Catholicity Symposium

Faith-Craft Symposium on Catholicity – Saturday 4 November 2017

The Society of the Faith’s symposium on Catholicity was held in the Garry Weston Library, Southwark Cathedral, by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter.  The aim was to consider the 1947 Report “Catholicity: A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West”, produced for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. A copy of the original paper can be found here ; a summary produced for the Symposium is here.

Bishop Graham James

The Revd Canon Robert Gage, Vice-Principal of the Society of the Faith, welcomed the approximately 60 participants to the symposium and handed over to The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Catholicity Symposium – Synopsis of the 1947 Report       Norwich who ably chaired the symposium. The Bishop introduced the day, asking if it was time for a new theological response to the challenge the Archbishop had presented 70 years ago.

Andrew Chandler

The first speaker was Dr Andrew Chandler, Professor in Modern History, University of Chichester. He summarised the history and background of the 1947 Report. As well as this report the Evangelical wing of the Church of England produced a separate report, as did the Free Churches, all considering the future of Christianity in England. The 1947 Report makes much of the then contemporary belief in the primitive unity of the early church, a view many modern historians now question. Dr Chandler referred to the Anglo-Catholic ‘School of Thought’, whose range of view were represented in the authors of the Report. Dr Chandler suggested for Anglicanism the Report was a serious attempt to argue that the church should have an integrity deeper than shallow inclusiveness and the Anglo-Catholic position should make for synthesis, not division.

Robin Ward

The Revd Canon Dr Robin Ward, Principal of St Stephen’s House, suggested how Anglo-Catholicism was valued by bishops as a minority whose liturgical tradition added to the flavour of a diocese. He noted how the model at the time of the Report of Patristics and a Hegelian movement towards synthesis were now both in eclipse. He also noted how the Anglican-Papalism move towards reunion was now very dissipated after the creation of the Ordinariate and it was hard for Anglican-Papalism to give meaning to the life of the modern ordinand. Father Robin suggested “We’re here because we’re here” could be the anthem of the Anglo-Catholics and there was an ecclesiological deficit.

Peter Allan

The Revd Fr Peter Allan, CR, Principal of the College of the Resurrection talked about how little knowledge some students had of the liturgical calendar or church ritual when they arrived at college, and how hard it was in 18 months to three years to impart this. The ingredients of Catholicity were confidence in the sovereignty of God, the sacramental economy and the liturgical celebration of word and sacrament. Liturgy was not entertainment but a recognition of an encounter with the Lord in the sacraments. Sacred life was in two dimensions, the here and now and the Kingdom, which should lead to a concern with social; justice and the transformation of society. Father Allan said postmodern authenticity took away the shared action of celebrating the mystery of faith.

Carolyn Hammond

The Revd Dr Carolyn Hammond, Fellow and Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, also mentioned the Report’s belief in the unity of the early Church, and contrasted this with what we know understand of the early doctrinal struggles of Catholicity against various sects and schisms. This continued into the Catholic verses Protestant splits. She suggested the underlying causes of these conflicts was essentially a conflict between conservative and progressive views. She said the report promoted unity – but what was this? Unity was not uniformity. We can feel we are One Body only if we accept differences with joy, not suspicion. Uniformity was enforceable, unity was not. Unity was a goal, not a lost heritage; the past belonged to Good and should not be rewritten to support the present. Dr Hammond suggested the Anglo-Catholics should recover their positive attitude to themselves and our riches rather than focusing on disputation. It should be clearer what we were for rather than what we were against. She said the contest between Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism in the Church of England was not really about theology or principals on a fundamental level, but a struggle for power and control of resources. If we understood this Dr Hammond suggested we would be better placed to encourage and support the riches of Catholicity.

Andrew Davison

After lunch The Revd Dr Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences, and Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge considered what of the theology of the Report we should retain today. He said Christian doctrine should be expansive and interrelated; departing from this curtailed these interrelations and meant a wholeness was missing. The Report had too much unanimity in the tendencies it discusses. It was not at its strongest in dealing with the liberal tendency; it tended to jump the Renaissance into the 20th century. But it did put its finger on problematic issues and a crisis of co-existence. If referred to a loss of faith in a gospel lived within a way of life. A theme running through the report was of participation – everything comes from God except evil, which is an interruption in our relationship with God. We should be introducing Evangelicals to Catholic faith and practice. Dr Davison called on the pious Anglo-Catholic societies to evangelise their special gifts throughout the Church of England, to expound, teach and live the Catholic faith.

Bishop Martin Warner

The Rt Rev Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, referred to an article in the Church Times in February 1951, describing Archbishop Fisher addressing a very large gathering on his return from a tour of the church in the Antipodes. The audience included the Prime Minister, something we were unlikely to see today. Bishop Martin referred to Richard Hooker’s ‘three legged stool’ of the authority of the Church of England coming from scripture, tradition and reason. He said we struggled to retain fidelity to scripture and tradition, rather prizing reason above these. He quoted Pope Francis saying the heart of the church should be transformative and noted the Report had said the Papacy “can still command the attention and to a large extent secure the following of all Christians, and that it is the only Christian institution which can do so.” He noted the current Pope was a Benedictine at heart, with an emphasis on liturgy suitable for the time of the week and a focus on the religious community life. This was an example and a gift to cherish. Bishop Martin said that the earliest Anglican religious communities in the 19th Century were female, not male, which was subversive and liberating for the time. Bishop Martin said he had been to an event organised by the French Chemin Neuf Community, where many young people chose silent worship in preference to the noisier forms on offer, showing a desire for spiritual life they could not find otherwise in the Church. He said the liturgy articulates the authority of the church, assets the freedom of the church to assert its own rules and also asserts the inclusive nature of the church. For every person of every tradition a loved and valued liturgy must be a validation of that.

After tea Bishop Graham led a question and answer session, and the day was closed by The Right Reverend Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark.

A report of the day appeared in the Church Times on 10 November 2017 and can be found here.  The Society plans to publish the papers presented in 2018.

(Notes by Andrew Hobley (Member of the Court of Fellows) to who all errors in transcription and comprehension of what was said should be attributed.)