Wednesday, 23 May 2012

More on the modern concept of synodical government

A comment on the Marylebone Ordinariate blog sums up what many of us have thought for a long time about the developed practice within modern Anglicanism of 'synodical government '

"I found myself agreeing with the comment from the Let Nothing You Dismay blog, but then I started to wonder if it really goes far enough. Doesn't the whole idea of Synod (with the power it claims for itself) go further than a mere focus group, and rather turn the faithful into an electorate voting for representatives who share their (no doubt sincerely held) beliefs in the way the Church of England should be organised and what its other members should be required to believe.  It actively encourages dissent from whatever teachings the Church of England might be said to have (whether or not these are still the same as claimed by Geoffrey Fisher), and inevitably creates parties lobbying for their different views.  The "catholic" party is as much a part of that system as the liberals and evangelicals, although to be fair they would no doubt say they are not arguing for a subjective position but for the Catholic faith (save for the bits they don't like such as the primacy of Rome). Is it really any wonder that such a system has led the Church of England to the point where so much depends upon the skill of lawyers in drafting a wording to which the majority (some no doubt through clenched teeth) can assent?..."

I should probably point out here that the reference to 'Church as focus group' was provoked by specific comments made by the Welsh Bench of Bishops. Of course, in relation to synods  we have to go further.
Although the idea of a synodical structure which would allow the laity, clergy and episcopate an opportunity to deliberate together on the issues facing the contemporary Church is (in theory) a laudable one, it has proved disastrous in practice. And this has been, not only because of the adoption of a quasi-parliamentary 'democratic model which has given the politicisation of church life a focus and an official platform, but because within Anglicanism there is no consensus as to what constitutes the authentic tradition. 
Archbishop Fisher's comments about the Church of England having no doctrine which is not that of the catholic church are often seized upon by people like me, but the truth is that, however authoritatively they were expressed, they remain just the views of one Archbishop of Canterbury among many; they may have been an accurate snapshot of the consensus at the time within the Church, but are they any more than that? It's instructive that his comment was made just before the then established consensus (perhaps the high water mark of Tractarian influence within Anglicanism, going far beyond those who would identify themselves as 'Catholics')  was about to fall apart. 
In order to succeed, the kind of  synodical structure we have would need to be part of an ecclesial community which had the same reverence for sacred tradition, and the same consensus fidelium as to what constitutes it, as have the Orthodox Churches. 
We don't need to be told that Anglicanism as an entirety has not nor has ever possessed either that deep reverence or that essential agreement.  
The success of the Tractarian / Anglo-Catholic project - to reconvert Anglicanism to the faith of the undivided Church - would have provided the basis for that. The historic failure of the 'catholic moment' within Anglicanism and the absorption of the Catholic Movement  into the chimera of a 'comprehensive church' has meant that everything can be regarded now as mere opinion.
It's not so much that Anglican synodical structures encourage dissent, but that we are lacking an authority against which we can even begin to define the idea of 'dissent.' Synods have merely filled that vacuum with majority voting on matters of revelation and doctrine and have taken us to places where 'catholics' should fear to tread. 
This may not be regarded as a particularly helpful observation, but it seems to be where we are...


  1. The trouble, Father, is that Synods, as constituted in the CofE, should never have the authority to arbitrate on matters of doctrine. This should be the sole right of those given the authority to do so by virtue of their office as Bishops. Sadly the CofE has gone down the road of democracy and the church is not a democracy by a theocracy

  2. Father, I agree entirely. But what happens when the bishops are as heterodox as the synod?

  3. I guess you find yourself in the Church in Wales!


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