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In my youth in England, Trinity Sunday was one of the days on which the Creed called “Athanasian” was read. Reciting it seemed to be an introduction to Eternity: it went on and on!  Every year the vicar  reminded us of words attributed to George Bernard Shaw: “Father incomprehensible, Son incomprehensible, Holy Ghost incomprehensible: it’s all incomprehensible.”

Nowadays the fact that we may only know that element of the Divinity which God has revealed to us, is often used as an introduction to the idea that as God is unknowable, what we articulate as belief is a glorious free for all. But oddly while this ecclesiastical agnosticism is often applied to the essential matters of Christian belief, we are invited to receive what are claimed to be new revelations from God, or “developments” of teachings now vouchsafed to Synods and Conventions on the grounds of the Holy Spirit’s authorship.

Note the use of the word “essential”.  At the time of the Reformation, theologians struggled with the matter of what was essential to belief, “matters necessary unto salvation”, and what were matters which were in the area of “pious belief” ot practice. These were termed “matters indifferent.”  In the first category were grouped the doctrines enumerated in the Creeds. Matters “indifferent” or less essential, were subjected to a simple test. Did they promote edification or spiritual growth, or did they tend to superstition, or in some manner undermine or misapply essential teachings?

Local churches, we would term them Provinces, were left to assess whether a popular practice or devotion deepened holiness or might prove harmful. Thus certain devotions might at one “moment” be aids to spiritual growth and at another draw us away from essential teachings. Local Provinces might exercise authority by determining whether, for instance, holy water deepened faith in God’s grace among us, or became a sort of magical charm. A statue of a saint with votive candles might deepen belief in the Communion of saints or become a form of idolatry elevating devotion to that saint in a manner which replaced our devotion to Jesus.

Trinity Sunday reminds the Church that we are to give our worship to God and to the Persons of the Trinity, each distinct and fully “personal” in a manner which magnifies the “wholeness” of the Godhead. “Personality” is obviously a human attribute, and is used merely because mortals can envision nothing higher than personality. And yet, while in our fallenness personality may lead to individuality over against another individual, in God personality is so perfect that it draws into perfect unity.

In some way we see this when we fall in love and want nothing more than to merge ourselves into the other without domination or subservience. Falling out of love often entails a struggle for personality in distinction from the other to whom we have given ourselves and  IN many and often complicated ways.

Christian devotion to the Trinity often goes through a similar struggle. For instance we may well be living in a moment when popular devotion to the Holy Spirit draws away from or lessens a devotion to Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture, or to the Father on the grounds that His very title has about it experiences of male domination. Tinkering with biblical titles for God, the first “Person” may indeed obscure the Father rather than magnify him. Or concerns that the Jesus of the Bible is not always “gentle” or all-accepting may lead to a veneration of the Spirit about whom the Scriptures perhaps say much less about judgement!

In this sense the troubles Anglicanism faces at this moment are very much a quarrel about the very nature of God. Mutuality which is at the heart of Trinitarian belief draws us into self-giving resignation of personal “rights” which may offend or divide “communion”. The Holy Spirit is the author of unity, that which draws “personality”, whether individual or corporate into unity, a unity which informs the world that God IS.

The rub is seeking to understand what areas of united belief are “essential” and what are permissive or as wonks term it “adiaphora” or “matters indifferent” or non-essential.  Anglicanism, often without great success, has sought to unite its adherents in matters of essential belief, Credal teachings; and the Creeds are tables of contents to the necessary beliefs revealed in Scripture; and what matters may differ from Province to Province and even parish church to parish church.  This has never been a static matter. Throughout Anglican history movements have arisen, from bottom up, which have proposed the resurrection of abandoned practices or emphasies and proposed that which should be laid aside because they obscure true religion and virtue. Anglicans have received such insights, rejected them or amended them over time, often in the midst of conflict and disunity. Gradually some form of consensus or tolerance emerges.

