Monday, 11 January 2010
Yesterday was the anniversary of the execution of Archbishop William Laud. His interest in the possibility of reunion between Canterbury and Rome is well-documented. Indeed the list of charges drawn up by his enemies in Parliament during the process of his impeachment included ‘wishing to establish a new religion,’ ‘corresponding with Rome’ and ‘treating with the Pope’s men in England.’
In fact it is clear that the Archbishop and Charles I himself, long before Laud's impeachment and execution in 1645, had come to the realisation that any hopes for reunion were quite unrealistic due to the strength of puritan opposition; Archbishop Laud's protestations on the scaffold of loyalty to the Church of England were rigourously honest if not entirely transparent as to the past.
His aims for the English Church of a reform of liturgy, doctrine and discipline seem to have been perhaps more along the lines of what the Council of Trent had achieved for the Catholic Church. Had he succeeded he may well have come to be seen as a kind of anglican St Charles Borromeo, and that success itself would have prepared the ground for longer term moves towards unity. However, we know the outcome of history; Laud went to the scaffold and any realistic hopes, both of liturgical and docrtinal reform along more patristic lines or of the return of England to the Western Church, died with him.
He is, though, part of our Anglo-Catholic historical patrimony and if, in a kinder age (in some ways, at least), we are spared the same physical end, we do share the same virulent and implacable hostility which is directed against us. English (British?) religion is a leopard (some would say with Dryden,“panther” - although that rather destroys the analogy! ) which hasn’t changed its spots that much over the years: suspicion, if not outright hatred, of Rome still lies just beneath the surface despite our modern good manners.
The very nature of Anglicanism, then as now, simply makes unity an impossibility.
Yet we should be very wary indeed of dismissing the Apostolic Constitution as “farcical” or merely “a chaplaincy,” because the alternative for doctrinally orthodox Catholic Anglicans is a slow death (not so slow really - within a generation?); between them the liberals and evangelicals, in whose hands now lies the future of our Communion, and who in different ways have no love for us whatsoever, will see to that.
Archbishop Laud’s dream or Archbishop Laud’s fate (spiritually) seems to be the choice before us now.
However, if some Anglo-Catholic reaction towards Anglicanorum Coetibus is still very guarded, in some cases that is because quite a few Anglican clergy are in situations from which they will need a certain Houdini-like skill in order to extricate themselves. Financial concerns are just one of the areas of difficulty, and for many that is not a matter of simply having to accept a lower standard of living, as some commentators have rather mockingly alleged. Voluntary poverty and possible long term unemployment for the sake of personal conscience are one thing, the sacrificing of the educational life-chances of one’s dependants who have no choice in the matter are another. To move from where we are to where our faith tells us we ought to be may take time, and it has nothing to do with the fear of a change of lifestyle..
But get there we will, however long it takes, whether we end up as clergy or in lay communion, because the Apostolic Constitution remains the only show in town and, to return to the real subject of this post, the only realistic chance of achieving the hopes and dreams of those who have longed and worked for reunion over what is now nearly five hundred years of separation. More than that, it is where our conscience directs us and we all know the fate of those who act against their conscience….
Yet this will be, for some, a rather longer and more patient process than, when the time comes, calling in the removal men - much as we would all like it to be that simple.