Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Church of England

Charles, King & Martyr

January 30th is the feast day of Charles, King & Martyr for many within the Church of England, as well as some around the Anglican Communion, including the members of the Society of King Charles the Martyr.   This is a particularly interesting and ambivalence-inspiring observance for Americans, given our own elevation of democracy to divine status. It is for this reason, of course, despite regular attempts, that Charles Stuart has never been on the official calendar of the Episcopal Church.

The long and short of it is that Charles I was a poor politician, and an ineffective ruler who is, by today’s standards, seen as despotic (though, of course, no more than many current petty dictators with whom we are happily allied!).  All the same, he was a sight better than the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell (though the importance of Cromwell’s readmittance of the Jews to England shouldn’t be overlooked), and seems to have been a decent human being who was committed to his principles and his faith.  Because of this, it did not take the people of England very long to look with fondness upon the days of Stuart rule, as opposed to the equally oppressive (and much more stodgy) rule of the puritans.

I think the best summary of this that I’ve read is in JRH Moorman’s A History of the Church in England:

On January 30, 1649, the king was beheaded on a scaffold outside the banqueting-house in Whitehall.

When the bleeding head was held up, the cry of horror from the crowd drowned the derisive shouts of the soldiers.  During the trial and at the hour of death Charles had behaved with a quiet courage and dignity which had won many to his side, even among those who had been ready to take up arms against him seven years before.  Royal despotism was a bad thing, but military despotism was worse.  English people dislike the sight of blood; and the execution of a king sent a thrill of horror and detestation through the country which has never been forgotten.  It has been described as ‘a crime against England even more than against Charles’.  But not only did it outrage the deepest feelings of the country, it also alienated many who might have been Cromwell’s supporters, and thus made a restoration of monarchy and Church inevitable in due course.  The regicides little realized that in cutting off Charles’s head they were cutting their own throats.

From 1662 to 1859 the execution of King Charles was commemorated in the calendar of the Prayer Book and special services were held each year on January 30.  Charles thus came as near to canonization as it is possible to be in the Church of England.  he stood as a symbol of the patient sufferer who lays down his life for his creed and for his Church.  He was certainly a good man and devout.  He had great courage and firm convictions.  In his own way he was convinced that he was doing what was right.  His father had taught him that the Divine Right of Kings was part of the will of God, and he had upheld this doctrine even unto death.  Such devotion to duty, such readiness to die rather than surrender his belief, is worthy of honour.  But his faith in Divine Right made him exasperating to others, especially his enemies.  His duplicity and irresponsibility, to which, in his own mind, he was perfectly entitled, to others appeared as sheer dishonesty.  To Cromwell there could be no peace for England so long as Charles Stuart was there to disturb it; hence the desperate remedy of a royal execution.  So Charles died; but with his death the fate of Puritanism was sealed and the Church’s future ensured. (Moorman, p. 240-241)

Further Reading:

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Bravo to the C of E: The Church of England speaks out against assisted suicide

The Church of England has put of a web site to explain their opposition to assisted suicide.  Here’s a pit of the intro:

Protecting Life – opposing Assisted Suicide
Produced by Mission and Public Affairs, in association with the Communications Office

The Church of England is opposed to any change in the law, or medical practice, to make assisted suicide permissible or acceptable.

Suffering, the Church maintains, must be met with compassion, commitment to high-quality services and effective medication; meeting it by assisted suicide is merely removing it in the crudest way possible.

In its March 2009 paper Assisted Dying/Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia, the Church acknowledges the complexity of the issues: the compassion that motivates those who seek change equally motivates the Church’s opposition to change.

Principles behind this position

  • Personal autonomy and the protection of life are both important principles that are often complementary but sometimes compete.
  • Personal autonomy must be principled and not without regard to others.
  • Protection of life should take priority when there is a conflict between the two.
  • When protection of life is impossible that does not undermine these principles.
  • Every human being is uniquely and equally valuable, hence human rights are built on the foundation of the ‘right to life’, as is much of the criminal code.
  • An obligation on society, doctors and nurses, to take life or to assist in the taking of life would create a new and unwelcome role for society.

