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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The 'Church' of England

I have just come across this piece by George Weigel on the possible imminent collapse of Anglicanism. There is much to what he says. However, he follows the irritating practice found among a good many foreign Catholics of talking as if the 'Church of England' exists. He refers to 'Becket’s chair'. Either Becket's chair is in Westminster or it does not exist. I'm not sure whether the prerogatives of Canterbury were transferred to Westminster by Bl. Pius IX or merely suppressed but they have certainly never been exercised by the post 1559 excommunicate laymen of Canterbury. As the CDF doctrinal commentary to Ad Tuendam Fidem makes clear " the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations" is to be "held definitively" with "full and irrevocable assent". In Dominus Jesus 17 the consequences of this are made clear "the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense". Thus 'reunion' with the 'Church of England' is strictly speaking impossible because the 'Church of England' does not exist. This is why the Church accepts that Anglicans who marry in a registry office or in violation of the rules of their own 'Church' (like C.S.Lewis) can do so validly, because the human organisation to which they belong has no authority to legislate in regard to marriage or any other sacrament.

Consequently, in order to have 'reunion' with the Anglicans we would have to ordain all their 'bishops', 'priests' and 'deacons' and confirm all their laity while they were still in a state of personal schism (this would be a grave sin) and then end the schism by receiving them into communion. If we did it the other way round and absolved them all of the corporate ban of excommunication and received them into the Catholic Church and then ordained and confirmed them reunion on a personal level would have already been accomplished and they would have already accepted that the 'Church of England' never existed. All this talk of corporate 'reunion' is a source of scandal because it implies the impossible and leads the faithful into error concerning the infallible judgement of Leo XIII, who wrote

" …strictly adhering, in this matter, to the decrees of the pontiffs, our predecessors, and confirming them most fully, and, as it were, renewing them by our authority, of our own initiative and certain knowledge, we pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void."

Adding for good measure

"We decree that these letters and all things contained therein shall not be liable at any time to be impugned or objected to by reason of fault or any other defect whatsoever of subreption or obreption of our intention, but are and shall be always valid and in force and shall be inviolably observed both juridically and otherwise, by all of whatsoever degree and preeminence, declaring null and void anything which, in these matters, may happen to be contrariwise attempted, whether wittingly or unwittingly, by any person whatsoever, by whatsoever authority or pretext, all things to the contrary notwithstanding."

For anyone who seeks further material for salutary meditation on these matters I recommend the 1987 article "Recent Thought On Anglican Orders " by Brian W. Harrison.