Sorrow is an emotion that exists because of suffering, and suffering is the result of the existence of sin in the world. But there is such a thing as godly sorrow over sin. What is it, and what does it look like?
This morning’s sermon by Pastor Charmley, Bethel Evangelical Free Church, Hanley.
One of our best historians, Tom Holland, whose book on the influence of Christianity, Dominion, is well-worth reading (and would make an excellent Christmas present), has written a moving account of his return to the Church of England here. It speaks for itself, and I hope that readers here who have not come across it will be edified by it.
One of the things which struck me was something which has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while, one of those things which, until you suddenly realise what it was, baffles you and can be vaguely irritating, and that is the power of a good sermon. It made me stop and think about the last time I heard a good sermon, and unless one counts (which I am inclined to) listening to Rowan Williams in a church, then I can’t remember. That’s not to say I have not heard interesting sermons which made some good points, but it is to say that what I would call a “good” sermon does more than that.
I usually read sermons after Morning Prayer, and have recently finished those by Austin Farrer, which I would highly recommend; he knew how to pitch a sermon. My usual standby is, of course, Newman’s Sermons Parochial and Plain which can all be found on the internet here. There is a vigour and a charism about them which makes them as compelling now as when they were delivered. In the past here I have included some of by Pusey, which can be a little hard going and, much more than Newman’s, are of their time. For those, like me, who like a good meaty sermon, these, by Gervase Charmley of Bethel, Hanley, I recommend, and they bear hearing more than once, which is usually the sign of a good sermon. My latest reading is Preaching, Radical & Orthodox, which I have recently begun, and which I also heartily recommend.
One question, put to me by a friend, was whether sermons were the same as homilies? I tend to think not, but that may simply be because I find an eight to ten minute talk a little like an hors d’ouvre without a main course.
It is tempting to say that it is the style of the preacher which creates the impact, but by common testimony neither Newman nor Farrer were great showmen. However, there can be no doubt that a great presentation can enhance a good sermon, and here one of those mentioned by Tom Holland stands out for me, and that is Fr Marcus Walker, the Rector of Great St Bartholemew’s in London, whose sermons, though on the short side, do indeed raise one’s thoughts – and mood. Some of them can be found here, and will, I hope, edify others as they have myself and Tom Holland.
In the beginning was the Word, and it is good to be reminded by Tom Holland of the part the spoken word can play in bringing us to Christ.
And if you enjoyed Fr Marcus’ sermons, or would like to help maintain Great St Bart’s, there’s a link here towards restoration.
One of the few things of which Bishops and Archbishops can be sure in this fleeting and fitful world is that if they comment on its affairs they will be criticised, and if they don’t, they will also be criticised. Thus, when the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened in the ongoing Brexit saga to protest against the idea that the Government was willing to abrogate international law, there were the usual cries for the Church to stay out of politics, intermingled with the usual “whabouttery” to the effect that how could a church where a recent investigation into child abuse had revealed real failures, comment on politics. The latter reaction, which we get in the Catholic Church too, would puzzle me if it were not so obviously the product of an inability to think. People who engage in that line of casuistry are best left to wallow in their own vomit.
The first cry, “stay out of politics” is odd in a country with an Established Church where the Archbishops and some Bishops have seats in the House of Lord. The Archbishop has responded with robustness: “Christians and people of all faiths take part in the national debate. This is democracy and freedom. I have seen the opposite. Treasure what we have.” He spoke a truth of which we stand in sore need of hearing on both sides of the Atlantic:
Politics, if it is to draw out the best of us, must be more than just the exercise of binaries, of raw majority power unleashed. It exists to seek truth, to bring diverse peoples together in healthy relationships.
If anyone is authorised to speak about morality in politics it is an Archbishop. The binary approach to politics which we have seen growing across the past decade is destructive of the body politic itself. If we cannot disagree civilly with those who have views different from our own then democracy is going to die. In this country at the last general election we had a choice between a communist and a clown, whilst the USA has one between an egotistical braggart and a man slipping into dementia, and neither of their financial affairs bears close scrutiny. Where a system offers people this sort of “choice” whilst failing to deliver on the first duty of government – public safety – then that system is on borrowed time.
