Sunday, 26 September 2010

Forming an orderly queue for the life-boats?

There's a necessary discussion started by Fr Ed Tomlinson here on the nature of the new Missionary Society of SS Wilfrid and Hilda. He certainly raises questions which will need to be answered sooner rather than later. Is the new Society intended to provide a temporary safe-haven for those intending, when circumstances allow, to join the Ordinariates, or is it envisaged as a more permanent home for those Anglo-Catholics who have a problem with the acceptance of papal authority?
To my mind at least, one of the stark and unsettling lessons of the last 20 years has been precisely the dawning recognition of the need for definite doctrinal and disciplinary authority amid the disintegration of the Chalcedonian doctrinal consensus in those churches separated from Rome, and the (related) ending of a common approach to the central issues of moral theology, even where, as for example in Anglicanism itself, that approach has been more pastoral than juridical.
We live amidst the wreckage of post-reformation Christendom, where ecclesial bodies themselves have been the victims of doctrinal and moral relativism, and where internal battles for 'orthodoxy' within these churches have been raging for at least a couple of generations if not more. The battle for the Catholic orientation of Anglicanism has now been lost, the opportunity has come and gone. We have to face that fact squarely and not take refuge in the delusion that the situation can be reversed. If there is a future for orthodox belief within Anglicanism (and I doubt that increasingly, at least in the long run) it is with the provinces of the global South and with a theology owing more and more to the sixteenth century reformers (who, many of us would agree, began the process which has led us to our present crisis) Whatever else we might say about such a grouping, there is no place for Catholics within it.

G.K. Chesterton said that the one self-evident belief of Christianity was that of original sin; you only had to look about you to see that it was true. It seems to me that the one self evident truth of ecclesiology is an infallible Church; the alternative is no church at all, only the maze of private judgement and the ludicrous and  falsely compassionate inconsistencies of situation ethics coupled with a cafeteria approach to the credal statements of the Christian faith. If our recent experience as Anglo-Catholics has taught us anything it is the need for the office of the papacy, and the papacy as it now functions and not some looser and less authoritative 'primus inter pares' role. We know exactly where that leads. [Here]
The appeal to apostolic tradition, to the Fathers and the consensus of the Undivided Church means little (as we have seen) to those who cannot accept the infallibility of the Church herself, guided by the Holy Spirit down the ages. To argue now for a kind of 'Western Catholicism without the Pope' (the 'Northern Catholicism' myth) seems to fly in the face not only of the evidence but of sanity itself. We can't turn the clock back, we can't pretend to live in a more ordered, less aggressively secularist world, we are not, for the most part, capable of the deep, consensual and unshakeable veneration of tradition of the Eastern Orthodox, who have yet to face the full onslaught of secularism in the societies where they are strongest and who, in any case, are slowly recognising the need for Catholic unity and a concerted approach in the face of the attack of modern secularism.

This leaves those who have problems with papal authority, or with the definition of the Marian dogmas or whatever, between a rock and a hard place. I completely agree with Fr Tomlinson that the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda has to make up its mind as to what it is intended to be - an organisation equipped to ensure a safe, if gradual, embarkation onto the barque of St Peter - however long it takes (and that could be an interesting ecumenical venture in itself) - or an exercise in hospice care under the aegis of our most implacable opponents. Ambiguity on this issue may seem expedient now, but will only be a recipe for disaster as time goes on.

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