During the last century and a half this essential liberality has strayed from a debate about “matters indifferent” into the realm of revealed essential belief.  As God is incomprehensible, it is suggested, perhaps what matters is whether this or that doctrine works “for us” or “for me”.  At least in the West, where the idea that faith and culture are entwined, the test has been whether this or that doctrine works for “us” in our cultural experience. If our culture, or “my ideas” collide with Christian core belief, then we propose the idea that the Holy Spirit works through “my” culture” and thus essential belief must be interpreted in the light of cultural experience or “my” experience. A brief conjecture about what the Gospel would look like if Jesus had succumbed to the culture of first century Israel, or Paul to the cultures of the Roman Empire might give one pause. Indeed the decision of the Council of Jerusalem to admit Gentiles to the Church without circumcision, instead of being magnified as the triumph of faith over culture is extolled as a triumph of cultural inclusion over exclusivity!

How then is God’s justice to be advanced if we are called not to offend our sister or brother by imposing true justice?  In short hand this is a question about the use of power. Do we dominate our sister or brother by the use of legitimate power in the name of justice?  Or do we believe that in mutual submission to God and neighbor, God advances justice (and mercy) in an exercise of transforming love?  Our Trinitarian belief challenges us to allow our mutual independence to be the vehicle of God’s will. The risk is that we may lose. The glory is that in what seems to be loss there is gain, but a gain which in human terms is incomprehensible. And for us the agony of a loss involving the Three Persons, the “loss” of the Cross is the prelude to Resurrection, to something beyond that which we “desire or deserve”.


The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter, which may be read in it’s entirety on the ACNS website or at Titus 1.9 should be read not simply to extract the actions “proposed” against Provinces which defy the moratoria.

The letter is a pained, even anguished reflection from an “elder brother” to a family, a family whose identity and behavior is sharply at odds with its calling and profession. The Archbishop magnifies our common identity in terms of the mission of the Church, brought to life on the Day of Pentecost.  It is no accident that Pentecost is immediately followed by the Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the source and pattern of unity in community and community in unity.

The Archbishop clearly sets before us a pattern of inappropriate  behavior which goes beyond the matter of human sexuality and includes cross-border interventions, dioceses working out of step with their provinces and by implication the actions of individual bishops and other clergy whose activities are divisive and beyond the authority committed to them. While being careful not to draw “moral equivalents” to various inappropriate activities and actions, the Archbishop reminds us that all know which moratorium are clearly identified, and thus breaches of them invite consequences.  Again the Archbishop speaks as a pastor when he reminds the Communion that actions have consequences and that discipline in Christian terms is not intended to damn or even embarrass, but to invite repentance and reconciliation.

The letter clearly invites those Provinces which have established bases within the North American Provinces to disinvest themselves from such entanglements. The Archbishop does so not to create a hierarchy of error, but in   a consistent application of resistance to those who breach the moratoria identified in the Windsor Report, and by the Primates and the Joint Standing Committee of the Communion and by himself as primus inter pares.

Having chastised those whose actions are beyond their competence, he is careful to remain within his own.  He can and will remove erring provinces from participating in ecumenical agencies which are called to express the mind of the Communion to other churches. He will take similar action with reference to participation in pan-Anglican doctrinal and theological commissions, where, as he points out,  the participation of those who ignore theological consensus would be “eccentric”. As Archbishop, Rowan Williams has clear authority in these areas.  There are other more substantial agencies or Instruments over which the Archbishop shares authority.  To many these would seem to be the crucial agencies from which erring Provinces should be excluded.  The Archbishop makes it clear that he is inviting discipline in these areas too:

“I am aware that other bodies have responsibilities in questions concerned with faith and order, notably the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee. The latter two are governed by constitutional provisions which cannot be overturned by any one person’s decision alone, and there will have to be further consultation as to how they are affected. I shall be inviting the views of all members of the Primates’ Meeting on the handling of these matters with a view to the agenda of the next scheduled meeting in January 2011.”

It is heartening that the Archbishop recognizes and encourages those of us who feel called to remain and minister within TEC while remaining loyal to the wider Communion and its integrity.

The Archbishop also seeks to counter the fears of those who believe that the new Standing Committee differs in authority or competence from its predecessor.

