Aidan Nichols: The Ordinariates, the Pope, and the Liturgy (Part II)

10 04 2011

The Ordinariate Portal is very glad to be able to publish the second part of Fr Aidan Nichols’s address to the Canadian conference on the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, the first part can be found here.

Part Two: Pope Benedict and his vision

I began Part One of this article by using in a not very flattering fashion that great image from biblical revelation, the Ark of Noah.  But Noah’s Ark can stand for more than the indefinitely pluralistic ecclesiastical zoology of the Anglican Church.  It can and should stand, as it has in the Liturgies and among the orthodox divines down the ages, for the ship of salvation set on chaos waters by the hand of God.  Catholics identify that ship with the Barque of Peter, since, they maintain, the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ subsists in the (Roman) Catholic Church.  Certainly, Pope Benedict has behaved as though the vessel onto which he was inviting so many otherwise possibly reluctant passengers was a true Ark of Noah, raised on the waters of relativism, secularism and (we may add) militant Islam which, in so many parts of the world, threaten to engulf the Christian faithful.  I believe that a good deal in various policies the Pope has initiated or at least sustained can be illuminated if we suppose him to regard himself as (despite his humility) a Noah-figure, placed by Providence in a unique office at a singular cross-roads in human affairs.

Lutherans, Lefebvrists, Eastern Orthodox

Who are those whom he is seeking to bring into solidarity with the Great Church whose centre is at the site of the final witness of St Peter and St Paul?  Some examples come readily to mind.   To begin with: Pope Benedict is reaching out to Lutherans of a particular kind, specifically to those whose fundamental orientation is toward what Lutherans share in common with Catholics.  At least since the time of a conference organized in New York by the then Lutheran pastor John Richard Neuhaus, Joseph Ratzinger has sought to make common cause with those exegetes from a Lutheran background who have distanced themselves from the most damaging features of the historical-critical method in its approach to the New Testament texts, features which may be summarized as: disregard for the historicity of the Gospels, and disdain for the Church interpretation, at the great Councils, of the Founder of Christianity.  With select scholars he wishes to pioneer a return to a genuinely theological exegesis which finds in Scripture the Word of God, erupting into history and, in its written record, entrusted to the keeping of the intended human recipient of the Word, which is the apostolic Church.[1] As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then Cardinal Ratzinger worked hard to salvage the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification, [2] a text which has not gone down that well among certain Lutheran theologians in Germany who are committed to the conventional view of Luther’s teaching on grace and salvation.[3] But that same Declaration has been far better received by many Scandinavian Lutherans, notably in Finland, where a new school of thought understands Luther’s theology in the perspective on salvation opened up by the Greek Fathers with their approach to justification as the beginning of a deified life.[4] As I discovered on my own journey to Finland in 2010, among such patristically-inclined Lutherans there is considerable dissatisfaction about the direction in which the Lutheran Church of Finland is moving, notably on moral questions.  In consequence, some look with hesitation, yes, yet also longing towards the Catholic Church.  In Norway, what may be considered an equivalent constituency, but with a mixture of Philo-Catholic and Phil-Orthodox proclivities, broke away from the State Church in 1999 to found Den nordisk-katolske Kirke (‘The Nordic Catholic Church’), with Orders acquired from the Polish National Catholic Church through (initially) the good offices of Forward in Faith in the United Kingdom.   Swedes too are involved, thanks to the umbrella organization called in Norwegian Kirkelig Fornyelse (‘Church Renewal’); an older Swedish Lutheran organization, Förbundet för kristen Enhet, has long worked for Catholic-Lutheran reunion.  Will these initiatives eventually involve unions with the Holy See of the kind represented by Anglicanorum coetibus for Anglicans?  It is not by any means impossible.

A second sort of passenger on the Ark to which the Pope has turned in invitation can be found among the clergy and people of the Society of St Pius X (sometimes called ‘Lefebvrists’, from the name of the Society’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre).  The rationale of this body lies in its protest against alleged deviations from the Catholic faith in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.  It has gone into an ecclesiastical limbo: its bishops were ‘automatically’ excommunicated owing to the illicit character of their consecration; its priests are canonically suspended from their ministry; its laity, if they consistently attend only the Society’s own churches and chapels, are in, to say the least, an irregular situation.  On the other hand, the Society of St Pius X shows a great devotion to the older form of the Roman Liturgy; it upholds with firmness the magisterial tradition of the popes of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, and its theologians are strongly committed to the venerable school of St Thomas Aquinas.  The Pope wishes them to be reconciled.  He has removed the excommunication of the bishops, and though their ministry is canonically impeded, the dialogue Pope Benedict has established between their house theologians and the theological representatives of the Holy See is designed to restore them to good standing in the Catholic Church through finding a commonly agreed interpretation of the documents of the last ecumenical Council: in a word, to bring them fully on board.[5]

The papal Noah’s Ark also stands ready and prepared to receive the Eastern Orthodox if and when they are willing to restore their broken unity with the First See.  It is for the sake of reunion with the Orthodox, and notably with the Moscow Patriarchate, that the Pope is willing to disappoint the members of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Ukraine, in not conceding to their Archbishop-Major the coveted status of Patriarch in the way so many Ukrainian Catholics desire.

