Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Does ARCIC do us all a disservice?

Dr William Oddie at The Catholic Herald [hereasks the question, 'why do we continue talking to the Anglicans after they have so wilfully made unity impossible?'
Typically, he doesn't pull his punches; but he has a point: as a former Anglican priest he knows exactly what he is dealing with. The continuing existence of ARCIC certainly blinds many otherwise thoughtful Anglicans to the fatal ecumenical consequences of our western synodical love affair with heterodoxy. 'Ah, but ARCIC continues to meet,' say our leaders, 'all we need do is wait until Rome catches up.'
The reality is, of course, very different. 

ARCIC will inevitably continue in some form because it is the vocation and responsibility of the Catholic Church to promote the perfect unity of all those who are His disciples, something for which Christ prayed before His Passion. The ecumenical imperative is not in question.
The distance, however, between the respective official positions of the participants continues to widen - almost wholly because of the changes in the Anglican theology of the sacred ministry - if it can now be said to have a coherent theology at all in practice -  and, increasingly, on matters of moral theology.  The value and importance of the 'dialogue' ( if such it be) diminishes accordingly. An ecclesial body which insists on the ordination of women and will, in time, it seems increasingly likely, come to advocate the sacramentality of homosexual unions, will never be in full communion with a Church which cannot sanction either.

The Orthodox are much more 'up front' about all this; but the question has to be asked: is post-Vatican II Roman tact and diplomacy not now encouraging and fostering the very errors into which we, as Anglicans, are being led?    
Despite the modern roadblocks liberal theology has placed in the way of further progress, Anglican Catholics have always been encouraged to believe that the accords so far reached are somehow 'in the bank' for use at some future date. Undoubtedly, for beleaguered Anglo-Catholics, the ARCIC agreements offer a degree of support and theological sustenance in our ever more precarious position; but outside our ranks, given the increasingly rapid theological and ethical divergence between Rome and Canterbury, who, we have to wonder, will still be interested enough to make a withdrawal?


  1. Thank you. A sad but probably accurate observation.

  2. joseph Golightly12 June 2013 at 08:39

    The Anglican Church is deeply divided, as it was at the Elizabethan Settlement. Putting Puritans, Calvinists, Catholics and others together with many, many different theological positions plainly does not work. To kid themselves that in ARCIC they (Anglicans that is) speak with one voice is bonkers. I am sure that Fr Michael has far more in common with the Catholic Church (and of course the Orthodox) than he does with the Church in Wales so it does beg the question, what are you doing where you are, just exactly what does your church believe in, and wouldn't you be more honest somewhere else?

    1. Things would be tidier. certainly; we might even be happier, perhaps, given present circumstances..
      But more honest? I have said this before, but we would only be dishonest if we believed (as some seem to think) that Catholic theology and apostolic order and a 'hermeneutic of continuity' had no legitimacy within the Church of our baptism and we were just playacting, or, again,if we were encouraging others to think nothing has changed.
      At root, it's not a matter of what 'my church' believes in (whatever 'my church' means, or as if that could be changed by majority votes in synods) but what 'The Church' believes...
      Despite human divisions, sin , folly and greed, there is only 'The Church.' Now one can define that in terms of the Roman magisterium per se or even by an appeal to the theology and practice of the undivided church; but by either standard, it is very clear that some major and unprecedented departures are now taking place and that Anglicanism is in the process of a radical redefinition and a (further) departure from the faith of the ages: some of us are resisting that process and are not prepared either to surrender or be driven out...
      Many (for whom I have a great deal of respect) will disagree with that course or believe that it has been doomed from the outset, and then we are in the territory of assertion and counter-assertion, something which, in the end, gets us nowhere.
      To put it simply, or even simplistically(?), we have to believe we are here for a purpose and get on with the job where we have been placed, so long as our conscience allows it....

  3. Joseph Golightly12 June 2013 at 12:02

    Well that's honesty I guess. The next step is accept what your church teaches and believes which I think for the Anglican Communion (sic) is liberal theology, equality for women in ministry, and anything else it comes up with. You cannot have it both ways- accepting a stipend, housing etc. and then not living with the reality. The towel certainly has been trown in!

