Why any bishops at all?

From Fr Ernest Skublics

The weekly coffee klatch inevitably turned to the recent Synod crisis. A number of the friends there are also on PCC and often discuss the Church. One said, ‘The Church has already decided that women must be able to be consecrated bishops. Why we don’t get on with it.’ Another responded, ‘What I’m wondering about with all this fuss is, why do we need bishops at all?’

While I kept quiet, some attempts were made to figure out what bishops mayreallybe useful for, andfinallyI was asked to explain it from a theologian’s perspective. It occurred to me to say that, if you picture the Church as a vast net, through the ages and world-wide, its squares connected both lengthwise and crosswise, the bishops are the knots that tie all the squares together, each local square, here and now, with each other square, and with the whole net, before it (diachronically) and sideways (synchronically). So we have communion, both in continuity, through Apostolic Succession, through time, and sideways, communion with all the other squares existing simultaneously.

But then it occurred to me that, if the episcopate is made into an autonomous denominational peculiarity, which no longer ensures either the Tradition of the same Faith or the Communion of the local Church with all the other Churches, diachronically as well as synchronically, then, indeed, we no longer need nor have bishops.

At the end of the conversation the venerable member of PCC declared: ‘Right. The Methodists seem to get along all right without bishops. We don’t need them either.’

Ernest Skublics

Undervalued book

From Fr Bill Gull

Your readers will judge my unbiased opinion for themselves. I have been the Bishop of Ebbsfleet Chaplain for nearly ten years and his friend for nearly forty-five years. Your reviewer of his book Heaven and Earth in Little Space appears to have been reading a different edition from the one I have now read, twice. I hope you readers will accept the good opinion of Fr Aidan Nichols op and the equally good opinion of the Principal of Pusey House which they both express in the book itself. Alcuin Reid gives it an excellent review in the Catholic Herald. Fr Hunwicke was equally enthusastic in his Liturgical Notes. From the first chapter which asks if Anglicanism is Catholic or Reformed to the last quite excellent chapter entitled ‘Mother or Maiden’ there is much to deepen appreciation of the liturgy; it has mine.

Bill Gull

37 Hazel Grove, Nottingham

Marriage breakdown

From Mr John Lees

Ed Tomlinson [‘Trawling the Net’, July] uses his article on divorce and the episcopate as a Trojan horse against divorce in general and presumes to attach blame in a particular marriage known to him. I would make three points.

Firstly, amid the chaos of separation and divorce it helps no-one to speak of blame or be paraded as the injured party. The success or failure of a marriage is never solely attributable to one of its partners; they are, to use the current devalued political phrase, ‘in this together’, knowing the truth yet disagreeing on it. If one party is sexually unfaithful, is that really a sheer, cold-blooded, in vacuo act of will?

Secondly, Fr Tomlinson derides the liberal ‘pragmatic triumph for forgiveness’, telling us wearily that ‘modern Christians do not understand what ‘forgiveness’ really means…we have embraced a fairytale version of mercy whereby magic at the moment of penitence undoes the damage of sin.’ I don’t necessarily disagree, but what is ‘true forgiveness’? Does the author ‘understand what ‘forgiveness’ really means’?

Finally, ‘are sexual unions about the emotional well-being of adults or for the good of society and to the benefit of children? You cannot have it both ways.’ Some sexual unions undermine one or more of those things, but here confusion creeps in. The Church of England (in its liturgical Prefaces) and the Catholic Church (Catechism, 1660–3) are clear that Holy Matrimony (or Marriage) is about all of those things. Because of the possibility of annulment, the marriage discipline of the Church of England is actually tighter that that of Rome.

To conclude: no clergy wife ought to be ‘living on benefits with two distraught children to console’; when my own marriage ended I was unemployed and homeless, the latter swiftly remedied by a diocese and a bishop more caring than my own. There is a clear need for the Church of England to take greater care of clergy and spouses in committed, long-term practical support that is properly resourced, and mirrors the dedication that clergy and their families, whatever their imperfections, give to the Church.

