My intuition of going the philosophical way seems to be confirmed by my posting on the recent developments in the American Anglican world and the emerging Old Catholicism from the Nordic Catholic Church and the PNCC. I am confronted by the recurring issue of uniting Christian communities with a similar ethos but often with other ideas and practices that make such a union impossible.
Though I remain a priest in the ACC and warmly support all initiatives to resolve our conflicts and separation, I have always been sceptical about the theories behind ecumenism and the way things are attempted at various meetings and think tanks. I am very impressed about the success of the movement between four Continuing Anglican Churches (including the ACC) and am encouraged to know that the work is far from finished and will be continued at other synods and meetings. The Continuing Anglican world is united and compatible once the difficulties caused by personalities of some bishops in the past have been resolved. Being a bishop these days is more about ideals, service and hard work rather than bolstering the self-importance of cantankerous and bitter old men! There is no comparison between the ACC I now serve and the same Church as it suffered in 1997 from the “Bishops’ Brawl”.
I hope that our united Continuum will continue in its way of integrity and idealism, and from that high road engage dialogue with other apostolic churches sharing the same or similar ideals. For this to work, the ideals have to be understood without ambiguity of language and reflected upon in depth. The Catholic revival in England began with Romanticism and the idealism of a small number of Anglican clergy and intellectuals attached to the University of Oxford. The whole thing depended on Romanticism and Idealism like any attempt in Europe in the early nineteenth century to combat atheism and materialism and revive the ideals of transcendence and humanism. I see the points of comparison between the specifically religious movement in Oxford with similar movements in France that became known as Liberal (the desire for a separation of the Church from an atheistic, materialistic and hostile state). I then took a keen interest in German Idealism, whilst studying the differences between the diverse theories of metaphysics and knowledge as represented by men like Kant, Fichte, Schlegel, Schelling, Novalis, Schleiermacher and others. The thought was converging even if those groups never met or knew each other. Today, we have the Internet and the possibility of exchanging ideas and knowledge in spite of geographical distances – so that we don’t have to live in a single city or within walking or horse-riding distance.
I would like to promote this reflection on metaphysics and our possibilities of knowing something of transcendence. This contrasts with the pragmatic considerations of human institutions and making them sustainable by having human and financial resources. In my reckoning, the ideal must prevail over the “reality” of what is brought to our knowledge through the five senses. Pragmatism is necessary because we are incarnate and social beings, but this must be subordinated to the spiritual if we are a religious communion rather than a business or government / political agency.
Surely, it won’t be possible to reproduce the Oxford Movement or the little group of long-haired Germans. Such is not necessary, because we have no need to be concerned for appearances. Our context isn’t the same, and we lack the naivety and innocence of those eras. We have lived through modernity and are confronted by a paradigm that has no use for modernity or even the values of Idealism. We can draw from history, but we have to think and understand things for ourselves, and come up with something new. I am also convinced that history is not only linear but also circular, in cycles. I see parallels between 1790, 1890 and 1990 and the forty or so years that followed those symbolic dates. We belong to the third. Though things are analogies of each other, there is no metaphysical connection.
There is a lot of concern for setting achievable goals, and some have paid off. Some have followed ideals and not merely questions of buildings and money. There has to be a balance, because pure idealism will not necessarily achieve anything and will leave only disappointment and cynicism. Christianity itself is an ideal, and its adversaries and critics blow it away as an unrealistic system that penalises the strong and meritorious in favour of the weak. We have only to read Nietzsche! We dream of a single Communion with Rome, Constantinople and Moscow in mutual recognition and Vladimir Soloviev’s vision of the role of the Reformation churches in affirming human freedom. It hasn’t happened and I fail to see how it could happen in the future.
I will do my best with my little team (we are three committed members so far) to get the ideals out and have some influence on the movers and shakers of this world. There was an iconic slogan in France in the 1970’s – “Vous le voyez, en France, on n’a pas de pétrole mais on a des idées !” originally said by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Referring to the energy crisis, France lacked oil but had ideas. In a certain way, The Blue Flower will work like that, as useless as a monastery of monks, but may be able to offer something more precious than oil or gold! I hope so and entrust this to God in my prayers.
As we read in Nicholas Berdyaev (Freedom of the Spirit), the Churches have to be concerned for the masses, and for this reason the liturgical life as we knew it is mostly gone. It is more concerned with getting a simple message over and working with human social instincts. There also have to be a kind of “aristocracy” involving very few persons of vision and with a calling to delve into the hidden things of God and the human spirit. Berdyaev, though he was Orthodox and Russian, was largely inspired by the German Idealists, a century apart from them, and so I am encouraged in going to the well-spring to drink from the same water.
The books are arriving, both in my library and my smartphone with its Kindle function. I still have so much to learn before I can begin to be creative in a new paradigm and way ahead for the treasure of Christ and a culture based on Jesus’ ideas and actions. Pray God I may come up with ideas that can inspire our bishops to bring about a union of churches based on spiritual integrity and all that is transcendent and sublime.