Monday, October 14, 2019

John Henry Newman and the shape of Down Under Anglicanism in the 21st century (Possibly part 1 of several)

We'll get to JH Newman in a paragraph or two but first a note on a few perambulations recently.

The weekend before the one just past we were in Hokitika for a prayer mission. It was very cool to arrive (a first day after the first events had taken place) to enter into All Saints church to find this:

Yes, pews removed to a corner of the building, fairy lights added, and worship band in the centre of the gathering. We had a lovely weekend, praying for Hokitika and South Westland, singing the Lord's songs, aided by a dynamic group of younger and older adults who had travelled from the other side of the Southern Alps. Very encouraging.

Then this weekend just past. A quick trip to Wellington on Saturday to join the last event in that Diocese's Ministry Conference, shared with NZCMS and the Anglican Mission Board: the ordination of Rosie Fyfe, new National Director of NZCMS, to the diaconate. Many young adult ministry leaders were present, representing the journey in renewal that Diocese is experiencing.

Yesterday, a service at St John's Woolston, celebrating their 162nd year as a parish with acknowledgement that it is nearly one year since a significant disaffiliation from that parish took place. A small group of dedicated lay leaders have worked hard with clergy leaders to continue the life of this parish. It was a joy yesterday to see new people in the congregation - signs of hope.

I enjoy very much these signs of hope, and they may or may not in the future be recognised as a turning point against the tide of secularization (per last week's post). But whatever they betoken against the larger narrative of declining allegiance to Christianity, they remind us that there are things of value within our parishes here Down Under.

Thus the shape of Anglicanism Down Under is developing, pressed by tectonic forces into new shapes and sizes. Always raising, I suggest, the question, What does it mean to be an Anglican Christian?

That question sits with other news from this weekend, news of the canonization of John Henry Newman.

I am not much of a man for canonizations and what have you - mark me down as Protestantly Protestant on that score. But whatever you or I think about such a canonization, it does reflect the simple fact that many people around the globe to this day admire, revere and respect the Catholic prelate and theologian who was once an Anglican priest, not least because his ideas about many theological matters through to "the idea of a university" remain extraordinarily influential.

A couple of articles I have come across in the past 24 hours underscore the mana of the man: here and here.

Clearly, in the end, being an Anglican Christian was not a situation Newman valued. He disaffiliated from us!

By implication the many friends and colleagues who did not cross the Tiber with Newman thought he was wrong; as do we today who keep our swimming togs in our lockers.

But what is right about remaining Anglican? I think I might explore that for a bit in succeeding weeks.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, Good to hear of your experiences around the diocese where there are still signs of life - despite recent disaffiliations.

You spoke also, briefly, about another historical disaffiliation from Anglicanism - the departure of Father (Cardinal) John Henry Newman for the banks of the Tiber; which he has helped to shore up with his eirenic and most helpful understanding of the primacy of the human conscience. He, perhaps above all Catholic theologians, was able to enunciate what, in its time was perhaps a revolutionary Catholic theory: that God created us in the Divine Image and Likeness, but with an individual capability of either accepting or rejecting the idea of God's place in our lives.

Cambridge theologian, Dr Michael D Hurley, had this to say about Newman:

"Where cleverness and learning is valued above all else, intuitions of the heart may be too easily held in contempt. A good thing too, some might say, given the emotionally overheated way in which our political and cultural moment is currently being fought out. But in Grammar of Assent Newman challenges us to consider more carefully why we believe what we do, and in particular what positive and indeed necessary relationship there might be between feeling and thinking."

Newman made the famous point that he would first make a toast to the individual conscience, before toasting the Pope. (perhaps this was the residual Anglican in Newman that still asserted itself).

However, we Anglicans aren't always so scrupulous about the defence of private conscience - against the issue of dogmatic certainty, something we can often accuse our Roman brethren of too closely guarding.

