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An Anglican view of Vatican II


Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan WilliamsIn 1963 when I was at Sydney University I travelled daily on the Hunters Hill ferry, on which I first met a Roman Catholic, Michelle. She invited me to a home meeting where a priest was introducing the 'Ecumenical Council' meeting in Rome. I was impressed that the priest was happy to respond to questions, and keen for these young adults to explore their faith. It was my introduction to Vatican II, which was to play a significant part in my life.

My only previous contact with Catholics was avoiding the local Catholic school when walking home, for fear of having stones thrown at me, in my state primary school uniform — sadly, some state schoolers did likewise to Catholic students. I remember it as a parable of pre-Vatican II Catholic-Protestant relationships in Australia.

By 1966 Australian Anglicans were exploring liturgical revision. I have vivid memories of four stimulating lectures given by (later Archbishop) Donald Robinson on this to the Sydney University Anglican Society.

Yet it was years before I realised the debt owed to the scholars behind Vatican II: the Anglican world of Cranmer, Restoration, Wesley, the Anglo-catholic revival and fights over ritualism dominated the revision agenda. I studied Latin at uni — which later proved to be a great investment — but Roman Catholicism was a parallel universe.

The late 1960s saw me in Canberra, living in a public servant's hostel. A good number of Catholic residents went to Mass early on Sundays so as to have the day free. My pattern was to attend 8am Holy Communion at St John's, return for breakfast, then head back to help with Sunday School.

I will never forget coming back to one incredibly noisy Sunday morning breakfast at which most Mass attendees were very angry — 'I never realised it was about God' sums up the general viewpoint. This was the first time these young blokes had experienced the Mass in English. A fortnight later only three were going — Legion of Mary members, whom I got to know as fellow believers.

Having a keen interest in liturgical revision, as a theological student I soon found Dom Gregory Dix, and then the documents of Vatican II, a revelation. I was especially impressed with the 'application' work of Anneliese Reinhardt and Greg Manley, whose The Art of Praying Liturgy became a text for my students.

I see three particular fruits of the Second Vatican Council as significant for Anglicans, and other non-Roman Christian traditions.

First was putting the liturgy into the vernacular: the Mass was no longer a mystery, but something all could understand. ICET's Prayers we have in Common emerged in 1970, and many saw that we were closer theologically than previously realised. One unhappy consequence was growing misunderstanding of 'hospitality': few non-RCs would want to receive communion at a Latin Mass (and only a small proportion of Catholics then did so regularly).

Common language, and reception becoming normal across most Christian traditions, saw hospitality become a possibility — and a barrier.

A second gift is the Three-Year Lectionary, which Australian Anglicans welcomed in An Australian Prayer Book (1977). Vatican II drew Protestants back to reading the Bible shaped by the Gospel. Knowing that congregations across the nation are reading the same scriptures has led to huge shifts in ecumenical openness.

And thirdly, Vatican II opened up ecumenical (and inter-faith) relationships, in particular the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which I am privileged to be part of (this is where the Latin comes in handy!). Its Agreed Statements have encouraged Anglicans and RCs to be open to one another at local level.

For myself, I have deeply appreciated two features of the theological work of my Catholic colleagues on the Commission: the utter priority of grace, and their fresh reading of the scriptures.

What then are my hopes? Above all, that both the Holy See and the Anglican Communion would act on the work ARCIC has done — thus far, a very slow process. If we could do so, the divisions between our Communions would soon disappear.

More particularly, I look for a radical reappraisal of the Curia, whose dominance in our global marketplace culture is now a theological issue. But this also demands greater Anglican willingness better to balance the universal and local dimensions of Christian identity.

Further, I look to see the office of the Bishop of Rome reformed in such a way that all who own the name of Christ can receive this personal embodiment of our unity as 'Mr Christian' — and for Rome to be open to this global ministry being filled by a 'Mrs Christian'.

Charles SherlockCharles Sherlock spent four decades teaching theology and liturgy in Melbourne. A priest of the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo, and a member of ARCIC since 1991, he is an Honorary Research Fellow of the MCD University of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Charles Sherlock, Vatican II, ecumenicalism



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Existing comments

In our small town, when the (public) school scripture teachers get together for lunch twice a year, I always sit with the Catholic teachers. They tell the best jokes. And this is really the only time we mix socially in a Christian setting. It would be good to see a closer relationship.

Pam | 11 October 2012  

Always a pleasure, and a learning experience, to read any writing by Charles Sherlock. As an ex-Public Servant I am only too well aware of the power and influence yielded by bureaucrats. As an obsessive and critical reader of documents issuing forth from The Vatican I have come to the conclusion that a Latin clone of Sir Humphrey Appleby is at work in the Curia. I believe a radical reappraisal of the Curia and how it works and how it is staffed needs to be made. But as Jim Hacker realised dealing with the cunning and manipulative Sir Humphrey was no easy task.

