regard to Rome and was I doing likewise, I could have said ‘yes’; I am not, and as an Anglican Catholic I had, or so it seemed, and seems, to me, perforce to answer that I was not doing as my forbears had done. The reasons for this seemed to me inadequate. Did I accept that Infallibility in faith and morals was inherent in the See of Peter, even if not always made explicit in the past? Yes, I did. Did I accept that a dogma such as the Immaculate Conception could be properly derived from Scripture by the right authority? Yes, I did, and I accepted Rome as that authority. The question of the Procession of the Holy Ghost – the filioque – weighed heavily with me, but did I accept that Rome did not teach and never had taught the double procession of the Holy Ghost? Yes, I did. At that point it was clear – there was no honest alternative for me other than to seek out my parish priest and talk to him.
The point about the ordination of women was not, for me, and for others I know, decisive in quite the way some thought. I am not closed to the idea that the Holy Ghost might lead us to an understanding which would allow the ordination of women. I am certainly not convinced by the arguments usually used for this – they are too close to secular ones to convince me. The priesthood is not a job, it is a vocation. I am not closed to the idea that those women who feel the calling have a genuine one – who am I to judge? But, and this was the decisive point, this was not the practice of antiquity, and it is not the practice of the Catholic Church, or of the Orthodox Church. So, either our brothers lack the Spirit, which I do not believe for a moment, or the Anglicans were following a Western fashion and finding dubious arguments from doubtful theology to support them; it seemed clear where the answer lay.
Even then, I did not, and if I examine my conscience, do not, say that on the issue in question, the Anglicans were wrong. I think they were, but I am far from being convinced by all but one argument. That one argument is the women who say they have a vocation. I know some, and more patently holy people than some of them, you couldn’t hope to find. But that is not the point. All of that is about what I think and feel and about what some women think and feel. If we are part of the Apostolic Church, we cannot go with just that. We owe a duty of obedience to the whole Church. So, it was the unilateral decision which did it for me. In saying it had the right to take such a decision, the Anglican Church was implicitly saying that was not part of the Universal Church – or, at the least, that being so was not as important to it as the feelings of many of its members. That was not, and is not, how the Church has proceeded. It is the Bride of Christ, not a sole trader who can decide to go its own way. There are some things we cannot change. Decide to change them and, for me and for many, you decide you are not bound by what binds the Universal Church. God knows, we have made the business of ‘being one’ hard enough, without adding further obstacles.
In some of his comments on my post yesterday, quivideruntoculi opined that I should hate Anglicanism because it was ‘evil’. We are all entitled to an opinion. For my part, I follow the authority of the Catholic Church. According to UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO promulgated in 1967, which deplored the differences which divide so many from the One True Church, but went on to say that
in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body,(21) and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.(22)
So, in advising us to call Anglicanism ‘evil’, QVO is advising us to say rather more than ‘fool’ to our brothers; he might care to refer to the wise words of Jesus on this, if he will not accept the word of the Church that Anglicans are our brothers. Yes, of course, there are real differences between Catholic Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Most of them, on examination, boil down to the position of the Pope and the validity of Anglican orders. These things keep some Catholics in the Anglican communion, but the gap between them and their fellow Anglicans is wide and will widen still. Standing on the bank of the Tiber yelling ‘evil’ at them is not only un-Christian, it is counter-productive. Christ used love and suffering to redeem us – not harshness. Let us go and imitate him in this, as we should in all else.
21. Cf. CONC. FLORENTINUM, Sess. VIII (1439), Decretum Exultate Deo: Mansi 31, 1055 A.
22. Cf. S. AUGUSTINUS, In Ps. 32, Enarr. 11, 29: PL 36, 299