Lambeth and the provisionality of Anglicanism
And how shall the Archbishop of Canterbury hold it all together?
Cranmer was amused by this observation from Thinking Anglicans:
“Reading all the titles of the (ecumenical guests) made me wonder whether the problem we have with Anglican authority is that we just don’t have impressive enough words in front of our names. If Rowan styled himself catholicos, supreme head, patriarch, holiness or beatitude who’d dare oppose him?”
And yet the fact that he does not is part of the Anglican tradition, and that tradition appears to include talking itself down and stressing its provisionality. There is a quest for absorption into the wider Church and for finding a raison d’être because the Church of England has ceased to believe in itself. There is historic rationale for this, because the Church of England is part of the catholic Church of Christ, and the restlessness it has experienced since its foundation (ie since it ceased being simply the Church in England) is simply a symptom of eschatological reality.
Anglicans profess the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and this is without geographic or sociological limitation. It is no more English than it is Russian, Greek or Roman: it is incarnational and visible in each disparate society, and is therefore fragmented and fractured because catholicity is partial and incomplete. The unity to which it aspires is an eschatological hope to be fulfilled beyond this life, and all parts of the Christian Church - whatever they assert about themselves, and whatever impressive titles their leaders have before their names – stand in this position of incompleteness, with partial understanding, gazing through a glass darkly.
And it is in this fragmentation that we may find the cross. And the suffering inherent to our humanity should evoke humility and contrition. Ecclesial communities cannot be the Church catholic, but neither can the Church catholic be the repository of completeness or truth while it lacks the fullness which union with those communities would provide.
The Church of England has never claimed the exclusivity claimed by other communions. It has always been part, portion or branch of the whole catholic Church. As a fragment of the whole, as a victim of disunity, it shares its responsibility for schism. But because it acknowledges its provisionality, it works incessantly towards healing the wounds in the body of Christ, and it does so with humility, with brokenness, and without globe-trotting expressions of triumphalism.
The Church of England should have confidence in its ecclesiology, its tradition and the Anglican Communion. But the survival of the latter must not become an end in itself, for all communions, however great, are destined to cease. But the Church of England's cultural habit of self-denigration must also cease, if only because other communions are not so cursed with this propensity. The Church of England is worth its salt, and anyone who asserts the contrary can have no understanding of the meaning of church, and little appreciation of the provisionality with which the whole worldwide institution is charged.