    1. No, hold on.. The time may well come when the position I now take is denied to any of us ...
      But I cannot for the life of me see how staying and fighting while we can has become in your mind synonymous with 'throwing in the towel.'
      Quite the reverse.
      I'm sorry, too, but you are betraying a completely secular mindset when you write of "accepting a stipend, housing etc. and then not living with the reality..."
      Well, we certainly live with the reality, in that what is happening is evident all around us ... and has all kinds of consequences.
      I also have to say that I haven't noticed that those who have followed their consciences and left are exactly living on the streets; the generous welcome of those who have received them has prevented that, so your point about stipends and housing is ....? Or are you saying it's somehow easier to stay and fight? I'm not sure the future will bear you out on that. Time will tell ...
      However, are you honestly trying to tell me that you think that upon ordination one signs a blank cheque to accept whatever is decided by synodical majority vote at any later date...? Ecclesial and canonical obedience (in any case qualified by the words 'in all things lawful and honest') is a much more complicated matter - obedience is also owed to tradition, to Holy Scripture, to the informed conscience: are you trying to tell me that should count for nothing? It has certainly never been an Anglican position to demand, or accept, a military-style concept of total and unquestioning obedience to authority, and, after all, you are talking about those who still remain in Anglican orders.
      Without being too critical, I think. too, it's time for you to declare your own position. You seem very happy to sit in judgement on the actions of others, but what will you do, or what have you already done? Where do you stand as regards the controversies we are discussing? How are you involved?

    2. Associating my remarks with those already expressed by Fr Michael: Anglicanism is traditionally a 'broad' church; some parts at least - including the Churches of England, Ireland, & Wales, I would suggest - still accept the validity of that. As long as that continues to be respected then it remains possible to be of the Catholic tradition and remain with integrity. The day may well come when that is no longer possible; but that day has not yet arrived; & it is part of the witness of those who remains to work towards ensuring that it does not come.

  4. I suppose what it boils down to is that Catholics and Orthodox simply can't understand the concept of a "Broad Church". It makes absolutely no sense to us and we don't recognise it as being in any way catholic. We would say that if the Catholic position within Anglicanism is simply one stream among many then it is just opinion. The Church is either fully Catholic or it's not the Church at all.

    1. Many thanks for that; yes, it's one of the confusing legacies of the English Reformation. The Laudians and, later, the fathers of the Oxford Movement and their successors did, of course, fight battles to try to restore the vision of catholicity to Anglicanism. They had a partial success (in the context, in itself a failure) but both times were defeated by what we would now call the zeitgeist. It would be difficult now not to concede it is a battle which has been definitively lost - within 'mainstream' Anglicanism at least...

  5. Conchúr’s comment draws out the considerable irony in all this: that a Church claiming to be Catholic cannot comprehend the notion of breadth. Mr Golightly would do well to attend to the efforts of Fr Michael and others to reclaim Anglican breadth, which some would currently like to deny them. He might also like to observe the efforts in this blog to deny the same breadth to ‘the liberals’ (undefined except in terms of campaigning issues).

    As I have observed elsewhere in the combox to this blog, too many people, ARCIC aficionados especially (whom I have observed from both sides of that dialogue), are looking to have a ‘common’ ecclesiology that reflects their point of view rather than the breadth (and sometimes contradiction) found in Gospel teaching.

    BTW, given the personal nature of Mr Golightly’s comments, I would support Fr Michael’s request for him/her to reveal a real identity, if not to the rest of us, at least to Fr Michael, whose personal stance is being so closely examined. There is a difference between discussing principles and questioning personal integrity.

    1. Many thanks for the above but you would expect me to take issue with you when you wrote: "He might also like to observe the efforts in this blog to deny the same breadth to ‘the liberals’ (undefined except in terms of campaigning issues)" - so I won't disappoint.
      I think the major problem many of us have is due to the nature of contemporary theological liberalism (a broad brush comment I know) in that far from welcoming debate, discussion and co-existence, the aim seems to be to close down enquiry and intellectual freedom by:
      firstly, attempting to define - sometimes using rather questionable philosophical / sociological sources for the Christian - what is and what is not acceptable in terms of belief;
      and secondly and consequently, denying space to the 'orthodox' tradition and faith of both past and present.

      Paradoxically, as this 'new' liberalism has become the new 'orthodoxy,' we are left with far less theological breadth and freedom than that allowed - indeed, encouraged - by the old, so-called restrictive parameters of traditional faith.
      In Anglican terms, we have lost that necessary balance and restraint which held an admittedly disparate (and to the outsider, incompatible) collection of theologies together.

