19 June 2008

Dominus Illuminatio Mea ...

...are the words written on the book at the centre of the Arms of the University of Oxford; they are the opening words also of the old Mass for last Sunday and for the ferias of this week (the arrangement of the Masses for the Sundays After Trinity, which we Anglicans inherit from the Sarum variant of the medieval Roman Rite, is out of sync' with the arrangement of the Masses After Pentecost in the Missal of S Pius V). By a happy chance, if there is such a thing as chance, Wednesday of this week was also the occasion of Encaenia - the annual corporate celebration of the University, when, to the accompaniment of Latin speeches, honorary degrees are conferred and the Oratio Creweiana describes the life of the University during the past year. The Orator Publicus, Richard Jenkyns, at the end of a witty oration listed our defuncti and concluded: Requiescant in pace; luceat eis Dominus Illuminatio Mea.

And a very great Oxford theologian died on Tuesday of this week: Henry Chadwick, priest and scholar, one of the most distinguished of the contributers to ARCIC; Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and of the College of that name; one a rare breed of those who, at different times, have headed a house both in Oxford and in Cambridge. I said a requiem for him this morning; as a canon of Christ Church he was one of the members of the presbyterium of Harry Carpenter who laid hands on me forty years ago.

Henry Chadwick had a dislike of the vulgarities of ecclesiastical politics and of party warfare. His immense erudition meant that in controversial matters he was able, and very much preferred, to find unities deeply underlying what appeared on the surface to be opposing positions. That was a strength which was a tremendous advantage in the old Church of England: a body which, because it had mutually accepted structures of Catholic Order, was able to encompass a considerable variety. Whatever purists may think of such ecclesial untidiness, it did work; I can recall so very many people who were able, gradually and within that stable environment, to come eventually to an understanding of the fulness of the Catholic Faith. This possibility of gradual growth and advance brought many to Catholicism who, if they had been faced by a stark choice of whether to accept the whole package at once, might never have been able to do so. I find it hard to abandon a conviction that such a situation was within God's providence.

But it was a situation made possible by the near collapse of many of the old heresies, or at least the weakening of their power to grip and blind and polarise people. That was the environment in which early ARCIC flourished and in which Henry Chadwick was the man of the moment. Unfortunately, as the old heresies either lay down and died, or else became limp-wristed, we soon rediscovered our Lord's warning that Satan abhors a vacuum. Effete Protestantism was replaced by strident Feminisms determined to rewrite the doctrine of the Trinity, overturn Catholic Order, eviscerate Scripture, and pervert the texts and logic of liturgical formulae. The gift the Lord gave Henry Chadwick, of achieving quiet synthesis through courtesy, erudition, and the avoidance of shrilly opposed positions, was left behind in the inevitable, hard polarisation of a world in which, after all, ordained women either are, or are not, priests and the bread and wine on their tables either are or are not the True Body and Blood of the Incarnate Divine Word and right reverend women are either successors of the Apostles or well-meaning imposters.

As I pray that he may rest in piece, I have a feeling that it is all that was best in the old Church of England that I am saying farewell to.

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