Welby Anglican Communion Anglicanism
Theology

The virtuous essence of Anglicanism

“An excellent time in Jordan with the Primates (senior Archbishops) of the worldwide Anglican Communion”, tweeted the Archbishop of Canterbury. “A privilege to talk, worship, pray and share. We come from diverse churches, nations and traditions, walking together with each other and with Christ”, he added, impressing upon his 144,300 followers that there is something slightly more important and so much more eternal than Harry & Meghan and Big Ben bonging for Brexit.

But this didn’t make the news, of course: no sex, sexuality or gender dispute; no racial tension, and nothing at all to do with Brexit. Just boring Primates having a dull time doing tedious stuff in a hot place.

Yet there is in this Anglicanism an expression of ecclesial diversity, an ethos of mutual respect, a method of fraternity and an attitude of perpetual reconciliation from which the world and indeed the Church might learn. Some term it the ‘via media’, but that has become synonymous with theological fudge, political expedience and moral compromise: it is more properly and better understood as a way of being human in ecclesial community; a way of balancing the extremes, of restraining fractious impulses, of moderating schismatic passions and reconciling man to man in order that grace might flow like a river.

For some, of course, there can be no middle path between Catholic and Reformed: far easier (if not holier) to perch firmly on the side of Christ and let others betray the gospel by supping with the Antichrist. But under the aegis of Anglicanism thrives ecclesial intercommunion and theological intellectual inquiry fused in a spiritual space which fosters creative dialogue and modifies understanding.

The Anglican impulse is to reconcile what others deem to be exclusive and irreconcilable – both in the world of strife and the Church of dogma. It does this not by having a central authority which dictates from on high, or by laying claim to be the sole guardian of an infallible body of immutable precepts, but by listening, waking along side, turning a head, looking into the other’s eyes and praying that those eyes might see a shaft of light emanating from a different Christian truth. When we understand that we all spin in our own orbits and that no eye has seen the total universe, there is space for tension and paradox, which is a far better way than polarity, polemic and exclusion.

Anglicanism is a theology of complementarity, of mutual illumination and cross-fertilisation. There is Scripture and tradition fused with reason and revelation. There is orthodoxy in the essentials of antiquity, and liberty in the auxiliaries of modernity. We may disagree at the precise equation of balance and the acceptable formulae of catholic continuity, but the freedom to demur and dispute is the distinctive spirit of Anglicanism.