Thursday, 9 February 2012

Lines in the Sand

Another intrusion into the business of others: a few follow up remarks on the Church of England's General Synod-related blogpost we put up on Tuesday, given feedback received, and given developments in Synod since.

First of all, an apology that we didn't state clearly in that post something we have stated clearly in many other posts.  What we should have emphasised is that we fully understand that this is an extremely difficult time for faithful Anglo-Catholics left in the Church of England (and indeed the Church in Wales).  Many have adapted their Anglo-Catholicism to suit the times, but many have not, and this latter group now find themselves in a tremendously challenging situation.  Our blogpost gave rise to a very friendly and very gentle response on the always interesting Let Nothing You Dismay blog, through which we felt rightly reminded of the need to bear in mind the trials facing our Anglo-Catholic brethren, as all of us ultimately share the knowledge that, or are coming to the realisation that, the writing does indeed seem to be on the wall.

The second point we would like to make is a comment on a reaction to what happened yesterday in Synod.  The following statement, unattributed but supposedly from "the Traditionalists", quoted on the Guardian's website, is rather surprising.  So surprising, that, having been unable to find it elsewhere on the internet, I am genuinely unable to say whether it comes from Evangelical "Traditionalists" or Anglo-Catholic "Traditionalists".

We welcome the fact the general synod is open to the possibility of the House of Bishops amending the draft measure, and call upon the house to do so in a way that will provide properly for those unable in conscience to accept the oversight of women bishops. The archbishops' amendment is a long way from our original proposals for provision; what we are saying is that we are willing to work with it, or something like it, for the sake of the unity of the church.
This seems a very, very, very long way from "A Code of Practice will not do" for example, which was only a year or two ago a rallying call of many Anglo-Catholics.  Synod voted against there being any "substantial" change to what is already on the table.  Furthermore, the "unity of the church" being referred to seems clearly to be the unity of the Church of England.  As admirable a goal as that is, wider Christian Unity doesn't get a look in.

The reason the statement quoted above is so surprising is that for any Anglican who has given thought to becoming a Catholic, or to his/her place as an Anglican in the univeral Church, there has always been a line in the sand, or one or a number of straws that could break the proverbial camel's back.  Panglossian statements about the proposed legislation and code of practice make it very hard to know where a line in the sand might be these days, if there is one at all.

The line (or the straw) is different in every case of course, and since each individual Anglican begins from a different starting point and sees different kinds of changes in his/her own time and in his/her own province/diocese/parish, that is not in the least bit surprising.  At some point Anglicans who become Catholics decide that their beliefs mean that their home is in the Catholic Church, not in a branch of the Anglican Communion.  Sometimes, that process is initiated by something that the Catholic Church does (eg the Holy Father's call to Unity in response to requests from Anglicans, as expressed in Anglicanorum Coetibus) and sometimes that process is initiated by something happening in their own branch of the Anglican Communion.

Looking at the process emerging from General Synod yesterday, two great Anglican converts of the past come to mind, as do their "lines in the sand". 

Cardinal Manning, once the Anglican Archdeacon of Chichester, towards the end of his Anglican days came up against a change that was implemented by the state, and although he fought for a while to protect the Church of England from the consequences, eventually decided that he could not even begin to achieve what would be necessary.  The change in question was the fallout from the Gorham Judgment in March 1850, when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council directed the Church of England to grant its ordination to a clergyman who did not believe in Baptismal Regeneration.  The House of Lords voted against transferring this decision to the Church of England's Convocation, and the matter was settled by the state.  This way of proceeding, following other less significant difficulties, did not match with Manning's then view, a view held dear by generations of Anglo-Catholics, some even to this day, that the Church of England was part of the one universal Church, even if in impaired communion.  Manning did not agree that the teachings of the Church should be changed by parliamentary command.

If by any chance the Church of England's General Synod rejects the legislation before it in the summer, and delays the introduction of women to its episcopacy, one can only shrink in horror at the consequences.  Canon Jane Hedges, a potential frontrunner to be one of the Church of England's first women bishops, was quoted in a Times interview in 2009 about the strong support in Parliament for there to be women bishops.  Frank Field MP has tabled an Early Day Motion urging the Church of England to "get on with it".  Everyone is clear that the Church of England has decided to, and will, ordain women to its episcopacy, the question is how exactly to deal with those who dissent from that majority view.  However, if the legislation falls over in July because of a failure to agree on how to provide for dissenters, then surely there is a significant risk that Manning's nightmare of the state intervening to make the Church of England "behave" will happen once again.

The other great Anglican convert who comes to mind now is Blessed John Henry Newman.  There were various things that brought him to his conclusion about joining the Catholic Church, but there are perhaps two that appear most relevant today : the Jerusalem Bishopric, and the comparison of Roman and Anglican "innovations".

The "beginning of the end" for Newman was the 1841 initiative of the Jerusalem Bishopric.  This was an extraordinary, and in its original form, ultimately doomed project in which the Church of England was to work with the Church of Prussia to set up a focal point in the Holy Land for pan-European Protestantism.  The Anglophile King Frederic William IV of Prussia was keen to introduce episcopacy into the state-run Church of Prussia, Lord Palmerston and Lord Shaftesbury agreed with the venture, and the Anglican hierarchy (including our old friend Bishop Blomfield of London, mentioned in this earlier post of ours) was happy to see its influence extending to the "less perfectly formed Protestant Churches of Europe" without interference from Rome.

Evangelicals in the Church of England were delighted, but those with what we might now call an Anglo-Catholic vision were not.  Newman in particular was horrified at the idea that the Church of England would be admitting adherents of the "heresies" of Lutheranism and Calvinism to communion with it.

Newman did not see Christian Unity in terms of reaching out to relatively like minded state churches.  He saw it as union with Rome: taking into account the teaching of the Catholic Church, not moving away from it.

As to counter-accusations that the Catholic Church had a long-established habit of introducing innovations itself, Newman had the following to say, and perhaps this May 1843 quotation speaks louder than ever today:
At present I fear, as far as I can analyze my own convictions, I consider the Roman Catholic Communion to be the Church of the Apostles, and that what grace is among us (which, through God's mercy, is not little) is extraordinary, and from the overflowings of His dispensation.  I am very far more sure that England is in schism, than that the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith.
One final point.  Some of the reactions appearing online to what is going on (apart from those of a Panglossian nature) display hurt and astonishment at the process.  Though it is little consolation to say this, feeling ejected from what one has regarded as one's spiritual home is nothing new, as this passage from The Parting of Friends (Blessed John Henry Newman's final sermon as an Anglican) relates, full of quotations from Isaiah in referring to the Church of England as a mother:
.....thine own offspring, the fruit of thy womb, who love thee and would toil for thee, thou dost gaze upon with fear, as though a portent, or thou dost loathe as an offence;—at best thou dost but endure, as if they had no claim but on thy patience, self-possession, and vigilance, to be rid of them as easily as thou mayest. Thou makest them "stand all the day idle," as the very condition of thy bearing with them; or thou biddest them be gone, where they will be more welcome; or thou sellest them for nought to the stranger that passes by.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  Still, don't be disheartened, reflect and pray, ponder all these things in your heart : there is at least one place where you "will be more welcome", if that is the route you eventually decide to choose, and until then, please be assured that those who have made that journey before you know exactly how hard it can be to take those first steps on the road.

1 comment:

  1. "Another intrusion into the business of others?"
    It's not an intrusion: if anyone has won the right to comment, you have!