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Flying to the Ordinariate

© Diarmaid MacCulloch 2010. A shorter version of this article appeared earlier in The Times.

In 1994 a set of new bishops appeared ready-minted to cater for those unhappy with the way that most of the Church of England wanted to shape its future. They were given a newly-contrived title, ‘Provincial Episcopal Visitor’, but friend and foe alike christened them ‘Flying Bishops’, since they fluttered athletically over existing diocesan boundaries to minister to certain Anglican parish churches mostly characterised by incense, statuary and a multitude of candles. What to call these novelties? The need was to make up some titles which would sound impressively historic, and some antiquarian-minded ecclesiastical bureaucrats in Lambeth Palace must have had a high old time doing this. Their finest satirical production was ‘the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’. Historically, it commemorated a place where Augustine of Canterbury might possibly have landed, bringing a Roman form of Christianity to the as-yet-unnamed England, but today, it was a windswept Kentish hamlet in the middle of nowhere, soon to become a windswept railway platform on the High Speed Rail Link to mainland Europe. You couldn’t make it up. But they did.

And now three past and present Flying Bishops (Ebbsfleet included), a quasi-Flying Bishop (Fulham) and a bishop retired from a stridently ‘High’ Australian diocese, are clutching tickets for the Rome Express. Already some journalists are trumpeting this as heralding a mighty flood from the C of E – it’s a good headline, ‘Five Anglican bishops quit for Rome’. Hmmm….. These evanescent bishops were created to service a new and absurd idea: a special jurisdiction for self-selected Anglicans intent on throwing their toys out of the pram. Now the bishops themselves seem to have realised what an absurd idea it was. It is unlikely that many will follow, beyond a coterie of clergy trained in the same High-Church Anglican theological colleges that fostered their viewpoint. This is no great Anglican crisis. It does not even represent the departure of Anglo-Catholics from the Church of England; Anglo-Catholicism prospers regardless of the Flying Bishops. They represent one faction, which those of us who enjoy grubbing in historical byways term ‘Papalist Catholics’. For about 150 years this group among High Church Anglicans have performed athletic intellectual gymnastics about what the Church of England actually is. They ignored the fact that it had a Reformation in the sixteenth century, and turned their churches into meticulous replicas of whatever ecclesiastical fashions the Roman Church decided to adopt, while equally ignoring the fact that successive popes considered their clerical status ‘absolutely null and utterly void’. Now they are thrilled to find that the Pope was wrong all along, so they can after all be received on special terms into the ample bosom of the Western Church of the Latin Rite (which is in the habit of arrogating to itself the more general title of the Catholic Church).

This papal cake both to be eaten and to be had is called an ‘Ordinariate’, a title almost as novel as that 1994 coinage of ‘Provincial Episcopal Visitor’. It certainly came as a shock to the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales when Pope Benedict XVI announced it out of the blue last autumn, but naturally the Catholic episcopate has put a brave face on the surprise. The Flying Bishops are going to be allowed to exercise their pastoral gifts within a special Anglican paddock, to which apparently they will bring all the riches of Anglicanism’s heritage. It’s not exactly clear what these riches will be: when asked, Roman Catholic bishops usually vaguely refer to Anglican scholarship on the Early Church. Well, call me old-fashioned, but I thought that Roman Catholics already knew quite a bit about the Early Church. Perhaps it’s Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer? Not a book for which the Flying Bishops and their clerical mates have shown much enthusiasm in the past. Maybe married clergy? Well, Rome only likes that if the clergy concerned are ex-Anglicans – very annoying for mainstream Roman Catholic clergy to whom such marital bliss is forbidden.

Notable among those waving goodbye to the Flyers at Ebbsfleet International will be the equal and opposite coterie of extreme Evangelicals, who were in temporary alliance with them over matters conservative, but want nothing to do with Rome, even an ultra-traditionalist Vatican like Benedict’s. And I predict that members of the Ordinariate will not find Rome what they expected. In their Anglican careers, they have flourished in the status of perpetual malcontents: Rome is not disposed to indulge stroppiness, as Anglicans habitually do. When there was a fuss about the priesting of women, some priests and laity went over to Rome, then some came back to Canterbury. Unlike some Churches, the C of E never makes a song and dance about those (including ex-Roman Catholics) who find a happy home in its many mansions. Maybe just worth buying a return ticket, Flyers?

Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church in the University of Oxford.

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Jesse
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Jesse

Surely Prof. MacCulloch means “the Latin Rite of the Western Church”, and not the other way round?

Laurence Roberts
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Laurence Roberts

Informative, scholarlt, hilarious and enjoyable !
But Dr D. is too kind to mention that Ebbsfleet is also celebrated for having or being a sandbank !

Round-trip tickets are a Must !

Neill
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Neill

The good professor should stick to history and not attempt to understand current affairs. This sarcastic piece does not do justice to the facts on the ground.

WannabeAnglican
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I’m sorry. I appreciate Dr. MacCulloch’s books which take up a lot of my shelf space and have taken up a lot of my time.

But he is making an ass of himself. CofE Anglo-Catholics are being put in a very difficult position by the recent Synods. That many feel compelled to go to Rome is a loss to Anglicanism. MacCulloch’s mocking tone toward them is inappropriate to say the least.

