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It was Pope Paul’s idea to preserve an Anglican heritage within the Catholic Church

An ex-Anglican jurisdiction was always taken seriously in Rome

By on Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Paul VI presents a 13th-century fresco of Christ to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1966 (Photo: AP)

Paul VI presents a 13th-century fresco of Christ to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1966 (Photo: AP)

Everyone, at the beginning of the week, was expecting an announcement from two Anglican bishops that they had resigned their episcopal office and that they would soon be received into the Catholic Church in preparation for joining the Ordinariate soon to be established; and we all knew that there were other bishops in the pipeline. But not many expected five in one go: unsurprisingly, it caused something of a stir, though not exactly jaw-dropping astonishment.

By now, the choreography of this process has become fairly clear. What is less understood is its nature. Some cradle Catholics still just don’t get it. Why do they want their own little enclave: if they want to be Catholics, why don’t they just join? What is this stuff about an Anglican “patrimony”? Isn’t that just what they want to get away from?
The first thing to say about the usage of Anglican “patrimony” is that it wasn’t coined by an Anglican, but by Pope Paul, in the days before the aspiration of an eventual corporate reunion of Canterbury and Rome (always, with the benefit of hindsight, an impossible dream) had been rudely shattered by the Anglicans’ unilateral decision fundamentally to redefine their orders in a way impossible for Catholics ever to accept.

But in those days, the ordination of women seemed a very distant – and unlikely – possibility which many (I was one of them) chose to ignore. The way forward to reunion seemed to be open; the pace seemed to be quickening. At the beatification of the English and Welsh martyrs in 1970 (which offended many Anglicans at the time), Pope Paul went out of his way to make an overture to the Anglican tradition (of which he was a genuine admirer: he used to listen to LPs of Anglican church music in moments of relaxation). “There will,” he said, “be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and usage due to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church … is able to embrace firmly her ever-beloved sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ…” He made it clear that what he called the “worthy patrimony” of Anglicanism would be preserved in a united Church. A few years later, he said that he believed that “these words of hope ‘The Anglican Church united not absorbed’ are no longer a mere dream”.
Alas, he was wrong. The wholesale reunion of Canterbury and Rome was always a mere dream; and soon it was brutally shattered. But Pope Paul’s vision of an Anglican “patrimony” united with the Catholic Church but (like the Eastern Catholic patrimony) not wholly absorbed, were not forgotten, either in Rome (where Cardinal Ratzinger remembered them) or by those Anglicans who for nearly two decades have been talking, firstly to him at the CDF, and then to his successors at the CDF who have remained in charge of the process throughout: it was their decision, entirely justified, that the English bishops should not be consulted, since they would have done everything they could to wreck it, as they had once before in the 1990s.
But what exactly is the Anglican patrimony they hope to preserve? One Anglican vicar who plans to join the Ordinariate told Damian Thompson earlier this week: “The important thing is that the first wave of groups have their own churches – not necessarily their old parish buildings, but somewhere separate from the existing Catholic parish. We need to preserve our own ethos.”

But what is that ethos? It exists all right; and in my opinion it is worth preserving. I began to describe one aspect of it last week as it existed in an ex-Anglican parish which was allowed to survive for a year or two in the early 90s: it was a successful experiment, full of promise, prematurely ended.

But a lot more needs to be said; and I shall describing something more of that Anglican “patrimony” – and what I believe it has to contribute to the rest of us – next time.

  • PhilipH

    As a ex-Anglican convert to Catholicism myself, I find it quite difficult to understand what would be preserved. When I was in Anglo-Catholic, our masses were very close to the Roman ones and I didn't find worshiping in a RC church significantly different (except for some of the hymns.) As for keeping Anglican church buildings, it makes no financial sense if there is already a RC church in the area that could be shared. Perhaps they could sing Evensong occasionally, but I suspect that most of the other differences between the Ordinariate and the ordinary RCs would disappear over time anyway.

  • Sigfridii

    There is no Anglican patrimony to be preserved, other than the wives of the convert clergy and the high camp of many of the remainder, which delights in exotic liturgical practices long ago abandoned by everyone except the Society of St Pius X.

    Those who are converting will include very few if any who use liturgies authorised by the Church of England, and it is highly unlikely that Choral Mattins and Choral Evensong will feature highly among Ordinariate congregations, even if sufficient numbers convert to form a viable centre for ex-Anglican worship.

    Even the precious inheritance of Anglican cathedral music is only likely to cross the Tiber in the form of CD recordings. It is already withering away in the Church of England under the barrage of the trendy clerics who now run many of our cathedrals, to whom the language of the Prayer Book is anathema – and therefore the music which was written for it must also perish.

    What remains? Just lingering memories and occasional nostalgia for a glory which is passing away.

  • James Crawford

    The Anglican tradition is of a “Via Media”, a church that can variuosly be described as “Catholic but reformed”, “both Catholic and Protestant” or “neither Cathollic nor Protestant”. It sees theology as a journey and an exploration, not the regurgitation of a rigidly fixed set of beliefs. It does not accept Papal supremacy, let alone Papal infallibility. The rump of extreme conservative Anglo Catholics about to cross the Tiber want to escape from this tradition which, in contrast to Anglican Liberal Catholics, they never really accepted in the first place. They do not want to take it with them. What they do want to take is a form of worship pickled in aspic (including no women at the altar) which most Anglicans have always regarded, with reason, as belonging to the Roman and not to the Anglican heritage. It seems that the only genuine elements of the Anglican tradition they wish to take with them to Rome are their wives!

  • Bishedwin

    One aspect opf the patrimony is to do with pastoral care; much easier in a small churchthan a large one, but witnessed to by the way most Anglican clergy are at the door to greet their parishioners as they leave church. In most Catholic churches I have attended, he would be too late; the mad stampede starts well before “The Mass in ended”…

  • aisake040188camaibau

    I would like to comment here that Anglican clergy are following the rites and retuals practice by Catholics and the Catholic clergy are preserving their sheep well whereas Anglican clergy eat their sheep and let them suffer their own difficulities

  • E Baty

    Many thanks

    I think we would all like to know! Rumour has it that it is more about pastoral care and living the Christian life than about which liturgy we use.

  • Stephen

    I was once a Communicant of The Episcopal Church in the United States. After watching it begin down the path of self destruction in the 1970`s, I left TEC and reconciled myself with the Roman Catholic Church in 1983 at the age of 33.
    Therefore, I have watched the Ordinariate with much interest.
    I would thoroughly enjoy once again being able to participate in the Anglican Form, therefore, the 'ethos' mentioned should be preserved and even nurtured, I believe.