As a self-confess anglo-catholic, part of my affection for Newman comes from his defence of the sacramental validity and vitality of those spiritual benefits that were given to us by Christ. Another sphere of his beneficent influence on me is his down to earth understanding of feelings, as an important function of the human condition. One of his own manifestations of 'feeling' was his love for his confrere, Father John, with whom (at his documented express instruction) his human remains were interred in a common grave. Sadly, his deeply-felt desire for this proximity has now been overridden by Vatican protocol - a situation which, ironically, he himself might not have approved of.

Anonymous said...

"What does it mean to be an Anglican Christian?... But what is right about remaining Anglican?"

From the very beginning, Peter, the reformation of the Body in England was blessed in three exceptional ways that still concretely matter to the lives in Christ of his disciples today.

The CoE has a Reformation doctrine that has freed the believer from the trap of trying to make justification etc happen from the human side. That is immediately and enormously helpful to souls, whether their practice owes more to medieval English contemplatives, Protestant missionary spirituality, or Tridentine forms of religious life. Also, perhaps because Cranmer got his justification doctrine (and his wife) from Osiander (cf Wurtemburg Confession), the 10A of the 39A do not ensnare Anglicans in the confessionalist trap of needing to assent to a diagram (eg Beza's) of the machinery behind that justification. Lutheran faith is trust, and Osiander's trust amounts to theosis.

Perhaps that explains why the CoE also has a BCP from Cranmer that orders the sacramental and devotional life of Christians around participation in Christ and incorporation into his mystical Body. Unlike most other Protestants, Anglicans have not had to adopt an arid individualism or an unreal intellectualism in order to trust God with their justification, sanctification, and vocation. Paradoxically, this richer ecclesiality has supported a warm personalism, a close acquaintance with Christ in the psalms, and a freedom to love God with the mind. Where other sorts of Protestants (eg William Ames) sometimes harbour paralysing doubts about the Spirit's indwelling of souls and congregations, the Anglican style (eg Richard Sibbes) normally and quite properly assumes it.

Finally, that richer ecclesiality allowed Cranmer and the CoE after him to take a paleo-orthodox stance toward ancient tradition: the Vine need not be uprooted for its dead leaves to be pruned. That allowed Cranmer himself and others of successive generations-- Andrewes, Parker, Law, Wesley, Keble, Newman, Maurice, Temple, Williams, etc-- to listen to the fathers as well as the apostles. These voices have been silent to those who assume that a deep chasm yawns between the apostles and the fathers. Moreover this confidence in the continuity of the Spirit's witness to all generations has enabled Anglicans to rely on the holy scriptures in matters of salvation without needing to further believe that it must be a magic book or a perfect book to be God's book. The Spirit's witness graces the Communion with an organic order arising from word of the Lord and the ancient canons without need of modern machinery. And it has opened our eyes to the Spirit's presence among the faithful of other traditions, making the Anglican orthodoxy a generous one and ecumenical engagement a perennial mission.

Anonymous said...

Those are the three blessings. The Holy Spirit has not altogether denied these gifts to those of other traditions. Occasionally, one of them has had a bit more of one or the other of them. Nor were these given just once as reformation miracles never to be seen again. Not being confessionalists, Anglicans continue to deepen the well of living water and to pull fresh buckets from it. Finally, Anglicans have stumbled in the modern centuries (ie hypersynodicalism, Reformed confessionalism) just as other communions have done (ie papal infallibility, fundamentalism). But others have more often had to backtrack toward the resurrection faith from impasses of their own making. Sometimes it has been the blessings mentioned above that have shown them where they went astray.

The irony of Newman's conversion-- visible in our time, although not in his-- is that the dream of a modern yet patristic catholicism that he defended and that, over the following century, Rome adopted is so very obviously an Anglican one. It is hard now to remember that in his time and for a while thereafter Anglicans fought over candles and incense as we fight over sex, but that puts his swimming of the Tiber in historical perspective. Newman brought these gifts to the wider communion where the need of them was greater. His canonisation in Rome occasions celebration that they were received, not just there, but in the Body everywhere.


Father Ron said...

B.W., a lovely summarisation of Saint John Hemny Newman's genius for ALL Christian's

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman,
Thank you ... and a nice point to begin my next post on Monday!