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Luke Coppen's Catholic Herald Blog

William Oddie: The man who foresaw the Anglican provision

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In 1997 William Oddie published a controversial book called The Roman Option.

Dr Oddie, a biographer of G K Chesterton and former editor of The Catholic Herald, outlined a possible future development in which disaffected Anglicans sought to move en masse to the Catholic Church. He defined this movement as “the Roman Option” and suggested it would result in a decisive “Realignment” within English-speaking Christianity.

The book, which is currently out of print, is starting to be talked about again. Some speculate that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may even have studied it as it worked on the new Anglican provision.

Here’s a short extract:

Realignment should be understood as a way in which the two main Christian traditions in England – and ultimately in the other English-speaking countries whose Christianity derives partly or entirely from the English experience – could become more internally coherent without losing the variousness which is the sign of spiritual life.

A movement of Catholic-minded Anglicans into the Catholic Church, in a gradual and manageable way over time, paralleled by a convergence of Methodists and Free Churchmen around the Church of England – all this would be part of the same process. Two great Christian traditions, the Catholic and the Reformed, growing into ever greater internal coherence, the wounds of the past finally healing; and then, one day, possibly in as little as a century or two, errors and apostasies having fallen away like dead skin-cells, the union of all Christian people: that is the ultimate vision that Realignment opens up now.

What is striking about Realignment is not how utterly unlikely such a thing is, but how close it is to the internal logic of movements already well underway. What hinders it is a whole series of incoherencies, a log-jam of ecclesial blockages whose release would allow the process to flow onwards to its natural conclusion. Anglican Catholicism has stood in the way of Anglican-Methodist reunion: not because of any settled bloody-mindedness on the part of Anglo-Catholics, but because their own fundamental principles were being threatened from within their own church.

There is only one future for them now which is stable and secure: a future in communion with the Holy See. But that homeward return is now being blocked for most of them as they once blocked the return of the Methodists, not only by the spiritual protectionism of the Catholic bishops but by the lack of vision of the Anglican bishops, who continue erroneously to suppose that it is in their own interests to do everything they can to detain those they would be better off without, and who would be happier and more fulfilled elsewhere.

‘What we have, we hold,’ is an attitude deeply held, both by English Catholic and English Anglican bishops. English Roman Catholic possessiveness has its roots deep in the tribal history of recusant and immigrant Catholicism. It is time for English Catholics to understand that this is an historical turning point whose time ought now to have come, but which they block or at least delay if they retreat once more into the ghetto. The point is, the Catholic tradition can no longer be maintained simply by protecting its own boundaries. Mass attendance is falling. Already the Catholic Church in England is retreating, because it has denied for too long its own deepest nature, which is not simply to bury its faith safely in the ground in order to conserve it for those born into it, but to proclaim it from the housetop, to gather a harvest of souls for Christ, to convert the world.

On Tuesday, of course, the Vatican cleared that “log-jam of ecclesial blockages” away.

PS The term “Roman option” was coined by Christopher Morgan, the veteran religious affairs reporter who died last year. I wish he had lived to see this week’s announcement.

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Written by Luke Coppen

October 22, 2009 at 2:51 pm

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