Our local vicar in the combox says, “When Pope Benedict talks to Anglicans about church unity what he really means is ‘Come and join us.’”
Of course this is true in a sense, but when he says “Come and join us.” Benedict is not expecting total conformity and uniformity in all things. That’s what the Ordinariate is all about. What he has in mind is a growing family of different small groups like Anglicans and the Eastern churches, coming into full communion while retaining their own patrimony of liturgy and customs and also being granted a measure of autonomy both materially and in matters of governance.
I hear Anglicans whine about this expectation that unity means coming into full communion with the See of Rome, but what on earth else could it possibly mean? They whine about this expectation we have, but they have never come up with any other model for unity, and re-buff any attempts Catholics make to call for unity.
What other model would there be? Shall we have a World Council of Churches? That’s a flop and was never more than a talking shop for liberal Protestant theologians. Shall we simply have intercommunion with all Christians? We would then fall into the latitudinarian error in which we sacrifice doctrinal unity for unity of form. Even if we were to have complete intercommunion where would it stop? Who would define the boundaries of communion?
Would we have communion and inter-change of orders? Does that mean that an Anglican minister and a Catholic priest would suddenly have the same sort of validity of orders? If Anglican and Catholic, then Anglican and Lutheran for Anglican and Lutheran have already agreed to intercommunion and shared orders. If Anglican and Lutheran and Catholic then why not Methodists too, because they are close enough to Anglican aren’t they? And if the Methodist minister is in, surely the Presbyterian for he is close enough to Methodist to get in under the line, and if Presbyterian, then Baptist, and if Baptist, the Assemblies of God, and if Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal, and if Pentecostal, then Seventh Day Adventist, and if Seventh Day Adventist, then the Worldwide Church of God, and if the Worldwide Church of God then the Jehovah’s Witness, and if Jehovah’s Witness, then Mormon, and if Mormon, then Moonies, and if Moonies, then Scientologists, and if the Scientologists…
I think the burden must be on the Anglicans now. Benedict XVI has offered a viable, logical, generous and creative way for Anglicans to retain their patrimony and be one in faith and worship with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Anglicans who say they are interested in Church unity must either take the ordinariate seriously or come up with some other way forward. Let them come up with something as creative and positive and generous. Otherwise, let them be content with the polite detente that now exists where Pope and Archbishop meet from time to time and give one another a present and speak about ‘the call for church unity’ and then go home to their own palaces for tea and cake.
The problem in talking with Anglicans about church unity is that they are guilty of rather fuzzy thinking. Surprise surprise! They don’t really have a clue what church unity consists of, what it should be built on, or what it would look like if it actually existed. What they conceive is always the Anglican model which is really latitudinarianism–that is a total tolerance of all views and opinions gathered together under an agreed administrative institution. This is not unity. It’s a council of churches. It’s simply a confederation of contradictions.
True unity exists where there is unity of form and unity of doctrine. In other words, we believe the same thing, and that is what unites us and provides the unity of form. This is only possible if you have an agreed infallible teaching authority with one man as its spokesman and final arbiter. Without that authority you will either fall into the latitudinarian error in which you sacrifice unity of doctrine for unity of form or you will fall into the sectarian error in which you sacrifice unity of form for unity of doctrine.
In other words, you have a group like the Anglican mainstream where you can believe whatever you like as long as you stay on board. Or otherwise you end up with all the different breakaway groups and sects where you have unity of doctrine and believe the same as everyone else in your little group, but you’re only one among the other 50,000 Protestant groups.
The Catholic Church aspires to unity of form and unity of doctrine, and can only do so because of the Pope. That’s why the Pope says to our separated brethren (and btw, not only separated from us but separated from each other) “Come on home to Rome.”