Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The tragedy of "civil wars"

The great tragedy of all civil wars is the division and separation they cause among those who were once friends, those who were bound together by ties of family or affection, with common experiences and shared education, bound together by common vows and promises. “Wars" of words and theological principle are no different, and the Anglican civil wars of the last few years have caused a great deal of heartache and too much bitterness and have in the main generated more heat than light, more cynicism than charity.
But having said that, the crucible of conflict and insecurity can also have the effect of aiding the growth and development of understanding. I think this has been the effect on Catholic Anglicans of the struggles of the last few years, certainly in terms of the growth in our understanding of the theology of the Church, both as regards the nature of episcopacy and the nature of communion itself, not to mention our rediscovery of the centrality of the . Petrine ministry, not only for the bene esse of the Church but as part of the Church’s esse itself. Ironically, this has also served to emphasise even more the very deep fault lines within Anglicanism which no amount of shared history and common life can now disguise and no amount of dialogue can repair.

Much has been made of the Bishop of Fulham’s recent statement that “the Anglican experiment has failed,” yet it is quite clear that Anglicanism has indeed failed in its attempt to hold together the reformed, liberal and catholic traditions (at least in their historically recognisable form) in creative tension in one ecclesial body. The Anglican boast used to be that this tension and synthesis (not that a synthesis was ever really apparent in any theologically productive way or, despite some brave attempts, has resulted in an enduring common theological method) was in some way our gift to a future re-united Church; it would appear that the lesson the Christian world has now learned from us is that the Anglican way of doing things in terms of ecclesiology is the one to be avoided at all costs. The “bridge Church” seems now to be a road leading nowhere.

We are fast approaching the denouement of the present crisis which is leading us all in different and perhaps previously unexpected directions. Our divisions remain and I suspect that, despite our best intentions, attitudes will harden and divisions will deepen even further before this story is fully told.
But our response could be worse than this:

“Certainly my affections to you are so unchangeable, that hostility itself cannot violate my friendship to your person. But I must be true to the cause wherein I serve. The old limitation, usque ad aras, holds still, and where my conscience is interested, all other obligations are swallowed up. I should most gladly wait on you according to your desire, but that I look upon you as you are engaged in that party beyond a possibility of retreat, and consequently uncapable of being wrought upon by any persuasion. And I know the conference could never be so close between us, but that it would take wind and receive a construction to my dishonour. That great God which is the searcher of my heart knows with what a sad sense I go upon this service and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy; but I look upon it as Opus Domini, which is enough to silence all passion in me. The God of peace in his good time send us peace, and in the meantime fit us to receive it. We are both upon the stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do it in a way of honour and without personal animosities.”

From a letter of Sir William Waller to Sir Ralph Hopton during the English Civil War (1643)

And also this, from a sermon of Saint Charles Borromeo, (part of the second reading at the Office of Readings this morning) whose feast day it is today:

“My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.
This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.”


  1. A very perceptive post, as normal, Father.

    I just hope that the Catholic wing of the Anglican Church remember that millions of people like me love them & that any cross words and anger expressed in these volatile times are often actually the fruits of love & not spite.

    I pray for you all.

  2. Thank you. In times like these that means a great deal.


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