Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Two integrities?

A somewhat incoherent post follows. I apologise for it in advance, a very rambling work in progress
There has been quite a lot of comment on both sides of the Atlantic on the subject of the “two integrities” within modern Anglicanism. In fact, two integrities could be regarded as a somewhat conservative estimate as our ecclesial community (no, I won’t use the word “Church” in this context) is as divided today as ever it has been in its separate history. In Wales, talk of the two integrities (one which ordains women and one which does not; or, better, one which holds to traditional catholic order and one which has done something new)has been somewhat muted, even some of our own brethren preferring to use that rather unfortunate word “constituency,” colluding with the diocesan bishops’ view – clearly stated in their September Statement - that those who uphold Catholic order are a mere interest group among many. Although as things stand now within our Province we are not even that.
No, my argument with the concept is twofold. Firstly, it plays into the hands of those who believe that orthodoxy and whatever we are allowed to call its opposite these days can be held together in a kind of quasi-Hegelian tension. The problem with that is that the resulting synthesis will inevitably be something other than orthodoxy, and just the most recent confirmation, if one were still needed, of Anglicanism as the ecclesiastical chimera many over the centuries have believed it to be. If there is a definitive Anglican heresy this is it: the glib acceptance of the coexistence of opposites, not engaged in constructive dialogue but trapped in mutual incomprehension!
And secondly, that the use of the term “two integrities” is yet another verbal obfustication to hide the uncomfortable truth that “official” Anglican polity in many parts of the Communion now has no place within it for Catholic Order or Catholic theology. We speak sometimes of being the “original” integrity, yet it is one which is at present barely tolerated by the majority and will soon be “tolerated” to extinction, rather like the North American Indians (sorry, native Americans) who were the original racial integrity on that continent, but as a result of expansionism and the resulting ethnic cleansing (before anyone takes me to task, I know it was a little more complicated than that!) were ultimately forced into a position of dependence and degradation on the reservations. We have so far avoided the degradation, the uphill task ahead of us is to rid ourselves politically and theologically of our dependence upon those who are our natural antagonists.
Fr Steel in his recent very moving testimony chronicling his journey of faith quotes Bishop John Hind’s comment at the last Forward in Faith Assembly that what we seek is not “provision” but “communion.” That is the key question being put to all of us collectively and individually.
What does it mean for us when we say we believe we are Catholics? The anglo-papalist response (and surely anglo-papalists are what we as members of the “original integrity” are now committed to be, wherever we began) is that the “reforms” of the 16th century were forced upon a reluctant Church (and, to begin with, a reluctant populace) by a tyrannical State. This remains the justification for our use of Roman liturgy, particularly the ancient Roman Canon, now in the Missal of Paul VI, Eucharistic Prayer I.
The Church is Holy, Catholic and Apostolic and entirely belonging to God and no act of state can change that fact. So far so good, but then the difficulties multiply. How far can a community be said to remain “Catholic” when the majority of its members are either unaware of or vehemently repudiate the very notion? How can one justify the claim without redefining catholicity (in its accepted, visible, pre-16th Century sense) out of existence altogether, which, of course, is essentially the situation the reformers ended up with despite their appeal to the Fathers? What can we say, even anachronistically, about the executions of Ss Thomas More and John Fisher and the later martyrdoms of those such as Campion and Southwell, whose theology we probably all share and whose witness we cannot but admire?
How can we as a body move towards reconciliation with the Holy See without denying much, if not all, of our separate history and our previous claims to Catholicity itself? How much of our Anglican heritage, including those things which are dearest to us in terms of ethos and liturgy, can or should be repatriated within the Universal Church? Many of us have long accepted that for us “catholicity” - whether in terms of our theology of the Church or the nature of the holy orders we have received - is to a great extent an aspiration rather than a present reality.
All these questions could be quietly put to one side when (as at the time of my own priestly ordination) Rome and Canterbury seemed to be on a rapidly converging course. Now, when, as exiles and asylum seekers, we stand at the banks of the Tiber hoping to be sent a boat large enough to carry us all across they have to faced fairly and squarely.

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