Anglican and Roman Catholic Unification


ChurchThe following text is a proposal from 1925 for reconciliation of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.  We find it well-reasoned and practical, but the author himself recognized that the hurdles to be overcome in such a reconciliation would be difficult ones.

The Church of England United Not Absorbed

by Dom Lambert Beaduin



1. If we only consider divine right, all Bishops are equal among themselves. One alone, the successor of St. Peter, Bishop of Rome, is constituted the supreme head of the episcopal body and of the whole Catholic Church. His episcopal jurisdiction is extended to all individual Churches without exception-he is Episcopus catholicus.

2. But human law, whether by ancient custom or by actual precept, has set up a hierarchy of jurisdiction among bishops, which implies relationships of superiority and subordination between patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and suffragans. To be legitimate and in accordance with divine right, these different powers must be established explicitly, or admitted implicitly, or recognized post factum by the supreme power mentioned above.

3. These two principles have been exactly applied in the development and history of the Anglican Church during the first ten centuries of its existence (594-1537). On the one hand the Church had an autonomous organization through the dependence of the bishops on the very real and extensive power of the Patriarch of Canterbury. On the other hand there was the most explicit recognition both in theory and practice of the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiffs, and the clear subordination of the patriarchal power of Canterbury to the See of Peter, which made the Church of England the most thoroughly Roman of all the Churches of East and West.

4. In other words, the Anglican Church stands throughout its history not as an assembly of scattered dioceses attached to Rome and without any real hierarchic unity, but as a strongly organized body, as a compact whole united under the authority of the successors of St. Augustine, an organization in accordance with the aspiration of a self-governing and island race, where splendid isolation was an ideal. On the other hand there is no Church so Roman in its origin, in its traditions, spirit, and history; there is no Church so strongly bound to the Apostolic See, to that Church, Mother and Mistress of all the others, so much so that after four centuries of separation a writer has been able to say “England is a Catholic Cathedral occupied by Protestants”.

5. A large measure of self-government and fidelity to the Roman See, such are the two marks of its history, and such are perhaps the lines of reconciliation. This statement takes into account these two aspects.

I. First Section: Historical evidence of these two characteristics; the approach from History.

II. Second Section: The possibility of a Catholic basis in modern times for the Anglican Church on these historic lines: the approach from Canon Law.

III. Conclusion.


1. From the beginning, St. Augustine of Canterbury was made head of the Church of England by St. Gregory the Great and invested by him with the pallium, the insignia of patriarchal powers:

– “We concede to you the use of the pallium to be used only in solemnities” (Letter to Augustine quoted in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, P.L., vol xcv, col. 69). This conferred effective jurisdiction over all the bishops both present and future of the English Kingdom,

– “We commit the care of all bishops of the Britons to your Fraternity, that the ignorant may be instructed, the week strengthened by persuasion and the perverse corrected by authority” (Letter to Augustine, P.L., vol. lxxvii, col. 1192).

2. There is no doubt possible as to the reality of this Patriarchal jurisdiction. In fact, St. Augustine wished to obtain more precise instructions and asked if his power covered at the same time the bishops of Gaul whom he doubtless visited on his journeys to Rome. St. Gregory writes to him: “We grant you no authority over the bishops of Gaul because from the days of our predecessors the Bishop of Arles received the pallium and we must not deprive him of the authority he has received…. You cannot of your own authority judge the bishops of Gaul, save by persuading, encouraging, and showing them your good works as an example … but we commit the charge of all the British bishops to your Fraternity, &c…” There is no question then of a mere precedence of honour or of a fraternal influence; the Bishop of Arles in Gaul and the Bishop of Canterbury in Great Britain enjoy Patriarchal powers over all the Churches of their respective countries.

3. This Patriarchal jurisdiction is conferred by a symbol that is at once venerable and significant, the imposition of the pallium; and in order to understand the documents used in this study it is necessary to realize fully the exact meaning of this rite of investiture to which was formerly attached so much importance. The pallium is a garment, a broad scarf of wool, that covered the neck and shoulders. The pallium of the popes soon took on a higher meaning; it symbolized the power of the Good Shepherd Who takes the lost sheep on His shoulders and holds it clasped round His neck. Then in order to pass on to a bishop a share in the power of the chief Pastor, what was more natural than to clothe him with the symbolic robe of the Successor of Peter, the pallium, that is, pontifical investiture? This symbol was already ancient in the time of St. Gregory the Great, as is shown by the letter to St. Augustine already quoted (ab antiquis temporibus), and was held in great veneration in the Middle Ages. It was made out of lambs’ wool solemnly offered at the altar, and was blessed by the pope in the Vatican Basilica on the Feast of St. Peter, being afterwards placed over the Confession of the Prince of the Apostles until it was given. It is asked for, delivered, and imposed in three successive ceremonies; it is the sign of the investiture of a power beyond that of a bishop which can only have as its origin the tomb in possession of the successor of Peter, in quo est plentitudo pontificalis officii cum archiepiscopalis nominis appellatione.

