Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Missing the Point

Some wonder if we are intruding when we, as individual members of the Ordinariate, reflect on what is going in the Church of England.  Some still in the CofE think that we should forget about all those beside whom we knelt at the CofE's altars, and give no thought to their situation.  Our response to that has always been that it is impossible for us to forget all that was good about our Anglican past (no-one in the Catholic Church has ever asked us to deny anything of our Anglican past), and of course no small part of that was those around us.  As such, we maintain a keen interest. 

Certainly, we rejoice in where we now find ourselves, but that does not mean that we blank out, in a Stalinist way, those who were around us week by week in the past.  A commenter on another blog recently highlighted that some Anglican parish websites, in cases where the previous incumbent left to join the Ordinariate, have adopted the approach of airbrushing him (and those who crossed the Tiber with him) out of their history.  That is not what we want to do.  Many of these people remain our friends, and even those whom we don't know have, in many ways, a shared past with us: how could we possibly not be interested?

Why the urge to comment today?  Well, because the Church of England's House of Bishops issued a press release last night, which in essence states that the Code of Practice that they intend to accompany the legislation to allow the appointment of women to the Anglican episcopacy will be amended only in a couple of minor ways before being presented to General Synod for approval in a few weeks from now.  One must certainly compliment the author of the press release on his or her lawyerly eloquence.  To cut it all down in the most bathetic of ways, in a simpler tone, the Code of Practice seems to say more or less the following.
If a parish situated in a diocese where the diocesan bishop is female petitions the diocesan bishop for alternative episcopal oversight, that diocesan bishop, respecting procedures drawn up in her diocese, will allow a male bishop (with similar theological views to the parish in question) to act on her behalf in that parish.  That male bishop, although no less an anglican bishop in his own right than she is in hers, would be acting on delegated authority only, and would in no sense replace the diocesan bishop or usurp her authority as diocesan bishop.  The CofE will commit to maintaining a supply of male bishops able and willing to act on this basis, and will not discriminate in ordination selection against those who are unable to accept in conscience the ordination of women to the anglican priesthood or episcopate.
A press release from WATCH expresses outrage that any amendments at all have been made to the previous version of the Code of Practice, but frankly the only change worth mentioning is that a replacement male bishop must hold views compatible with those of the parish seeking alternative oversight (the misguided previous versions talked only about a need to provide a male bishop, which erroneously implied that all opposition was down merely to outrageous sexism, and could be easily addressed by ensuring that the replacement were male).

I don't think anyone is genuinely surprised by the news from the CofE's House of Bishops.  No, this is was what was expected (and in some Anglo-Catholic quarters feared, because there is still absolutely no statutory provision), but it was also what the clear majority in General Synod and in Diocesan Synods up and down the country had voted for.  As a matter of fact, that is how the Church of England governs itself: one is free to agree or disagree with that as a system, but "theology by democratic vote" is the way things are now done in the CofE.  Something of a change from the words of Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945-1961, often quoted by Anglo-Catholics thereafter as proof of the catholic nature of the CofE:
The Church of England has no doctrine of its own, save that of the one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.
It is precisely because the democratic position has been so clear that the tone of some of those in favour of the ordination of women to the anglican episcopacy has perhaps been, on occasion, less friendly than it might have been.  There has been an understandable sense of exasperation that after so many years of debate, when the majority will has been made clear, that discussions continue.

Yet, it seems to us that the whole debate is actually missing the point entirely.  The understandable heat that has built up on both sides is deflecting attention from a more fundamental question.  The massive disagreement is not really about the ordination of women, at least from an Anglo-Catholic perspective it shouldn't be, it is about authority and unity.

Once one see this, then suddenly a great ray of light dawns.

We need to move beyond the genuine emotion and well-thought through arguments on both sides of these debates and stop to reflect.  Where is the authority to decide? 

Blessed John Paul II didn't think he had the authority to make changes to introduce women to the priesthood of the Catholic Church.  Therefore, the objection from Anglo-Catholic quarters was historically that the CofE could not decide on this alone and thereby distance itself from the wider Church in both the East and the West.  I think I can speak for all the Marylebone group when I say that we have never been particularly worked up about the ordination of women or the other big debates of the day, per se.  They are not and have never been issues that obsess us.  What matters far more is whether any of us, individually or as an elected group in a General Synod, have the authority to change or redefine things. 

