Bishop Peter Elliott: Unity in Faith

28 02 2011

With thanks to The Anglo-Catholic, we reproduce the text of Bishop Peter Elliott’s address to a group of Anglicans exploring the Ordinariate in Australia. Bishop Elliott is the Episcopal Delegate for the implementation of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, in the Episcopal Conference of Australia, and himself a former Anglican. He is now Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne.


Receiving Gifts and Bringing Gifts to the Ordinariate

Ordinariate Festival, Holy Family Parish, Como,
Perth, Western Australia, February 26, 2011

Anglicans on the way to full communion in an ordinariate are already discovering that they are part of a surprising adventure of faith. I refer not only to the step of personal commitment, but to a wider and deeper corporate experience of unity in the Faith that comes to us from the Apostles. This Faith of the Church is secured by being “in communion” with the Successor of St Peter.

What some nervous Anglo Catholic may imagine as coming under tighter control, with a narrower vision, is in reality quite the opposite. Catholic unity in faith is a broadening experience – entering a wider domain with endless vistas, yet knowing all the while that here there is always a secure parameter which Chesterton once compared to a garden wall giving children the security to play and be happy. While that is true, I would prefer to emphasize the authoritative point of reference at the centre of the Faith of millions.

This point of reference was identified and celebrated in a magnificent gesture of commitment, when the bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion signed the Catechism of the Catholic Church in Fr Dolling’s historic church at Portsmouth in October 2007. Their action was prophetic, anticipating what would appear two years later in Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, where we read “The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the Ordinariate.” (1 § 5).

Published with the authority of the Venerable Pope John Paul II in 1994, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a rich summary of the Catholic Faith, derived from the sources of Divine Revelation, the Scriptures and Tradition. It is built around the Christian essentials that we all share in the creeds: Apostolic, Nicene and Athanasian.

However, the Catechism not only proposes what we believe but how we are to live our covenant union with God and one another, our graced life “in Christ”. The Catechism moves in four stages: 1. the Profession of Faith (the creed), 2. the Celebration of the Christian Mystery (liturgy and sacraments), 3. Life in Christ (commandments, beatitudes and virtues), 4. Christian Prayer (built around the Lord’s Prayer).

The Catechism embodies the solemn teachings of the Popes and the Ecumenical Councils In it we also find the treasury of the Faith: the Fathers of the Church, East and West, the men and women recognised as Doctors of the Church, and the insights of theologians, mystics and saints who have universal appeal, such as Blessed John Henry Newman.

The Catechism is now the focus of study, reflection and prayer for all people, laity and clergy, who are preparing to enter full communion in an ordinariate. Courses of study are under way in all countries where the ordinariates are taking shape this year.

The Anglican Impetus towards Catholic Faith

Members of the ordinariates accept the Catechism as their rule of faith while maintaining their Anglican patrimony. The heritage they bring resonates with the Catechism because they cherish an emphasis on Catholic essentials that spread in Nineteenth Century Anglicanism under the influence of the Oxford Movement.

We find some of these Catholic essentials set out in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886, 1888). The ordinariates will continue to honour the intentions and hopes of those who framed this declaration, that is, a desire for Christian unity. But the Quadrilateral is clear that unity must be grounded in orthodoxy, through the Scriptures, the creeds, sacraments and episcopacy, maintaining the living apostolic tradition.

In more recent times the Affirmation of St Louis (1977) speaks not only to Anglicans but to Catholics. It remains a timely reminder of “our apostolic descent” and what can disrupt and undermine that living tradition.

The ARCIC conversations and the fruit of these conversations in the documents will also be honoured in the ordinariates. Recently it has been announced that the ARCIC process will continue. Anyone tempted to add “in spite of the papal offer of the ordinariate”, should reflect whether in fact it is the papal offer that has kick-started ARCIC once more. With reference to these ongoing conversations, I would argue, as I have said elsewhere, that, far from damaging ecumenism. the ordinariates will provide a lively stimulus for better relations between Anglicans and Catholics. In this regard let us pray that the forthcoming ARCIC discussions on the Church as communion and Christian ethics will go well.

The Development of Christian doctrine

Reflecting on the apostolic faith, we speak of a fixed “deposit of  Faith” or the ”faith once given to the Church” in the Scriptures and tradition. Yet across the centuries the Catholic Faith has demonstrated an organic quality. The Faith always based on the deposit, yet it is capable of growth. This may be seen in the Catechism itself which is the fruit of the development of Christian doctrine.

Through the complex struggles over the Person of Christ and the Holy Trinity, in the fourth century various Fathers of the Church understood how the deposit of faith was being adapted and how the Faith was developing as the Church grew and spread across the world. Their insights were taken up and spelt out more clearly by Blessed John Henry Newman in his masterly essay The Development of Christian Doctrine. In that work, so crucial in his personal journey, Newman carefully set out the ways one can discern a true gradual development as distinct from innovations and errors.