John Lees

71 Merridale Rd, Wolverhampton

Universal Orthodoxy

From Fr Gregory Carpenter

I read with interest your article entitled ‘Recruitment Drive’ [July]. Are Orthodox Christians really distant, mysterious, impenetrable and untranslatable? In the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain we have thirty members of the clergy with no Greek roots, while there are now many younger clergy from Greek Cypriot families whose first language is English.

While there are historical Western rites which are completely consistent with Orthodox theology, the problem is that the birthright non-theological Eastern Christians would be unable to relate to them. As English Orthodox, we must be prepared to serve Romanians, Palestinians, Serbs, Russians and Bulgarians; we cannot cut ourselves off from those who have treasured the Faith for generations and need our ministrations. Every parish is different, but on Sundays the Divine Liturgy in Plymouth will be 40% English, with elements in Slavonic, Romanian or Arabic as required.

For an insight into how a local Orthodox Community, do contact Prebendary Samuel Philpotts who is a treasured friend of many of the Greek Cypriot families in this city and also of our Archbishop. Incidentally the founding fathers of the majority of our Thyateira parishes were Cypriots with British nationality and the right to live here and found businesses.

The 1549 Book of Common Prayer has attractive language and its Eucharistic rite has the classical Catholic form. However, it is essential also to research and understand its Lutheran inputs before adding an epiclesis and other Eastern elements. Also ask yourself whether a member of a Western Rite parish would remain faithful to Orthodox Christianity if he or she moved to a town with only a normal Eastern rite.

I remain enormously grateful for my Anglican training at Durham and Westcott House. I have never had to relearn pastoral skills gained from experienced vicars when in my twenties. I grieve that so many of my friends are perplexed and hope that they can find a resolution to their concerns.

Gregory Carpenter

A loyal Anglican

From Mr Alan Bartley

Alan Edward’s American ‘Independence Day’ reflections [ND July] refers to their differing reactions to Wesley and Whitefield. Perhaps more significant is that they chose a Prayer Book Episcopalian as their first President.

In Sacred Fire, a recent investigation into the faith and spirituality of America’s first President, Dr Peter Lillback is on a mission to prove the secularists are wrong about George Washington. He shows Washington in the colonial setting as an orthodox Church of England parishioner and vestryman. But didn’t Washington later drift into deism?

Lillback argues that the infrequent invoking of Christianity and use of the divine names etc. was in part due to his duties, and also part of the Christian culture of his day which included a fear of invoking God’s name in vain. Hence explicit statements are rare but scriptural allusions were plentiful – but was this just the rhetorical currency of the day? Lillback argues Low Church allegiance and other pressures caused him to frequent Morning Prayer and Sermon in preference to Communion. His 1771 order for a Book of Common Prayer is for a large pocket edition – it needs to be ‘in good plain type…as thin as possible for the greater ease of carrying in the pocket.’

After the Revolution he was sympathetic to legal provision for the Christian ministry of the various denominations, provided non-Christians could be excused from the burden of this support. Throughout his life Washington was a godfather some eight times.

Washington’s correspondence with another Church of England Methodist, the Countess of Huntingdon, concerns her plan to evangelize the Indians. In what is preserved he says the plans met ‘with [his] highest approbation; and [he would] be very happy to find every possible encouragement given to them…’ Would a deist continue that he had written to the President of Congress with copies of her plans ‘with my approving sentiments thereon’?

To the Jews he could write ‘May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose Providential Agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing the United States as an independent Nation.’

I close with Washington’s 1779 advice to the Delaware Indians: ‘You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.’

Alan Bartley

17 Francis Road, Greenford

To be kept secret

From Mr James Merton

We have been keen to put across, because we believe it to be true, the notion that Pope Benedict’s generous offer to Anglicans in the Ordinariate is not a case of ‘tanks on the lawn’, a preemptive strike on the Anglican churches, to steal much needed clergy and laity.

My local RC colleague has (as he had been asked to do) given me a copy of Heart speaks unto heart – the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, United Kingdom 2010. The densely packed text in this 32 page booklet covers every aspect of the visit and the work of the Catholic Church, and includes a section on relations with the Church of England, with a photo of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Rome in 2006.

ARCIC is mentioned, and commended. But not a word about the Ordinariate, not even a passing reference. Are we are guilty secret, not to be talked about in polite Catholic society?

James Merton

Letters for publication should be sent to:

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