Unity or Truth? Ways out of the Crisis in Anglicanism
Already deeply divided on the issue of homosexuality, which it will have to face up to at the forthcoming Lambeth Council, the Church of England now faces division on the question of women bishops. The division takes the usual secular forms of liberalism and conservatism.
The Liberal/Conservative Crisis in Western Christianity
The liberal view of this issue within Anglicanism parrots the same egalitarian ideology as the secular world. It merely reflects the secular values of social engineering and conditioning that took over the Western world in the 1960s. Then economic growth had to be boosted by enslaving women to the world of office and factory labour under the pretext of ‘liberation’, in the same way as men. This so-called ‘equality’ largely removed women’s freedom to avoid the economic determinism of the world and largely destroyed family life. It was and is degrading to women because it wished and wishes to make women into men, taking away their special and different place in the world. To wish to make women into men is to despise them; to ‘homogynise’ is in fact to ‘misogynise’.
The conservative view of this issue is also compromised by secularism, in that by having already allowed female clergy 14 years ago, the conservatives agreed that the Anglican clergy are social workers and not priests. Illogically, the conservative view now wishes to stop female clergy from progressing in their career, for which they now have up to fourteen years experience. Yet, Anglicans in other countries long ago accepted women bishops. Yet, Anglicanism was largely an invention of a woman, Elizabeth I, and its present head is also a woman, Elizabeth II. The conservative view is as secular and misogynistic as allowing women to be nurses but not doctors, teachers but not headteachers, legal secretaries but not solicitors, stewardesses but not pilots. You cannot stop female social workers from becoming heads of department. The conservative view is that of the boy who puts his finger in a dyke in order to hold back the sea.
Both views are secular because they express personal opinions. Not having the sense of Church Tradition, there is only Protestantism. Where, on the other hand, there is Apostolic Tradition, there is the Absolute, the radical answer beyond and above relativistic personal opinions, mere human ‘progressive’ liberalism or mere human old-fashioned conservatism. In a world in which forty-five years ago the Anglican Bishop John Robinson basically stated that he had lost his faith, proclaiming that ‘God is dead’, there can be no Oneness, no Holiness, no Catholicity and no Apostolicity. In other words, the Protestant rejection of the Church leads inevitably to the rejection of Apostolic Tradition, of the Holy Spirit. It leads directly to the reign of relativistic personal opinions, in imitation of the secular world. And the world of personal opinions leads directly to talking shops of parliaments or Anglican general synods.
This may all sound pro-Roman Catholic. And compared with the Protestant world, it is true that Roman Catholics do have a sense of a Church Tradition. On the other hand, history tells us that Roman Catholicism is not so much a Tradition, as a sense of a historic central power, a central authority with universalist pretensions. And that central authority has reinvented itself at regular intervals in order to maintain itself, whether at its beginnings in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, in the fourteenth century, in the sixteenth century, in the nineteenth century or again in the 1960s. And the same liberal/conservative conflict is present here too.
Since the 1960s indeed, Roman Catholicism has very much taken on the Protestant mentality, and under the former actor, Pope John Paul II, took on modern public relations, its doctrine of telegenic ‘image’ and all forms of secular humanism. All of this has happened to such a degree that it is today difficult to recognise any of the old Roman Catholicism at all – except for the one constant – central power, authority vested in one man. Amazingly, that aura of that authority has survived, although the teachings of that central authority are largely ignored by 99% of Roman Catholics, making Roman Catholicism into something of a hollow shell. Like the Communist Party of the Soviet Union a generation ago, people still pay lip-service to it, applaud at the right moments, but in their hearts they do not believe a word of it.
On the other hand, the Church, wherever She is, is something else. The Church is a workshop where saints are crafted. Indeed, if the Church stops creating saints, then it ceases to be the Church, and becomes some mere worldly organisation or corporation, a mere institution, concerned only with amassing and keeping national and international political power, earthly riches and personal vanity, pomp and ceremony, prestige and image in the media.
When the Church is the Church, then it creates saints and the radiance of those saints spreads warmth and light all around them, just as the Sun spreads warmth and light around it. This is because the Church belongs not to man, but to the God-man, ‘the Sun of Righteousness’, ‘with healing in His wings’ (Malachi 4, 2). These wings of radiance spreads their way into all aspects of life, into politics and economics, into society and the family, into art and music, into literature and painting, patterning the years with their rhythms of feasts and fasts, enChurching everyone and everything.
The Church does not provide a part-time ‘God-slot’ in life, She does not provide the ‘religious consumer’ (‘O Lord, meet our needs’, as is chanted at some Anglican services nowadays) with a better conscience for an hour or two. The Church is an Absolute, the Only Absolute, because Christ, Her Founder and Head, is the Only Absolute, however vigorously the dead Bishop John Robinson proclaimed that the death of the Eternal God of Life. All that he proclaimed was his personal ignorance of the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit, the emptiness of his own soul.