Development reminds us that we cannot stay fixated in some ideal age of the past, for example arguing that “the Catholic Faith” can only be defined within the sphere of some Councils in certain centuries, or that the Faith was somehow lost and then had to be rediscovered and rewritten many centuries later.

The Magisterium

The Catholic Faith has a living voice in the Church. This gift of the apostolic teaching office, the Magisterium, can never be underestimated. In its papal form, the Magisterium is one way through which Peter’s successor fulfils the promise of Jesus Christ and strengthens his brothers and sisters in faith. The Catechism itself is one means he uses as he exercises this Petrine ministry, together with the bishops of the whole apostolic college.

Through St Peter, God has assured the Popes that they will not fail. This does not refer to morality, for there have been unworthy Popes in the past. It refers to teaching Christ’s truths, The nature of infallibility can best be understood in terms of the word itself. “Infallible” does not mean never being wrong, rather not falling into error, not failing to “strengthen the brethren”, at crucial moments in the history of the Church. At these times the teaching office must be exercised. The Pope relies not on flesh and blood, human guidance, to reveal truth, but on our Father in heaven (Cf. Matthew 16:18-19). This is the Extraordinary Magisterium.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, the Spirit of truth leading us into all truth. This same charism of infallibility is evident when the whole college of bishops with the Pope teaches solemnly at an Ecumenical Council. The charism of infallibility is also at work when the bishops faithfully pass on the teachings of the Church on faith and morals in their day to day ministry. This is the Ordinary Magisterium, such as we find in official catechisms.

As Anglo Catholics know, the dogmas proposed by the Magisterium are liberating truths. I believe that they will come to understand this sense of life and freedom more clearly once they enter full communion within the Church. Here we are all securely guided by the living voice of the Magisterium.

Our Heritage of Heroes

As the historic events leading to the ordinariates unfold, we have around us the prayerful company of the heroes of faith, men and women great in Christian mind and heart. This is where the patrimonies, Anglican and Catholic, merge, a sharing of heritage that is one of the most delightful fruits of unity in Faith. I find that the names of our heroes and heroines are helpful.

The pre-Reformation heritage includes the Venerable Bede, St Columba, St Cuthbert, St Ninian, Duns Scotus, the much loved Dame Julian of Norwich, and, in a wider Europe, the minds of St Albert the Great and St Thomas Aquinas. In the Reformation era, we celebrate St John  Fisher, St Thomas More., St Teresa of Avila, St Robert Bellarmine,  then in more recent centuries, Rosmini and Scheeben, St Therese of Lisieux, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, St Edith Stein, John Paul II, and our Pope, Benedict XVI.

The Anglican intellectual and spiritual patrimony runs parallel to this stream. The names are familiar: Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrews, Joseph Butler, John and Charles Wesley, John Keble, Bl. John Henry Newman, Edward Bouverie Pusey, Charles Gore, William Temple, Evelyn Underhill, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, Dom Gregory Dix, Michael Ramsey, John Macquarrie, Kenneth Kirk, C.S. Lewis, Austin Farrer, Eric Mascall – and after such a list I ask pardon for leaving out other great souls,

We know that these Christian men and women took different paths and often disagreed with one another, influenced by contrasting loyalties, philosophies and cultures. At times even the most brilliant had a limited grasp of what Catholic unity means (Gore), or they were constrained by historical and political conditions (Hooker). Likewise among the Catholics, Bellamine’s Counter Reformation vision of the Church as the “perfect society” was corrected and deepened through the scriptural and patristic work of Mathias Scheeben and Pius XII, which then bore fruit in Vatican II.

However, we dare not make an idol of any theologian. I am deeply influenced by St Thomas Aquinas, but I am not a “Thomist”.  As the ‘Sixties recede from my memory I have less sympathy for Karl Rahner (the last of the scholastics?). Today I would prefer his fellow Jesuit, Henri de Lubac or the former Jesuit, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, men who were named cardinals because they loved the Church. I am also an admirer of a leading English theologian, the Dominican, Aidan Nichols, a friend of the Ordinariates and former Anglican.

We need to recall that the struggle of the theologian to elucidate the tradition is not always easy. Most of the people I name have at some time or other been denounced and criticised by others. Their own speculations may even have led them into all sorts of problems. Therefore the Magisterium can never be a circle of theologians, as Hans Kung proposed forty years ago. That opinion was recently revived by some German-speaking theologians. However, theologians do have a major influence on how the Magisterium proposes truths and how the understanding of doctrine develops.

Breathing with Two Lungs

We dare not limit our understanding of the Faith to the West, because the Church “breathes with two lungs”, the East and the West, as John Paul II insisted. When Anglo Catholics come into full communion they bring with them a well-developed appreciation of the Christian East. This grew through strong ecumenical links with Eastern Orthodoxy, unfortunately weakened in recent years for reasons well known to us all.