When you join the Ordinariate, you are not asked to say that if you had the chance to make up your own religion, according to what you felt would represent a popular view in your times of what was good, you would come up with something that was word for word identical to the Catechism.  You are not asked to state that there are no hard teachings in the Catechism. You are asked to say that you accept the Catholic Faith as presented in the Catechism.  You are asked to say that in Christian obedience you accept that the Church is, using the words of 1 Timothy 3.15, the "...pillar and bulwark of the truth...", and that therefore you accept the teachings of the Church.  Specifically, you are asked to declare your faith through the Creed, and to say:
I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
You are asked to say nothing more than you have probably sung a hundred times even in your Anglican days, now of course appreciating more completely the meaning of this verse from the hymn (Firmly I believe and truly) drawn from Newman's Dream of Gerontius :
And I hold in veneration
For the love of Him alone
Holy Church as His creation
And her teachings as His own
This has sometimes been criticised as meaning that you must switch your brain off upon becoming a Catholic.  That just isn't so.  Blessed John Henry Newman explained this point in the Apologia:
From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.
He had not changed, he was not a different person.  What had happened is that he found himself in a place where what the Church taught was the Truth, however convenient or inconvenient the Truth might be. 

The excellent Let Nothing You Dismay blog summed up this dichotomy between visions of what the Church is, indeed of what truth is, in a post earlier this week in which recent news from the Church in Wales is mentioned.  That the author should select the same extract of the First Letter of Timothy, highlighted in 1.8 of Lumen Gentium and in paragraph 27 of Veritatis Splendor proves that the same concern is shared on both sides of the Tiber.
Here we have it - Church as representative focus group of existing opinion or as the faithful teacher and guarantor of a revealed and authentic Christian tradition, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth?"  We all have to make a choice (personally, it would now seem) as to which 'model' we are theologically, philosophically, and ethically or morally willing or able to accept.
If your vision of the Church, and if your vision of truth, is concordant with a system where majority votes can cause significant changes that can make Unity far harder to achieve, then the General Synod is for you.  Vote by vote, five-year elected synod by five-year elected synod, things can be changed dramatically.  That's one approach. 

The other approach, being that there is a Truth to proclaim, is indeed set out in, amongst many other places, the two documents mentioned above, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium and the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (both are eminently readable and approachable, especially the latter).  Veritatis Splendor, although addressing a different and specific context, opens as follows, calling all to look to the truth in obedience, however hard or uncomfortable that truth might be. 

It thereby recognises the objectivity, indeed the splendour of truth, that when the Catholic faith teaches that certain things are true, it does so fearless as to whether that truth will be a hit or not.
Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens everyone" (Jn 1:9), people become "light in the Lord" and "children of light" (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by "obedience to the truth" (1 Pet 1:22).

This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging "the truth about God for a lie" (Rom 1:25). Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself.
If we want the faith of the apostles, as handed down over millenia, then we have the Catholic Church.  If we don't accept that, if we want an approach where we ourselves can define what the truth is, then there are other options available.  As stated on Let Nothing You Dismay, the choice is this "...(the) Church as representative focus group of existing opinion or as the faithful teacher and guarantor of a revealed and authentic Christian tradition"

That concept of truth does not limit itself to the tougher moral teachings of the Church, but it brings with it an overriding concept that there is an absolute truth.  If we want to change things, we need to be sure that we have both a very sound basis to do so, and the clear authority to do so.  The mere fact that something appears to be "right" to a group of people, even to a majority of people, does not make it right: the popularity of something does not require that we bring it into being regardless of whether or not we can find any authority in scripture or tradition to do so.

It is for this reason that we have the magisterium.  If you ignore the magisterium, making yourself and your peers the ultimate arbiters, then Catholic teaching says that you step away from the guidance that Christ has given us through His holy Church.  Blessed John Paul II said this in a lecture in November 1988:

....The Church's magisterium is among the means which Christ's redeeming love has provided to avoid this danger of error. In His name, it has a real teaching authority. Therefore, it cannot be said that the faithful have embarked on a diligent search for truth if they do not take into account what the magisterium teaches, or if, by putting it on the same level as any other source of knowledge, one makes oneself judge, or if in doubt, one follows one's own opinion or that of theologians, preferring it to the sure teaching of the magisterium....

.....One of the great experts of the human heart, St. Augustine, wrote: "Our freedom consists in our subjection to the truth."  Always seek the truth; venerate the truth discovered; obey the truth. There is no joy beyond this search, this veneration and obedience.....