We have already seen, with the growth of populist movements, where this could lead, and it is to be hoped that one of the few positives of the current debacle in the UK is that it will provide an object lesson in the consequences of entrusting government to those who make promises which they knew they cannot not keep. The Archbishop is right, if a government admits that it is willing to break international agreements in order to get its way, that needs calling out and condemning, and if it takes a Church to do it, so be it. Sometimes what Caesar needs is reminding that morality plays a part in his world too.
We have created an economic system which lacks any sense of an objective moral order – what Aquinas called natural law. We are stewards of this earth, not its owners. Our leaders are stewards, not absolute monarchs. When they, or we, put power, technology or money above the health and welfare of people, we makes them idols, and we frustrate God’s purpose for mankind. We cannot serve God and Mammon, and it is the duty of Church leaders to call our leaders to account.
As an undergraduate and then a graduate, this was a view which greeted me most days as I went about my studies. On this day there would be flowers and other tributes laid here. Occasionally a tourist would ask me what it was about, and some of them seemed none the wiser (though at least they were better-informed) when I told them it marked the site of the burning of an Archbishop of Canterbury and two other bishops of the Church of England. On one occasion only did I get an answer which surprises me, less now than it did then: “They took the Faith seriously back then, not like now!” It has not ceased to shock me – no one who toils in the blogosphere could be shocked – but it saddens me, not because I am some milquetoast who wants us all to “lurve” one another, but because it brings to mind Byron’s comment in “Don Juan” about “Christians have burned each other, quite persuaded, that all the Apostles would have done as they did.” God is the only just judge, and anyone who thinks that burning someone to death is a sign of how seriously they take their faith should pause and ponder what Jesus might have meant when he said that “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”. [Matt. 7:2].
In addition to Bishops Ridley and Latimer, whose burning was on this day in 1555, the more famous Archbishop Cranmer was burned on the same spot six months later, which is why today, in the Church of England calendar is called the memorial of the “Reformations Martyrs”. There were, as any historian can tells you, plenty of Catholic martyrs too, although, perhaps tellingly, it took until 2008 for a small plaque to be erected on Holywell Street in memory of four Roman Catholics — Thomas Belson, Humphrey Prichard, and the priests Richard Yaxley, and George Nichols — who were hanged, drawn, and quartered there in 1589, and beatified as martyrs in 1987. When a memorial was dedicated in 2009 to 23 Catholic and Protestant “Martyrs of the Reformation” in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, there were complaints that this was not what those who had been martyred would have wanted. Perhaps those complaining would have preferred another public burning of a “heretic”, which might well have been what those who were martyred would have wanted?
Violence begat violence, and and whatever one’s view of the English Reformation, and it remains a hotly contested field of scholarship, it was marked by a level of cruelty which to most of us does no service to the name of Jesus or to our common faith, for make no mistake, divided as we are by ecclsiology and history, Anglican or “Roman” Catholic, we share one faith, even as we share a sorry history of intra-communal violence.
None of this is to denigrate the martyrs on both sides, they were men (and women) who paid the ultimate price to stand by their beliefs, but we do their memory no service by continuing to dig ditches and erect barbed-wire to defend positions which a century of ecumenical dialogue has shown need no such defences. As Churchill put it in another context: “Jaw Jaw is better than War War.”
On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York spoke in the spirit of the fruits of ecumenical dialogue when they spoke firts of the “blessings” of the Reformation:
Amongst much else, these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language, and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the Church
but also of the:
the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love. Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution, and even death, at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord.
Much has been done to try to overcome the resulting legacy of mistrust, and indeed it can seem at times as those the most intense warfare is the internecine sort, where Catholics can be vitriolic about their own Pope and about those Catholics who are vitriolic about him. Maybe we really do learn nothing from history?
