A View from the Back Pew
Margaret J. Howell
A paper to be presented at the Gathering of Traditional Anglicans in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, June 1 – 4 2011.
The author was born in Exeter, Devonshire, and educated privately there. Later she studied at Indiana University in the United States, from which she graduated with the B.A. and M.A. degrees in English. She has taught English at the Universities of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia and was for twenty-two years a teacher of English and History at Crofton House School in Vancouver. Her special interests are English literature and the study of texts, including the Bible, the history and the writings of the English speaking people, and also the history of the Arab peoples, particularly the current problems in the Holy Land. She helped to found a Middle East Committee at Indiana University and was for sixteen years Book Editor for Middle East Perspective, a newsletter issued monthly by the late Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, and she assisted Dr. Lilienthal with the writing of his last book. She also gave some editorial help to Sir John Glubb (Pasha), the former commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion, with his book The Way of Love : Reflections on a Long Life, in which he meditates on the Christian way and its implications for our times. She has published articles on various subjects and two books, one on Byron’s plays and one a history of the Byron family. This work, The House of Byron, was with Violet W. Walker, late archivist of the City of Nottingham.
Margaret Howell has just completed another book, The Spirit of Understanding : English Literature in an Age of Confusion. A Book of Common Prayer Anglican, she has belonged to a continuing church since 1992 and served as Secretary to the Parish Council of her Vancouver parish for fifteen years, resigning at the end of that time, with several others, when the clergy decided to accept Anglicanorum Coetibus over the heads of the congregation. She is a member of St. Saviour’s Parish, Richmond, B.C. (the Christian Episcopal Church). Her views in this paper are her own and not necessarily endorsed by her church nor any other organisation.
How can we strengthen the Traditional Anglican Witness and Mission ?” This Conference reaffirms and celebrates the faith we have received, that of “the earliest bishops and Catholic fathers” as Queen Elizabeth I put it, expressed through the Church by law established and transmitted unimpaired to posterity through the Prayer Book, and the 39 Articles. Professing those ancient teachings as defined in the Scriptures, the Creeds, and the four undisputed Councils, this Church sought no new doctrines of her own. The aim of the continuing churches, formed to maintain orthodoxy after various apostasies from this faith was, so I was informed by clergy of a continuing parish, to build a parallel communion to Canterbury, and to establish its seat in England, probably at Winchester or Glastonbury, with a Primate likewise situated there. Why this aim was abandoned, I do not know. The decision to go to Rome, to accept all the Roman doctrines, seems to have been taken in the old way, without consultation. In the past a Prince or King converted and his Kingdom converted with him. Such a manoevre was never going to be successful now. In what is really an admission that they have failed to build and grow, The Traditional Anglican Communion, Forward in Faith (some members) and others have fragmented an already weakened movement, and they are discovering that they may not continue the Anglican “patrimony” just as they wished in Rome. If this Conference makes a start at overcoming the quarrels, the personality clashes, the failure to consult or communicate, there might just be a chance to re-establish effectively the faith as the English church has received it, to repair the damage and hurt that have resulted in so many defections, and to attract others and build momentum. It may already be too late, though. We are clinging to the wreckage of our ship in an uncertain sea. Without unity, the tiny orthodox Anglican parishes can only continue to age and will wither away. That is my cardinal point : unite or perish.
Four issues particularly press on this gathering. They are, first and foremost, as I have just said, the unity of these churches. At the very least they must admit past mistakes and come into communion with each other. Second, they must agree on essential doctrine. Third, the orthodox Churches must look further afield and seek more realistically for unity with other Christians. And fourth, they must be oriented to mission, both to declaring their faith, and to understanding other faiths and the real threats to the world. Each of these demands a comment.
(1) Unity of the Churches. Squabbling among the clergy has hampered the effective witness of the continuing churches. They look like cults. And it is characteristic of such small groups that they turn and rend each other. Newsletters and publications tended to feature large photographs of self-satisfied-looking Bishops and other clerics, many of whom were responsible for some arbitrary decisions, rudeness, neglect, and anger against their own people. They seemed to have forgotten that they are supported by the laity. And why should the laity subsidise clerics who will not consult them, who so often seem uninterested in outreach and mission, and are not accountable to any one for their time and their work ?