Thus in imposing the pallium upon St. Augustine, St. Gregory said to him: “Your Fraternity shall have subject to yourself by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, nor only the bishops ordained by you, nor only those ordained by the Bishop of York, but all the bishops of Britain” (Bede’s Eccl. Hist., Lib. 1, c. 29, P.L., vol. xcv, col. 69).

4. In the Records of the Archbishop of Canterbury we find frequent mention of the patriarchal power of Canterbury: “Elfsin … going to Rome for the pallium … died” (959). Quoted from Mabillon, Annales, lib. 46, Lucca (1739), vol. iii, p. 518.

The account of the Life of his successor Dunstan begins thus: “Dunstan, setting out for Rome for sake of the pallium …”. From Augustine to Cranmer all the archbishops of Canterbury received their pallium from the Sovereign Pontiffs; most of them even, according to the ancient rule, made the journey to Rome in person to receive it at the hands of the pope himself. Before receiving investiture the archbishop had no patriarchal rights; the pallium imposed by the pope is as it were the consecration of his supra-episcopal jurisdiction. Thus an archbishop who had received the pallium from an anti-pope was not received in England as Patriarch (Edwin Burton, Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. iii, p. 301).

5. This patriarchal power of Canterbury conferred by St. Gregory on St. Augustine became later the unifying principle of the Anglican Church. In 668 Pope Vitalian nominated to this See Theodore, an Eastern monk of Tarsus in Cilicia, who had passed many years in Rome, and who was famed for his sacred and humanistic learning. According to his famous contemporary the Venerable Bede (675-735) (cf. Hist. Eccl. Anglorum, Lib. iv, P.L., vol. xcv, col. 171) he was for more than a quarter of a century (668-90) one of the greatest archbishops of Canter bury and firmly established the patriarchal power. He set up new dioceses, nominated or dismissed bishops, held visitations of the dioceses, and summoned to his patriarchal council the different ecclesiastical provinces. In short, he organized the very real and very extensive jurisdiction of the Patriarch on the model of the Eastern Churches and with the constant support of Rome.

6. Two centuries later Pope Formosus III (896) in a famous letter addressed to the Bishops of England solemnly confirms these patriarchal powers and threatens with ecclesiastical penalties the bishops who might try to claim exemption from this perfectly legitimate jurisdiction (Allusion to the Archbishop of York who would have liked to withdraw his metropolitan see from this jurisdiction). Seeing the importance of this document it is necessary to quote the principal passage:


Who amongst you should hold the first place, and which episcopal see has power before all others and holds the primacy, is well known from ancient times. For as we learn from the writings of Blessed Gregory and his successors the metropolitan and first episcopal see of the kingdom of the English is in the city of Canterbury, over which our venerable brother Plegmund (890-914) now presides. On no account do we permit the honour of his high office to be diminished, but we ordain him to carry out all things as with Apostolic Authority. As Blessed Pope Gregory ordained first to your nation that all the bishops of the English should be subject to Augustine, so we to the forenamed brother the Archbishop of Canterbury and his lawful successors confirm the same dignity. We ordain and decree, by the authority of God and of Blessed Peter Prince of the Apostles, that all should obey his canonical decisions, and that no one should violate what ever has been granted to him and to his successors by Apostolic Authority (Bullarium, Editio Taurinensis, 1857, vol. i, p. 369).

7. In the following century, at the Council of Brandanford in 964, all the bishops approve the decree of King Edward putting an end to the persecution of his predecessor, and recalling St. Dunstan to the see of Canterbury:


“That the Church of Christ in Canterbury shall be the mother and mistress of the other Churches of our kingdom …” (Mansi, vol. xviii A, col. 476).

8. All the life of St. Anselm (d. 1109) bears witness to this same truth. The whole English episcopate is present at his consecration in 1093 and proclaims him Primate of all Britain, totius Britanniae primatem. It will be seen that this is not merely a title of honour (cf. Mansi, vol. xx, col. 792). At the Council of Rockingham in March 1094 (ibid., col. 791), in the speech where St. Anselm explains to the assembly of all the bishops his conflict with the king, he says:


For when recently I had asked him for permission to visit Urban, the ruler of the Apostolic See, to receive the pallium according to the custom of my predecessors….