The schism between Rome and Constantinople (and, through Constantinople, with the latter’s most flourishing daughter, the Church of Russia) has often been, over the centuries, bitter and, in consequence, intractable.  The historical memories remain painful for many; and the nationalism of Orthodoxy’s self-governing churches does not help.  But at any rate the Pope can nurture justified hopes of securing a strategic alliance of Catholics and Orthodox in defence of the fundamental moral and cultural ethos of Christianity, especially in Europe.  The Russian bishop responsible for the external relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, is a key-player here. [6] And meanwhile on the Bosphorus the Ecumenical Patriarchate, subject to jurisdictional disputes among the Orthodox and highly vulnerable in a still secular but potentially Islamist Turkey, turns anxious eyes to the future horizon, looking for succour not least to Rome.[7]

And Anglicans…

This then is the geopolitical context in which I would place Pope Benedict’s concern for Anglicans.  In the crisis which overcame English Anglo-Catholicism in 1992 when the General Synod voted for the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood and many who had voted ‘No’, or supported those who had so voted, turned for aid to the Latin bishops in England, the then Cardinal Ratzinger exhorted the national hierarchy to show generosity to Anglicans.  That was coded language for finding a corporate solution for the reconciliation of groups of Anglo-Catholics, as distinct from the individual reception of Anglican clergy and laity into full communion with the Catholic Church.  The English and Welsh bishops felt unable to heed those words.  The possible reasons why are considered by William Oddie, a former priest-librarian of Pusey House, in his carefully crafted study The Roman Option, which was required reading for consultors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the preparation of Anglicanorum coetibus.[8] As he explains, Anglicans knocking corporately on the door of the native hierarchy were caught in cross-currents: ‘Some Catholics mistrusted them because they seemed to threaten the defences the English Catholic Church had had to erect over the centuries to protect its own integrity; others, because they were seen as potential recruits on the side of the blackest of Tridentine reactionaries’.[9] Andrew Burnham’s broken jar theory, described in Part One of this essay, was not available to the former.  As to the latter, they failed to realize that enthusiasm for the more dramatic aspects of Counter-Reformation worship and devotion did not necessarily preclude attachment to other aspects of Anglican patrimony.

What it did exclude however – and this aroused opposition in pro-Feminist quarters in English Roman Catholicism, not least the London Tablet, was ‘openness’ on the question of the ordination of women.  But here they could find powerful support in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its prefect not only had a major role in the making of Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II’s solemn declaration in 1994 that the Church possessed no mandate from her Lord to admit women into the apostolic ministry.  His dicastery also followed up the promulgation of that document by a decree asserting its unconditionally binding force.[10] The clear implication was that, for all practical and purposes, the future Pope Benedict could not take seriously the notion of organic reunion with the Church of England – or the Anglican Communion – as a whole.  True, the House of Bishops of the former had agreed to the parallel existence of ‘two integrities’, those who accepted women priests and those who did not, with a system of Provincial Visitors for the latter, on the ground that a degree of ‘provisionality’ attached to women’s ordination pending its fuller ‘reception’ by the Church.  In theory, there could have been a spectacular reversal of attitudes by which the innovation was undone.  But wherever there were women bishops in place this was out of the question (in the only case where it was attempted, in the Lutheran Church of Latvia, women pastors had never entered the episcopate).  Soon there would be a declaration by the Church of England that no theological obstacle prevented the consecration of women bishops, and the preparation of legislation for their introduction.  This was a signal that the ‘phase of reception’ was deemed to be over.  It is hard to think it had ever been more than a sweetener for the defeated.  So far as realistic ecumenism is concerned – the kind that envisages organic reunion in a humanly foreseeable future – what remained for Rome was, rather, the hope for unity with a significant minority of the parent body.  Prompted by continued requests from the Anglo-Catholic side, Anglicanorum coetibus offered just that.

Organic reunion with bodies representative of their patrimonies could mean one of two things.  On the one hand, it could mean the entry into communion with Rome of a total body which, by massive internal transformation, was rendered Catholicism-compatible throughout.  On the other hand, it could signify the acceptance into unity of something rather less: a group in which those aspects of a patrimony already congruent with Catholic unity were embodied.   These were the possible prospects raised by Philipps de Lisle’s Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom, already mentioned in my conspectus of ‘unionism’ in Part One of this essay.  It is worthwhile, I think, considering Newman’s response to it, not least because, since the publication in 2006 of Father Alfred Läpple’s memories of the young Joseph Ratzinger, whose Prefect of Studies at seminary Läpple was, we are more aware of the life-long nature of Newman’s influence on the Pope who would beatify him in Birmingham in 2010.[11]

