One hopes that the Pope enjoyed his recent visit to All Saints in the Via del Babuino, a rather fine Anglican Church in the heart of Rome, the work of the famous architect G E Street. In the course of his visit, he preached a sermon in Italian. It centred on the blessing of an icon, using language that is more redolent of the Christian East than the Christian West. One wonders who writes these things.
More interesting were the remarks made in a question and answer session, which are reported by Vatican Radio. When wishing to emphasise what Anglicans and Catholics share, the Pope had this to say:
“We have a common tradition of the saints … Never, never in the two Churches, have the two traditions renounced the saints: Christians who lived the Christian witness until that point. This is important.
“There is another thing that has kept up a strong connection between our religious traditions: [male and female] monks, monasteries. And monks, both Catholic and Anglican, are a great spiritual strength of our traditions.”
This is interesting from a historical perspective and suggests that the Pope should perhaps take a close look at the history of England or the Thirty-Nine Articles.
Anglicanism was born out of a movement that saw the destruction of all of England’s religious houses, many of whose mute ruins stand as a witness to this catastrophe today. Moreover the Thirty-Nine Articles specifically forbid the cult of the saints, and our Tudor forebears made a point of destroying all the shrines of England bar one (that of Saint Edward the Confessor, who was spared as he was a king.) The XXII article states:
“The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”
If ecumenism is to progress, it has to do so on a sound historical basis. There is no other way. It is true, as the Pope avers, that there are Anglican monks and nuns, but these religious foundations date to the nineteenth century at the earliest, and are fruits of the Oxford Movement. For four hundred years there was no religious life lived under vows in community in the Church of England. Many (though not I) would see the influence of Anglican religious life as marginal in the Church of England. Again, Anglican devotion to the saints of our own times is certainly present and to be encouraged; but whether someone like Saint Therese of Lisieux has much of an impact on Anglican thinking these days, I am not sure.
Too much of our ecumenical dialogue has been based on a mixture of wishful thinking and not looking too closely at the historical faith of various Christian bodies. This does no one any favours, and it needs to change.