Monday, 14 May 2012

Life is Happiness Indeed

In recent months, some Anglo-Catholics have taken heart from the appointment to various Anglican episcopal roles of those they felt to be "sound", and who understood their situation.  It started with the Principal of Pusey House being given role of Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and the Vicar of Walsingham being given the role of Bishop of Richborough.  

There seems to be even more excitement now, following the recent appointment of Dr Martin Warner as the next Bishop of Chichester (an Anglican diocesan see, rather than an Anglican assistant bishop position).   Dr Warner is a good and holy man, much loved and respected by those who work with him, with great intellectual, spiritual and pastoral talents: no-one disputes that. 

However, does Dr Warner's appointment mean that Anglo-Catholics can dismiss the rest of all possible worlds, and conclude that they inhabit the best of all possible worlds

We don't wish to be flippant.  There are plenty who take a thoughtful and measured approach to this, who feel that what comfort has been given here is in the fact that such appointments can still be made at all (especially to an Anglican diocesan see rather than simply to an auxiliary or assistant position), rather than in any sense that the Church of England, or indeed the Church in Wales (whose bloggers are under no illusions), understands them or their ecclesiology any more than it has done in recent years. 

Yet, with no disrespect to any of the charming, erudite and truly christian men freshly appointed to their new roles, if the changes in the Church of England are going to happen (which seems very likely), isn't there a danger that these appointments could serve only to mask their effect, to disguise the fact that a fundamental shift has occured?    By the same token, undoubtedly Rowan Williams has much sympathy for his Anglo-Catholic flock, and no doubt he has pushed hard for these appointments (in the appropriate way), seeking to achieve by personal influence and charity what General Synod resolutely refuses to provide in law: yet is this delight in being able to trust one person to patch things up really all that wise, given that no-one can know what his successor(s) will do?  After all, the appointment of Dr Williams's successor as Anglican Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, one of the most uber-liberal of the current Anglican primates (in a competitive field), to the Crown Nominations Commission (the body that will recommend the next Archbishop of Canterbury) is hardly likely to generate any comfort for those in the Church of England who are aware of parallel developments in the Church in Wales.   

The reaction to Dr Warner's appointment was not universally positive.  A regrettably graceless comment is quoted in this BBC article, which is especially unfortunate following the appointment of a man who has shown himself very able to work with with all around him, whatever their views.   However, one has to wonder if the stark tone of the WATCH press release might not reflect simply an understandable frustration at the fact that, just as the CofE is on the edge of appointing women to its episcopacy, with no real provision for those who do not think such things can be decided by majority vote in one place alone, it is simultaneously prepared to appoint a diocesan bishop who will not ordain women even as anglican priests.

In an earlier post, written as the fuss before the most recent round of General Synod debates was at its height, we commented on how the sometimes direct tone of certain statements distracted people from seeing that the point being made was merely factual and not especially controversial.  In particular, we quoted The Telegraph's interview with the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin.  There is no doubt that what she said might have been phrased more delicately, but that doesn't undermine her point.
The Church is desperately trying to hold everybody together, and we haven’t understood that this is not going to be possible. To try to do that is to put on a sticking plaster that is going to curl at the edge and fall apart. It cannot be sustainable. The whole thing is a mess. We need to say, as a Church, 'We ordain men and women.’ Full stop. All the way to the top. For those who feel that they can’t live with it? They’re adults. By all means, go to Rome. Join the Ordinariate. Don’t stay and make demands of the Church. It’s wrong.
In that post, we said that we could all be excused a certain level of frustration having seen this issue being debated for 37 years.  Some might argue that a little bit of brutally frank honesty is what is necessary, for those on all sides of the debate, so that everyone might come to realise where they now stood, and to decide whether they liked it or not.

There will be those who come to the conclusion that they are delighted with their lot.  There will be those who will decide to be assimilated (not necessarily easily, but still), perhaps because these days you have to be in the majority.  Good for them: we might disagree, but we must wish each other well. 

There will also be those who consider that they don't like what is happening, but who somehow decide to stick it out, perhaps encouraged by the recent appointments, for example.  Their buildings haven't fallen down, the choir and servers still put on a good show, and the reality of the wider Church of England seems a million miles away.  However, in this, is the decision not being taken in effect to accept the phrase used with such punch by Fr Ed Tomlinson, and to opt for a system of terminal care for Anglo-Catholics and for the past understanding of Anglo-Catholicism and its aims?  Is terminal care really the best that can be hoped for?  Should people really settle for the Sunset Retirement Home for Ecclesial Visions?  Is that really the best of all possible worlds?

All this is so very far from the vision of Blessed John Paul II in his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral in 1982. 
My dear brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion, “whom I love and long for” (Phil. 4, 1), how happy I am to be able to speak directly to you today in this great Cathedral! The building itself is an eloquent witness both to our long years of common inheritance and to the sad years of division that followed......I appeal to you in this holy place, all my fellow Christians, and especially the members of the Church of England and the members of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, to accept the commitment to which Archbishop Runcie and I pledge ourselves anew before you today. This commitment is that of praying and working for reconciliation and ecclesial unity according to the mind and heart of our Saviour Jesus Christ. On this first visit of a Pope to Canterbury, I come to you in love - the love of Peter to whom the Lord said, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luc. 22, 32). I come to you also in the love of Gregory, who sent Saint Augustine to this place to give the Lord’s flock a shepherd’s care (Cfr. 1 Petr. 5, 2). Just as every minister of the Gospel must do, so today I echo the words of the Master: “I am among you as one who serves” (Luc. 22, 27). With me I bring to you, beloved brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion, the hopes and the desires, the prayers and good will of all who are united with the Church of Rome, which from earliest times was said to “preside in love” (S. IGNATII ANTIOCHENI Ad Romanos, Prooem.).
Dr Warner has rightly talked (from roughly 4 minutes into this film) of how significant the Anglo-Catholic movement has been to the life and identity of the Church of England, how it is a strand that contributes to defining the nature of the Church of England, how, without that strand, the Church of England would be less than itself.  This is all true, but when the claims of Anglo-Catholicism are based on a shakier and shakier logic, can one still say that the strand is there?  Can one say it will be there in a few years from now?

