Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Lifeboats and cargoes

Having worried about those Anglicans with 80% Catholicism in their cocktail, let me now look at those a little lower down the scale. I mean those who would broadly identify with 'Affirming Catholicism' which retains what one might call Catholic Ornaments, being, however, liberal in theology (taking it for granted, for instance, that women can and should be priests).

Now, I suppose these people are entitled to their opinions, and if the doctrine of the Church of England is to be decided by a majority vote, then, I suppose, they have a right to run things as they choose.

But I have a fear; I think that they are shooting themselves in their feet. I have, for instance, noticed with alarm that provision for the education of the Anglican Clergy has again taken a nosedive. Even now it is not unusual to find an Anglican priest whose studies have consisted in two years' correspondence course. This is much less than Catholic dioceses would give a permanent deacon. Such people are usually ordained as non-stipendiary ministers, but (once ordained) in practice, (being both ordained and available) they are frequently appointed to curacies and even incumbencies. I understand that this practice is now being extended, no doubt to save money, to the regular clergy.

In the past, I have lampooned this inadequate training as majoring in not philosophy and theology, moral theology, scripture &c &c, but openness, wholeness, counselling and aromatherapy (or something of the sort). An Anglican priest friend commented that, although I was joking, I wasn't in fact far from the truth.

My worry is for the future. Can these people honestly be said to be theologically literate? Catholic priests study usually for six or seven years in full time residential training. We study Scripture, fundamental theology, philosophy (at least 2 years), Church history (that's what I teach), world religions, sociology, ecclesiology, Christology, dogmatic theology, pastoral theology, homiletics, moral theology (at least 3 years), canon law, counselling, psychology, liturgy………&c. &c. &c.

The implications of a poorly-educated Anglican clergy are (in no particular order):
1) Ecumenical discussions between Catholics and Anglicans will become farcical, at least on a local level (I assume there will always be some theologically literate people at a national level), and have to be confined to the church fête and quiz night.
2) A real understanding of dogmatic and scriptural issues will simply escape those who are uninstructed. This will affect their preaching, and their ministry generally. They will preach their opinions which will have no basis in the wider Christian communion, or else be simply anodyne and convince or convert nobody.
3) Ritual Anglicanism risks descending to the level of a sort of cargo cult that performs rituals that it doesn't understand for reasons that it doesn't understand, and which rituals have no meaning outside the feelings they engender, which end up being their raison d'être. The purpose of a Eucharist, a funeral, whatever, is to make people feel good.

Oh dear, I've ended up saying some hard things which I didn't really want to do. I speak out of a genuine and long-standing affection for the old C of E, and it grieves me to see it tearing itself up like this. The trouble is that, sinking, it seems to think that the first things to be thrown overboard are the lifeboats and lifejackets.


gemoftheocean said...

Will Her Majesty please turn out the light when she leaves?

Michael Gollop said...

No you are not being unduly harsh or satirical, although I particularly enjoyed the reference to cargo cults! But what you predict is already becoming true in many places - tragic in a tradition which once prided itself in having a scholarly parish clergy. Ichabod, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Whilst agreeing completely about the education of clergy I suspect the striken ship will not ultimately sink but shed some cargo and make some repairs.

Sir Watkin said...

All too true, alas, Father.

Some liberal clergy even are seriously worried by the situation. Their allegiance is to an old-fashioned liberalism, that at least had a certain intellectual content.

The other destructive trend is the rapid decay of liturgical worship. Traditionally, Anglicanism (of whatever sort) has always been liturgical (indeed it was over this point anything that the nonconformists first separated from the Church of England). This is no longer the case, and you don't need to be particularly "high church" to be worried by this development.

An interesting consequence of these two trends (theological and liturgical) is that there are liberals who are wondering just how bad things will have to get before the Ordinariate starts to look like an attractive option. The answer is of course, "Not yet", but they don't rule out the possibility of a positive answer in the future.

Dominic Mary said...

You are, of course, Father, alarmingly accurate : but then an episcopate wedded to ideas of modernism, liberalism, and laissez-faire unorthodoxy hardly want a theologically literate clergy who are competent to challenge them, now do they ?

motuproprio said...

I must observe that some of the Catholic priests turned out by minor Irish seminaries and exported to England in the 70s seem to be woefully inadequate in theological, moral, scriptural and liturgical understanding.

Anonymous said...

Since Catholic Emancipation in 1829 surely thr main division between Anglican clergymen and Catholic priests has been social? This persists in an invidious form that has little to do with education. Frankly, Anglican clergymen are often seen as cleaner and kinder than their Catholic counterparts. I have met Catholic priests who say they get on better with nonconformists than with the clergy of the Establishment because they are homelier, poorer, worse dressed and don't have side.

Currently things may be different. Many modern Anglican clerics are badly educated and come from humbler backgrounds than their predecessors. The calibre is low. Current Anglican theological education seems to be in free fall. The main preoccupation in the Church of England seems to be shortage of money. Increasing numbers of ordinands are over forty, opting for the non-stipendiary ministry and their formation is superficial. These social factors may even things out between the largely proletarian Catholic clergy and their increasingly proletarian Anglican counterparts.

But, frankly, the rank and file of Catholic secular clergy are an uncultivated bunch, the standard of preaching and celebration of Mass generally is low, the intellectual life is meaningless to most, the furnishing of presbyteries ranks among the most tasteless and squalid known to man, it is almost impossible to have a general conversation with many, reading seems to be unknown, social ease non-existent.

While these factors are on the increase in the National Church and the standard of general education is in decline, there still remains a loose body of the educated that makes Anglican clergymen more sortable. With many Catholic priests I wonder where their philosophical and theological formation has gone, for you see little evidence of it in their lives, professional and otherwise.

The Anglicanism of Barbara Pym may well now have largely disappeared but read her novels if you want to understand the difference