It may be a quality that has been abused of late, but the fact remains that the Church of England, for all its manifold sins and wickedness, does still show and share a fine degree of tolerance and comprehensiveness. These two virtues are still part of the self-definition and aspiration of all members of the CofE.
But there also remains just as tenaciously what we now learn to call ‘a dark side,’ a point where tolerance fails, and fails spectacularly. Our complacency ought surely to be shattered on almost any visit to one of the great churches of this country. Even in the silence and the calm remembrance of earlier, believing centuries, the savage howl of the Reformation destruction can rarely be ignored. So much destroyed, with such unremitting fury. What Christian could have defaced the face of Christ himself, and his mother? Not all such deeds were done by revolting Puritans. Many were performed willingly by members of the ‘comprehensive’ CofE.
There is a venomous sting hidden in the smiling face of gentle Anglicanism. Priest or layman, how many times have you been cut short by the Protestant
veto? It strikes so swiftly and with such irrational viciousness, even now in these crypto-Catholic afirming days. ‘Hitting the wall’ is how others have put it, but the principle is the same across the country; in just about every parish or church group, the fear of ambush is never entirely absent.
It could be a Hail Mary, a crucifix, the lighting of a candle, Latin in the liturgy, prayers for the Pope; there is no telling which can be objected to, absolutely and without argument.
Faith may have waned in the secular, liberalizing age, but not the Protestant veto. Liberalism may be rampant, but even its self-proclaimed inclusiveness has not rid us of the Protestant veto.
It is visceral, atavistic, dark and deeply depressing. On my better days, it seems like a thorn in the flesh, to stop us being too proud, to stop us believing that the CofE is a fullyfledged church in its own right. On my gloomier days, it seems like a blot of sin disfiguring the church of my birth: we should perhaps make a formal apology to Pope Benedict.