Saturday, 28 November 2009

Some thoughts for the last day of the Church’s year

There is a very interesting series of reflections at Civitas Dei on the subject of Anglican identity or patrimony: “Developing reflections on Anglican Identity”

I have nothing much of significance to add to what Fr Chadwick says there, only, in agreement, to say that it is precisely the search for what is distinctively Anglican which has lead us into so much trouble, and it is our very rejection of that quest which has been the main distinguishing mark of the catholic-minded Anglican. What is of most value, and what will endure, is what we hold in common with the universal church, albeit with a local "English" perspective and spirituality (and from a part of Wales which has been Anglo-Norman since about 1067 I make no apology for that adjective.)
Yet there is something distinctive about the gentleness of spirit and essentially pastoral approach which the Anglican ethos possesses at its best.
I am increasingly of the view that what is happening now is, strangely given its immediate causes, a healing of some of the wounds of the sixteenth century and a bringing home of the Catholic-compatible elements of the modern ecclesia anglicana, both those which, by God’s grace, survived among us through and beyond the Reformation period and those which have developed since.
When we make comments about ‘ethos’ and ‘spirit’, it is very easy for the sceptic to say that there is no real Anglican patrimony to speak of among Anglo-Catholics: that what we have is only what was inherited from the mediaeval church or borrowed from the Counter-Reformation and, in some cases, the post-conciliar reform.
Somehow I can’t help thinking that that is the whole point; we have never claimed distinctiveness, only “rootedness,” an identity which is very much of ‘this place’ and has preserved much of the past, and has at least partially transcended the divisions of the sixteenth century. [I admit, pace Duffy or McCulloch, that things may look rather different from either a recusant Catholic perspective or from that of a Protestant, proud of the Reformation.]
One of my hopes is that it will be possible for Anglican Catholics to move on from being an embattled and embittered minority in an increasingly hostile environment to simply being set free to do what the Lord has called us to do. Most of us have loathed the conflicts and divisions of the last twenty years or so; we have hated the necessity of the endless politicking of our long defeat, of having to regard ourselves as being in impaired communion with our diocesan bishops and being cut off theologically from the mainstream of our own Communion (if not, at least in desire, from that of the Universal Church itself). We have detested the disagreements which have divided families and ended friendships. Yet the alternative - accepting and going along with what we (together with the consensus of the “church catholic”) believe in the depths of our hearts to be wrong – was even worse.
As other bloggers have noted, this is something of a bitter-sweet moment for the heirs of the Oxford Movement; if something new is being born, then we also have to say that something which has nourished us and formed us, and which we have loved dearly, is in the process of dying. Things will not be the same again. I have to admit these verses from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ have been going through my mind of late:
“…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”
But this is what the following of Christ is about; we can have no complaints about dying in order to live. Only I hope that those looking in at us from the outside will allow a certain wistfulness and introspection on our part during this extended period of discernment.

Yet I hope, too, that the experiment in ecumenism which the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariates represents will be embarked upon positively. If it turns out to be no more than a temporary refuge for the bitter and the disgruntled it will fail and it will deserve to.
But the experiment will succeed if it is concerned with the more perfect following of Christ. It will succeed if is about the preservation and handing on of what is best in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. It will succeed if it is seen to be about the healing of wounds and divisions, and as a bridge which, in God’s good time, others will be encouraged to cross because of the spiritual fruits and genuine holiness that have been produced on the other side of it.
In the meantime, please forgive us a little wintry nostalgia: as another poet said, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

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