Friday, 7 September 2012

Looking the Right Way?

When we go on and on, as we often do on this blog, about Christian Unity, perhaps we give the impression that we think Anglicanism has become isolationist.  Of course, it hasn't, but we would accept that sometimes the way we express things might lead people to think that this might be our opinion.

Our recent post A New Direction talked of an isolationist strategy, but there we were not referring to Anglicanism as a whole.  More broadly, Anglicanism is clearly not isolationist.  We acknowledged this in our post entitled Christian Unity, if only in regret that the outward looking moves were towards like-minded state churches of Northern Europe. 
We have talked recently about the views of Metropolitan Hilarion (of the Russian Orthodox Church) on some of the developments in the Church of England. Everything that General Synod does to move away from Unity, it does not only against Unity with Rome and the Church in the West, but also against Unity with the Orthodox. The sole moves that General Synod seems to want to take towards Unity seem to be towards unity with a small band of like-minded national churches (the Porvoo Communion, for example), a process that bizarrely seems to be evolving into overtures from some connected to the US-based Polish National Catholic Church to disaffected members of the Church of England who cannot yet accept the idea of reunion with Rome (the PNCC has recently established a small presence in Norway and smaller ones in Germany and Italy).
This of course is something that can be seen in "western" Anglicanism generally, not just in the Church of England, as this video recently highlighted by Damian Thompson shows : here we see what looks like a very joyful celebration of a mid-offertory, pre-secret dance by the Anglican Archbishop Fred Hiltz, leader of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Lutheran Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada, who are in full communion with each other. 

Cardinal Kaspar said to the Lambeth Conference in 2008 that :
We would see the Anglican Communion as moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant churches of the 16th century, and to a position they adopted only during the second half of the 20th century
The ultimately doomed Jerusalem Bishopric project, the final straw for Blessed John Henry Newman's time as an Anglican was an earlier if brief manifestation of this same phenomenon, a move towards the Protestant churches of the 16th century.   Newman was horrified at the idea of the Church of England being involved in a project that would provide an Anglican bishop as overseer to those without the same understanding of, among many other things, episcopacy.  He considered that for the Church of England to be doing this was to give ammunition to those who doubted its claim to catholicity: in a tone that seems much more shocking now than it would have done in the nineteenth century, he says that he thought it appalling that the Anglican Communion should coalesce with those such as Lutherans, Calvinists and others of heretical belief. 

We wouldn't put it that way now of course.  Most certainly the Church of England wouldn't, as through Porvoo it is now formally in communion with those whom Newman might rather bluntly have said held heretical beliefs.

Ignoring those objections, the Church of England pressed ahead with its Jerusalem project.  Newman would have liked these disagreements and challenges to have been faced up to rather than buried as unimportant details, or dare I say it, as second order issues.   On Christmas Day 1841, he wrote :
Has not all our misery, as a Church, arisen from people being afraid to look difficulties in the face? They have palliated acts, when they should have denounced them.
He found the idea of the planned system of alternating English-sourced and Prussian-sourced bishops quite ludicrous.  The entities involved had no shared understanding even of what a bishop was, so what was it that they were going to be sharing?   In what is, once again, a rather forthright manner typical of its time, he wrote the following letter to The Times (unpublished) in November 1841:
What is the worth of Episcopacy without orthodoxy?  What is it, but a husk pretending to be what it is not?  Do the Prussians take the orthodox view of the sacraments?  What respect is due to a Bishop who denies the grace of Baptism?  Surely it is an evil great enough to find Bishops heretics, without going on to make heretics Bishops? 
Newman wondered where to look for help, and in his reflections thought of recourse that in our day seems utterly incredible for someone seeking solid Catholic orthodoxy, being the Scottish Episcopalian Church and the forerunner of the US Episcopal Church.  He concluded that any such scheme would create Anglican schism, and of course we all know where his ultimate destination lay, in Rome.

As ever, much of Newman's writing speaks to us directly just as it did to his contemporaries.    Do the themes of pressing ahead regardless, of entering into schemes that provide ammunition to those who question the Church of England's catholicity, and of looking everywhere and anywhere but Rome for assurance not ring a few bells?

True Christian Unity, prayed for explicitly in the Gospel, cannot exist without the Churches of East and West.  Heading in the opposite direction is not a labour likely to achieve Christian Unity: rather, through the act of seeking like-minded friends with whom to ignore the Churches of the First Millenia, and thereby reassuring one's self that doing so is right, it brings with it the danger of preserving the larger existing divisions.

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