Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Skeleton of Conservatism, Fleshly Liberality and Procrustean Polemics

Well, as the exam season has its hiatus, I have the opportunity to blog again. When I have moved on from being in charge of exam administration, I'll be able to concentrate more on writing for this blogling and elsewhere, I hope.

It's the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. For me, all things Monarchist have somewhat lost their appeal since my move from the CofE. While I regard Her Majesty very much as my Governor and one deserving of my loyalty, I am no longer part of the state religion and rather find myself on the fringes looking in at the pageantry of which I once had some ownership.

I will be honest and say that I miss singing in cathedral choirs. Having heard Walmisley in D Minor and Wood in the "Fridge" recently, my memories have gone back to when I had a decent voice and a choir in which I could sing. However, my conservative beliefs have thrust me from places of great spires and vast organs into small chapels and upper rooms. One might say this is my own fault. Indeed it is my choice, but one that I should have made much earlier, despite the pain of not being able to sing again that wonderful Amen in Balfour-Gardiner's Evening Hymn.

I am very much a conservative in the real sense of the word. Mathematicians and Physicists speak of conserved quantities such as energy and momentum and use them to simplify what can be particularly nasty equations. Holy Tradition runs through the Body of Christ as its skeleton which has joints where it can bend and bones where it cannot. The trouble is that bones are hard, and when one hits bone, it hurts!

When I was fighting my battles all too Quixotically in the CofE, people accused me of seeing things only in black and white and not the shades of grey. Perhaps they were right so to upbraid me for those times when I overstated my case, but not all areas are shades of grey: some areas are black and white! Of course, in the CofE there were no such areas of black and white. I still do not understand how it is possible for a Christian priest to deny the existence of God or of the Virgin Birth, or to subscribe to the Creeds without believing them. Conservatism provides a framework which, though not immovable, supports a rigid structure and gives shape to our faith and our relationship with God.

There is, however, a rather worrying trend among conservatives now to use that rigid structure as a club with which to beat dissenters. I seem to get a picture of the bone-wielding apes at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey when I see some of the polemics that seem to abound on the internet. I notice that several of my online friends and contemporaries have ceased blogging because of all the negativity that is being expressed about the varying states of Anglicanism. There are shrill voices smashing some folk with "Extra ecclesia nulla salus", others with the XXXIX articles, others with Montanistic mantras, and still others with what amounts to a "be one of us or go to Hell" mentality though not always specifically defined. Perhaps this is what the com-boxes attract.

I have said many a time that the Church has only ever been given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, not the keys to Hell. One of the Angels has these in the Book of Revelation and the implication is clear that judgment is only carried out by the Divine when judging individuals. I have also been lucky in that this little blogling does not have the readership of others, nor does it possess the intellectual kudos or scholarly learning of my contemporaneous blogs. I have thus fallen under the RADAR of some of the most spirited polemicists whose desire, it seems, is to foist their brand of Catholicism on others.

Once can understand to some extent whence they come. Many are like me, refugees from a body which has given up orthodoxy in order to pursue and synchrete modern secular standards. I have been most fortunate to find myself a place where I can not only grow, but really do feel myself growing. Others do the same. However, the fragmentation of the Orthodox into separate and rather disharmonic bodies, means that, in order to convince themselves that they have made the right decision in their move, some folk take up the trumpet and produce shrill discordant notes which drive more folk away than encourage others to join. The need to justify the move means that some go from the apologetic to the polemic and to the effective demonisation of the place they left. It is, however, tempting to do that and perhaps I am guilty of such behaviour too.

I maintain my stance that the Ordinariate is a marvellous place to be if one is happy to cease being Anglican but retain something of the substance of what Anglicanism possesses. I do, however, not believe that the Roman Catholic Church is THE One True Church in its entirety. Only God can say what the One True Church is; only God can say who are truly priests; only God saves, though Salvation is indeed integral to the Church. There is no point, then for the Ordinariate bound, to attack Continuing Anglicans for not being true Catholics when they should realise that true Catholicism is the driving principle of the Continuum. Nor should they attack Continuing Anglicans for their "alphabet soup" existence, especially in the light of recent interdenominational ecumenism. The Ordinariate is younger than Continuing Anglicanism and its future not known, though I pray for its flourishing just as I pray for the flourishing of the Anglican Continuum, especially my own beloved diocese.

Yet likewise, Continuing Anglicanism should not be attacking the Ordinariate-bound who have managed to find some integrity with which they can live, considering that they too have had to sacrifice much in order to pursue Orthodoxy. There is much that those who dissent from the secularism of the CofE have in common, and it seems strange that such polemics exist. These polemics are still the vestiges of the battle lines between Anglo-Catholics, Prayerbook Catholics and Anglican Papalists. Yet, how on earth does one win souls by polemic? One doesn't. Polemics ultimately attempt to force the Body of Christ onto the bed of Procrustes, taking pleasure in lopping off the bits which don't fit.
There really needs to be a liberality between all folk who call themselves Anglican. So far we have sniping, trolling, litigation and expulsion as being the major participles resulting from the interactions between Anglicans.  I no longer have to fight my corner with the CofE. Having left them to ordain whomsoever they please and use whatever liturgies they choose with their concomitant theologies which are not always compatible, I find myself thinking more about housekeeping and evangelising.

Good housekeeping is essential if one is preparing to invite others to come in. Fortunately, the Benedictine rule does flesh out this practice with its wonderful tightrope walking between extremes. How Aristotle would have loved St Benedict! Only in St Benedict can we find living in tension made practicable; corporate prayer is built in with private prayer, heads have to be in the clouds and down-to-earth, everyone is to be regarded as superior and yet there is one Superior.

If one truly wants to be conservative, then one must guard against atrophy and look for the soft, yielding flesh which covers the bone. If one regards oneself as liberal, then one must guard oneself against becoming amorphous and seek rigidity which gives the Body of Christ its distinctive shape. The Christian has to learn to live in tension with the two. Surely, this is easy since we live our human existence being precisely the union of soft flesh and hard bone every day of our lives. Since Christ shares our human nature, we need to look to him to show us how His Body works for the good of all Humanity. If Christ rejoices in our Humanity, then so should we. That doesn't mean chopping ourselves to bits in the process.

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