A New Stage of Ecumenism?: Some Thoughts on the Forthcoming Apostolic Constitution

A New Stage of Ecumenism?: Some Thoughts on the Forthcoming Apostolic Constitution October 24, 2009

As a Catholic blogger whose academic specialty is ecumenism I have felt some pressure to write something about the latest big news from the Vatican, namely the announcement about the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution that provides a kind of canonical vehicle that will allow groups of Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.  Thinking I would come up with something in fairly short order, I posted the news as my Facebook status and before long it became clear to me that this was a much more complicated issue than I had initially supposed.  For fear of saying something stupid, I decided not to write anything before I had had the opportunity to talk with some people I trusted in both the Catholic and Anglican communions.

I have been fortunate in the last couple of days to tap the minds of some very astute and thoughtful theologians who work in this area.  I had a long phone call with a promising young ecclesiologist of quite strong Catholic sensibilities who is married to a (female) Anglican priest.  The next night I was fortunate to attend a kind of emergency dinner meeting with some faculty and grad students of Regis College (Catholic) and Wycliffe College (Anglican) here in Toronto.  Included in our company was noted Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner.  As he was leaving I asked him for a summary of his views.  He said something very much like, “It is helpful for a few, meaningless for most and pernicious for those [and he meant those in the Anglican communion specifically] who have to deal with the fallout.  Oh, and it has some very interesting, perhaps unintended, possibilities for the future of the Church.” I have chosen to use this basic framework for my reflections.  The reader is advised not to assume that everything written below is the opinion of Ephraim Radner, nor even of Brett Salkeld.  It is, however, a collection of things I have heard and thought in the past few days that I found noteworthy.

1.  “It is useful for a few.”

The media, in some quarters, has done an awful job of indicating at whom this initiative is aimed.  There is a relatively small group of Anglicans who have been petitioning Rome for years for something like this.  This is not an attempt to seduce Anglicans to convert to Catholicism.  The Vatican knows that, even if it were such an attempt, it wouldn’t work.  Though this constitution applies in principle to all Anglicans, everyone in Rome and Canterbury knows exactly who is likely to take advantage of this.  And here’s the thing:  the bulk of those groups are not currently in communion with Canterbury!  Many Anglican communities have broken communion with Canterbury over the years and it is precisely these groups that will make up the vast majority of what we might call Anglican-Rite Catholics.  (To distinguish them from the many Anglicans who already consider themselves catholic.)

It is useful for these groups for two reasons.  The first is that it allows them to maintain their Anglican traditions in areas such as piety, liturgy and even, to a degree, canon law.  This has been commented on extensively elsewhere.  The second reason is not something I have seen elsewhere (though I haven’t read everything).  It allows them to be received into communion with the Bishop of Rome and the Catholic Church without converting.  Yes, you read that right.  Individual Anglicans have, of course, always had the option of converting to Roman Catholicism (or Ukrainian Catholicism for that matter).  These people did not want to convert; they wanted to return to full communion.  Ecumenically this is a huge and significant difference.  In the history of the Church, we have never, to my knowledge, referred to the healing of schism as conversion.  After the Council of Florence we didn’t talk about having converted the Orthodox.  We certainly don’t talk about union with the East coming about today by means of the conversion of Catholics into Orthodox or vice versa.  This is the healing of schism, not conversion en masse.

2.  “It is meaningless for most.”

When the Toronto Star heard that the conservative Anglicans were being targeted by Rome for ‘conversion,’ they decided to phone some and ask them what they thought about it.  The fellow they got a hold of said he and his fellow conservative Anglicans had no interest in a Church with a Pope and a bunch of extra-biblical Marian dogmas.  Like elsewhere, in Anglicanism, conservative is not a univocal term.  The “conservatives” in question are a tiny minority of Anglicans who often have little in common with other conservative elements in the Anglican Communion.  Radner even wonders whether Rome knows much detail about the unique characteristics of the groups it is courting here and suggests it might be taking on some baggage unwittingly.

What is clear is that for the vast majority of Anglicans this means nothing.  From the socially progressive Anglicans who have embraced same-sex marriage and practicing gay bishops, to social conservatives wary of the papacy, to people with deep Catholic sensibilities liturgically, ecclesiologically and ethically who simply cannot accept a ban on women clergy (including many former Catholics), for most Anglicans much work is still required before union with Rome is a possibility.

Suggestions that this could in any way lead to the collapse of Anglicanism seem to me beyond far-fetched.  Anglicanism might very well be near collapse, but it will have nothing to do with a few Anglicans who were already out of the communion being reconciled to Rome.

