Saturday, March 17, 2007

george weigel: the end of the anglican communion

From here and elsewhere. Among other things he writes:

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, as hopes for ecclesial reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury ran high, it seemed, briefly, as if Cardinal Newman might have been wrong. With the Anglican Communion now fracturing into a gaggle of quarreling communities no longer in communion with each other, it looks as if Newman had the deeper insight into what King Henry VIII wrought.

To which I say: this is a premature judgment. Its not over till its over. Pace Weigel, the Communion has not yet fractured into "a gaggle of quarreling communities no longer in communion with each other." Several Anglican Provinces have declared that their communion with ECUSA, specifically, is broken; several more have declared that their communion with ECUSA is impaired. But apart from ECUSA, Anglicanism remains pretty robust and cohesive. Fragmentation of the kind described by Weigel is certainly a grave danger for the Anglican Communion, and its one possible outcome of the real mess we're in. But it hasn't happened yet. And frankly it is immensely disheartening to have so many well-intentioned Christians (many of them former Anglicans) circling around the wounded body of Anglicanism, licking their lips, waiting for the vindication of Newman's conversion, which they seem to think can only come when Anglicanism is dead and eviscerated, and all the world can smell the putrefaction.

Well hold your horses. Another possible outcome of our real mess is that the Anglican Communion will roundly censure and discipline the North Americans, and will find ways of strengthening the Communion's common life in a covenantal / conciliar way that would seem to many to be a compelling (and non-papal) counterpoint to Newman's predication of Protestantism (in its pejorative sense) to the essence of Anglicanism. Is this why many Roman Catholics seem so eager for Anglicanism to fail, and to be seen to fail? Because a reformation of Anglicanism in a fundamentally catholic direction would throw a wrench into their ecclesiology, or at least into their eccelesiological apologetics?

Look, sometimes I think about Baptists, et alia, the way that Weigel seems to be thinking about Anglicanism in this piece. That non-catholic instantiations of Christianity are inconvenient, distracting, and better off dead. But then I remind myself that the Reformation was not a surprise to God. As distasteful as most of Protestant rhetoric and piety are to me, these people are Christians too. And their presence in the world falls within the purview of the sovereignty of God and the Holy Spirit's work in Western culture. My job is not to be a fly in Baptist ointment, but to be the best Christian I can be with the light with which I have been graced, and to tell Baptists (and Roman Catholics) the story of God's reign in my heart -- and not to tell them how I would have God reign in their heart. Is this syncretic? No. I want the same thing for them that I want for myself: for Jesus Christ to be Lord of life in whatever way seems best to him.

But to return to the Weigel piece, next he says:

As Canada's finest Catholic commentator, Father Raymond de Souza, wrote last year (reflecting on the attempts of Dr. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, to hold the Anglican Communion together), "Some [Anglicans] argue that [homosexual acts] are sinful; others that they are sacramental. This is an unbridgeable gap and it appears impossible for Canterbury to straddle it, try as he might." Dr. Williams has tried mightily; he seems to have failed.

Again, this isn't quite right. Dr. Williams has not been attempting to bridge a gap between homosexual acts being at once sinful and sacramental. Dr. Williams may not be right about everything, but I think he's yet capable of judging a patent absurdity when it stares him in the face. And this gets at the heart of Dr. Williams' fundamental catholicity: he's willing to submit his judgment to that of Holy Church. He has consistently said as Archbishop of Canterbury, as have the Primates and the other instruments of our Communion, that the Anglican teaching on licit sexual activity is clear and unambiguous: sex is licit within the sacramental context of lifelong marriage between one man and one woman, the end. For the rest of us, abstinence from sex is the name of the game. There is no ambiguity here. There is no attempt to dwell in some irrational aporia. Here is the Anglican teaching for all the world to see. If Americans wish to be Anglicans, they must conform themselves to this teaching. That's what Windsor, Dromantine, and Tanzania were about.

Could Anglicanism crack open and implode thanks to the ecclesiological stress laid on it by ECUSA's innovations? Certainly. But it hasn't yet. Let's not jump the gun. There is a heroic and prayerful effort under way to prevent just such a cracking. I invite would-be gadflies to join us in working and praying for Anglican (and pan-Christian) unity, that the world may see and know that the Father sent the Son. Apart from that, be the best and humblest Christian you can be.

4 comments:

The Bovina Bloviator said...

Well said, Father.

Many commentators mistakenly equate the problems with the Episcopal Church with those of the Anglican Communion. That really is not the case. Outside of North America and (ironically) England, where her numbers are relatively minuscule, the Anglican Communion is robust and healthy.

God is good. I wonder if those intrepid and godly members of the Church Mission Society, hacking their way through the African wilderness and baptizing the heathen 200 years ago, had any notion their acts would prove to be the future salvation of the Anglican Church in the "civilized" countries back home. God did, of course.

William Tighe said...

I disagree; it's over. Women's Ordination (WO) was the end, and the present unpleasantness over SS (= sanctified sodomy) is just another example of how one generation's liberals, having betrayed the fort, refuse to see the implications of their treason.

The fact that most of the purported "good guys" in the SS row, like the Rwandans, the Ugandans, the Kenyans, practice WO shows that the jig is up for Catholic Anglicans in the "Canterbury Communion."

father wb said...

WT -

In my unlettered opinion, there is more hope for catholicizing evangelicals. They at least believe, in principle, to the submission of their judgment. Only they try and submit to sola scriptura rather than to Holy Church.

And the generation which, as you say, betrayed the fort, will not live forever.

Charles W. said...

Father, I agree. Since it is impossible to be in communion with women as acting like bishops, priests, and deacons, we simply need to be honest about it. In addition, we need not treat the communion as a monolith. She exists where the nexus of word and sacrament and no where else.