Dr Warner also cites ecclesia semper reformanda as a justification for the continual development of the Church.  Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.  Ecclesia semper reformanda is a phrase that needs to be understood in context, and not a phrase, I propose, that can be used to suggest that the Church of England is concordant with Catholic teaching in assimilating to whatever comes its way through the democratic votes of its decision making bodies.

Lumen Gentium talks in fact of ecclesia semper purificanda, which is of course not exactly the same thing.  The word reformanda does not appear in Lumen Gentium.
Dum vero Christus, "sanctus, innocens, impollutus" (Hebr 7,26), peccatum non novit (cf. 2Cor 5,21), sed sola delicta populi repropitiare venit (cf. Hebr 2,17), Ecclesia in proprio sinu peccatores complectens, sancta simul et semper purificanda, poenitentiam et renovationem continuo prosequitur.
While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal.
Further, using the phrase ecclesia semper reformanda is not without its difficulties for those trying to emphasise their catholic credentials from outside the Church, as it is often understood to be one of the great cries of the protestant reformers who sought to break away from catholicism and Rome.  The following quotation from the very same section of Lumen Gentium makes it clear that a key part of catholic identity, whether being reformed or being purified, is communion with Rome, with the successor of St Peter.
Haec est unica Christi Ecclesia, quam in Symbolo unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam profitemur, quam Salvator noster, post resurrectionem suam Petro pascendam tradidit (cf. Io 21,17), eique ac ceteris Apostolis diffundendam et regendam commisit (cf. Mt 28,18ss.), et in perpetuum ut columnam et firmamentum veritatis erexit (cf. 1Tim 3,15). Haec Ecclesia, in hoc mundo ut societas constituta et ordinata, subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata, licet extra eius compaginem elementa plura sanctificationis et veritatis inveniantur, quae ut dona Ecclesiae Christi propria, ad unitatem catholicam impellunt.
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
The further that the Church of England wanders from the path towards that communion with the Successor of St Peter, the more difficult it is to see that "vital strand" of which Dr Warner talks.   The meetings of ARCIC last week in Hong Kong give no hope at all in this respect, as the words of the Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand make clear :
There seem to be many obstacles from a human point of view, and it does not seem likely to have fully visible unity in the near future.
This is not to say that the phrase ecclesia semper reformanda cannot be used in a Catholic context: of course it can, and very effectively too, but this only in the sense of the hermeneutic of continuity, not in the sense of total rupture; in the sense of new ways of presenting the same Truth, not in the sense of innovations not justified through scripture or tradition.

In the same video interview, the phrase "Catholic and Reformed" is used, a label for the Church of England that I have never liked.  Apart from the obvious contradictions in the phrase, and the implication that circles can be squared (something that General Synod knows is not the case), it opens the door to a "pick and mix" approach to faith, doctrine and religion, and closes the door to the objectivity, the splendour even, of divinely revealed truth.  Without wanting to imply that Anglo-Catholicism was ever a single movement with a totally unified aim of corporate reunion, I think it is fair to say that we are now seeing something very new: an assimilation is taking place, whereby there is less and less even of a pretence of an interest in the Reunion of Christendom, the concept that features so prominently on the Halifax Memorial in our former Anglican home, St Mary's Bourne St. 

The ultimate goal seems to be to preserve some sort of special status in the Church of England, as part of the mix with liberal and evangelicals with whom there would be some rather significant theological differences.  An enclave.  A quiet corner.  Unity, apart from in the context of the old joke about the Church of England being an ecumenical movement in itself, doesn't get a look in.

The questions raised in our post Lines in the Sand remain.  In that post, we talked of the lines in the sand that meant that Manning and Newman felt called to leave the Church of England and to join the Catholic Church: yet it is very hard for us outsiders to see where the lines in the sand for the current Anglo-Catholic movement would be.  Given that the lines seem to shift pretty radically ("a code of practice will not do"), it is not especially hard to understand the frustration that leads to the tone of the WATCH press release mentioned above and to the tone of the quotation of the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

In the hope of Catholic Unity, we pray that the new view in the Anglo-Catholic movement is not that the Church of England is considered, of itself, to consitute the best of all possible worlds, come what may.  The appointment by the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury of two new PEVs (just as the role of PEV is about to be abolished), and of a good and holy man of the Anglo-Catholic tradition to one of the most Anglo-Catholic dioceses in England (even if that diocese voted in favour of the ordination of women to the Anglican episcopate) does not mean that all is well, much less that all will be well. 

After enduring terrible trials, even Dr Pangloss and Candide came to see that they did not in fact inhabit the best of all possible worlds where everything was for the best.  After their realisation of the truth, in the Bernstein setting, they sing the following words:

Let dreamers dream
What worlds they please
Those Edens can't be found.
The sweetest flowers,
The fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground
You might guess where we would say the solid ground is located.  This is the appropriate moment, come to Rome in all safety.

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