Thursday 28 October 2010

Sort of Agree: Except about Williams

Graham Kings, now Bishop of Sherborne, has written a longish piece about the legacy of the pope's visit, the focus on an interpretation of John Henry Newman that came with it, the ordinariate also connected and two potential Anglican societies.

My second to last In Depth presentation was on the Oxford Movement, and how John Henry Newman was someone of subtle thought; but once he thought the via media was no part of the patristic Church, he then regarded the Church of England as a schism, and then made an intellectual leap to regard dodgy Roman Catholic practices as consistent with entering into the ethos of the one true Church - he had abandoned the equal branches view, of course. My interest was also in the contrast with Francis William Newman, who became Unitarian and a Theist who preached against the moral purity of Christ. Such is the position I hold too, well at least the latter whereas I think there are only signals of transcendence.

John Henry Newman did change, and both brothers changed: a point being that neither had sufficient of the sort of middling or muddling character of an Anglican, who can believe one thing and express something rather different. Their beliefs did change. Whereas, say, James Martineau was a stable Tory and romanticist regarding belief and dressed-up liturgy, and produced a subjective Christian theism, F. W. Newman was a keen missionary evangelical who returned disheartened and took grip of a more sober reality, and via being rebaptised with Baptists ended up well to the theological left of Martineau with a pure theism. Whereas Martineau had set up the future, but wasn't part of it, Newman was of that future. Yet, in a sense, his theism was also detached and romanticised, though F. W. Newman had an earthed ethical charge (as in causes such as vegetarianism). In a sense, John Henry Newman also represented a future, but neither could be part of the national Church, even if others in it could compromise or even deceive.

To invent a tradition (sociologically speaking) inevitably involves some sense of fantasy. It is never an appeal purely to history for legitimacy, but is a use of history for present day purposes for which something is different once the history is used. The arguments were bent around by J. H. Newman for his own purposes.

It is an interesting idea that J. H. Newman joined the Catholic Church but later at Vatican II the Catholic Church joined Newman. Is that so now, with all the back pedalling, with an interpretation on to Newman given by the current pope that lacks the breadth of Newman himself? For me, the Pope's visit was almost entirely a fishing trip, in assuming that there was a dying social remnant of Christianity, and that he would pick up the faithful, and do it by preserving aspects of Anglican patrimony in his societies and creating an icon out of the English convert J. H. Newman. What he discovered was his own mistake: that secularisation and secularism are not the same thing, and so along with secularisation there is a religious life in Britain - it is just not the institutional one assumed, and even then the institutions weren't exactly dead. Still, ecumenism means only one thing to him: joining his Church sooner or later, one way or another. He gives plenty of legitimacy to the Orthodox, but little to Anglicans in their continuing direction towards being Protestant.

I have also written a little on the irony of an ordinariate being objectively Roman Catholic and subjectively Anglican, while this suggested Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda would be objectively Anglican and subjectively Roman Catholic (with that link, scroll down). The Society of St Augustine would give a Protestant experience - it does indeed suggest a failure of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. The St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda Society was initialised after I wrote my In Depth piece, in which I argued that whichever way one looks at it, the traditionalism started in Victorian Oxford is coming to an end. Perhaps I'd overstated it?

I doubt it. The General Synod would not give ground on a Third Province or non-geographical diocese, and this society idea is just a variant. If it is self-organised then it will be paraecclesiastical and run by the seat of its pants, checking that bishops and priests remain pure by touch. It would be no more than a temporary enclave, and no more than a pressure group. The fact is that once the Church of England decides in favour of women bishops to join the men, their tradition is dead in the water.

There are three Catholic groups in the Church of England. One is the pro-Roman, and they ought to go. If they don't, then they deceive (probably for the money). The second is the Puseyite High Anglican Catholic, for whom the society they might join is the figleaf described, and many of them may well become Roman, Orthodox or Continuing Anglican. They are basically broken-backed. Their intended resistance in the General Synod is their last stand. The Affirming Catholic group is the happy Anglican Catholic, but many of these are dressing up liberals, who seek a spirituality that stops a naked confrontation with the sober and 'real' (jn terms of the sociology of knowledge) - as a Unitarian does, for example, as Francis William Newman did. Of course there is a range, and some at the liberal end do force upon themselves a spiritual discipline, though one always asks that big question: "Why?"

I see that Graham Kings sees that Rowan Williams can head up theologically the Anglican Catholic approach that remains, but for him one that would be more consistent with that society. I also saw him making out with this centralist Anglican Catholic approach (that he is trying to force on every Anglican through this Covenant process).

Williams was an Affirming Catholic, indeed one of its founders; however, he seems to have betrayed that position by his actions and by making his public expressions of theology more history-like and biography-like. I wrote:

The present Archbishop of Canterbury may just be forming a conserving theology and ecclesiology, very purple in colour, internationalist and pyramidal, of a literary detailed narrative theology that tries to be as history-like and biography-like as possible, born in a postmodern age, something similar then (if arguably more deceptive) than the postmodern bubble of imagined Platonic Anglican Catholicism in the Radical Orthodox movement (that tries to stretch to Lutheranism, if with difficulty).

He only remains interesting with his interfaith lectures and some musings about the economy and what it is for. His Catholicism was never as romanticised as the Romanists or High Anglicans, and he has become something of a bureaucratic Catholic that makes him worryingly Roman in some parallels. The problem for Rowan Williams is that he has become his own spent force, the man who has to say "pass", and cannot lead anything else, as he has lost moral ground given his actions and (for some) his inactions. The job has destroyed whatever other paths he may have travelled. He could well have been a leader of a broad, Anglican, Catholic grouping, and more than just of a liberal flavour, but now even his intellectual Christian contributions are undermined. Graham Kings is giving a hurrah to the Archbishop who was once unreservedly and doggedly supported by Fulcrum, until relatively recently when he showed inadequate activity again even for this grouping. When Rowan Williams resigns his position, he'll look back and reflect, but he won't lead anything, and no one will take his theology too seriously any more.

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