Friday, February 11, 2011

Erastianism Rears its Ugly Head

But that's a good thing, really . . .

William Oddie recently pointed out in the Catholic Herald that Parliament is asserting its right to control the Church of England and force the church--meaning not just the hierarchy but the members--to accept women priests and bishops in the name of sexual equality and to end the CofE's exemption from British equality laws on gender discrimination. A Mr. Frank Field has introduced such language.

As Oddie was once an Anglo-Catholic he notes this came as a strange shock:

I think most people supposed that the Church of England alone would decide this matter, that it was more or less self-governing in these enlightened times – that it had, in other words, moved on from the days when Newman could write (in a note in the French edition of his Apologia pro Vita Sua, explaining Anglicanism) that: “This remarkable Church has always been in the closest dependence on the civil power and has always gloried in this.” Newman went on to explain that “it has ever regarded the papal power with fear, with resentment and with aversion, and it has never won the heart of the people”. It has, said Newman “either had no opinions, or has constantly changed them… The great principle of the Anglican Church [is] its confidence in the protection of the civil power and its docility in serving it, which its enemies call its Erastianism.” . . .

The point is that the C of E’s “docility” before the civil power has always been quietly taken for granted by its hierarchy. If Parliament insists that the legislation be passed in the Synod (and don’t forget that whatever legislation Synod passes has to be rubber-stamped by the civil Parliament over the road, normally a formality), then it will knuckle under, with only a few perfunctory protests here and there.

Since he has brought up Newman, it's appropriate to remember that the founding event of the Oxford Movement was Parliament's action to determine which parishes and dioceses would remain open in Ireland--and one of the last straws for Newman before he joined the Catholic Church in 1845 was the Church of England's effort to found a shared bishopric in Jerusalem, with an Anglican bishop trading places with a Lutheran Bishop, as though/because doctrinal differences didn't matter a bit.

So, Oddie can sum it up:

At least we know where we all stand. The state has the power to insist on “women bishops” in the Church of England, should it care to exercise it. It has no such power over the Church of Rome, and it knows it – and so does Mr Field. Those Anglicans of a Catholic mind who hope they can maintain intact the illusion that the Church of England is still the ancient Catholic Church of this land, that they can carry on somehow pretending that things are not as they have now once more unmistakeably been shown to be, should take careful note of these things. And then they should act accordingly.

As Newman would certainly counsel, then, they must explore the positive reasons for becoming Catholic, especially to discern the basis of authority in the office of St. Peter and the Magisterium!

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