Newman was originally favourable to Phillips’ project.  Accepting a copy of its manifesto The Future Union of Christendom, he noted in a letter of 1 July 1857 that Anglo-Catholicism was far from moribund.  He recognized the importance of the idea of corporate reunion but went on at once to qualify his remarks on that subject.  In one sense, he wrote, ‘I think it is for the interest of Catholicism that individuals [individual Anglicans, q. v.] should not join us, but should remain to leave the mass – I mean that they will do more for us by remaining where they are than by coming over…’  But, in another sense, he continued, ‘they have individual souls, and with what heart can I do anything to induce them to preach to others, if they themselves become castaways’.[12] And in a further letter, some four days later, he went on to say that by and large he would only be against discussions about corporate reunion if ‘persons, who ought to be Catholics, should allow themselves to bargain and make terms’, and he agreed to offer Mass weekly for the Association.[13] It was, however, the criticism of the Association made by Newman’s bishop, William Bernard Ullathorne, that led to its Roman condemnation in 1865.  (Ullathorne’s objection was that it granted Anglicans the name of ‘Catholics’, to which they had no proper right.)  In a letter of 3 March of the following year, Newman offered Phillips some balm.  The realization of the Association’s aim, if understood as the reconciliation of the totality of the Church of England to the Holy See, would have required a miracle – ‘in the same sense in which it would be a miracle for the Thomas to change its course and run into the sea at the Wash instead of the Nore’.[14] And he concluded: ‘Viewed in its structure [the Anglican Church] has never been more than partially Catholic.  If its ritual has been mainly such, yet its articles are the historical offspring of Luther and Calvin.  And its ecclesiastical organization has even been, in its fundamental principle, Erastian.  To make that actual, visible, tangible, body Catholic would simply be to make a new creature – it would be to turn a panther into a hind… It could be done without a miracle in a succession of ages, but in any assignable period, no’.[15] From the correspondence taken as a whole, it seems a fair inference that, in Newman’s mind, what could be hoped for by way of corporate reunion was, rather, the reconciliation of the Anglo-Catholic party.  We now know, from the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus that this is the Pope’s view as well.  Had it been otherwise, had Pope Benedict placed his principal hopes in ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, or IARCCUM, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission, he would hardly have proceeded with the Ordinariate idea – and that, I am sure, was the advice given him by Cardinal Walter Kasper, then President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.  The advice was not taken; instead, Anglicanorum coetibus was put in place.  While still Prefect, Pope Benedict wrote of official ecumenism: ‘We had in fact overrated our own capacities if we believed that theological dialogues could, within a fairly brief time span, restore the unity of belief.  We had lost our way if we got it into our heads that this goal must be reachable within deadlines we laid down.  For a little while we were confusing theology with politics, confusing dialogues about belief with diplomacy.  We wanted to do ourselves what only God could do’.[16] Such official dialogues will no doubt continue but, he thinks, they should be ‘less oriented toward success’.[17]

What may we suppose that the Pope looks for in the Catholic party in Anglicanism now poised, in representative clergy and laity, to enter his Ark?  What encourages him to seek support for his own theological vision among Anglicans of a Catholic tradition?

The Scripture/Tradition relationship

First of all, he can expect to find among them a sane view of the relation between Scripture and Tradition which echoes his own.  In Joseph Ratzinger’s theology, Scripture and Tradition are essentially related.  He hails Scripture as the written witness to the Word of God revealing, Tradition as those expressions of revelation that attest the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  And he treats these twin realities as intrinsically inter-connected (which was very much the view of Arthur Michael Ramsey in his The Gospel and the Catholic Church[18]).  It is in Tradition that the revelation given in Scripture is registered by the Spirit-assisted mind of the Church.  Not only does oral tradition, divinely guided, lie behind the writing of Scripture.  Scripture, once written, finds in the Tradition of the Church what Ratzinger terms ‘the home it has made for itself’, where the right interpretation of the Bible is to be found.[19] In Benedict’s opinion, revelation cannot be properly transmitted unless the meaning of Scripture can be gathered from Tradition, and notably through such monuments of Tradition as the Creeds, the historic liturgies, and the writings of the Fathers of the Church.  In this, his theological doctrine mirrors that of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council which declared in a lapidary formulation: ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church’.[20]

Benedict XVI’s recent books on the Founder of Christianity – Jesus of Nazareth. Part One. From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and Jesus of Nazareth. Part Two. Holy Week.  From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection – while they accept elements of the historical-critical study of the Bible where these seem persuasive and enlightening, insist nevertheless that such exegesis must be contextualized within a confessing reading of Scripture that is guided by the Fathers, the great liturgies, and the Christological doctrine of the Councils.[21] The Caroline divines would surely have approved.  The Pope’s theology, then, has as its ultimate criterion revelation as found in Scripture and Tradition, though he also seeks to look at revelation in the company of great thinkers of all periods, whether theologians or others, notably philosophers, and keeps in mind the important philosophical questions, including contemporary ones, such thinkers pose.[22] That is most recently embodied in the outreach to philosophers he has attempted in the project of dialogue launched this year in Paris under the name ‘The Court of the Gentiles’.

