Heads Up and Spoiler Alert: there are two very Anglican-geeky questions at the foot of this post!
So, I was toying with the idea of a further report from the still-enthralling Fatal Discord reported on in the post below. It remains a wonderful read, not only because of good writing style, but also because the writer has a great grasp of Reformation history centred on Luther and Erasmus.
Luther comes across as a hero - an absolute hero in human terms because he is relentlessly courageous, abundantly insightful, and a rockstar of a man in social and political terms as well as theologically and spiritually. Single handedly, through pamphlets and his translation of the NT into German, Luther forges Germans of several principalities and powers into a nation, defying great world leaders of his day as he does so.
Erasmus is a great intellectual who accidentally falls into a trap. Every age cries out for a synthetic leader, a person who can forge a unifying centrist position which gives voice to the common ground among people and across communities and nations. Erasmus was that person in many ways and in many centuries he would readily be the super-outstanding figure of his day.
But events over took him. Pioneering a willingness to re-look at Scripture (by questioning the supremacy of the Vulgate, bringing the Greek NT into publication) and unafraid initially to voice searing and deserved criticism of the Roman church, Erasmus offered fast burning fuel to Luther's fire as he began to recognise, with Erasmus' assistance, that the penitential aspirations (and corruptions) of the early 16th century Roman church were contrary to Scripture.
When that Lutheran bonfire of Roman vanities started to scorch more than the obvious corruptions of the day (e.g. creating political turmoil not only across Europe but also spreading into Britain; moving beyond reformation of the Mass and other sacraments to throwing them out altogether), Erasmus found himself in that agonising centrist position in which both sides of the conflagration turn on the centrist.
Loyal to the Roman church (and somewhat financially dependent on both papal beneficence and royal patronage from kings and princes loyal to Rome), he was hugely pressed to put his sharp pen and intellectual prowess to deprecating Luther. Sharing many sympathies with Luther's criticisms and standing firm on his own theological insights which underpinned them, he was reluctant to savage Luther in print. Moreover, accidentally becalmed in Basel for many years - a hotbed of increasingly radical Reformation zeal - he was conscious that public criticism of Luther on behalf of distant Rome risked local wrath falling on him.
Luther was willing to be martyred. Erasmus made it clear in writing that he himself was not willing!
So much for history: the reflections for our current situation are easy to come by. No doubt for another post, but I have been thinking about such things as what it means to be faithful to Scripture. Erasmus was but Luther challenged him to go (so to speak) deeper. Luther was but Muntzer and Karlstadt challenged him to go (so to speak) deeper. Who was right? In a divided Anglican world today on faithfulness to Scripture, who is right? There are definitely Erasmian, Lutheran and Karlstadtian figures in our 21st century midst! Who is to judge?
Erasmus was right on many counts, not least on the importance of working for peace, not war. Luther was right in all sorts of ways, but also clearly wrong, not only about Jews, but also about relationship between state and church (at least as measured by the ability of the future German church to tolerate the rise of Nazism). Moreover, few today, if any would go the distance on something he wrote which I had not previously known: that a wife with an impotent husband should take another husband! Karlstadt and his radical colleagues were right to push hard on the full meaning of a renewed knowledge of Scripture being applied to all aspects of society which were unjust. But, arguably, they turned the gospel of grace into a new tome of laws and replaced the Pope in Rome with the pope in the local pulpit.
All in all, Luther spurred a mighty chaos in the church in Western Europe, so that it was very difficult to work out in many cities and towns who exactly was in charge of ecclesiastical life.
We are not quite as chaotic today but today's news alerts us to a little bit of global Anglican chaos. According to conservative news site Anglican Ink, the Anglican Church of Nigeria has appointed four new bishops for work in North America without consultation with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).
That is, despite much ado about GAFCON (which includes Nigeria and ACNA) being the true beating fellowship heart of global Anglicanism, when it suits Nigeria to not respect its communion with ACNA, it is happy to do so. Which, of course, is not communion. It is not good Anglican communion practice to unilaterally make cross-border episcopal incursions into the territory of another Anglican province. Such bad practice has, of course, been justified through recent decades by assertion of a judgement that the incursion into an Anglican province with bad something (theology, practice, both). Is there something wrong with ACNA?
Is GAFCON fragmenting?
We will see.
But here are a couple of questions for Anglicana geeks:
(1) If, perchance, ++Welby were to invite ACNA bishops to Lambeth 2020, should he also invite the four new Nigerian bishops for North America?
(2) If, perchance, for the next GAFCON Conference, the four non-ACNA bishops for North America were invited, should ACNA consider not attending?