{Read it all}

Rowan's Rule

Archbishop Williams

Archbishop Williams

Since taking office, Archbishop Rowan Williams has been faced with near constant criticism from every direction.  For liberals he seemed a traitor to their cause, while conservatives viewed him with suspicion or down-right disdain.  Not much has changed in this, though in a best case scenerio his leadership could be seen as providing space for the formation of a moderate coalition within world-wide Anglicanism which has a chance of making it through the current conflicts and affirming the Anglican Covenant while shedding the folks on the extremes of left and right.  While many have hammered Williams for not leading at all, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is, in fact, leading and leading in a manner that is consistent with his theology–not an easy thing for anyone to do, let alone an Archbishop in an established Church and head of a conflicted Communion. What is clear is that Archbishop Williams has inhabited Lambeth Palace in a time of definite change, challenge and transition.  It has been a period of setting course into the future, even if the destination will remain murky for years to come.

In his new book, Rowan’s Rule Rupert Shortt begins the long process of reflecting upon Williams’ tenure on the Throne of St. Augustine and while this process will certainly continue, and perhaps won’t begin in earnest until his retirement, Schortt lays a solid foundation to build upon.  Jordan Hylden of First Things provides the following insightful review, stating that while there ha been a tendency among the less well-versed on both the left and right to consider Williams a run of the mill theological liberal,:

In fact, Williams is best viewed as part of the rebellion against the rebellion of the 1970s, working alongside his colleagues Oliver O’Donovan and N.T. Wright to bring the Church of England away from the arid liberalism of Honest to God and Don Cupitt and back to its roots in Word and sacrament, prayer and worship, tradition and Nicene-Chalcedonian orthodoxy. While many of his professors busied themselves with demythologizing the gospels and re-presenting Christian doctrine as anthropology, Williams insisted that Christianity at its core is answerable to God’s initiative, and most particularly so in the unique revelation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Very much against the grain of British academic theology of the day, Williams’ first book, The Wound of Knowledge, showed through relating the history of Christian spirituality that “the theologian,” as the fourth-century monk Evagrius said, “is the one who prays”—which is to say that theology must always grow out of the encounter in worship and prayer with the surprising and extra nos Word of Christ, rather than taking its agenda from modernity. And in his second book, Resurrection, Williams showed that the church’s message of forgiveness and new life rests entirely on its real encounter with the risen Christ, who unexpectedly returned to his disciples from beyond the grave.

Likewise, although critics have pointed justly to a certain degree of fuzziness on the sources of authority (Scripture, but not quite? Or the church’s tradition and language, but what parts from which church?), Williams has always been forthright that the church’s authority is God in Christ, who speaks through Scripture, sacrament, and our ongoing reception of the same.

Arguably, it is just here where Williams parts company most with theological liberals—he insists that the first task of theology is to listen to God’s revealed and redeeming voice, and he truly has sought to hear this voice in Scripture and tradition. By thus placing Williams in his proper theological context, Shortt has performed a genuine service to those who would prematurely write off Williams as just another Anglican liberal. While Williams does not always line up with traditional positions, Shortt shows that it is simply misleading to view him as of a piece with the standard liberalism represented by Gene Robinson and Katherine Jefferts Schori.

All that is not to say, of course, that Williams is beyond criticism. Shortt certainly does not regard him as such, and points in particular to Williams’ views on politics and economics. One friend of Rowan’s, according to Shortt, averred that Williams’ politics “have always come out of a different and less sophisticated part of him.” The chief trouble, as Shortt sees it, is that Williams has not shown himself to possess a particularly subtle voice on the right use of state power, or a very helpful understanding of the genuine benefits of free-market economics for the welfare of the world’s poor. More often than not, Williams is prone to broad condemnations of war and globalization.

Shortt also notes, however, that Williams has elsewhere been quite critical of the “childishness” of utopian politics, which wrongly supposes that hard choices do not have to be made about the distribution of scarce goods, and that peace will simply break out when social constraints are removed. The puzzle, for Shortt and many other observers, is why Williams has not followed through on his own best insights.

Williams has also been criticized for lack of emphasis on the central truths of the Christian faith, and for pointing too much to how the gospel unsettles our judgment and not enough to the blessed assurance given to the saints. Shortt quotes Eamon Duffy, who argues that Rowan’s version of the Christian tradition at times “can seem like a never-endingly argumentative seminar, constant upheaval without any point of rest or leverage.” The judgment is, to a certain extent, sound. Particularly before his enthronement as archbishop, Williams’ work gave great weight to the apophatic moment in theology—to the need for our words about God to be open to judgment and the possibility of saying more.