The ‘threefold cord’

And this brings me to the fuller picture of theological method associated with the classical Anglican ‘threefold cord’ or ‘three-legged stool’ already mentioned in my brief survey of Anglican intellectual history.  In this trio, not duo, of elements, Scripture and Tradition do not walk alone.  They are accompanied by reason.  The threefold cord, so defined, is especially well represented in the golden age of Stuart Anglicanism, as may be seen from the fine anthology edited by Paul Elmer More and Frank Leslie Cross, Anglicanism. The Thought and Practice of the Church of England illustrated from the Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century.[23] It is mirrored in the Oxford Movement.  And it is equally present in such modern Anglo-Catholic theologians as Austin Farrer and Eric Mascall, for whom Scripture and Tradition in their unity must be married with human reason if are to draw from the wells of revelation full refreshment for heart and mind.  A late twentieth survey summed up: ‘Anglican divines on the whole regard Scripture interpreted through tradition and reason as authoritative in matters concerning salvation’,[24] and if that qualifier ‘on the whole’ rightly strikes a warning note (there is not much that is authoritative, apart from the Zeitgeist, in liberal Anglicanism), there remains the measuring rod of the classics – which in an Anglo-Catholic perspective means the Tractarians and, behind them, the seventeenth century divines.

We can, I think, suppose that the Anglican union of Scripture, Tradition and reason appeals to Pope Benedict by virtue of his own strongly worded emphasis on the relationship between revelation and reason, both of which come from the Logos, who is at one and the same time the revealing Word who entered history in a unique fashion by the Incarnation, and the foundation of universal logic and thought.[25] The Pope thinks that reason should be open to the wisdom found in religion, above all in that religion which issues out of revelation, and that reason can be thus open, without denying its character as reason, since it is our capacity for truth and hence for God, who is the measure of all truth: Prima Veritas, the ‘First Truth’, as St Thomas Aquinas called him.   But this is a two-way traffic.  Religion in turn ought to be open to be purified by reason, and this is true even of the human expression of the religion which comes from revelation.  That can be done without denying revealed religion’s character as a truth greater, more comprehensive than any that can otherwise be known, because both revelation and reason stem from the same Logos.   This was the point of Joseph Ratzinger’s 2004 debate in Munich with the influential German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, an agnostic, where he proposed a ‘double process of apprenticeship’, as philosophy learns from the sages and saints of religion, and theology, in its service of revelation, learns from the seers of reason.[26]

When describing the historical-theological context of Anglicanorum coetibus I mentioned that crucial slippage by which, in liberal Anglicanism, reason has been replaced by a surrogate, the appeal to contemporary experience.  Pope Benedict would strongly agree with Anglo-Catholic critics of such liberalism that the concept of experience is far too elusive to do duty in the place of reason in the making of the ‘threefold cord’.[27] Unless very carefully handled, it is an idea that creates more problems than it solves.  We have to ask, Whose experience?  How does it claim to be mediated?  Is it moulded by the framework of an understanding of the world that is itself based on false or inappropriate presuppositions?  All claims made for the intrinsic authority of experience need to be tested against the criteria of revelation and reason.  Experience that is authentically human and Christian will come to us only if the foundations of our approach to reality are sound.  Both as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as Pope, Benedict XVI has not feared to set himself against the clamant voices that arrogate to themselves authority to haul Tradition before the tribunal of contemporary experience.  If found wanting by the text of reason and revelation, those voices must be denounced as sirens; if heeded, they will lead people to be damaged, even destroyed.[28] Such warnings underlie the interventions of the Holy Office in a variety of areas, such as sexuality, radical Marxian politics, and the borrowing of meditation practices from non-Christian religions.  Pope Benedict is serenely untroubled by the negative image he acquired in these conflicts during his years as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith; the plaudits of the mass media have never been a preoccupation of his.  In his Principles of Catholic Theology, this immensely tranquil and temperamentally self-effacing man quoted wryly a German popular writer Wilhelm Busch, ‘When you have lost your reputation, you are free to live your life without care’,[29] or more snappily in the American translation of this work: ‘Once your good name’s undermined, /That’s one worry off your mind’.[30] As the essay on the meaning of repentance (or ‘conversion’, metanoia) where this citation occurs bears witness, Ratzinger regarded the courage not to be held in thrall by contemporary mores as itself highly liberating:  it is a pity, one can reflect, that more Anglican leaders have not felt the same.  His scepticism about progress (is there not a down side to almost every advance?, is it not idolatrous to play God by seeking to anticipate the eschaton?), a scepticism signalled at its clearest in his criticisms of Liberation Theology, goes back as far as his graduate studies of the thirteenth century Franciscan theologian St Bonaventure, who had to confront a mediaeval version of Utopian thinking.[31] In this, Joseph Ratzinger’s mind-set goes counter to that typical of theological radicals who expect controversial innovations to initiate a brave new world for humanity and the Church.

The place of the magisterium

Pope Benedict is obviously at home, then, with all that is meant by the Anglican threefold cord.  He would, however, note that in the classic Anglican definition, an element is missing.  The element in question is the role of the magisterium.  The current doctrinal crisis in the communions issuing from the sixteenth century Reformation shows this acutely.  As Prefect, and with the full support of Pope John Paul II, he was not afraid to invoke interventions of the magisterium where these were needed for the flourishing of the life of faith in the Church, even though at the same time he was reluctant to add additional problems in dialogue with the Orthodox by recommending use of the ex cathedra function of papal dogmatic definition.[32] Asked to address the question, ‘What is theology, really?’, he did not answer solely in terms of reflection on Scripture, read in Tradition, and with the light of reason to help faith.  Rather, he added that for the articulation of doctrine the authoritative guidance of the Church’s magisterium is always needed.  His argument runs as follows.  The Church which established the Canon of Scripture also furnished the Creed which provides the proper framework for understanding the Bible.  But both Canon and Creed are authorized by those in the apostolic succession – and in no other way.  Canon, Creed and crozier: these three are abidingly inseparable one from another, and thus ‘crozier’, the teaching office of the bishops with the Pope as their head, remains indispensable for the proclamation of the Word of God in its integral quality: not only yesterday, but today and tomorrow as well.[33]

