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Anglicans and the Holy See
AT what was a moving and, in its way, historic moment on Wednesday of last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Jan Willebrands moved towards each other to stand side by side in front of the altar of Lambeth Palace Chapel. Thereupon, they simultaneously imparted a joint blessing on the assembled congregation.
The occasion was the Choral Evensong preceding the delivery by Cardinal Willebrands of a lecture which was the highlight of his visit to Lambeth. During his lecture in the appropriate setting of the great library, the Cardinal who presides with such persistent and prudent care over the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, and speaks for the Holy See, analysed recent pmgress in relationships between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Ch.ureh and the principles which must continue to guide them.
He referred to the fact that Catholicity
implies a fellowship of local churches each with its own style and personality, bound together by a single faith which expresses itself in sacramental communion but not necessarily in unity of organisation. This point cannot be made too often, in view of continuing fears in Anglican circles of being swallowed up in a uniformity imposed by "foreign" control.
In allaying such fears the Cardinal made concessions neither to false irenicism nor to undue optimism. He contented himself with expressing "sincere gratitude" for the work done by the (Anglican-Roman Catholic) Commission responsible for the Agreed Statement on the Eucharist, while adding: "The official authorities pelf the Church will not take over the task proper to the theologians, but follow their further work with confidence. Moreover the work will be completed by the study on ministry, closely related to the theme of the Eucharist, and we hope and pray that it will be possible to express also a common faith on the ministry in the Church." Reverting to the same theme later in the lecture, the Cardinal expressed it as his "personal hope" that the members of the Commission will not look back to the past for its own sake, but try to ascertain whether at present Catholics and Anglicans are able to profess in conscience the same faith about the Sacrament of Orders." No broader hint is imaginable than this as to how the mind of the Holy See is working today on this crucial matter.
Full communion, if ever bestowed upon us as a divine grace, the Cardinal described by quoting the present Holy Father: "one authentic communion of the family of Christ: a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of pries:hood and rule. a communion of the saints in the freedom of love of the spirit of Jesus." Such a communion, as the Cardinal was careful to add, had to be organic. but did not have to be a unity of organisation. What was absent, perhaps inevitably, from the Cardinal's speech was a full appreciation of the particular local situation in these islands: of the actual difficulties which face us here in trying to build a united church and for the. people of this country in communion with Rome and with the Catholic Church everywhere else.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, on his side, naturally wants to lay proper stress on his role as leading representative of the world-wide Anglican Communion. He has to act not only as Primate of England, but as President of the Lambeth Conference as well. But one would be glad to hear him speaking more often in local terms, as a local bishop ready to interest himself in the problems which face us in this country where Anglican and Catholic juxtaposition and cooperation are concerned.
Nor need it be forgotten that we already have in the Catholic Church in this country, the nucleus of our future local church in communion with Rome: a free and independent church which enjoys good relations with the State at all levels, one which attracts the support of members of all classes of the population and which caters for a full range of immigrants as well. Ecumenically we are in touch with all the separated churches and with special groups within them.
Theologically we are already "pluralist," within the limits of our resources. And we have our distinctive place in English history and culture, a place which fits in particularly well with the post-Vatican II emphasis on the Church as the people of God. separate from other peoples, dispersed among them (in a minority situation if need be) and not looking to governmental approval as a necessary condition of our existence. In this particular country of ours, in other words, we have to deal with a local expression of the Catholic Church, enjoying comparatively strong lay support, and with an Anglicanism which, where relations with Rome are concerned, is largely the preserve of clerics. Apart from this group, one tends to find either a lack of interest in joining Rome or else real opposition. particularly from the Evangelicals.
The difficulty on "our" side is not quite so great, since the minority opposed to CatholicAnglican unity — opposed that is to a stated objective of the Holy See — is a dwindling one. Evangelical Anglicans, on the other hand. are growing in strength in the universities and theological colleges. Such Anglicans. moreover, are tinder-represented in ecumenical dialogue or among the episcopate, since an Evangelical who becomes a bishop loses Ms party links, and indeed, often alters his own personal devotional and theological approach.
Many difficulties lie ahead, and the longstanding susceptibilities of many staunch Catholics and Anglicans cannot be swept aside overnight, however sound be the historical and theological arguments of today (as opposed to arguments of the past) and with however much authority such arguments are invested by the Pope himself, and by the Primate of England as head of the Anglican Church.
Thus for progress in local unity in the near future, progress in internal unity, both Cath
olic and Anglican, will be needed. If, mean while, we can help Anglicans to make our closer acquaintance, then something definite. something more significant than high-level clerical politics or symbolic gestures (a breviary given here, an episcopal ring presented theree, will have been accomplished towards the further construction of our English Catholic Church.