The lighting of the beacons
Andrew Brown of the Guardian called the Roman Catholic Church's offer to admit disaffected Anglicans "the end of the Anglican Communion", describing the 1/7th of the clergy which its believes will jump ship as a death blow. If so, it is the coup de grace. The Anglican Communion has long been hemorrhaging members, fleeing from a church which many of its members believe has abandoned its traditional beliefs. Most of those who were expected to take up the Catholic Church's offer to convert are described as social conservatives who think their community has gone too far toward embracing openly gay bishops and women priests. The Daily Mail put the indictment against the Archbishop of Canterbury plainly: he's no longer a divine, but a politician and those are dime a dozen. "If our Archbishop spent less time fretting about climate change, he might notice the pope is about to mug him".
it is quite possible for moderately intelligent people to listen to the Archbishop preach a sermon or deliver a lecture on theological matters and not be at all sure what he is on about. ... Some will remember how not very long ago he incautiously suggested during a radio interview that officially sanctioned Sharia courts might be allowable for Muslims in this country. ... Far too often he sounds like a Guardian leader writer in full flood rather than a divine.
One of his pet subjects is global warming. There may be nothing wrong with that - except that there are already many people, some of them rather more expert than he is, lecturing us about its supposed perils. Shouldn't an Archbishop of Canterbury offer us guidance on moral issues?
But Andrew Brown's article in the Guardian fails to see this; and he seems to think that Rome is interested in cannibalizing the Anglican church in order to become more like them; he thinks Benedict is coveting their married clergy, gorgeous liturgy and brilliant seminaries. Brown sees the move as Rome's way of making itself more hip via the back door. It is only pretending to absorb Anglicanism, secretly it wants to follow in its footsteps.
this is a huge coup for Rome. They may not get the churches – and they certainly don't want to have to pay for them – but they get so much more. For a start, this establishes a tradition of married Roman Catholic clergy in the west. The language, the services, and the gorgeous choral music of Anglicanism are more obviously attractive, but the real long term significance of this announcement is the talk about seminaries. ...
If the former Anglicans can train up successors who will also be able to have wives, the Roman Catholic church may have found a way to escape the prospect of a largely gay priesthood to which the doctrine of compulsory celibacy appeared to condemn them. It is ironic that Anglican efforts to deal honestly with the problem of sexuality should have provided the Catholics with the excuse they needed to strike this decisive blow. God always did move in mysterious ways.
Andrew Brown doesn't grasp the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is already late to the party. Anglicanism had already been laid low by many years of continuous attack by another, much more powerful religion. This religion had largely eaten it out from within; turned it from a regular religion into a social work organization, changed it from a proclaimer of the Gospel to what in many cases was regarded as a mouthpiece for political correctness. This was precisely what the Daily Mail meant when it accused Rowan Williams of preoccupation with Global Warming and sounding "like a Guardian leader writer in full flood". The Roman Church comes as a scavenger on a field on which this powerful force stands plucking at the throat of most Christian denominations. That powerful force is a religion itself; the one world faith born in Europe and the real successor to Anglicanism as the source of official piety in Britain. That religion is of course socialism/communism. John Gray in the New Statesman follows the ups and downs of one of the largest churches in the Western world.
"Communism," he says, "continued an authentic tradition of European radical humanism. ... There can be no reasonable doubt that during the Bolshevik period, and to a degree in the Stalin era, communism had many of the features of a religion." It was religion tricked out as a secular millennial movement. Communism actually tried to build a paradise on earth and failing miserably, devoted itself to saving the earth and turning the world into one great public institution. Gray, reviewing the book The Red Flag, points out that Communism is as indigenous to the West as weiners and sauerkraut. It is deeply rooted in the philosophical, political and religious traditions of Europe. He describe the book The Red Flag as "a comprehensive guide to the biggest political delusion of the 20th century. Starting with the origins of communist ideology in the French Revolution, it presents an interesting analysis of Marx's thinking as being shaped as much by Romanticism as by the Enlightenment." That none of its prophecies have come true is beside the point.
It lives in the Force. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, it grew even more powerful as a religious impulse in the West after the Berlin Wall was struck down. Without the rotting carcass of the Soviet Union to constantly remind Western intellectuals of its criminal failures, socialism in the west could cast itself as a semi-mystical force, free to retell the disasters of its making as conspiracies by capitalist roaders posing as men of the people. As everyone who is a committed communist knows, it only failed in the past because it hadn't been really tried.
While radical humanism was the feature that beguiled most western intellectuals, it was just one of several elements in communism. Priestland presents a useful typology of the stories in terms of which the history of communism has been understood: the official one, derived from Marx, in which communist regimes were stages on the way to a world of harmony and abundance; a story of modernisation, in which communists were rational bureaucrats committed to developing backward countries; and a narrative of repression, in which communists imposed a totalitarian system on an unwilling population.
The heavy blows which laid the Anglican church low were not dealt by the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed the Anglican Church broke away from Rome. What severely weakened the Anglicans was the communist-inspired secular culture which sapped it of vitality; reduced the Gospel to an outlier of the greater scripture of Political Correctness. That's what its disaffected adherents are fleeing from. The principal attraction of the Roman Catholic Church, at least to conservative Anglicans, lies precisely in that it hasn't been eaten out by socialist/communist faith to the degree that the Anglicans have been. It's not that they love Rome, they're simply seeking shelter within its walls.
That's not to say that Roman walls are safe from the same relentless attack of secularism which did Canterbury in. Given enough time, Rome too will go under; and Benedict knows it is only a matter of time until some ecclesiastical Barack Obama mounts the pulpit to warn in a honeyed baritone against Climate Change and extol the virtues of Islam. For that reason Benedict is picking up stragglers, having judged the Anglicans already shattered. But its real foe, upon which Rome's eyes are fixed, are the socialist/communists. Osgiliath is driven in and the orcs are hard behind. Roman Catholic Archbishop Nichols, the primate of England, put it bluntly.
He claimed the Pope had made the decision because he wants worshippers to unite in the face of increasing secularism rather than form numerous smaller churchers. ... Quoting the Pontiff, he said: "As he has written: 'In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God.' "
The Roman Catholic Church is living through an extraordinary historical moment. It is facing two religious competitors. From one side, there is the religion which pretends to be a political movement -- socialism/communism. From the other flank there is the political movement which pretends to be a religion -- Islam. Both religions have massive amounts of money, heavy weaponry and great cultural power. Pope Benedict has probably looked at the ancient but fragile ramparts of Rome and realized that unless something turns up, they may not hold. Indeed, any normal assessment of forces would conclude that Benedict's Church is doomed. The future looks like a face-off between socialist secularism and unbending Islam. How can Christianity even hope to keep the field? The full power of political correctness are marshaled on the one hand, and the multitudinous throngs of the Jihad are arrayed on the other. Never mind Canterbury's end. What odds would you give Rome? An observer would give none, but for this cryptic prophecy in Matthew 16:18.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Look to the east on the third day, Gandalf said. But that rescue was in a book of fiction; and Benedict has no choice but to put his trust in another promise in another book of faith.