3.  “It is pernicious for some.”

One of the problems with discussing things at this stage is that we do not have the document in hand.  John Allen Jr. does an excellent job of spelling out some of the canonical issues that arise from the Catholic point of view.  From the Anglican point of view several other questions arise.  What exactly will the Liturgy look like?  Will the Book of Common Prayer be the standard text?  (And, if so, what does this mean for previous Catholic condemnations of the BCP?  As I understand it, these condemnations are not unrelated to the condemnation of Anglican orders.)  One news report I read suggested that married Anglican men who are neither ordained nor in seminary will be considered for the Catholic priesthood on a case-by-case basis.  Is this at all likely?

Perhaps even more problematic is the kind of legwork that is going to be needed from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (notoriously absent at the Vatican press conference) and Canterbury to ensure that this does not have a negative impact on existing ecumenical dialogues.  Bishops Nichols and Williams noted at their press conference in England that without ARCIC this kind of thing would be unimaginable, and I think they’re right.  Even though the new Anglican-Rite Catholics do not represent Anglicanism as a whole, it is true that neither party could have imagined anything but a mass conversion without the insights of the ecumenical movement.  Nevertheless, ARCIC never imagined disaffected Anglicans uniting with Rome independent of the rest of the communion.  I, for one, think that Williams has been most gracious in this regard.

Apparently both Williams and Walter Kasper were given two weeks’ notice of this announcement.  That’s not a lot of time for people who have worked on these issues for decades.  (Though it is an improvement from lifting the excommunications of the SSPX bishops and not telling Kasper at all.)  Because this is about responding to a request rather than making an initiative, I personally don’t think this should do any serious damage to existing ecumenical work.  It’s not like Canterbury didn’t know something was coming.  But it certainly could have hurt relations if Williams had shown his frustration at the way that things have been communicated.  And I think it’s naïve to suggest he didn’t have any.  This has put him in a pretty tough spot.

4.  “Interesting, and perhaps unintended, possibilities.”

Despite attempts at finding analogies, what this Apostolic Constitution creates is actually quite unique in terms of canon law.  Some have spoken of uniatism, but that falls apart when one considers that in the 16th century Rome was actively proselytizing in the East, while in this case it is Rome who has been approached for unity.  Secondly, in those cases Rome said something like “The Ukrainian Church in communion with us is the real Ukrainian Church” (though that position is obviously no longer held).  No one is suggesting that the few Anglicans who unite with Rome constitute the real Church of England.  Furthermore, those groups are treated as (at least semi-) autonomous Churches.  There is no suggestion that this group of Anglicans constitutes a “Church.”

Though these Anglican-Rite Catholics will have a unique rite like the Malabar or the Maronites, the structure will be much more like a diocese.  But again, not quite.  The ordinariate runs kind of like a diocese without borders, but it is not a personal prelature, which truly has no borders.  It will be tied to some locale, though it is not yet clear how.  Think about it this way:  if it truly has no borders, could there be more than one of them in the world?  What would it mean to have several ordinariates (and plurality is what is envisioned in everything we’ve seen so far) without borders which all deal with the same rite and the same group of the faithful?  Another way that the ordinariate is unlike a diocese is that it will not necessarily be headed by a bishop.  But that is an important part of the definition of diocese.

These ordinariates are a rite without a Church (in this way more like Milan than the Ukraine) and, potentially at least, a diocese without a bishop.  In other words, they are a brand-new animal.

And it is precisely their novelty that carries the interesting possibilities.

At dinner last night one man spoke up and said, “As a Mennonite, this looks like an answer to what I’ve been asking:  Can I be a Mennonite and a Catholic at the same time?  How can I be in communion with the bishop of Rome, and thus the whole Church, without forsaking my Mennonite identity?”

These ordinariates give us a way to imagine just that.  To those who suggest that Williams and Nichols were just blowing smoke when they credited ARCIC for this move, I suggest that this is exactly where ARCIC played a key role.  Catholics and Anglicans worked together for decades on the presumption that mass conversion was not a satisfactory result.

One of the problems of the ecumenical movement is that it has never had a clear picture of what a return to full communion would actually look like.  Before Vatican II, Catholics assumed that, in the West at least, it would look exactly like the Roman Catholic Church.  Since the rejection of this ‘ecumenism of return’ and our entry into the wider ecumenical project, it has been unclear how reunion would take place.  Despite all the advances that have been made in theological agreement, not a single group of western Christians had reunited with Rome – until this week!

