Sunday, 4 January 2015

Catholics of Anglican Patrimony, by Aidan Nichols, OP

Aidan Nichols, OP, Catholics of Anglican Patrimony: The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2013 Gracewing, Leominster, Herefordshire

Perhaps the best word to describe this book would be manifesto. This book is a manifesto for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, it unveils the vision behind this project to reconcile Anglicans to the Catholic Church. I personally think that the Ordinariate is one of the best things to have happened in recent years and I think that on the whole, Nichols does a good job of explaining why.

Nichols begins his manifesto by offering an historical sketch of the Catholic tradition within Anglicanism. In doing so, he does not pretend that the Church of England was not fully Protestant in the character of its early and formative direction. He goes on to give a history of the desire for Anglican reconciliation with Rome.

In the next chapter, Nichols looks at the vision behind Pope Benedict XVI establishing the Ordinariate. Nichols uses the illustration of Noah's Ark. He believes that Benedict's vision was for the reconciliation of not only Anglicans, but also the Lefebrevists, the Lutherans and the Eastern Orthodox. I'm a bit sceptical about the idea of the Ordinariates being a model for reunion or reconciliation with Eastern Orthodoxy. After all, we already have the Uniate churches, which are a sore point with the Orthodox. Given that the Ordinariates are a less permanent, more uncertain structure than the Uniate churches, it seems doubtful that they offer much of a model.

The chapter on the liturgical issues relating to the Ordinariate is particularly interesting. I came to this as one who deeply loves the Book of Common Prayer, despite its genuinely Protestant character. Nichols quickly acknowledges the fundamentally Reformed character of the communion rite and the difficulties involved in its use by Anglo-Catholics. Even the proposed 1928 prayer book, he argues, was not really a substantial improvement. He then goes onto later developments in Anglican liturgy and the development of the Book of the Divine Worship, a Catholic version of the BCP.

In the final chapter, on the mission of the Ordinariate, he touches on some of the themes in his earlier book, The Realm, which dealt with the problems of evangelizing England. Nichols suggests ways in which the Ordinariate may call the British nation back to Christ, as well as how she might contribute to the wider Catholic Church in England.

There are a couple of questions that I would have liked Nichols to address. He does not discuss why an Anglican Uniate was not created. My understanding is that this was not possible because English Catholicism has always been part of the Latin rite and there is no patriarch in Canterbury. But was it impossible to acknowledge the independent development of liturgy in England, through Sarum and into Anglicanism? And would it have been so difficult to appoint a Patriarch? If a Patriarch of Canterbury or York would have offended Anglicans, why not a Patriarch of Salisbury? I'm sure thus would have had its problems, but Nichols might have at least addressed the topic of an Anglican Uniate. He also does not address the question of married clergy and whether they have any future in the continuing life of the Ordinariate.

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