"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anglicans and Orthodox

It is sad to think of what has become of the Anglican Communion, which seems to have been engaged in a decades-long, slow-motion suicide. It once held such promise, and was looked up to by Catholics and Orthodox alike who saw in Anglicanism (as the pre-1845 Newman did) a great deal of the Christianity of the Ecumenical Councils and Church Fathers. (The patristic influences have been studied in some welcome detail in Benjamin King's recent book, Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers: Shaping Doctrine in Nineteenth-Century England.) Even as late as October 1970, Pope Paul VI could speak of the "legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church" and look hopefully to the day when "the Roman Catholic Church—this 'humble Servant of the servants of God'—is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic Communion of the family of Christ, a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the saints in the freedom of love."

Those days seem long gone now; but one of the "counter-factuals" of the last forty years that I like to entertain is: how different--which is to say, how much better--would the reform of the Latin liturgy after Vatican II have been if Roman Catholics and Anglicans had united, and the latter had influenced the liturgical life of the former, at least in the anglophone world. Would that Catholic liturgists had even a scintilla of the inspiration of the poets and musicians who have bequeathed to us Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, the King James Bible, and of course the great beauty of the Anglican choral tradition as exemplified in such splendid institutions as the King's College Choir of the University of Cambridge.

Today so much of that beautiful legacy is rapidly disappearing. The dissolution of the last several decades, however, has long roots, as the historian John Shelton Reed made clear more than forty years ago in his deeply fascinating book Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism. The "ritualists" and Tractarians, inter alia, simply pleaded to be left alone, arguing that Anglicanism should be wide enough to accommodate all manner of belief or disbelief and attendant liturgical practice. In so doing, they were sowing the seeds of their communion's demise, which was already glimpsed at the time by some beyond Newman, whose shadow, of course, looms large over everyone. But David Newsome's elegiac and wonderfully written book The Parting of Friends: The Wilberforces and Henry Manning does great justice to some of the other large figures apart from Newman who were so prominent in the Church of England, and later the Catholic Church, of the nineteenth century. (For Newman, of course, one must simply read the magisterial John Henry Newman: A Biography by Ian Ker, the world's leading Newman scholar whom I met in 2004 and who could not have been kinder or more gracious to me, a complete nobody writing a doctoral dissertation which, for a time, included a chapter on Newman.)

At the turn of the twentieth century, as the ecumenical movement began to take shape, there was for a time a great deal of goodwill between Anglicans and Orthodox. Some of the groundwork for that had been laid a considerable time earlier by an active interest that the Church of England took in Eastern Christianity through "missions" from England to places like Syria, and through the erection in England of institutions for the study of Eastern Christianity. Peter Doll's fine 2005 book Anglicanism and Orthodoxy 300 years after the 'Greek College' in Oxford documents one such institution.

As the ecumenical movement got off the ground following the famous 1910 Edinburgh mission conference, some Anglicans thought they might be able to secure from some Orthodox recognition of Anglican ordinations, whose validity was denied by the Catholic Church  in the 1896 papal bull Apostolicae curae. For a time, it was thought that the Ecumenical Patriarch had recognized Anglican orders though that opinion is held by few today and was never widespread.  One of the best books I have read on Anglican-Orthodox relations remains Bryn Geffert's Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans: Diplomacy, Theology, and the Politics of Interwar Ecumenism (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 536pp.

One of the fruits of the ecumenical movement was the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, which brought Anglicans and Orthodox together, including some well known figures of the time. A recent erudite essay by Brandon Gallher looks at Sergius Bulgakov's role in the Fellowship. That essay was recently published in Church and World: Essays in Honor of Michael Plekonwhose editor I interviewed here. The Plekon volume also features an essay by Rowan Williams, recently retired archbishop of Canterbury and an important scholar in his own right of Eastern Christianity. 

Now another book has been released treating relations in the period before Geffert's book, and focused on one church in particular: William Taylor, Narratives of Identity: The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England 1895-1914 (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013), 275pp.

About this book we are told:
The relationship between the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire and the Church of England developed substantially between 1895 and 1914, as contacts between them grew. As the character of this emerging relationship changed, it contributed to the formation of both churches' own 'narratives of identity'. The wider context in which this took place was a period of instability in the international order, particularly within the Ottoman Empire, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War, effectively bringing this phase of sustained contact to an end. Narratives of Identity makes use of Syriac, Garshuni, and Arabic primary sources from Syrian Orthodox archives in Turkey and Syria, alongside Ottoman documents from the Basbakanlik Osmanli Arsivi, Istanbul, and a range of English archival sources. The preconceptions of both Churches are analysed, using a philosophical framework provided by the work of Paul Ricoeur, especially his concepts of significant memory (anamnesis), translation, and the search for mutual recognition. Anamnesis and translation were extensively employed in the formation of 'narratives of identity' that needed to be understood by both Churches. The identity claims of the Tractarian section of the Church of England and of the Ottoman Syrian Orthodox Church are examined using this framework. The detailed content of the theological dialogue between them, is then examined, and placed in the context of the rapidly changing demography of eastern Anatolia, the Syrian Orthodox 'heartland'. The late Ottoman state was characterised by an increased instability for all its non-Muslim minorities, which contributed to the perceived threats to Ottoman Syrian Orthodoxy, both from within and without. Finally, a new teleological framework is proposed in order to better understand these exchanges, taking seriously the amamnetic insights of the narratives of identity of both the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England from 1895 to 1914.
Further details and excerpts are available here in this PDF.  

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