Thursday, 3 November 2011

'The conscience of the nation?'

If, as many commentators, both friendly and hostile to the recent comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury, are saying today, that the Church of England is still the “conscience of the nation,” we could be forgiven for thinking that the nation’s conscience has been remarkably untroubled up to now by any serious analysis of the causes of our society’s present ills.
Yet, of course, this role is the purpose of the Church of England, the purpose of Establishment itself, certainly as the constitution has developed in modern times.
Without that role and without the necessary theological breadth to support it (to be an effective conscience it’s necessary to reflect back to society rather more than the vapid yet intolerant social and philosophical insularity of the present culture) it’s very hard to see its purpose at all.

It will come as no surprise that this blog isn’t a great fan of Anglican-ism as such. For many of us this was simply the Church (part of the ‘Church Catholic’ as we believed it to be, on the quite reasonable evidence then available to us), the Church where we happened to find ourselves as an 'accident' of birth, baptism and geography.
The increasingly evident problem within Anglican-ism, detached from the moorings of Establishment * and the surviving restraints of theological, historical and liturgical memory, is that its strong internal impulses to conform to the social and intellectual norms of the bien-pensant élite - whatever those norms may be - have led it to become an almost uniformly middle-class, liberal-left, spiritual pressure group. It has neither the central magisterium of the West or the unbreakably strong, quasi-mystical, role of the living tradition of the East to be able to withstand the insidiously conformist pressures of our secularised western culture and philosophical world-view. When society itself still ahered to broadly traditional Christian beliefs and values, the real problem was not so evident, even if we were living off the riches of the past; but when, as now, that situation no longer applies, the inadequacy of our ecclesiology has become glaringly apparent.
Just look at Wales.

* The strange paradox is that it was Establishment itself (or its 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' in the case of Wales) which, up to the present generation, enabled the survival and even resurgence of a strong, largely anti-establishment, Catholic party within the Anglican provinces which, although never popular, did much to root Anglicans in a tradition older and wider than just that of its independent existence. It is the lack of understanding on the part of the liberal synodical majorities of the necessary restraint needed to keep such an inchoate body together which has delivered the coup de grace to traditional Anglican polity. The increasing liberal theological tendency to want to 'let it all hang out" means we can't all hang out together any more.


  1. We who were born into Anglicanism and either grew up Anglo-Catholic (back when families were of that persuasion, before it became a gay playground) or came into it early on like I did have been mugged by reality: it's not the Catholic Church. (As a kid I took the high churchmanship at face value as kids are wont to do, so women's ordination seemed like a sucker punch. Now I understand it wasn't. They were expressing the true nature of Anglicanism; we weren't even though we thought we were.) Its reason to exist was to give the king of England an annulment he didn't deserve, thus schism. So of course it's always catered to the bien-pensant elite (though it remains credally orthodox on paper... but unbelief's long been normal there). That's what it's for. When you understand that, the push for gay weddings, the bourgeois cause du jour, is hardly surprising. On that note, as leftist Catholic Owen White has noted, Anglicanism lost most British working-class folk a long time ago.

    The AC relation to the establishment and thus to Establishment is interesting. One kind of high churchman sees them both as part of the divinely instituted order; another, seeing the Protestant and Erastian reality in Anglicanism, taught the Catholic Church (as they saw it, branch theory etc.) vs establishment so things like disestablishment in your country were seen as a good thing. My guess is Establishment or no, the C of E will keep going down the drain. Not my concern anymore. It's not the useful prop to British society, from a Catholic point of view, that it was in Newman's day.

    As a libertarian I believe in religious liberty: mother church thrives most in freedom; accept state aid and pretty soon the state as opposed to the church is calling the shots.

    BTW 45 years ago today I came into mother church through Anglican baptism.

  2. I don't think that what you are describing is anything new, though, is it? 18th c Anglicanism was not much different: in fact, it very much more conformed to bien-pensant opinions of the day.

  3. Mazel Tov, Young Fogey.

  4. Yes,18th Century Anglicanism (apart from the Jacobite, Tory High Churchmen who were excluded from all influence and the samll number of Non-Jurors who had already left the Church of England at the end of the Seventeenth Century) was similar in many ways to the present situation. But what the 18th Century didn't do was to change irrevocably the apostolic ministry and provide no way back either to a restoration of orthodoxy or to the possibility of full unity with the Apostolic Sees of East or West. That seems to be the main difference - the one we can't gloss over or pretend that it has historical precedents.

  5. I think your analysis is right on the money - might have to 're-post'...


Anonymous comments will not be published