The Reformers in the sixteenth century, like later reformers within the Catholic Church, wanted to draw us back to what is at the heart of our faith, and that is the love of God for us, manifested through His Son, Jesus Christ who died for us that we should have life eternal. It is easy, which is why it is done so often, to mock ecumenism as a search for the lowest common denominator, and it may, or may not, be significant that this tendency is often to be found among converts, but properly understood, it is a search for the highest common factor – that the love and sacrifice Jesus made for all who would receive Him, can be made manifest in this vale of tears where we see Him as through a glass darkly, but where the scars of sin run vivid red and orange in the flames which consumed the martyrs.
A year ago today I stood about a hundred feet from Pope Francis as he declared that Cardinal John Henry Newman was now officially canonised. It was a wonderful moment, and it was significant that in addition to our own Cardinal Nichols being there with our own bishops, there was a high-powered delegation from the Anglican Church. Newman, at one time the great champion of the idea of the Via Media, remains a figure as admired by Anglicans as by Catholics.
This moment was one which Newman himself not only could not have foreseen, but which he never thought could happen as he had, in his own words, “nothing of the saint” about him. His own estimation was based on a shrewd knowledge of himself, but as we all do, he saw through his own eyes and not those of God. God decided otherwise.
Newman began as an evangelical Anglican and ended as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, but from beginning to end he was a man who divided opinion. From his earliest memories he was a Christian, and he underwent what we might call a conversion experience in early adolescence. At Oxford he soon became a divisive figure. To the undergraduates, his sermons and indeed his very presence, at the University Church of St Mary was an event in itself; it is said that some Colleges changed the times of dining to try to lure students away from his siren-like presence.
What came to worry the Dons was Newman’s developing view that the Anglican Church was the via media, the middle way, between their own Church and Rome. Newman, like Keble and Pusey, genuinely believed that what the Reformation had done was to purge the Church in England of the abuses and corruptions that had developed across the centuries, and in particular, allowed it to escape from the control of cabals of corruption around the Pope of the day (a not unfamiliar theme among Catholics in our own time).
But where Keble and Pusey continued to hold this view, and helped lead a Catholic revival in the Church of England, Newman’s scholarship led him to follow the inexorable logic of history. Studying the Arian controversy of the fourth century, he came to realise that the “reasonable” semi-Arians, who took a moderate position between Arius and St Athanasius were the spiritual forebears of the Anglicans. Their position was sensible, moderate and nuanced, but it was not that of Anthansius and therefore, not that of the universal church. So, he converted.
The conversion cost him much in worldy terms. He left his beloved Oxford, never to return. In a society where anti-Catholicism was rife, Newman incurred deep suspicion and distrust by his move. He made himself an outcast from his old social circles, but failed to acquire satisfactory replacements. Catholicism, despite an impressive intellectual history, was not, in the days of Pius IX, a welcoming environment for an intellectual theologican. Converts can be unpleasantly susprised to find that their new home is not altogether welcome. It is not simply the suspicion that often attaches to someone who “switches teams”, it is also a matter of culture. It is interesting that it was another convert, Manning, who complained that Newman remained essentially an English gentleman Oxford Don. Manning was a smoother operator, a skilled bureaucrat who both saw the opportunities offered to one of his skills, and who was, partly for that reason, more easily welcomed into the nascent English Catholic hierarchy. Newman never quite “fitted”, and his new Church was, to be frank, even more useless than his old one in finding a use for him.
And yet, for all that, quality will out. Newman was not only one of the finest writers of English prose, he was the finest English theological intellect since at least Lancelot Andrewes, and possibly ever. He will one day be a Doctor of the Church. It is, ironically, in part the way in which he bore the frustrations and difficulties of his new Church which show how deep his faith was. There were constant runours that he would revert, to which he responded by saying that he never:
had one moment’s wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I hold, and ever have held, that her Sovereign Pontiff is the centre of unity and the Vicar of Christ. And I ever have had, and have still, an unclouded faith in her creed and in all its articles; a supreme satisfaction in her worship, discipline and teaching
As I stood in the Italian sunshine on that October morning a year ago, I reflected on how wonderful God’s Providence is. Newman may have thought that, in the end, he had not accomplished that ‘definite work’ for which God had marked him out, but in reality, the process had hardly begun. Newman’s influence on the Church has been profound and will long outlast his earthly fame.
