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Pope skips language of love in Anglicans manifesto


Anglicanorum coetibus On November 4 each year Australian Anglicans and Roman Catholics pray for one another. It was also when Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (‘Groups of Anglicans’).

Writing when it was first announced, I noted that its wording would matter:

Phrased in overly-confident ‘Romanista’ style … it will communicate an institutional, bureaucratic message about unity. It will reinforce the suspicion that ecumenical endeavour means ‘return to Rome’, rather than the vision of every Christian tradition being converted to the unity which Christ wills.
Written with humility … it may just be a sign of the pro-visional which ecumenical endeavour, and this aching world, so desperately needs.

So – which way does Anglicanorum coetibus fall?

It gets off to an undiplomatic start: 'The Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition' such a move. No criteria for this maximum-volume claim are given – why not ‘Guided by Divine Providence …’ or ‘In the grace of humility …’ or just ‘Christians identifying themselves as Anglicans … ’? And it was disrespectful for Benedict XVI to describe as ‘groups of Anglicans’ those who are mostly not so.

The Constitution sets out a 13-point ‘normative structure’ for Personal Ordinariates, with brief ‘Complementary Norms’ from the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith (CDF). Few surprises, though understanding the detail requires close checking of the Canon Law references. Even so, I could not determine whether re-confirmation or re-deaconing will be required.

I came to this document looking for signs of a ‘pro-visional’ approach. Whatever one makes of the 13 points and the Norms, it is the language of the introduction which sets out ‘ecclesiological principles’ which dashed my hopes.

The Anglican Communion accepts that in a re-united Church the distinctive ministry of the Bishop of Rome will be needed. Yet the language of Anglicanorum coetibus presents such a ‘blatant’ view of the papacy, and such a quantitative view of the unity of the visible Church catholic, as to make dialogue near pointless. In particular, key Roman documents on the church such as Lumen Gentium (LG) are not cited from the official English texts, but re-translated from the Latin in ways that shift their meaning – a disturbing trend.

The second sentence, for example, speaks of 'the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate', citing LG 23 and CDF’s Communionis notio (CN) 12; 13. But LG 23 says nothing about ‘guarantee’: it concerns the collegiality of the bishops in mission around the Bishop of Rome, and CN 12-13 addresses the powers ‘interior’ to each local church.

The second paragraph states, 'The Church … was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ as "a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all people."’ The quotations marks are in the original, referenced to LG 1, which describes the Church as 'in Christ, like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit communion with God and of the unity of the whole human race'. The abbreviated translation may seem innocuous, but moves the language towards a less intimate, tighter view of the Church.

This shift to a tighter understanding continues in the next paragraph: 'It is the Holy Spirit, the principle of unity, which establishes the Church as a communion'. Again, seemingly innocuous wording, and ‘communion’ is familiar ARCIC ground – but it is another step towards the conclusion that the visible ‘Church’ equals Rome. LG 13 and CN 4 are referenced in support: yet LG 13 is about the diversity of ‘genius’ and ‘charisms’ given by God for a ‘catholic unity’ embracing all ‘members of the people of God’, while CN 4 concerns the Church having an ‘open’ sacramentality.

LG 8 is cited with a crucial change of wording: Church as ‘visible society’ and ‘spiritual community’ are not separate, but one complex reality “formed from a two-fold element, human and divine”. LG 8 structures this sentence differently, in a qualitative rather than quantitative manner: 'which coalesces from a divine and human element', avoiding a false understanding of the Christological analogy which would ascribe divinity to the Church.

I could go into more detail, but conclude by noting the most disturbing re-translation, that of the famous subsistit clause of LG 8. The official English version reads:

This is the one (unica) Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after his Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd … This Church, constituted and organised in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside its visible structure (compaginem). These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

Anglicanorum coetibus abbreviates, re-arranges and re-translates this as follows, as its conclusion of the ‘ecclesiological principles’ upon which the Constitution rests:

This single Church, which we profess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, 'subsists in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside her visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging properly to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling toward Catholic unity.'

If a student cited a primary text with such meaning shifts in an essay, questions would be raised about academic integrity.

This Constitution moves the pastoral openness of Lumen Gentium – recognising the distinctive place of the ‘successor of Peter’ – towards a ‘Rome is right’ mentality that is disturbing and dangerous, not only for Anglicans, but for Roman Catholics.

For a text seeking to set forward unity in Christ, Anglicanorum coetibus is mind-bogglingly undiplomatic, disrespectful and uncatholic.

