he easy passage through the General Synod of the Church of England of the Porvoo Agreement was a more significant event than the lack-lustre debate might seem to indicate. It decided, far more certainly than the ordination of women to the priesthood, the nature and direction of English Anglicanism for the foreseeable future. Porvoo, abandoning as `crude and mechanistic’ the understanding of apostolic succession which the Roman and Orthodox Churches reaffirmed as essential in their 1984 agreement on ministry, appealed instead to the general and undergirding apostolicity of a whole church.

But where, in the churches of the Porvoo Agreement, a dispassionate observer might reasonably ask, is that apostolicity to be found?

In Faith? Here are churches in which clergy, at every level, are permitted to hold and disseminate doctrines unknown to scripture and inimical to the teaching of the Fathers. Here are churches where the Resurrection, the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth are routinely denied.

In Order? Here are churches in which the ministry of those lawfully ordained is not – and is not expected to be – universally welcomed or accepted. Here are churches some of whose bishops have become signs of disunity and division, and whose authorities freely acknowledge that communion within them is impaired if not broken.

In Morals? Here are churches in which the sanctity of marriage as a life-long bond is increasingly honoured only in the breach. Here are churches which freely condone the slaughter of unborn children. Here are churches in which the open homosexual relations of clergy, both male and female, go unadmonished.

In all these things, a dispassionate observer might be tempted to remark that the Churches in question were more apostate than apostolic. But he would be in no doubt why the Church of England felt more comfortable in their company than in the more strenuous and demanding atmosphere of conversations with Rome or Byzantium.

Churches, like people, define themselves by the company they search out and keep. And the searching and finding is not always a rational matter. Any process of self-discovery uncovers an element of schizophrenia.

As Fr Aidan Nichols pointed out so eloquently in “The Panther and the Hind”, Anglicanism has always been a battle-ground of incompatible opinions which masquerades as an epitome of tolerance. But in the area of ecumenical relations real decisions have to be taken. When the Panther goes in search of a mate she cannot hope to find one as ambiguous as herself. The real choices of ecumenical endeavour can, quite easily, be reduced to one: between apostolic authority and private judgement. And there can now be no doubt which the Church of England has chosen.

When conversations with Rome seemed dangerously close to agreement, and the catholic view of the nature of the Church of England seemed comfortably in the ascendant, the ordination of women broke the spell. It was clear from that moment that relations between a church which supposed itself to have plenary authority to do what it wanted, and one which knew itself to be bound by scriptural and apostolic precedent, could never be the same again.

Closer relations with the Nordic Lutheran Churches, however they masquerade as `Catholic Ecumenism’, simply confirm that basic choice. In whole areas in which Rome and Orthodoxy do not suppose themselves authorized to innovate, the churches of the Porvoo agreement have declared a free and open market. They are the national churches of nations where moral authority has passed from the Church to a secular ‚lite. That they (and the Church of England) will progressively conform themselves to the opinions of that ‚lite cannot now reasonably be doubted.