There are many times when I wonder about the utility of social media, but more and more I am inclined to value it for what I find there which I am not certain that I should find anywhere else – certainly nowhere else so readily. Included in this category, indeed very high up it, is the Akenside Institute for English Spirituality, which was founded by Fr Matthew Dallman. I have been meaning to write about the Institute for some time, but am prompted into action by Jessica’s recent posts on the Book of Common Prayer. The Institute’s mission is “the rediscovery of Orthodox Catholic reality in Prayer Book parish life.”
Both parts of this statement are important. Rather than summarise what is clearly a well-wrought statement, let me quote in full:
“Orthodox Catholic reality” means according to and corresponding with the Church, through the theological virtues/habits (Faith, Hope and Charity), Sacraments and sacramentality, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, holy icons, mystagogy, culture, imagination, doctrine, moral theology, practice, and discernment, inclusively.
“Prayer Book parish life” recognizes that English spirituality is rooted in, and is only truly apprehended within the context of, a parish ordered by the Book of Common Prayer: in the pastoral relationships between parish priest and congregation as well as the domesticity of the parish as an ascetical organism that reaches into the homes of the parishioners, and out into their neighborhoods
This comes together as a total way of life—that is, the English School of Catholic spirituality being a member of the glorious family of spiritual schools. English spirituality begins in the present and looks both ways; to the wisdom of the past and to future development.
This statement recognises something important which often gets overlooked in discussions, which is that whatever one’s view of the Church of England, it inherited and/or continued a tradition which began in these islands under the Romans. When St Augustine arrived in A.D. 595, Christianity had already been here for about four hundred years. The Venerable Bede, who certainly had a horse in the race, naturally emphasised the “victory” of the successors of St Augustine, but that did not mean that the patrimony of those who had kept the flame of the faith alove in these islands was lost; rather it was incorporated. That, indeed, has been the way of Christianity in these islands.
The Normans liked to represent themselves as straightening out the supposed laxities of the Anglo-Saxon Church, but again, did not erase what had come before them, and before very long, the Norman monarchs found themselves at odds with Rome about matters of ecclesiastical appointments. In that sense, Henry VIII was the inheritor of a long tradition; he simply took it rather further than his predecessors, though it is clear that he did not see himself as founding anything resembling a separate church. As the Akenside Institute website puts it:
The broadly Catholic and Orthodox spirituality of Anglo-Saxons grew into more uniquely English flowering through S. Anselm, English anchorites and solitaries, English Cistercians, Walter Hilton and the Canons Regular, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Richard Rolle; and later in the Prayer Book era through Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Keble, Edward Pusey, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, Father Andrew, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, Sr Penelope Lawson, Eric Mascall, Ian Ramsey, A.M. Allchin, John Macquarrie, Benedicta Ward, and others.
The Tractarians were simply reasserting the Catholic dimension of the Anglican tradition, and whilse some, like Newman, found in it a way to Rome, others, such as Keble and Pusey, found in it a way of reasserting a part of “English spirituality” which had been understated in the previous century. No one who has read Charles Gore of Keble, or Newman for that matter, can be in any doubt of the debt they owed to Hooker, Herbert and Andrewes, just as no one familiar with their writings can be in any doubt that it represents an English dimension to Catholic teaching.
One of the most important themes of what, following Martin Thornton, I am calling “English spirituality” is the idea of participation in God – as St Athanasius put it: “God became man so man might become God.” This idea of participation in God through grace is reflected in Hooker, Andrewes and in what might, for convenience be called the High Church tradition: John Keble, Edward Pusey, F. D. Maurice, B. F. Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple, and latterly Michael Ramsey, and Rowan Williams
If we believe this then we believe that God has poured His power, goodness, and beauty into Creation: one effect of the Incarnation has been to transfigure human nature; through the sacraments we are in union with God; and, of course, the Holy Spirit never ceases to work within the Church through us.
