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‘One Day You Will Bow to Me’: Guest Post By The Anglican Covenant


If you do not already know him, may I introduce you to

Anglican Covenant
Anglican Covenant
Out to take over the world, one province at a time. Sign up!
Things have come to such a pass that it seemed necessary to invite him to offer a guest post. Prepare to shiver your timbers!




Greetings from the many corners and folds of the world where I am being debated and weighed. Greetings from the few places where I have been enthusiastically embraced as a way forward out of the mire. Greetings from the recycling bins of councils that have passed me along (but only in principle, with some great reservation or other, noting as they have done so that I do not ultimately change those churches’ sense of autonomy – a concept beyond my orbit).


Does my tone make me seem like someone who feels guilty over all the stomach acid people have expended on his behalf? It might, but I don’t. I’m not guilty any more than the sky is green or the grass is blue.


For I am the Anglican Covenant. I am an inanimate piece of paper with words written upon it. My creators did not intend for me to feel anything, so I don’t. In fact, I’m a perfectly rational substitute for the bonds of mutual affection some of you lot have come to treasure so.


Even so, one day you will all bow down to me. I am sure of this, even as I totter on the edge of non-adoption, because I was made to be sure of it.


Some say I am a futile project borne of yesterday’s clerics, and that said clerics were desperate to lock down some sort of position, some kind of certitude, while their ship tottered and sank. Some say I am the impulses of a West-fearing Southern Cone wary of the importation of sexualized culture. Some say I was simply present at the creation but it took a crisis, a rift, to see my necessity and to breathe my articulation into life.


I like this last bit because it makes me feel especially important. I like feeling important. I will not be thought of as irrelevant, and neither will I tolerate your thinking that I am. For as I mentioned, I will be reverenced someday soon.


Some say, too, that I’m about power, and that bores me. Everybody always talks about power, and some of your clerics (the less canny among them, I’m afraid) even talk about giving it away to the people, and in turn those people giving their power to the marginalized and disenfranchised. Not me; I’m going to accrete all I can and never expend it – only threaten and pose, strut and cajole. I love being me, for as I have said, that’s how I was made.


Never mind all that rubbish from Jesus about loving everyone equally and treating your brother as you would want to be treated. Never mind about your revelation, or of how God’s Holy Spirit works through localized contexts and in particular persons acting and speaking in particular circumstances.


That’s enough theology. Theology makes me tired. I like games and sports – nothing too deep, mind. Otherwise I have to go to the counselor, who says I have accute narcissistic personality disorder. I don’t know what that means and haven’t the slightest interest in looking it up.


Look, the point is, freedom – your freedom, I mean – is illusory. Eventually we give it all over to someone else. Don’t believe me? Pop round to the old-folks’ home; who do you think’s running the show down there?


So here’s the deal. Give me your power, your freedom, your sense of what makes for justice and right and wrong, and I promise to hold it as one who … well, “cares” is too strong a word. Let’s just say tries to appear to care. That’s it.


Well, I suppose that about covers it for now. See you soon.






Since @AngCovenant does not deign to show his face, it seemed best to ask the dark Lord, Darth Vader himself, to do the honours. Wikimedia offers us this version under a creative commons licence.


Blaise Pascal : Mathematician, Philosopher and Genius (1623-1662)

Guest Post by The Revd Graham Tomlin, Dean of St Mellitus College


On the 23rd September 1647, René Descartes, the father of modern thought and author of the best-known sound-bite in the history of western philosophy, “I think, therefore I am,”  paid a visit to a young, rather sickly twenty-four year old, recently arrived in Paris with his sister. He, like Descartes, was a mathematician, a philosopher of sorts, and a genius. His name was Blaise Pascal. Although at this time they were on fairly good terms, within a few years they were set on almost diametrically opposite paths, Descartes confident that the future lay with human reason, and its ability to explain and understand everything that matters, Pascal convinced that human rationality was fatally flawed by the Fall, and that the truth lay in historic Augustinian Christianity. Much of what they said that day remains unrecorded, but the meeting perhaps symbolises the meeting of an older Christianity with a new modern age, confident in human abilities, thinking it had little need now of those old ways.


