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A legacy from Newman to Lambeth?

A legacy from Newman to Lambeth?


Church of England Newspaper
July 27, 2008

Evelyn Waugh, waspish convert to Rome and satirical novelist, once said that he could believe that the church was defined by communion with the Pontiff, or that the classical Protestant position could be right in that the church had gone off course and needed radical reform in the light of the Bible at the Reformation.

What he could not believe as a theory was the Anglo Catholic view, that the true church was revealed as a small group of homosexual curates in 19th Century Oxford! That of course is a wicked remark, but it has a haunting resonance for this Lambeth Conference and its obsession with homosexuality and to a lesser extent women bishops.

The Oxford Movement was certainly coloured by the closest male friendships. Newman himself is buried next to his life-long priest friend Ambrose St John, and the Pope has, interestingly, ordered that he be exhumed as part of his canonisation. The poetry of Hopkins, another convert from the Oxford Movement, is pregnant with homosexual imagery, repressed or not. The Oxford Movement zealots would meet late at night, strip to the waist, and lash each other with whips - as penance for their sins, a custom that modern psychologists of sex would find most interesting. The Oxford Movement prospered and coloured the Anglican church with 'catholic' styles of worship and priesthood; the evangelicals gradually lost influence as the 19th Century wore on.

Liberal theology was rooted in the high church party rather than the evangelicals, again Newman and his friends, happy to detach authority from Scripture, are ironically the tap root of Anglican 'liberal catholicism', freewheeling doctrinally and ethically with a penchant for dressing up liturgically. Newman's move to Rome has been described as going to Italy via Germany, relativising Scripture to accept Papal authority instead. Liberal Catholicism now runs the Church of England, notably its appointments to high office and the bureaucratic apparatus, which controls, for example, the agenda of General Synod. Theologically, ethically and missiologically liberalism is now generally agreed to have failed.

Evangelicalism, now the only other real party, has also failed badly, particularly in not developing an intellectual culture among clergy and laity in the nation to engage with secularist relativism and hedonism. During the 19th Century evangelicals transformed culture with their societies and projects to improve social conditions and reach all levels of the nation. This is hardly the case now, despite the heroic efforts of many parish clergy. The liberals have decided to place the unity of the body of Christ well behind the gay agenda, also a useful way of purging the church of evangelicals, as happened in the USA. With conservative catholic Anglicans now very rare, only the evangelicals will stand for biblical trinitarianism rather than a multi faith theism.

The success of the gay lobby will not mean 'inclusion' but a real splintering of liberals and evangelicals, management and workers, into two churches in England. Newman, ever the polemicist, would be delighted at this looming catastrophe for his old church.


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