St Athanasius was, of course, referring to 2 Peter 1.4: “that you may become partakers of the divine nature”. In the Orthodox tradition it is called “divinisation” ortheosis, and it shows the extent to which the Catholic tradition has remained a key part of the English tradition. Whatever else occurred at the Reformation, England was not severed from the Christian roots laid down here even before St Augustine.
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is my favourite site, and I am fortunate enough to live within driving distance. Jessica went on pilgrimage there in 2012, and it is worth re-reading (or reading for the first time) herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. I append, by way of introduction, her first piece.
In the Middle Ages, Walsingham – ‘England’s Nazareth’ was a Marian shrine of a size which rivalled Compostella. It owed its origin to Richeldis de Faverches the Saxon wife of a Norman lord. Richeldis had a deep faith in God and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and was well known for her good works.
In 1061, Richeldis was privileged to have a vision of the Blessed Virgin. She was transported, in her vision, to Nazareth and saw the holy house where the Holy Family lived. Our Lady made it clear she wanted it rebuilt in England’s green and pleasant land:
“Do all this unto my special praise and honour. And all who are distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made me in Walsingham. To all that seek me there I will give my help. And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when Saint Gabriel told me that through humility, I should become the Mother of the Son of God.”
Legend has it that when the masons attempted to build the house, the ground would not yield to their spades, but that in the morning the angels had built it – as she intended.
Skilled craftsmen were commissioned to carve a statue of Our Lady. Our Lady was enthroned on the Throne of Wisdom and crowned as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She herself was a throne for the Christ-Child, Who was represented holding out the Gospels to the world. Her right hand pointed to Him, and He extended His arm in a double gesture of blessing and protection of His Mother. Each part of the statue was rich in symbolism, such as the seven rings on the throne standing for the Seven Sacraments, which Henry VIII defended centuries later, and the flowering lily-sceptre which she held in her right hand. It symbolised her Perpetual Virginity, and, in the teachings of the Cistercian saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, that She is the Flower of the Rod of Jesse. Miracles of healing were performed there from the start.
Every English King from Richard I to Henry VIII visited the great Shrine which grew there. In 1340 a final pilgrim chapel was built – the Slipper Chapel – so called because it was where pilgrims would remove their shoes and walk the last miles barefoot. It is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. Today it is the only part of the original shrine intact – and is the Catholic part of the modern shrine.
The rest of it was destroyed as part of one of the greatest acts of vandalism of the sixteenth century. In 1538 Henry VIII sent soldiers to dispossess the Augustinian Canons of Walsingham. Those who resisted were murdered on what is now called ‘Mary’s field’. The Shrine ands its buildings were gutted, the great statue of Our Lady destroyed. Sir Philip Howard’s lines from ‘The wrecks of Walsingham’ say it best:
Weep, weep, O WalsinghamWhose days are nights,Blessings turned to blasphemies,Holy deeds to despites.Sin is where Our Lady sat,Heaven turned into hell,Satan sits where Our Lord did sway,Walsingham, oh farewell!
Recent comments prompted by Jessica’s reflections on the Anglican tradition and women as priests, included the reflection that my own journey into communion with Rome had been prompted, in part, by the decision of the Church of England to ordain women. As Evelyn Waugh might have put it: “up to a point Lord Copper.” Which, is, of course, English understatement meaning “not quite the whole story.”
Nonetheless, cross the Tiber I did. But, as some elsewhere have pointed out, that does not make me the same as a cradle Catholic, which statement, whilst true to the point of being a truism, omits more than it says. Cradle Catholics come in a variety of forms, after all, and the same is true of converts and reverts. A very common feature of the latter is what some have called “convertitis” – that is to say becoming almost more Catholic than the Pope (here I shall insert a mental pause for people to add what they will mentally).
I never thought to cease being an Anglican, and in very many ways not only can I not cease being influenced by that inheritance, I would not want to be. It was not that I did not understand the arguments being used to justify the ordination of women, or that I did not appreciate the decision to allow those of us who could not, in good conscience accept it, it was that it seemed to me that the Church of England was on a journey on which I should have been an unwilling passenger. I firmly believed, yes and truly, that the Church of England was part of the universal Church, but as I looked around me, I could see only that it had, unilaterally, taken a decision that cut across decades of ecumenism.
