Page 5, 29th January 1988

29th January 1988
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Page 5, 29th January 1988 — Anglican Bishop Taylor reflects on a lifetime of experience with
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Locations: Jerusalem, Cambridge

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Anglican Bishop Taylor reflects on a lifetime of experience with

the Catholic Church as a constant par ner in ca ering or t e nee • so t e ristian faithful.

Getting to like the Catholic

`bad guys' MY Lord, you were ordained in 1956 at the age of 27. Does this mean that your vocation was on the late side?

Bishop

No, it certainly does not. In fact I went up to Cambridge from Watford Grammar School when I was 18 and I was even then desiring to spread the Gospel with great evangelical enthusiasm and to serve God. I offered myself for ordination in the Church of England at a selection conference two years later, when I was only 20 and I was recommended for training.

I had another year to do for my degree and then I was awarded a post-graduate scholarship at Cambridge to do further theological work, so that took another two years. Then I had to do my military service, which took another two years, then I was awarded a Fellowship at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to do research in the Septuagint; that took another year and then a final year at theological college and I was ready for ordination. So I was really all set for it from the age of 20.

NJF COULD you have avoided military service because of your vocation?

Bishop NO, I don't think so, and I certainly didn't want to. I thought it was going to be a very good test for me in a different area than purely the academic or the religious. I found it very valuable.

NJF DID you come from a family which had a religious tradition? Bishop NO, not really. I was brought up to go to church occasionally. My father was a typical Englishman — a Freemason, not very

In the first of two articles, Nicholas Fitzherbert talks to Dr John Taylor, Anglican Bishop of St Albans and Chairman of the Church of England's Communications Committee.

enamoured of Roman Catholics, -in fact Roman Catholics, Jews and Welshmen were normally lumped together as people you steered clear of! I am really not quite sure why!

HOW old were you when you made Catholic friends and became aware of the Roman Catholic church in a personal way rather than as an institution?

NOT for a long time. Once I had been brought to faith in Jesus Christ, which was during my time in the sixth form at school I was very much in an evangelical context and mainly an Anglican one. My first real meeting with Roman Catholics was when I was at Christ's College, Cambridge.

There were a number of Roman Catholic priests who were also studying there, reading classics rather than theology and I was doing classics at the time so I began to know them fairly well, but it was only after I had been ordained and went to an ecumenical conference at which there were one or two Roman Catholic sisters who were so manifestly Christ-centred in what they were saying and doing that I found myself wanting to identify with them.

Before that the Roman Catholicism I had come across seemed to be Virgin Mary based, and mass-centred which as Protestant I found difficult to stomach and to be more a matter of formalism and ritual than of the vibrant reality that my conversion had brought to me. NJF

DO you think that your father's attitudes not only to Roman Catholicism but to other minorities was, to some extent typical of his generation? Bishop YES, he was a child of his own age and of his parents' attitudes too, I suspect.

NJF

YOU were trained for the Ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, a college that represents a firm evangelical tradition. Were you constantly reminded of the Marian persecution?

Bishop

NO, I never gave it a thought, though I do recall that to many of us, the Roman Catholics were the bad guys and the Protestants were the good guys and you understood your own theology — particularly the theology of the Communion service — by what it was not. It was not the sacrifice of the Mass, it was not transubstantiation, it was not all the things that had been jettisoned at the Reformation.

So to that extent it was trench warfare between Roman Catholics and Protestants; and you learnt what you believed your side of the firing line by contrast with what you thought they believed the other side. NJF IS it true to say therefore, that the original foundation, establishment and practice of the Anglican church was based to a considerable extent on what it should not be reflecting as much negative thinking for its base, so to speak, rather than positive thinking, because of the desire of the Anglican church to disassociate itself with anything to do with Roman Catholicism? Dr John Taylor, Anglican Bishop of St Albans Bishop NO, I don't think that's quite fair. The Anglican attitude to its historic faith contains a strong belief in continuity, continuity with the apostolic Church, and also in the need for reformation by the scriptures.

The Anglican observes the way in which the Church moved from its scriptural moorings in the Middle Ages and he glories in the fact that through the re-translation of the scriptures, through going back to the original languages at the time of the Reformation, the church was purified and renewed.

So the element of continuity and sciptural purity have been the two things that the Anglican tradition has held to. I suppose the reaction of evangelical Anglicans generally has been not so much against Roman Catholicism but against the way in which pre-Reformation doctrines have been brought back into the Church of England under the influence of the Tractarian Movement as I suppose it was mainly against Tractarians that I and my fellow Evangelicals were reacting in those days.

NJF YOU were vice-principal of Oakhill Theological College when Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey launched Ecumenism in 1966. Did the joint declaration strike you forcibly at the time or only later? NO, at the time it did not seem particularly significant or desirable. Most of us thought that the rapprochement between the Church of Rome and the Church of England was so far into the distant future that it would never occur in our lifetime and we were not very interested in seeing it move forward.

NJF AT what stage then did the significance of an ecumenical movement come into your life? Bishop I ATTENDED the Nottingham Conference in 1964, which voted for unity by 1980: you may remember that. It was the time when the ecumenical movement was courting the interest and sympathy of conservative evangelicals and I went there representing, with two or three other people, the Diocese of Chelmsford. I realised then that across the eccleiastical spectrum there were so many more factors that united us than divided us.

At the same time I was concerned that the quest for unity should not be at the expense of truth and so I was, shall I say, a cautious explorer after Ecumenical Unity. I have never been an advocate of unity as an end in itself, being more concerned to promote mutual understanding, Christian fellowship, and intercommunion, so that our different traditions can be maintained while at the same time recognising that we are brothers in Christ.

NJF WOULD your vision of unity, which is a dangerously simple word perhaps, be more like there being differences within any family but nevertheless they are of the family, so at the end of the day you have unity, yes, but quite a lot of differences within that unity which will not actually destroy it?

Bishop YES. In those days my simple illustration was that of different regiments in the army; they had their different badges, they had their different uniforms, they had their different tasks to perform, but they had a common loyalty to their one king and it was that that held them together; and it was damaging to the cause if ever they were in rivalry with each other. They must be seen to be serving the same goal.

NJF YOU were consecrated Bishop of St Albans in 1980. Does the exercise of authority come to you easily?

Bishop

I DO NOT think of myself primarily as exercising authority. Clearly, being a bishop, involves me in leadership, but then being any kind of clergyman involves you in leadership. I've always thought of myself as a "vicar to vicars" and therefore exercising a pastoral role towards the clergy, who are my brothers in Christ, and now my sisters too, and I very rarely think of myself as a person who exercises authority.

But I do recognise that the buck stops with me and decisions have to be taken, sometimes difficult and unpopular ones. Someone has to do it and he needs to be well advised and deeply rooted in God. After all it is God's authority, that is what really counts.

NJF YOU have a considerable reputation as a preacher on the bible. How did your authority on bible matters develop?

Bishop I THINK the only gift I bring to bible preaching is my love for the bible and my knowledge of the original languages. You see I began with Greek when I was a schoolboy of 13 and went up to Cambridge on a classical scholarship so by the time I had completed my classics course Greek was second nature to me, and after I'd been accepted for ordination training I started to do Hebrew; I specialised in Hebrew for two more years, did research in Jerusalem, and modern Hebrew was the language in which it was conducted.

So I am essentially a linguist and it is really because of my understanding of the biblical languages I have been able to explain the meaning of the text to people and that's the thing I enjoy doing more than anything else.




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