We none of us know where, or in what form, the Anglican Communion, or the Church of England, will be in a decades time. It is not the quantity of events which is lacking; it is the quality of them which is uncertain. Are they important and decisive, or are they mere frivolous details?
It is not enough simply to wait to see what will happen, to discover which party will win the battle, and what will be the fate of the defeated. Even when decisions are being made elsewhere and by other people, over whom we have no influence, let alone control, it remains crucial that we seek to understand what is happening and why.
Historical inevitablism, once favoured by Marxists (who failed to foresee their own demise), is now highly favoured by the liberal ascendancy. And if their cause were indeed one of justice alone, it might simply prevail, only given time. But the issues involved are more complicated than that, and they are wrong in their analysis.
If we cannot be certain whither we are going, it is all the more important to seek to know whence we have come. Our grasp of the history in which we are now involved matters as part of our witness to the faith.
People sometimes ask us, ‘Why do you bother?’ It is simple: we seek to be faithful witnesses to the struggle for the Gospel, in the midst of which we believe God has placed us. The casual rewriting of history, the careless but studied forgetting of what happened only recently, the cynical ignorance of promises made and resolutions passed, these are all wrong and unbecoming. The fact that they are so common only makes the sin worse.
The solid pages of analysis from John Shepley [pp. 14-15] on events of forty years ago are a clear example of the work that needs to be done. The search for a true record and understanding of our present chaos is not an indulgence but a duty. It is part of our witness to the truth received.
The common judgement that history is written by the victors is, in the context of the Christian Church, wrong. It is more often the other way around. It is the defeated, marginalized and disregarded who write the history, not for their own generation perhaps, nor even the next, but for those yet unborn.
It is a duty, in a time of confusion, to write for history.
If history, as Edward Gibbon sagely remarked, is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind’there will obviously be an immense scope for the sort of apology which the General Convention of The Episcopal Church has recently demanded of Her Majesty the Queen. [See From elsewhere pp. 26-27.] But what purpose is served by such demands? Who benefits? Whose life is in any way enhanced?
The benefit, it would seem, accrues not to those to whom the apology is made, but to those who demand it on their behalf. It establishes their credentials as liberal, compassionate, inclusive and generally right-on. But more than that: it establishes the effortless superiority of the Left over the Right, and the Present over the Past.
The strong suit of the modern liberal, whether secular or ecclesiastical, is a passionate and unquestioning belief in modernity. They genuinely see themselves as riding the tide of history. Their views and values have self-evident inevitability. The best of all possible worlds (which Leibniz attributed to God) is being confected, they believe, by contemporary endeavour.
The demand for apology from those with less virtue and less insight than themselves serves the very useful purpose of reinforcing this self-image. And, co-incidentally, it exonerates them from any complicity in the alleged offence.
All this, of course, is what a more enlightened age would have called humbug. What history (and moral theology) teaches is that actions have consequences and that with those consequences we must live. We can meaningfully apologize for actions for which we bear sole or shared responsibility. And we can, in some cases at least, make reparation.
To apologize for action for which we bear no direct responsibility, and the consequences of which over long periods of history we can do nothing to mitigate, is simply to concede to a political and social agenda which should be deplored rather than encouraged.