'WE MUST TRY AND UNDERSTAND
AYS in which Catholics can learn from
Anglicans were among the topics discussed by Fr. Francis Frost, a Manchester priest whO has been studying Anglican theology at Cambridge University, in an exclusive interview given to CATHOLIC HERALD reporter Peter Okell.
Fr. Frost, who for 10 years lived in France and studied at the University of Lille, attended many lectures at the Christian Unity Centre in Lyons, first under the late Abbe Courturier, and then under Pere Michalon.
While British Catholics have groped more slowly towards it, Catholics on the continent have developed "a sort of theology of the ecumenical movement", say Fr. Frost.
Here are some extracts from Peter °ken's conversation with him:—
Fr. FRANCIS FROST speaks to PETER OKELL
OKELL: What is your opinion of the Anglicans that you have come into contact with?
Fr. FROST: When one meets devout Anglicans of either the Evangelical or High Anglican School, one realises that many of them have a very deep faith, and a personal commitment to Christ.
Many Anglicans who have been received into the Church, to whom 1 have talked, obviously came in with a great amount to give, and they became Catholics because they had been brought up in the way that they had been brought up.
OKELL: Could you outline briefly the history of the World Council of Churches?
FR. FROST: The emergence of the World Council of Churches is one of the most significant factors of the ecumenical movement on the non-Catholic side. This came into being as a result of the amalgamation of the Life and Work movement with the Faith and Order movement.
Both of these movements were formed largely by the Anglicans, who have shown a keen interest in ecumenical work.
At the great congresses of the World Council held at Evanston in 1954 and, more recently, at New Delhi, there has been a considerable amount of theological discussion on the question of what Christ intended his Church to be, and on the unity which He intended it to have.
Different members of the World Council of Churches, and in particular its general secretary, Dr. Visser t'Hooft, have continually voiced the opinion that no human organisation can give back that unity in Christ that the member churches desire, and that, therefore, the World Council is not a federation of Churches, or a Super-Church, but simply a meeting ground, which is at the service of them all. to help them to deepen their own spiritual life, and to assist them in moving towards unity.
OKELL: Having studied the question of Church unity and the ecumenical movement both here and on the continent, would you say that there was a great difference in the attitudes of Catholics here nnd abroad?
FR, FROST: Yes, there is certainly a great contrast to be made between what has happened here and what has happened abroad.
On the continent. Catholics have developed a sort of theology of the ecumenical movement. They have developed a sort of overall vision, and there has also developed, particularly in France, what has come to be known as spiritual ecumenism.
This is a form of prayer for unity, of a non-liturgical character, which Catholics can and do engage in, with their nonCatholic brethren.
This is a question of making Christ's own prayer for unity, after the Last Supper, our own. We ask Christ to give this unity to all his followers, when He wishes, in the way that I-1,e wishes, so that our lives, and the lives of our non-Catholla brethren, whom we ask to pray for us, might be deepened spiritually.
We pray also for the spiritual growth of all Christians, so that the unity that Christ desires will be brought about according to His will.
This does not, of course, take away at all from the truth of the Catholic Church being the one true Church. But it remains true that we need the prayers of nonCatholics, just as much as they need ours.
OKELL: What about this country?
FR. FROST: Various efforts have been made here towards the cause of unity. like the wartime establishment of the Sword of the Spirit", a crusade for moral and religious renewal started by Cardinal Hinsley, and to which Dr. Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave his warmhearted support.
But 1 think it is true to say that it is only since the present Holy Father has shown such an interest in the problem of Christian unity. and has received Dr. Fisher (then Archbishop of Canterbury) and Dr. Craig (Moderator of the Church of Scotland), that Catholics in this country have begun to take ecumenical work seriously.
Rather than having an overall vision of things, as they have on the continent, Catholics over
here have been groping towards unity and mutual understanding, despite meetings between such men as Archbishop Heenan and Dr. Ramsey, and other. more informal, contacts which few people know anything about.
OKELL: What about the forthcoming Vatican Council?
FR. FROST: I think we must start off by taking the Holy Father's words seriously when he says that the Council will aim at bringing the Church up to date, to make it more obviously the Church of ChristCif you like, to those outside it.
This means that we will have to remove many stumbling blocks in the life of the Church as we, its members. live it.
It is not just a question of saying that those outside the Church are in error, and that we are right and have the truth. No, we have something to do, a part to play and there are inevitable changes to be made (though not, of course, in doctrine).
The Holy Father, I believe, intends us to understand this.
OKELL: What is likely to emerge from the Council?
FR. FROST: I think that has to be left to the Holy Ghost, but nevertheless, I think it is true to say that the actual calling of the Council is in itself an indication of what we might expect, in the sense that the Holy Father is obviously anxious that the Bishops shall exercise more fully their responsibility in the government and pastoral care of the Church, in a way in which they have never done before.