But in his new role as the most visible Christian bishop in a very secular and uncomprehending England, Williams appears to have taken this criticism to heart. As Shortt points out, his recent book Tokens of Trust is a clear and winsome introduction to the basics of Christian faith; his short guide to the desert fathers, Where God Happens, was very well received; and his most recent book on Dostoyevsky’s fiction is (viewed from one angle) a profound apologetic for the Christian faith in response to the shallow and naively optimistic atheism of Richard Dawkins. Williams the archbishop, it appears, is not the same man as Williams the professor.

This has also shown itself to be true in Rowan’s conduct during the ongoing Anglican struggles about homosexuality. It is well known that as a professor Williams had been quite forthright in his support of same-sex relations, but he changed his tune after becoming archbishop. Many liberals have seen this as Williams’ great betrayal of their cause, charging him with giving in to conservative bullies or of sacrificing truth and justice for unity. Shortt, for his part, makes it clear that he believes Williams ought to have taken a firmer line on the advancement of same-sex unions. But all the same, he does step back and allow Williams to make his defense.

As a bishop, Williams believes that it is his responsibility to teach what the church teaches. “The bishop,” Rowan argues, “does not make decisions, doctrinal or disciplinary, alone: The church decides, and the bishop’s unique role is to guarantee all that the church decides.”

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Rowan's Rule

More Rowan Williams Books:
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Out of Africa: A Kenyan missionary sets his sights on Manchester

Six years ago, when Cyprian Yobera moved into Clevedon Street, one of the five, this enclave in the north-east of the city had seemingly been forgotten by everyone but the dealers, the prostitutes and local gangs. The council’s preferred solution was to knock it down. “About 50 per cent of the houses were boarded-up and covered with graffiti,” recalls Yobera, who comes from Nairobi in Kenya. “There was rubbish behind the unused houses, young people making them into dens, drugs being done, needles left lying around and petty crime was thriving.”

An odd place, then, to relocate your family from halfway across the world. But 43-year-old Yobera, his teacher wife Jayne and their two small daughters did not arrive by accident in an area designated in 2004 by a government survey as the most deprived in England in terms of income, unemployment, health, education, housing and crime. They believe they were called there by God.

Yobera is an Anglican priest and came to Harpurhey as part of a revolutionary project organised by the Church Mission Society. Once, dog-collared missionaries set out from Europe to convert the “heathens” of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Today, the traffic is no longer one-way: Africa is sending men such as Yobera back to minister to “heathen” Britain.

“Kenya has material poverty,” Yobera tells me, “but we saw poverty here in a new way – a spiritual poverty. All sense of community was missing. Our minds were blown by that. Missionary work in Kenya is easy. You stand on a street with a guitar and a crowd will come. People there are very sympathetic to the gospel message. Here, even the basic Bible stories are absent. People only know Jesus as a swear word.

Out of Africa: A Kenyan missionary sets his sights on Manchester – Features, The New Review – The Independent

Alan Jacobs | more than 95 theses – Archbishop Rowan

Alan Jacobs is a professor of English at Wheaton College and I often read his contributions to The American Scene and Touchstone.  He attends an Anglican Mission in America Congregation.  I would like to share some of his recent reflections on Archbishop Rowan Williams with you:

Yet I must say that, like many Anglican traditionalists, I have often been frustrated with Rowan in his role as Archbishop. Primarily it is his apparent passivity that has frustrated me: I have wanted him to take action, to do things, to shape events for the cause of orthodoxy, but he has persistently refused to intervene in the life of the Communion, and to some extent in his own Church of England, in clear and overt ways — in political ways. I and many others have wanted him to be a leader and this above all seems what he has refused to be.

But in these past few days I have been wondering whether there might be a method in Rowan’s madness — or rather in God’s. Might it be possible that while Rowan is most certainly not the kind of leader we want, he is precisely the kind we need? That his leadership is not that of a Churchill but rather a Desert Father? We want decision, action, clearly set plans; Rowan offers prayer, meditation, stillness, silence. He models those disciplines for us, and in so doing (silently) commends them.

What if that is what we Anglicans actually need?

{Read it all}


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