By Patrick O'Donovan
Some years ago I heard an angry priest on one of those strangulated television religious discussions. He had been doing the work of a competent group leader among the young in an inelegant part of London. He was asked,ahout the progresS of ecumenism. He exploded into: "That's just a had joke". I understand he is no longer a serving priest.
There are a lot of Catholic spectators of the tortuous negotiations going on between various communions who regard the whole cautious business as yet another treason of the clerics. And there are others, like the priest, who are angry because there has been no clap of thunder, no blinding sudden light and no sudden renewal of Christendom.
But clearly the ultimate and practical end of ecumenism is still a long way , away. The real pain of it is still ahead — as well as the joy. And the pain of it for most British Catholics is going to he far more severe than anything caused by anything that came out of the Second Vatican Council. To what will come, the new liturgy will, for the Latin Mass Society in retrospect, look like a relief.
The angry priest is, I think. wrong. Optimism about reunion is still possible and indeed, I am not sure optimism is not obligatory for Christians. But recently the Archbishop of Canterbury came to a meeting in a i private room in a pub which stands in plush splendour about a toss of a rolled missalette from Westminster Cathedral.
It was a meeting of the Catholic Writers' Guild, whose patron is St. Francis de Sales and whose President is Cardinal Heenan. The place was crowded and it was a sign of the times that such a thing can now happen in an atmosphere not merely of courtesy, but of affection and respect and of a sort of longing curiosity. No one betrayed anything, but the sense of occasion as the Archbishop faced a hot roomful of pretty committed Catholics was strong.
Archbishop Ramsey is a remarkable man, and only one or two other men have helped so effectively to carry forward the ecumenical cause. He talks easily and sincerely to journalists -almost as if he liked them without any ulterior motive showing. He will not sell the Anglican pass, but he is certainly keeping it open. He was talking about the union of the Churches.
To simplify. what he said was that there might well he, probably would be, by the end of the century a union in diversity between the Roman and Anglican Churches — not absorption of one by the other. He did not see the Anglicans corning back "like good boys, cap in hand, to mother." But he believed that the two Churches could live together, eventually in communion.
He appears to he that rare ecclesiastical phenomenon.
a prelate who sees the luture as bright and good. He said he thought the times were fraught with miracles and one of these miracles was the movement of the Catholic Church. When he took on St. Augustine's Chair, he had never foreseen any such changes in that Church.
.The change in the ecclesiastical climate he put down largely to the man he called "Good Pope John." Out of his Council came the origin of the change in the Roman Church and his influence had spread far beyond the Catholic Church.
He thought one great discovery had come out of the change Pope John started. He did not believe that unity would come from a dwelling upon our differences. "We are likely to he united by a process of renewal rather than the other way round."
This did not imply doctrinal indifference. But out of the change had come "this basic emphasis on Holy Baptism — the strong emphasis on the fact that all those who were baptised into the Holy Trinity, thereafter participated in the Holy Spirit." Out of this, he thought, there came "the recognition that spiritual life exists outside the Roman boundaries." Now he was pledged to the Pope to a dialogue, "basect on the Gospels and our ancient traditions."
It had begun. The questions. of the Eucharist and Anglican Orders had been explored. The question of Authority now loomed up, and that was going to be "mighty difficult."
He talked for sonic time about Anglican Orders. He said that a Bull of Pope Leo XIII — "on whom he peace" — had declared them null and void. This had been based on the conception that there had been a defective intention in the making of a priest. To this the Anglican rejoinder was that it was arbitrary to define the power to sacrifice in such terms and that it could be made to invalidate both Eastern and Roman Orders.
"It is wrong to open it all up again on the old grounds. It is right to go hack to the anterior question — what is a priest of God' and what is he ordained to do?" He thought that if you approached it in this manner, believing in the
? priesthood of the whole
. angry, the inveterate letterChurch, defining the priesthood, then eventually you will get the Christian answer to the question of who are priests?
The Archbishop was not talking to theologians, though there were priests in plenty there. The subtle, the writing reader might guess that I too am not a theologian. I am a reporter, and on that evening sudden ly a great deal more seemed possible. No unnecessary revolution. No modish protesting. No change for the sake of change.
But I think his strategy was summed up in one phrase he used: "We can get these things done by going behind the 16th century controversies and those battles in the dark." For certain, Ca ntuar is no purveyor of darkness.