Charles SherlockCharles Sherlock, an Anglican theologian, is assistant curate to the Bishop of Bendigo. He is involved with a range of educational/pastoral ministries, based in Bendigo. He was an ARCIC member from 1991–2005.

Topic tags: Charles Sherlock, Anglican, Roman Cathoilc, ecumenism, dialogue, ARCIC, pope, Anglicanorum coetibus



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Existing comments

Sometimes people make Rome into a monster that it isn't.

Can I ask 'disturbing and dangerous' for whom? Those who have sought and found that the Catholic church is the one founded by Christ do not find it disturbing at all. My ex-Muslim,, ex-Anglican, ex-Calvinist, ex-atheist, ex-Communist - who are now Catholic - friends of mine are not disturbed at all - they thank God continually that they were were able to find their way through the maelstrom of this world to 'the way the truth and the life.' They rejoice in finding the Catholic church and her teachings. It is an immense relief for them to come home.

I recall Oriana Fallaci, feminist Marxist atheist in Italy speaking in glowing terms of Pope Benedict XVI saying he was one of the few men of breadth of vision and understanding whom she could speak to on the face of this earth. The Pope invited her to the Vatican for a cup of tea. She was as happy after the meeting with the pope as before it.

Skye | 20 November 2009  

Charles, as someone who made the jump 20 years ago, I don't see a problem with the language. I guess if you are expecting to see a given bias in a text you will see it. I'm not sure how else you can say "We have always been very sorry you left. You are always welcome back". Like the prodigal son I was certainly made welcome. The parable has more than a few parallels here, including the disgruntled faithful son.

Ian Robertson | 20 November 2009  

What a blunt instrument ‘Anglicanorum coetibus’ is to be sure. Not surprisingly it rattles out from the Ratzinger we have, over the years, learned to not love terribly well. Is it any wonder that many of us regard him with suspicion and others regard him with fear? When with quiet, deliberate, Ratzinger cunning zeal he has delivered yet another blow to the hope that once was Vatican II. Once again he has proclaimed that, in the great universal club, ‘Our God’ is ‘My God’ and Ecumenism, a passing fancy, is dead.

Dermott Ryder | 20 November 2009  

Charles, Catholics don't generally refer to themselves as 'Roman' Catholics, therein lies the difference.

chris gow | 20 November 2009  

Thanks Charles. More and more I think it's falling to the ecumenical colleagues to preserve the spirit of Vatican II.

Katie | 20 November 2009  

Thank you, Eureka Street, for publishing Charles Sherlock's cogent analysis of the language of Anglicanorum coetibus. I'm pleased that I as a cradle catholic had much the same reaction as such a reputable Anglican theologian had. One interposed word Charles did not draw attention to - properly - in "Since these are gifts belonging properly to the Church of Christ..." pulled me up short. No Thomistic theologian puts in an adverb like "properly" without a larger framework of other concepts behind it. Why is "properly" there?
I would hope that writers like Skye and Ian Robertson would see why Charles Sherlock as a trained theologian would analysis the text of such an important Papal document so minutely.
This does not deny the personal conversion experiences of Anglicans who become Catholics or vice versa. Converts in both directions have claimed, properly, to have "come home".
"The wind blows wherever it wishes.... It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit" John 3:8.

Uncle Pat | 20 November 2009  

I was pleased to read Dr. Sherlock's article and I respect his views but I sometimes wonder whether it is possible for the Pope and the Church to get it right. There are so many sensitivities. I don't have the answers but I think that we need to be tolerant and understanding and realise that there are many audiences for a document like this and that it is impossible to keep everyone happy.

Peter Anderson | 20 November 2009  

Thankyou Charles for your insightfulness and careful reading of both Anglicanorum Coetibus and the texts it reaches for to support itself - Lumen Gentium etc. I feel hopeful about any church which reflects upon its own inevitable self interest when attempting to engage ecumenically, and the corollary is of course, that I feel saddened by the sight of a section of the church which seems to assume that its own interests are more or less automatically the concomitant with the interests of the broader kingdom of God.Wasn't there an American philosopher - Dewey or someone like that - who said that the most important question that needs to be asked of human practices (hopefully before we enter into them) is 'in whose interest is this?' In ecumenical gatherings that question can make or break genuine dialogue for me.
Thank-you Charles

dave | 20 November 2009  

As I understand it, to mistranslate (and it had to be deliberate) is form of dishonesty - which is to say, lying.