Ways out of the Anglican Myth and the Secularised Remains of the Western Church
The end of Anglicanism is coming. The compromise invented when Henry VIII decided to replace the Pope, after the Pope had replaced Christ by becoming His ‘Vicar’, was a nationalist compromise born of necessity. To keep the Protestants quiet, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I introduced Protestant teaching, but to keep the Roman Catholics quiet, they maintained the illusion of the old Roman Catholic wrappings. Thus a myth of national unity was born at the expense of truth. But no sooner than the nationalist necessity of putting unity above truth was born than it began to collapse. The hopeless and inevitable divisions of Protestantism into hundreds of warring sects, Puritan, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Quaker etc, (all looking and sounding much the same to any outsider) revealed Anglicanism to be a myth almost at once. There is no hope of unity in a relativistic world of personal opinions, in a world without an Absolute, without Apostolic Tradition. What is to be done?
Some Anglicans may leave for African Anglican jurisdictions, which, like some Baptist and other Evangelical groups, where others may head, believe in many basic Christian beliefs.
Some may leave for Roman Catholicism.
Some may leave for one or other of the umpteen warring sects of ‘Continuing Churches’.
A few may leave for the ‘bridge-jurisdiction’, composed of the 250 or so Anglo-Catholic and Pentecostal Anglicans who were taken into the Patriarchate of Antioch after the introduction of women priests in 1994, and which increasingly looks to the bridge-figure of another former Anglican, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.
However, one cannot join the Orthodox Church if one has no deep love for Orthodoxy. If the idea is simply to remain an old-fashioned Anglican, there is no point in trying to join the Orthodox Church. One will not be taken seriously either within Orthodoxy or outside it. Orthodoxy is vastly different from anything in the Anglican world. A negative does not make a positive.
However, even if the 5% of the often elderly Church of England clergy who do not want women bishops leave the Church of England, and they are followed by the 1% of often elderly laypeople who do not want it either, this will still be a very small group. The fact is that fewer than 2% of the English population (1,000,000) practise Anglicanism. And probably only about 1% of the 2% feel strongly enough to leave the Church of England on account of this issue. And 1% of 1,000,000 is 10,000.
The complete secularisation of the remnants of the Church of England, which to its credit has held on to some selected Christian beliefs for over 450 years, is on the agenda. But this should not in any way evoke feelings of triumph among others. All of us are faced with the same threats and temptations, to varying degrees.
Roman Catholicism may provide a temporary solution to some older Anglicans. But they overlook the fact that Roman Catholicism gave birth to Protestantism and Protestantism gave birth to secularism. In other words, as the grandparent of secularism, Roman Catholicism does not provide a long-term escape. Secularisation began when Roman Catholicism was born, when the Western Church institutionalised secular power and authority at the heart of its structure, creating clericalism and papism at its summit. The Protestants simply carried the Roman Catholic concept further, systematically introducing secularism into other areas of life and work, not just into the area of authority and power.
Today Roman Catholicism is led by an elderly and, some say, ailing, caretaker Pope. After him the scandals of pedophile clergy and enforced celibacy, which are the cause of the chronic shortage of Roman Catholic clergy, will boil over. Enforced clerical celibacy was one of the greatest novelties and also greatest mistakes introduced by late 11th and 12th century Roman Catholicism. Large parts of the Roman Catholic homelands in Western and Central Europe are today as thoroughly deChristianised as any Northern European Protestant country – sometimes even more so. Secularism, with its relativism, is a disease which is inherent in Roman Catholicism, which is why it keeps changing and reinventing itself throughout history.
The Eastern Church
If the above analysis is actually true of the former Western Church, what of the Eastern Church, of Orthodoxy?
How could any be attracted to the Orthodox Churches? To join one of the Orthodox Churches is to take on oneself the Cross. Few are willing to do that, leaving the comfort of the Roman Catholic/Protestant world, with its short services and absence of fasting, pews and entertainment values, for the struggle of Orthodoxy. It would mean giving up the historic Western ‘Judeo-Christian’ ideology of imagined superiority, of cultural arrogance, and going back to the humble roots of the Christian Faith on the West. It would mean going back to the Age of Faith, the Age of the Martyrs. It would mean accepting that Orthodoxy is not denominational, but pre-denominational.
It would mean accepting that secularism has been inherent in the separate and isolated Christianity of the Western world ever since it was born in the eleventh century, at once falling away from communion with the Christian majority at the source. It would mean renouncing ethnocentric, Western cultural pride. It would mean fighting for the Holy Spirit against the secularism that became inherent in the West when the Christian Creed was changed in Western Europe and the Holy Spirit subjugated to the all too human Pope of Rome and then the Protestant Everyman. It would also mean fighting against the spread of secularism within the Orthodox Churches. For they too are under the same secularist attacks from the West as the rest of the world.
