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Sir Humphrey Appleby: the Establishment’s Secret Weapon?

This is the Morning Room of the Athenaeum Club, to whom I am indebted for the loan (from their website) of this photograph. As wikipedia puts it,

It is noted for its large library, and for a bas-relief frieze decorating the club house exterior. It was long regarded as a clergymen’s club and today includes Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, Peers of the Realm and senior bishops amongst its members.

A member of the Lay Anglicana forum and regular contributor to the blog, Charley Farns-Barns (possibly a nom de plume) had already suggested in the comments that the answer might be a Trojan Horse, to which I responded in my last post. Now I hand over the reins to him, as he explains to us his version of recent events:


 Part The First

It’d been a fine dinner but with the port, biscuits and cheese the bishops knew it hadn’t been a success.

“Well” said +Bath & Wells as he coughed and blew crumbs over his neighbours, “I think it’s time to call for Machiavelli”.

The Archbishop nodded and someone rose and went out. Sir Humphrey Appleby entered and slumped into a chair.

“I think you know our problem” said the Archbishop, “What is your advice?”

“Well, it’s very difficult. You’ve allowed women parish priests and they’re now bumping up against the glass ceiling and you’ve chosen the time of the Queen’s Jubilee which has demonstrated sixty years of benign and clever female rule. Not to mention the Thatcher Years of forthright and determined leadership. I don’t think it could be much worse.”

“So you mean to tell us that nothing can be done” declared +Bath & Wells.

“Ah, I’m sure if I meant that, I’d have found the form of words to say so” said Sir Humphrey smoothly. “Women bishops are inevitable of course, but I suspect you might be content if you never yourselves have to meet any.”

The bishops looked at one another and thought of what they had said about them in past. Sir Humphrey could see they’d got the point.

“No, what you need is a form of words that will incense the Sisterhood so much that they will strike down this measure themselves. You need to suggest they have some rottenness, something bad – no that’s too strong – some slight but fundamental unsoundness”.

“A taint?” someone said.

“Ah! That’s just the word!”

It had been a long time coming, thought Sir Humphrey, but they’d got there in the end. If they got it themselves they’d be pleased and feel a sort of ownership.
“Yes that will upset them nicely, enough to make them force the measure down. And it shouldn’t come back until after you’re all retired. It’s about the best you’ll get”.

Sir Humphrey pocketed the cheque and left amidst profuse thanks. He was always surprised and pleased how profitable retirement was.  As he made his way to Paddington for the country, he once again reflected that the essence of acceptable advice was to tease out what the customer had in his own mind and then just polish it up a bit.

Part The Second

Sir Humphrey Appleby strolled back home from St Dodo’s across the village green at Bishop’s Codpiece.   He was enjoying his retirement as a churchwarden, for the experience as Permanent Under Secretary had come in very useful in dealing with the arcane issues of the Church of England.   And then he saw the limousine parked in his drive.

He recognised it immediately, of course – clearly ++Rowan needed “Another Chat”.  He ushered Rowan in and waited for Mrs Blossom to put down the tea and cakes and leave the room.   With the formalities done, Rowan began to open up.  It was as Sir Humphrey thought; he noticed Rowan’s finger nails were chewed down to the quick.  As expected, the Sisterhood had risen to the bait, had bridled at the implication of “taint” and at first had declared that they wanted the amended motion on women bishops to be voted down.   But, while a section of them continued in this vein, the main body of women priests now began to see the advantage of at least some female bishops.  The idea had formed of a Trojan Horse, that once some female bishops had been created then others would inevitably follow, indeed, the floodgates would be opened and others rapidly follow.

Tired and weary, Rowan asked “What can I do?”

“Well” said Sir Humphrey, “not much.  After all, the idea of “taint” was a last desperate throw.  They’ve done the logical thing, they’ve seen that once there’s one female bishop she’ll show the sky doesn’t fall in and so others will follow and all resistance will fall away.   You’ve lost it, Rowan”.

Rowan chewed a nail and was silent.  Sir Humphrey sensed there was more and then saw a way to ease it out.   “Rowan, think of happier times.  Remember when you met the Pope?  All that pomp and ceremony?” Rowan stirred.  “Do you know, I think that any disinterested party, say a newly arrived Martian, would see those two, the tall bearded chap in a golden cloak and high mitre next to that small simple fellow in a linen habit and he would have thought you were the Pope and the little man the Protestant!”  He saw Rowan smile and knew he was close.   “And you’re a scholar too; I bet you speak better Latin and Greek than most of them in the Vatican”.

Rowan looked straight at him and said “You’ve guessed haven’t you?”

