Tainted Love

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I did not imagine that I my first blog post for 2015 would include reference to the 39 Articles. Nor did I ever imagine that I would write a blog that made reference to the 1981 Soft Cell hit “Tainted Love.” (If you don’t know the song, it is delight and I’ll leave Google to lead you to it).

The Anglican Church in England has just ordained a woman bishop. A first for them and this should be a joyful topic for a first blog. The church, which is sometimes described as a mighty tortoise in its progress, has made genuine progress. In the words of the Guardian commentator, Andrew Brown, “The service is a final decisive break with the tradition of an all male priesthood.” I guess one would have to qualify Brown’s statement as speaking for the Church of England, as, in the adapted words of the hymn, “God is still working her purpose out” in some parts and places.

So, Hallelujah! The Right Reverend Libby Lane is now a bishop! Congrats to her and to all who have worked hard and long for the day.

As is often the case at such moments in history, the side players are the most interesting and end up speaking volumes. For instance, within the service one priest yelled an objection at the point in the service when the congregation was invited to do so. The Archbishop of York, all decently and order, read a prepared statement and moved on. This moment has captured much media attention.

The other sideline issue that has grabbed plenty of attention is the upcoming ordination to the episcopate of the Reverend Phillip North as the soon to be Bishop of Burnley.

For those who have been following the story the details of all this are familiar. But for those who haven’t: In a surprise gesture the Archbishop of York and other bishops who have laid hands on Bishop Libby, are not going to lay hands on Father Phillip out of sensitivity to the fact that he is opposed to the ordination of women to the episcopate. The laying on of hands is significant to Anglicans who believe that, even though there have been splits in the church’s life down the centuries there is a single line of “apostolic succession” going back 2,000 years to Jesus’s disciples. ‘Traditionalists’ (I am being polite), who do not recognize female priests or bishops, believe that a male-only line of succession should be maintained.

The greatest present controversy surrounds the Archbishop of York because he, although the Archbishop, will not preside and will ‘stand back’ at the ordination of Father Phillip even though he will be present and it is in his Province. This is unheard of and has led to claims that the concern that the Archbishop is indulging is a belief about ‘tainted hands’ as if the notion at play is some kind ‘girl fever’ that can be caught and spread like an heretical virus. ‘Tainted love, Don’t touch me please…’ The Archbishop has tried to deny any ‘taint’ type theology being at play, but has probably failed in his attempts. It is a case of what we do speaks louder than our words.

The eminent kiwi blogger Bosco Peters has already picked up on a deep concern he has and I want to develop that somewhat. (You should read Bosco’s blog
found here http://liturgy.co.nz/anglo-donatism ).

The place to start is with the Twenty-sixth article of the 39 Articles which reads (it is worth quoting if full because the language is so fabulous):
XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.

What the twenty-sixth article addresses is the question: how can unworthy humans preside and administer holy things (sacraments) without blemishing them to make them unholy too? The answer is that this holy work is done not by virtue of the minister but “because of Christ’s institution and promise.” Thus, even if we were to concede something as obtuse as the premise that ordaining a woman is a sinful act, an archbishop having presided at such an evil ordination hinders not the effect of a subsequent ordination of a man by the same archbishop.

The deep point here is that sacramental action, ordination being one such kind of act, is the work of “Christ’s promise”, that is, the Holy Spirit. God makes holy, not humans – as if we can make something holy by our magic! It is not the Archbishop’s hands or his perfect virtue that ordains but God who ordains.

I think a failure to understand this deep point leads to some weird idea that a bishop ‘bestows’ gifts at ordination; that power, or grace, or gifts somehow flow out of the goodness of the ordaining one and are bestowed on the next duly chosen one. Thus, you can see that it isn’t so much ‘taint’ or infection that is passed from a sinful bishop to another bishop it is more that the sin somehow blocks the holy pores and power can’t flow through anything but pure hands! You can see, therefore, why the Archbishop of York protests against the idea of taint, because that fails to understand the weird idea that he apparently has operating in his mind – it not that he will “get” something bad, it would be that he would be unable to “give” anything good.

Let me illustrate how deep the idea of ‘bestowal’ is in our church by turning to the liturgy of ordinations: If you look at all the photos of the Archbishop of York at the important moment of the laying on of hands, you will see him with his mitre on. If you were also to look up on the internet “rules about mitres” you would find a variety of sets of rules. All agree (all that I have ever found) that one should not wear the mitre when one is praying (it is the same with other fancy liturgical hats, birettas etc). Indeed, the general rule with hats is “don’t pray with it and don’t play with it.” One doesn’t wear a mitre, for instance, in the Prayers of Intercession or the Eucharistic prayer. However, the rules are not of one mind when it comes to ordaining. Many suggest/ say that one should wear one’s mitre when ordaining. This is a mistake because it fails to convey – albeit to the church in a churchy gesture –  that what is happening is a prayer. The Ordaining Bishop is praying (on behalf of the church gathered) for the Holy Spirit to act and bestow gifts and grace. The ordaining bishop is NOT bestowing gifts from his pure and holy hands! To be absolutely clear about this deep point: bishops should take their hats off and pray, indeed, pray mightily!