From the beginning of the last century, the Orthodox Churches came under attack from Western secularism. From 1917 on the Russian Church, the locomotive that for centuries has pulled and pulls the rest of Orthodoxy behind Her, was put out of action by the Communist Revolution, exported from Germany. And that paralysis lasted until the end of the twentieth century. All that remained available in the West were impoverished and scattered parishes and monasteries of nostalgic Russian emigres. And they were despised and ignored by the Western world because they kept faith with the integrity of the Orthodox Tradition and canonised their saints.
With Russia disabled, secularism was then free to attack the soft underbelly of Orthodoxy in the then unprotected Middle East and the Balkans. Soon after 1917 the Church of Constantinople went down first, then in the 1920s the Churches of Greece and Cyprus followed, then in the 1930s the Churches of Romania, Antioch, Alexandria, finally, in the 1960s, Bulgaria. Today secularism is eating at the fringes of the Serbian Church, in Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia and Montenegro, attacking the newly-freed Russian Church through the backdoor of the Ukraine, also attacking the Churches of Georgia and Jersualem and attempting to destroy the bastion of Orthodoxy, Mt Athos, which will have to be eliminated if secularism is finally to be victorious.
Communism has gone from the Orthodox Churches, but it has been replaced by much more insidious secularism, spearheaded by American foreign policy and EU bribery, with all the sadness of its compulsory ‘gay’ parades of the politically correct secularist bandwagon from Brussels.
Yes, voices are heard in the Orthodox world, defending it against secularism. Only recently the brave and ageing confessor, Metropolitan Bartholomew of Cluj in Romania, who spent ten years in Communist prisons, has called for the defrocking of the new Uniat Metropolitan Nicolae of the Banat. He and holy elders in Romania have called for the same action with regard to the Romanian Bishop Sophrony, who has also been revealed as a Uniat. Of course, they have been vilified by the Western secularists of the Romanian media.
Secularist attacks exploits every weakness in every Local Orthodox Church.
Constantinople is told that if it is to retain its foothold in Turkey, it must continue certain ‘compromises’. As for the threatened NATO-sponsored intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Ukraine in the coming weeks, if it happens, it will lead to schism and the further isolation of the Metropolitans in Istanbul.
Jerusalem is told that if it wishes to be protected from Muslim and Jew, it must do as it is told by the powerbrokers of the Middle East.
Antioch is told that if it wishes for support from Muslim governments, it had better preach nationalist pan-Arabism, making compromises with Uniat and Muslim alike.
EU voices and money craftily bribe and pressure the Greek and Cypriot governments into disestablishing themselves from the Church.
In Romania, nationalist territorial claims are exploited by subtle EU-supported voices who whisper that Romania (though this name for the country was a recent German invention) is a Latin country, that therefore it cannot mix with Slavs and Greeks, but must join the other Latin peoples - in Rome.
In Bulgaria nationalist sentiment is stirred up against Greeks, and Bulgarians are reminded of the ecclesiastical injustices of the nineteenth century.
Serbia is dismantled piece by piece.
In Georgia and the ex-Polish far west Ukraine, nationalist sentiment is manipulated against Russia.
The Church of Russia Herself is subject to personal, political passions, the ambitious and vain personalities of power-seekers. Newly unCommunist Russian society is threatened by the corrosion of newly Consumerist Western society and the secularist-controlled Russian media and their claims for ‘human rights’. Thus the last chance for the long-term and broad-based revival of Russian Orthodoxy, the last chance to enChurch Russian society, is threatened by the Western-funded and Western-inspired secularist movement.
All of these pressures create minor divisions, Protestant-style old calendarist and sectarian fringe groups, within the Orthodox world. But it is the compromises of the elite which are mostly responsible for the errings of these little ones.
Few are attracted to the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Churches have always been on the Cross. This is because the Cross is the Apostolic place, the place between the hammer and the anvil. In the early days, it was between the hammer of the Judaism and the anvil of the Hellenism. Then between Persians and Romans. Then between Monophysites and Arians. Then between Muslims and Roman Catholics. Then between Tartars and Teutons. Then between Turks and Protestants. Then between Communists and Capitalists.
The method of survival of the Church has not changed. It has always been to put the Truth first, knowing that only then can authentic unity come. Where there is Truth, there will be unity. Where there is no Truth, there will only be fake unity. Though the cracks are papered over, the ceiling is still going to fall. Houses built on sand get washed away when storms come. Anglicans should know this. It is in the Gospel.
Of course, some are scandalised by the activities of individual bishops in the Orthodox Churches. We too are scandalised that one of the twelve disciples was Judas. However, that knowledge does not deter us from trying to side with the eleven. We do not reject the eleven because of the one. We try to be like the thief on the right side, who repented, and not like the thief on the left side, who railed and mocked until the end. We will not fall into the self-created sin of sectarian pride because of the sins of others.
Yes, to be a practising member of the Orthodox Church is to be between the hammer and the anvil, it is to carry the Cross.
But be warned: Without the Cross, there can be no Resurrection.
Priest Andrew Phillips,
The Birth of the Holy Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist