TODAY saw the conclusion of what can already be looked upon as one of the most important General Synods in the entire history of the Church of England. The inevitable tenseness over the vote on the Covenant scheme has now become a factor which, in itself, will overshadow future developments for a long time to come.
There can be moral schism without judical schism and a formal split within a church is not necessary to establish that a profound gap exists between two widely differing wings. Can that Church thereafter speak with one voice on ecumenical matters? Where in particular are Anglican-Catholic relations likely to be left for the time being?
The ARCIC document, despite the fargefy negative response thereto in Rome, nevertheless hoped for unity on the basis of an eventual meeting of minds based on the essentials of integral churchmanship even if not everyone agreed as to ends and means of unity. Total unanimity on such points can never be established.
The Anglican Church of the future must be examined for its true heart and mind on essentials long after voting figures have been studied and analysed. The Catholic Herald will be publishing a news analysis next week of the immediate consequences of these momentous events. Subsequent articles will probe deeper into the longer term prospects. The whole matter is of the utmost importance.
The loss to the Christian world, in a context such as this, of Pope Paul VI is a grievous one. No Pope in history understood more closely and sympathetically the complexities of the Anglican Communion. To him the Church of England was a "sister church." There was a moment during his greatly undervalued Pontificate where the classic "uniate" solution to the break between Canterbury and Rome seemed suddenly very near.
The object, in other words, was unity, not union. The same objective exists today. But there are two obstacles that did not exist in Pope Paul's day.
One is a new preoccupation with relations with the Orthodox East. This is to be applauded but the fact_that_it_tak-es-priority-over-other-ecumenical relationships has, for the time being, altered the ecumenical world balance. It is very different from what it was ten years ago.
The other factor is the inevitable shadow left by the struggle within the Anglican-Free Church world as to which of two very different versions of church policy should predominate. Only when a solid modus vivendi can be finally established once and for all will the way for even wider unity be cleared.
It is sad and ironical, nonetheless, that a golden chance was missed in the days of the Pope who really knew what he was about when addressing himself to our Anglican brothers. But that Pope, as we know, had enemies in powerful circles backing their own ideas of tradition, as against the Pope's ideas, with not insubstantial sums of money. They have much for which to answer.