I watched the election of the new Pope as an interested Anglican but when Pope Benedict appeared on the balcony I had an overwhelming but inexplicable feeling that we were witnessing something truly holy. This is now clear. During Pope Benedict’s official visit to Great Britain the public were treated to the spectacle of a genuinely holy man humbly proclaiming the Christian message and warning of the dangers of putting Man before God.
In Britain we are used to spectacular events with all the pomp and ceremony that the State can muster. That was evidenced by the service of Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey after the Pope’s historic address to Parliament in Westminster Hall. Yet none of this could match the grandeur of the Mass in Westminster Cathedral and the beautiful simplicity of the open-air Mass in Birmingham where Cardinal John Henry Newman was beatified, combined with the evident enthusiasm of their devout young people.
Those who have come into contact with Archbishop Rowan have often fallen under his spell. His natural authority is reinforced by his commanding voice which contrasts dramatically with Pope Benedict’s quiet, but assured conviction. Here is the puzzle. Both men are extraordinarily clever, learned and holy, yet they see things differently. The most sort-after prize is Christian unity but the synodical decision of the Anglican Church to go-it-alone and ordain women has seen probably the best opportunity in generations lost. For Anglicans, the evident joy of the celebrations was tinged with sadness. If only we could have been celebrating unity too! Instead there was the same, sorry spectacle of fellow Christians divided at the altar.
Dialogue will continue but many face an immediate dilemma. The Anglican Church has long provided a haven for those who, like Rowan Williams, have difficulties of conscience about crossing the Tiber. There are those in the Church of England who have ignored their Archbishops’ wishes arguing that making acceptable provision for ‘traditionalists’ would be creating a church within a church, blind to the fact that they are already a church within the Church. If Archbishop Rowan can persuade Synod to match Pope Benedict’s ordinariate offer, something of Anglicanism’s rich heritage can be preserved within the Church of England. If not, it is game, set and match to Pope Benedict.
I was able to add an interesting postscript to my previous post. Now from The Anglo-Catholic blog there is a helpful piece for those struggling with their consciences about crossing the Tiber here.