But the Roman church came through this crisis, not least because it re-asserted its unity around a single pope by choosing to fall in behind one and only one pope from 1417. The way was paved for the development of doctrine both as a system (building on Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274) and as a way of life (following the notable example of Francis, 1182-1226) in a coherent, elegant catechetical edifice. Fast forward through the debacle of papal ambition for an edifice of a different kind - sparking the Reformation (ameliorated from a Roman perspective by the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation) - and you get to Louise Mensch's sympathetic endorsement of the edifice and its sharp edge re her own situation as a divorced and remarried woman (mentioned in my previous post).
Arguably, when I pronounced, possibly prematurely, the death of the Anglican Communion, a few posts ago, I should have talked instead about this being the worst period in the history of the Anglican Communion. We do not quite have Three Popes but we do have Three Anglican Fellowships, each (effectively) competing for the role of 'pope' as in a unifying force for global Anglicanism:
- the Anglican Communion itself (but we cannot get all 38 churches to meet together in the same place at the same time for the one eucharistic service);
- GAFCON (roughly, the most conservative Anglicans of the Communion, as well as ACNA); and
- Global South (roughly, Anglicans from across Communion provinces in Africa, Asia, and two Oceania provinces, with warm welcome to observers from Australasia and North America, including ACNA, and recently offering oversight to the no-longer-with-TEC Diocese of South Carolina).
What might happen when we come out of this worst period?
It is too early to tell. But it is not rocket science to suggest that what will come out is something which affirms the distinctiveness of Anglicanism as a way of being Christian which is not confused with other ways of being Christian. Part of what is going on at the present time is a sifting out of the Anglicans who were so Roman they now literally belong to Rome and ditto of those who were so Genevan that they now no longer belong to Canterbury.
Perhaps harder to see, but I think the signs are there via aging, greying congregations in the West, is the sifting out of liberal theology from Anglicanism. The folly, for instance, of liberal celebration of extreme diversity, has been exposed by the divisions which are fracturing the Communion. The future of global Anglicanism lies with the celebration of diversity-in-unity through theology which binds us together rather than drives us apart.
The combination of unifying theology and distinctive theology is going to take us back to the key insights of the Reformers as they eschewed Presbyterianism, Puritanism and Papacy.
But what structural form this resurgent global Anglicanism will take is not yet determined (in my view). However, in a further clue from the days of the Reformation and of the subsequent Elizabethan Settlement, it is likely to be a form which wins wide popularity, a form to which people happily subscribe.
There are two forms of Anglican fellowship which I do not think will win popular, global subscription. On these I will