So a Pope and an Anglican Archbishop walk into an Abbey…

Benedict XVI in Westminster Abbey The other day when Benedict XVI was at Westminster Abbey, together with Anglican Archbp. Williams for an Anglican service, I just about sprayed my Mystic Monk Coffee on the screen when I heard that the Holy Father chose to wear a stole that belonged to … Leo XIII.

I was going to post about it then but time took it away from me. Today, a priest reader reminded me.

Leo XIII was the Pope who declared that Anglican ordinations, orders, priesthood, were invalid.

So,… the Pope of Rome goes into Westminster Abbey, a church dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles, and – while wearing Leo XIII’s stole – reminds them that he is the Successor of Peter.

And they applauded!

The title of this entry is a bit lighthearted, but the issues at hand are very serious.

Benedict XVI teaches through signs. Signs point to deeper issues. Vestments are signs.

In the person of Pope Benedict, Peter’s Successor came to Westminster. In Benedict, in a symbolic sense, Leo XIII came to Westminster as well.

This was not a a way of wiping anyone’s eye. This was medicine for a chronic pain.

Benedict engaged the Church of England on an entirely new level. He symbolically and effectively let them know that, from the point of view of the Roman Catholic Church, the still open strife of the last four centuries was over. At the same time, he affirmed that, while there is no going back, there may not be a way to go forward on certain issues if the Church of England continues in the direction it is headed.

He gave a great deal while still not budging an inch.

Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jcons114 says:

    BAHAHAHAH!!!! I almost did the same spit take when I read your article Father! That is pure awesomeness shown by B16. Bravo Santo Padre!

  2. TJerome says:

    I was born when Pius XII was Pope. Benedict XVI is my favorite! He’s holy, principled, intellectual, benevolent, and is truly the Pope of Christian Unity.

  3. John says:

    What a pope! We are so blessed. Sometimes though, I think he really is God’s Rotweiler, but wearing the costume of a “cuddly” St Bernard.


  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    St Bernards can be pretty mean. They also aren’t as a general rule very bright.

    Maybe a Rottweiler disguised as a cute, cuddly, but frighteningly smart Border Collie? He’s certainly riding herd on the Anglicans!

    This isn’t so much ‘in your face’ or ‘wiping their eye’ as “Wake up and smell the Mystic Monk coffee.”

  5. Random Friar says:

    H.H. Leo XIII: Father of *Proper* Modern Social Justice, the Rosary Pope, and nullity of Anglican Orders, and also the elevation of the Angelic Doctor to pride of place.

    Leo XIII is the Pope of Thomistic Awesomeness.

  6. RichR says:

    At the same time, he affirmed that, while there is no going back, there may not be a way to go forward on certain issues if the Church of England continues in the direction it is headed.

    I think the CoE has already crossed that threshold. Even Cardinal Kasper said, “Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full Church Communion. That has been the presupposition of our dialogue until now. That presupposition would realistically no longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to episcopal office.”

  7. John says:

    St Bernards can be pretty mean. They also aren’t as a general rule very bright.

    Yes, ok… but they’re seen as big, friendly playful things. (With a jot of brandy no less). And what are they? (At least in the alps according to tradition)? They are the life savers who go out in all kinds of weather to save those in need.

    And what is Papa Benedict? He’s our Pope who consistently goes to places that are most unfriendly to Christianity and tells them the truth. To save those in need. At the potential risk of his own earthly life. (Look at the “street cleaners”in London.)

    And dumb? tell me about dumb. My sister had an Afghan. I could say to this Afghan dog, “I’m gonna use a git clone for the svn repo.” And the dog would just look at me.

    Papa Benedict, Pope of Christian Unity indeed.

    John from
    Pomeroy on the Palouse

    (Oh dag nab it, the preview button is gone.)

  8. Supertradmum says:

    I finally figured out that St. Anne and St. Joachim ride on the top of the stole, and the Crucified Savior on one side. The stole was absolutely beautiful.

  9. teaguytom says:

    Supertradmum, you beat me to it. I remember seeing this stole in Fr Michael Collins “The Vatican” I believe it’s made out of velvet.

