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The Hope of Things to Come – ed. M. Chapman

July 28, 2016

THOTTCA collection of essays assessing the classical Anglican tradition (Scripture, Tradition and Reason) .They began life as a series of lectures leading up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference and focus on how the inheritance of the past and present can be appropriated into the future – instead of being marred by the deep pessimism which permeates so much of Anglicanism – particularly in the increasingly inward looking and often bitter Anglo-Catholic tradition – all the essays offer hopeful and constructive insights for a vibrant catholic form of Christianity within Anglicanism which understands the church as a place of dialogue, encounter and renewal.

Instead of division, the emphasis is on conversation, dialogue and unity.

The Book is divided into two parts:

The three essays in part one re-assess the sources of doctrine in Anglicanism in novel ways, all in dialogue with history, as well as with the theologies of other churches, and the experience in other religions.

Charlotte Methuen explains that there have always been disagreements in the Church and examines Hooker’s ‘three-legged stool’. She points out that tradition is a living thing, not just ‘something we’ve always done’ and has an amusing story to illustrate the latter.

She disagrees with it being a certainty that the Anglican Communion will end in schism: After the 1988 Lambeth Conference, Timothy Dudley Smith commented: ‘I felt the Conference has been a personal triumph under God for the Archbishop of Canter­bury. I do not see how the British press can go on picturing him as an ineffective and isolated leader presiding over the dissolution of the Anglican Communion.

He may have written good hymns like ‘Lord for the years’, which was aired for the Queen’s 90th birthday bash but he is quite happy to stamp on LGBTs.

Mark Chapman rehabilitates the term ‘liberal’, pointing out that original sin means that we see things askew and need self-criticism. He explains the way in which authority has been centralised in the Roman Catholic Church and then asks whether Anglicans can be truly catholic with a dispersed authority. Burt surely we don’t have to allow Rome to have the copyright on the notion of catholicity.

A conversation is promoted which continues through the chapters in Part Two, which engage in their different ways with the ecumenical setting of theology, Anglo-Catholicism and the future, and the effects of the recent Lambeth Conference on the resolution of conflict and peacemaking across the Anglican Communion.

Andrew Davidson has some accurate criticisms of Affirming Catholicism in that it seems to get more of its views from secular liberalism than from theology and I was amused to reads that the section’ What we Believe’ on our website was blank.

Joseph Cassidy makes the mistake of thinking that because the Church of England is diverse it can encompass other denominations in a unity without uniformity.

Martyn Percy worries that the sort of polite conversations envisaged by the Windsor Report will mean that the real pain felt by minorities like LGBTs will be dismissed as shrill.

To finish with, David Stancliffe writes in his own inimitable and expansive style about how different cultures can be hidebound by their language and how this effects their (lack of) vision.

Quotations:

What later came to be called Erastian church in settlements, in which national rulers are closely involved and the affairs of the Church, were defining the teaching  rooted in the conviction of secular rulers that they were primarily responsible for the health of their subjects’ souls and therefore must, at the very least, share responsibility for the proper ordering of the Church. The declaration on human rights, or legislation such as bills to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender, race or sexual orientation are arguably later extensions of this same principle.

Luther rooted his response to these point and claimed authority to interpret scripture made explicit in the second wall. Here his criticism of the papacy claimed the sole authority in interpretation, whereas in fact the responsibility scripture belongs to the whole people of God who understand the scriptures in faith.

‘Good manners’, for example, can be a form of quasi-pastoral suppression that does not allow true or strong feelings to emerge in the centre of an ecclesial community, and properly interrogate its ‘settled’ identity. This may rob the Church of the opportunity truly to feel the pain of those who may already perceive themselves to be on the margins of the Church, perhaps even disqualified, or who already feel silenced. ‘Good manners’ can also become a cipher for excluding the apparently undeserving, and perhaps labelling seemingly difficult insights as ‘extreme voices’. The prophetic, the prescient, and those who protest, can all be ignored by a church that makes a virtue out of overly valuing a peaceable grammar of exchange. Put another way, if the ‘coolness’ always triumphs over the ‘passionate’, then the Church is effectively deaf in one ear.

Rather like a good marital or parent—child relationship, learning to articulate and channel anger can be as important as learning to control it. It is often the case that in relationships where the expression of anger is denied its place, resentment festers and breeds, and true love is ultimately distorted. Strong feelings need to be acknowledged for relationships to flourish. If strong feelings on one or both sides have to be suppressed for the sake of a relationship, then it is rarely proper to speak of the relationship being mature or healthy.

in retrospect we can acknowledge that freedoms for the oppressed have been won by aggressive behaviour, even when it has been militantly peaceful or pacifist: the Civil Rights movement in North America and the peaceful protests of Gandhi spring to mind But all too often churches and society collude in a fiction, believing that an end to slavery, the emancipation of women, and perhaps even the end of apartheid, could all have been achieved without the aggressive behaviour of militants.

You touch on the same sensibilities in the Anglican tradition when someone alters the words of a well-known hymn. There are the — by now — well-accepted changes, like ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’ for ‘Hark! how all the welkin rings’, but a more striking example of a wilful alteration is in the third verse of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn See the Conqueror mounts in triumph:

Thou hast raised our human nature

In the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places,

There with thee in glory stand;
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;

Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in thine Ascension

We by faith behold our own.