....In this wonderful adventure of your spirit, the Church is not an obstacle to you: on the contrary, she is a help. By departing from the magisterium, you risk the vanity of error and the slavery of opinions: they are seemingly strong but, in reality, fragile because only the truth of the Lord remains forever.
There are of course those who do not accept the magisterium.  It is an entirely logical position for people who do not accept the magisterium to be in the Church of England: no-one suggests the contrary. 

However, for those outside full visible communion who claim to be in line with the Catholic faith, the big question is not really to do with the technicalities of what General Synod is doing.  No, the challenge is (more so after last night's press release than ever), if you say that you are following the Catholic faith, what do you mean by the Catholic faith, if not the faith defined by the Magisterium, held by the Catholic Church and set out in the Catechism, and requiring communion with the Successor of St Peter?  Anyone in that position should read the letter that we quoted in this recent blogpost.


  1. This is all very confusing to my simple Catholic brain. If a parish that cannot accept the authority of their female bishop, thereby refusing her jurisdiction, guidance and teachings, that renders them out of communion with their local shepherd. They then ask that a bishop sympathetic to their views to come and preside at their _________ (first communion/confirmation/fill in the blank), and this bishop comes. However, he can only do so with the blessings of the said female bishop. She is delegating HER authority to him. Therefore, those people in said parish are effectively accepting HER authority, albeit, in a disguised form.

    Have I got that correctly? Or is my addled brain really not big enough to encompass this amazing vision? It's all very Pythonesque.

    Reminds me of my Protestant friends who adamantly claim theirs is the one and only true church Jesus founded. When I ask them, "So, do you mean to say that Jesus, after being crucified, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, just went on gardening leave till the Reformation? And that for almost 1500 years, there was this great void that Protestantism came in to fill?" Their answer? ".........."

    Like you said, denial is not a river in Egypt!

    1. Terry, it does seem increasingly complicated and so much so that, as you say, it verges on the Pythonesque.

      I'm sure it is all done with the best of intentions, but it does seem to be an attempt to square a circle. The proof of that is that no-one seems happy with it.

      Given that we are now members of an Ordinariate and are therefore now more used to the word Ordinary than we ever have been before, the whole labyrinthine business leads to one question.

      If a parish goes down this route, who is its Ordinary? A sympathetic anglican bishop who is of the same tradition, and whose anglican orders do not depend on the diocesan bishop but exist of themselves, will come to deal with confirmations etc, but he will simply be a visitor, won't he, acting on someone else's behalf and with their permission?

      Will he or won't he be the Ordinary? I think the answer is no. To be flippant about it, that seventh candle will have to stay locked away.

    2. I do not think the interpretation given is correct.

      Area bishops will be more important than diocesan bishops in the mind of ACs as these are the ones which in effect look after parishes. As I understand it, those parishes which do not accept the ministry of either a female area bishop or a male area bishop who ordains women may apply to the diocesan bishop for alternative oversight and that he or she must provide a different bishop who is sympathetic to the theology of the petitioning parish.

      The act of delegation on the part of the diocesan will be administrative whereas the delegated bishop will carry out his sacramental functions by dint of his own identity as a bishop; he will not be a mere substitute for someone else.

      This is the 'flying bishops' principle recreated at diocesan rather than provincial level. It does of course carry with it the 'theology of taint' which accounts for the rage emanating from WATCH.

      I do not see how it would be possible to avoid a woman diocesan bishop, were one to be created, as she would of course be the Ordinary of every parish in her diocese. But that is similar to the present situation where 'unsound' male diocesans are still Ordinary to Resolution C parishes. I expect ACs would then have to regard their diocesan bishop as an 'administrative' authority rather than a spiritual one.

      Overall, I think that there is every chance that the legislation will fail anyway.

    3. Anonymous, I think there is only one real difference in the interpretations, perhaps because we have a different view of what the role of a bishop is, what episcopacy means, the “bishop and the local church” etc.

      If any of this still affected me directly (and this is one aspect of much-loved CofE life that I am glad now to be seeing as a bystander rather than as someone directly touched by it), it would be the question of “Who is the Ordinary?” that counted.

      A dissenting parish will ask its Ordinary to provide a male bishop of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Under the Code of Practice, it is assumed that she will say yes. Yet she remains the Ordinary. To be flippant for a moment, if she visited her dissenting parish, she would be the one entitled to the seventh candle, not the nice Anglo-Catholic chap who stands in her stead.

