Changes to the C of E

From The Weekly Standard:

The End of Canterbury
Will the sun set on the Anglican communion?


The archbishop of Canterbury is going to resign next year. At least that’s the story making the rounds of newspapers in London, and the interesting part is not that the 61-year-old Rowan Williams should be willing to give up another decade in the job. Or even, if the Telegraph is right, that the clergy and his fellow bishops are working to push him out.

No, the interesting news about the looming resignation is how little attention anyone appears to be paying to it. The Church of England just doesn’t seem to matter all that much, fading from the world’s stage only slightly more slowly than the British Empire that planted it across the globe.

Theological consequences will follow the dwindling of Anglican identity—the claim, ever since Queen Elizabeth I, that the Church of England represents the great middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism. Ecclesiological consequences, as well, will follow the end of Anglican unity: the disappearance of a coherent, worldwide denomination, led by the archbishop of Canterbury, for those who hold a certain moderate form of Christian belief.  [But a “form” which must inevitably follow the secular trends, slowly but inexorably, because it is tied to the state.]

Christianity will survive in other forms, of course, both theologically and denominationally. In the long run, the great tragedy of the fading of Canterbury and the looming breakup of the Anglican communion may be the geopolitical consequences—fraying the already weak ties between the global South and Western civilization.


There isn’t really much that is new in the piece, but for those who are not so familiar with the developments can glean some good information.

The real point of Bottum’s piece is, however, that nobody really cares.

Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. I agree that it’s mostly irrelevant. I used to follow a blog by a disenchanted Anglican (the Midwest Conservative Journal), and I got a very clear sense that the “Anglican Communion” is a completely dysfunctional body that really has no actual purpose anymore. The Episcopalians are full-on Protestant and they just don’t care. The English Anglicans are either Protestant like the Episcopalians, or they don’t want to offend the Americans so they don’t say or do anything. The Africans are generally better, but nobody seems to care enough to listen to them.
    In the end, when they meet they either issue a sappy document on unity, or they bicker about gay and/or female ‘bishops’.

    I hope that the more faithful of the Anglican Communion will come to see that what they really need, and won’t find in Anglicanism, is Rome.

  2. RichR says:

    Anglo-Catholics come home. The door is open.

    The facade of the Anglican “Communion” is being revealed for what it is: a bond based purely on goodwill – not doctrine, not authority, and not even worship. The Archbishop of Canterbury cannot say, “Thus sayeth the Lord” because he has no God-given authority to impose doctrine. So what is he if the other leaders in the AC can simply oust him for whatever reason?

    Did Christ establish a religion based on the British monarch being the supreme head of the church? If not, then who did he give this power of the Keys to?

    Stop pretending to be “Catholic” and just DO IT. Souls who crave the meat of dogma will be inspired by your courage to enter the Barque of Peter, Our Lord’s Vicar on Earth.

  3. wmeyer says:

    We cannot be complacent here. The Anglicans and their decline are simply prefiguring the decline here in parishes as liberal as my own. I dare hope for improvement, but realistically, such improvement will be limited by the efforts of our rather liberal pastor. I make my own efforts, one person at a time, simply pointing out things which are withing the scope of what they can embrace, such as the relatively minor nature of the changes to the liturgy, and the truth that this is no reversion to pre-V2 (heaven forfend), but simply repairs to some of the most egregious damage done to the liturgy in the wake of V2.

    Of course, despite their love for the Spirit of Vatican II, few if any have read, or even skimmed, any of the documents. Sadly, that is true of our local catechists, as well, so far as I can tell. Much as portrayed in the recent animations between Larry and Sarah, they feel no need to study what they already know the Council meant.

    One brick at a time, to be sure, but would it be so terrible if the bricks were laid up more rapidly?

  4. Dr Guinness says:

    Looking forward to (perhaps, one day) all our beautiful churches and cathedrals in the UK once again having Mass celebrated in them…

    Hmm… I could just imagine a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form being celebrated in Westminster Abbey…

  5. ContraMundum says:

    @Dr Guinness

    Having minarets installed around Westminster Abbey is just as likely, given the bold leadership of the English bishops as seen in regards to the “gay marriage” debate.

  6. dnicoll says:

    … ‘woman vicar’ saying that the ‘great’ thing about the CofE was that you could believe almost anything and still be a member.

  7. robtbrown says:

    RichR says:

    The facade of the Anglican “Communion” is being revealed for what it is: a bond based purely on goodwill – not doctrine, not authority, and not even worship.

    IMHO, it would more appropriate to say: a bond based on bad will.

  8. PostCatholic says:

    The Anglicans and their decline are simply prefiguring the decline here in parishes as liberal as my own. I dare hope for improvement, but realistically, such improvement will be limited by the efforts of our rather liberal pastor.