“Well it’s not been difficult” replied Sir Humphrey. “First there’s your early retirement and then I always thought that your Covenant was an attempt to ease the dear old CofE closer to Rome.   But these women bishops will make Rome run screaming.  Rome’s where your heart lies, isn’t it?  But you’ll leave a recent interval after retirement won’t you before you do a Newman and swim the Tiber?   Say six months?  And if you value your scalp I wouldn’t tell the Queen if I were you.”

Rowan sighed and got up to leave. “I have your confidence?” he asked.

“As always” replied Sir Humphrey, “and I’ll watch your progress with great interest”.

“Ah, that old Civil Service curse” said Rowan as got into the back of the limousine and was driven away.

28 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

I wonder?

If ++Rowan exits for Rome, will it be Rome or the Ordinariate. Because, there will be a few outraged people, particularly Messr’s Newton et al, former Flying Bishops and one or two other retired Bishops.

Surely, if ++Rowan were to arrive, they would be unable to resist the takeover as he being Senior Episcopally to them, and in good vibes with the Pope, would automatically assume the ‘Orinary’ of the Ordinariate. It wouldn’t be good manners to do otherwise.

This is when the Trojan Horse theory comes into operation. ++Rowan connives with his successor to suggest ‘Taint’ in the conditional Re-Ordination of former Anglican Bishops and Clergy by the Catholic Church. It wasn’t really ‘in good faith’ just a container for former Anglicans to be held in until they die off, and will not be permitted to contaminate the one true church.

Having aroused the feelings of the Shepherds (so to speak) he than suggests a return to the Anglican Church as the Anglo Catholic Ordinariate. He will continue as their Ordinary, but will guarantee Church Buildings and Stipends as they take up redundant churches and bring their laity with them to resume paying parish share.

Clergy will once again have a spacious vicarage, a stipend, and access to a reasonable pension scheme.

What’s not to like?

The laity of the Ordinariate will follow their Shepherd anywhere (as seen swimming the Tiber) so will return, convinced that this is God’s call.

And, ++Rowan can park a notional tank on the Popes lawn (or at least on the Arch Bishop of Westminster’s lawn.

Job Done. ++Rowan is now a hero of the Anglican Church, and can hand on his legacy, retiring with grace to Cambridge.

Lay Anglicana said...

What I really like about this plan is the military strategy involved: the Church Militant indeed! Maybe this is what the Church has been lacking until now, someone with a decent grasp of Clausewitz and that other guy on the art of war?
The only problem I see here is the difficulty in persuading the present Archbishop of Canterbury to take any advice from anyone outside the usual circles. Let us hope one of his scouts reads this blog!

08 June 2012 15:09
08 June 2012 11:28
richard haggis said...

When I interviewed some clergy in America at about the time of the 20th anniversary of the first ordinations of women, one of them pointed out that they had three women bishops now. “And it only takes three bishops to consecrate a fourth ….”

Lay Anglicana said...

Absolutely! After that, you’ll see, they will breed other women bishops like rabbits!
Sorry, Richard, I don’t know which side you are on over this, but I feel that the appointment of women bishops is essential to the survival of the Church. ‘We must change in order to stay the same’, as Giuseppe di Lampedusa said. (Sounds better in Italian, of course?)

08 June 2012 15:03
08 June 2012 12:18
Grandmère Mimi said...

I would not be overly surprised if the story comes true. Rowan is obviously smitten with Rome. He seems ashamed of his unruly Anglican Communion, and the stress may be enough to drive him to take the swim.

Lay Anglicana said...

I wonder? I feel Archbishop Rowan might like to BE Pope but I wonder whether he would really be happy with whatever lesser office might be offered – a flying cardinal perhaps?

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh yes, Rowan would like to
BE pope. Perhaps Rowan is the Trojan horse for Rome to get the ball rolling for married priests and an eventual married pope.

Lay Anglicana said...

Yes this is the trouble with Trojan horses – they are such a good idea it becomes difficult to detect who is doing what and with which and to whom!
Still, it would be good to have married Catholic priests. Somehow I have difficulty in imagining there being a Mrs Pope, though.

UKViewer said...

I don’t think that the Catholic Church can afford Married Priests. The Ordinariate is struggling for funding for it’s Married Priests.

I could picture ++Rowan as the Pope! Nobody would know what he was talking about most of the time, but he would acknowledge that fallibility is a human frailty, even for Popes.

08 June 2012 15:30
Lay Anglicana said...

UKViewer, what are you going to do with poor Jane (aka Mrs Williams)? Will she have to go into a convent in Rome, or do you see her being smuggled in and out of the Vatican?

