Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's Address at the Spectator Debate
Tuesday, March 2nd 2010
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am delighted to see so many of you here this evening for this great event. Not like the bishop who went to a parish for a function. There were very few people there and he was a bit annoyed. He said to the Parish Priest, Father, there are very few people here; didn’t you tell them the bishop was coming? No, my Lord, says the Parish Priest, but the news must have leaked out somehow! Well, the news of this debate has clearly leaked out and you want to know why England should be a Catholic country again.
But what is “a Catholic country”? Does it mean claiming back our historic cathedrals … and paying for their upkeep? Or is it a call for political power, where Bishops appoint the Prime Minister, rather than the other way round? If you were hoping for a good old fashioned punch-up –Protestants versus Catholics, pausing only to stop Richard Dawkins interrupting us - I am afraid you are going to be disappointed.
Most English people, if they thought about the matter at all, would probably say that, on balance, the Reformation was a good thing. The Reformation brought education, biblical truth, independent thinking and progress, therefore it was a good thing.
By the same logic, Pre-Reformation England, therefore, was bad: with corrupt and worldly prelates like Cardinal Wolesey, and an uncouth and ignorant clergy. The only signs of Christian life came from the Lollards, the Protestants who rejected the mumbo-jumbo of the sacraments, read the bible in English, so all in all, England was ready for the good news of Protestantism.
A raft of studies shows in fact that the English parish churches on the eve of the Reformation were vigorous, adaptable and popular. The laity had a wholesome piety and ready charity. The Episcopate was not corrupt and Erasmus himself thought early Tudor England the most enlightened place in Europe. And those monasteries, swept away with such zeal: along with them went the education, the medical care, and the hospitality they provided for the love of God.
My point is that the Reformation, notwithstanding its positive contribution, brought a tremendous loss to this country. It was a great hiatus. It dug a ditch, deep and dividing, between the people of this country and their past. Over-night, a millennium of Christian splendour, the world of Gregory, Bede, Anselm, Catherine of Siena, Francis, Dominic, Julian of Norwich, Bernard, Dante, all the men and women who nourished the mind and heart of Christendom for a thousand years, became alien territory, the Dark Ages of Popery.
Protestantism was founded on two affirmations about the grace of God and Salvation; the Revelation of God in Scripture. But it accompanied these affirmations with a series of negations and rejections, as it smashed the statues, white-washed the churches, denounced the Pope and the Mass. Protestantism – and its particular form here in England – became constituted by its ‘No’ to Catholicism.
In speaking of a Catholic Country, let us agree that the Reformation conflict is over. We do not need to trade history. And I for one would be the first to be grateful for so much that the Anglican Church and other Christian Churches have brought to this country that has been of such benefit over the past four hundred years.
Instead, let me give you a better starting point for our debate. Go back to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982. For many, the key image was the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, kneeling before the shrine of St Thomas a Becket, side by side in prayer. It was extraordinarily moving. Our two churches have already come a long way on the path back to the unity which Christ called for. And it will take more than even The Spectator to push us apart again. I am a convinced and dedicated ecumenist and I believe that the ecumenical movement is like a road with no exit. We are not in competition but in a shared endeavour. It is not a choice between the Church of England or Catholic England: it is a choice for the Church in England... Read the whole article.
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- ▼ March 2010 (5)
- Fr. Christopher George Phillips
- Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.