At the Council of Bari (1098) Urban II made Anselm sit beside him and his archdeacon saying, “Let us put him in our immediate sphere, for he is as it were Pope of the other sphere” (Includamus hunc in orbe nostro quasi alterius orbis papam. Mansi, xx, col. 948).

A still more significant fact and one which shows the efficacy and extent of this primatial jurisdiction: Gerard, bishop of Hereford, was promoted in 1107 to the metropolitan see of York, the first see in Britain after Canterbury and which sought to be free of its dependence. Anselm wished to obtain from the newly-elect another explicit profession of obedience and submission, not being satisfied with that made by Gerard on entering into possession of the see of Hereford. Hence a conflict in which the king found a satisfactory solution: without making a fresh profession the elect would renew explicitly that made for Hereford:


Anselm agreed, and Gerard, with his hand placed in that of Anselm and his bond placed between, promised that he would show the same subjection and obedience to Anselm and his successors as he had promised when he was to be consecrated Bishop of Hereford (Mansi, vol. xx, col. 1229).

9. Nothing indeed was lacking for the reality of this patriarchal jurisdiction. Numerous ecclesiastical benefices were withdrawn from the dependence of the local bishop and made to depend directly on the see of Canterbury. It is what we would call exemption, but to the advantage of the Patriarch. In the time of St. Anselm there were about 80 benefices exempted in this sense. Many monasteries followed the same law.

10. Under the pontificate of Alexander III (1159-81) the patriarchal rights of the see of Canterbury were strongly attacked by the bishops of York and London, and the king, anxious to humble the Patriarch in order to have a stronger hold on the Church, upheld these claims; just as later on in Russia Peter the Great substituted the Holy Synod for the Patriarch of Moscow. Archbishop Thomas, who was soon to die a victim of his zeal, vindicated the rights of his Church and excommunicated the insubordinate bishops and the king himself. Alexander III confirmed by several bulls all the rights and privileges of the see of Canterbury:


As it is established that your predecessors from the time of St. Augustine have held by the authority of the Apostolic See (Mansi, vol. xxi, cols. 871-2).

These few historical facts that have just been mentioned and that could be multiplied, are surely proof of the two principles mentioned at the outset. A Church strongly unified and organized under the very real patriarchal authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Church is a Catholic and historic reality constituting one homogeneous whole. She cannot be absorbed and fusioned without losing the proper character of all her history. On the other hand this Church was strongly united from the beginning to the see of Peter. Invested with the symbolic mantle of the prince of the Apostles, the Archbishop of Canterbury shares in the apostolic jurisdiction not only over the faithful but also over the bishops. As once Elisha took on the mantle of his master and found thereby the influence of his spirit, so St. Augustine and all his successors without exception sought at Rome, by the imposition of the pallium, the investiture of their patriarchal jurisdiction. This historical position is so evident that it must in truth be said that an Anglican Church separated from Rome is above all things an historical heresy.

In brief, an Anglican Church ABSORBED by Rome and an Anglican Church SEPARATED from Rome are two conceptions that are equally inadmissible. The true formula must be sought somewhere between, which is the only position based on history, namely, in an Anglican Church UNITED to Rome.


According to Western Canon Law of the present day, the title of Patriarch or Primate is purely one of honour and does not imply of itself any special jurisdiction (Can. 271). This was not always the case. Historically, until the twelfth century, and longer still for certain sees, the function of Patriarch or Primate implied effective and very extensive jurisdiction both over different ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses. Had this jurisdiction a share in the power of the Primate of the whole Church of Christ, borne the same name, and more especially had it the same extent in the Latin as in the Byzantine Church? The greater proximity of Rome and the title of Patriarch of the West that the Sovereign Pontiff still uses officially to-day, diminished the utility and importance of the hierarchic rank and gradually brought about its decline. But it is incontestable that, under the different name of Primate, the reality existed in the west as in the east, and more especially, as has been shown, in the Church of England.

Let us first examine from this point of view the present status of the Eastern Churches united to Rome. Then we shall see what application can be made to the Church of England.

i. The Internal Organization of the United East Churches

Patriarchal organization is still the practice, as is known, of the Eastern Churches. It can even be said that it is more effective in the Churches united to Rome than in the Separated Churches where the interference of the Civil Power and of the laity often make it illusory.