It seems to me that no matter what one thinks of the way this was handled by the Vatican, or by the media, or what one thinks of the particular group of Christians that will come into communion with Rome, or any of the difficulties it creates canonically and logistically, what may stand out from this announcement in 500 years is the fact that Rome has found a way to reunite with other western Christians without requiring their conversion.  This gives all of us in ecumenical dialogue a kick in the imagination.  We now have a picture and a precedent with which to work when discussing the reunion of the western Church.

If the Anglicans can keep their liturgy and even some canon law, what might other groups be able to bring to a reunited Church?  Doctrinally the question is even more interesting.  And, before we get too hasty in suggesting that there can be no divergence of doctrine whatsoever, it will be useful to remind ourselves just how easygoing Catholics can be on the filioque when we talk to our Eastern brothers and sisters.

Interestingly, one of the strengths of this canonical construction is that it works well for groups large and small.  One of the difficulties of doing ecumenical dialogue with Protestants is that it is difficult to find someone to speak for such groups given the diversity of structures and lack of centralized authority.  Ironically enough, this vehicle might be better suited to congregationalist Christians than episcopal ones.

This does not mean that there are not immense difficulties ahead of us.  This does not mean that every group that seeks unity with the Bishop of Rome will use this exact procedure.  What it does mean is that we have made a start.

Pope Benedict has often been portrayed as a radical conservative.  Some suggest he wants to revoke the Second Vatican Council.  They are worried that his overtures towards the Society of St. Pius X are a distressing trend away from mainstream ecumenism.  Many point out that the Anglicans who will be joining us are not so different from the SSPX.  Some ask if he is trying to artificially tip the scales within the Catholic Church by engaging these groups.  Whatever one’s take on those issues, the divide between the CDF and the PCPCU is indeed troubling.

But there is one thing that this Apostolic Constitution makes clear, and it is perhaps of historic importance: the ecumenism of return is dead and Pope Benedict XVI is the man who buried it.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto.  He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.

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  • Excelsior

    Why is it that, on this site, there is never any indication of who wrote a particular piece?

    At the bottom of the piece is what looks like a collection of “tags” of categories relevant to the piece. From that, I might guess the piece was written by someone named Brett Salkeld, but it’s far from obvious that this is the author.

    All I’m certain of is that it was “posted on October 24th, 2009 at 2:19 pm.”

    A by-line, at the top, would really be helpful. That goes for every other piece posted here.

  • brettsalkeld

    Yes, I wrote it. I am not a techie, so I don’t know how to fix it, but if others on Vox Nova know what to do, I’m fine with it.

  • Mark Gordon

    At the very bottom of the post, below the tags, it says “Posted by brettsalkeld.” The next post says, “Posted by M.Z.” Why is that difficult?

  • brettsalkeld

    Ah yes, it says so in the short version, but once you click on the long version it disappears.

  • Mark Gordon

    Yes, I see that. It’s a little sliver of code in the WordPress template for the longer form. Easy to copy and paste into the template for this page.

  • brettsalkeld
  • Does it matter who wrote what? I thought all of us at VN were all of one Supreme-Borg-Overmind? 😉

  • dorian

    It sounds strange to me that I cannot see a consideration: the head of Anglican Church is the Queen, isn’t it? So is it just a religious problem (and it would be enough) or also a political problem? What does it imply from a political point of view?

  • digbydolben

    Doctrinally the question is even more interesting. And, before we get too hasty in suggesting that there can be no divergence of doctrine whatsoever, it will be useful to remind ourselves just how easygoing Catholics can be on the filioque when we talk to our Eastern brothers and sisters.

    The Orthodox are far closer to us in the Western Latin Church because they accept OUR doctrine of the “Real Presence.” The Anglicans have not, since the seventeenth century; they are different from us, then, in terms of their Christology, and this Pope is willing to overlook this, in order to make his Church more homogenous.

    Some suggest he wants to revoke the Second Vatican Council. They are worried that his overtures towards the Society of St. Pius X are a distressing trend away from mainstream ecumenism. Many point out that the Anglicans who will be joining us are not so different from the SSPX. Some ask if he is trying to artificially tip the scales within the Catholic Church by engaging these groups.

    I am a part of those “some” and those “many.”

    the ecumenism of return is dead and Pope Benedict XVI is the man who buried it.

    He has “buried” it in order to destroy the aggiornamento of Vatican II, in favour of its ressourcement.