(2) Basic Doctrine. The English church has wisely left some beliefs in the realm of pious opinion. In a united continuum, basic doctrine and required belief (dogma) should be minimal : just enough to guarantee orthodoxy, free of additions which are not essential to the faith, but which cause fragmentation and division. The
departure of the Anglo Catholics for Rome will have made this task easier. The core dogma should demand obedience to Scripture, the Creeds, and the first four Councils of the Church, which have been recognised unreservedly by the Anglican Communion, to wit : 1. The First Council of Nicaea in 325, which repudiated Arianism, declaring that Christ is of the same substance as the Father, and adopted the original Nicene Creed, fixed Easter date, recognized primacy of the sees of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, and granted the See of Jerusalem a position of honour. 2. The First Council of Constantinople (381), which rejected Arianism and Macedonianism — heresies that denied the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Ghost — declared that Christ is “born of the Father before all time”, and revised the Nicene Creed. 3. The Council of Ephesus (431) which repudiated the heresies of Nestorianism and Pelagianism, proclaimed the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos (“God‑bearer”,), and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed. 4. The Council of Chalcedon (451), which described the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ, human and divine, and elevated the bishoprics of Constantinople and Jerusalem to the status of Patriarchates, among many other topics, of course.
(As we know, the mainline Anglican communion has lately been busier with homosexuality and human rights than with heresies or the hypostatic union.)
(3) Unity with other Christians. The Roman Catholic offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus
invites individual Anglicans to become Roman Catholics, to accept all that the Roman Church teaches, including dogma regarded by Anglicans, Orthodox, and many others as heretical, especially the Immaculate Conception of Mary (promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854) and the Supremacy of the Pope of Rome (promulgated 1870). An excellent exposition of the pros and cons of the offer was made by Father Stanley Sinclair (who was “excommunicated” in consequence), and a very good comment on the real implications of conversion on these conditions, from a Roman Catholic, is to be found in an article by Father Philip Powell, a Dominican priest based in Rome and a former Episcopalian (posted by Hilary White www.LifeSiteNews.com October 26, 2009). “With Anglican clergy who might be putting themselves forward as candidates for the ‘personal ordinariates’ offered under the new provisions, Fr. Powell said, ‘We’re really going to have to make sure that they understand they’re not remaining Anglican clergy under the Holy Father. They’re becoming Roman Catholic bishops, Roman Catholic priests. That means holding to teaching and preaching what the Church teaches and preaches.’ Contrary to other complaints from the Catholic left that the Vatican’s decision has put an end to the decades of ‘ecumenical dialogue,’ Fr. Powell said, from the Catholic point of view, ‘the point of ecumenism is to bring people back into the Church. I know of no document that says the purpose of ecumenical dialogue is to change Church doctrine in order to make people feel comfortable enough to come back.’”
(4) Mission and Outreach. This may be considered under two heads : to other churches, and to other faiths.
- To other churches. Several people pointed out before the Roman Catholic Catechism was signed by continuing Bishops at Portsmouth and before the Ordinariate was established in England that the continuing churches should have been approaching the Orthodox, whose theology more closely approximates to our own. The Antiochian Rite was certainly a more likely prospect than Rome could be and uses an approved version of the Book of Common Prayer.
2 To Other Faiths. These may be considered under two headings. C. S. Lewis rightly pointed out that there are fundamentally only two religions : hinduism and its variants, and monotheism (Judaeo-Christian-Islamic). It will be best to try to understand other faiths from inside out, as it were, rather than charge at them outside in. This needs stressing because clergy, and even Bishops, have made surprising statements in my hearing and I would like to comment, particularly, on Islam.
(A) Hinduism and Buddhism. It has been my privilege to hear the Dalai Lhama speak four times : at the University of British Columbia, in Westminster Abbey, and at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He seems to be a very holy man, the product of a very different tradition. With that tradition Christians have something in common : the importance of right behaviour,
and the need for meditation. The cause of suffering is desire, which can be stopped by overcoming attachments and following the noble eightfold
path : right views, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The recognition that “reality” is transient and passing. That we should love all living beings. Who cannot benefit from precepts such as these ?