Blaise Pascal never saw his 40th birthday. He was an anguished, illness-ridden, often lonely man, who, at the cutting edge of contemporary scientific experimentation, felt keenly the intellectual ferment of his day. One November night in 1654, he experienced a profound encounter with God, which turned a distant and arid faith into a gripping sense of mission and devotion. He died eight years later in voluntary poverty, leaving behind scattered papers which were probably intended as a grand Apology for Christianity, conceived very much with people like Descartes in mind. These were subsequently gathered together and published by his friends as the famous “Pensées”, “Thoughts on Religion and various other subjects.” Throughout these jottings, we can see Pascal countering two opposing attitudes, very familiar to his contemporaries, and also very familiar today, a fact which makes him such a fascinating figure for us.


War on Two Fronts

On the one hand, he was conscious of those who, like Descartes, were supremely and increasingly confident in the power of human reason and its ability to deliver sure, unequivocal certainty. On the other, a vigorous body of opinion in C17th France was distinctly cynical and sceptical about knowing anything for sure. Taking their cue from the great C16th moralist Montaigne, whose great question was “What can I know?”, these “Pyrrhonists” tended to be laid-back and ironic: if we can know nothing, what is there left but to enjoy life while you can? Poised between Descartes’ certainty and Montaigne’s scepticism, Pascal’s self-imposed task was to persuade his contemporaries on both sides that Augustinian Christianity was a better bet than either.


Perhaps all of this has a contemporary ring for us. New Age anti-rationalism, and the laid-back postmodern suspicion of Truth are both heirs of the sceptic Montaigne. On the other hand, there are still old-fashioned rationalists around who believe that science can lead us to infallible knowledge, that human reason and logic can uncover absolute Truth. Neither have much room for the Christian God. Can Pascal help us as we face similar challenges to him?


Some Christians in Pascal’s day bought Descartes’ line. They saw no problem for Christianity if human reason was the ultimate test of Truth, because the Faith could be proved to be reasonable and true. So, a good many works of apologetics appeared in C17th France, all trying to show evidence from nature or miracles which proved the existence of God, or logical arguments designed to demonstrate the rationality of Christianity, so that anyone who read them would be compelled to believe. Pascal thought these a complete waste of time.


For starters, he pointed out that human reason is not actually as reliable as Descartes thought it was. Imagination, for example, is far more persuasive: “Put the world’s greatest philosopher on a plank that is wider than need be; if there is a precipice below, although his reason may convince him that he is safe, his imagination will prevail!” If we really want something to be true, even if it doesn’t quite seem to fit, or even when an annoying fly is buzzing around our ears, the ability to think rationally & coolly somehow vanishes, and reason is quietly shown the door. Furthermore, Pascal admitted, when you look closely at the world, it doesn’t prove God’s existence at all. God does not show himself at every corner, in fact at times he seems distinctly shy and hard to find. The world does not shout out obvious compelling proofs for God’s existence, and even Christianity itself doesn’t always seem to make good rational sense.


Is this then because it isn’t true? Is it because God isn’t there? Is sceptical agnosticism the only answer? Well, no, says Pascal. There is still enough to make us think again. We do sometimes experience a hunger inside, an “infinite abyss” which can only be filled by God, and until then we remain restless. We do have experiences, and see evidence that suggest there just might be a God, that it may be true after all. Not enough to convince, but not enough to silence the voice of faith either. In fact, if sceptics disbelieve in God, Pascal disbelieves in sceptics: “I maintain that a perfectly genuine sceptic has never existed,” he once memorably wrote. The world is so confusing and ambiguous, that neither the rationalist nor the sceptic can fully explain it all.

The Hidden God

Pascal’s answer to this problem can be summed up in one simple sentence from the “Pensées”: “What can be seen on earth indicates neither the total absence, nor the manifest presence of divinity, but the presence of a Hidden God.” For Pascal, God deliberately hides himself in the world: we see glimpses of him, but then we’re not sure whether we can trust the evidence of our eyes. Why on earth should God do this?


Pascal’s answer is very important. God hides himself because he is not the God who stands at the end of an argument, who can be ticked off as something known and then ignored, and does not want to be. He is an intensely passionate God, who, when he comes into relationship with people, “unites himself with them in the depths of their soul.. and makes them incapable of having any other end but him.” You either have this kind of intimate personal encounter with God, or you don’t have him at all. He hides himself so that those who are idly curious, who don’t really want this kind of relationship with God and are only playing theological games, will not find him. Yet those who hunger for him deep within themselves, who are desperate to know him, they and they alone will find what they are looking for.