The Archbishop’s letter is painful reading. It is obviously written in  distress, indeed in anguish. How humbling it must be for the leader of the third largest Christian community to admit to the world that the divisions and follies of a troubled planet are reflected within the Anglican family of churches. We should be grateful for +Rowan’s example and extend to him our affection and prayers.


All seems oddly quiet on this day when Canon Mary Glasspool will be ordained and consecrated as a Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles.  Yet the consequences may well be graver than ensued after the Bishop of New Hampshire was elected in 2003. Then it could be said with some plausibility that no one in TEC realized what a fuss would emerge. No one is in any doubt this time. The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear that there will be consequences for TEC in its relationship with the Communion and there will be consequences within the Communion.

I read this morning an interview in the Baltimore Sun with Canon Glasspool which includes a short video.http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/anne-arundel/bs-md-glasspool-bishop-consecration-20100507,0,730992.story.
A number of points were raised which invite comment.  The first is very indicative of our present mood.  Is Canon Glasspool a nice person? It seems she is, but what on earth does her niceness have to do with anything?  One would hope that any cleric, yes, even a bishop-elect might be nice. But niceness isn’t a qualification for ordination.

It is said that she is a good priest and that quality, at least to the newspaper is demonstrated by the fact that she pastored an elderly couple who then died and left her parish $3000,000.  I am genuinely delighted that she is a good priest. Yet the crisis facing the communion has nothing at all to do with her personal traits or her pastoral ability.

In the interview Canon Glasspool made a couple of points which bothered me. She stated that there is no such thing as the Anglican Church: there is merely the Anglican Communion. Her present bishop muttered something about the Communion being a federation of churches.

I would love to sit them both down with the Archbishop of Canterbury for a chat about ecclesiology.  Indeed I would like to hear some explanation about why a Communion is not a Church and why a Church cannot be a Communion. There was also some mention that the Episcopal Church is growing in its self-understanding, as if it were a patient undergoing therapy.

Setting aside the very impoverished doctrine of the church here presented, it is well to remind us that the basic problem with today’s ceremony has not a thing to do with anything I have written above.

The Anglican Communion through its “elder brother”, the Archbishop of Canterbury,  asked the Episcopal Church not to proceed with anymore consecrations of same-gendered  partnered people. The leadership of the Episcopal Church agreed, then prevaricated, then agreed again and then decided to ignore everything that had been said. TEC may cling to the hope that the support it gets from Canada, perhaps New Zealand, Brazil, perhaps Mexico and some parts of its own mini-Communion, and from individuals in Western churches may prove strong enough to deter anything more than a vague wrist slap.  We shall see.  But it is not difficult to predict that if TEC gets away with it yet again, the consequences for the unity of the whole Communion will be dire.


In a recent talk at Pusey House, Oxford.  to a group of Anglo Catholics considering the Pope’s invitation to form Anglican Ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church. Professor Eamon Duffy sought to question the claim that the English Church after the Reformation was the Catholic Church Reformed.http://www.theanglocatholic.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Anglicanorum-Coetibus-24042010-10-Professor-Eamon-Duffy-Talk.mp3

Among other arguments he suggested that only the influence of Queen Elizabeth I prevented the leadership of the Church embracing a thoroughly Reformed Protestant religion.  In passing he did give a role to the Elizabethan Prayer Book. He ascribed the appearance of a Catholic tradition to the 17th. Century High Church party, a group of young activists, Dr Duffy remarked, much like John Milbank and company in the contemporary theological scene.

Mercifully Dr. Duffy didn’t resurrect the Nag’s Head theory, doubts about Bishop Barlow’s consecration or the matter of “intent” in preserving the Apostolic Ministry. What he seemed to press was a gap theory, a gap in continuity fatal to Anglicanism’s claims to be truly Catholic.

