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Ecclesia Anglicana | Father Allan R. G. Hawkins | Introduction to Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church: Reflections on Recent Developments, edited by Stephen Cavanaugh | Ignatius Insight

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Ecclesia Anglicana had flourished for perhaps thirteen hundred years before the events of the Reformation created what we now call Anglicanism—a phenomenon that cannot be understood without reference to its ancient spiritual and cultural heritage, even though the separation of the Church of England from the rest of Western Christendom inevitably introduced a schismatic quality to even the best of Anglican thought.

The English Reformation, unlike the parallel movements elsewhere in Europe, was not a single, cataclysmic event, but rather a process that unfolded over more than a century—from Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy of 1534 to the reestablishment of the Church of England with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in the person of King Charles II in 1660.

A striking feature of this process is the frequency with which the phrase "until further order to be taken", or similar terminology, is to be found in the parliamentary enactments, legal documents, and Orders in Council of the period. In other words, each step of the reform was understood to be provisional, of temporary application, until further developments unfolded, until some ultimate denouement be attained.

In every subsequent century, that longed-for denouement has been seen—by at least some—to be the restoration of Catholic unity and peace for the Church. Thus Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, in his Preces Privatae, would pray each Sunday: "O let the heart and soul of all believers again become one", and, each Monday, "For the Universal Church, its confirmation and growth. For the Eastern Church, its deliverance and unity. For the Western Church, its restoration and pacification."

On the day of his appointment to Canterbury in 1633, Rome was ready to offer a cardinal's hat to Archbishop William Laud. At the time of the restoration of the monarchy twenty-seven years later, Charles II appears to have sought the formation of a Uniate status for the Church of England. In the eighteenth century, there were some reunion activities—notably the correspondence between Archbishop Wake and certain doctors at the Sorbonne in Paris with regard to the possibility of union between the Anglican and Gallican churches. The nineteenth century brought the Oxford Movement, and all that stemmed from it. The twentieth century saw the Malines Conversations and then the inauguration, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, and Pope Paul VI in 1967 of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).

Notwithstanding the early achievement of understanding in the long-controversial areas of Eucharist, ministry, and authority, the bright hope that the inauguration of ARCIC originally inspired quickly gave way to the bleak reality of the implications of the pressure for the ordination of women—first to the priesthood and then to the episcopate—in the Church of England and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Jan Willebrands, then-president of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed to Archbishop Robert Runcie their profound concern that the course on which Anglicanism was embarked-destroying, as it would, the integrity of its sacramental system-would effectively put an end to the hope of reconciliation. Sometime later, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that the ordination of women to the episcopate "signified a breaking away from apostolic tradition and a further obstacle for reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England". Sadly, indeed, Anglicanism chose to proceed on what has proved to be a self-destructive path, and to ignore the imperative of that unity which the Lord wills for his Church "so that the world may believe".

Many Anglicans, however, were unable to abandon that vision and the obedience it demanded. Thus, in 1977, Father James Parker, on behalf of some members of the American Province of the Society of the Holy Cross (Societas Sanctae Crucis) presented to the Holy See their petition to be allowed to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood with a dispensation from the law of celibacy, following entry into full communion.

The Society of the Holy Cross had been founded in London in 1855. Its membership is comprised of Anglican bishops and priests who live under a Rule and who desire to bear witness to the Cross of Christ in their vocation and ministry within the Church and their whole lives. The achievement of Catholic unity has long been among its principal objectives.

In the same year, in a parallel initiative, Canon Albert J. duBois, accompanied by two other Episcopal priests, Father W T. St. John Brown and Father John Barker, traveled to Rome where, with the help of the late Monsignor Richard Schuler, they met with Cardinal Franjo Seper, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (whose English secretary at the time was Monsignor William Levada). They asked for ordination as Catholic priests and the establishment of their parishes with special liturgical customs deriving from the Anglican tradition.

