Sunday, June 22, 2008

More to Celebrate

Today, June 22, is the Feast Day of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. Since St. Thomas is my and my husband's patron saint, we consider this a sort of de facto holy day of obligation for us, even when it doesn't fall on a Sunday. More and Fisher were, of course, among the scant few at the highest levels of civil and church hierarchy who stood up to King Henry VIII and refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry Supreme Head of the Church in England. They paid with their lives. Fisher was beheaded on Tower Hill on June 22, 1535. More shared his fate two weeks later, on July 6. Both were canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935.

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that their feast day caps off a week in which the fault lines in the Anglican Communion, the hodgepodge of ecclesiastical communities that form the remnant of what was once the Church of England, have been particularly evident. (See Thursday's blog entry, Anglican Confusion.) Then again, perhaps it is not so ironic. To me it is all too painfully evident that the current Anglican chaos is the logical outcome of the rebellion against the Church initiated by Henry VIII. Henry distorted scriptural truth to serve his own ends. It should come as no surprise that false Anglican shepherds and their fellow travelers continue to do so, especially when they perpetuate the notion that Truth is subjective and, therefore, unknowable. The result of this distortion of Truth is also predictable--moral and spiritual confusion.

The participants at GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) believe they are called to challenge such distortions and to encourage orthodox Anglicans who reject that version of things. They see the current situation as a "fork in the road," and the implication is that they envision a separate institutional path for orthodox Anglicans. In fact, this is already the case.

My heart goes out to them. I believe they truly desire to do God's will and that they have gone about this process in a spirit of restraint and humility. I certainly understand their desire to separate themselves from a manifestly apostate institution. But further schism will not ultimately solve the problem. It will only beget further schism and a further watering down of their credibility in the world. It has happened in ECUSA--first in 1870 with the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church and with increasing frequency since the 1970's.

Not that I am expecting this situation to turn around. The news from GAFCON is certainly not encouraging. Here again is a quote from the conclusion of the statement of Conference participants, "The Way, the Truth and the Life":
We see a parallel between contemporary events and events in England in the sixteenth century. Then, the Catholic Church in England was faced with the choice of aligning itself with either Rome or Geneva. But, when forced to decide its identity, it sought to distinguish itself from both the practices of the Papacy and the excesses it associated with the more radical reformers. Now, after five centuries, a new fork in the road is appearing....
I take a somewhat different view of the situation in the sixteenth century. Not only the practices of the Catholic Church were at stake. Henry--and Cranmer and Elizabeth I, for that matter--also sought to separation from the institutional Church because it was politically expedient to do so. Furthermore, it was not simply a matter of choosing between two equally valid allegiances. Geneva was a schism from Rome. So, in the final analysis, was the Church of England.

There is another way, and I don't mean forming a separate Anglican entity. I mean returning home--to the Church that was and still is the one established by Christ and entrusted to his Apostles. And by "the Church," I mean the Church that St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher gave their lives for. It will continue to happen, but not primarily, I think, on an institutional level--with the possible exception of parishes that might seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church through the Pastoral Provision. It will continue, I hope and pray, at the individual level.

St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher,
Pray for us.

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