KNOWING THE CHURCH'S MIND

MALCOLM TUDOR RESPONDS TO TOM SUTCLIFFE: AFFIRMING THE CATHOLIC FAITH BUT NOT AFFIRMING CATHOLICISM

HE COMING of women priests is testing Anglican vision and charity. In England, as elsewhere, there are the innovators, the undecided (a large number of floating voters), and the traditionalists. It is consequently a depressing experience to read Tom Sutcliffe’s triumphalist goading of “the Forward in Faith element of the Church of England” (New Directions, April 1997), and his reduction of the membership to a growing majority, and a diminishing minority, i.e. liberals and conservatives.

Twice daily, traditionalist clergy pray “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church” – and seek to mean it. One very obvious implication is that to be of the Holy Spirit, and to be Holy, the Church must be Catholic. I take this to require that a part of the Universal Church accepts it can have, at best, a restricted autonomy.

The notion that conservative Anglicans thought they “had to defer to the views of the Roman Catholics and Orthodox” comes as a surprise. Their belief, as I understood it, was that the Anglican Church – and therefore any single Province – was not entitled (morally, rather than legally) to act alone. There were observers from other churches at the Second Vatican Council, and it is not inconceivable that a “universal church council” might still be convened; after all, churches have contacts at a high level, and leaders of religions have prayed together at Assisi.

Certainly, when dealing with matters held in common (and we may take the ministry, which Anglicanism did not invent, as an example) the episcopal churches, while separated, ought not to act as if participating in a universal council. If they wish to be partisan, it would be more honest to drop the credal clause concerning holiness and catholicity. It may be noted that in the sixteenth century the Anglican authorities entertained no idea of privileged access to the gift of authentic priesthood: they assumed bishops, priests, and deacons were not ordained simply as Anglican ministers but in the Church of God.

Anglican liberals have a big problem about authority. The old view is to see the basis of the Church’s authority as partly its experience across the centuries and the globe, partly its own nature, partly the perpetual guidance of the Holy Spirit bequeathed to it, and partly the commission to it to disciple all nations. Anyone earnestly seeking the Word Incarnate must go to the Church Incorporate. Also our Lord promised patently that the Holy Spirit should guide his Church into all truth. the members are fallible men. They do not cease to be fallible when assembled in church councils. Yet in its corporate capacity the Church is always the pillar and ground of the truth, not to any who fall away but to the faithful. Against the Church, in its fidelity, the gates of hell can never prevail.

The liberal favours dispersed authority, failing to recognise an obvious contradiction. If authority goes with the denominations and to far-flung areas, and difference is protected by an appeal to autonomy, what price that authority? Dispersion leads to any number of integrities. Obedience becomes meaningless, for the individual may rightly claim he has a degree of dispersed authority, which enables him to follow his light, and stand aside.

We may find as Anglicans a certain repellence in the exercise of the Roman Magisterium. There are historical reasons for the old wariness, not least the papal support of the Spanish Armada to topple the monarch and forcibly recover the national allegiance. (Anti-Roman feeling surfaced very high in the 1992 General Synod which approved ordination of women as priests). Yet the principle is followed widely in the Christian Churches, that a trained and commissioned few direct the faith of the many. Who in an episcopal church will deny that the principle is valid?

Now we are invited to see the weighing of Tradition by all Anglicans as an improved model. The result must surely be growth in dispersion, and loss of authority, and the Tower of Babel will seem not so much chaos in communication than an early instance of majority-as-one. Also the liberal is being profoundly loose in his hold on history. The Church was set up to bear witness to the Resurrection and other facts of the Gospel, facts that are known only by tradition and testimony, i.e. on authority.

The church is the sole living institution that can provide such testimony, since its life spans the time between the Resurrection and today. The Magisterium, in some form, is here to stay, as a necessary check on heterodox individualism, and in this sense conservative Anglicans are right to regard synodical approval that women may be ordained as a loss of universality, and a big step into sectarianism.

Tom Sutcliffe chooses to see the period of reception in a minimalist light. I have understood it as proposed by the two Archbishops of the English Provinces (preceded by the Lambeth Bishops in 1988, and followed by the Eames Commission) in terms of the Gamaliel doctrine, that if ordination of women be of God it will prosper, and if not it will die away. It was espoused by kind-hearted liberals wanting shocked conservatives to have time to adjust, especially to the high calibre of candidates, and the great numbers who would join the Church. If the traditionalists saw “further indeterminacy” on the part of innovators the judgment was surely correct as the concession was kind.

But now the period of reception is to be re-interpreted. The liberal view sees a time-limit. With a hint of the Magisterium when lacking in vision and charity, synods will choose a date to end Gamaliel’s choice – and excommunicate conservative church members! How it can be allowed that a provincial synod has any moral (legal is always another matter as Caiaphas and Pilate knew) right to speculate as to God’s will and drive out of the denomination those it could accept before 1992 (England) and before 1996 (Wales) as models of orthodoxy, I cannot imagine.

