The Anglican's Angle

By Murchison, William | The Human Life Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Anglican's Angle

Murchison, William, The Human Life Review

Why this from a member of a culture and faith that once was readier to view the "pope of Rome" as dastardly usurper than as hero of the common faith? What's the nature of present Anglican fascination-and more than fascination-concerning the late John Paul II?

A first-order consideration is that this particular "pope of Rome" was not just any pope, sitting (as a certain kind of fossilized Protestant would once have gibed) beneath his canopy waiting with ring extended for kissing. Here instead was a pope whom, on his death, the archbishop of Canterbury would praise as "a leader of manifest holiness and a faithful and prayerful friend of the Anglican Church."

"Friend"! How would those oldtime Protestant scorners have liked them apples? Not much, it strikes me. For that matter, starchier Roman pontiffs-Leo XIII, who declared Anglican orders invalid, comes to mind-might not have relished the insinuation of likeness between such unlike Christian camps. Yet just a few days later here came the archbishop himself-Dr. Rowan Williams-as the first of his line, while still in office, to attend a papal funeral; to sit among the scarlet magnificence of the mourners and affirm the essential connectedness of Christians everywhere.

Karol Wojtyla's gift of ecclesiastical hospitality was certainly extraordinary: more so, perhaps, with regard to Anglicanism than to most other Christian communions and fellowships.

There is after all, when you scratch below the surface, less that divides Anglicans from Romans than Romans from many other Christian bodies, including the Eastern Orthodox. Anglican priests wear the Rome collar, generally prefer being called "Father," observe many of the same liturgical feasts and uses as Romans, even employ the same lectionary at Mass (as more catholic Anglicans call the eucharist). Many Anglicans yearn audibly for reunion with Rome, ruing the political circumstances and human follies that let Henry VIII consummate his theft of church headship and property in the 16th century.

What keeps apart the two flocks? Oh, a few long-familiar items: papal primacy; some of the Marian doctrines; old habits and cultural distinctions of one kind and another.

And conflicts over gay rights; conflicts over women priests; the afflictions of a world uncertain as to the proper locus of authority. The older quarrels have lost some of their purchase on modern minds; the newer ones have atomic capability. They could blow apart Christianity as presently organized.

That John Paul trod so deftly, and to so much applause, along the border between the two rival camps attests to something more than mere personality and charm; something more like-we could start with "integrity" and see where that takes us.

The late pope cared for, among much else, the integrity of the Christian commitment to fellow Christians. He desired unity insofar as unity could be obtained. There was another side to the matter, all the same. Unity at the cost of Christian truth was unity without-that word again, integrity. The pope would have none of that. His refusal to have any of it made him look, to many Anglicans, like a back number. A word about these folk.

Since World War II, Anglicanism has fallen into theological disrepair. Starting in the 1960s, Anglicans in the various Western churches that make up the communion (England, Canada, the United States, etc.) revised their prayer books, placing greater emphasis on joy than on sin and remorse. Joy gets the appetites working and the juices flowing. More! More!

Soon, joyful American Episcopalians decided to start ordaining women as priests, contrary to ancient and biblical understandings of priesthood. Other Anglican chapters quickly followed suit. Women priests-a few generally orthodox, the greater number quite "progressive" in politics and theology-have become as ordinary in Anglican churches as velvet-covered kneelers.

One question of sex led to another. …

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