    The British Church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch lays it on the line for what this actually means for both the institutional British and the institutional Roman Churches; they both know they’re sinking faster than lead bricks:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/25/pope-benedict-invitation-anglican-church

    I sympathize with “Hallelujah” on the “comments thread:

    ”The Anglican Church should issue a reciprocal invitation to Roman Catholics unhappy with the authoritarianism of their church. Like many RCs, a lingering tribalism is the only thing that keeps me with Rome. My beliefs are much closer to Church of Ireland but being northern Irish, making the logical move would feel like betrayal of my papist tribe.

    And, Dorian, it’ll be very interesting to see how Queen Elizabeth II chooses to receive this pope, when he pays his “state visit” to Britain later this year. John Paul II was, himself, quite shocked to learn that she took her role as head of the Church of England quite seriously and refused to yield him precedence on it, in terms of protocol. I certainly hope she does the same with Benedict XVI, Ratzinger, who, it appears to me–and I bet to a lot of Anglicans–is attempting a “friendly takeover” of her Church.

  • Pinky

    I’d think that the Apostolic Constitution could be meaningless for most, at first, but that would change over time. If Anglicanism is nearing collapse, the Catholic Church becomes the closest port in a storm. When your archbishop is extolling the virtues of sharia, those Marian teachings don’t seem so peculiar.

    And the smaller the Anglican Church gets, the more outlandish it’ll become. Even with all the diversity in the Anglican community, a shift in the center of balance will be felt.

  • dorian

    @digbydolben Thanks, I find very interesting the bolded comment you quote.

    Anyway I am not still able to figure out what consequences could have in practice this document. When I went to Scotland (just for three months) I attended both a Catholic and an Anglican church. The second one was a Church whose liturgy was very similar to the Catholic one (I would say very similar to a traditional liturgy, not to St. Pius X congregation but at least to some conservative churches in Italy). However the rector of that Church was a woman… So I don’t know if this document will have an effect for all Anglican Church with a liturgy that is similar to the Catholic one or just for a minority part of this Church.
    If I was suspicious I would say that it is a way to reinforce a “strong” and conservative Catholic core group, because Catholic church in many countries becomes weaker, so a core group linked to a strong identity is the only way to survive.
    Let’s see with the Queen…

  • Seraphic Spouse

    Frankly, I’d rather read the actual Apostolic Constitution before writing about it. However, since so many totally uninformed and anti-Catholic (and anti-Anglican Catholic) people are sounding off, Brett’s reasoned piece is quite helpful.

  • Gabriel Austin

    “One of the problems with discussing things at this stage is that we do not have the document in hand”.

    This seems to me the major problem. The rest is speculation. And speculation about the future which by definition does not exist. As well speculate about next week’s weather.

    After long and careful consideration, Newman abandoned the idea of a communal conversion. He worked on particular conversions. One does not convert communities; one converts individuals. The saints go marching in one by one.

  • digbydolben

    The irony is that A.N. Wison may be right: the pope may have just done more to secularize what remains of the British Church establishment:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/opinion/25wilson.html?pagewanted=1

    (I particularly like the bit about the Anglican “liberals” watching glumly as a future pope ordains women–which he’ll have to do, if the Roman Church is to last, demographically speaking.)

  • wj

    Digby! While I am sympathetic to many of the worries you express here, the notion that Queen Elizabeth II should be respected as the “head” of the Anglican Church is theologically preposterous. While one can respect (without agreeing with) the theological concerns that led to the continental Reformation, the formation of the Church of England was from the very outset a purely political phenomenon. Let’s not forget that what is called “Anglicanism” today is a function of 19th century Whig interpretations of the Church of England as a “mean” between Catholicism and continental Protestantism. The actual history of the Church of England demonstrates an untenable, and largely ad hoc, compilation of Roman liturgical practices and Reformed theology.

  • David Nickol

    The actual history of the Church of England demonstrates an untenable, and largely ad hoc, compilation of Roman liturgical practices and Reformed theology.

    And yet, if Henry VIII had founded a religious order instead of starting the Church of England, he would have received credit for a miracle for it lasting 100 years!

  • Ryan Klassen

    Gabriel:

    One of key points of this (admittedly speculative) Apostolic Constitution is that it is not conversion. It is a structure that allows Anglicans to remain faithful to the Anglican rite and history while being restored to communion with Rome. They are not “converting.” What is being sought here is not for parishes or individuals to reject their Anglican tradition, but a restoration of communion between Anglican communities or individuals and Rome. At this point, those Anglicans who choose to return to communion with Rome will no longer be in communion with Canterbury, but the fact is that the vast majority of those who take this option are not currently in communion with Canterbury anyway.

