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Over on the Newmanlectures website, we have been exploring the English Catholic tradition. The Reformation was a national trauma, but it did not erase the Catholic Church in England; and there are those of us who would contend that Catholicism was not confined to those Catholics who continued to own allegiance to the Pope. I choose that form of words with care. I am not asserting there was more than one Catholic Church, but I am suggesting that the Catholic tradition was not confined to one place. There were always bishops and priests in the Church of England who believed that Christ was really present in the Eucharist, and who held all the the Church had always held – the one exception being the position of the Bishop of Rome. In this sense, the position of the Anglican Church was rather similar to those of the Orthodox Churches of the East. Reference to what the Ancient Church had held was their rule, rather than reference to the Reformers.

When it came to considering the doctrines of salvation, it was to the Creeds and the sacraments, not simply ‘faith by justification’ to which these Anglicans looked; repeantance and confession remained part of their pattern of faith; the sacrmanets were not merely symbols in the sense of not meaning anything beyond what they appeared to be, they were part of life in Christ, and they conferred Grace. They saw their Church as part of the universal Church, but, like the Eastern Churches, a branch and not a separated Church. That, of course, was not the view from Rome. But there is a difference between ecclesiology and spiritual life, and in terms of their spiritual life, men such as Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), George Herbert (1593-1633), like Keble, Newman and Pusey were always thoroughly Catholic, even though of that goodly number, only Newman felt the need to cross the Tiber.

That Catholic tradition continued into modern times, with men such as Charles Gore and Michael Ramsey. It was the one which nurtured me as a young man, and indeed, into adulthood. For many of us, the decision by the Church of England to ordain women as priests was the occasion, if not the cause, for us crossing the Tiber. I say that because in many ways it was not so much the straw which broke the camel’s back, more the outward and visible sign of an inward determination to pursue a vision of a Church which would adapt to the times even on matters where it would widen the divide with our Orthodox and Roman brethren.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI announced the creation of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham which made pastoral provision for Catholic Anglicans to cross the Tiber together, and in a way that allowed them to retain their Anglo-Catholic patrimony. It was one of many signs of what a great Pope he was. The Ordinariate recently launched an initiative, ‘Called to be holy‘ which emphasises that heritage and shares it with the rest of the Christian world. The Novena is one I have taken to praying, and found to be most beneficial.

Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.

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