If he disagrees with them and feels the “crisis” is being exaggerated, fine. But this mocking is beneath him.

robert Ian wlliams
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robert Ian wlliams

There will be no Book of Common Prayer in the ordinariate, but revised and corrected shreds of Anglican liturgy set within the context of the Roman canon.

angela
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angela

well i think it was a great lighthearted way of dealing with men behaving like children. it gets more and more like a harry potter sequel every week. But there is nothing magical about women in tears, or men who devalue the feminine form to a level only the taliban would be proud of. I remember the female heads bouncing off walls you see i see the blood several years later. I want the flying bishops to wave their wand of humanity dust over the european population instead of their radioactive dust. I want to dream instead of having nightmares.… Read more »

Fr Mark
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Wannabeanglican: “But he is making an ass of himself. CofE Anglo-Catholics are being put in a very difficult position by the recent Synods.”

I disagree. Diarmaid MacC knows well that of which he speaks.

You are making the false assumption that (Anglo-)Catholic equals “anti-women priests.” That is not necessarily the case. The truth is that some Anglo-Catholics have wilfully painted themselves into a corner over the last decade and a half, and Diarmaid MacC is quite correct to point this out.

Hugh of Lincoln
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Hugh of Lincoln

Whereas Ebbsfleet is “a windswept Kentish hamlet in the middle of nowhere”, Richborough is a pile of ruins – without even a hamlet to its name – in an equally windswept part of Kent not far from a disused power station and a rubbish dump.

Bill Moorhead
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Bill Moorhead

“There will be no Book of Common Prayer in the ordinariate, but revised and corrected shreds of Anglican liturgy set within the context of the Roman canon.” Well then, what the heck is the point of the Ordinariate at all? If these folks’ consciences lead them to seek to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome, then just go! God bless you! Leave the keys! Lots of folks have made that voyage before. (E.g., J H Newman, of recent blessed memory.) Lots of folks have made the voyage in the opposite direction too, and we’re happy to have them… Read more »

Priscilla Cardinale
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Priscilla Cardinale

Wonder how many of the those swimming the Tiber will be caught up in the traditionalist movement in the RC church? That would be the movement that strongly beleives that Vatican II was a innovative work of Satan that promotes heresy and that the last handful of Popes are not conservative enough to warrant the title, at least according to the sedevacantists, who call them all antipopes, and condemn John Paul II and Mother Theresa as heretics, while seeking to restore the once-delivered-to-the-saints Latin Mass as the only option since the Novus Ordo masses since Vatican II are works of… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

“They represent one faction, which those of us who enjoy grubbing in historical byways term ‘Papalist Catholics’.”

…and won’t they be surprised that “Papalist Catholics” (whom I call Popoids) are an even SMALLER percentage within the Roman Church, than in the CofE!

[Then again, I suppose they plan to stay EITHER within the bosom of the Ordinariate, or the Potemkin Village called “the Vatican”, and never venture out in the messy (but more Christ-like) general precincts of the RCC.]

Father Ron Smith
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No real surprise at the wincing of some on this web-site – who probably feel that the good doctor might have been more respectful of the departing episcopi vaganti. I feel he has enough practical scholarship to have made a much more serious comment – if he had the mind. Thank God he didn’t. Diarmaid’s wonderful gift of wit helps us to really put seriousness on this issue (of Flying Bishops) wherre it really belongs – in the pages of ‘Punch’ – where satire was once appreciated, especially by people of the High Church Party – except when they were… Read more »

Perry Butler
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Perry Butler

We await developments but I gather those clergy who join the Ordinariate will be fast tracked to ordination. Which will be a great attraction. In the past, most clergy going to Rome have had to spend time as a layman in a parish and then do one or two years at a seminary.I think the newly ordained will also be bi-ritual i.e. they will be able to fill in for RC clergy in their parishes when needed and not restricted to the Ordinariate..which will help the english RC Church with its falling number of priests.

angela
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angela

I sometimes question the sanity of people who post on these blogs, enough to even question my own as to why i bother to contribute to these blogs.. Everyone caught up in the theoretics, each believing that the theory they were taught is right. There is a difference between preferring to follow one path or another anglicans versus catholics papal catholics versus anglo catholics , throw in the free churches and the eclectic mix is most colourful. All have their theory. None of them are right in totality. The Monks and Nuns of all traditions think cut out the worlds… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

Oh dear, in spite of his great learning and the writing of a magnum opus – “A History of Christianity” – the good professor is getting his Ebbsfleets in a twist. Augustine did not land in 597 at the soon to be “windswept railway platform” of Ebbsfleet International on the Thames estuary but further east on the Kentish coast near Pegwell Bay. I remember going there myself 1,400 years after Augustine in 1997 when we pilgrims from Rome(making the opposite journey to those joining the Ordinariate) followed in the great man’s footsteps. There we were met by the 103rd Archbishop… Read more »

david rowett
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“The Monks and Nuns of all traditions think cut out the worlds distractions and just be them and God and they have got it right.”

I’m not sure that’s QUITE correct! Have you heard of the Rule of Benedict? (More to the point, have you read it?)

Laurence Roberts
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Laurence Roberts

That’s very helpful Angela. Very much so.

Christopher Smith
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Christopher Smith

Both the distinguished writer and many of the respondents here wantonly misrepresent the position of those of us who have benefited from the provisions of the Act of Synod 1993. Maybe GS made a mistake in making provision for dissent and acknowledging that two EQUALLY valid positions could be held within the Church of England and that we had a PERMANENT valued position within the Church. Synod is intent on not making any concessions this time and, indeed, will remove the protections provided by the Act of Synod and Resolutions A and B under the Measure which allowed the ordination… Read more »