    But I think the more important point is the potential picture this provides for ecumenical convergence. Is this what it might it look like for non-Catholics to be in communion with Rome? Is this the form an acceptable unity-in-diversity might take? As the Mennonite quoted by Brett in his original post, I would jump at the chance to be restored to communion with Rome through the establishment (or recognition of) a Mennonite rite. Obviously there are significant issues before this sort of arrangement could be made, but it does provide food for the ecumenical imagination.

  • scotty79

    Sorry if this takes things slightly off topic but I think it might be helpful to chip in with a couple small points to clarify two issues of Anglican trivia that have popped up in this thread.

    dorian wrote:

    It sounds strange to me that I cannot see a consideration: the head of Anglican Church is the Queen, isn’t it? So is it just a religious problem (and it would be enough) or also a political problem? What does it imply from a political point of view?

    The English monarch is not the head of the “Anglican Church” because there is no “Anglican Church”. There is the “Anglican Communion” with its primatial See in Canterbury which represents the union of the Anglo/Episcopal heritage churches of some 38 nations or geographical units. One of those national churches is the Church of England (or C of E). The English monarch is the titular head of the C of E. While she has intervened in some recent decisions within the CofE she does not speak for the Communion as a whole, nor does she have any kind of jurisdiction over it. More importantly, the primary target audience of the forthcoming Constitution is neither the C of E nor the Anglican Communion but rather the “Traditional Anglican Communion” (or TAC). The TAC is a communion of Anglo/Episcopal heritage churches from various nations throughout the world who are not in communion with the CofE nor any of the churches of the Anglican Communion. The Primate of the TAC is Archbishop John Hepworth of Australia. The English monarch certainly has no jurisdiction over the Traditional Anglican Communion. If the C of E or large portions of it were ever to enter into full communion with Rome then the issue of the monarchy and the state established status of the C of E would be central and perhaps political considerations would become involved. As it stands, this is not really what is taking place (at least not yet). Though the two so-called “flying bishops,” Bishop Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet and Bishop Keith Newton of Richborough (who both remain in full communion with the C of E but have been consecrated for the purpose of overseeing parishes who oppose the ordination of women but have not officially separated themselves to join the TAC or other similar groups) may lead their parishes into full communion with Rome they represent a small minority within the C of E and are, in my mind at least, already some distance removed from it anyways. I doubt the Queen will have anything to say about it.

    digbydolben wrote:

    The Orthodox are far closer to us in the Western Latin Church because they accept OUR doctrine of the “Real Presence.” The Anglicans have not, since the seventeenth century; they are different from us, then, in terms of their Christology, and this Pope is willing to overlook this, in order to make his Church more homogeneous.

    Anglicans have never officially failed to accept the dogma of the Real Presence. Their official position in the ARCIC dialogues with Rome confirms this to still be the case. What they have not accepted is the doctrine of transubstantiation as the explanation of Real Presence. This, I would argue, is not a disagreement in Christology (although I understand why you are classifying it as such), but rather a disagreement on sacramental theology. While this may not diminish the seriousness of the disagreement, it is important to properly classify it. Anglicans and Roman Catholics have a shared Christology, as attested to by their mutual fidelity to the 4th century creeds.

    Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect the majority of the members of the TAC who are likely to be the first to take advantage of this new ecclesiastical mechanism do in fact accept the doctrine of transubstantiation (as do some members of the Anglican Communion). Since Rome considers this to be a point of dogma the Pope surely would not allow these Christians to be received into full communion if this were not so. The existence of an Anglican ordinariate seems to indicate that there is room for differences in liturgy, spiritual traditions, canon law and perhaps ecclesiology within the Roman Catholic Church, but it surely would not allow for differences in sacramental dogma simply for the sake of homogeneity.

  • Ryan Klassen

    digbydolben wrote:

    The Orthodox are far closer to us in the Western Latin Church because they accept OUR doctrine of the “Real Presence.” The Anglicans have not, since the seventeenth century; they are different from us, then, in terms of their Christology, and this Pope is willing to overlook this, in order to make his Church more homogeneous.

    Just to clarify, Orthodox (as many other traditions, including Anglicans) accept the Real Presence but they do not accept transubstantiation as the explanation of the Real Presence. Despite this, the Orthodox position on the Real Presence is acceptable to Rome (or at least not church-dividing). I would think that the acceptance into communion of other traditions would make the church less homogeneous, not more.

