Monday, 5 October 2009

Damascene or dead end?

I have been sent an interesting archive article written by the late and highly respected Dr Peter Toon, who, even if one sometimes strongly disagreed with his position, always had something pertinent and challenging to say on our present Anglican difficulties. Entitled “ The Affirmation of St Louis and the C of E / Anglican Formularies,” it can be found here
For Anglican Catholics it raises the question which is of great contemporary importance due to the rise of FCA / GAFCON and also the ongoing “discussions” between the TAC and the CDF in Rome (apologies for the plethora of acronyms.)
Forgive me for putting it like this, but the essential issue is whether there can be any long-term future for Catholics, either at present within the structures of the Anglican Communion or in the newly created ACNA, alongside those who wish to reconstruct a kind of “pre-Gene Robinson Anglicanism”, whilst both accepting innovation in the theology of Holy Order and somehow claiming at the same time to represent a “classical Anglicanism” based on the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles. My scepticism is shared by many on this side of the Atlantic, not only as to the long term possibility of this cohabitation but also its desirability: my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Certainly most British Anglo-Catholics (& the Forward in Faith position?) would appear much closer to the Affirmation of St Louis in our acceptance of (at least) the first Seven Ecumenical Councils (and the Seventh is crucial in its working out of a truly incarnational theology) and the Seven Sacraments of the Church. From this standpoint the Thirty Nine Articles represent not so much a binding statement of classical Anglican theology as a series of formularies forced upon a reluctant Church by the power of the State and “accepted” or "received" as being an historical document relating to the political circumstances of its time but without any permanent theological or ecclesial authority and, indeed, whatever its originators’ intentions, capable both of a Calvinist and broadly Catholic interpretation.

This would seem to suggest that the future of those within the Anglican tradition will lie in one of three main directions (there will, of course, be for a time an inevitable blurring among them and there will be those “Continuing Anglican” groupings which will continue to go it alone):

1. The increasingly revisionist “official” Communion, represented by Canterbury, the ACC and the Primates, the predictably toothless Anglican Covenant notwithstanding.
2. FCA / GAFCON and the (mainly) evangelical Provinces of the Global South.
3. A Forward in Faith / TAC grouping which will seek union with the See of Peter in whatever time scale is available (leaving groups 1. and 2. above to battle it out for the future of the Anglican Communion,) but which will itself probably die out within one generation if the present opportunity is lost.

The difficulty, known for centuries but pointed out probably most succinctly by Fr Aidan Nichols in his now classic work of the 1990s ‘The Panther & the Hind’, is that each of these three broad traditions can lay claim to being authentically “Anglican”; ours is not a confessional ecclesial body, but an English State Church (with a deliberately ambiguous theological identity) together with the former mainly english speaking missionary territories of a now long vanished empire. The search for one “authentic” Anglican identity is ultimately a futile one and those who engage in it are doomed to failure, and for those of us who have grown progressively tired of studied ambiguity and ecclesiastical horse-trading a massive waste of our remaining God-given time on earth.

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