In the Church of England, ‘Erastianism’, i. e. the control of the Church by the Crown in Parliament, together with the fact that the English national Church consisted of only two former provinces of Western Christendom, has inhibited the emergence of a notion of the magisterium of bishops.  Indeed, it has been customary for Anglo-Catholics consciously to oppose any concept of ‘distinctively Anglican doctrine’, since this would imply that the Anglican Church possesses or constitutes a doctrinal faculty independent of that of the Catholic Church at large.  Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher of Canterbury was neither especially sympathetic to Anglo-Catholics nor particularly loved by them, but nonetheless they liked to cite his much quoted statement that Anglicanism had no doctrine other than that of the undivided Church which produced the great Creeds.[34] Quite apart from its marginalization of the notoriously ambiguous yet fundamentally Protestant Thirty-Nine Articles, that way of putting things had the effect of proscribing the adoption of any new doctrinal obstacles to reunion with Rome (even if that result is unlikely to have been Fisher’s intention).  Archbishop Fisher’s view had serious support in Anglican tradition.  An important canon issued by Convocation in 1571 obliged pastors to refer not only to the Scriptures but to the ancient Fathers of the Church, a statement probably without parallel in the official literature of the early generations of Continental Protestantism.  And yet this approach is not without problems of its own.  In a personal response to the texts of ARCIC I, the then Cardinal Ratzinger rejected as unacceptably antiquarian any attempt to confine the notion of authoritative Tradition to the oldest Christian texts known to us, or to the texts, say, of the first Christian millennium.[35] As he put it in an essay commissioned by an enterprising Anglican clergyman but reprinted in the collection Church, Ecumenism and Politics: while the epoch of revelation is closed, the era of binding interpretation is not.  Tradition is ‘essentially marked by the living voice’, the obligatory nature of the teaching of the universal Church.  And if we ask what is meant by the phrase ‘the universal Church’, his answer runs: ‘[T]the Church, living in the form of the apostolic succession with the Petrine office at its centre, is the place in which the Bible is lived and interpreted in a way that binds’.[36]

The sacred Liturgy

The affinities between the Pope’s own theological vision and the tradition Anglo-Catholics represent is at its most obvious in his high view of the sacred Liturgy.  In counter-distinction to a much publicized thesis of Liberationist exegesis, Pope Benedict holds that in the Exodus from Egypt the Israelites were freed from slavery not so as to construct an ideal society but in order freely to worship in accordance with the divine command.[37] While, to be sure, that divine command extended to all aspects of living, worship was central and paramount, for worship implies right alignment with God leading to union with God and ultimately to the vision of God, itself the goal of all divine involvement in human history.  What impedes such union, and therefore such vision, is not only human creatureliness but also, and more especially, human sin.  Hence the goal of worship cannot be attained without the coming of the Mediator who in his death and resurrection opens a new and living way into the divine presence.  Pope Benedict describes the Liturgy as the continuation of the Paschal Mystery; it is the High Priestly work of the Redeemer, an essentially sacred reality which joins heaven to earth.  In his richly rewarding study, The Spirit of the Liturgy, he points out how it is a mistake to say that the Redemption has already taken place in so complete a sense that Christians no longer need sacred time and sacred space: in other words, that the Liturgy can perfectly well make do with commonplace ordinary forms.  His argument goes like this: in the age of the New Testament while we are, as compared with the Old Testament, not in the time of mere shadows, nor are we as yet in the period of vision, when the full reality will be disclosed.[38] We are, rather, in the time of the image, and this has considerable implications for ritual.  Most notably, it provides the charter for the role of beauty in the Liturgy, for the aim of liturgical beauty is to arouse in us a longing for full vision.  It must be, he insists, a beauty tutored by the Paschal mystery.  It should not be a beauty that is sensuous in a Dionysian way, for that would be incompatible with the Cross, yet it is ordered to glory, since this is required by the Resurrection.[39] Owing to his adherence to these weighty principles in theological aesthetics, the Pope is aghast, in a manner Anglo-Catholics generally would appreciate, at the present state of much liturgical practice in the West.  The Liturgy has been invaded by politicization, as in milieux affected by Liberation Theology; it has suffered banalisation in populist environments where the mantra has it that modern popular culture just has to be followed; and in less ideologically freighted parish practice its manner of expression has been simplified in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to ensure instant intelligibility such that much of its richness has been lost.