08 June 2012 16:00
UKViewer said...

Very much the same as they did for the spouses and families of married bishops and priests who went to Rome. Get them to swear a vow of celibacy and hope for the best 🙂

Seriously, I suspect that Jane can look after herself. She must have a good, money making book or two to write about the years at Lambeth Palace and all of the shenanigans that have gone on. Best Seller, Serialised in the Guardian – she would be set for life.

09 June 2012 18:31
08 June 2012 15:12
08 June 2012 15:05
08 June 2012 15:00
08 June 2012 14:00
Pam Smith said...

I’ve thought for quite a while that ++Rowan’s desire to please the Pope has driven quite a lot of his actions. And the attempt to bring in the Covenant showed that he wanted to change the role of the ABC into something much more akin to a Pope rather than the figurehead of a very loose and unruly federation of national Anglican churches.

I think it’s the fizzling out of the Covenant that persuaded him to move back to Academia – probably very wisely, since he has in effect made himself a ‘lame duck’ by failing to persuade most provinces to take it on.

However I really think he will probably have had more than enough of church politics when he retires from post. He’s probably longing for a period of peaceful reflection with no committees to attend!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Just imagine how those of us who left the Roman church feel. We left and joined the Episcopal Church, in part, because of the extreme authoritarianism of Rome. Then we see Rowan bowing and scraping to the pope and wanting to make Anglicanism more like the RCC. What’s going on here?

Lay Anglicana said...

I think part of the problem is the strange Church of England compromise where we have alternated Evangelical Archbishops of Canterbury with Anglo-Catholics. George Carey was Evangelical, so his successor had to be Anglo-Catholic. I think we were all taken unawares by the emphasis ++Rowan put on the ‘Catholic’ part of that description, rather than the ‘Anglo’! Maybe it would be better to look for a follower of the Via Media?

10 June 2012 07:39
10 June 2012 00:17
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting Pam. Actually I think you are probably right about ++Rowan’s future. On Facebook Lauren Gough, a priestly friend from Texas, says she sees him as becoming ever more immersed in Dostoevsky, from the groves of academe. He seems a most unlikely Dostoevskian to me (Raskolnikov? I think not). But I do see him as a potential Tolstoy – he is even beginning to look the part – happy to grow old on his estate while writing works of philosophy and, who knows, fiction.

10 June 2012 07:35
09 June 2012 23:49
Pam Smith said...

I was at my selection conference when Rowan’s appointment as ABC was announced. I didn’t know much about him, but people there who did know him were all very positive about the appointment.

Maybe he never had a hope of living up to his own pre-publicity, but even so, starting off by forcing Jeffery John to stand down for political reasons should maybe have told us that the unworldly, bardish image covered up someone much more authoritarian.

Fortunately I will never be Archbishop of Canterbury so I will never have to face up to the combination of obsequiousness and obstructiveness which seems to all but neutralise the effectiveness of even the most able candidates.

However, Rowan’s pushing of the Covenant and the compromises over women’s ordination to the Episcopate in the face of informed opinion in the Dioceses seem to show someone who was never really able to work through the structures he inherited and, by pushing the boundaries of his power, has almost broken them.

I find this very sad when I remember all the positive comments at my conference, and wonder if there is anything we could have done as a church to encourage him to develop in another direction.

Lay Anglicana said...

Sorry for the delay in replying, Pam. You say “wonder if there is anything we could have done as a church to encourage him to develop in another direction.” This is the key, isn’t it. Either the Church simply does not have the structure for feedback upwards rather than downwards, which may partly account for it, I think. The ‘civil servants’ at Lambeth probably regard their job as service to the Church of England through personal service to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This suggests an almost medieval or Tsar-like court.
Or the problem is not one of structure, but of culture. The actual civil service these days has far more room for upwards contribution, and negative as well as positive feedback. Sir Humphrey, after all, would never let the Minister make his own mistakes. Where is the Sir Humphrey figure in Lambeth?

01 July 2012 08:29
11 June 2012 00:53
Chris Fewings said...

I look on all this from afar, so these are only guesses. I don’t believe Rowan is a hierarch at heart, and I don’t believe he’s a closet Roman Catholic. I think he has a deep sense of the communion of faith across confessional boundaries and through time. ‘The Wound of Knowledge’ shows his love of the early fathers but also his understanding of the Reformation. His error seems to have been to interpret his role as holding together warring factions in the Anglican communion, even at the cost of his own convictions about human rights. He hasn’t wanted to impose his own views. I think in doing this he’s lost sight of a prophetic role even a hierarch can have, tied his conscience in knots, and is probably totally exhausted.

Lay Anglicana said...

Chris, I do think you have understood Rowan. You know how sometimes one recognises the truth by being shown it, as you have shown me here. Your model of reality does seem the most likely of any of the offered ones, including mine. People who know him keep saying what a nice man he is, and how liberal are his principles. And I cannot bring myself to dislike the man. Your distance enables you to see the wood with great clarity.