  10. kelleyb says:

    Thank you, Lord, for our great Pope! St. Michael, please protect the Vicar of Christ.
    I love Pope Benedict.

  11. Gail F says:

    NO WAY. That is just…. something else.

    Fr. Z, I think Pope Benedict said a lot more than even this. I think he gave them an ultimatum: Turn back to Christian orthodoxy, or you’re on your own.

  12. IIRC, Leo is also the pope of “So this little French kid runs up to me at the audience, grabs my knees, and begs me to let her go to the Carmelite convent early! She was so cute! So I told her she’d go if it were God’s will, and whaddaya know!?” A prime example of how someone in authority being even the slightest bit generous – just admitting a vague possibility – can make a huge difference to the world

    St. Therese is very, very interested in this whole Anglican/Tiber thing, as we all know from her dedication to praying for it during her life, her relics’ recent visit to England, and Fr. Longenecker’s account of how she posthumously noodged him over into Catholicism. So it’s got a lot of depth to it, that stole.

  13. Probably silk velvet, then. Nice.

  14. pfreddys says:

    Let’s just face it…England is the culture bearer of all English speaking Nations… what I have to say for this Holy Father….is… WOW! simply WOW!!! GOD HAS NOW FOUND US A WAY TO SIMPLY COMMUICATE TO THE 21st CENTURY….PLEASE OH PLEASE LET THIS POPE LIVE TO 123!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. pfreddys says:

    btw, HE sounds just like my grand father who accepted American citizenship in 1932…so that might be WHY I feel so humbly attracted to this Pope which God has blessed us with at this critical historical junctrue……I would VERY easily take a bullet for this Pope and NOT think twice about it….JPII (i am 1/8 Polish) NOT TOO Sure about!!!

  16. Suburban: This is what Popes do, isn’t it.

  17. PaterAugustinus says:

    Fr. Z: “Benedict XVI teaches through signs. Signs point to deeper issues. Vestments are signs.”

    That being the case, what do y’all suppose it meant, when the Pope adopted the Eastern (and formerly Latin) Orthodox style of wearing the Pallium/Omophorion, at his inaugural Mass and for some time thereafter?

  18. puma19 says:

    This was a fascinating visit to UK and especially the Westminster Abbey prayer service with the ‘archbishop’ of Cantuar!! well, maybe not.
    That BXVI wore Leo’s stole says something does it not. Who decided on that, Marini or Il papa? And why for this visit. I have not seen before and over 100 yeats later the pope wears it. Where was it stored?
    Anyway, what was amazing was the prayer before the tomb of ST Edward the Confessor who lies there amidst 17 former monarchs of Britain including Elizabeth I who must have spiralled in her grave alongside Mary. Only yards from Edward the great saint in the former Benedictine Abbey built and established by the Catholic Church for 300 years before henry viii stepped in.
    You have to ask yourself, quietly of course, why Rowan did not decide to give back the Abbey that was always Catholic and ought be in the possession of BXVI. Like York Minster as well.
    Guess it is not to be. Like the cause of unity with Anglicans which has been set back further by women priests. women bishops and gay ‘priest’ relationships in the CofE. The Anglican Church has cut itself off and has destablised any further unity.
    The Patriarch of Moscow’s assistant for Intl Affairs reminded Rowan of this recently in london when he said that unity talks were bascially heading nowhere with the Anglicans as they vote and go their own way on a tangent to spiritual catastrophe.

    Long live Papa Benedetto.

  19. GOR says:

    There was the picture also of the Holy Father patting the police sniffing dog as he thanked the security forces. Nice touch – showing that our Papa is not just a cat lover but is open to all – animal and human alike…

  20. I don’t think Westminster Abbey, or even Lambeth Palace, “belongs” to the Anglican Church in any way that allows Rowan Williams to dispose of it as a normal real estate property. I’m sure it’s all tied up in weird ways.

    I find after running a search that the Abbey is apparently a “Royal Peculiar”, under jurisdiction of the monarch and not of any bishop, so Rowan Williamson couldn’t give it away if he tried. Though this apparently means they don’t get any funding from anybody but the public. A mixed blessing….

  21. Marcin says:

    I could say to this Afghan dog, “I’m gonna use a git clone for the svn repo.” And the dog would just look at me.

