Thursday, 8 October 2009

So tell me what you want, what you really really want.

Many “thinking anglicans”, including some of those who have gone along with the recent and revolutionary changes in our ecclesial polity, in their heart of hearts would desire nothing more than a return to the status quo ante as regards women’s ordination. In some ways I sympathise with them, but in my heart not in my head.

I talk to a fair number of people, clergy and laity, who in effect say even now, ‘Oh the Church (of England) has had its ups and downs and grave difficulties over the centuries, but the catholic faith has always somehow survived within it. This is just another crisis among many.’ The correct response is, of course, that this is not just another crisis; this is something of a wholly different magnitude. Our Church has gone through periods of heresy and upheaval before, but never has catholic holy order (however compromised by the 16th century schism) been so weakened, if not destroyed altogether, that an orthodox recovery and revival has been rendered impossible. Time travel not being, as yet, a possibility, there really is no way back for conservatives of whatever churchmanship. The die has been cast, the Rubicon crossed. The defining moment has come and gone.

I am not among those who believe that the contemporary Anglican trahison des clercs means that we should regard everything that has preceded it as altogether worthless. There is much in our Anglican heritage which deserves to be preserved and developed, and, God willing, reconciled and brought back into the main current of the Western Church.
But essentially, many of us have come to the conclusion that, such is the advance of secularism and relativism, without the authority of the magisterium nothing of value can survive that onslaught.
The obligation to work towards Christian unity is nothing else than a divine command; perhaps we could afford the luxury of a long process of official dialogue and discussion if the Anglican patrimony were in safe hands. That is manifestly not the case. Many of the leaders of the communion are those who, by and large, now believe the role of Anglicanism is a “prophetic” one (defined according to the latest secular fashion), or that it exists for those who find too much dogma and definition a burden too heavy to carry – in other words, not a theologically respectable and wholly orthodox reluctance to over-define, but a comic book re-interpretation of our tradition as “Christianity-lite.”

What in more settled times could have been a continuation over several generations of the ARCIC process set in motion by Archbishop Ramsey and Pope Paul VI must now happen within a decade (at the very most: ten years may be too late) and the future of that dialogue, if it is to lead anywhere, lies on a much smaller scale with the various “dissident groups” who now represent more faithfully the traditions of anglicanism than do the official representatives of the Anglican Provinces. Anglican theology is now in such a state of decay, and so in thrall to the spirit of the age, that soon what is best and noblest of our tradition will exist only in the form of a few dusty tomes mouldering away in a forgotten library. When I was in theological college I will never forget working in the library last thing at night and discovering (both to my horror &, I have to admit, youthful cynical amusement) that the volumes of Mark Frank in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology still had all their pages uncut, and that in a (then) "Catholic" establishment, with a tractarian / ritualist foundation and constitution; it explains our present predicament to a large extent. Who, today - who for the last half century - studies the classic works of Anglican theology?

(Interestingly, Nicholas at the Comfortable Words blog quotes today from a Whitsunday sermon of Frank’s)

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