This responsibility is theirs by divine right as successors to the Apostles.
I think that one of the things which will emerge from the Council will be an increase in the power which Bishops will have in their own dioceses. BO that those things which belong to the Church, her means of sanctification and her discipline, can be better applied and adapted to the different areas. countries and conditions of the modern world, in which the Church is present.
Thus, for instance, it might be that the problems which beset the Anglo-Saxon world, particularly those of Catholics in nonCatholic countries, could be dealt with more efficiently by Bishops on the spot. If such adaptations took place, non-Catholics would find themselves more at home in the Church than they imagined possible.
OKEI,L: What contribution can the ordinary person make towards unity? FR. FROST: What we all have to do is to realise our obligation to try and understand nonCatholics and their points of view better. In some cases it's even a question of being humble enough to learn from them what is positive in Anglican theology and spirituality, either on the Evangelical or the High Anglican side, and actually to benefit from this, adapting it to one's own spiritual life.
It's not simply a question of waiting until they see that they are wrong, and then confronting them with the truth, showing them that we are right.
Our understanding has to go deep enough to be an understanding of the spiritual aspirations of Anglicans and their faith, for with many of them it is a faith, and a very deep faith.
OKELL: What sort of things have non-Catholics got which we can benefit from?
FR. FROST: We can learn quite a lot from the Anglicans, for example. For one thing, their theology is Biblical, and their preaching is Biblical. Many Anglicans have a sense of the Bible which is not just explaining Old Testament history, as though it were some antiquarian knowledge which has to he acquired.
They see the whole of God's revelation in terms of a moral response to it. This is what makes their Ministers able to get up into the pulpit and talk about the Old and the New Testament in terms which are relevant to their congregations.
Recently. Dr. Mervyn Stockwood, the Anglican Bishop of Southwark. preached on the 16th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, where St. Peter says: "Thou art Christ, the son of the living God". and Christ replies: "Flesh and blood have not revealed this to thee, but my Father in Heaven".
Many Catholics, if you were to ask thorn about this, would probably say one of two things, both of which are perfectly true: (a) that Christ is God; or (b) that the Pope is infallible.
But Dr, Stockwood had a different, but nevertheless valid, approach to this text. when he saw in it a human being like ourselves. St. Peter, making a moral response to this wonderful person who had come into his life. Here was Jesus Christ Who was God.
So in order to accept the divinity of Christ, he had to make a decision in his conscience to surrender himself to God Anglicans 1 think, have this sense of seeing that God can only make us understand the truths He wants us to understand in thc Bible if we accept the moral implications of these truths.
OKELL: Even to one who knows little about the nonCatholic Church history and traditions, it is obvious that there have been important developments in the life of the non-Catholic Churches over the past few years. Cthoisu?Id you say something about
FR. FROST: There has been a definite spiritual revival lately among practising Anglicans. One example is the revival of religious congregations in Anglicanism, which have been admirably traced by Peter Anson in his history of the Anglican Commissions. Another example is the dedication of Anglican students to the ministry. Careerism is now dead.
Anglicans have also become more than ever interested in the ecumenical movement, in a technical sense, in so far as they have now taken up the cause of Christian unity themselves, and they regard themselves, so to speak, as the hub around which all the nonCatholic Churches have come together.
In a sense they feel that their religion combines the best elements of both Protestantism and Cathlocism; Protestant because of their evangelical traditions, and Catholic because of the High Anglican hold.
Though we cannot sympathise with this point of view, we can acknowledge the fact that they have been the great initiators of the ecumenical movement among the non-Catholic Churches.
For instance, it was largely the Anglicans who were responsible for getting the World Council of Churches on its feet.
The Anglicans have helped, along with the Orthodox, to keep the Protestant element in the World Council of Churches from closing up on itself and becoming a Protestantism to be set over against the Catholic Church.
They have helped to keep an opening for Catholicism all the time, for they know that they cannot have unity without looking towards Rome. It's the High Anglican side of the Church of England which is constantly keeping this opening, and the possibility of dialogue with the Catholic Church, in focus.
Within the Anglican Church There is a constant fight for independence in spiritual matters. The recent Prayer Book controversy illustrates this.
Moreover, as a result of the Lambeth Conferences, which have developed over the last 70 years, there is also an Anglican consciousness of being, to some degree, a world wide communion. In fact they now call themselves the Anglican Communion, and, in this, they have the sense of being a Church which goes beyond the bounds of these islands, with branches in a number of countries. including India. Pakistan, and the nations of the African continent.
All these things have contributed to a great awareness among Anglicans as to what the Church really should be. which points to the fact that the Holy Ghost is working in this way towards unity.