To take a concrete example, let us examine the patriarchal organization of the Catholic Melkite Church. The jurisdiction of the Patriarch, Mgr. Cadi, includes all the Melkite faithful who were living in the Ottoman Empire in 1894, the date of this concession by Leo XIII.

The Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, who at the same time administers the two patriarchates of Jerusalem and Alexandria, counts in his patriarchate five metropolitan sees and seven bishoprics, in all twelve dioceses, and together about 170,000 faithful.

1. As soon as the synod of bishops has elected the new patriarch, he sends to the Pope a detailed profession of faith and asks him for the patriarchal pallium as a sign of his apostolic investiture. Before he has received this investiture the elect has no patriarchal power.

2. The choice of bishops is made in the following manner. The Patriarch proposes three candidates among whom the secular priests must make their choice. The newly-elect is then confirmed and consecrated by the Patriarch, without any intervention from Rome which is not even informed of the election and consecration. Thus no Eastern bishop is proclaimed in the Consistory. As for the titular bishops, their choice and consecration depend on the Patriarch alone, without Rome interfering or being informed.

3. At certain times the Patriarch convokes the Archbishops and Bishops to the Patriarchal Synod, over which he presides. The decrees and decisions are afterwards submitted for the approval of the Holy See.

4. The Patriarch has a right of inspection and visitation in the different dioceses. For more important measures, as would be the dismissal of a bishop, the approval of the Synod is required.

5. The exemption of certain great monasteries from episcopal jurisdiction means that they are submitted to the Patriarch. They are called stavropegiac and depend directly on the Patriarch. Among the Orthodox Melkites, of 17 monasteries five are stavropegiac.

6. The Patriarchal Churches have their own laws and customs, regulated by the Synods, their own liturgies and their own enterprises; in short, they constitute, under the authority of the Patriarch, autonomous institutions with their own organization; but they are in communion with and depend on Rome.

7. Far from being prejudicial to this autonomous internal organization, Rome has assured to the Eastern Churches the conservation of this wide autonomy. The first article of the Codex of Canon Law declares that Western legislation does not affect them and that the Catholic East preserves its own Laws and institutions. The same is true of the Liturgy and for the whole ecclesiastical organization. Leo XIII has admirably stated in his encyclical Praeclara of June 20, 1894, and in the Constitution Orientalium Dignitas of November 30, 1894, the basic line of conduct of the Roman Church: “The real unity among Christians is that which the Founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, has instituted and willed; it consists in the unity of faith and government. Neither We nor Our successors will ever suppress anything of your Law, nor the privileges of your Patriarchs, nor the ritual customs of each Church. It has always been and will be part of the mind and policy of the Holy See to show itself generous in concessions that affect the traditions and customs of each Church”.

ii. Application to England

1. There is then a Catholic formula for the Reunion of the Churches, which is not an absorption but which safeguards and respects the internal autonomous organization of the great historic Churches, while maintaining their perfect dependence towards the Roman Church, the centre of unity for the Universal Church.

2. If any Church by reason of its origins, its history, and the habits of its people, has a right to these concessions of autonomy, it is the Anglican Church. We have shown it in our historical inquiry. The principle affirmed by Leo XIII and applied by him to the Eastern Churches can equally well be applied to the Anglican Church: “It has always been and will be part of the mind and policy of the Holy See to show itself generous in concessions that affect the traditions and customs of each Church”.

3. In practice, the Archbishop of Canterbury would be re-established in his traditional and effective rights as Patriarch of the Anglican Church. After receiving his investiture from the successor of St. Peter by the traditional imposition of the pallium, he would enjoy patriarchal rights over the whole Church of England. These would include the nomination and consecration of bishops, the convocation and presidency of inter-provincial councils, the inspection of dioceses, and jurisdiction over the chief religious institutes that would be exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. The internal organization of the Anglican Church would be modelled on that sanctioned and maintained by Rome for the united Eastern Churches.

4. The Codex of Canon Law for the Latin Church would not be imposed on the Anglican Church. In an inter-provincial Synod she would establish her own ecclesiastical laws, and these would be submitted for the approval of the Holy See and sanctioned for the Anglican Church. It is well known that the Eastern laws are quite different from the Latin laws, except on matters of the natural or divine law. If by chance it was deemed opportune for the Anglican Church, there should be no hesitation in not imposing celibacy of clergy any more than in the East.

