What is really going on with the Anglican Ordinariate? Why has Pope Benedict XVI taken such a bold and innovative step? This is historic. Never before has the Catholic Church opened its doors so wide to a group of Protestants in such a creative way. Essentially Pope Benedict is creating a little Anglican Church within the Catholic Church. The Anglican Ordinariate will have its own governing structure. It could have its own seminaries, its own religious houses, its own hierarchy and its own global network in addition to its own liturgy, customs and traditions.
Has Pope Benedict created the Anglican Ordinariate simply because he, himself is a secret Anglo Catholic who likes smells and bells and lacy cottas? Is it because, as critics charge, that the Catholic Church is dwindling and doesn’t have enough priests and so they’ve come up with a scheme to corral as many former Anglicans as possible? Is it a cunning plan to undermine the liberal Catholics who Benedict sees as the real enemy?
None of the above. In fact, sometimes things are simply what they seem to be. Sometimes there are no secret agendas, no Machiavellian plots, no global conspiracies. For decades serious Anglicans from around the world had petitioned Rome for some sort of mechanism whereby they might retain their Anglican traditions while being in full communion with the Holy See. As head of the CDF Ratzinger received these calls and was sympathetic. He met with these men and understood them. Being fully informed about the dead end that was the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission he began to see a different way forward.
In the early 1990s the idea of an Ordinariate-type structure had been discussed and rejected by the English Catholic bishops. The idea of the ‘Roman Option’ and how it was rejected was made public by William Oddie in his book, The Roman Option. For this Oddie was effectively marginalized and excluded from the English Catholic inner circle. Nevertheless, the idea took root, and most importantly it took root in Rome, and ten years later when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI the time was ripe.
The Anglican Ordinariate must be seen in a wider context. The creation of the ordinariate is first and foremost an attempt to answer the repeated pleas for an Anglican-Catholic structure. Rome simply responded to those who were asking for a way in while still retaining their styles of worship and culture of religion. However, the wider context is the present re-alignment within all of Christianity. This re-alignment is not between Catholics and Protestants but between those who believe in a revealed religion and those who believe in a relative religion. It is between two different foundational philosophies. The re-alignment is between those, on the one hand, who believe that all religion is a human construction devised in particular historical circumstances and therefore flexible, ambiguous and necessarily adaptable, and between those who believe that religion is revealed by God in particular circumstances and places and times because those times themselves and those people and those places were the best and most propitious ways for the Almighty to reveal himself to his beloved race of men.
The first are those who believe religion is relative and the second are those who believe it is revealed. There are plenty of both types within the different denominations, and at this time in church history the great re-alignment is taking place. In the years to come more and more Christians of every denomination will begin to see clearly and the divisions will continue. On one side will be those who believe their relative religion was devised by humans in particular historical circumstances and so they will continue to adapt their religion to whatever the world demands. In other words, they will adapt Christianity to the world rather than challenging the world with the Christian gospel.
On the other side will be those who believe that the world and every human in it needs to be challenged by the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ. They will continue–despite the howling rage of the worldlings–to stand up against the immorality, injustice and cruelty of our age. They will continue to tell the old, old, story of a fallen race, a forgiving God and a suffering Lord. They will continue to call a rebellious race to repentance and simplicity and the search for the heavenly kingdom, and they will learn more and more that the fullest and grandest and most terrifying path to this kingdom is through the power and the glory and the humor and humility of Catholic sainthood.
Benedict XVI has opened the way for Anglicans who believe in this revealed religion to join with others who believe the same. It is time for all who believe in the timeless tale of God’s love for mankind and the poignant sacrifice of his Son for man’s salvation to come together, forget their disagreements and rally around Christ, his cross, his Church and the Rock on which it is built.