Had I been a Protestant, I daresay that would have been fine, but I am not. I was a High Anglican, and stood where Newman stood in the 1830s, but also where Pusey stood all his life. I admire Pusey greatly, and he had kept me steady – but the Church moved beyond where it was in his day, and so I did what other High Anglicans did, which was to refer to their own history, remember the admiration the Caroline Divines had for the Orthodox, and went in that direction.
Like Pusey, I had the view that the Catholic Church in the Latin Rite had added things to the faith once received, which might, or might not be warranted, but which only an Ecumenical Council could prescribe; there being none, and the Papal claims being exaggerated, the Orders of the Orthodox Church were the ark of refuge. There I found great holiness, great prayer, great love for God, and a liturgy the angels in Heaven participated in envy of man’s gift. But, but, and but, something was not right.
Part of that was cultural. Orthodoxy’s history has tended to make it very much a cultural phenomenon, and whilst some quite liked turning themselves into Russians (I know one Englishman who ended up speaking with a foreign accent!), that was not me. But it was more than that. Was I right about the Pope and the additions? How far was that the Anglican in me?
That was Newman. Before ever Newman was even declared Blessed, I had a devotion to him, and I asked for his help, that being the sort of thing a High Anglican/Orthodox might do. I thought I’d understood what he was saying about development of doctrine, but I hadn’t – not with my heart. I stopped reading and prayed about it.
As I did, the clearer it became that what I, and the Orthodox, said were ‘additions’ were true developments. If there was a ‘eureka!’ moment, it was the one Newman had had long before me: Peter was the Rock, the Pope was Peter’s successor, not being in communion with Rome was to be in schism and, most likely, heresy!
But I did not want to be a Roman Catholic; tough, if I wanted to be in Christ’s Church, that was what had to happen. Now, were I fortunate, I might have a branch of the Ordinariate nearby, and life would be easier in that respect. But this was before all of that, and so it was necessary to go through the whole process. It was a curious one, not least since most of it was more than familiar to me, and there was a great deal less veneration of Our Lady than my Anglican background had given me. But there it was, and I could do no other.
All of this was not a search for Christianity, it was a search for the right place in which to be a Christian. I remain grateful for the Anglican spirit which allows me not to rush to judgement on my fellow Christians. If a fellow is doing his best by the lights given to him, it really is not my job to throw stones at him, but rather to talk with him, or her, on the way, and swap notes and stories, as pilgrims do. It isn’t about turning myself into the best Catholic, it is about being in the place where my long journey with God is best placed.
It is some time since Newman appeared in this place, which is, by itself, sufficient excuse to write about him; but there are other reasons.
Newman was the most famous of the English converts to Catholicism in the nineteenth century; one might extend that to say of modern times. At the time of his canonisation well-deserved tributes were paid, and I found attending the ceremony an immensely moving experience. But in all of that there is a point which was not made. It is quite clear that the Catholic Church had not the slightest idea of what to do with its new convert, and from the point of view of utilising what God had made available to it, the hierarchy frankly fluffed it. In one way that is hardly surprising, their Anglican counterparts had not found a way to accommodate Newman’s talents either. Before, however, dismissing this thought, I want to extend it for a while.
One of the most talented of my colleagues made an observation which merits wider distribution, although as I am writing without consulting him, I shall keep his name to one side. English converts, he said, fall into two categories: Manning or Newman. The Mannings adapt to their new environment, and some even thrive; the Newmans endure prolonged periods of practical sterility and isolation, remaining in their new Church only because of the conviction which took them there – that this is the Church founded by Christ. In many ways this is the deepest witness to the hope that is in them. When asked how one can remain in a Church so marred with scandal, and where so many of the leaders can seem at times to demonstrate the spinal fortitude of a jellyfish, answering that “because this IS THE CHURCH” is a powerful testimony.
