Thursday, June 19, 2008

Henry Chadwick and the Days to Come

June 19, 2008

Henry Chadwick was one of the great figures of the church and one of the great figures of my life. He died earlier this week. He, among other distinctions was at various times Dean of Christ Church, Oxford (Master of the College), fellow of Magdalene Cambridge (where he had been an undergraduate) and Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was a great historian of the early church, and allegedly turned down many offers of preferment, serving the church instead on many commissions including, significantly, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). As we head into what is becoming a significant summer for the future shape of world-wide Anglicanism two paragraphs from his obituary in The Daily Telegraph are of particular interest:

There has always been, about the Church of England, a certain imprecision when it comes to doctrinal formulation, and those most successful as Anglican churchmen are those who know how best to devise forms of words and constructs or accommodations which allow people of otherwise plainly incompatible beliefs to inhabit the same dwelling place….

…The limits to his methods…became apparent at meetings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in its sessions between 1969 and 1981, and again from 1983 to 1990, when the Anglican penchant for resolving differences by devising accommodations based upon ambiguous verbal formulations had limited effect on the professionals of the Vatican.

The same newspaper reports having seen an 87 page document drawn up by Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria and other conservative church leaders that signals the end of the Anglican Communion as currently constructed under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the beginning of something else. They quote Archbishop Akinola as saying “There is no longer any hope, therefore, of a unified Anglican Communion.” Apparently the increasing acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people is not something that can be accommodated by those who claim exclusive rights to determine what they call ‘the authority of scripture’. I’m among those who believe it is the authority of God revealed in and through scripture that makes such acceptance necessary.

Things have heated up (at last) in England as there has been some kind of service celebrating and maybe pronouncing blessing on a gay union in London, reported in the press and apparently attended by some senior clerics including bishops (according to the blog of Ruth Gledhill, the conservative religion correspondent of The Times PLEASE NOTE: There is an important correction to this information in the comment from Ruth Geldhill. No bishops were present. Please see her comment at the end of the post). Giles Fraser, rector of St. Mary’s, Putney and our speaker at Kanuga this coming autumn, has offered a ‘thought for the day’ (a daily and sometimes influential radio program in England) Read it here

My guess is that the Anglican Communion will continue with the integrity (in the sense used in the Chadwick obituary) it has managed to maintain thus far, that some conservatives in some countries will prefer to stay and others will want to depart for the purist group that is developing (and has been for a while), that there will continue to be confusing claims made about the nature of that group who will prefer to see themselves as reformers rather than schismatics, and that in time the dust will eventually settle. The much more important question will be whether churches proclaim the Good News of God in Christ such that people respond and find themselves inheriting the promises made to the people of God.


Ruth Gledhill said...

Geoffrey, thank you for this - good post. Just a couple of points, I am not really a conservative Christian, I attend St Anne's in Kew, a res C parish and an anglo-catholic parish that reflects in most respects my views. I am sure we won't be res C for too much longer either. Also, no bishops attended the recent service at St Bart's. Richard Kirker was referring in the note that I reported to one of the many similar services that have taken place in the past. I am sorry to hear about Henry Chadwick. A great man and a great loss. Ruth

Joshua said...

The announcement today by the schismatic bishops was quite saddening. I, along with, I believe, most liberals who practice the Anglican faith, do not wish to see our beautiful communion torn in two. However, it is a difficult situation due to the fact of the apparent (at least to me) unwillingness of the conservative bishops and churches to even engage in inter-communal dialogue. How are we ever to make progress as a communion if one side refuses to even sit down and talk. (It must be noted that this seems to be reminiscent of current foreign policy theory of political conservatives) This causes me to question their motives.

Patty said...

What drew me back to the Episcopal Church after a detour into the charismatic, fundamentalist, conservative realm, was the respect given to my personal relationship with God, and not attempting to force another's beliefs on me. The unconditional love and acceptance expressed by the church of my birth from which I had drifted, was also instrumental in my renewing my relationship with God, after I had been told that God would have nothing to do with me because I was gay. There is so much peace and assurance in being able to go to the altar and partake of the Eucharist. This expression of God's love does not change and is always there to remind me that Christ is always with me and always loves me--and those with whom I may disagree have the same privilege and are part of this same community. I don't know, there's something special about coming to the table as part of this diverse community, knowing that no matter what, we are all bound together by Christ's unconditional love for us as expressed by the remarkable miracle of the Eucharist.

Mark Siegel said...

It is probably too late now, but one thing that might have helped us avoid the current crisis in the Anglican Communion, or perhaps made it at least somewhat manageable, is clear leadership from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I have read some of his statements and papers, and then read them again, and I often come away not exactly sure what he is getting at. They have a quality of cultivated and calculated ambiguity and of a studied refusal to take a clear stand.

It almost makes me yearn for -- well, not really! -- the linear, binary clarity of a papal encyclical.