The Pope can say of his law, like the operatic Lord Chancellor, ‘[It has] no kind of fault or flaw, And I, my Lords, embody the law.’ It is an attractive notion, that of the perfect Body of Christ, with one infallible head. We need the idea, as we need the idea of the perfect man, even though we believe not one exists on earth today.

In fact, we shall search history in vain for any Church that actually lives up to the image of its founder. We may deplore aspects of the Reformation, but it at least acknowledged this. Of course imperfection exists in particular members of a church, but it also seems actually to exist in what we call the Body of Christ, even in the Pope’s official self. This imperfection, however pardonable by God, may result in less than perfect ecclesiastical ways.

We have to ask who is the arbiter of perfection, and to deduce that the final arbiter of Tightness can only be the individual, or the Holy Spirit working in the individual; which is what the Reformers believed. This attitude, however modified into ecclesiastical discipline, can only result in a fissiparous organism. As, indeed, it has done. When I look at its results, at Anglicans, Methodists and the Free Churches, and the Roman and Orthodox versions of faith, I ask where we stand who are now a threatened minority of the Church of England?

We are saying to the liberal wing, whose bishops seldom stop speaking about the inclusive Church, ‘Include us. We are Protestants, and we have protested; but we are not advocates of splitting in itself. There is not room for more Simone Weils. We have suggested an end to splitting, by concentrating on returning to some form of closer association with our former Church of Rome.

‘We shall not abandon our efforts to persuade you, but if you persist in measures that widen the gap, rather than the reverse, the day may come when we shall find the imperfection of Rome closer to the true Body of Christ than the imperfection of Canterbury – or whatever stands now for the wider Anglican Church.’

Peter Lyon