Here come the Anglicans! And it’s a good thing.

When England was evangelized, it was explicitly and directly a papal project, the inspiration of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who sent his fellow Italian, Saint Augustine, to do the job. This was after a providential misadventure trying to go there himself. For the rest of time, that Augustine would be distinguished from his African namesake as “of Canterbury,” and that city would be, for a millennium, the primatial see of happy Catholic England. Then came the brutal English Reformation that tore “Mary’s Dowry” away from the true Church, producing such martyrs as Saint Edmund Campion and Saint Thomas More in its sanguinary effort to efface “popery” from the realm.

Tuesday’s news brought us the generally unexpected announcement that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has cleared a canonical path for Anglicans seeking union with the Holy See to do so in a corporate way, retaining part of their Anglican liturgical patrimony and customs, just as others had earlier been welcomed in and allowed to worship according to the so-called “Anglican Use” Missal, an expurgated version of the Book of Common Prayer. The difference with this new provision is that it makes possible not an isolated parish here or there being received under the local bishop according to John Paul II’s Pastoral Provision, but the welcome of entire segments of Anglicanism, who will have an hierarchical structure their own, without being part of the local bishop’s jurisdiction.

To do this, the Holy Father is publishing an Apostolic Constitution (the document is not yet published) that will make for “personal ordinariates.” These will function like non-territorial dioceses and be headed sometimes by bishops, sometimes by priests.

Those seeking such union are disaffected Church of England members fed up with homosexual bishops, women priests, and other such moral and doctrinal aberrations. The conservative and liturgically traditionalist Traditional Anglican Communion, under Archbishop Hepworth, of Australia, approached the Holy See in 2007 seeking reunion with the Church. But they were not the only group who has shown such an interest. There was intense resistance to this in the Holy See itself, with some declaring the Church’s role to be “helping [the Archbishop of Canterbury] to keep the Anglican community together.”

From my perspective, this has to be seen as part of a succession of positive developments that include the recent publication of Monsignor Brunero Gherardini’s book on Vatican II and the Solemn High Pontifical Mass celebrated by Archbishop Burke in Saint Peter’s this Sunday. All of these have been accomplished before the Rome-SSPX discussions begin on Monday, October 26. Some of this is clearly by design. And whatever is not directly by design fits in quite well with the atmospheric change in the Church brought about by Benedict XVI, the Pope of Summorum Pontificum. (Monsignor Gherardini’s book, by the way, will soon be published in English. I’m reading it now, and it is a blockbuster.)

Back to the Anglicans. The press conference announcing the Apostolic Constitution had many anomalies, as detailed by a journalist present there, the American, Dr. Robert Moynihan. These anomalies, which include the last-minute calling of the conference, the absence of Cardinal Kasper, and the document’s own non-appearance, left many journalists wondering what was really going on, and why such a hasty decision to publicize a document that is not even ready for publication. Whatever the explanation of these mysterious goings on, one thing is clear: one of the most objectionable aspects of modern ecumenical praxis has just been roundly trounced, and that by the Supreme Pontiff himself.

Father George Rutler, himself a convert from Anglicanism, did not mince words.

It is a dramatic slap-down of liberal Anglicanism and a total repudiation of the ordination of women, homosexual marriage and the general neglect of doctrine in Anglicanism. Indeed, it is a final rejection of Anglicanism. It basically interprets Anglicanism as a spiritual patrimony based on ethnic tradition rather than substantial doctrine and makes clear that it is not a historic “church” but rather an “ecclesial community” that strayed and now is invited to return to communion with the Pope as Successor of Peter. [Emphasis added.]

Speaking of the dual press conferences in Rome and London announcing the new document, Father Rutler noted that the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster and his Anglican counter-number, Archbishop Rowan Williams, met the press together so that the latter and his coreligionists might “save some face” with the appearance that this was all done with ecumenical sensitivity and polite consultation. The very frank Father Rutler noted that Williams (the man is a Druid, by the way), was “deeply humiliated” by this development, and that the appearance of ecumenical unity amid these events is a veneer:

That is like George Washington at Yorktown saying that he recognizes the cultural contributions of Britain and hopes diplomatic relations flourish. The Apostolic Constitution is not a retraction of ecumenical desires, but rather is the fulfillment of ecumenical aspirations, albeit not the way most Anglican leaders had envisioned it. [Emphasis added.]

