Saturday, 10 November 2012

A New Archbishop

So the new Archbishop of Canterbury has been chosen. The Prince Bishop of Durham lays aside his 'prince bishopric' and takes his place on the Cathedra of Augstine as the 105th Archbishop. One cannot help feeling he's going to need the prayers of all Anglicans to sustain him in this ministry. Ever since Augustine arrived in 573 AD and set about 'converting' the English to Rome's version of Christianity, the incumbent has walked something of a tightrope between the secular and the divine. One of his predecessors, Thomas Beckett, is the only English Bishop to have been murdered in his own cathedral, but others have been deposed at the behest of their sovereigns and one, the architect of the Book of Common Prayer, burned at the stake for 'heresy' when he refused to recant and return to 'obedience' to Rome.

++Justin Welby follows some truly remarkable men including St Dunstan, the Abbot of Galstonbury who reformed English monsaticism, Anselm, builder of the cathedral at Canterbury we know today (another Abbot translated to the Bishopric) and many, many more.  Many of his pre-Norman predecessors and a number of the post-Norman incumbents earned elevation to 'sainthood.'Some of the post Reformation Archbishops have left an indelible mark as well. No item on the post would be complete without mention of ++Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake by Mary I and Phillip II (of Spain) and author of much of the content of the Book of Common Prayer.  ++William Laud, who restored some of the dignity of the liturgy after the worst excesses of the Protestant Reformers had turned loose the iconoclast movement and their successors who have succeeded, in the main, in keeping the spirit of the gospel alive despite the vagiaries of political fashion in each and every generation.

The post is an unenviable one. The Archbishop is Primate of All England and 'Primus inter pares' or 'first among equals' in all the Anglican Communion worldwide. The key differece between the role of Canterbury and the Popes is that Canterbury cannot, as Rome does, remove another bishop or archbishop from his post. He cannot issue a 'Bull' directing another bishop to do something or cease do something and he must work within the synodical structures of the Church of England. It can be frustrating sometimes to see some ignorant media hack tearing into the Archbishop for 'failing to direct' or 'failing to lead' when they have failed to understand the democratic nature of the syndos the Archbishop must - by law - work within. Even the General Synod is 'democratic' and though it is composed of three 'houses' it can only make a change, for example on whether or not to consecrate women as bishops, if a majority in all three 'houses' agree. To draw a parallel with Rome, the debate would not be aired in public in Rome, it would not be subject to a ballot involving the laity. The discussion would take place behind closed doors, a decision would be made in secret and then simply announced 'ex cathedra.' Since the reign of Elizabeth I that has not been permitted in Anglicanism.

Something else which is often overlooked by detractors of the Anglican church is that 36 of 44 Bishops in post at the time of Henry VIII's split with Rome saw an opportunity to refrm the abuses then pertaining and went along with the King. It got a bit out of hand under Edward VI and nearly came apart completely under Mary I (Bloody Mary) and her Spanish husband Phillip II (of Spain). Elizabeth I picked up the pieces and laid the foundations for the Church as we now know it, again with the support of a number of 'catholic' bishops fed up with Rome and its, at that time, claims of secular as well as temporal authority. The Cromwellian Presbyterians did their utmost to destroy all trace of Ordination and Consecration of bishops, but their star soon waned and the Synods prevailed. Once the English began colonising, they took their brand of 'reformed catholic' Anglicanism with them, but one of the great strengths - and its weakness - is that Anglicanism still holds within it both the 'ultra catholic' and the 'protestant' adherents. It is this tension which ensures that the church is constantly having to decide how it responds to different stimulii in every age.

Even with the title 'Primate of All England' the Archbishop of Canterbury has no real 'authority' in the Province of York. That is the See of the Archbishop of York, Anglicanism's Number 2 in the ranks of Archbishops.

As if the 'spiritual' complications aren't enough, you have then to take into account the influence of the State. Technically the Sovereign is the Supreme Governor, but in effect the 'authority' is exercised today by Parliament and the Prime Minister.  This was the root of the disagreement between Rome and Henry VIII (the divorce the king wanted played a part as well) as the Pope claimed that no secular authority caould impose their law on any member of the Church in Orders. So anyone who was a monk, nun, sub-deacon, deacon, priest or bishop was automatically outside the control of the king. It went further, since if you were a 'Lay Brother,' an 'acolyte' or a 'clerk in orders' you could also escape the long arm of the law.  The Popes also reserved the right to intevene directly in the ruling of a country and even set themselves up as a 'court of last appeal' in matters of secular justice - all for a fee, of course.

Wherever it is found Anglicanism has taken on a 'local' flavour while preserving the core ideals of the reformers who took the Church of England away from Rome's imperial pretensions. In the process they reached back into the Early Church practices and history and tried to find a model that took them closer to the worship of the first Christians. It is this legacy that the new Archbishop must accept, and move forward into an age with possibly more challenges than ever before. He won't be burned at the stake by any modern "prince," but he will be crucified by a sensationalist driven media, criticised by politicians who take their Oath of Office with their fingers crossed behind their backs and pilloried by various pressure groups demanding adaptation and change to core beliefs and principles.

As I said at the outset, the new Archbishop will need the prayers of everyone who believes in the message of the Gospels. We will certainly disagree with some things he brings in, but we must remember that any changes he does preside over will have been debated and studied at great length in public by the General Synod, the Diocesan Synods and Deanery Synods of the Church. They will have been voted on, argued over and finally left to the Bishops, clergy and people in the parishes to implement as they see fit. That is Anglicanism.

I pray that ++Justin Cantuar will be filled with the Holy Spirit and given the full support of the people he leads in all of the Anglican Communion.    

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