For the past few years I have followed, with genuine interest, the story about the TAC (Traditional Anglican Communion) working towards unity with Rome. At one point I was certain that I knew a great deal about it, but no longer. A few confusing and contradictory pieces of information have come my way; so I wait in hopes of learning the details and ascertaining the facts.
I cannot tell if the goal of establishing an Anglican "Uniate" Church has been replaced by a hope for "intercommunion" with Rome. Such a relationship is enjoyed by only a few churches, such as, for example, the Polish National Catholic Church; and then only under special circumstances.
As many readers will know, the institution the Catholic Church (when used exclusively to mean the Church of Rome and all of the churches that are under obedience to the Pope), contains several rites beside the Roman Rite, especially several Eastern Rite churches. When first I heard of the talks between the TAC and Rome the goal was that of establishing an Anglican Rite in the same way. As this was expressed to me about three years ago, it would exceed the significance of Anglican Use liturgies, because, to a much greater extent, the Anglican Ethos would survive in many of its crucial aspects as part of the larger Communion that includes all of the churches that are in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome.
Nonetheless, as a matter of stating the obvious, one very real and thorny issue appears to stand as an obstacle. And, I am sorry for that. I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (and for Prayer Book purists, who insist on the scribal error of dropping “Holy” from one Creed, remember it remains in the Apostle's Creed).
The Church, despite its apparent divisions, already is One. That is an article of faith, and one that keeps me from thinking that I must choose one or other of the two "One True Churches." So, I am hoping that the one obstacle I see will give way to the Unity of the Church by the working of the Holy Ghost.
When the Lord Jesus prayed "that they all may be one," this was not the pathetic cry of a suppliant hoping that we, mere mortals who wrestle with demonic powers, are somehow required to grant to Him. One Person of the Godhead expressed the Divine Will to Another Person of the Godhead. Other words had been spoken within the Trinity from the dawn of time: "Let there be light ... Let us make man in our image ..." The same Triune God spoke His will concerning the first husband and wife, creating marriage as part of human nature and making the man and woman one flesh within its bonds.
"That they all may be one ..." makes the One Church an article of faith for us. The word of God created it so, just as His word makes every married couple into one flesh. Some married couples live apart, whether by separation or by the legal fiction called "divorce." But, their oneness is the work of God, part of His very creation.
Likewise, the divisions of the Holy Catholic Church are only apparent. They are realities only insofar as they affect relations among Catholic Christians. We Anglicans are told that our belief about the Church should be called the "Branch Theory." But, if it is a theory it is still a fact, just like the Theory of Gravity. No doubt the Church has suffered apparent divisions, and needs to experience reconciliation. But, its oneness is established and confessed in Credo.
So, of course, I wish to see efforts towards visible unity succeed.
What is the problem? The simple fact is, the only people who can lead Catholic-minded Christians into workable unity are the bishops. Quite obviously, in light of the recognition by Rome of the validity of the Old Catholic orders, and to this day Rome’s recognition of the validity of the Polish National Catholic Church, married bishops are not a doctrinal problem. Rome recognizes married bishops as valid successors of the apostles, with full sacramental powers. And, yet, in its polity Rome has no room for married men to hold the office of bishop. I see no simple or obvious way around this problem. Perhaps someone reading this blog has an accurate answer. But, for now, it seems to me to be a genuine obstacle.
Fr Robert Hart