Another 'Dear Colleague' letter from the Bishop of Oxford; immensely valuable as a vivid demonstration of the two worlds that he and we live in: his world, the Establishment Mainstream of those whose parameters are what is called 'Anglicanism' as a cultural entity preoccupied with nothing but its own narrow questions to which it gives its own narrowly heretical answers; ours, the Church Universal, the Great Tradition, and our relationship with each of these.
We might have been wondering how he and his confratres (sed et consorores) at Lambeth reacted to the experience of Christ's Vicar upon Earth sending two of his Cardinal Presbyters to explain that, with womenbishops a fact established in Anglicanism, dialogue directed towards organic unity is permanently and definitively at an end. In Pritchard's letter, bringing us up to speed on Lambeth, all I can find about this is the sentence 'There was huge support for us from ecumenical participants eager to help us sustain our unity'. You see what I mean about 'two worlds'.
There is no reference in his letter to the womenbishops question; perhaps fairly since it was not on the Lambeth agenda. But there is a fascinating sentence in his section on 'Human sexuality'. 'My own view remains that we need to hold together in respectful and prayerful dialogue, under scripture, remembering that it took the Communion 100 years to sort out its approach to polygamy, 50 years on contraception and 40 years on the marriage of divorced people.' So it took the Anglican Communion 100 years, apparently, to discover that it preferred monogamy; impressive. If anyone doubted the need for a living Magisterium in Christ's Church, that alone should have convinced them. But the rest of the sentence is even more revealing. Pritchard refers with apparent satisfaction to the processes whereby the Church of England moved from a moral position of explicit conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church on two matters, to a position of explicit dissent on those same two matters. Pritchard is a kindly, sensitive, and, I am convinced, inherently decent sort of bloke. But I find the confident and unworried cheerfulness with which he identifies himself with a determination to walk apart and away from 1,500 years of belief hitherto shared in common by Canterbury and Rome, utterly chilling.
I am yet again haunted by a couple of sentences by Newman: 'The vivifying principle of truth, the shadow of St Peter, the grace of the Redeemer, left it. That old Church in its day became a corpse (a marvellous, an awful change!); and then it did but corrupt the air which once it refreshed, and cumber the ground which once it beautified.' Mezentius, in Vergil's Aeneid, killed the living by tying them to the decaying corpses of the already dead (sanie taboque fluentis complexu in misero longa sic morte necabat). That is the reason why we must have a discrete ecclesial structure if we are to survive in the Church of England. Only that degree of separation can enable some degree of common life and dialogue to continue.