Letter to the Clerics and Religious Associate
of the Court of St. Mary of Walsingham
from the Governor-General of the Patriarchate of St. Stephen

Ordinary Time - MMXVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As through a glass and darkly ... We take this opportunity to write to each of you to congratulate your joining our pilgrimage of faith, our journey on our Lord's path as we understand it in our Catholic and Anglican tradition. Though it is a sad reality that throughout the world, Christianity is divided, and especially troubling to me are the marked divisions among catholic Christians - of eastern and western tradition - and among the western tradition, of Latin and Anglican polity and form. Encouragingly, the matters that seem to elicit the most vigorous, and often vitriolic argument are also, to my mind, the least important in terms of faith and are rather, in large part constrained to not so trivial matters of discipline and governance. I write, not so trivial as these are indeed matters of grave import, and certainly timely in terms of present social and societal expression, but on the continuum of the cure of souls, not so much danger in terms of our Lord's Grace or the Final Judgement - oh to be right in those last two points.... These past weeks, we have spent considerable time reflecting on the writings of our brother cleric, His Grace, +Lindsay Goodal Urwin, an Australian Anglican of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, who of late is the Bishop for Schools in Melbourne, Australia and Vicar of Christ Church, Brunswick; his previous long ministry as the Superior for the Holy House of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, as well as his thoughts on Anglican Catholic religious experience are in our opinion significant, important, and worthy of reflection. In re-reading +Lindsay's pastoral letters (read selections from Bishop Urwin's writings here), one is at once impressed with his confident, grounded, and heartfelt humility, and patient, sober understanding of the Sacred Scriptures and their application to Faith and Worship. A conservative, Catholic Anglican, he systematically examines the many and controversial issues presently driving and indeed increasing the divide between Latin and Anglo expressions of Catholic Christianity.

What to do with my catholic heart?

In his writings, +Lindsay lamented that there has been a considerable amount of unhelpful and ill-disciplined comment from a variety of sources about both the Ordinariate and The Society [of the Holy House]; that the truth being that those who involved themselves in this idle banter, even if coming to different conclusions about how to act, are, in fact, engaged in the same struggle and they ought to recognize this - the struggle to know what to do with the catholic heart that the Lord has given them and the realization that this is a noble and potentially spiritually life threatening struggle deserving of respect and understanding. With a subtle hint of wit, +Lindsay reflects that he did not learn the catholic faith and life by pressing his nose against the windows of Roman churches and that indeed, as a child, he got the idea that he would be better off running past them - a notion that he submits is ridiculous to be sure, but no more so than the leading belief among many mainstream Anglicans that all Roman clerics are Labour party sympathisers driving about in late model Mercedes roadsters, heavy with ill-gotten loot pillaged from their parish collections - all part of the anti-Catholic feelings of the middle class, conservative Melbourne [Australia] where he was brought up. In fact, he learnt the Catholic faith from pious and good Anglicans that taught him that one day the protestant acting Church of England would wake up and realise its catholic roots and that Anglican Catholics take the measure of their beliefs and set the limits of what they can and can't do from those doctrines and practices about which the Church, both East and West agree, to long for the reunion of the English church with the rock from which it was hewn - for without Peter, something precious in the eyes of the Lord was missing. He suggested that it is perhaps this very sentiment that is what the Reverend Alfred Hope Patten was intending when, and to not inconsiderable ridicule and consternation, he included the name of the reigning pontiff, His Holiness Pope Pius XI alongside that of the Bishop Pollock of Norwich on the foundation stone found just below the comforting window of the Holy House. The prevailing question, albeit rhetoric, is, what does one do when it seems that catholic views and the way of Christian living they represent are being marginalized, or put another way, what does one do when the Church in which one found their catholic heart seems no longer willing or able to keep it pumping? It is a dilemma that needs understanding....

Anglican humility?

