John Milbank on the Future of Anglicanism

Again, over at ABC Religion & Ethics, John Milbank has a stimulating article on After Rowan: The Coherence and Future of Anglicanism. Particularly enjoyable was his remarks about the need for proper divinity schools in the UK (and I would say a fortiori in Australia/New Zealand).

  • The Church of England needs to make higher education its top priority – especially given that it can no longer necessarily rely on the universities providing theological courses if they are given no ecclesial assistance. In Britain, we need excellent divinity schools and an enhanced church role in the existing universities of Anglican foundation – from Oxford and Cambridge to the smaller and more recent institutions. (It should be noted that already the life of Oxbridge chapels and churches, like that of cathedrals, is showing strong signs of recovery, alongside the beginnings of a theological and vocational revival.) It would be a good idea also, as Rowan Williams himself has often suggested, to supplement this with an equivalent role for South Africa, which provides a vital link between the African world and that of the “western” nations. In such institutions new inspiration and old learning could creatively mix. And the elite future leaders of global Anglicanism trained there would preserve a natural love for their alma mater and its cultural and political setting.

  • The Church of England needs some sort of equivalent of the Catholic cardinalate. This could be supplied – not by the superfluous creation of an equivalent super-elite – but rather by reinforcing the collective international authority of archbishops who are globally some thirty-eight in number. Currently they meet infrequently and in various locations round the world, but perhaps they need to assemble more often and usually in Canterbury, so that they can be given a more consistent role in shaping a new policy for the whole communion. This would at once enhance the “enforcing” role of Canterbury (without which no polity of any kind ever stands) and yet also increase the influence of Anglicans in other countries. For at present, the periodical Lambeth summit of all the world’s bishops is simply too infrequent and too unwieldy – and this has been a considerable part of the problem. The archbishops might also be given special links to particular dioceses or even specific parishes in England so that they would have a sense of another home in that country and a stake in English affairs.

  • The Anglican Church needs to increase the effectiveness of its teaching office, since this is an essential aspect of priesthood and episcopacy. While the operation of the Catholic magisterium is still (whether fairly or unfairly) regarded as too draconian by many Anglicans, there is little doubt that Anglicanism has gone way too far in the other direction, and offers its members pitifully little guidance and only partial and sporadic leads on doctrine and practice. Again, the work of the doctrine commission in England has recently lapsed and needs to be revived, but in a new international guise and a more thoroughgoing fashion.

  • Fascinating stuff for Anglophiles to think about!

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    • Charles T.

      Thanks, Michael. Very stimulating. Lots of untapped potential. (The “revival” of enthusiastic attendance at the college chapels at Oxbridge may seem no bigger than a man’s hand at the moment; but I see it as a sign worth watching and pondering. Something’s stirring in the old Ecclesia Anglicana. Could be the Holy Spirit.