5. The Anglican Church would have its own Liturgy, the Roman Liturgy of the seventh and eighth centuries, as she practised it at that period and as it is found in the Gelasian Sacramentaries. Already at the present time there is a great desire in the Anglican Church to return to the classic beauty of this Roman Liturgy, which has unfortunately been lost by Rome and which the Anglican Church would restore to honour. As the worship of Our Lady and of the Saints is less exuberant in this classic Liturgy than in the present Roman Liturgy, there would thus be a useful means of effecting a transition.

6. Evidently all the historic sees of the Anglican Church would be maintained and the new Catholic sees created after 1851, such as Westminster, Southwark, Portsmouth, &c., would be suppressed. Doubtless that would be a serious measure but it should be remembered that at the time of the Concordat with France, Pius VII suppressed the existing dioceses and demanded the resignation of all those in possession, more than a hundred.

7. An important question as to precedence would be raised: are the Patriarchs to have precedence over Cardinals? A serious question that might compromise and spoil all negotiations unless it is decided according to historical data, as outlined below.

(a) Several Oecumenical Councils have solemnly decreed (IVth Constantinople in 869, Can. 21, and IVth Lateran in 1215, Can. 5) that the four effective Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem had a right to the first four places, in the order indicated, immediately after the Sovereign Pontiff of Rome. If then Canterbury has the fullness of its patriarchal function restored, it would rank in this category and occupy the fifth place among the Patriarchs, immediately after the Pope and before the Cardinals. It should be clear that there is only question here of the great Patriarchs, who had a residence in Rome, and each of whom was attached by name to a Basilica. Thus the Lateran was the residence of the Catholic Patriarch, the supreme and universal Pontiff; St. Peter’s was the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Paul’s of the Patriarch of Alexandria, St. Mary Major’s of the Patriarch of Antioch, and St. Lawrence’s outside the Walls of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. All these usages from before the Schism should be resumed, and the Archbishop of Canterbury should be assimilated to these four Patriarchs. There can be no doubt that before the Schism the Patriarchs were before the Cardinals.

(b) However, in view of the ideas dominant since the eleventh century, it would be difficult to apply these ancient uses. Advantage might then be taken of a rule that has been followed at certain times for princely persons, who ranked after the Dean of the Sacred College. The precedence of the members of the Sacred College was admitted in the person of its Dean.

(c) Finally, another system that has prevailed at certain times is for the Patriarchs to rank after the Cardinal Bishops and before the Cardinal Priests and Deacons.

(d) A good solution would be to establish an order of Cardinal Patriarchs, as in the eighth century was established the order of Cardinal Bishops, several centuries after the Cardinal Priests and Deacons. This solution has the disadvantage of being new and in a domain where the Church is very traditional; but in spite of being new the solution respects the lines of tradition.

In any case, it must not be forgotten that these questions of precedence, because of the principles that they symbolize, are most important and must be considered according to traditional principles.


1. Union, not absorption, such would seem to be the formula of reconciliation. On the one hand the Anglican Church, a religious society with its own internal organization and a moral entity enjoying autonomy, its own institutions, laws, and Liturgy, under the authority of its head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but without the principle of unity and the infallible ground of truth that Christ desires in the Church He founded: unum ovile et unus Pastor. On the other hand the Roman Church with her own institutions, laws, and Liturgy, in a word, with her internal Latin organization, but who also especially possesses in her head the principle of unity, the ground of truth and apostolicity, the unshakable rock on which the whole Church of Christ is founded. It would be necessary, then, if the Anglican Church wished to belong to the unique and visible society of Christ, for her to establish between herself and the Roman Church a link of dependence and submission to the successor of Peter, in other words she must become not Latin but Roman; while preserving all her internal organization, all her historical traditions and her legitimate autonomy, on the model of the Eastern Churches, she would strongly establish this essential link of subordination to the universal Church whose centre of unity is in Rome.

2. If the general principles indicated in this memorandum could serve as a basis for a movement of Reunion of the Churches, it would be necessary to develop this sketch and to establish the historical and canonical positions in a scientific way. In view of the inevitable and probably strong opposition that these unaccustomed ideas would arouse, it would be necessary before their publication to strengthen them with different considerations and developments that would make them theologically and historically unassailable, and it would be necessary to give precisions and details to prevent any uncertainty. Such a work would need the collaboration of several who would be able to produce a complete work.

3. What will Rome think of this plan? It is clear that it suggests a principle of decentralization which is not in accordance with the actual tendencies of the Roman Curia, a principle that could have other applications. Would it not be a good and a great good? Yet would Rome be of this opinion? Nothing can allow us to foresee what would be the answer.