      The new language certainly does emphasise the fact that the replacement bishop’s orders and episcopal status in no way flow from the Ordinary. That, however, is merely a statement of fact (unless the Ordinary was one of the replacement’s consecrators): it changes nothing. The replacement will be every bit as much of a validly ordained Anglican bishop as the Ordinary, there is no dispute there: but then again there never was, because the Ordinary could hardly allow someone she did not consider to have valid Anglican episcopal orders to carry out episcopal functions for her.

      The new language does not change the fact that the replacement bishop would be acting on the basis of delegated authority from the Ordinary. The Ordinary remains the Ordinary, just as much as the replacement is not any more or less of a bishop because he takes on these delegated tasks from the Ordinary. The press release even says “The amendment also makes clear that delegation should not be taken as divesting the diocesan bishop of any of his or her authority or functions.”

      Again, you perhaps come at this from a different angle, but a catholic ecclesiological approach here would struggle to recognise how you could be out of communion with your own Ordinary. The replacement bishop, as valid an Anglican bishop as he might be in his own right, does not help on that point. The “bishop and the local church”, the concept of the Ordinary: these are not mere administrative points.

      Your point re the PEVs is interesting. Nobody ever said the PEV system was perfect, ultimately it too tested the bounds of catholic ecclesiology (being in communion with some of your bishops and priests but not with others), but as a sticking plaster it sort of worked. Nevertheless, it too would ultimately have faced the same problem, because of course there will one day be a lady Archbishop of Canterbury and/or of York.

      I’m going to be uncharacteristically frank in this most even-tempered of blogs. I think all this tying one’s self in knots over possible interpretations of legal wordings is not ultimately going to help anyone. The CofE has spoken: you can agree or disagree with the synodical system, you can agree or disagree with the decisions made, but they have been made. My personal view is that if people wish to stay in the CofE (and many cite understandable reasons to do so), they need to adapt to their new environment and accept the mind of the CofE. A non-juror future may have honourable precedent, but it is not exactly a credible basis for the re-catholicisation of the CofE.

      On account of these changes, small as they are, you are right there is a risk that the legislation could be voted down in the summer, frustrating what does clearly appear to be the will of the CofE. Heaven help the CofE, and Anglo-Catholics in particular, if this happens. I fear that the national opprobrium that would be suffered, and the resultant backlash that would follow, would result in extremely tough times. Just look at the reference to Frank Field MP and to Canon Jane Hedges in this earlier blogpost of ours: http://maryleboneordinariate.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/lines-in-sand.html

    4. If the legislation were lost then that would be because "supporters" of WO had failed to support it. Wailing and gnashing teeth there would surely be, but they would have no one to blame but themselves.

    5. Well, yes, of course if the "pro" doesn't support the legislation then it would be, directly at least, down to them that the legislation won't get through.

      However, I think that to leave the analysis there is sophistry.

      If the "pro" camp don't support it, it would be because they felt (rightly or wrongly) that it didn't match what Synod has repeatedly voted for, and thereby brings about some kind of suggestion of "taint".

      The blame would most certainly be passed on to Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. The BBC, the Guardian, the Independent and co would see to that.

      The politicians would jump on the bandwagon, and not one of them would suggest that it had been the fault of the "pro" camp that the legislation had failed.

      There will be the talk of "justice denied" (which I agree is a misguided argument, but one that sells well nonetheless), and there will be talk of the "gesture of sacrifice" made by the "pro" camp in order to save the CofE from its naughty bishops who have ignored the democratically expressed will of Synod (again, that the democratic will of Synod is the arbiter is wrong, for me at least, but nonetheless it IS the arbiter).

      The fallout would be very severe, I think. Evangelicals will have the option of FOCA etc, and with all their cash the CofE will not be in a position to complain too much. More Anglo-Catholics might join the Ordinariate.

      For those Anglo-Catholics who remain, opposing the ordination of women to the Anglican episcopate will be an increasingly impossible task. They will be cornered, and sooner or later will have to open their eyes to the reality of what the CofE has become.

      As I have said before, even though I do not like the idea that Synod decides on such major issues, that is, as a matter of fact, how the CofE system works. Synod has spoken.

      I mentioned in a recent post http://maryleboneordinariate.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/life-is-happiness-indeed.html that the new goal of some Anglo-Catholics is related to the CofE, come what may. I do not see how Anglo-Catholics who take that approach, who still, despite everything, see the CofE as "the Church", can deny what "the Church" (in their eyes) has decided.

