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 venerationThis 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:
For the love of Him alone
Holy Church as His creation
And her teachings as His own
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).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"
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.
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....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.
.....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.
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.