The eventual outcome of these initiatives was the establishment by Pope John Paul II, in the summer of 1980, of a special "Pastoral Provision" which—although rejecting the idea of any kind of "ritual diocese"—made possible the erection, within existing dioceses in the United States, of "personal parishes" for former Episcopalians and Anglicans, who, in full communion with the Holy See, could pray, worship, and celebrate the sacraments within the Anglican-derived ethos of the Book of Divine Worship. William Oddie noted in his book The Roman Option that what had been accomplished "was a small step towards the dream of an Anglicanism" which the Malines Conversations ofsixty years earlier had foreseen as " 'united not absorbed'; but it was real enough for those who became involved in it." [1]

As Henry Brandreth noted in his Ecumenical Ideals of the Oxford Movement, there is scarcely a generation from the time of the Reformation to our own day which has not caught, whether perfectly or imperfectly, the vision of a reunited Christendom. [2]

So it was that a further, very important initiative was undertaken in 1993. In October of that year, Bishop Clarence Pope, then-Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth, went to Rome with Cardinal Bernard Law, then-Archbishop of Boston and ecclesiastical delegate for the Pastoral Provision, to meet with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They took with them a preparatory document, drawn up by two noted Anglican theologians, Doctor Wayne Hankey and Father Jeffrey Steenson. This stated, in part, that

we believe that a truly historic opportunity now presents itself, namely, for the healing of the great Western schism, in a way which few envisioned. The Anglican Church is not the only church of the Reformation to be breaking up, foundering on the rocks of post-modern secularism it has no power to avoid. We now believe there is little hope that the Anglican Communion as presently constituted, will ever be able to move toward corporate reunion with the Catholic Church. The hopes we had placed in the official conversations of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission must now find their fulfilment in some other form. [3]

In the light of subsequent developments, it is of the greatest interest to note that the immediate response was one of generous and full agreement. It was, very evidently, providential moment; and it was recognized that solutIons to the concrete theological, liturgical, and juridical problems must be sought and found. In the light of the underlying agreement in faith this could not be impossible. It was essential to move forward with patience, courage, and tolerance, to define the appropriate juridical structure and to define its details.

And now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we welcome the bright promise of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, the fruit of the patience and courage of Pope Benedict XVI, who has now provided the most generous and pastoral welcome to those who come from the Anglican patrimony. As Bishop Peter Elliott, Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, has recently said: "Anglicans can longer speak of 'swimming the Tiber'. Pope Benedict XVI has built a noble bridge.... The Tiber crossings of those Anglicans who have gone before us were often difficult and dangerous—and, in any event, it has proven difficult to organize a group swim. Not only is the Holy Father's bridge a noble construction that lifts us high above the perilous waters, it allows us to pass over the deep without breaking ranks." [4]

The word "provisional" can be misleading. As used above, in reference to the stages of the Reformation process in England, it implies a temporary and insubstantial quality. But in the title of the Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II for the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite, it has a very different meaning: it is that which is "provided"—a provision now enlarged and enhanced in the Apostolic Constitution of Benedict XVI. Its purpose is not limited to the perpetuation of a particular liturgy and liturgical style, important though that element of it is. More important, perhaps, is the preservation of a uniquely beautiful spirituality—gentle and pastoral—which, with the lovely cultural tradition that comes with it, is our heritage from Ecclesia Anglicana and which we bring home with joy to the Catholic Church. It is this story, this blessed inheritance, that is examined and celebrated in the essays in this book. So, in the words of one of the figures of the Oxford Movement, Isaac Williams, in his 1842 poem The Baptistery:

This union in His Church is God's own gift, Not to be seiz'd by man's rude sinful hands, But the bright crown of mutual holiness.


The Reverend Allan R. G. Hawkins was ordained as a priest in the Church of England. In 1980, he was named rector of the Episcopal parish of Saint Bartholomew (later renamed Saint Mary the Virgin) in Arlington, Texas. In 1991, the parish decided to leave the Episcopal Church and to seek full communion in the Roman Catholic Church as a personal parish for the Anglican Use, under terms of the Pastoral Provision of 1980. Members were all received and Saint Mary the Virgin was formally erected as a parish of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth on June 12, 1994. Bishop Delaney ordained Father Hawkins to the Catholic priesthood on June 29, 1994, and he has continued as pastor to this day. Father Hawkins is married to Jose and they have two grown children.


[1] I William Oddie, The Roman Option: The Realignment of English Christianity (London: HarperCollins, 1997), p. 78.

[2] Henry R. T. Brandreth, Ecumenical Ideals of the Oxford Movement (London: SPCK, 1947), p. 2.

[3] Doctor Wayne Hankey and Father Jeffrey Steenson, "An Approach to the Holy See by Certain Members of the Anglican Church", 4, cited by Oddie, The Roman Option, p. 242.

[4] Bishop Peter J. Elliott, address given to Forward in Faith Australia at All Saints', Kooyong, Melbourne, on February 13, 20 10, as reported by inter alia, the Anglo-Catholic blog.

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