Taking reception seriously

From Mr David Felton

I write to express sincere gratitude to Dr Mary Tanner for the measured and gracious way in which she reminded readers (and the Church of England as a whole) of the implications and obligations of a doctrine of reception in the matter of orders. Dr Tanner was one of the architects of that doctrine (as applied to women in the priesthood and the episcopate) and is one who has always taken it with the utmost seriousness.

Alas, this has not been the case with others. Gras and Watch, whilst gratefully accepting the notion in so far as it advanced their agenda, have always proceeded with a degree of certainty which is quite contrary to the tentative and exploratory tenor of Reception. They need to be reminded that Reception had its origins in the theology of ecumenical dialogue, and that it is in the ecumenical arena that a failure to live up to its own aspirations and honour its own undertakings will have the most serious consequences for the Church of England.

The departure of a rump of disaffected traditionalists may well be a price which many are prepared to pay for innovation. However, to outlaw those who hold the same theological understanding of orders as our principal ecumenical partners is bound to be seen as anomalous: to do so by reneging on solemn undertakings is bound to raise serious questions of probity and trust.

The credibility of the Church of England, then, is what is clearly at stake if Reception is now abandoned in favour of the One Party State: credibility with its own faithful and credibility in the wider church.

David Felton

Statutes of unity

From Fr John Greatbatch ssc

I was interested to read Fr Jonathan Beswick’s article [June], expressing his views against Anglicanorum Coetibus; I thank him for his honesty and clarity.

However, what does concern me is that as a fellow brother of the Society of the Holy Cross, how do such views square up with the statutes of our society, especially concerning Church unity which states: ‘The Brethren should pray for the unity of the Church Militant and in particular for reconciliation with the Holy See, working towards that end as opportunity occurs.’

Surely this is such an opportunity.

John C. Greatbatch
The Vicarage, Charlestown,
St Austell PL25 3NS

Roman generosity

From Mrs J. Martin

That the Church of England enjoys a considerable degree of loyalty and affection from many of its members is no surprise. Nor is it unexpected that such sentiments should be strengthened in times of uncertainty and tension. However, strong feelings may need to be tempered if justice and courtesy are to be shown to those from whom we differ. Both these qualities are lacking in Fr Beswick’s article [June].

The Apostolic Constitution is the result of a personal initiative on the part of Pope Benedict, in response to requests for help from a number of Anglo-Catholics. Whether Anglicans avail themselves of his offer is a matter for individual decision, but the intention has been clear: the aim is unity not absorption.

Fr Beswick insists that acceptance of the proposals involves ‘submitting to Rome’, a phrase well-calculated to raise Anglican hackles, though not one which appears in the Constitution. Rome is not intent on ‘submission’ but on a unity which recognizes that Anglicans have much to give as well as to receive.

The failure to ‘fulfil the aspirations of the ARCIC process’ is another charge brought against the Apostolic Constitution. However, if ARCIC survives the current troubles, Cardinal Kasper is on record as having said that on the Roman side full unity with the Church of England has long been the goal of their discussions. Such an aspiration is impossible to achieve at present, and it may never be achieved. Nevertheless, what we are being offered now surely deserves a more appreciative response than its contemptuous dismissal as ‘no more than a distracting sideshow’.

J.B. Martin
2 Dikler Close,
GL54 2PS

Late realization

From Mr Thomas Rookes

I read with interest the article by Mark Stevens about the maleness of Jesus as Christ [June]. I have always felt instinctively that the women priests issue was not about the equality of the sexes, and that it is important to understand the reasons which go beyond equality.

While it is important that the rights of women all over the world improve, it is also important to make the distinction between equality and sameness. The inability, or unwillingness, of some people to accept the different qualities of men and women may have prevented the development in the Church of England of a separate but equal ministry. However this is surely the way forward.

Thomas Rookes
77 Ruskin Avenue,
Lincoln LN2 4DE

Triumph of obtuseness

From Mr James Stephenson

Did anyone else notice this extraordinary response from the recent Report of the Revision Committee of the General Synod? At 53,000 words, it is easy enough to miss some of the bits hidden away in its dense reporting of what must have been long and gruelling sessions.

‘205. Other members of the Committee expressed various concerns about the arguments put forward by traditional catholics. It was suggested that there was a risk that the position they described could in practice be seen as involving a theology of ‘taint.’

So, ignorance and stupidity are to be enshrined in the legislation of the Church of England? I don’t believe it! We cannot have proper provision for our equal and honoured position as loyal Anglicans, because ‘there is a risk’ that some people would misunderstand the reasons why. That is like saying we cannot have women bishops because there is a risk they might be seen as witches.

This theology (sic) of taint was an invention of the liberals in order to discredit their opponents – based on rumoured remarks from disgruntled orthodox priests in the painful days of the early Nineties.

Like other urban legends, these were generally prefixed as coming from a friend, or overheard at a meeting, or reported from some (now lost) photocopied article.

So they invent this imaginary ‘theology’, as a rather clever means of denigrating us, and then have the gall to use it as a reason for refusing proper, measured legislation and provision. You cannot have what you need, because it might be misunderstood by bigots (oh, and by the way we are those bigots).

I acknowledge that this may have been an actual report of something that was actually said, rather than a proposal, but is it not utterly outrageous? How did these people get to be on the Revision Committee in the first place to have such stupidity solemnly recorded in a formal report of the General Synod of the Church of England? We should be told.

James Stephenson

We need each other

From Mr James Merton

All these expressions of goodwill and wanting to hold the Church of England together and not to lose traditional Anglo-Catholics, and so on and so on. We have grown so tired, and bored, of these expressions of inclusiveness – from the very people who are voting for legislation that will effectively throw us out of the church of our birth – that we begin to lose all interest in inclusiveness. What is the comprehensiveness of the Church of England, when it is treated with such contempt?

And then along comes an article like the lead article last month, by Dame Mary Tanner on the need to continue the process of reception, and one suddenly realizes the immense value of being part of the same church as someone like her. Is she not the sort of liberal who keeps us honest? I am not sure I am as keen on the idea of reception as she is: even with the best of intentions, it seems to have done more harm than good.

And yet, the idea that the CofE somehow has a vocation to take seriously the struggle for truth, in a way that others with a magisterium cannot, is rather appealing.

I read what she wrote with real interest – even beyond the current crisis in the church, there is an excitement in the theological ideas she shared with us.

Yes, there really are moments when that traditional vision of the comprehensiveness of the Church of England seem once more possible. Brief moments of sunlight between the gathering clouds, but precious for all that.

James Merton

Letters for publication should be sent to:

The Editor
New DirectioNs
2A The Cloisters, Gordon Square
London WC1H 0AG