    We welcomed 35 new members to our Unitarian Universalist congregation this year, which grew from 360 members to 381. Our goal is 550. We raised a new sanctuary building four years ago, put new roofs on all our other buildings this year, have reduced our debt to about 15% of our land value, grew our endowment, are discussing some other renovations, and began as a congregation directly sponsoring a clinic providing medical care to the indigent. Disaffected Cahtholics do go somewhere, and your refugees are welcome with us Liberal Religious.

  9. asperges says:

    Mass in the EF was celebrated last year in York Minster with a huge number of people present. I was there and it was an extraordinary event (no pun intended).

    Nevertheless the Church of England, muddle though it is, can simply re-form itself. Since it is almost amorphous these days, it can (and is) almost anything you like. Williams is an affable chap. I have heard people refer to him as “holy.” I have never heard him say anything either very Christian or holy. But he’s good on things like climate change and social issues. He won’t be missed by anyone.

  10. ChrisWhittle says:

    I don’t see the CofE surviving in it’s own right unless it reunites with Rome. If Canterbury goes back to Rome, then the high church Anglo-Catholics will most likely have permission to use the Anglican Missal. Benedict is wants them to rejoin now because he knows that the overall worldwide Anglican Communion (especially their women priests wing) is not surviving on it’s own, and that the Queen as “Defender of the Faith” is only symbolic. There are Catholic members of the Royal family, but they can’t be King or Queen unless (1) Paraliament lets them do so, and/or (2) the Church of England merges with the Roman Catholic Church in the UK, then Catholicism would be the state religion their once again for the first time since 1534.

  11. edwardswyco says:

    Soooooo…………can we have our cathedral back?

  12. Trad Tom says:

    Post Catholic is at his UU (hardly a religion, more of a Sunday morning social club) best. “Liberal Religious” is pretty much an oxymoron, but to “disaffected Catholics” I suppose it’s something to cling to. Why does he/she (don’t know, don’t care) read and post on this blog? Yes, yes, I’ll pray for him/her, but it’s hard, really hard.

  13. rhhenry says:

    Maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury is coming home under the provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus!

    I know, it’s unlikely to the point of near-impossibility, but I’ll pray for it nonetheless . . .

  14. kallman says:

    A church founded by a monarch for the expediency of dissolving a valid marriage is hardly built on a very firm foundation.

  15. abasham says:

    The largest organization on Earththe which intimately links the so-called global south with the Western world in the Catholic Church. Did the author forget about that?

    And when will a Catholic Archbishop in England finally be named Archbishop of Canterbury by Rome? The see has been vacant since the schism, and pretending it is occupied only gives creedence to a protestant sect. Away with all this politically correct diplomatic nicery.

  16. Elizabeth D says:

    rhenry: I have prayed for that too, through the intercession of Bl John Henry Newman. Rowan Williamson did go to Assisi recently and was photographed kneeling next to Pope Benedict XVI at the tomb of St Francis. Doesn’t seem furious about Anglicanorum Coetibus. Of course, not seeming furious may be a long way from desirous of becoming Catholic. Bl Newman, pray for him.

  17. Centristian says:

    While I am of the opinion that there is a place and even market, to use a cheap term, for Anglican-style (or perhaps better said, “English-style”) worship within the catholic Church, it has to be said that to read an article about the future of the establishment Church of England these days is something like reading an article about the future of Walter Mondale. They are about as relavant as each other.

  18. anilwang says:

    wmeyer, the problems of Anglicanism have little to do with the problems in Catholicism. In Anglicanism, the problem is fundamental (even if the government were not in control of the CoE).

    It boils down to this. Anglicanism tries to hold “almost Baptists” and “almost Catholics” in the same denomination. At both extremes, you will find orthodox Christianity, but in order to keep these two extremes together, the language of doctrines has been made extremely ambiguous. So you can believe the Baptism is a symbolic option or necessary for salvation, the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ, or just a symbol, apostolic succession is necessary for valid orders or anyone with can preach. As a result of this ambiguity, the liberal center has been able to take over and destroy the heart of Anglicanism. Unfortunately, the only way to save Anglicanism is to tighten up the doctrinal language, but that would cause the “almost Baptists” and “almost Catholics” to no longer see themselves as being part of the same Church…something no-one has either the authority or the guts to bring to fruit. So the cancer grows until eventually it consumes Anglicism. I would not be surprised if in my lifetime, Anglicanism broke completely apart into three parts: the one part that will join the Catholic Church (i.e. the Ordinairiate), one part that will merge with the Presbyterians, and one part that will merge with the Unitarian Universalists.

    The problems in the Catholic Church are simpler. There are people who are in the Church who don’t believe what the Church teaches. It’s not a new problem and it’s not the worse it has ever been (e.g. “Athanasius versus the world”) and it’s not the last time it’ll happen (unless the Second Coming happens before the). It will pass, even if at the cost of massive martyrdom.

  19. PostCatholic says:

    Post Catholic is at his UU (hardly a religion, more of a Sunday morning social club) best.