So, perhaps the final irony in all this is that the Archbishop of York will be present and, no doubt, praying with the rest of the church at the ordination of Father Phillip to the episcopate. I wonder what Father Phillip thinks about whether God can hear the prayers of sinners?

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20 comments

  1. Thanks for so wisely developing these thoughts, Bishop Jim. I have updated my post to encourage people to read the development here. And I love the mitre insight – I’ve never yet needed (thank God!) to check up on mitre-wearing principles. Now I have a new distraction 🙂

    Blessings

    Bosco
    http://www.liturgy.co.nz

  2. I, also, love the Mitre reflection – “don’t pray with it and don’t play with it.” A new take on the issue. I have to confess, I am less perturbed by North wanting ‘untainted hands’ laid upon him, than I am by the Archbishop and others acceding to the request. The article is clear, and as many have pointed out, it seemed at best Neo-Docetism to give in. I would suggest, that unless North was willing to be ordained bishop by whatever bishop laid her/his hands upon him, then he should recuse himself. He probably doesn’t think Libby Lane is really a bishop anyway, so let him do the theological gymnastics, if she were to be present to lay hands. ++John should not. I see this as a failure of Episcopal authority not a statement of inclusivity. The appointment of ‘flying bishops,’ is surely an ecclesiological question, not a sacramental one, and should follow not precede that of ordination. Bah humbug.

  3. +Jim, happy New Year.
    An interesting topic that has been generating lots of conversation in the blogosphere. So far no one has convinced me that anything other than a generous political response is being made by the ABY to Fr North’s theological rejection of Holy Orders being appropriate for women.

    I’m afraid your very well written piece above fell over when you described ordination as a sacrament. When you skipped down to the 26th Article you missed Article 25 on Sacraments which says:

    Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

    There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

    Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

    The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.

    Ordination is no sacrament. Well, that’s the traditional Anglican position anyway.

    I think what disturbs me most about all the negative criticism of the ABY is that any sense of tolerant inclusion towards those who don’t agree with the ordination of women to the episcopate is completely undone. The majority of writers seem to want to prescribe one standard on this issue, despite an agreement to disagree within the CofE.

    This terrifies me as in ACANZP we stare down the barrel of motion 30. Will those of us who are ‘traditionalists’ have stones cast at us for our unwillingness to accept a new direction. If the ABY is fair game then I dare say lowly clerics like myself will be buried in the rocks at the hands of our brothers and sisters supposedly in Christ.

    Where is our cry for diversity and tolerance of the traditionalist?

    Thank you for writing and contributing something which has made me try to sharpen my thinking.

    1. Zane,

      Thanks for disclosing my basic prejudice that I think ordination is a sacrament -even if I don’t actually say outright that it is one in the post. As you can tell from the title of my blog, I lean towards the Anglo-Catholic part of the Anglican tradition that holds with this view. Ordination is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” and, as such, is a sacrament. It is fairly commonly viewed as a sacrament and, indeed, the 25th Article makes that point.

      What I do not claim in the blog is that ordination is a dominical sacrament (I do not count ordination “for Sacraments of the Gospel”) – which is also the point of the 25th Article – something I had not overlooked even if you think I tripped over it.

      In response to your critique of me criticizing the Archbishop of York: I think we are working out how to both live with difference and remain in dialogue. Unity does not equal uniformity and that means we have to somehow both stay in relationship and engage seriously with each other’s opinions and actions. I tried to argue for a point where I think the Archbishop made a mistake. “Tolerant inclusion,” as i understand it, does not mean ignoring or all conversation and critique is off limits.

      So, sharpen your thinking and critique away.

      Best wishes,

      +jim

  4. I think that the Arch Bishop of York is mistaken in his decision to only permit two ‘selected’ bishops to lay hands on Fr North. In response to an email to him, he drew my attention to the decisions of General Synod and to the five principles established to be used with grace to ensure the continued flourishing of traditional Anglicans who are unable to accept the ministry of Women. He also stated that he had absolute discretion in the matter and that the decision had been taken by him, and not in accordance with the wishes expressed by Fr North.

    My whole issue with this is that Fr North is to be an Area Bishop in Burnley, where he will have the ‘Cure’ of souls of all Clergy and People. The Ordinal states that the Bishop is to be the focus of unity across the Diocese/Area that they are the Chief Minister too – how can he swear an oath to uphold this, when he is already in impaired communion with every women in Ordained Ministry in the Church of England, let alone those he will have responsibility for in the See of Burnley?

