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Hallo again to all.

Theological causes célèbres punctuate the life of the Church. In the aftermath of the US Episcopal Church's General Convention, the tedious phrase Gorham Judgement General Convention Gorham Judgement General Convention has been rattling through our mind like a freight train. (We'll get to the eponymous Mr Gorham in a minute.)

The famous Gorham CaseFrom circumcision and its complexities (who should, who must, who needn't) in the early Church, to the doctrine of purgatory (getting in, getting out, or being sprung from same) in the mediaeval Church, the roils come and the roils go.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a volcano of passion and pamphlets was released onto what could be loosely called the Anglican Communion when an otherwise blameless clergyman, G.C. Gorham, in his statements strayed somewhat beyond the traditional teaching about the nature of infant baptism. As a result, he was denied a position within the Diocese of Exeter by its bishop*. The shockwaves of the Gorham case echoed from America to New Zealand. Later in the nineteenth century, pitched battles — with onerous fines and gaol terms as a consequence — occurred about vestments, candles, flowers, and deceased wives' sisters.

In the early twentieth century and extending well into mid-century, the question of divorce and remarriage shook the churches of the Anglican Communion, as a enlargement of the traditional understanding came smack up against what appeared to be the incontrovertible 'Basically not possible' of Our Lord's reported words on the subject.

In the last half of twentieth century, issues within the Church about the equality of whites and blacks, men and women, and later, gays and straights, came to the fore. Some of those have been resolved and others remain in a participial state of 'resolving', in a sort of a theological occluded front.

This brief potted timeline only touches some of the better known and more intelligible theological and doctrinal fights. More abstruse battles of the schoolmen and doctors fragmented the early Church, but a clear understanding of those issues is generally confined to to church historians and more serious scholars. We're concerned here with what makes headlines in the Daily Mirror or an earlier equivalent, such as the Diurnal Palimpsest or gossip in the Samaritan agora.

Virtually all of these matters — deceased wives and divorce, incense and infants — were deal-breakers or schism-makers in their time. Other matters prompted, if not schism, swimming of the Tiber by those who could not abide the eventual disposition of a controversy. During the heat of all these protracted disputes, the various 'sides' were no doubt as fatigued and battle-weary as many of us are in the midst of our own time's controversy over the nature of human sexuality, the understanding of marriage, and all the various subsets. We occasionally take consolation in the fact that contemporary controversies at least seem of greater gravitas than the questions of vestments and altar adornments, matters which so tore apart our recent forebears.

Surely even the slightest skim of church history suggests that 'arena of navel to knee' so preoccupying us will one day takes it place amongst the roster of battles whose contestants were sure — in the midst of the fog of war — that the gates of hell were prevailing. They aren't, and they won't. So Our Lord promised, and His promises are sure. Be of good cheer.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 26 July 2009


* This complex matter came to involve not only the original dispute surrounding the nature of infant baptism, but the appropriate realms for ecclesiastical decision within the Church and the Government. The Gorham matter had escalated through the ecclesiastical courts to it resting place in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which found in favour of the Reverend Mr Gorham, thus forcing the Bishop of Exeter to appoint Gorham to the cure he had originally denied to him.

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