This is clearly too strong meat for the editors of the modern Hymns Old and New,’ who alter the sixth line to read: ‘bears our nature to the throne’ and so offers an interesting example of the western, linear style of theology invading the bolder and more direct ‘eastern’ claim of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth’s original.

Ut unum sint was a renewed plea for Christian unity, ‘ particularly directed towards the Orthodox churches. The j encyclical acknowledges that in baptism Christians become members of the Body of Christ, and that many churches have some (or most) of the elements of truth which, however, the encyclical claims exists in its fullness only in the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul stated that ‘the communion of the particular churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is — in God’s plan — an essential requisite of full and visible communion’ (§96). And here this great and unbreakable chain becomes to outsiders apparently circular. For unity there must be communion, for communion there must be unity of ministry, since sharing in communion is the sign of being in communion, not a means to achieve it: ‘it is not a substitute for unity, but the fruit of unity.’ For those outside the Roman Catholic Church it seems extremely difficult to break into this charmed circle.

One way forward might be to press the claims of a model of authenticity — of a truly apostolic ministry — which was less linear; not so much of a mechanical linkage to guarantee the uninterrupted transmission of potestas, of priestly power to consecrate, as a raft or web. I think of it like this: we have a hammock which seems able to bear the weight of our heaviest friends, yet is made entirely of wool. Its secret lies in the fact that it has an enormous number of strands, not one of which is bearing more than a fraction of the weight, and strand is woven to strand laterally as well as lengthwise; it has — if I recall the terms correctly — both warp and weft.

Any ‘apostolic succession’ which by-passes commun­ion, the essential corporate-making ingredient in building the Church as a body which is continuous in space and time, is vulnerable. It is rooted only in the single link of a massive chain which binds it clearly, but potentially disastrously — if one link snaps, the whole chain breaks — to its origin in the past. Communion, of which the Eucharist is the type and origin, is more like a web, a net, a hammock. In the Eucharist past and future, heaven and earth, God and humanity are bound together in Christ, the unique source of the Church’s ministry.

But are different models that derive from other linguistic thought patterns possible? Would it be possible to think that unity — like that experienced by the infant Church on the day of Pentecost — might have more to do with the complementarity of different languages, patterns of expression and thought-forms rather than in a historical or imposed uniformity? The phenomenon of different languages was certainly understood in the Hebrew Testament (Genesis 11.1­9) as a sign of disunity, leading to chaos. But it is exactly this same phenomenon that is discovered to he a sign of the unity of the Church in mission in Acts 2.1-13. True, neither the day of Pentecost nor the common life of the Christians of Corinth sound like tidy expressions of the apostolic Church, but they ­like the organic models of the Church which figure in the earlier writings of the New Testament — are a good deal more vivacious than the later and more structural expressions of he life of the Church in writings like the Letter to the Ephesians

On a different level, the Anglican Communion — hitherto the great ecclesial gift to the divided churches as an exemplar of how to manage unity in and through diversity — is currently engaged in a not dissimilar exercise in unity to which the assumed solution is to provide a Covenant into which different Provinces can enter. This ‘Covenant’, couched in a long document setting out expected loyalties and ways of behaving, looks suspiciously like a contract, not a covenant, and is clearly designed to set down in juridical terms limits to the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour. Hitherto, the Communion has been defined in relational terms: relation to the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury…. If, in a married relationship, the ways of kindli­ness and graciousness, of affection and trust, have become so eroded that lists of duties and agreed standards of behaviour had to be substituted for attentive and loving response, then we wonder if the marriage still exists except on paper.

What may occupy three or four pages in the novel, describing the long walk home through the slow dusk after a heavy day’s work, is reduced to a four-second pan. Nothing of the slowly fading light, the footsteps more leaden with each passing minute, the aching shoulders and the anticipation of a welcoming fire: just a mood flash before the next action. And how do you convey, simply in visual terms, the evocative smell of wet earth after a shower of rain? Or the feel of a violin bow on a gut string? Do today’s children notice birdsong as they go jogging with their ipods? How do they register the smell of fresh milk or a peat fire? Do they still make imaginary pictures in their heads from the books they have read? What about the senses of touch and sensitivity to texture? In particular, what about the seeing that comes from looking at the same landscape or altarpiece day after day in all seasons and lights ­that slow imprint of a sense of place that builds up a feeling of being at home?

Are there parallels here with the necessary limitations imposed by the binary, on/off, yes/no system that is the basis of all computer technology? When you blow up an image taken by a digital camera, however sophisticated, the pixels come out with straight edges: how does what we know about the importance of curves in giving life even to apparently straight line fit with this? There is not one straight line in that

masterpiece of classical architecture, the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. Nor is there one in Lutyens’s Cenotaph in Whitehall. Similarly, singing to the  accompaniment of an electronic organ is always a battle. This is because their sound is produced in perfect, solid chunks. The notes do not have ­as the notes produced by the human voice, or an oboe or a pipe organ do — a plosive beginning, a blossoming growth and a tailed-off end, which gives each note its own, individual life. Can the mechanical means, by which so much of our experience is replicated and shared, ever give us the real thing? And can this virtual reality, so immediately accessible, replace the formation and cultivation of our own imagination? And if it can, do we want it to?

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