According to +Lindsay, at her best, the Anglican tradition has a simple humility reflecting something of the prevailing culture which, like the Roman Empire of old, has failed to reverence virtue - that there is not much more unattractive in some strands of Anglicanism than the view that it has developed a modern, grown up Catholicism that has thrown off the shackles of excess and superstition, combining the best of everything in a wonderful God given synthesis - a dangerous heresy that too easily gives one permission to become the leaders of new ways, the prophets and pioneers, holders of new truths or new insights that somehow have not yet been entrusted to the rest of the Church that can too easily be used to justify further or deeper division, or desensitize as to the need to listen to those who might be wounded by such action, and which blinds us to, or minimizes for us, some of the implications our choices might have. As an example of proper humility, he offers a historical anecdote in His Grace +Arthur Michael Ramsey, 100th Archbishop of Canterbury: at the Anglican Conference in Toronto (1963) which had as its theme mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ. +Ramsey reminded delegates from all over the world, 'It is not for us Anglicans to speak in self-consciousness or self-commendation about our claims...' and this reticence is echoed in his sermon at the opening of the Lambeth Conference (1968):

'So our love for Canterbury melts into our love for Christ whose shrine Canterbury is; and our love for what is Anglican is a little piece of our love for One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; the love of any of us for our heritage in country, culture, religious experience or theological insight, all subserves the supreme thing - the reality of God who draws men and women and children into union with himself in the fellowship of his Son.'

So - a capacity for seeing the godly beyond our own system of things, and a humility about our own system - this is what +Ramsey said, and in so, echoed the advice that +Gregory gave to +Augustine about the sensitive way he was to deal with different but evidently Christian customs that he would encounter on his arrival in the land of the 'angels.' +Ramsey would have us remember that God is always bigger than our best attempts at systems, which must serve the 'supreme thing,' union and fellowship. Of course that union and fellowship is itself a matter of revealed truth, and is wholly bound up with and dependent on the great doctrines which have been taught of old and found in Scripture, and which are as the great man says, about the 'drawing' work of God. The fellowship is dependent on being united in that Truth. He further reflects that for example, that our claim to be 'catholic' is tempered in the Preface read out to all of us at our ordinations and when we are licensed by the words 'part of' - a claim that gives both a sense of proper assurance that we are in a right place, but also places constraints upon us which must be a cause for serious reflection - it reminds us that there is something unsatisfactory about where we are at present, and the great Anglican Divines all knew this - even though many of them had trenchant views about the papacy and corruption in the Roman Church and potentially even felt a liberation from its enormities - they felt most strongly that they were not forming a new Church and longed for reunion in the Truth. They felt constrained by the love of God to restore, or to borrow some words from the later 18th century Archbishop Whately of Dublin, to weed the garden bringing it back to its original beauty. At best, this is what all authentic renewal movements do in the life of the Church and to continue the metaphor, it is not our own garden that we planted, even if we are called to weed it, it is a gift revealed to us, a sort of secret garden, in the Corinthian sense when Paul calls us 'Christ's subordinates and stewards of the secrets of God.' (1 Cor. 4:1) He concedes that his position likely renders him a conservative among Anglican clerics, but that it has made him careful to look and think beyond the assembled company when speaking of majority and minority opinions, leaving with Newman's dictum that to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often - that the changes one makes in one's life, and made in life of our Church truly lead us from glory to glory, and will indeed be an authentic advance. In reflecting upon the current controversy, the humble recognition clearly stated back in 1993 by the House of Bishops that while other branches of catholic Christendom do not admit women into Holy Orders, we may not claim that we are definitively right to do so, beyond any doubt. A decision to proceed is on that basis, with that measure of humility. That is why those of us who do not believe it is right and simply hold on to a view which was normal among mainstream Anglicans until relatively recently should not be dealt with by follow on actions, in sort of post legislation mopping up operation and unfaithful to the assurance that opposition to the ordination of women is to be regarded as a theologically coherent position that should have a provision that reflects the theological position. The demand that the jurisdiction of women bishops be accepted by everybody to my mind undermines the hitherto accepted provisionality of the action itself.