Pope Benedict is viscerally opposed to Philistinism in the Liturgy – the misplaced feeling that the arts have nothing to do with liturgical worship but divert it from its purpose, allowing elites to impose their own preferences or producing grandstanding by choirs or creative artists.  The Pope’s defence of choirs, mandated not just to support congregational singing but to sing in their own right, is especially notable.  For him, choirs have a cosmic function; they pick up the role of the angels in the Liturgy.[40] He is also convinced of the need to revive a really theological iconography to provide a fitting setting for the Liturgy, over against so much poorly conceived or simply non-existent imagery in modern churches.[41] Unlike Roman Catholicism, Anglo-Catholicism in the twentieth century has been largely impervious to the seductions of architectural Modernism, and its iconographical and musicological equivalents, owing to the apologetic concern to demonstrate continuity with the Christian past by using neo-mediaeval forms or perhaps neo-Baroque ones.  One could think here of the patronage given by twentieth century Catholic Anglicans to such influential church designers as John Ninian Comper (whose work synthesises mediaeval, palaeo-Christian and Renaissance features) and (for the Neo-Baroque) Martin Travers.[42]

Within the Liturgy the Holy Eucharist is of course the most important moment – so important that it forms the basis of Joseph Ratzinger’s ecclesiology as well: as he puts it, ‘the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his body and makes us one body, forever remains the place where the Church is generated’.[43] Because it is the sacrament of the Paschal Mystery, in which humankind was reunited with God, the Eucharist is the source, not least, of the unity of the Church – humankind recognizing its reconciled condition through the faith initially expressed in Baptism.  In the Pope’s Eucharistic theology, communion with the Lord’s body and blood transforms the faithful interiorly into the mystical Body of Christ, the Church in her true depths.[44] One might draw a comparison here between Pope Benedict and Dr Pusey, whose high Eucharistic doctrine, drawing on Cyril of Alexandria, led to his temporary suspension as a canon professor by the University of Oxford.  I am not sure the Pope has quite reached the mystical heights Pusey’s doctrine attains in its portrayal of the Eucharistic life as our deification in Christ: not for nothing has Pusey been called the doctor eucharisticus of Anglicanism.

‘Spiritual practice’

The last area in which I would like to link Pope Benedict’s vision to the tradition of Anglo-Catholicism, or even Anglicanism more widely, comes under the general heading of ‘spiritual practice’.  That is rather a portmanteau term, and a good deal could be dropped into this capacious container.  I might mention, for instance, that according to a rumour which has reached me, the Pope has Lancelot Andrewes’ Preces privatae, Andrewes’ collection of personally composed prayers in Latin and Greek, at his bed-side.  This may be a confused recollection of the fact that the Pope’s hero Blessed John Henry Newman kept the Preces privatae in that key position.  Not having access to the papal boudoir, I must confine myself to the statement that Benedict XVI has a fluency in reading Latin and Greek such that he would be perfectly capable of making that text a reference work for daily devotion.

There are other facets of spiritual practice that are less private than this.  First, there is the Pope’s view of the pastoral life of the Church.  There is nothing narrowly ‘churchy’ about that view.  Pope Benedict wants to address – and, to the measure of our ability and opportunity, he wants us, the Church’s members, clerical and lay, to address – the full range of spiritual questions raised by human existence in the world of today: hence his interest in dialogue with politicians, philosophers, and representatives of other religions.[45] I think there is an affinity here with the ethos of pastoral practice found in Anglicanism at its best, at least in England.  Unlike the Latin clergy who are principally interested in their own flocks, and where apostolic outreach is concerned, the lapsed members of those flocks, there is something much more potentially universal in the pastoral outreach of the Anglican ministry.  The notion that evangelization should be directed to entire neighbourhoods, and be expressed in general visiting, as well as recognition of the need for involvement in civic life, in voluntary associations, and all the expressions of life together in a given locale, is typical of a Church that conceives itself as responsible for the soul of a society.  It is a Christendom outlook which has, thankfully, survived the disintegration of the mediaeval organism.

Finally, I would like to draw attention, still under the rubric of spiritual practice, to the importance for Benedict XVI of Blessed John Henry Newman’s doctrine of conscience if indeed that may properly be regarded as Anglican patrimony.  We tend to associate that doctrine with the famous passage in Newman’s open letter to the Duke of Norfolk, prompted by Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone’s criticism of the First Vatican Council, when Newman proposed to toast the Pope but to toast conscience first.  Yet the roots of that doctrine of conscience are sunk deep in Newman’s Anglican period, and are visible not least in the Parochial and Plain Sermons.  What concerns the Pope is, especially, the deeper dimension of conscience, the inner sanctuary where God addresses each person in the heart.[46] To be sure, there is a more everyday level of conscientious activity when we seek to judge the kind of moral action some proposed course of behaviour exemplifies, and to perform it (if it corresponds to virtue, not vice) with the maximum degree of prudent responsibility we can muster.  This is the level of conscience where particular errors of judgment, or the adoption of some generally erroneous maxim for acting, may enter in, and affect adversely not indeed our sincerity (and in that sense our guilt or innocence) but the ethical value of our act.  An erroneous conscience has still to be followed if it is sincerely, though wrongly, convinced.  But there is a deeper level of conscience which the Pope likes to call by a Greek name taken from Plato.  It is the level of anamnesis, the level of primordial memory, where, thanks to our being in the image of God, we enjoy – or, alternatively, repress – a profound sense of the good, the beautiful, and the true.  This is where the seen and the unseen encounter each other in the depths of every person’s being.  There are people who by closing off, at least in some context, that faculty of anamnesis, and thereby rejecting the call of transcendental Goodness, Beauty, Truth, weaken or corrupt their own powers of practical conscientious judgement on the workaday level.  If they are members of the Church, they may claim they are led by conscientious conviction to repudiate key elements in traditional Christian ethics in the matter, say, of abortion, or of gay marriage.  But at the level of anamnesis such consciences may be deeply conflicted.  The heart needs to be purified if it is to respond to the heart of God.  Almost certainly this is the element in Newman’s overall philosophical and theological doctrine which has awakened the most lasting echo in the Pope’s own consciousness.[47] Both men are ‘personalists’, for whom the resources of human nature must be personally activated by this man or that woman, and for whom, furthermore, the way in which divine revelation comes to us, via Scripture and Tradition, must enable each one to find himself or herself personally addressed by God and in turn to learn how to address God as ‘Thou’.[48]

