Trying again and again

Geoffrey Kirk

If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again!’ That Mary Poppins-like admonition has become the guiding principle of Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Shröder, and all the Brussels eurocrats. If a referendum fails, pause for a while and then repeat it.

The ploy is one which members of Credo Cymru – Forward in Faith Wales – will readily recognize. After an initial defeat, their province’s governing body revisited the question of the ordination of women priests and achieved the desired result. The principle is simple: a ‘yes’ vote is deemed to be the end of the matter, a ‘no’ vote can be revisited however many times it takes. Vox Populi is only Vox Dei under very controlled circumstances.

In the Church of England, women’s ordination went forward (if that is quite the term) with firm assurances that it was part of an ‘open process’ of ‘discernment’. There was to be a ‘process of reception’. The innovation was, in the jargon of the time, ‘reversible’. It would be clear, at the end of an unspecified period, whether or not it had been ‘received’. Opponents would then know whether to jump on the bandwagon or to jump ship.

Bright eggs among the opponents naturally pointed out that if, as some claim, the first century Mediterranean was awash with Christian priestesses, the period of reception had obviously come and gone. The Church had clearly not ‘received’ what it had allegedly experienced. So why repeat the process now?

You will have guessed the answer. It is, of course, a doctrine of ‘re-reception’, whereby the Church can revisit past mistakes and re-adopt what it had previously rejected. The recent ARCIC report Mary: Hope and Grace in Christ talks of both sides in the Reformation debate ‘re-receiving.’

But what, you will ask, about the doctrine of ‘re-reception’ itself? Is there to be an open process for its ‘reception’? And if it is not ‘received’, how quickly can ‘re-reception’ be proposed for – well – ‘re-reception’?

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