Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Papal Cynicism

On October 20, Pope Benedict XVI approved a plan wherein the Pope will issue an apostolic constitution, a form of papal decree, that will lead to the creation of "personal ordinariates" for Anglicans who convert to Rome.

John Hooper of the UK Guardian reports:
More than half a million Anglicans are set to join the Roman Catholic church following an announcement from the Vatican today that Pope Benedict XVI had approved a decree setting up a new worldwide institution to receive them.
Gledhill and Owen in the Australian note the obvious in mentioning the simmering accusation against Rome for "poaching":
Anglicans privately accused Rome of poaching and attacked Dr Williams for capitulating to the Vatican. Some called for his resignation. Although there was little he could have done to forestall the move, many were dismayed at his joint statement with the Archbishop of Westminster in which they spoke of Anglicans "willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church".
A fine and necessary read on the matter comes from Oliver Lough deriving his analysis and commentary from a gaze at history's best known Anglican to Catholic convert, the great churchman and theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman.


Lough opens his reflections pointedly:
The depth of cynicism behind the Vatican's invitation last month to right-wing Episcopalians "to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony" is best understood through one of Rome's most high-profile converts, a certain John Henry Newman.
And goes on to bring back before the modern reader many of the qualities that make Newman an exciting and enduring figure in Western history:
It would be easy enough to assume that the smells, bells, and reassuringly rigid doctrine of the Catholic Church eventually provided too much of a temptation for the intellectually fraught Newman to resist.

As it happened, the spark of his conversion came from a quite different direction. Poring over an obscure 5th century religious text in 1839, he came to the conclusion, despite himself, that the Episcopalian faith was founded on a series of misconceptions that precluded its ever being a "true" church.


What followed was described by Newman as a "great revolution of mind, which led me to leave my own home, to which I was bound by so many strong and tender ties."

His final conversion was some six years in the making, and came at a time when even the merest hint of "popishness" was still anathema in Britain. As one historian puts it, "to enter the Roman Church was literally to exile oneself from English life."

Newman's slow and painful transformation was an act of spiritual and intellectual bravery so profound that it eventually helped kick-start the gradual rehabilitation of Catholicism into conventional society. It involved not just abandoning much of what he had stood for, but immersing himself in a new and alien creed.

Read the entire commentary here

It may well be that such matters arouse in most the feeling of a dusty and complicated past. I recommend though that no social evolution should bring us to the point when major world leaders should be allowed to act without account, and when courage, integrity, and rigorous devotion of mind become a matter of disinterest.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interesting reflections Frank.

The conversion of Newman to Catholicism, while a great loss to the Anglican Church, planted a seed which bore fruit in Vatican II. Many reforming Catholic theologians have mentioned the vital and fresh thinking that Newman brought with him. I think the same may happen again. The new structure that the Pope has set up will allow for a married Anglican priesthood. Who knows how many Catholic, wishing to become priests but also to marry, might choose to join this branch of the Catholic Church. Maybe this is the thin edge of the wedge for introducing the option of married priests throughout Catholicism thus bringing it back into line with the Eastern Orthodox churches.

So while the move is bad for the Anglican church it may prove to be a blessing for Catholicism with many unintended consequences.

William Haines

Stoyan said...

Dear Frank,

That you take note of milestones on the path of to our collective enlightenment is the first point of interest.

In this instance there appears to be an anomaly on the road to Damascus, namely a U-turn.

We rarely associate going back with going forward, but there seem to be possibilities in all directions.

Stoyan Tadin