The Church of England seems to attract few defenders. Some from the Catholic wing have crossed the Tiber to the Ordinariate; others on the liberal wing seem indistinguishable from secular liberals; and there is always the Archbishop of Canterbury to criticise when all other news fails. Sometimes it seems as though ‘the centre cannot hold’; and yet it does.
The Church of England is a compromise. It is not the hard-line Protestantism of Edward VI, neither is it the return to Catholicism of Mary I. To those who like firm lines of definition, this looks like a fault; to those of us who wish for a degree of comprehensiveness, it is a virtue. It reminds me of the definition of Christ’s two natures agreed at Chalcedon. The ancestors of the Copts found it too Nestorian, whilst the Nestorians found it made insufficient concessions to their position. Any such comparison should not be pressed too hard; but the point is that any widely accepted set of formulae will have within them things which those who want sharp definitions won’t like – and that in dealing with the Infinite Mystery of the Economy of our salvation, we should beware of thinking that granularity is necessarily to be had.
Newman may have abandoned his idea of the C of E as the via media, but that does not mean he was wrong to have formulated it. Much as I admire the Roman Catholic Church, there is something in it unduly attached to legalisms and definitions, or at least that is my impression. From experience, at least at secondhand, its approach to divorced people taking communion seems to fall into that category. Annulments are a long and complex process, and whilst clearly designed to help deal with the tension between what Our Lord said and pastoral needs, they seem at once cumbersome and lacking in appreciation of the needs of the repentant sinner; the C of E’s approach recognises the latter and lacks the former.
Of course to those convinced that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ, these things are, rightly, secondary, but to those of us still of the view that the C of E is the branch of Catholicism practised in these islands, they give cause for hesitation.
My Orthodox acquaintances push their argument about legalism far too far in my view, almost to the point of it becoming their version of anti-Catholicism. There is much wisdom to be gained from studying the Orthodox tradition, as there is from really knowing the Catholic one. For me, one of the virtues of where I am is that I do not have to choose between them, or reject men like Wesley, who I also regard with veneration. A typical muddled Anglican? Perhaps, but a position shared by many. That does not make it right to those for whom it seems like persistence in error; but it allows me to persist in my journey, and wherever I end up, I will be grateful to the Anglican Church which formed me.