Rorate Caeli

Aidan Nichols on Benedict XVI and his "Noah's Ark"

Over the past weekend, the Ordinariate Portal published Fr. Aidan Nichols' lengthy address to the Anglicanorum Coetibus conference in Canada (March 24-26, 2011): The Ordinariates, the Pope, and the Liturgy. Part 1 and Part 2.

Nichols characterizes the Pope's reach-out to four specific groups -- conservative "Catholic" Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, the Society of St. Pius X, and Anglo-Catholics -- as an invitation to them to board the "Noah's Ark" that is the Catholic Church in the face of the flood of relativism, secularism and militant Islam:
Noah’s Ark can stand for more than the indefinitely pluralistic ecclesiastical zoology of the Anglican Church. It can and should stand, as it has in the Liturgies and among the orthodox divines down the ages, for the ship of salvation set on chaos waters by the hand of God. Catholics identify that ship with the Barque of Peter, since, they maintain, the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ subsists in the (Roman) Catholic Church. Certainly, Pope Benedict has behaved as though the vessel onto which he was inviting so many otherwise possibly reluctant passengers was a true Ark of Noah, raised on the waters of relativism, secularism and (we may add) militant Islam which, in so many parts of the world, threaten to engulf the Christian faithful. I believe that a good deal in various policies the Pope has initiated or at least sustained can be illuminated if we suppose him to regard himself as (despite his humility) a Noah-figure, placed by Providence in a unique office at a singular cross-roads in human affairs.

Lutherans, Lefebvrists, Eastern Orthodox

Who are those whom he is seeking to bring into solidarity with the Great Church whose centre is at the site of the final witness of St Peter and St Paul? Some examples come readily to mind. To begin with: Pope Benedict is reaching out to Lutherans of a particular kind, specifically to those whose fundamental orientation is toward what Lutherans share in common with Catholics...


A second sort of passenger on the Ark to which the Pope has turned in invitation can be found among the clergy and people of the Society of St Pius X (sometimes called ‘Lefebvrists’, from the name of the Society’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre...
The papal Noah’s Ark also stands ready and prepared to receive the Eastern Orthodox if and when they are willing to restore their broken unity with the First See. It is for the sake of reunion with the Orthodox, and notably with the Moscow Patriarchate, that the Pope is willing to disappoint the members of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Ukraine, in not conceding to their Archbishop-Major the coveted status of Patriarch in the way so many Ukrainian Catholics desire.

The schism between Rome and Constantinople (and, through Constantinople, with the latter’s most flourishing daughter, the Church of Russia) has often been, over the centuries, bitter and, in consequence, intractable. The historical memories remain painful for many; and the nationalism of Orthodoxy’s self-governing churches does not help. But at any rate the Pope can nurture justified hopes of securing a strategic alliance of Catholics and Orthodox in defence of the fundamental moral and cultural ethos of Christianity, especially in Europe. The Russian bishop responsible for the external relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, is a key-player here. And meanwhile on the Bosphorus the Ecumenical Patriarchate, subject to jurisdictional disputes among the Orthodox and highly vulnerable in a still secular but potentially Islamist Turkey, turns anxious eyes to the future horizon, looking for succour not least to Rome.

And Anglicans…

This then is the geopolitical context in which I would place Pope Benedict’s concern for Anglicans. In the crisis which overcame English Anglo-Catholicism in 1992 when the General Synod voted for the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood and many who had voted ‘No’, or supported those who had so voted, turned for aid to the Latin bishops in England, the then Cardinal Ratzinger exhorted the national hierarchy to show generosity to Anglicans. That was coded language for finding a corporate solution for the reconciliation of groups of Anglo-Catholics, as distinct from the individual reception of Anglican clergy and laity into full communion with the Catholic Church...