It cannot be sustained that such synodical reputation has been anticipated by conservative Anglicans. Some will add to the emigrants to other jurisdictions. Others will opt for a measure of official separation, while remaining exactly where they were, that is, as Anglicans equal with others. The PEVs and the signed resolutions may be taken by liberals as hostile and dismissive actions by this group, but such availing of official provision would be seen primarily by this group as necessary acts of self-preservation.

In any case there is a third group among traditionalists the liberal may easily overlook. It comprises those who do not migrate externally, or internally, but who not only stay where they were but also coexist with the undecided and the innovators. I count myself in their number. This group holds to the tradition. Its members accept that bishops who ordain women, supporters, and the women minister themselves have materially at the very least betrayed the apostolic tradition. While they cannot recognise women deacons and women priests, they recognise sacramental acts of bishops to be as valid as they were before the innovative rites. The work alongside the innovators and the undecided, and seek at every turn to uphold the tradition. Their goal is the re-conversion of the errant to orthodox belief and practice, the means involving coexistence, dialogue and co-operation as conscience permits.

With his desired time-limit, the liberal would cut away all who dissent from his brave new Anglican world, The exiled must form a new Church, or join another, or, presumably, make their submission to the enlightened majority – much as happened among the Non-jurors after the deposition of James II in 1688. Talk of Women Bishops and a Third Province may have fuelled the liberal prognosis: a kind of consolation prize. More likely the idea has been entertained that women bishops, recognised as consistent with women priests, would serve to show more graphically how false to the tradition the ordination of women as priests is. Indeed I would confidently predict that at that point dissent would increase, with many recruits enlisting from the members we must call at present undecided.

In any case conservative Anglicans include may who would have no truck with talk of women as bishops – as they have none with women as deacons and priests. What synods can do they can undo. So their only call is “Please, rescind as soon as possible!”

Tom Sutcliffe would define the two integrities in terms of the popular will and personal conscientious objection. He may find evidence enough in England. In Wales it has not been so. The consultation in 1991 touched the PCCs and the diocesan Conferences – perhaps 15,000 in a Province of 170,000. The least said about the higgledy-piggledy methods employed by the PCCs the better. In the Diocesan Conferences those who whose wanted the change triumphed by Bishops 4–2, Clergy 342–327 (a further 70 votes not being cast) and Laity 618–294. In April 1994 the Governing Body rejected the Bill, since it failed in the House of Clergy by 7 votes. Without further consultation, a second Bill was put before the Governing body, and in September 1996 it passed, the Bishops voting 6–0, the Clergy 85–40 and Laity 136–47.

In Wales less than 1 in 10 of the membership was consulted. We cannot here speak of the popular will. Easter communicants have been just above 90,000 in the last five years, and I have suggested to the bishops that the opinions of this greater number might be sounded, but to no avail. There are problems in any case of the competence of the untrained to make appropriate judgements; and the need to provide a third category of “unsure” in addition to “yes” and “no” (why does a Church teaching men to be truthful hang back from sound methods of consultation?). We are told, further, that the principle is “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit”. If so, should not Wales have accepted the 1994 rejection? Without wishing to be irreverent, if the Divine Guide made a mistake in 1994, how can we be sure he did not err in 1996? Why may he not be invited to visit again in 1998?

The liberal espouses the synodical process as balancing hierarchy, theological expertise, and the mind of the people of God. We all know that fact does not always fulfil aspiration, and that people will vote sometimes for very inadequate reasons. Falsehood flies, said Oliver Goldsmith, and truth comes limping after it.

How the Church is to know its mind is clear enough. The ecumenical Creeds and the decrees of faith of the ecumenical Councils have been received by the Anglican Churches as having permanent authority. These Churches have set forth also a Catechism and other doctrinal language contained in he book of Common Prayer, not least in the ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Do they provide any sanction for women’s ordination. In Wales the Archbishop was more mundane: other provinces will think better of us if we approve the Bill. Sadly, Anglican authority in each case was a casualty to the desire to be admired by the world.

In Wales the church was itself responsible for the change to include women in the priesthood. The same was true in England, but there was the requirement of approval in Parliament. Jews, Non-conformists, Humanists, roman Catholics as well as Anglicans were entitled to cast a vote. Secular considerations were more evident, notably equality of opportunity regarding employment. I all seemed a long way from apostolic times when the sole thought was to fulfil the command of Jesus Christ.

To know the mind of the Church must mean recognition that it is the function of the Church to teach, and of the Scriptures to prove, the Faith. The unlearned Anglican should assume that the Church’s teaching is correctly found in the Book of Common Prayer. It is for competent theologians to test Provincial doctrines to see if these have Catholic authority.

“In the Catholic church we must take care to hold”, wrote St. Vincent of Lerins, “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all“ (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est). That is the rule by which scholars verify the Catholicity of existing doctrines. By that rule the ordination of women as priests and their consecration as bishops are signally uncatholic.

Malcolm Tudor has served in the RC and Anglican Churches and the English and Welsh Provinces in the parish ministry.

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