'God, I miss Christendom.'
We stumbled upon this heartfelt ejaculation appended at the end of a blog entry about the ever-alluring Inklings (CS Lewis and Company). The exclamation rattled round our head for a bit. Missing Christendom: Of course. Entirely natural.
But how many of us have known something called Christendom — a geographical and political entity, embodying the Kingdom of God on earth — to miss? A parlour game called, say, When Did Christendom End? could have a number of plausible winning answers. But suffice it that none reading this were alive during any right answer. So it's the idea of Christendom that many of us miss. But which Christendom? The emerging theocracy at the time of Constantine's Edict of Milan? The later Roman Empire, with its checkerboard of feudal kingdoms? Charlemagne's empire? Or perhaps closer to our Anglican home, the misty and romantic Albion conjured so well by Percy Dearmer?
Pieces of Christendom will always hold a magical allure. Imagine time marked by feast and fast days, not primarily by dates and months. A world where churches were literally sanctuaries for all, whether murderers or martyrs. A commonality of liturgical language (even if not well understanded by most people). A deep-rooted sense of Christian obligation to help the poor. An understanding of symbol and sacrament shared by all. But the shadow side of Christendom includes a shameful trail of forced conversions, crusades, inquisitions, and persecutions. We can never forget the shadow, this side of heaven.
If 'Christendom' means the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth through human structures and institutions that extend their reach well beyond parish boundaries, we fear that Christendom. We mere mortals don't have a honourable track record of managing principalities and powers. The geo-political expansion of Christianity, along with goodness and grace, brought devastation and death. 'Then I saw that there was a way to Hell even from the Gates of Heaven' . . .
And here we are all, in the remains of Avalon, called the Anglican Communion. It was once an unstructured way of being Anglican Christian throughout the world, embodied through commonality of worship, a broad and charitable understanding of doctrine, and a distaste for the hard-and-fast borders and concretized structures of the Roman obedience. It was an unimaged Christendom, if you will, whose borders were unseen and whose shibboleth was love, writ large.
There were tedious aspects to it. It could be very masculine. It could be very white and Anglo-Saxon. It tended to equate Christianity with Western Civilisation, and the confusion caused no end of trouble and all round awfulness. But this funny old Ecclesia Anglicana could often right itself, correct its excesses, pray to do better, and carry on with the Lord's business. As we've opined through the years, the Anglican Communion was more a mood than a theology. The last decades have seen a growing bad mood and increasing bad behaviour. There have been many earnest attempts to 'fix' all that seems wrong with us (that would be the Communion). Reciting the sequence of reports, drafts, and debates would tire us and you. If you've followed the various steps that have brought us to the Windsor Whatever, you don't need to be told. And if you haven't, it makes no matter.
The vision of the Communion to Come is not ours.
We recognise the tensions and the troubles that beset us all round, but we should rather promote a passive obedience to the unstructured nature of what has bound us than to do violence to all that has characterized the 'genius' of this part of God's Kingdom. We know that the present Archbishop of Canterbury sees things differently. He has made that quite clear in his Pentecost letter. Perhaps future historians will consider that letter a boundary marker of the terminus ad quem of the Anglican Communion. Or perhaps in our ungainly, unstructured, unregulated way, we shall keep calm and carry on, resisting the temptation to establish an Anglican Christendom. There is much alluring to many in such a concept, but not to us.
We'll be Anglicans, whatever that means, till our lives end. And as long as it makes any sort of sense, we'll continue to call ourselves Anglicans Online.
See you next week.
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