  • rcm

    I was going to say the same thing to Digby. Most of the devout, conservative Anglicans I know believe in the Real Presence.

    Are you familiar with the famous Anglican priest/poet George Herbert? It was via him that I began to understand there is a whole segment of Anglicans who truly believe they are catholic and believe Jesus IS the Eucharist.

  • dorian

    @scotty79 Thanks

  • digbydolben

    WJ, I agree with you about the Queen, but, according to most accounts, she is actually a very devout person who DOES take seriously her role as “head of the Church of England.”

    “Transubstantiation” IS the “doctrine of the Real Presence” in the Catholic Church, and this IS a matter of Christology because it is the most integral part of the Catholic Church’s theology of the Incarnate Word active, through the sacraments, in the Church and in the world. It reflects the Church’s notions of the goodness and sacredness of creation. As great a poet as Herbert is, he could never have written “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,” because he didn’t believe in the “Real Presence” in the same way that Hopkins did.

    In fact, the Anglican Church is heavily influenced, ever since the 17th century, when Laud’s “Pelagian” tendencies were rejected, by Calvinism, and there is absolutely no reconciliation between Calvinism and such a thing as a “real Presence.”

    Of course, the Anglicans have no real core of faith; all they’ve got is a ridiculous mishmash of Erastianism and an inchoate collection of old, contradictory pieces of dogma. They eventually would HAVE to “swim the Tiber,” in order to remain Christian in a pagan culture–I agree with that. I just don’t like the way this pope is using “conservative Anglicanism” to squelch the last defenders of Vatican II’s reforms in his own Church. It seems (to me, at least) to be far more ruthlessly political than pastoral.

  • Ryan Klassen

    Digby;

    George Hunsinger has just written a book, “The Eucharist and Ecumenism” in which he does just that – bringing the doctrine of the Real Presence into the Reformed tradition, primarily through Eastern Orthodox categories. While it would not be the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence (since it does not rely on transubstantiation as the mode by which the elements become the body and blood of Christ), it could fall within what has previously been accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as acceptable diversity.

    I think there are other ways forward for the Anglican communion than conversion to Roman Catholicism or death, although I agree that the Church of England will have to find a new way forward in a secular/pagan culture. As for the motivations of the current pope, I’ll let others comment on that.

  • Kurt

    I think Ryan has it right. The Anglicans most clearly do believe in the Real Presence. Neither Anglicans nor the Orthodox employ the term Transubstantiation. Catholics in the past sometimes applied the term Consubstantiation to Anglican and Lutheran understandings of the mystery of the Eucharist. Anglicans often point out that the difference presupposes an acceptance of Aristolian physics, hardly something binding on Christians.

    The teachings of Trent are interesting. For example:

    To explain this mystery is extremely difficult. The pastor, however, should endeavor to instruct those who are more advanced in the knowledge of divine things on the manner of this admirable change. As for those who are yet weak in faith, they might possibly be overwhelmed by its greatness.

    It seems even Trent teaches that belief in the Real Presence is primary and that Transubstantiation is simply a difficult and complex further explanation not always necessary for faithful Christians to understand.

  • grega

    I found it interesting that some seem to use the occasion to focus again on the ancient conflict between Muslims and Christians.
    Douthat’s argument is not easily dismissed unfortunately.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/26/opinion/26douthat.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

  • wj

    Must Catholics believe in Transubstantiation or only in the Real Presence? Luther, of course, believed in the Real Presence while mocking the Aristotelian explanation of it that is encoded in Transubstantiation.

    And, rcm, Herbert is actually a good example of what I’m talking about. His poetry is (apparently) suffused with sacramentality, but when you examine his poems closely, you will find that, theologically, they end up affirming the doctrine of sola fide and are deeply Lutheran.

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  • “Transubstantiation” IS the “doctrine of the Real Presence” in the Catholic Church

    Must Catholics believe in Transubstantiation or only in the Real Presence?

    Transubstantiation is one way of expressing the truth of the Real Presence in Aristotelian categories. There are ways of expressing it in non-Artistotelian categories. So long as those other ways of expressing the Real Presence end up saying what is affirmed by transubstantiation, then those explanations are fine. Real Presence is the real issue, not the language of transubstantiation.

