Soon after General Convention I wrote a piece for the Episcopal Café where I argued that the defining characteristic of the Episcopal Church (and other Anglican churches) was our decision that learning to pray with one another was more important than enforcing confessional purity and shared understandings of key theological points.
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch makes the same point, but in a much more careful and scholarly way in a new book on the History of Christianity: The first three thousand years. There’s a BBC series of the same title that he’s just finished filming and which I expect will be shown here in the states sometime later this year or earlier next.
From an article about the new book and the series in the Church Times, written by William Whyte:
“[…] Rather than revealing a clear, unified, and coherent Christianity, this is an account of the many different Churches and creeds that the Christian faith inspired. Professor MacCulloch’s account of Christianity shows it as a debate from the beginning: a constant argument between Greek thought and Jewish ideas, between hierarchy and equality, order and inspiration. Indeed, for him, ‘the history of Christianity is a history of division.’
This is not, however, a problem for Professor MacCulloch — much less something to be mourned. He rejects what he calls a ‘neurotic obsession with unity’ in favour of a celebration of diversity: a history that reveals the ways in which the Church has changed and accommodated itself to historical circumstance.
Small wonder, then, that Professor MacCulloch is so dismissive of those who have tried to enforce unity, and especially doctrinal uniformity. ‘Confessional purity’, he argues, ‘is always a chimera.’ Take, for example, the Council of Chalcedon — the critical meeting of 451 which defined the two natures of Christ. This was, he argues, ‘a catastrophe, a disaster’. As he points out, fully two-thirds of the Church refused to sign up to it, and the ensuing battles ensured that the unity it was in tended to enforce was never — and could never be — achieved.
IT IS for that reason, too, that he is so keen to celebrate the Church of England — at least as it evolved from the 18th century onwards. ‘Born of an almost risible historical accident’, Anglicanism can never claim to be a confessional Church: it is a compromise between different theological positions.”
Read the full article here.
I am so getting this book.
And I’m thinking we need to raise up an Apostle of the Book of Common Prayer too. I’m worried that too many Anglicans are unaware of the critical definitional action that praying together out of the BCP is for us.