      That this has happened is, as we know, partly due to the capture of both academic theology (now essentially secular in its environment) and positions of hierarchical influence by those of a broadly liberal position who have, frankly, not behaved particularly well in terms of appointing those of a different way of thinking. Ideology has trumped balance and we have replaced - it seems definitively - an essentially 'tolerant conservatism' with an exclusive 'liberal' illiberality.

    2. I agree entirely with your analysis of 'illiberal' liberality, and you may recall in his farewell address to Diocesan Conference in 2002, the last Bishop of Monmouth painted a similar picture.

      My problem (and fear) is that we are also faced with an intolerant conservatism, whose cause seems to be espoused very clearly in your recent posts. Those many of us caught in the middle would, I hope, wish for a more measured behaviour on either side.

    3. Point taken! Yet could this be simply the natural reaction of those pushed, very much unwillingly, to the margins in an ecclesial environment where previously we felt very much at home?
      If I can be controversial, though, for a moment, I would have to say that your self-description as "caught in the middle" is in itself something of an indication of how rapidly the theological centre of gravity within Anglicanism has shifted over the last few decades ...

    4. "Conchúr’s comment draws out the considerable irony in all this: that a Church claiming to be Catholic cannot comprehend the notion of breadth."

      A comment both false and unworthy. Franciscans and Dominicans? Monarchists and democrats? I could go on, but that's certainly "breadth." "Breadth," in the Anglican case, means simply contradictory and opposed "truth-claiming" groups existing in the same body -- that women can be "priests" and administer valid sacraments, and that they cannot be priests, and so administer fraudulent simulacra, for instance -- and (laughably) claiming that this constitutes "Catholicity." And I can call to witness for this so good an Anglo-Catholic as the late Eric Mascall, who in his final and unpublished book manuscript of ca. 1985, *The Overarching Question: Divine Revelation or Human Invention* (now in the Pusey House archives), identified this as the erroneous claim, and fatal weakness, of Anglicanism, in its final chapter "And Anglicanism Whither?" I am tempted to quite here from my photocopy of the manuscript some choice acerbic and dismissive phrases that Mascall used of "the three-school theory" of Anglicanism ("It is easy to see that the three-school theory might appeal on pragmatic grounds to ecclesiastical administrators who had not very definite dogmatic convictions but wanted to keep the machine running smoothly, but it is difficult to make it rationally coherent."), but will instead (with the one exception) content myself with recommending its perusal to those able to peruse it at Pusey House.

    5. I would have to say, in addition, that it was the insistence on the part of its proponents to introduce and force through women's ordination (in the full knowledge of the damage which would be done to 'traditional' Anglican polity) which both rendered 'Anglican comprehensiveness' an impossibility and exposed the weakness of the various (modern) mythologies which have become attached to it.

    6. That would be the same Dr Mascall who made his name as a scholar of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas, you may recall, considered the argument from authority to be the weakest, preferring to seal his points by reference to principle. We would do well to move away from the recent disdain of scholastic rigour and to return to a more careful debating of issues by reference to logic and first principles.

      Is my comment false and unworthy? Only if it is construed as agreement with the view presented by Concúr, the irony of which remains. There is great breadth and comprehensiveness in Catholic tradition, yet there seems little of it among some who – in the name of Catholic tradition – critique what has become the Anglican way without reference to Catholic history.

      In response to Fr Tighe’s substantive point, I would suggest that each and every development and growth in Catholic tradition has been met with the dynamic we see today (including the appeals to various authorities; including the invocation and deprecation of the ‘spirit of the age’; including the accusations of heresy and heterodoxy; and, of course, the opposition of contradictory views). I would be encouraged to see the R/C Church in this part of the world developing new and faithful understandings of doctrinal truth, and exploring ways of drawing greater depths from the treasury of faith. Even if we are not doing it very well, at least we Anglicans are making the effort!

  6. Joseph Golightly13 June 2013 at 09:14

    Father Michael I am a nobody but I speak as a former anglican who was effectively thrown out his baptismal church by general synod and a significant move away from what I had come to believe. Having closely watched over the past 20 years the "opposition" I have concluded that currently there is a sea change in what is happening. Where exactly is it all going? If there were some pronouncements I could be persuaded that the towel has not been thrown in. There are going to be women bishops (parliament will see to that) and no or little provision. Conchur's last sentence sums it up - you cannot have it both/all ways

    PS The line in the sand has been drawn so many times that there are lots who just cannot remember what it was like when there were no lines at all!


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