I hasten to say that I agree with Dr Duffy’s assessment that much history produced to stress Anglicanism’s continuity with the Medieval Church has been wildly fanciful.  I would even agree with him that the Church of England was pretty assured in its anti-Romanism in the 16th Century and felt kinship with the Continental Reformed churches, a kinship which they did little about. Certainly the works of Bullinger and his cohorts, the use of the Geneva Bible all had their influence. Having said that, I doubt very much Dr. Duffy’s claim that there was no difference between the sectaries or proto-puritans and mainstream “Anglicans” in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I except that CofE folk obeyed the Queen.

What I believe Roman Catholics miss, or dismiss, is another form of continuity, that of place and sacrament.  By place I not only refer to the continuity of the parish system which embraced the entire population, nor  solely the Provincial, Diocesan and Parochial systems, and a succession of Bishops in See, but the daily round of Common Prayer, Sacrament, and the “churching” of the most important features of family and community living. This second strand flows into what I term sacrament, perhaps not entirely in its precise usage, although that too, but in the continued setting apart, making holy and offering of life and living.  And this continuity remained offered to all. It did not follow in practice, whatever the popular theological emphasis of the moment, the sectarian ideal of a gathered community of true believers to whom alone the sacred is offered.

I would also note that this continuity provided the fertile ground from which in a fairly short period of time, a more robust “Catholic” appreciation of the English Church grew, a growth which, in part, brought it into a mortal struggle with Puritanism.

I believe this to be a more realistic approach to the matter of the meaning of Catholic continuity. The emphasis is placed not on a type of theology in vogue at a given moment, nor even on the toxic effect of moments of theological novelty at given moments in the history of the Church, but rather on fidelity to doing that which our Lord commanded.  I would identify such fidelity in a continuity of worship, including Trinitarian baptism, the Eucharist with the intention of “doing this for a remembrance (recapitulation) of me”,  reading, marking and hearing Holy Scripture, within Apostolic Order and pastoral and missional practice.

I would place a much lighter burden on the Church getting its theology right about these things at a given moment. It was no mere attempt to score points against Roman Catholics which impelled Elizabethan Anglican Divines to search the Fathers to “prove” that contemporary 16th. Century Roman theology did not always square with Early Church theology. And even when the Fathers were used to score points, much as in modern times biblical texts are hurled to attack this or that position, the side effect was that an appeal to the Fathers remained respectable, the study of Patristics encouraged, so that when the writings of earlier Fathers gained a rehabilitation at the beginning of the 17th. Century it did not seem revolutionary or anti-biblical for the High Church party to use Patristics to affirm the continuity of Anglicanism.

The time frame is important.  A scarce forty years elapsed between the Anglican restoration under Elizabeth and the beginning of what would perhaps misleadingly be termed the “Caroline Divines”. And if God used a monarch and a Liturgy as means of continuity, so what?

Now I write this piece not primarily to enter the lists against Professor Duffy or engage in comment about Anglican Ordinariates, but rather to draw some sort of a parallel between what happened then and what is happening now, and to suggest that all this has something to say to those of us who remain within TEC.  Now it will not come as any great surprise to my readers that I think contemporary TEC is getting its theology wrong, not only about sex, but about salvation, not only about the necessity of baptism but about the ontological nature of ordained ministry. Why then stay in?  I am old enough to retire and join those who leave. So it is not a matter of pension and benefits!  I stay in, as many parsons must have done who were ordained in Henrician times, because the minimum tools for ministry remain to exercise parish ministry within the “Catholic” context.To make myself clear, I am not writing about “bells and smells” and the Angelus. I am affirming my belief that tactile continuity remains, a touching not only by episcopal hands, but in Word, Sacrament and pastoral care.  It is dreadfully hard for some priests and laity to function in a minimalist setting. It must have been hard for the parson in Elizabethan days surrounded by avid followers of Calvin, to whom Perkins, Travers and Cartwright were godly men and Hooker an oddity. But the Parson stayed, “read prayers and preached”, baptized, married and buried, and prayed with the sick and dying:  faithfulness in the worst of times is a virtue.

Yet God honors those who preserve the minimal necessities for Catholic mission, not always in their generations but in the next, where things thought dead burst into Holy Flame and God’s promises to be with and in the Church are seen to be true.