    His role isn’t to be a PEV, but to be the focus for the whole of the See of Burnley – which no matter how hard he might try, will not be unified under his leadership. The five principles supposedly provide scope for gracious respect for difference, but by agreeing to only be consecrated by ‘untainted’ Bishops. He has time to rethink this, before it’s too late. I sincerely hope that he does.

  5. Is it significant that when you respond to Bosco you do not sign yourself, but when you respond to Zane you pull rank and use the + moniker? He must have hit a raw spot. If Bishops exoect to be called ‘Bishop so-and-so’ then they should refer to priests as ‘Priest so-and-so’. It’s all very hierarchically silly – but then so is the church. As for the controversy, if a woman were to function in a sacramental capacity in two of my churches, the hardest working folk say they would leave – and I believe them. This is the pastoral reality on the ground, and no amount of huffing and puffing alters that. It is not these people that have invented a new sect, but, in their eyes, the General Synod of the C of E.

    1. William+, I don’t think it significant that I signed myself in that way – I didn’t think about it and just followed the manner that Zane+ addressed me. Bosco+ and i know each other little better than Zane+ and I know each other… I see, however, I did not do the courtesy of acknowledging Zane’s holy orders in any way but, then, he didn’t identify himself as ordained in his comment…
      I don’t think he hit a “raw spot” – but I might be so deluded that I can’t even see that!
      I am sorry that some in your congregation cannot welcome the ministry of women in holy orders. I hope they can open their hearts and minds to the new reality.

  6. Regarding the ABY’s reluctance – and his virtual instructions to other bishops who have been privy to the ordination of women – to take part in the ‘laying on of hands’ at Fr. North’s episcopal ordination; Archbishop Sentamu himself puts it down to the need for ‘Gracious Restraint’. No doubt, this is in response to the General Synod’s amazing willingness to concede to F.i.F.’s perceived insistence on male-only apostolic succession.

    Like you, I have the Anglo-Catholic understanding of the laying on of hands at ordination as being a sacramental action; but I concede that some N.Z. clergy might well not see it that way. However; in bowing to the F.I.F. (‘Forward in Faith’), but really maybe – Backward in Despair – minority in the Church of England, I fear that the spectacle of bishops holding back from laying their hands on Fr. North will convey the idea of a different degree of episcopacy – from that of Bishop Libby Lane, whose episcopal ordination was affirmed by most of the Bishops present, of not all.

    What does this say to us about the collegiality of the House of Bishops on the Church of England? But that they are a House divided?

  7. There is a certain irony here; Uk Viewer raises the point that Rev North will not be the focus of unity for the some of the people to whom he ministers. Yet Bishop Libby also stands in the same position. The irony is that during the long debates on women in the episcopate, whenever the unity objection was raised, the answer was always…Its the office of the Bishop, not the person, which is the focus of unity. We cannot apply this argument to support women bishops (and in this case Bishop Lane) and deny it to a bishop who doesn’t support the ordination of women.(Rev North).

    Secondly Rev Ron Smith argues that the House of Bishops are a divided house. I have say this is ironic again. Its divided because of the ordination of women to the episcopate. Yet a divided House was never an acceptable reason not to ordain women into it.

  8. I once listened to a sermon by John Sentamu when he was an assistant parish priest working in London ( many years ago ) and the gist of his sermon was that every – with the emphasis on every – man and woman has the right to equal opportunity within and without the Church, and that the Church must lead by example. He also spoke very plainly about never excluding others or oneself from the sacraments of the Church – that it is the role of the Church to be fully inclusive in ALL its actions. Mmm! Br G-M.

  9. Why is it that Saint Paul’s mature understanding that: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female” has not – until recently – been taken seriously by the Churches?

    If the new rationale applies to all aspects of the Christian life (in Christ), then why should it not be applied to the issue of Church Leadership in the ministerial orders?

    I suspect that the inbuilt misogyny of the Church has taken a long time to absorb this basic message of Saint Paul, who – despite other reference to his own misogyny, that presumably had to be overcome in order for him to make this basic statement – himself affirmed the pastoral ministry of women. A list of them is mentioned in his epistles.

    Unfortunately, the Church inherited the ethos of male superiority from its earliest origins in the situation of the day and age. Jesus’ attitude to women was one of the reasons he was crucified. The question is, do we need to continue the oppression of women in the modern world, where women are considered to be co-bearers of the Image and Likeness of God?

    The later understanding of Mary Maqdalene as The First Apostle – charged by the Risen Christ to tell the Good News of his Resurrection to the (male) disciples – has given new insight into what Jesus himself may have wished. At the time, though, the male disciples did not believe her – or that she would be charged with that apostolic responsibility. What’s changed?

      1. seriously, since you are an artist, I take the wearing of a mitre (and other dressing of people and places) to be an artful gesture. Does ‘art’ really matter? “No,’ and ‘yes.’ Might we ask what the art conveys? ‘Yes.’ My blog seeks to explore that in a minor way and in a deeper way asks what do we think is going on at an ordination.

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