I would add that this is not the fulfillment of the ecumenical desires of many professional ecumenists on the Catholic side, either. As the witty Diogenes remarked, “The Holy See took the ecumenical imperative out of the hands of ecumenists, with the result that the reunion of Christians — at least in one limited area of schism — ensued.” Some would define “Christian unity” in deliberately vague terms (which is not to define it at all). These would see “unity” not as a goal, but a process — an incessant series of dialogues producing reams of “agreements,” all of which ignore the real issues separating the baptized from one another. (After all, they say, “what unites us is vastly greater than that which separates us.”) In their view, a “united” Christianity would be little more than a debating club with very restrictive rules on offending the folks across the table. And they accuse orthodox Catholics of practicing an outmoded and not-nice “proselytism,” an “ecumenism of return,” and the much dreaded “you-come-to-me-ism.”

These and other sophomoric neologisms betray their users’ theological vacuity, and opposition to sound dogma and the Church’s divine mandate to make disciples of all nations. The importance of extra ecclesiam nulla salus looms large here, does it not?

Christianity is an incarnate reality, not an ephemeral ideal. Christian unity can be effected only by the return of those separated from the Catholic Church to Roman unity. That is it. Said another way, the Catholic Church is Christian unity. Unity need not be sought so much as augmented by bringing more people into it, including the Anglicans.

There are those who will be suspicious of this latest move on the part of the Holy Father. Personally, I am thrilled at it, and point out the following to the cynics:

  • The Anglicans who petitioned the Holy Father chose Roman unity. If leaving an heretical and schismatic Canterbury was done merely because Anglicanism has gone so far off the deep end, they did have other options.
  • References to “Anglican spiritual patrimony” and the like being retained do not phase me, and for one reason. England, as I pointed out and as is known to all, was always Catholic in her Christianity before the sanguinary so-called “Reformation.” The sees of Salisbury, York, Canterbury, etc., all had beautiful English Catholic customs, many of which were retained, or returned to, by the more conservative Anglicans (e.g., blue vestments in honor of Our Lady, local feasts, devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham, etc.). Certainly there is more to it than that, such as a vernacular liturgy, but what can be said of the Orthodox can be said in a lesser degree of these Anglicans: what they have is Catholic except for the heresy and the schism. The same cannot be said of Presbyterians or Methodists. What these latter do on Sunday has no resemblance to a Mass.
  • In its externals, their liturgy is head and shoulders above what passes for worship in most Catholic Churches.
  • Some of these conservative Anglicans are Sarum Missal fans. They will want to use the venerable and ancient “use” of the See of Salisbury, which some Catholics presently use.
  • Consider this in light of Summorum Pontificum. It is quite possible that some of our new Anglo-Catholic brethren will be drawn to the traditional Roman rite. If, as I surmise, they will be considered priests of the Roman rite, they will be free to offer the “Extraordinary Form” with little possibility of someone denying them that right.

Certainly, their liturgy will have to be fixed in at least two ways. First, it must be corrected of any doctrinal problems that crept in (the same has been done for Eastern Christians returning to unity, e.g., the Malankara Christians of India). Second, in the case of the Eucharist and other sacraments requiring bishops or priests, they must be made valid by properly ordaining (and then, in some cases, consecrating) the ministers who seek unity. The Holy Father remains faithful to Pope Leo XIII’s judgment that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and totally void.”

We who believe that there is no salvation outside the Church must rejoice when new members enter her fold.

Anglicanism may be in its last days. Father George Rutler called the Apostolic Constitution “a final nail in the coffin of the rapidly disintegrating Anglicanism, at least in the West,” adding that it “will radically challenge Anglicans in other parts of the world.” To his credit, it can be said that another convert from the Church of England, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, foresaw the end of Anglicanism over a century ago in his apocalyptic novel, Lord of the World.

Sister Catherine relates the pre-history of the evangelization of England:

It was while he was at Saint Andrew’s for the second time that Saint Gregory’s famous meeting with the English slaves took place, in the Roman Forum. He came upon the tall, blond youths as they were being sold, and he asked from whence they had come.

“They are Angles, ” he was told.

“Angles?” he exclaimed. “Say rather they are angels! What a pity that God’s grace does not dwell within those beautiful brows!”

He purchased all of the handsome slaves, brought them back with him to the monastery, cared for them, and instructed and baptized them.

As for the converts from the TAC et. alia., let us pray that they will be numerous. And say not that they are Anglicans, but say rather that they are Catholics!