This is not without pertinence to the devising of Anglicanorum coetibus. The need to make, in suitable contact with the anamnesis dimension, a conscientious choice to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church rules out any exclusively corporate version of reconciliation for those entering the Ordinariates.  Yes, people must come as communities.  But they come as communities of persons, and that personal dimension is for the Pope, as surely it would be for Newman, intrinsic and essential.


[1] J. Ratzinger, ‘Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the question of the foundations and approaches of exegesis today’, in R. J. Neuhaus (ed.), Biblical Interpretation in Crisis. The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 1-23.

[2] J. Ratzinger, ‘Konsens über die Rechtfertigungslehre?’, Internationaler katholische Zeitschrift Communio 29 (2000), pp. 424-437.

[3] G. Martens, ‘Inconsequential Signatures? The Decade after the Signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’, Lutheran Quarterly XXIV. 3 (2010), pp. 310-336.

[4] That school is surveyed in O.-P.Vainio (ed.), Engaging Luther. A (New) Theological Assessment

(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010).  The Finnish tendency to interpret Luther as though he were a Byzantine Orthodox is criticised by the German Evangelical-Lutheran Reinhard Flogaus in his Theosis bei Palamas und Luther. Ein Beitrag zur ökumenischen Gespräch (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, 1997).  Such objections to Orientalising initiatives in Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue anticipate those raised in regard to Latinising initiatives in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue a few years later.

[5] M. Doorly and A. Nichols, O. P., The Council in Question. A Dialogue with Catholic Traditionalism (Leominster: Gracewing, 2011).

[6] Some indications in A. Nichols, O. P., Rome and the Eastern Churches. A Study in Schism (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009, 2nd edition), pp. 369-370.

[7] It was a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch who was willing to raise the real questions of dogmatic ecclesiology that separate the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in ‘Exchange of Letters between Metropolitan Damaskinos and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’, included in J. Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith. The Church as Communion (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005), pp. 217-252.

[8] W. Oddie, The Roman Option. Crisis and the Re-alignment of English-speaking Christianity (London: Harper Collins, 1997).

[9] Ibid., p. 125.

[10] J. Ratzinger, ‘Introduzione’, in Congregazione per la Dottrina della fede, Dall‘ Inter insigniores all’ Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Documenti e commento (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1996), pp. 9-23.

[11] A. Läpple, Benedikt XVI und seine Wurzeln: Was den Student Joseph Ratzinger prägte (Augsburg: St Ulrich Verlag, 2006).

[12] C. S. Dessain (ed.), The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman XVIII (London: Nelson, 1968), p. 70.

[13] Ibid., p. 78.

[14] Idem., The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman XXII (London, Nelson, 1972), p. 170.

[15] Ibid., p. 171.

[16] J. Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, op. cit., p. 265.

[17] Ibid., p. 266.

[18] A. M. Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1956, 2nd edition): ‘Divine action does not cease: if He gave the Canon of Scripture, He gave also the sacraments, the ministry, the Creeds.  But all these avail for their purpose only when, “fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth”, they are used unto the building up of the Body of Christ’, ibid., p. 64, citing Ephesians 2: 21.

[19] J. Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, op. cit., p. 34.

[20] Dei Verbum 10.

[21] Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth. Part One. From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (London: Bloomsbury, 2007); idem., Jesus of Nazareth. Part Two. Holy Week. From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (London: Catholic Truth Society, 2011).

[22] V. Twomey, Pope Benedict XVI. The Conscience of our Age (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2007), p. 39.

[23] P. E. More and F. L. Cross (ed.), Anglicanism. The Thought and Practice of the Church of England illustrated from the Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1935); see also H. R. McAdoo, The Spirit of Anglicanism (London: A. and C. Black, 1965), where the writer was able to draw on the fine materials he had unearthed in his earlier The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1949).

[24] J. Booty, ‘Standard Divines’, in S. Sykes and J. Booty, The Study of Anglicanism (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1988), p. 164.

