Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Amid the cold, cold winter

They are calling it the worst winter for thirty years and it is not over yet. This morning dawned cold and grey and then the snow started to descend furiously once again. Spring is by no means here yet. Daffodils, in recent years in flower well before St David’s Day, are keeping their heads down and only the snowdrops are braving the icy winds. In my, not very British, vicarage garden I’m beginning to see the casualties of the harsh winter – a few palm trees whose leaves are ringed and burnt by frost, some scorched myrtle bushes and a very forlorn-looking acacia – no yellow flowers against a blue February sky this year!

Lenten reading this year? I’m re-reading  von Balthasar’s Mysterium Pascale; one can’t do that often enough. Also, catching up with what is largely a hidden history even for Anglo-Catholics, something we have consciously or unconsciously preferred not to confront, by reading (unaccountably for the first time), Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Edmund Campion,’ the poems of St Robert Southwell, and Joseph Pierce’s intriguing ‘The Quest for Shakespeare.’

One of the most important aspects of Lent is the struggle against self-deception. We Anglicans are very good at self-deception, believing that to every theological problem there must exist a necessary compromise or synthesis which itself is capable of revealing more of the truth. Well, as the (very anti-Christian) Gershwin lyric says, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

I now, somewhat reluctantly I admit, see Anglo-Catholicism not, as some have argued persuasively, as the ultimate exercise in ecclesial self-deception, but as a necessary paradox, pointing out to history that the Church is God’s, and God’s alone, however man may purport to change it or “reform” it or use it as a mechanism for earthly power and control, and it is God’s will that his Church be one.

It’s for that reason, and now for that reason only, that I recognise the “validity” of what we do and the sacraments we celebrate. Corrupt monarchs, self-serving parliaments and heretical provincial synods can do nothing to challenge Christ’s ultimate ownership of his mystical body, and truth and grace will survive and burst into flower at a springtime of his own choosing. That seems to be the history of the broken fragment of western Christendom known as the Church of England or, if you must, “Anglicanism.” Andrewes and the Caroline Divines emerge from the prevailing Calvinism of Elizabethan England, and Newman and the Tractarians spring up from the unpromising soil poisoned by eighteenth century latitudinarianism.
What will history say of our own generation?

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