The Christian East is evident In the Catechism. It is a useful exercise to go to the back of the Catechism and check the references that are listed under two headings “Liturgy” and “Ecclesiastic Writers”. I believe the Eastern Christian presence in the Catechism is part of a theological and pastoral trend. There is much interest today in the wisdom of St Maximus the Confessor, the poetic depth and rich Mariology of St Ephrem the Syrian, the doctrine and spirituality of St John Chrysostom, St Basil and St Gregory Nazianzen. At the same time we are seeing a revival of interest in the greatest Western Father, St Augustine, so dear to the heart and mind of our Pope.

Through communion with Rome, members of the ordinariates will be in communion with the venerable Eastern Catholic Churches. They will have access to the liturgical and sacramental life of these ancient communities. Therefore the wisdom and piety of Eastern Christianity will no longer be something to be seen and admired from the outside, rather something to appropriate from within the living Church.

Unity and Continuity in Faith

Another dimension of unity in Catholic faith that will be enriched by the arrival of Anglicans is a sense of continuity in faith. This is an obvious example of how Anglicans coming into unity of faith bear gifts, and do not come empty handed.

Anglo Catholics have a keen sense of continuity in faith, knowing that “the Faith once given” has to be passed on with integrity and care across the generations of humanity. Entering the ordinariates they will readily understand the insistent call of Pope Benedict to interpret the Second Vatican Council in continuity with the whole living tradition of our faith that preceded the Council. It was not a rupture with the past, not some revolutionary new beginning.

What is now called the “hermeneutic of continuity”, was first articulated by Pope Paul VI in June 1972 in a challenging address to the cardinals. Ten years since the Council began he could see how misinterpretations wrench the Council out of its context, which is the centuries-old living tradition of the Church in matters of faith and morals.

Nonetheless the Council represents a development of doctrine, firstly in terms of an enriched understanding of the Church herself and of her mission in this world, which Pope John Paul II took up and proclaimed as a New Evangelization.  We need only reflect on the universal call to holiness, the dignity of the human person, the advances in teaching about marriage, the vindication of ecumenism and religious liberty. In these themes all found in the Catechism, we recognise how the Council took up and developed aspects of the Faith so pertinent to our times.

Valuing the faith

However the contribution that Anglicans bring to the ordinariates is not only this sense of continuity but also a sense of valuing the Faith. There are times in life when we only value something because we have struggled and suffered for it, or because someone has tried to take it from us.

Many traditional Anglicans have had to fight for the Faith, making personal sacrifices. I refer not only to the stand taken over the past thirty years as divisive innovations steadily took hold. I recall and honour the historic stand so many men and women have taken to rediscover and affirm a Catholic identity inspired by the Oxford Movement in its successive phases. My own father, Rev. Leslie Llewelyn Elliott, was an example to me of valuing the Faith.

However the times have changed and events have taken a new confronting turn. These realities seem to be lost on some Anglo-Catholics who are tempted to make a desperate “last stand” by just staying where they are.

Permit me to suggest that it is a waste of time and spiritual energy to cling to such a dangerous illusion. Valuing the Catholic Faith should not be confused with polemics. Let me quietly invite you to lay down weapons of controversies that are now pointless, to set aside endless intrigues which led nowhere, to walk away from futile conflicts which cannot build up the Body of Christ in charity. Accept the invitation of the Vicar of Christ on earth.

The gentle man who reaches out to you in Anglicanorum coetbus has no ulterior motives. His apostolic offer is clear. There is no deception here. He calls you to peace.

Evangelical Catholicism

Let me end this reflection on unity in the Faith with an appeal to maintain an evangelical vision of our Faith. In recent years there has been talk of an emerging “evangelical Catholicism”. Some commentators have found this vibrant phenomenon among the vast gatherings of World Youth Day, such as we saw in 2009 in Sydney and as we will see in Madrid this year.

Crowds of young people praising God and loving the Church in the streets of great cities remind us that the Catholic Faith is to be proclaimed, taught and learnt, shared and celebrated.  Our mission from Jesus Christ is to “go out to the whole world”. We do not only “keep the faith”. We give the faith. We evangelise.

Once the ordinariates are established and settle down, I pray that they will be communities open to people, open to the future, centres for the New Evangelisation. I pray that through the beauty of worship and fine preaching, the ordinariates will inspire people with a loving and prayerful enthusiasm, to give themselves to Jesus Christ, our only Lord and Saviour. He speaks to us in his Word and nourishes us in the Eucharist and sacraments. He alone is the answer, as Pope Benedict always reminds us. He is the answer to cynical post-modern nihilism, the answer to the culture of death, the answer to the threats of secularist totalitarianism and sectarian extremism. He is the centre of the Faith of the Church.

Each person entering the Ordinariate in a group that seeks unity, will profess this One Faith with the words of the creed, then adding these words: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.” By God’s grace may we all live what we profess and generously share what we believe.

Bishop Peter J. Elliott
Auxiliary Bishop, Melbourne