[25] Pope Benedict’s reflections on this inter-relation are perhaps his most original contribution to Catholic thought, or so it is argued in A. Nichols, O. P., ‘’Joseph Ratzingers plassering innen katolsk teologi’, in S. J. Kristiansen – O. Hovdelien (ed.), Benedikt XV. Troens og Tankens forsvarer (Folese: Efrem, 2010), pp. 35-58.  Some of this material was included in A. Nichols, O. P., From Hermes to Benedict XVI. Faith and Reason in Modern Catholic Thought (Leominster: Gracewing, 2009), pp. 218-236.

[26] J. Ratzinger and J. Habermas, Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion (Et San Francisco: Ignatius, 2006).

[27] J. Ratzinger, ‘Erfahrung und Glaube. Theologische Bemerkungen zur katechetischen Dimension des Themas’, Internationale katholische Zeitschrift Communio 9 (1980), pp. 58-70.

[28] One notes the importance for him of the case that Liberation Theology has embraced elements of the irrational: J. Ratzinger, Politik und Erlösung: zum Verhältnis von Glaube, Rationalität und Irrationalen in der so-genannten Theologie der Befreieung (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1986).

[29] J. Ratzinger, Theologische Prinzipienlehre. Bausteine zur Fundamenteltheologie (Munich: Erich Wewel, 1982), p. 64. I owe this translation to Ratzinger’s erstwhile doctoral student, Father Vincent Twomey, S. V. D.

[30] J. Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (Et San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), p. 62.

[31] Idem., The Theology of History in St Bonaventure (Et Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971); cf. idem., ‘Eschatologie und Utopie’, Internationale katholische Zeitschrift Communio 6 (1977), pp. 97-110, reprinted in English translation in Church, Ecumenism and Politics. New Essays in Ecclesiology (Middlegreen: St Paul’s, 1988), pp. 237-254.

[32] It has been suggested that his attitude to such definition is rather like that of many people in the Western democracies to the nuclear deterrent: we are glad that we have it, but we have no intention of using it.  Yet the charism of truth which enables the Petrine office to be the seat of dogmatic definition was presumably meant to be used when genuinely needed – unlike, we hope, the deterrent.

[33] J. Ratzinger, ‘What in fact is Theology?’, in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, op. cit., pp. 29-37.

[34] Fisher’s remarks were made in a speech at the Central Hall, Westminster, on 30 January 1951, cited in A. Hughes, The Rivers of the Flood (London: Faith Press, 1973), p. 50.

[35] Originally published as J. Ratzinger, ‘Anglican-Catholic Dialogue: its problems and hopes’, Insight 1 (1983), pp. 2-11, this essay was re-printed in Church, Ecumenism and Politics, op. cit., pp 65-88, with a postscript on the debate occasioned by the article: ibid., pp. 88-98.

[36] Ibid., pp. 79-80.

[37] Idem., The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), pp. 15-18.

[38] Ibid., pp. 53-54.

[39] Compare his remarks on the icon of Christ in ibid., pp. 132-133.

[40] For an excellent conspectus, see F. Mannion, ‘”The ‘Musification’’ of the Word”: Cardinal Ratzinger’s Theology of Liturgical Music’, Josephinum 5. 2 (1998), pp. 53-54.

[41] J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, op. cit., pp. 115-135; A. Nichols, O. P., ‘Benedict XVI on Holy Images’, in idem., Redeeming Beauty. Soundings in Sacral Aesthetics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 89-101.

[42] See A. Symondson, S. J., and S. A. Bucknall, Sir Ninian Comper. An Introduction to his Life and Work, with Complete Gazetteer (Reading: Spire Books, 2006); R. Warrener and M. Yelton, Martin Travers (1886-1948). An Appreciation (London: Unicorn Press, 2003).

[43] J. Ratzinger, Called to Communion. Understanding the Church Today (Et San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996), p. 37.

[44] Idem., God is Near Us. The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (Et San Francisco: Ignatius, 2003).

[45] Especially apparent in the last two examples of his dialogue with a sympathetic journalist: God and the World. A Conversation with Peter Seewald (Et San Francisco: Ignatius, 2003); and Light of the World: the Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (Et London: Catholic Truth Society, 2010).

[46] J. Ratzinger, Wahrheit, Werte, Macht. Prüfsteine der pluralistischen Gesellschaft (Frankfurt: Josef Knecht, 1999, 2nd edition), pp. 25-62.  It is striking that Ratzinger’s contribution to the opening issue of Communio – the journal intended by him (and its co-founders) to be a guide to the future orientation of theology in the Catholic Church – concerns this very topic: thus ‘Das Gewissen in der Zeit’, Internationale katholische Zeitschrift Communio 1 (1972), pp. 432-442, reprinted in English translation in Church, Ecumenism and Politics, op. cit., pp. 165-179.

[47] A. Läpple, Benedikt XVI und seine Wurzeln, op. cit., pp. 58-63.  As long ago as 1990, in a then little noticed address, he had already drawn attention to this feature of his own intellectual aeneid: J. Ratzinger, ‘Newman Belongs to the Great Teachers of the Church: Introductory Words for the Third Day of the Newman Symposium in Rome (28 April, 1990)’, in P. Jennings (ed.), Benedict XVI and Cardinal Newman (Oxford: Family Publications, 2005, pp. 33-35.

[48] J. Ratzinger, ‘Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology’, Communio [American edition] 17 (1990), pp. 439-454.


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