  • Pinky

    I think the question of conversion versus rejoining communion has to do with the apostolic succession in the Church of England. Orthodox have priests, and don’t have to “convert” to join Catholicism. Anglicans have some actual bishops and valid priests, so there may be something recognizable that can return to the Catholic fold. Mennonites have no priesthood; I can’t imagine how they could return en masse. There may be room for a religious order that integrates Mennonite spirituality into Catholic worship, doctrine, and structure.

  • As someone very much interested in ecumenism, I appreciate this post.

    Obviously, there are many questions that can be asked (and possible speculations that can be made) in advance of the release of the apostolic constitution.

    Here are a few:

    1. Was this an action deeply opposed – as has been reported – by Archbishop Williams, many English Catholic bishops, and Cardinal Kasper? Relatedly, is there any compelling reason why Archbishop Williams was only informed about the decision shortly before it was announced? (The decision not to inform Dr Williams seems to many, including myself, to be somewhat questionable.)

    2. Austen Ivereigh, on America’s blog, has written,

    [B]oth Catholic and Anglican churches prefer that disaffected Anglican groups belong to the Catholic Church than float freely. Dr Williams, remember, has a fundamentally Catholic ecclesiology.

    Although it is usually reported that the Apostolic Constitution will come in response to a request from the Traditional Anglican Communion, is the main intention of this creation of a canonical vehicle to prevent a group from “floating freely” (rather than to, we might say, ease the exit of disaffected Anglicans)? Is this is the case, why wasn’t it made very explicit? (If it were made explicit, it would have discouraged charges of a new Uniatism.)

    3. Given that many of the priests who will make use of the new canonical vehicle will have long considered themselves Catholic, if not Roman Catholic, and that many of them will have to be re-ordained, how will they consider their previous ministry? Given that many of the bishops who will make use of the new canonical vehicle will, on account of marriage, not be able to function as Roman Catholic bishops, how will they consider their previous roles? Obviously, the Roman Catholic judgment that Anglican orders are “invalid” does not mean that God cannot be really present in Anglican sacraments.

    But will, for example, the formerly Anglican, now Roman Catholic, priests be able to publicly state that they believe that, as Anglicans, they consecrated Eucharists in which Christ was present, and adored Anglican Eucharists that were not “empty”? Will they be able to say that they believe that Christ is really present in Anglo-Catholic sacraments?

    If not, how will their previous ministries and beliefs be in any way theologically intelligible to them?

    4. As Brett implies, another question is whether similar sorts of canonical vehicle can be constructed for Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, and others. If not, what is so theologically distinctive about Anglicans, given that, unlike the Orthodox, there seems to be little question, alas, of judging Anglican orders to be valid. Is it a more fruitful ecumenical dialogue (e.g., the Mississauga Statement).

    5. Will the Pope ever openly, unquestionably state that there is a problem with Catholics who believe that we are merely rivals of, say, the Anglican Communion?

    Best,
    Neil

  • Kevin

    1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”

  • brettsalkeld

    Neil,
    Those are excellent questions. #3 in particular strikes me as fascinating. If I’m an Anglican priest who wants communion with Rome, the biggest problem is undertaking actions that suggest that for x number of years I was a layman pretending to be a priest. I wonder if anything in the actual constitution addresses this issue.
    Have you read Michael Root’s address to the CTSA a few years ago on this topic? Really fascinating stuff. I actually think the question of ministry is a much tougher one than the Real Presence ecumenically speaking. Not that the two are unrelated.

  • Ryan Klassen

    Pinky;

    Obviously, the issue of ministry is the largest and most difficult to overcome for those who are serious about ecumenical convergence. It is much easier to say “We agree that our positions on this doctrine are no longer church-dividing” than to give up hundreds and thousands of years of liturgical traditions. Mennonites do not have a priesthood, and although we do have bishops, they are not in apostolic succession. So this would be one of the issues that would need to be dealt with. If Mennonite bishops were to submit themselves to the primacy of Peter, could they not be “re-ordained” (or “ordained), and then “re-ordain” (or “ordain”) Mennonite ministers/priests?

    The advantage congregational traditions like Mennonites have over Anglicans is that we have structures in place to consult and educate the whole of the laity to bring about consensus, so that there could be a movement en masse to such an arrangement. Based on past experience, it would take decades, but it could be done.

  • brettsalkeld

    For those with a ridiculous amount of time on their hands:

    http://theolog.org/2009/10/roundup-on-vatican-and-anglican.html

  • Dear Brett,

    Thanks for writing. I am familiar with Michael Root’s argument. (Part of it, namely, that defectus ordinis be translated as “deficiency,” rather than “lack,” so that there could be an imperfect Catholic recognition of Lutheran ministry, is in the US Catholic-Lutheran Common Statement The Church as Koinonia of Salvation.)

