Faith of our Fathers Gerard Noel
Hfistory was made at the Vatican earlier this month when, for the irst time ever, an Anglican exhibition was held within its confines at the invitation of the Holy See. It was accompanied by a notable colloquium at the Pontifical Gregorian Universky.
Preparations for the event had been going on for more than a year, a central figure in which was His Excellency Mark Pellew, British Ambassador to the Holy See. The occasion provided a fitting climax to the ambassador's four-year stint, coming as it did a fortnight before this week's visit to the Pope by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The other most important organiser on the Anglican side was the Very Revd Stephen Platter, the Dean of Norwich.
The exhibition itself, featuring four centuries of Anglican history, was staged in the magnificent and ornate Salone Sistino, commissioned at the same time as the Sistine Chapel. It was the original of the Vatican Library and archives.
The exhibition was attended by four cardinals, headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. He commented that although the Church of England was still not "formally" in communion with Rome, it was "time to set aside misgivings, misunderstandings and prejudices". The accompanying conference at the Gregorian comprised lectures by Anglican and Catholic scholars, including Eamon Duffy and the Revd Dr Judith Maltby. The latter was the first woman priest to have spoken at an event organised by the Vatican.
I gave the concluding lecture, having been charged with the task of assessing the ecumenical prospects of future AnglicanCatholic relations. The setting for my remarks was provided by the statement of Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. "When we Christians are united," he said, "it will be easier for us to speak with one voice to other religions."
In my lecture, I summarised the revolutionary post-conciliar developments of Pope Paul VI's pontificate, following on the momentous meeting in Rome in 1966 between that pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey. The ring given by the Pope to the primate on this occasion was on display at the exhibition.
The final session of the conference was a protracted open forum which was unexpectedly lively and productive. It was introduced by the British Ambassador, who took the chair to deliver the final summing-up.
He happened to mention some remarks of mine as to how unity — as opposed to union — could one day come about. The key word here involved "symbiosis", was first used in this context by Bishop Alan Clark as co-chairman of the original AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). This sat throughout the 1970s, its main achievement being the production of agreed statements on the subjects of Eucharist. Ministry and Authority. To reach substantial agreement on matters, which had divided our churches for four centuries, was regarded at the time as little less than sensational.
I pointed out that the crucial agreement reached on the Eucharist had produced an entirely new situation as regards the intercommunion. It had resulted in the ruling that an Anglican with the same understanding of the Eucharist as that of Catholic could receive Holy Communion at any time in a Catholic church.
Othane delegate pointed out t there was, as yet, no official permission for intercommunion. But this intervention, by its misleading manner, threw an unwelcome negative note into the proceedings and had to be subsequently explained in its true context. The Anglican Bishop Holland, moreover, told an interesting story involving Bishop Guazelli when he was an auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, in charge of Fast London. On one occasion he attended the installation of the Anglican Bishop of Stepney. Before generally distributing Communion, the new bishop approached Bishop Guazelli, kneeling in the sanctuary. He asked Guamlli if he might give him his blessing but was asked instead to give him "his Sacrament". Bishop Guazelli's reception, on this occasion, of Holy Communion at the hands of an Anglican Bishop was not, officially, given wide publicity, but turned out, in fact, to be an important milestone.
Gerard Noel is editorial director of The Catholic Herald