After hearing an Anglican critic complain that the Catholic Church will never understand Anglicanism, and therefore the Ordinariates will fail, I was forced to think a bit deeper about what we are trying to preserve in the Ordinariates. In a moment of weakness, I had the thought, “if this Anglican Patrimony thingy is so important, then why does it sound like we still don’t have a clear definition of it even after six and a half years?” And then, in “blinding flash of the obvious”, the light in my head went on. Of course defining Anglican Patrimony is difficult, after all, we are speaking about something that was formed without the moorings of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
I am not trying to state any disagreement with what has been said about Anglican Patrimony in the many posts, conferences, articles, etc. (of which, I am only aware of a small portion) that have shown up over the past few years; especially any of the things said by my own beloved Bishop, Steven Lopes. I have heard many good things, as well as many things that I wish I knew more about so that I could acknowledge the goodness in them as well. For that matter, maybe this has already been said somewhere else, but I believe that it should be stated in these specific terms.
When someone who wants the Ordinariates to fail (and there are a few in the Catholic Church) says openly, “you’ll never define Anglican Patrimony because Anglicanism is a confused mess”, that person is not wholly wrong. Anglicanism is a confused mess (I was there for years in two different denominations, and have seen it first hand). Although that makes it difficult to define the patrimony, it will not prevent it, but rather shows to us the very reason for the Ordinariates. If the English Church had never left Rome, there would be no reason for the Ordinariates. It was precisely because she left that she became messed up, and for that very reason, the Ordinariates are tasked, not just with being a place for Anglicans to convert to, but also the place to clean up the mess. Think of it this way: if a teenager runs away from home, and then returns many years later, we do not assume that his time away perfectly defines his identity as a member of his original family. Rather we look at who he was, examine carefully who he has become, and then (under proper wisdom) work to find a balanced synthesis of the two so that he may be a welcomed member.
“Anglicanism” (speaking broadly) went off the rails five hundred years ago when the Sarum Missal was hacked into Cranmer’s Prayer Books. At the time there was still enough Catholicism in there to retain some of the truth, but it was no longer possible for “Anglicanism” to work out what it was since it had cut itself off from the Barque of Peter. So, of course, the result was more division, more confusion, and more changing of theology over the years (what else could there be?). Certainly, the elements of the Catholic faith that were retained helped “Anglicanism” to foster the Catholic faith of many of us to bring us to where we are today, but that only occurred in those who were willing to acknowledge the historic faith that came before the English split with Rome.
So it is not a problem of “Anglicanism” per se that makes it challenging to define the patrimony; it is a challenge of “Anglicanism without Rome” (which is all we know about today). Therefore, it is not, in my opinion solely our task to define what the Anglican Patrimony is, but rather (in a certain sense) to create it, or at least fashion it into what it was intended to be originally. Now that the patrimony has been brought back into Mother Church, we can look at what she used to be (500 years ago), what she was during the last 500 years, and figure out (under submission to the Holy See) what she is going to be. It is not merely a chaotic, subjective choice (as some have seemed to claim); but rather, a time of fixing a train that is now back “on the rails” so that it can become what it is supposed to be (and might have been if it had never been taken away). Is that not what we are really supposed to be doing — restoring that which was lost to its rightful place in the Catholic Church?
In that way, I do not mind that the definition seems a bit elusive. I do not mind that confused critics do not “get it”. Nor do I mind that it may take a few generations to polish up the details. It took five hundred years to get here, six years is a bit too few to fix it all. Yet, I know that we are on the right track. I know that all of the subjects we are bringing up will play into the final definition (liturgy, reverence, music, community, etc.) in some way. As we in the Ordinariates observe Ascension Day today, we should remember that this is why our Lord ascended up into Heaven; so that He could do the work of applying His life, death and resurrection to us. We, “being raised with Christ” are called to participate in that very work while still here on Earth. This is what the Apostle meant when he spoke about the Church as needing to grow into greater maturity in Christ:
And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love (Ephesians 4:11-15).
That, to me, is a beautiful description of the very same process we are in today. We are working until we reach the measure of the fulness of Christ.