Comment February 2000

 

The sublime and the ridiculous, it has often been remarked, are closely allied. To play Mozart in Auschwitz is a sublime expression of the human spirit. But it is the next thing to madness to fiddle while Rome burns.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has let it be known (by way of Monica Furlong, whose St Hilda Community was hardly noticeable for its attachment to Anglican discipline or formularies) that he gets 'cross' with those Anglicans who use the Roman Rite.

Now a petulant Archbishop is an unedifying prospect, and ought to be avoided if at all possible. But it is curious, in the present state of the Anglican Communion, that he should single out this particular cause for annoyance. It cannot surely be that he is short of other things to call 'theologically bizarre'?

If it would help to put the Archbishop's personal liturgical bÍtes noires in something like perspective, we could offer him a whole list of things which are - or ought to be - 'cross'-making.

Spong's Twelve Theses and most of the recent pronouncements of Richard Holloway would top that list. But elevated ecclesiastical infidelity does not stop with them. Is the Archbishop 'cross', we wonder, at those who, as a matter of policy, ordain clergy (both male and female) in acknowledged same-sex relationships? Is his temper frayed by priestly and episcopal theologians who deny the Incarnation, and call the Resurrection a mere 'conjuring trick with bones'? Do his hackles rise at the not inconsiderable number of clergy who do not believe in the objective existence of a God at all?

There was a time in the Church of England, it is true, when a drop of water in a chalice could land a parson in a court of law. But you can now believe nothing (Jack Spong), or anything (William Swing), and still receive the Archbishop's invitation to the Lambeth Conference.

Beside these aberrations (which the Archbishop routinely tolerates in diplomatic silence) the use of a form of words approved by one of our closest ecumenical partners seems to us a minor infringement. Yet Dr Carey is obviously determined to be 'cross'

Now that's bizarre!

The House of Bishops of the Church of England has for some time been expanding its role and increasing its self awareness. Now, in association with the Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Council for Christian Unity, it has produced a paper, Bishops in Communion, which reflects on the collegiality of bishops 'in the service of the koinonia of the Church'. (sic!)

No one will expect excitement from so slim a volume. We reproduce here the series of bullet points in which the paper summarizes the qualities 'something' of which 'the exercise of collegiality requires that each bishop exhibit':

* faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ grounded in a life of prayer;
* a readiness to listen to the Church and the world;
* sound learning which springs from the study of Scripture, the tradition of the Church and contemporary theological research;
* a willingness to engage with new knowledge in various fie
* an ability to weigh matters with wisdom;
* a recognition that the mystery of God is always seen 'as in a glass darkly';
* a patience to continue with difficult and seemingly intractable questions;
* creative imagination to discern the signs of God's kingdom;
* a willingness to make room for different positions when matters are complex and answers as yet unclear;
* a humility to confess mistakes;
* the skill to communicate wisely;
* the courage to take the lead, even when it makes one unpopular;
* the readiness always to be attentive to the prompting of the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
* the willingness and ability to work in partnership with others.'

These qualities (where they are not merely expressions of ecclesiastical sentimentality) would provide a good checklist for patrons looking for a parish priest. But they add little to our understanding of episcopacy as such, and do nothing to elucidate its peculiar nature and character.

Set beside them, if you will, the words of the Second Vatican Council:

'A bishop, marked with the fullness of the sacrament of orders, is the 'steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood', especially in the Eucharist which he offers or causes to be offered, and by which the Church constantly lives and grows...Bishops govern the particular churches entrusted to them as vicars and ambassadors of Christ. This they do by their counsel, exhortations, and example, as well, indeed, as by their authority and sacred power. This power they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser, and he who is the more distinguished as the servant.' [Lumen Gentium III: 26, 27 ]

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