A greater whole

The second part of Bishop Martyn Jarrett's talk on Anglican ecclesiology and the arguments for and against living with its flawed ecclesiology

Delivered before the publication of the Manchester Report, to a chapter of the Society of the Holy Cross, and before the present concerns over the wording of a General Synod motion, this talk offers a different and less political perspective on some of the issues facing loyal Catholic Anglicans.

Against all this there are some firm and positive reasons for seeking to remain within the Church of England. The claim of the Church of England, at the time of the Reformation, was to appeal to the primitive Church. The Reformers were not intentionally innovators. The Reformers, rather, considered themselves to be recalling the Church of England to what the early Church had believed and practised and to see that as the yardstick for measuring the life of the Church of England.

We know now, of course, that Cranmer and his colleagues were much mistaken about what the early Church had actually believed and practised. Cranmers Prayer Books are a thousand miles away both from what we now know the early Church to have believed about the Eucharist and from that Church's eucharistic rites.

 

The primitive Church

Thus, for instance, the Caroline Divines felt no difficulty in recalling the Church of England to believe in the Real Presence and in Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Tractarians, similarly, recalled the English Church to a wide number of practices and beliefs reflecting those of the primitive Church. It is true that they mistakenly thought that a great number of these beliefs had been, in fact, embodied in the Anglican Settlement.

It is interesting to note, though, that when such a prominent Anglican Catholic as Darwell Stone was challenged about continuing with beliefs and practices contrary to what could be proved from Anglican formularies, he said the important thing was to appeal beyond them to the understanding of the early Church.

The whole understanding of doctrinal development, championed by John Henry Newman, was not yet a significant theological insight available to many previous generations of Anglicans. Nor did they live, as we now do, in a consciously ecumenical age where the churches of

Christendom consciously are seeking a consensus on what is the authentic understanding of our common received faith. For all his openness, John Henry Newmans doctrine of the Catholic Church ultimately sought to demonstrate how non-Roman Catholics were outside the true Church.

 

Moving together

By contrast, much modern Roman Catholic theology struggles to emphasize the way in which Christians of other traditions relate to the Church in which Rome understands the Catholic Church to subsist. Furthermore, those statements from the Roman Catholic Church, emanating from the time of Pope Paul VI and picking up on a theme from the Maline Conversations nearly a century earlier, and that talk of an Anglicanism that is united with but not absorbed in the Roman Catholic Church, all suggest a reason for moving forward corporately rather than for individual submissions.

In a nutshell, it could be argued that our particular vocation as Anglican Catholics is to help our fellow Anglicans to discover and to recover what it means to be authentically Catholic in faith and order. If we were to achieve that, then we would all be well on the way to the corporate reunion for which we long, and which the ARCIC process has helped so much to move forwards.

If there is a case for staying, then it is in such considerations that the argument is to be found.

 

Flawed ecclesiology

The snag is that, for many of us, the admission of women in the episcopate would stretch to the limit our capacity to live within a somewhat flawed ecclesiology which we are busy trying to heal. Whatever other compromises the ordination of women to the episcopate would demand of us, it would also mark the beginning of a church no longer val-idly ordered in the way that we would deem to be necessary.

At least when the Church contained within its ministry non-episcopally ordained presbyters from Protestant mainland Europe, it would be possible to discern who such people were. Likewise, with the admission of women to the order of priesthood, you and I can choose to avoid the ministries of those of whom we are not sure that they are true priests in the Church of God.

Admit women to the episcopate and in time it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to discern who is and who is not a true bishop and a true priest within the Church of England. To put matters crudely, you and I could not even practise the impaired Communion that we experience at present because we would not usually be able to recognize where in that impairment of Communion anyone stood!

 

God's call

A friend whom I greatly respect says that, even then, he would regard it as sinful to leave the church where God had called him to be. I have some sympathy and we have to recognize that, already in some parts of the Anglican Communion where little or no provision has been made for those who share our viewpoint, individual Anglicans, not least members of our Society of the Holy Cross, are struggling to remain faithful.

It is a similar position to that faced by those first non-Jurors who, in their age, would not join in a continuing Anglican Church. All they could do was to remain faithful to death, trusting God to carry on his truth in ways that he chose and they could not, as yet, perceive. As I say, I have a great sympathy for this position but, ultimately, I am not entirely convinced. God may call his Church to be a faithful remnant but still God calls that Church to mission.

A church without a guaranteed sacramental ministry arguably cannot sustain its work in advancing Gods mission. For me it would be a position of last resort and, in such circumstances, I would take a great deal of persuasion that God were not calling me into a more authentic expression of his Church elsewhere. 

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Home Page