“Digitalnun”‘s reflections on Christian Unity

We are ending this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with two posts from Digitalnun on the ibenedictines blog.

CPS from the Most Precious Blood, London, pointed out these posts to us and we are including his own comment at the end.

… Christian unity is not an optional extra but an obligatory part of being a Christian. The trouble is we all understand different things by unity, and therein lies the challenge.As a Catholic, I subscribe to the teachings of the Catholic Church without reservation. I don’t find all of them easy, and there are certainly some that I consider to be more important than others (a hierarchy of truths in operation, if you like). But the essential thing is that I try to understand the Church as the Church understands herself because I believe that to be key to understanding Christ. Therefore, the first kind of unity I seek and aim at is the unity of the Church to which I belong. I am always trying to improve my own knowledge and understanding, so I become uncomfortable when self-appointed guardians of the Faith hurl accusations at those they consider to be less ‘orthodox’ or less ‘compassionate’ than themselves. I am inclined to follow Benedict’s lead in believing that correction should only be given by those with authority to do so, i.e. those appointed. Sadly, I find many of those wanting to set others right online are themselves ill-informed. This makes for a disunity that is like a slow poison in the system — not helped by the fact that Google is not able to distinguish between truth, half-truth and fiction!

Another kind of unity I aim at is unity with all my fellow Christians, not at the institutional level, but at the practical level of prayer and charity. Many readers of this blog will recognize themselves in my designation of ‘online friends’ and know, I trust, how highly I value them and their insights. iBenedictines is evidence of the way in which we can share ideas, concerns and prayer for one another in a spirit of mutual respect and honest engagement.

It is when we come to the question of institutional unity between the Churches that we face the biggest gulfs in understanding. I naturally look to Orthodoxy first, but I know that for many of my fellow countrymen, Orthodox Christianity is something of an exotic of which they have no first-hand experience. Then there are all the infinite varieties of Anglicanism and Protestantism. Very often we assume that because we say the same (or similar) words, and do the same (or similar) actions, we believe the same things, yet that is patently not so. Again, I think ecclesiology is fundamental to understanding these differences and their importance, but ecclesiology is hard work and most of us, if we are honest, are inclined to avoid hard work if we can. So, we settle for something less arduous although still demanding in its own way. At the back of our minds, however, is that nagging imperative, the prayer of Christ himself for the unity of his Body, the Church, and the need to understand and attain that unity in the way that Christ intends rather than as we ourselves might choose.

As we work to maintain the unity of the Church to which we belong, as we work to deepen the practical unity of all Christians, let us not forget the need also to work towards that third kind of unity. It is not a light matter that we undertake. We may prefer not to think about heaven and hell, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, nor that our conduct will not one day be weighed by our loving and merciful God.

(one year later) …  A recent experience on Facebook has convinced me, however, that we have a long way to go before we all attain to the kind of theological and historical fluency we need in order to be able to think about any kind of institutional unity. That leaves us with the need to work for unity within the Church to which we belong, and the everyday, pragmatic unity of working and praying alongside each other even if we cannot share the same sacraments or institutional structures.

Of these two, I think working for the unity of the Church to which we belong is the bigger challenge. Family quarrels are always more passionate than any other. We know each other too well, and, au fond, love each other too deeply, to retreat into polite disagreement. We care; and because we care, we are ready to fight tooth and nail. There is just one little problem with this nowadays. The digital revolution means that nothing can be kept private for very long, and when outsiders eavesdrop on the quarrelling, they are apt to draw the wrong conclusions. One could be forgiven for thinking sometimes that the Catholic Church is divided into two camps: Benedict XVI v. Francis, Tridentine v. Novus Ordo, Europe v. the rest of the world. It all smacks of ‘I am for Paul; I am for Apollos,’ doesn’t it? It matters, because only from the unity of the Church can the quest for further unity among Christians proceed. We can try to kid ourselves that we are working for unity by attending all kinds of prayer groups and meetings and making all sorts of ecumenical gestures, but unless we are united in the heart of the Church to which we belong, we are chasing a chimera.

So may I propose a little soul-searching? I suggest we each spend a moment or two thinking about the Church to which we belong and our membership of it. Do we contribute to its unity or detract from it? Does our unity impel us to seek unity with other Christians, or do we use ecumenism as a way of hiding from ourselves our own lack of commitment? The answers we give may not be what we would like, but unless we are honest with ourselves and others, how can we truly seek the unity for which Christ prayed?

CPS:
As a lay member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham who entered the full communion of the Catholic Church almost 4 years ago, having been very involved in the CofE for over 30 years, I am very aware of the ARCIC process from both sides of the Tiber. Much water has flowed under the bridge in the years since the process began and I suspect that the “Agreed statements” would not gain agreement from either the Catholic Church or the Anglican Communion if they were formally to look at them again. Of course a process which promotes good relations and looks for common ground is valuable but as a vehicle for achieving unity ARCIC simply can’t deliver, certainly not within a lifetime or two. And so it was that a group of us “swam the Tiber” and this does give us a new perspective on the discussions and, perhaps paradoxically, enables us to have far better and more honest relationships with our friends and colleagues who remain in the Church of England.

One particular way in which the statement on the Eucharist and the clarifications has been overtaken by events is that we now have definitive answers to some of the questions around the form of the Eucharist contained in the CofE’s Book of Common Prayer and where they are deficient in terms of Catholic teaching. The Ordinariate Use of the Roman Rite approved by the Congregations for Divine Worship and the Doctrine of Faith both excludes parts of the BCP and includes parts of the Roman Rite in order to have a rite which conforms to the teaching of the Catholic Church. For ecumenists in the Catholic Church and the CofE to ignore the Ordinariate is, to continue the nautical theme, to have missed the boat.

We need to be honest as to where we are now. …

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