So, for Pascal, presenting an unbeliever with a list of proofs for Christianity or evidence for faith is probably a waste of breath. If someone basically doesn’t want to believe, no amount of proof can ever convince her. God will always remain hidden, and she will always find reasons not to believe. The crucial factor in persuading someone to believe, suggests Pascal, is not to present evidence, but first to awaken a desire for God in them. In other words, when commending Christianity to people, ‘make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.’ Such proofs as there are for Christianity can convince those who hope it is true, but will never convince those who don’t…




I am profoundly grateful to The Revd Dr Graham Tomlin for allowing me to use this abbreviated version of an article of his, which originally appeared in The Church Times, as an introduction to Pascal, his life and works.

I am hoping to follow this up with my own look at some of Pascal’s sayings.



The sculpture of Pascal, which stands in the Louvre, is by Augustin Pajou. The sculpture and the engraving (nfd) are both from wikimedia and are available under a creative commons licence.


I Too Had A Dream

Dr Martin Luther King stirred a nation in his famous speech, ‘I have a dream‘.

I too had a dream: mine was about what the Church of England would look like if it was truly the Body of Christ, a shining city upon a hill. This shining city would have no need to plan mission and evangelism: its light alone would be beacon enough to draw all around to it. No need to do: enough simply to be.

In my dream, the Archbishop of Canterbury has Moses as his role model. He tries to lead all Anglicans out of darkness to a land flowing with milk and honey. When sometimes his vision clouds and he can no longer see the way clearly, he goes up Snowdon to talk to the Almighty. When he comes down from the mountain, our latter-day prophet can again plainly see the way forward and the people, re-energised, crowd around to follow him. For there is neither Chancel nor Nave; there is neither Priest nor Lay; there is neither High nor Low; there is neither Male nor Female; there is neither Straight nor Gay; there is neither Black nor White; for they are all one in Christ Jesus.[i]

This Body of Christ is a rainbow in which, as Marx suggested, from each is expected according to his or her abilities, and to each is given according to his or her needs. As blood circulates in a human body, so does the Holy Spirit circulate in the Body of Christ. All the members of the Body work in harmony together for the good of the whole, and each has a part to play. The hand does not look down on the foot, nor does the foot look down on the hand, for each is of value in building the Kingdom of God.

Every Maundy Thursday, the doors of each cathedral in the land are flung open for all those who have committed their lives to the service of Our Lord to renew their vows, whether these be as bishops, priests, deacons or laity, for the Church recognises the ministry of all four orders.

The Church is guided by the three-fold pillars of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Truth is not laid down from on high:

 As a method, Anglicanism invites all people to encounter Jesus Christ in a community, the parish, that is shaped by the common life of its congregants and clergy, in communion with its bishop and diocese. That invitation is wide: “come and see.” And it is conscious of the command that we must love God with all our mind, among other things. Part of the method is therefore to treat people as adults who can and indeed must think for themselves…We are also confident that the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, faithfully administered and faithfully received, are vital to every Christian’s life. And we make available as needed the other sacraments as well. Our method for being church includes therefore a strong emphasis on God’s action in our communal life, celebrated ritually. As all human beings are creatures of ritual, we see this as natural. Furthermore, we are not interested in doctrine as an intellectual exercise so much as shaping a way of life… But our peculiar approach to tradition requires communal reasoning, and we think this must be as widely informed as possible. We have deep respect for our elder brothers and sisters in the Faith, but we also know that bearing forth the Faith into the future requires living it in our own generation. Thus when we sense that reforms are necessary, we cast an eye back to the Tradition for inspiration, but not uncritically. And when change is necessary, we can go forth when we have convinced ourselves that such change is essentially consonant with the Faith as we have received it…Anglicanism is about meeting Christ in everyday life, through a community of prayer, sacrament, study, and service, sharing life together with all the saints who have gone before, and learning to follow Jesus in the way we live and how we love.[ii]

And then I woke up.
For a moment, I was disheartened by the mismatch between dream and reality. But then I thought again about Martin Luther King’s speech of 1963:
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of the Christian Church. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of internal squabbling to the sunlit path of harmony. Now is the time to lift our Church from the quicksands of internecine feudingto the solid rock of brotherhood…

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith…With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of the Anglican Communion into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together.

Home at last! Home at last!   Thank God Almighty, we will reach home at last!

And later: ‘Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord

If you had a dream about the future of the Anglican church worldwide, what would your Anglican Utopia look like?

[i] Cf Galatians 3.28

[ii] The Rt Revd Pierre Whalon, D D, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, ‘What is Anglicanism?’

[iii] The words of Dr King’s speech are as he spoke them, except for those in blue type.


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