Thinking Anglicans

Saturday miscellany

Two bishops write in today’s newspapers:

Geoffrey Rowell on Age of Benedict must be one of Christian unity

The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI predictably provoked anxious comment in the Western media because of his role as a defender of orthodoxy. Was he not someone who had said that non-Roman Catholic churches were not churches in the fullest sense? Yet in a fascinating conversation I had with him some three years ago he said that an ecclesial community, because it is ecclesial, must have the marks of the Church, and that Anglicans had them in a very deep way. Faced with the challenge of secularism in Europe, Christians needed each other for the work of mission: “No one of us can do it alone.” In answer to my question about how he understood the celebration of the Eucharist in churches — ecclesial communities — whose orders the Catholic Church did not recognise as valid, he replied that in such celebrations there was indeed a true feeding on Christ, and therefore there was a real and transforming grace.

I remembered that warm conversation when I studied the new Pope’s first message at the end of the conclave. He spoke of the grace of Christ in the Eucharist as that which must sustain and transform. He spoke of his own “primary commitment” and “compelling duty” to work towards “the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers”. Expressions of good feelings, he said, are not enough; concrete gestures are required, and above all “ that interior conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism”. All are summoned to a purification of memory to receive the full truth of Christ, whose searching judgment at the end will ask of us “what we did and what we did not do for the great good that is the full and visible unity of all His disciples.”

Kenneth Stevenson An Anglican dispatch to Rome

But just how far is Pope Benedict XVI likely to go in the wider cause of Christian unity, or indeed to build some bridges (the meaning of the word pontiff) in his own church, which, under the surface, seems as much in need of its own ecumenical movement as the Anglican communion?

My litmus test comes from some of the advice given by one of his predecessors, Pope Gregory the Great, to an earlier archbishop of Canterbury. In AD597, Augustine arrived at Canterbury from Rome with a mandate to heal the wounds of Christianity, at the time divided between Celtic, Old Roman and Frankish, and to evangelise the recently arrived Anglo-Saxons. Gregory advised him to take a moderate line with the different Christian groups, provided they worked together and accepted his authority.

But his advice about what to do with pagan temples was even more intriguing: do not knock them down, just destroy the idols inside them, and replace them with Christian symbols.

I have frequently thought about those words, as they seem to me to have a wider application. When Christianity meets new terrain, as it has done before and will do again, it needs to enter the constructs and mind-sets of the people concerned – and not destroy them. But then comes the more tricky process of ensuring that the old idols inside are replaced by Christian truth.

Of course, analogies break down. But I cannot help thinking that the new pope’s track record, the result of his early formation, is based on a profound mistrust of new ideologies.

Yes, consumerism and relativism can run riot and become their own kinds of dictatorships. But they are themselves only the demerits of what could be deeper merits – that faith has to be appropriated (not just given), and that 20th-century European history has so many deep scars that many people find it hard, if not impossible, to trust any kind of authority, which has to be at least partly won and not simply assumed.

Controversial German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann explains why she’s glad that her former classmate has been made pope. Read this interview with her: A Humble Intellect (hat tip Andrew).

Martin Marty Considering Pope Benedict XVI

And here is A Mennonite look at the Holy See

Christopher Howse writes about a long-dead cardinal in Cardinal home from the Hill

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