And sorry, Skye, but the 'way, the truth and the life' does not refer to the Roman Catholic church, but to Jesus. (John 14:6).

Pauline Small | 20 November 2009  

I think the whole thing is farcical. As far as England is concerned (at this stage don't involve the Orthodox Churches) and the Church of England viz. Anglican, it is their own chosen church following the English Reformation. For break away groups like the so called 'Traditional Anglican Church', why should they dictate terms such as retaining married priesthood, ceremonies etc. The 'traditional' and only Catholic Church led by the Roman Pontiff should not bend its rules to accomodate dissenters from the Anglican Church. If the Anglican Church ( viz Communion) choses to ordain women, to accept practising homosexuals let them live with it or denounce it. For those of their following who disapprove and choose to breakaway and join another form of religious belief, letthem do so but on the terms of the new belief and not their own. The present Pope has erred !!

philip herringer | 20 November 2009  

Dear Charles, John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote this in the late nineteenth century: "And next I cannot deny, what must be a very sore point with Anglicans, that, if any Anglican come to me after careful thought and prayer, and with deliberate purpose, and says, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, and that your Church and yours alone is it, and I demand admittance into it,” it would be the greatest of sins in me to reject such a man, as being a distinct contravention of our Lord’s maxim, “Freely ye have received, freely give.”"

Pope Benedict has responded in love to groups of Anglicans seeking rapprochement with the Holy See.

Fr John Fleming | 20 November 2009  

Dermott, in response to your comment 'When with quiet, deliberate, Ratzinger cunning zeal he has delivered yet another blow to the hope that once was Vatican II.' can I remind you that B16 was God's choice as Pope. A cunning choice to be sure. Gee theyr'e cunning up there aren't they? Devious and cunning.

I think the problem here is the quasi utopian vision of Vatican II that the ageing hippies are seeing fade as time goes on. My view is that this so called 'spirit' was just that - utopian - as if nothing had ever happened in the church before. It is a skewed vision and politically driven in my view. The real spirit of Christ - the compassion, the reaching out to others, the help for the marginalised, the poor, the sick the dying - has ALWAYS been there - to be sure more in some places than others - but always shining like a beacon in the darkest times of human history. It is translating what was always there that is the task and the spirit of Vatican II not running after some Patagonian utopia that does not account for the realities of our troubled human existence.

Skye | 20 November 2009  

Listening to an Anglican comment is instructive for members of the Catholic Church. Sherlock has shown he is ready to understand the Church's own statements of faith ie from the Vatican II Council. His comments on how those documents have been inaccurately cited are poignant. For those who welcomed the emphasis on the truth in Benedict's recent encyclical, it is a reminder of how truth in specific instances can also be easily distorted.

We members of the Church community should listen and be concerned. We should insist that our leaders take careful pains in presenting the documents of faith.

Eric Snowball | 20 November 2009  

Dear Skye

Analysing statements of the big ‘C’ church is a catholic necessity. Challenging the perceived misdirections of, the often stumbling, corporate head office and its apologists is clearly a catholic duty. The word of God, proclaiming the Christian spirit, is significantly more viable than the word of an Übermensch defining access to it. Perhaps it is worthwhile remembering that Christ is the true source of Christianity and that Catholicism, as we now know it, is a construction of humankind. Further, that many of us maintain the faith in spite of not because of the purple mafia. Pax Vobiscum.

Dermott Ryder | 20 November 2009  

Chris Gow is distressed because people write abou Roman Catholics. But how otherwise can we distinguis between Roman Catholics and all the other Catholics?

Gerry Costigan | 20 November 2009  

I, too, would like to thank you, Charles. And Eureka Street for publishing your thoughtful critique. For me, one of the more disturbing elements has been the uncharitable and very public discourtesy shown to Rowan Williams, one of the most courteous and humble ecumenists ever to be Archbishop of Canterbury, by this magisterial Bishop of Rome. My Roman Catholic friends are, without exception, aghast. Despite this we continue to pray together for the unity which Christ, not the Pope, wills. Is it any wonder, though, that the traffic across the Tiber is also a two-way traffic?

David Conolly | 20 November 2009  

Skye I feel you are being narrow and dogmatic which is what Charles is questioning about the document from Rome.

If God is choosing Popes He has blown it a few times in the past and if the Cardinals have to discern His Will they must be hard-hearted to have to go through several ballots."Skewed and politically driven" perhaps...who appoints the Cardinals?