Bearers of Wisdom

Almost twenty years ago Pope John Paul II said to a group of Catholic educators, 'To you is given to create the future and give it a direction.' His successor more recently encouraged an audience that included priests and religious involved in youth ministries to see themselves as 'bearers of wisdom.' If this be so, it is surely among the most daunting and noble of tasks. Given the personification of that wisdom in the biblical tradition we are reminded that we are bearers not simply of ideas but of a living and relational God. The last weeks in England simply underline the urgency. False shepherds beset young people all around and are in omnipresent touch with them through the global networks of the World Wide Web, a description that becomes remarkably apposite as we see its capacity to ensnare. It is not only schools and colleges that seek to educate. The young are often termed the 'connected generation' and yet the connections made are so often with hirelings and worldlings. A former bishop of Oxford, Kenneth Kirk, once wrote that you cannot have a coherent philosophy of education so much a part of formation for life, unless you have a coherent philosophy of man, and it is probably the case that much of the confusion that surrounds education policy can be traced to confusions and disagreements about the purpose of life itself. Unless we have a fundamentally consistent view of its overall purpose, unless we have 'givens' and keep our eyes fixed on them, educational policies will too easily be influenced, even manipulated by people with political or economic power or by transient social norms. From our perspective as Christian ministers, the purpose of life and so the key to discovering true happiness is to know and love God and show love in our life. It is surely why it is that on the two great commandments 'hang all the law and the prophets.' That the restoration of that love; of that communion with the Father and each other was the vocation of Jesus, and is the fruit of the Cross serves to remind us that it is only by Grace that such purpose can be reached; which may be why laws will never be enough to build a 'civilization of love,' important though they are.

Open hearted but not empty handed

Continuing his line of thought, +Lindsay expounds that we, as Catholic Anglicans take open hearts into conversation with the world, as indeed we must; but also, not empty handed, as we are armed with the Sacred Scriptures and the History and Traditions of the Church. As such, we are neither spiritually defenseless nor evangelistically neutered. Two doctrines. First, the overarching truth of the sovereignty of God. Any ownership I have of anything or power over anyone is temporary and delegated, for all are absolutely and primarily the possessions of God, the creator and preserver of all things. This I hold even in the moments of ambiguity when it seems the sovereign God has chosen to be silent or inactive, and it gives me the clue to how I am to regard material things and how I am to regard myself in my being and in my doing. Though heaven and earth will indeed pass away, we reverence and delight in material things because we are charged with the 'shook foil' of God's glory. We ask the sovereign God to teach us, 'in all things Thee to see' so we will not be blinded to what might be termed their sacramentality. However, quite literally not the 'be all and end all,' too much must not be asked of material things or invested in them. With a realism about their temporal fragility, we acknowledge an essential unity in the diversity of the created order because all owe their existence to the generosity of the one God. Because of God's sovereignty, nothing is to be regarded as intrinsically 'secular,' (even the devil is a fallen angel!) and there can be no human activity, economic, political, educational, leisure, and so on which is outside the 'religious' sphere. This may seem blatantly obvious, but a historical survey of the wrongheaded use of the text, 'Render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God' to justify their detachment will prove otherwise! Secularity, which Alexander Solzhenitsyn through bitter experience said leads to a 'world split apart' is regarded by us as a human invention, and entirely not the liberation that the secular humanist claims it to be. It's not a particularly new approach. This freeing things up from God is well described in the Book of Genesis when our first parents consciously decided not to look at the apple or what they did with it in terms of the Creator or his will.

Made for a supernatural destiny

Further to this, +Lindsay posits the second doctrine, his doctrine of Man, wherein he defines his belief that a person is a being of body and soul created by God, having a permanent individuality and made for a supernatural destiny. Possessing intellect and will, each is responsible for his or her conduct and is a social being of intrinsic worth and dignity, with both individual and social needs, rights, and responsibilities. This doesn't say anything about us of course, for it says nothing about important realities like sin, redemption, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, the Church and the Sacraments, central to our life now and with our reaching of that destiny. But it does seem to me that these two doctrines are the properly non-negotiable truths we hold as we manage our own lives, and in our dealings with others. However ridiculous some may suppose them to be, as we play our part in the debate on how the polis, the community, the social order is to be constructed they are our wisdom and armour. And I should begin with these doctrines in the discerning of what political party or economic or social policy to support, even if it leads to decisions that may be to my personal disadvantage. Can I indeed live the moral life without God's help? Dare we call others to that life knowing our own failures to practice what we preach? Does taking leave of the doctrines of God and Man lead in the end to a take it or leave it approach to the moral tradition flowing from them?

I cannot help but think, in reading the thoughts of Bishop +Lindsay, and in sharing them with you, my brother clerics, that his conservative, if not spirited support and defense of traditional right relationship, thoughtful and sober respect for the worship of the Church, and humility before our Lord's example in his stewardship of the spiritual garden is but one of the reasons he is no longer at the Holy House - he will be missed, as will his letters and he has our best wishes, our thanks, and our prayers!

+Keith Steinhurst, KSS
titular Elector of Trier
Governor-General of the See of St. Stephen

 

 

 

 

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