BUT those of us stuck amongst the trees find it hard to forgive his failure to be a liberal Archbishop of Canterbury. We were so thrilled and hopeful when he was appointed, but within weeks he betrayed (sorry for the word, but it does fit) Jeffrey John. This has set the pattern for the rest of his archiepiscopate. I am sorry for him, and the burdens he has had to bear (at least some of which were of his own making). But I am desperately sorry for the Church, which has sunk ever deeper into the Slough of Despond.

Chris Fewings said...

Is the problem the role, or the man? Does President Obama now have much in common with the Barack Obama of ‘Dreams of my Father’?

Lay Anglicana said...

You make a good point – and perhaps the Americans are on to something when they limit the time anyone can spend as President to 8 years – in two terms.
From our point of view as Britishers, it is a relief to see that present-day realpolitik seems to have softened Barack Obama’s resentment of our treatment of his father.
But the cares of office are certainly weighing him down, as they have Rowan. And if you compare a photograph of Tony Blair on arrival in 10 Downing Street and on leaving it, he had aged at perhaps twice the normal rate.

02 July 2012 15:17
02 July 2012 12:14
01 July 2012 08:08
30 June 2012 23:28
Chris Fewings said...

This is the Rowan Williams who stays at home when the Archbishop of Canterbury goes to the House of Bishops:

Lay Anglicana said...

Yes, absolutely (though the paragraph on ‘the gay question’ is toe-curling to read). This is the man we thought we had chosen as Archbishop.

02 July 2012 15:22
02 July 2012 11:28
Chris Fewings said...

More generally, the “Constantine question” is the one every church has to live with and wrestle with. It goes far beyond the relationship between church and state (an
odd one in England now, with the state preaching a gospel of acceptance to an
apparently deaf hierarchy). Mitres are crowns. Fourth century church governance was
partly modelled on an imperial hierarchy of power. Constantine wanted the creed on tablets of stone. And from the desert fathers (and presumably mothers) to the house
church movement and beyond, some Christians have sought to undermine rigidity in
leadership and doctrine, and ended up re-inventing it.

For some reason some of the most hierarchical, least flexible churches have done a particularly good job of letting us touch the hem of intangibility, glimpse the mystery from the corner of our eye, express the inexpressible in ordinary things. But we need to recognise that every celebration of the life-giving mysteries is a concelebration by the whole congregation, that the priest is simply a focus for the priesthood of all who attend, that a bishop takes his leadership from ‘that of God’ in everyone, not from a royal line or a hotline to heaven. ‘Sacramental assurance’ is the recognition of holy ground which can’t be fenced in by human structures, of a fire which can’t be produced: we can only be certain of the divine presence when we feel it undermining our certainties.

Maybe the unacceptable compromise that bishops and archbishops are making with the
world is the aping of structures of power which Jesus brayed at, to his cost.

Lay Anglicana said...

Not a mini-lecture, but fascinating for the questions it makes me want to ask you…
I do so agree with you about the mass being a concelebration. This is why, according to me, the priest should stand at the altar with his back to the congregation as he leads them in prayer.The focus is the altar. Many churches are abandoning this ‘very old-fashioned’view, but it alters completely the relationship between priest and congregation, with the priest, sacreligiously, becoming the focus of attention. Of course, this is presumably an unintended consequence, but unfortunate nevertheless.

I also think you are right that [eg the Orthodox churches] are good at letting us glimpse the mystery from the corner of our eye. As you slide down the candle, it seems impossible to avoid losing the sense of the ‘ineffable’ (lovely word!).

As I read this, I did wonder if you were a prince of the church in disguise! There are a lot of different topics – I wonder if you would care to enlarge any of them into a guest blog post for us? Perhaps you could expand on your idea: “some Christians have sought to undermine rigidity in
leadership and doctrine, and ended up re-inventing it.”

02 July 2012 15:38
02 July 2012 12:07
Chris Fewings said...

I’d be very happy to write a guest blog post, if you think it would be of use. (Which compass point should I face while doing so?)

Lay Anglicana said...

Chris, that would be wonderful. Choose your subject (it doesn’t have to be about Christianity, though you obviously have a lot to say about it). Write about poetry and the poetic sensibility if you like? Up to you. 500-1000 words, no deadline, but by the Autumn would be nice…
As to compass orientation, I think I must offer the Delphic answer that you should go whichever way the moral compass you have borrowed from Gordon Brown tells you to go. 🙂

04 July 2012 10:36
03 July 2012 16:16
Chris Fewings said...

I think I’d better face the high windows…

04 July 2012 15:59

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