Anglicanorum Coetibus

How did the Ordinariate come to be?

In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately. The Apostolic See has responded favourably to such petitions. Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches,[1] could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization... (Taken from Anglicanorum Coetibus)

From the mid sixties to the end of the first decade of the current millennia, bishops and clergy have been petitioning Rome for a reunion.  For many of the bishops and priest of the Anglican communion, the “experiment” of Anglicanism had proven itself to be a failure.

How did this come to be?

Let me attempt to explain.  The Anglican Church was formed by Elizabeth I.  It was to be the English expression of the Catholic Church.  The continental reformation (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) had by that time been around for quite some time, and Elizabeth’s predecessor (once removed) to the throne, Edward, had tried to bring the continental reformation to Britain, and failed, mostly because he died at a very young age, and Mary of course took England back to Catholicism.  Elizabeth set up the Anglican Church to be without a pope; the monarch would be the final say on Church politic, the Bible would be the final say on theological issues.  This “system” did work for a time.  But two things happened that no man could have foretold.  

First, there would be a time that the monarch of England would not rule over all of Anglicanism.  Elizabeth could not have foreseen that the British empire would fracture, beginning with the North American colonies.  Once America had removed English rule from their continent, the Church of England that was left behind found itself to be Anglican, but not British.  This situation would happen time and time again with colonies in Africa, India, and the far east.  How would these Anglican Churches continue without a connection to the king or queen?  To make a long story short, England would simply “give” these colonies bishops.  These bishops, upon their ordination would promise to uphold scripture, but gave their allegiance to no particular government.  The bishops, after a time, found an issue (that is so clear in hindsight), who would lead these many and diverse bishops in the same theological path?  As years progressed new issues came to the fore, and each bishop was dealing with them as they saw scripture leading.  This resulted in as many theological positions as there are translations and commentaries on scripture. (A lot….). The “communion” of the Anglican Church saw itself in trouble, and they began to look back to England for solutions.  The Archbishop of Canterbury would call a meeting of all bishops in 1867, known as the Lambeth Conference.  From the beginning this synod would be hamstrung, as the Archbishop at the time opened the synod telling all he had no interest in making this any kind of a binding synod.  What it became was a meeting for bishops to come to a “gentleman’s agreement” on how to lead the communion.  When bishops discontinued being gentleman, this recurring synod became a meaningless gathering of prelates.  The Anglican communion was a ship without a rudder.

Second, scripture came into question.  Again, Elizabeth could have never seen this coming.  In the 19 century, scripture itself came into question.  Questions like “is the Bible truly inspired by God, or is it just a bunch of stories told by men”?  “Could God have foretold all the progressive ideas and reality of the modern times”?  These questions seem ridiculous to the Catholic, but for many these questions were concerning and pressing issues for discussion. Most of the Anglican provinces would begin to make decisions based on public opinion, leaving scripture out of the mix.  Love the sinner hate the sin is the old Christian adage; but for many bishops love the sinner and accept the sin became the norm, in the name of love.

The Anglican Church became adrift, no rudder and no leadership.  Looking back it was doomed from the beginning, with no pope, with no leadership, the communion, though not even 200 years old, quickly devolved into every man doing as he pleased.  It was at this point that many clerics and laity saw that the Anglican communion was not a communion, but a federation of disparate dioceses, each doing as they pleased.  Each diocese was self governed, and quite honestly if left alone to its own devices, would and could be very happy on its own little island.  But in the name of the Anglican Church, many dioceses were doing things that hurt mankind.  Allowances for abortion, divorce, alternate lifestyles were a norm, and the affects were hurting society in the name of Anglicanism.  This is why Catholicism concerns itself with communion, what one does in a Church does affect the others; each diocese cannot be an island, we must work together to forward the kingdom of God.  When this lack of communion within the Anglican Church became apparent to many of the  laity and clergy alike, many started to look towards Rome for help.  It was because of this reality that “In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately”.

This is the first of several articles to be written on Anglicanorum Coetibus, please stay tuned.

God Bless

Fr Scott

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