What are the wider implications of the new Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus? Firstly, we should consider the effect on ecumenism. It is a popular past time to throw dirt at ecumenism. Catholic triumphalists trumpet the truth of the Catholic faith and denigrate discussions with Protestants. They point out the false premise, the artifical cameraderie, and the fickleness of our ecumenical partners.Its true that the ecumenical movement is not without its faults, but it is also not without its accomplishments. Through the ecumenical movement Catholics and Protestants really have learned from one another. Progress has been made in many ways that has trickled down to the popular level.
People are saying that the old ecumenism is over. In a sense this is right. Through the new Apostolic Constitution Rome is following up her warnings with action. For over a decade now the Vatican has had a consistent message to the Anglican Church, and the message can be summed up as, “Please don’t do that. It puts yet another obstacle in the path of Christian unity.” Time and again the Anglicans have gone ahead anyway. They’ve gone ahead with women priests, with women bishops, with ordination of homosexuals, homosexual ‘marriage’ etc. etc. Now Rome has acted and with Anglicanorum coetibus, directed the ecumenical journey in a radical new direction. No doubt the old style ecumenical meetings will continue, but they will lack urgency. The partners will lack motivation. It is as if the Catholic Church has sent a butler with a bell into the hall where the pre prandial cocktail party was going on to announce that dinner is served. The drinks are over. Dinner time has begun. Are you coming in to dinner or not? You may stay and chat over drinks if you like, but what’s the point?
While the old ecumenism may be over I prefer to think instead that the ecumenical journey has reached an important and unexpected milestone. The ecumenical adventure may actually be far more exciting in the future than the journey so far. We are focussed on the troubles within Anglicanism, and we sometimes forget that the rest of Protestantism is struggling with the same conflicts. It is said that ‘where Anglicanism goes the rest of the Protestants soon follow.” The Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and free Evangelicals are all battling over the same issues of modernist theology and relativist morality. What will happen to them?
I believe that the new Anglican Ordinariate will eventually become a bridge into full communion with the historic Church for Protestants of many different backgrounds. Many Catholics do not realize that there are large numbers of Evangelical Christians who look very longingly at the historic liturgical churches. They hold to the historic faith, but they want to belong to a historic church. They admire Catholic liturgy and spirituality. They admire the global reach of the Catholic faith. They admire the Pope and the modern Catholic saints. However, for many of them the step into the Catholic Church is still a step too far.
If the Anglican Ordinariate can include ‘broad church Anglicans’ as well as Anglo Catholics, then these other Protestants may also find a way to ‘come home to Rome.’ Of course they will need to be catechized. They will need to accept the whole of the Catholic faith, but they will find it easier to do that within an Anglican setting.
Therefore, what the ordinariate will really provide is not only a bridge across the Tiber for Anglicans, but an Anglican bridge across the Tiber for many others of our separated brethren.