Page 9, 27th June 2003

27th June 2003
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Page 9, 27th June 2003 — Why Anglicanism cannot cope with crisis
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People: John Gummer
Locations: Rochester, Oxford, Rome

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Why Anglicanism cannot cope with crisis

John Gummer

TrChurch of England is ill-fitted o handle the current furore about the ordination of openly homosexual bishops. Central to it is the issue of authority. Who decides in a church whose supreme authority

was originally the Monarch? The teachings of the Church of England were those endorsed by the Crown and set out in the Book of Common Prayer. This Erastian approach had a history long before Henry VIII It was inherent in the claims of the Holy Roman Emperors and it flourished in the Churches of the East. The anointed king was a religious figure chosen by God. When the Stuarts asserted the Divine Right of Kings they had an impressive tradition on which to rest their case.

Two huge changes have combined to make the notion farcical. First the advent of democracy and second the growth of the Anglican Communion. The mystique that could be associated with hereditary monarchy is not easily seen in a Lloyd George, a Thatcher, or a Blair and an authority based upon the Establishment cannot be asserted in countries where the Church of England has no such special place but is merely a denomination among others.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Church of England has been developing a different theory of authority. In England it has upheld the decisions of the General Synod as binding and in the wider communion it has sought to establish the council of bishops — the Lambeth Conference — as the supreme arbiter. Neither is theologically or practical

ly very easily defended. The General Synod owes its existence to Parliament and is limited to the powers lent to it by the State. In the end, Parliament can overturn any decision it makes. The CofE remains fundamentally a creature of the State.

The assembly of bishops sounds more acceptable but it is unrepresentatively overloaded with large numbers of North American bishops who make up for their small and dwindling numbers of adherents by their disproportionately large funds. Even more difficult is that no-one is prepared to accept its authority. Only a month after the archbishops of the Anglican Communion met and confirmed their opposition to single sex marriages and homosexual relationships among the clergy, a Canadian bishop allowed the blessing of a single-sex marriage and a US diocese chose a man as its bishop who had left his wife for a male lover!

There is therefore no recognised authority in the Church of England. Just as Anglicans refused to listen to the voice of the Catholic Church and our Orthodox cousins on the question of the ordination of women, so North America will not even pause to listen to their own fellow Anglicans in Africa or South America. In England, there is no likelihood that the state church will stand out against what is now state morality. Parliament has espoused equal rights for homosexuals as a moral cause. The Church of England will bless that view. After all, anointing the views of the state is the original purpose of a state church. Bishop Harries of Oxford stands firmly in the Erastian succession.

Real authority, as St John Fisher testified, cannot be found except in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The existence of the Church of England is finally threatened by the very theological error upon which it was founded. It was for pointing to that heresy that the Bishop of Rochester was martyred and it is our Catholic vocation to continue his witness until England returns to the Faith.




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