Thursday, 30 April 2009

Elasticity, incoherence and exclusion

Reports of the death of Anglicanism always seem to be somewhat premature, and it would seem from the various reports doing the rounds at the moment that some kind of modus vivendi may be found by which the Anglican “Communion” may (just about) hold together. If the ties that bind the provinces are made sufficiently elastic, it is hard to conceive of a situation in which they can be stretched to breaking point. If the proposed Anglican Covenant is made permissive enough, then signing up to it doesn’t really matter; it won’t affect the internal behaviour of provinces in any way.
At some point, if we haven’t reached that point already, many African provinces and the Southern Cone, will simply pay lip-service to the instruments of communion and go their own way, similarly with TEC, Canada and those provinces in the developed world which seem instinctively if not necessarily slavishly to follow the North American cultural agenda.
But inevitably, both within the Communion and within individual provinces, there will be casualties, "collateral damage," as one Welsh archdeacon so sensitively remarked a couple of years ago. Not, I predict, the more conservative (but non- Reform) evangelicals, for whom space now appears to be being made near the top table of the Church of England, if the Sherborne suffragan appointment is any indication, but traditional Anglican Catholics whose ecclesiology and theology of holy order has made us so eccentric (only in contemporary Anglican terms, I stress) as to make us politically expendable. That has been the case in the British Isles for some time and has been made very apparent in recent decisions and votes both in the C of E and the Church in Wales. Ecumenism is dead and we are to be buried along with it, if things go to plan.
Many of us wish GAFCON well from the bottom of our hearts, but we can’t sign up to it, as it is so very clearly and explicitly defined by its theological and liturgical dependence upon the 16th Century, for Catholics only one period in the two thousand years of the Church’s life and by no means prescriptive. ACNA, a welcome development in terms of North American Anglicanism which offers us all a glimmer of hope, will realistically have its work cut out to hold together in anything but the short term, given the disparity of views within it, not only on the matter of holy orders but in terms of wider sacramental theology and ecclesiology: Pittsburg and Fort Worth?
Some may say, and it’s been said to me repeatedly (and not only by those on the pro-innovation side of the arguments) that those who seek to hold to Catholic faith and practice within the Anglican system have only themselves to blame for their exclusion and marginalisation: essentially for withdrawing from the mainstream structures of the church. That’s true, but only up to a point; the difficulty comes (the possibilities now of being elected to them in the first place, put on one side) when those mainstream structures, of deanery, diocese, and province have become so liberalised and so dependent upon at least a tacit acknowledgement of the acceptability in some sense of women in holy orders and of the scandal of sacramental uncertainty – which is the real issue here, of course, not “gender” - that any engagement with the processes themselves becomes an insurmountable problem. Exclusion becomes, then, as inevitable for us as it did for the Non-Jurors at the end of the Seventeenth Century. And we will be excluded quite as ruthlessly and without any regrets, and the official body will close ranks and try to forget we ever existed. Anglicanism throughout its history has never been, and is not now, the kindly, inclusive, cuddly animal it believes itself to be. We have to try to ensure by all means at our disposal that, although we admire the Non Jurors’ conscientious stand, we do not come to share their fate. We do not call ourselves “Catholics” for nothing.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent analysis, Father. Your comments about GAFCON and ACNA are, I fear, exactly right. Unless the question of holy orders is dealt with decisively, and not left a matter of private opinion, these new alliances and structures (so necessary at this time) will only be laying the groundwork for further disunity and splintering down the road.


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