(B) Islam. With Islam we approach close to our own faith, the Arabs who promulgated this faith (Islam means “surrender”) being like ourselves children of Abraham (through Ishmael). Many misunderstandings have arisen about this faith and to discuss even some of them would take a much longer paper than this. A Bishop asked recently, for just one example, what Muslim countries allow freedom of religion ? “Freedom of religion” as understood in recent times in western countries is a very new idea and would have been incomprehensible in an earlier day. Through many past societies, faith was determined by the Prince. The prophet Mohammed said that Arabia was for Islam, and therefore other religions are not permitted in Saudi Arabia, that is, in Arabia itself. Beyond Arabia, however, Jews and Christians were permitted to practise their faith, subject to taxes. It might be as well to remember, in view of some very slanted reporting by the western presses, that (to take just one example) the Copts of Egypt welcomed the Arab conquerors in 639 because they had been oppressed by the Byzantine Patriarch, Cyrus. Monks and priests had been flogged and the Coptic Patriarch thrown by his fellow Christians into the sea in a weighted sack. The Muslims, with their tolerance for other faiths, seemed a grateful alternative. It is good to understand some of the history leading to our present situation, and to become acquainted with the Koran, but not before reading a biography of Mohammed and his times, which helps to make sense of it, and to do so in a non-combative spirit. In his recent book, King Abdullah II of Jordan records his encounters with an enthusiastic American evangelical and with the Pope : “‘Do you believe in Jesus ?’ [the American said] looking earnestly into my eyes. ‘I believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah,’ I replied, freeing my hand from his grasp. In fact, all Muslims believe in Jesus as the Messiah and revere him as a Spirit of God and as the Word of God as well as a great prophet and messenger of God. . . . I explained to the Pope that while Jordan had severed its legislative and administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988, we had never renounced our moral and legal responsibility as custodians of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al Aqsa Mosque. In fact, the Jordanian government still pays the salaries of the civil servants who administer those sites.”
Some thirty years ago, J. Herbert Kane of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outlined six reasons for the difficulty in evangelising Muslims :
- Islam is Younger than Christianity and “has just enough Christianity in it to inoculate it against the real thing”. The Koran corrects and supersedes the Bible. 2. Islam Denies the Deity and the Death of Christ, indeed finds them blasphemous and abhorrent. 3. Conversion is a one-way street. Sometimes death, but more usually the loss of family and community bonds are the penalty for defection. 4. The Solidarity of Muslim Society, which, unlike the western world is not fragmented : politics, economics, and personal life are one and everything accountable to Islam, the surrender to God. 5. The Public Practice of Religion. A faithful Muslim demonstrates that faithfulness in a public pattern of prayers and observances. A convert who ceases such observances becomes conspicuous. This system of public prayer and ritual represents a powerful support for Islam and deters conversion. 6. The Memory of the Crusades is still powerful in the east, proof of the Christian desire to destroy Islam.
Insulting other faiths and burning their scriptures obviously causes nothing but mischief and profoundly damages the already doubtful reputation of Christianity in the east, where it is associated with western aggression. Such outrages, like the disagreements among clergy, not only hamper the missionary effort, they distract from the real danger, a wave so huge that we seem unable to apprehend it : the steady advance of a massive, totalitarian power that cares nothing for God or any of His Prophets and which is only too likely to swallow Jews, Christians, and Muslims all at once.
The tasks ahead then are many , the hour is late, and the labourers have become very few. They are called to unity, doctrinal clarity, and a wide outreach. The Anglican faithful who have persevered through apostasy, schism, and trial, preserving the beauty of their worship, the teaching of their divines, and the integrity of their belief, have proved that they can survive in the spiritual deserts of our age. A very great Anglican priest who left us this year, Dr. Robert Crouse, liked to quote Gregory the Great : “In the midst of the unsteady flow of time, the man of God knows how to keep steady the steps of his mind”. May God forgive us our many shortcomings, keep us steadfast in this faith, and direct our steps. May we know our faith better, and be mindful, also, of the great teachers like Hooker and Andrewes, Donne and Herbert, the carriers of a noble tradition.
I conclude with a private prayer of Dr. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, of whom it was said that he saved the Church, that the evil spirit was cast out ; and though outside her walls it raged violently, and did her much harm, yet it was not able then to re‑enter, so long as his body lay across the breach.
“O Lord, thou hast brought a Vine out of Egypt, and planted it (Psalm lxxx. 8.) ; thou madest room for it, and when it had taken root it filled the land. O why hast thou broken down her hedge, that all which go by pluck off her grapes ? The wild boar out of the wood rooteth it up, and the wild beasts of the field devour it. O turn thee again, thou God of hosts, look down from heaven, behold, and visit this Vine, and the place of the vineyard that thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest so strong for thyself. Lord, hear me, for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.”
References : King Abdullah II of Jordan. Our Last Best Chance : The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril. Allen Lane, 2011.
William Theodore de Bary, ed. The Buddhist Tradition in India, China, and Japan.
The Rt. Rev. Anthony Burton, “In Memoriam : The Revd. Dr. Robert Crouse”. The Prayer Book Society of Canada Newsletter, Easter 2011.
The Private Devotions of Dr. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr, edited by the Rev. Frederic(k) W. Faber, B.A., Fellow of University College. J.H. Parker : Oxford, 1838.
Anthony Nutting : The Arabs.
Dorothy L. Sayers. Creed or Chaos ?
Hans W. Schumann. Buddhism : An Outline of Its Teachings and Schools.