    I bet the Afghan had a small code base and was developing it in a neat and linear fashion. Just like myself – svn is good enough.

  22. Re: authority — Yep, and even the pagans understood the value of an appeal to Rome!

    Re: Afghan hound — You know, all dogs have a code nose.

  23. irishgirl says:

    Interesting about the use of Leo XIII’s stole at the Abbey.

    AnAmericanMother @ 7:15-‘a Rottweiler disguised as a cute, cuddly and frighteningly smart Border Collie’. I love that! What a picture that would make! [Border Collies are probably the smartest of all dog breeds]

    Long live our Holy Father Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity!

  24. Supertradmum says:

    May I add that the little “skull caps” worn by the Pope and the other hierarchy are also powerful signs of the Catholic Church’s connection to the Judaic Revelation of the Old Testament, and again, are signs of continuity. All these symbols of clothing mean something to the British as well, who are always aware of “foreign” things.

  25. Someone wrote to me with a suggestion:

    A more benign interpretation of Pope Benedict wearing a stole owned by Pope Leo XXIII would be that Pope Leo made Newman a cardinal and thereby finished a period of scorn and contempt Newman had to endure from certain people. Don’t you think so??

    Perhaps. But could anyone choosing a stole to be worn by a Pope in Westminster Abbey, and opening that drawer marked “Leo XIII”, not be mindful that Leo XIII issued Apostolicae curae? Would Benedict XVI have forgotten that? Unlikely.

    That said, there is no reason why there cannot be more than one reason for choosing that stole for that occasion.

  26. JosephMary says:

    The Holy Father with the authority of the keys given to Peter pulled no punches. Yet he did it in such a benevolent manner and so gentle too. He was radiant.

    Remember in the Gospels where people were amazed at Jesus and commented that he spoke with authority and not like the scribes? This was Pope Benedict there in the midst of them. Such an incredible man! A true representative of Christ as His Vicar.

  27. JimGB says:

    Puma19, I learned an interesting fact on a recent trip to London: Westminster Abbey is not under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury but in fact is under the control of the Queen, who delegates the operation of the church to a functionary with a grand title. So, it appears that the Archbishop could not give it back to the Pope even if he wanted to! Lambeth Palace, on the other hand… (would make a great nunciature, no?)

  28. FranzJosf says:

    I’m still glowing from the Holy Father’s journey to England, and I wasn’t even there.

    His friendly, yet not-giving-an-inch message together with Adoration and Benediction for 80,000. Amazing. Add on, “I’m the successor of Peter.” Glorious. Humilty and Strength. (a rare combination here below)

    I see that Damian Thompson is predicting conversions in his wake. Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

  29. pattif says:

    And to think it used to be said that Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t have a sense of humour….

  30. ghp95134 says:

    puma19 says Anyway, what was amazing was the prayer before the tomb of ST Edward the Confessor

    Speaking of Edward the Confessor … here’s a depiction of him at Westminster:

    “It is 1064. In the Royal Palace of Westminster Edward the Confessor, King of England since 1042, is talking to his brother-in-law Harold, Earl of Wessex. After this Harold, holding a hawk, makes for the south coast with his followers and hunting dogs. They are heading for Bosham in Sussex, Harold’s family estate.” [source:


  31. Widukind says:

    The photograph of His Holiness very much appeals to me. A ponderous moment, a sense of sureness, an aura of humility, and a faintness of contentment – in all, a real, deep, transparent picture of Benedict.

  32. Fred says:

    It would be amazingly crude and rude for Pope Benedict – visiting Britain as the invited guest of Her Majesty the Queen, who also happens to be the titular leader of the Anglican Communion – to use his visit to deliberately rub the fact in, even if ever so subtly, that he considers his hosts’ clergy to be apostates. There may be a time and place to make such distinctions, but surely not as a guest of people with whom there have long been tensions?

    Much more likely that he wore the stole to recognize Cardinal Newman’s protector. (Cardinal Newman, incidentally, thought the timing of the proclamation of papal infallibility to be a huge mistake.)

    I cannot believe he would behave in such a manner. And I even less believe he’d want us to gloat about this.

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