Thank you Charles Sherlock for a perceptive article that has brought out some interesting attitudes in response.
A'Bp John Hepworth of TAC is an intriguing ex-Catholic ex-Anglican himself.

Chris Flamer | 20 November 2009  

Dear Skye,
I understand that utopian 'dreams' and etc. can be unhelpful sometimes, but want to hang on to the idea that Jesuit reductions in 'Patagonia' did incarnate many of the comunitarian and egalitarian ideals we might want to associate with dreams of 'the kingdom of God' - or at the very least I must admit that they gave it a red hot go.

Second councillors might also have left themslves open to criticisms of them being impractical dreamers and so on - and I know that your point about the Church always calling people on to acts of kindness and compassion etc. is an important one. But this, I hope you might see, is also true of some protestants (much more 'protestant' than many Anglicans) such as W.Wilberforce and so on. Dreamers and utopian idealists have their shortfalls, granted, but it seems to me that they are rather over represented as a perentage of the Saints we celebrate.

You know, I wonder, is it too temerarious to use the term 'Patagonian utopia' in a derogatory sense in a magazine of the (from my Anglican point of view) generous and big hearted Society of Jesus? I'm not sure.

Dave | 21 November 2009  

Thanks, Charles,for your close readings and comparisons of texts. I fully agree that it is important to alert readers to this, as an on-the-surface,innocuous shift in emphasis could later become a complete different interpretation of meaning.

john stuyfbergen | 21 November 2009  

Accusations of mistranslation without reference to the original is pretty sloppy. If the latin version of Anglicanorum Coetibus materially misquoted the latin of Lumen Gentium the Vatican has committed a huge malfeasance. But this article has given no evidence that this is the case. This article has compared two translations by two different translators, in two different centuries, actually. They differ in spots. This article has decided one is the right translation and one is a deliberate mistranslation. How do the writer arrive at this conclusion? This article gives two words of the latin. My opinion is that the Anglicanorum coetibus translation of these words is accurate, and in the case of "unicam" superior. Apparently the writer thinks otherwise, but no matter, those two words are not enough to justify your claims. Again, this article hasn't shown that the quotations in the documents are altered. If they have in fact been altered, this article makes an outrageously serious finding. But I don't believe it. I suppose I should go do the research and report back. There are a lot of commenters on this board who are taking for granted the writer's ability to evaluate translations rather than just compare them.

Anthony Willard | 22 November 2009  

I am sad that Charles Sherlock feels that the accommodation offered to some, both still within the Anglican Communion and some without, to join the Catholic Church with special considerations, that it is such an afront to aspects of ecumenism and the search for healing within the broken Church of Christ.

I took it for it seems to be, an offer of shleter to the 'homeless,'a 'boat' to a place of refuge, an asylum.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 22 November 2009  

Amazed at the amount of comment, but three responses:

a) I would ask that this is read in the light of my earlier piece - and I am well aware of the difference made by adding 'Roman' before 'Catholic'!

b) In response to I did not italice 'properly' because it is there in the Latin of Lumen Gentium. All the Latin was checked - but a brief article can say only so much!

c) Please, may we continue to pray for one other, and not only on November 4 each year.

Charles Sherlock | 23 November 2009  

As a mere Protestant, I am watching this current discussion with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and disbelief. The idea that any single denomination can in any way claim to be by itself the one, holy catholic and apostolic church, rather an element therof, strikes me as appalling arrogant. (Of course, according to the Orthodox that single denomination is the Orthodox church and the rest of us, including the Catholics, are schismatics.) That the current Pope seems to be emphaising this idea on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church overturns decades of ecumenical respect.

To respond to Skye, I hope everyone who worships in any church finds there "the Way, the Truth and the Life" - Jesus, rather than a denomination.

Avril | 26 November 2009  

Following Jesus for me is not about being involved with religion. It is about spirituality and living in a way which the Holy Spirit of Jesus inspires through sincere prayer and commitment, including spiritual direction and silent retreats. I was raised (Roman) Catholic and have become so disillusioned with it, that the output from Rome produces little concern or influence for me. I often reflect on what it has become and wonder whether Jesus would recognise His 'one true church' if He were to come and visit!!!!!!!!! ?????

Roslyn Spaulding | 05 December 2009  

I don't quite understanding the criticism in this article. Was it about the document itself or the translation of it. You can't possibly say that the pope misled just by reading the English version. There is a very simple solution; why don't we all just learn Latin, so we can actually read the official language of the catholic church.

Anh Dao | 12 June 2012  

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