Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taking the Tiber Ferry

To those who have been so kind as to ask, Yes, I did finish writing the article on OHC's history and sent it off. It will be published shortly in the autumn issue of the Order's little magazine, timed to coincide with our celebration of 125 years.

Our Celebration of 125 years will be at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York City on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 4:00 pm. Solemn Vespers will be followed by a talk by the estimable Esther de Waal, and then munchies and holy schmoozing. Do plan to come.

The Pope's announcement of a personal ordinariate (I think that's the term) for Anglicans happened shortly after I finished a new book on one of the major groups of Anglo-Papalists, the monks of Elmore, formerly Nashdom, formerly Pershore. It is by Peta Dunstan, a Cambridge University scholar who has made the history of Anglican religious orders (more accurately, the religious orders of the Church of England) her specialty: The Labour of Obedience: The Benedictines of Pershore, Nashdom and Elmore, A History. It is a readable book, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I enjoyed even more a cordial e-mail exchange with her about an error. She's a class act.

The thread which holds her narrative together is those Benedictines' history of Anglo-Papalism in the Church of England, a subject recently treated in a wider context by Michael Yelton: Anglican Papalism, An Illustrated History, 1900-1960. This movement was much stronger in England than in the U.S., where it was/is practically nonexistent.

Briefly, your average Anglo-Papalist (if there was such a thing: so many were Characters) believed that the Visible Unity of the Church was the great desideratum; that unity could only be accomplished under the headship of the Bishop of Rome; and that God's great plan for the English church would be best fulfilled by conforming as closely as possible to Roman norms, liturgical and otherwise, and working and waiting for the great day when the Holy Spirit would reveal the validity of Anglican ordination to that eminent personage, and with a great shout, all would be forgiven, the ecclesial rifts would be healed, and England Returned to the Bosom.

Some of the steam went out of this position with Vatican II and the liturgical reforms. Tridentine baroque Catholic liturgy was so much more fun than Father Facing The People and the pedestrian liturgical texts given unto the faithful in the 60's. But the truly faithful soldiered on, counting among their number people of importance, including, apparently, Tony Blair.

I don't know quite what to make of the Pope's recent announcement yet. The devil is in the details, as they say in other contexts, and the details aren't out yet. Apparently there will be no married bishops, so I don't expect to see a rush to join by the over-bishoped ranks of dissident Anglican leaders, so many of them so recently mitered. My guess is that there won't be much movement at first. But the establishment of a functioning Anglican rite within the Roman fold could in the long run be very significant culturally, apart from the current and continuing fractious bickering on all sides.

And I am reminded by this event of how much I love the Roman Catholic Church. So many wonderful friends in Christ, some gone to glory, like Fr. Thomas Duscher OSB, of Valyermo and later Fr. Romuald of the Big Sur Camaldolese, for some years my spiritual director; some hearty and well, like Robert Hale, also of Big Sur; the Camaldolese in general, who may have saved my life at a time of crisis; Benedictines of many sorts and conditions; Sr. Mary Klock of the Mercies; sweet and wonderful Christians, too many to name, all of them saints or on the way.

I do think that Benedict XVI has made an end run around Rowan Williams. I thought Canterbury looked and sounded distressed in that joint news conference with the AB of Westminster. It might have been better if he hadn't attended it. I don't feel that he held up the side, as the Brits say in cricket (or is it rugby?). There was a whiff of the deer staring into the headlights.

Does this affect me personally? Not really. I have prayed for the visible unity of the Church all my adult life, but on terms which recognize the dignity and validity of the Reformation, of the Anglican Church's heroic and self-sacrificial encounters with the modern world and with forms of thought and culture previously uncontemplated, from the mid 1500's through the centuries, in each succeeding age and on into the future. I think that is part of our genius. It comes wrapped in Anglican chant and Percy Dearmer and coffee hours and sherry and vestries and too many bishops and Trollope and Barbara Pym and Auden and Perry and Vaughan Williams and prayer book wars and are-you-high-or-low-or-broad and a thousand other little cultural artifacts we know and love. But to bring the catholic faith face to face with today's real challenges is our genius, it is the Gift of the Spirit to us, and to betray it would be to betray what has given us life.