    Hey now. Not sure what one has to do to qualify as a religion for you, but we have lots of churches, hymns, ministers, divinity schools, adherents,and yes even martyrs. We don’t require a belief in a god but then, neither does Judaism and

    “Liberal Religious” is pretty much an oxymoron,

    It’s a term which embraces, in addition to Unitarian Universalism, such religions as reform Judaism, the Quakers, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, liberal Islam, Ethical Culture and more. The major tenets of Liberal Religion are that:

    = Revelation is not closed, nor intermittent, but continuous.
    = All relationships between persons should be mutual and consensual
    = Bringing about a just and loving community is a moral obligation
    = For virtue and goodness to thrive, personal and community vigilance and dedication is necessary.
    = Because of human and/or divine resources, one can adopt an outlook of ultimate (not necessarily present) optimism.

    If you’d like to explore those thoughts in more than my regurgitated bulleted list form, Google “Five Smooth Stones.”

    Why does he/she (don’t know, don’t care)

    Though I realize you don’t care, I’m male. And I’m a former Catholic seminarian who got very near institution as an acolyte before deciding that was not God’s path for me. Later on I decided that the reason I was right about that was primarily because there is not a God, but that took me another ten years.

    read and post on this blog?

    Because I enjoy it. Because I have a brain full of Catholic upbringing and post-graduate education, and an abiding respect for the Catholic church even though I no longer subscribe to its beliefs. Because Rev. Zuhlsdorf is often a provocative intellect who attracts good minds to discuss important ideas. Because I think intellectual challenge is how we deepen our understanding . Because sometimes I learn some things about Catholicism, and sometimes I’ve been known to teach some things, too.

    Yes, yes, I’ll pray for him/her, but it’s hard, really hard.

    As you wish. I don’t mind if you do not pray for me but I do appreciate the generous sentiment.

  20. PostCatholic says:

    Oops, I hit post too soon. I meant to return to the first paragraph and provide a few more examples of non-creedal religion. Anyway, suffice it to say there are a lot of faith traditions which do not require belief in a deity or assent to a statement of beliefs. I realize Catholicism considers them to be gravely mistaken. But does that mean they’re not religious? I’m sincerely curious if Catholicism has the monopoly on what it means to be a religion.

  21. PostCatholic says:

    double oops: I meant to say Reform Judaism.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    The Irrelevant have made themselves Unlovable and Ineffective. Such is mediocrity…

  23. Phil_NL says:

    I think the really interesting element in Bottum’s article is dropping under the radar a bit: not only is the CofE tearing itself in three (the liberals, the near-evangelicals and the almost catholics) but the situation on the ground tends to be much simpler and more brutal: in much the west it’s simply liberals – with CofE establishment firmly included – versus a handful of near-Catholics or (very?)occasionally near-evangelicals, in the third world it’s simply the near-evangelicals against the far-away liberals, ignoring the high church anglicans. So in the West you get endless litigation about buildings, endowments and so on, while Africa will simply ignore everyone else, except for hurling invective towards Schorri and the rainbow crowd.

    The big danger in this is that at the end of the day, the African Anglicans will be much harder to get to swim the Tiber, as they will have not even an indirect link to the anglo-catholic tradition anymore. There lies the true challenge.
    In the West, it’s pretty much a done deal. Part of the anglicans will swim the Tiber, the remainder will have made itself into a social feel-good-club within a decade or two, without anyone ever noticing the difference. As foor good old England: 10 to 1 it will simply cease having a state Church; somewhere down the road either the left or the right will abolish its priviliges, as no politician would want to be burdened with managing the CofE remains, even indirectly. [Cameron having to name a successor to Williams will give him an ulcer to begin with, I reckon].

  24. Athelstan says:

    I would argue that the Unitarians will actually be around long after the Anglican communion has completely disintegrated. But they will be what they have always been: a small, distinctive niche for a small distinctive niche of people of a particular spiritual and philosophical bent.

    And they’ll survive because there’s always been a real candor about what they are and what they believe – or rather, commonly agree to believe. The Anglicans, by contrast, now have a commanding height inhabited by leaders and believers who really are not far removed from being UU’s, but are carrying in their ranks many (but fewer and fewer) people who still adhere to teachings that the communion used to really profess. And as this awareness of this incongruity becomes more prevalent, these people are headed for the exits: to Rome, to Constantinople, to Geneva, or other pastures. In Africa, they’ve just declared independence.

    The Anglican Church has always been a contradiction of sorts, with a pretence to being both Catholic and Protestant; Newman saw this clearly in the end. But it managed the contradiction for a very long time because it retained a robust center willing to try to live with that contradiction, buttressed by a common adherence to traditional Christian morals and more than a dose of English nationalism. But that center is gone now. Low Church has been leaving for evangelical turf. High Church is pretty well gone across the Tiber now. And no one even knows what Broad Church is supposed to be.

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