      By the way, thank for your comments. It is good to engage in a polite way on these heartfelt issues. If only the entire debate had been conducted in this civil way by all parties involved.

  2. To mix metaphors, it does seem to me that the Trojan Horse which has opened Pandora's Box and brought about the current state of the Church of England is the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.

    1. It was certainly a pretty disastrous step in the history of Anglo-Catholicism. It was, with hindsight, a harbinger of doom from the outset. For those who do not know, it was legislation that gave General Synod the power to define doctrine and worship for the Church of England, taking that power away from Parliament.

      In 1972, when still the Anglican Bishop of Chester, Gerald Ellison summed up the General Synod debate with the follow words as follows :

      ‘I think it will be generally agreed that the least qualified body to decide the doctrine of the Church of England is Parliament.’

      Sounds fair enough in principle, who wants politicians to decide? The danger though was what replaced parliament as arbiter.

      In 1974, by which time he had been translated to become the Anglican Bishop of London, he said to the February session of General Synod :

      ‘Before granting this freedom, Parliament is entitled to guarantees that the Church of England will not depart from its traditional doctrine and position.’

      Well, the CofE's guarantees included the safeguarding of the BCP (now that's a series of blogposts in itself), the protection of the sources of the doctrine of the Church of England (answers on a postcard please.....), and special requirements for the conduct of debates on worship and doctrine (well, there is no shortage of procedural requirements governing Synodical business). I make no further comment.

      He ended his speech with these words :

      ‘It is for many of us a matter of principle that the Church is the guardian of the purity of the faith and its voice through its synods should be decisive.’

      Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What sounded like a very good thing in the cause of preserving faith, doctrine and worship, ie wresting power away from secular politicians, contained within itself the seeds of radical transformation. We see the fruits of 1974 today.

      In this instance, there is no problem in mixing those Greek metaphors.

  3. I found myself agreeing with the comment from the Let Nothing You Dismay blog, but then I started to wonder if it really goes far enough. Doesn't the whole idea of Synod (with the power it claims for itself) go further than a mere focus group, and rather turn the faithful into an electorate voting for representatives who share their (no doubt sincerely held) beliefs in the way the Church of England should be organised and what its other members should be required to believe.  It actively encourages dissent from whatever teachings the Church of England might be said to have (whether or not these are still the same as claimed by Geoffrey Fisher), and inevitably creates parties lobbying for their different views.  The "catholic" party is as much a part of that system as the liberals and evangelicals, although to be fair they would no doubt say they are not arguing for a subjective position but for the Catholic faith (save for the bits they don't like such as the primacy of Rome). Is it really any wonder that such a system has led the Church of England to the point where so much depends upon the skill of lawyers in drafting a wording to which the majority (some no doubt through clenched teeth) can assent?

    1. I entirely agree. You might have spotted that your comment has been picked up on the LNYD blog, and the excellent point you make has been developed further.


  4. I well recall the arguments about the concept of a General Synod at the time of its creation. What has come to pass is precisely what the gainsayers forecast, a polarisation of views on almost all issues, certainly every one of substance, that has politicised church government in a way never seen before. The CofE had always been subject to the will of Parliament previously and while that will was often wrong and not necessarily even Christian it did help preserve an uneasy balance in the CofE that has since been lost.

    Of course Parliament itself has undergone major changes in the intervening years, not least in the quality of its membership, and could no longer have performed that balancing role even had it wanted to do so.

    We are witnessing the de facto disestablishment of the CofE, like our monarch it has long since abdicated all responsibility in national life, and that in itself has created a vacuum into which every kind of fool has tried to rush. The only question is will we see the final triumph of the Edward Tudor reformation in the CofE or a final disintegration as the liberals wreak havoc on church as they have on state.

    But then those who build their houses on sand..........

    1. The point about the completion of the Edward Tudor reformation is a very good one.

      With the departure of so much of what has been the Anglo-Catholic wing of the CofE over the last 20 years (noting, yes, that people now use Anglo-Catholic very broadly, but everyone knows precisely what I mean here), one wonders if the Anglican powers that be have really noticed that the liberalism, innovation and relativism they cherish above so much else is no more compatible with the rising power (and yes finances) of their Evangelical wing than it has been with their Anglo-Catholic wing.

      One has to suspect that certain anglican bishops have not been rushing to share anglican buildings with Ordinariate groups not only because they have little pro-Catholic inclination, but also because they know that the evangelicals in their diocese would understandably complain loudly that the available space was not being given over to them for "church plants".