    In terms of his entire argument, I’m not sure what an adequate Catholic response could be. Of course, there is the argument that the Father is so boundless and excessive in love that he can send the Spirit upon irregular Eucharists. One could also argue that the full implications of Root’s argument would include the dissolution of any concept of ordained ministry, since ecclesial communities that have only a purely functional concept of ministry have still managed to preserve the “basic truths” of the Gospel. One could also argue that the situation of Christian disunity is so problematic that we should not expect that it be fully intelligible to us.

    But I don’t think that these responses are even close to adequate, and Root’s observation that Catholic practice is inconsistent (e.g., when the Archbishop of Canterbury comes to Rome, he is not treated as a layman at all) is quite apt.

    I am not sure if I’ve ever read a detailed account of a former Anglo-Catholic and presently Roman Catholic priest (or bishop) making theological sense of his former ministry. (This might reflect my ignorance.) I assume that such a priest (or bishop) can privately believe that he was offering the body and blood of Christ to his former parishioners. But what can he publicly attest? What can he publicly say by implication about present-day Anglo-Catholicism? I don’t know.

    (I have only read somewhat vague statements – e.g., the late former Lutheran minister Richard John Neuhaus’ statement that “There is nothing in that [Lutheran] ministry that I would repudiate,” and that being ordained a Catholic priest was a “completion and right ordering.”)

  • Kurt

    Neil’s questions give a hint as to just how radical the Pope’s actions may be.

    The old construct of valid orders or just a layman; valid eucharist or just a piece of bread is fading away. The Church is now moving towards a view that this is not black and white. Anglican clergy have real ministry. Their Eucharist is “means of grace” (Once said by JP2 without the world realizing how profound this is).

  • grega

    Not that I would know, but I certainly would very much doubt that the creator of the Universe would want us to cherry pick between such minute details. Billions upon Billions of the finest human beings one can possible imagine have come and gone from this earth without ever even having the faintest exposure to our particular religion. Come on people get real – what is 2000 years in the grand scheme of things?
    All sorts of perfectly fine religions came and went. Monotheism came – monotheism will go. Sure we should concern ourself with the best possible interpretations of fundamental moral principles guiding humanity.
    In my view this sort of thing brings to mind the old oh so important question.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_many_angels_can_dance_on_the_head_of_a_pin%3F

    And yes I very much appreciate how Neil frames it above:
    “In terms of his entire argument, I’m not sure what an adequate Catholic response could be. Of course, there is the argument that the Father is so boundless and excessive in love that he can send the Spirit upon irregular Eucharists. ”
    Yes imagine that?

    “One could also argue that the full implications of Root’s argument would include the dissolution of any concept of ordained ministry, since ecclesial communities that have only a purely functional concept of ministry have still managed to preserve the “basic truths” of the Gospel.”
    I would say that all Religions from the beginning of times have never been too much bothered by a lack of logic. Since when does from A and B follow C?

    “One could also argue that the situation of Christian disunity is so problematic that we should not expect that it be fully intelligible to us.”
    True since one could certainly argue that the situation of humanity in itself is so problematic that we should not expect that it would be fully intelligible to us.

  • ben

    To me, it seems that the Vatican is still proposing conversion. Clerics will have to be ordained by a catholic bishop to have valid orders. Lay people will need to make a profession of faith and be confirmed. What they will keep is something of an anglican liturgy that preserves elements of the Book of Common Prayer. The basis for this liturgical work has already been completed in the Anglican Use parishes in the US and their liturgy based on the Book of Divine Worship.

    Here is a post of interest about Cardinal DiNardo of Houston celebrating this usage earlier this year:

    http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2009/06/cardinal-dinardo-book-of-divine-worship.html#

    It looks a lot like a solemn pontifical mass, but with more assisting priests,who wear the chasuble and not the cope

  • digbydolben, I agree with most of what you say, but not with this:

    ‘“Transubstantiation” IS the “doctrine of the Real Presence” in the Catholic Church, and this IS a matter of Christology because it is the most integral part of the Catholic Church’s theology of the Incarnate Word active, through the sacraments, in the Church and in the world.’

    All that Trent says is that the real presence is fitly described by the word transubstantiation. It does not prescribe any “explanation” or theory, just the fittingness of a word. Perhaps Trent is playing down the importance of the theories of transubstantiation that flourished in scholasticism in the wake of Lateran IV.