This should not be taken as any criticism of Manning; there is no zero-sum game. Conversion is a profoundly personal experience, and it is unwise to assume that one’s previous spiritual formation will somehow cease to be relevant. In this sense, someone who comes to Catholicism straight from a non-Christian background may find life simpler.
Newman had never entered an English Catholic Church before his conversion, and knew very few Catholics. His Catholicism was intellectual and spiritual. In his day conversions were even rarer than now, and a Community which had so recently been in political internal exile and persecuted intermittently for three hundred years, was but poorly equipped to be a welcoming one to incomers with no knowledge of it or its ways. The handful of aristocratic Recusant families who had kept the flame alive so long were beginning to die out, and were, in any case, geographically and socially isolated from the new, Irish, influx which brought so many more Catholics to the mainland. Newman fitted in with neither group. It is so often underplayed in the story of his life that he spent so many years working in Birmingham with that most underprivileged immigrant group, as indeed did Manning in London.
The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is, in one sense, an answer to the wider problem illustrated by Newman, that is the difficulty the Church and converts sometimes have integrating with each other. Those converting de novo, often integrate more swiftly, those from another religious tradition can find the process more difficult, as can the Church which receives them.
On the one hand there are those in the Church who see the converts as unwelcome reinforcements for conservative causes (as they see them) or tradition (as others see them) such as an all-male priesthood and distrust them for that reason. On the other hand, for the convert, there is the inevitable culture shock.
One of the first things to strike me was the banality of the Missal. It made the Alternative Service book I had been used to as an Anglican seem well-written. Then there was the absence of the altar rail and the queue for the Eucharist, which was received in the hand rather than, at my Anglican church, kneeling at the altar rail and on the tongue. There was also the sense of coming into a close-knot community which, like many such, was not necessarily welcoming to outsiders from a very different tradition.
That is where the Ordinariate, had it been available when I converted, would have been useful and where its presence is for many of us, essential. The Catholic tradition in England did not end with the Reformation, and non-one familiar with the Caroline Divines, would assume that it revived only with the Oxford Movement. It is good to see that tradition continue within the Catholic Church.
…we can affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture and that it can, indeed, only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognise that this teaching about Mary is contained in the dogma.
[2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians]
Thus, as so often in spite of the best efforts of men, Our Lady unites.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus, proclaimed:
We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
It was only the second occasion on which a Pope had made such an Infallible pronouncement, the first being the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX, in Ineffabilis Deus, 1854.
I remember some years ago reassuring Jessica, whose devotion to Our Lady is intense, that as an Anglican she was not in breach of anything her Church held in celebrating the Assumption.
One of her many Protestant friends had asked her where the Biblical warrant for such a feast was. The answer is simple. If Jesus is who the Bible says He is, then His mother must have been conceived without sin, because we are told that He was like us in all things except for sin. Death is the wages of sin, so if Mary was not conceived in sin, then she could not have been subject death. If Jesus is the first fruits of the Resurrection, the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve. There’s your Biblical evidence. And that is before tradition kicks in, going back to the early second century. If Jessica wanted to bring in the third leg of the stool, Reason, it’s entirely reasonable that Our Blessed Lady did not die and was not separated from her Son.
We do not know the details. There’s a tradition that she stayed in Jerusalem and died there. But given our belief that St John looked after her, there is another tradition that she was assumed into Heaven at Ephesus. The Orthodox call it the Dormition, or the falling asleep.
In short, Our Lady unites the majority of Christians. That she is an object of division to some is a sad reflection on our fallen state. Along with St John Henry Newman, the Blessed Virgin has been one of my invariable sources of refuge in need. However far away I have sometimes felt her Son was because of my sin, she has always been there, her veil protecting me, one hand reaching out while pointing to her Son with the other. How often has she guided me home? How could I ever express what I owe to her intercession?
I grew up in a port town in the north-west, and navigation by the stars mattered. So when I discover that Our Lady was the Star of the Sea for the first time, it all made sense. As I pray my Rosary I sometimes hear the hymn in my head … and surely she guides me homeward.
Virgin most pure, Star of the sea, Pray for the sinner, pray for me.