Earlier this week I attended a talk which was given to the North Gloucestershire Newman Circle by Bishop Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet. He is one of the Anglican Provincial Episcopal Visitors known colloquially as flying bishops, originally appointed to minister to the spiritual needs of those Anglicans who do not accept the priestly ordination of women in the Church of England. As we know, events have developed a good deal beyond that issue alone.
His theme was, as one might expect, the implications of Anglicanorum Coetibus. This is not a full account of the talk: followers of the Catholic blogosphere are no doubt already well informed on the subject. But I thought I would record here a few snippets.
It was interesting to hear about the pilgrimage he made to Rome in 2008 with his colleague, the Bishop of Richborough. They made a tentative enquiry as to whether they might be able to call in for a brief visit at the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. The idea was welcomed. They were then referred on for a visit to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was the appropriate office in regard to individuals and groups as distinct from entire ecclesial bodies. On their return to England they informed the Archbishop of Canterbury of their meetings and of the matters discussed. Quite independently, the Traditional Anglican Communion had made its own approach to Rome. No one, either in the C of E or among the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, seems to have known until a short time before the issue of Anglicanorum Coetibus, that its provisions would be of such generous extent that they could be applied to Anglicans within the Church of England. I had read somewhere that our bishops seemed to have been kept out of the loop, but it was fascinating to hear it from such a prominent person involved in the matter.
Touching briefly on the subject of the Church’s teaching on sexual matters, he asserted very clearly that we are all called to the virtue of continence, and that this applies to married people as well as to the unmarried. I am of course aware of this teaching, and fully accept it; but my agreement comes from my own study of the subject, and personal reflection on the teaching. I think I read it, some years ago, in Pope John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility. I can’t think when I ever heard it said anywhere else, and certainly not from a Catholic pulpit. I was very pleased to hear Bishop Burnham say it.
The following is my own reflection: There is an unappreciated richness about the application of this virtue to the married state. It seems to be implicit in St Paul’s exhortation to husbands in Ephesians 5:25. From his even-handed teaching to married couples, the call to wives to obey their husbands tends to be emphasised – usually by critics– to the neglect of the other half of the text:
"Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and sacrificed Himself for Her, to make Her holy.”
I’m a great supporter of the idea of wifely obedience, not as a slavish thing, but as one of the great keys to unity in marriage. In addition, sacrifice is an inevitable part of the life of a wife and mother. But I think we should also honour the sacrificial elements of the life of a good husband, who will incorporate many virtues into his married life, including that great manly virtue, continence.
Lastly, I will give a brief mention to a most interesting observation which Bishop Burnham made on another aspect of this great adventure we are all engaged in with our Anglo-Catholic brethren. He had found that Catholic clergy seemed to be very much impressed with how well-taught the Anglo-Catholics were in the truths of the Catholic Faith.
Step by step, we are on a most inspiring journey.