ArchBishop Nichols’ (RC) Sermon at the Ordinariate ordinations - “Obedience to the Truth”

We reported briefly on the making as deacons of the three bishops who have transferred from the Church of England to the new Ordinariate set up by Benedict XVI (the Pope). Yesterday (Saturday) the three men were priested at a rather larger ceremony at Westminster Cathedral where ArchBishop Nichols preached the sermon, reflecting on the path taken more than 100 years prior by Newman.

It's pretty standard fare and will raise the hackles of many a protestant. But the last paragraph is particularly interesting because it serves to highlight how far from the Anglicanism of the 1662 and the 39 Articles Rome really is, and how far therefore these men have travelled from their original ordination vows.

The first to witness these wounds, the first, perhaps, to grasp their true significance, was Mary, Mother of Jesus. Standing at the foot of the cross she witnessed the inflicting of those wounds. Holding his dead body she must have been marked by the blood shed from them. Now she looks down on our new priests from the other side of this Cathedral crucifix above me. Mary always holds before us her Son, presenting him to us as our hope and salvation. Nowhere does she do so with more grace and elegance than in the image of Our Lady of Walsingham. As this Ordinariate, her Ordinariate, comes into being so may we entrust to her the work of bringing it to fulfilment.

Our Lady of Walsingham: pray for us.
Blessed John Henry Newman: pray for us.


Now again, let's not act all surprised and shocked if we're protestants – this is all regular Roman Catholic material (and, of course, is far less of an issue for Anglicans in TEC where the 39 Articles are received as historical documents, not subscribed to as doctrine). But it is interesting that the very closing paragraph of a commissioning sermon ends up with Mariology and the benefits of superoragation which the saints may provide, which the Articles specifically proscribe,


Article XXII

Of Purgatory

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.

Now again, it's not like we're picking a new fight here. I for one am really grateful for the clarification all of this brings. Nichols himself provides helpful commentary earlier in the sermon as he draws upon words written by Benedict,

At Lambeth Palace, in September, Pope Benedict said: ‘In the figure of John Henry Newman we celebrate a churchman whose ecclesial vision was nurtured by his Anglican background and matured during his many years of ordained ministry in the Church of England. He can teach us the virtues that ecumenism demands: on the one hand, he was moved to follow his conscience, even at great personal cost; and on the other hand, the warmth of his continued friendship with his former colleagues led him to explore with them, in a truly eirenical spirit, the questions on which they differed, driven by a deep longing for unity in faith.’ (Lambeth Palace, 18 September 2010)

Then, speaking in Rome on 20 December, Pope Benedict reflected further on Cardinal Newman. He spoke these words. They are of relevance and hope for today:

‘The path of Newman’s conversions is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him. His third conversion, to Catholicism, required him to give up almost everything that was dear and precious to him: possessions, profession, academic rank, family ties and many friends. The sacrifice demanded of him by obedience to the truth, by his conscience, went further still. Newman had always been aware of having a mission for England. But in the Catholic theology of his time, his voice could hardly make itself heard…

In January 1863 he wrote in his diary these distressing words: “As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life ‐ but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion”. He had not yet arrived at the hour when he would be an influential figure. In the humility and darkness of obedience, he had to wait until his message was taken up and understood. In support of the claim that Newman’s concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, “conscience” does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth.’ (December 20, 2010)

Newman, of course, is the archetype for the Ordinariate. That much is clear to everyone. His conversion was certainly one of integrity and good conscience and one that the Pope rightly notes meant a firm cut from the past. It was one “demanded of him by obedience to the truth” and we should make no mistake in recognising that the RC church is here claiming that Newman moved to the truth from what (by implication) was the relative untruth of Anglicanism. Rome, for Newman, was true in a way that Canterbury never could be and his conscience, bound further by the authority of the Pope himself, sealed this conviction concerning what the truth was.

And so the three former bishops, as did Newman before them, have moved to a place where the truth is very different. It is a place where sermons end not with Christ alone but with the invocation to saints. it is a place where Christ's sacrifice in repeated many times at the altar of Mass.

Of course, I believe they have made a terrible mistake (my readers won't be surprised by that one – I would go so far as to say it is a move that denies the Scriptural gospel), but we must remember it is a move made in good conscience and a degree of integrity that I am increasingly convinced it is difficult for such firm “Catholics” to hold while remaining in the Church of England. Finally, we also trust that our continuing conversation with them will maintain the same ” warmth of continued friendship … a truly eirenical spirit” that Benedict notes that Newman strove to maintain – not denying our clear differences but seeking to be gracious despite them.

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