Uncle Pat | 11 October 2012  

The Beatles' popularity had much to with the psychedelic drug culture which is an entheogenic experience, having profound effects on the sense of self, world view and ones socio/cultural ideological conditioning. The prevalence of LSD (& others), I believe, was the intrinsic catalyst to the social change that the 60's bought about and the Beatles, like their contemporary's, expressed this through their music disseminating this alternate ontology to an already established mass audience yearning for change. http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org/?filename=god-and-john-lennon-carrying-on

JefBaker | 11 October 2012  

I have many friends at the local Anglican Church. The more we discuss our beliefs, the more we find in common and the more bewildered we become as to why we should have "parted company" in the first place. There is more that we should be celebrating together than many people realise. We are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we not?

observer of history | 11 October 2012  

As Catholic married to Anglican, thank you ever so much for this reflection. Vatican II changed our lives totally, being married soon after the Council was called. From the Catholic side, it has allowed me to grow in understanding of the Anglican world as well as my own. My husband and I too, grieve for the stalling of ARCIC which has given the world, and us, so much.

Bev | 11 October 2012  

An excellent piece thanks Charles that reminded me of how things have improved ecumenically since the days at school when our bus would pick up the Catholic kids & we'd sing catholics, catholics make me sick, call the dr quick , quick, quick', and they'd reciprocate in kind. I also remember the ARCIC process being worked through by our local RCs and we Anglicans together very fruitfully and with some wonderful shared services. I also agree with your final paragraph's longing, remembering as we ended our wonderful Easter Light service at Malabar RC church & had to leave b4 the Eucharist to them singing 'We thank God upon every remembrance of you...' in a poignant longing for the Kingdom when we'll all worship together ala Rev. 5. Thank God for Vatican II.

Gordon Preece | 12 October 2012  

Well, I don't think that Dr Sherlock's reflections contribute much to anything. And the Mr Christian/Mrs Christian barb is extraordinary. Anglicanism's confused and confusing mindset about authority and a whole range of other theological issues is not a good prism through which to make any sensible account of Vatican II. Moreover, I do not see how anyone could say that this is an "Anglican view" because it is notoriously difficult for anyone, including Anglicans, to say what is Anglican and what is not. It is the view of "an Anglican" - no more than that, and a view which I am bound to say sows Anglican confusion yet again. Which is not to say that the Curia is in no need of reform - that is an opinion widely held by many (including me) but not on the basis of my experience as an Anglican of the bureaucracies that obtain in the Anglican Church. Sir Humphrey Appleby is alive and well wherever there is bureaucracy - it is just that, like a preying mantis, he manifests himself in the clothes of the local culture!

Father John Fleming | 13 October 2012  

Thank you Fr Fleming for making the point so clearly and succinctly - bureaux don "the clothes of the local culture". Reminds me of the advice St Jerome is alleged to have given Augustine: "Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more" = "When in Rome, live as the Romans do." What that actually meant in the fourth century AD I'm not too sure. But in the 21st century I wonder what advice a learned and holy prelate would give a promising theological student setting off for the Gregorian University? Keep your ears open and your lips shut, perhaps?

Uncle pat | 15 October 2012  

Hmm, last comment confirms my gut feeling that religion is more about tribalism than any genuine Christian charity. No wonder we have such a huge movement towards fundamentalist atheism when even members of our clergy can't find any common ground with another Christian denomination.

AURELIUS | 15 October 2012  

What advice would a learned and holy prelate give a promising theological student setting off for the Gregorian University...? Don't display effeminate/homosexual mannerisms i.e. act butch even if you're not. If you think you might be gay, don't tell anyone.

AURELIUS | 15 October 2012  

Reading your article might make some readers think reunion between Rome and the Anglican Communion (the latter currently in de facto schism between "progressives" in places like North America and more conservative dioceses in Sydney; Nigeria and South America) is a simple matter which can be simply effected, Charles, even to the stage of the election of a female Pontiff. Those who think this would be living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. There are several serious stumbling blocks to this scheme including the non-recognition by Rome of Anglican ordination. My guess would be that, difficult as it might seem at this time, the future reconciliation between Rome and Orthodoxy, whose orders and sacraments are recognised as valid, is a much more realistic prospect. Fr Robin Gibbons, an English Melkite priest and expert on the Orthodox Church, feels that the reunion of Rome and Orthodoxy would make the Curia serve the Church in general, not just the papacy. This is, at heart, an administrative, rather than theological problem.

Edward F | 16 October 2012  

The administration of religious denominations is all based on theology in the long run anyway, so why make a distinction between administration and theology? It's a bit like the story of the ritual cat in the Buddhist monastery where they couldn't pray without the cat tied up because it had become an essential part of the tradition.

AURELIUS | 16 October 2012  

Confusing administration with theology is a logical error, Aurelius.

Edward F | 17 October 2012  

Yes EDWARD, agree - religion is a bit like politics and often logic doesn't enter the thought processes.

AURELIUS | 17 October 2012  

The Vatican says Vatican II did not invalidate past doctrines. "What was, still is." -Pope Paul VI (pope during Vatican II) http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html#_ftn4 =)

Jojo | 30 November 2012  

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