Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Times 1st January 2011 (1)

On page 3, there is coverage of the reception of former Anglican bishops and religious into full communion with the Catholic Church, which has taken place today at Westminster Cathedral. In an "Analysis", Ruth Gledhill includes the observation:
It is almost as if the Catholic hierarchy is embarrassed by the prospect of mass defections. It is possible that they do not want to upset the established Church of England and particularly its Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom they esteem only slightly less than the Pope.
Apart from the unfriendly use of the word "defections", which gives an edge to these events that I do not believe any of the different stakeholders really share, this curious paragraph can be read at four different levels. It might be the outcome of the hazards of sub-editing. It might be the outcome of Ruth Gledhill's own interpretation of events, which interpretation might well be at variance with the actualite, as one might say. This second appears the most likely to me.

It might be trying to say that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales give an esteem to the office (in the sense of official position, status) of the Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury only slightly less than they give to the office of the Papacy. If this is what it is trying to say, then it does of course need to be expressed with a very careful qualification. The nature of an esteem that would be given to the See of Canterbury by a Catholic bishop is not the same as the nature of the esteem that would be given to the See of Rome, though it might be in the same quantity; it's a bit like an apple and a pear having the same mass (sorry, I am a science teacher) but being still essentially different as the one is an apple and the other a pear.

Or it might be trying to say something about the esteem given to the incumbents of the two positions concerned, that is, the esteem given to their persons rather than to the offices that they hold. At this level, I for one am quite happy to give a good level of esteem to the Archbishop of Canterbury. As Ruth Gledhill also observes, perhaps with greater accuracy than in the observation quoted above, I think Rowan Williams has understood the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury as being a ministry of unity in the Anglican communion, and has acted in accord with that understanding at the cost of misunderstanding. I think this has an importance for ecumenical dialogue, lived out in the ordinary practice of the Church of England and therefore forming part of a "dialogue of life". I also appreciated how he stood by Pope Benedict XVI in the remarks he made welcoming Pope Benedict to Lambeth Palace, when, in the light of the media criticism of Pope Benedict, it would have been very easy to keep a certain distance. In addition, one of the books that has been in my possession from the earlier days of my building up a personal library is a collection of essays about the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. It contains an essay by one Rowan Williams, who was then Professor of Theology at the University of Oxford.

No comments: