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Posts Tagged "Revd Malcolm French":

The Legend of King Canute


King Canute is not to be confused with the real King Cnut, the much-misunderstood 11th century Viking leader and King of England. Many attempts have been made to correct the legend which has grown up around him, for example here, here and here. But legends about historical figures (compare the unlikely story about King Alfred burning the woman’s cakes) are sometimes more interesting than the real thing. According to the version of the legend I need for this post,

“Canute is famous for the tale of the incoming tide. According to legend, Canute’s courtiers flattered him into believing that his word was so powerful that even the tide would recede at his command. Canute is said to have taken this compliment literally and had his throne placed by the shore and vainly attempted to command the waves to recede until he almost drowned.”

The reality in which King Canute lived, and the reality experienced by all others in his realm, bore little relation to each other. I expect you can see where I am going with this – I am inescapably reminded of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, about whom I have recently been accused  of being ‘waspish‘.  (I think this is fair comment, but can only plead that his plans to introduce central command and control into my beloved Church of England make me very cross indeed. His Ninja Nuns form such a tight circle around him that I would have no chance of punching him on the nose, and it is not really my style. Waspishness is the weapon of the weak and I have no other tools at my disposal).

The comparison to King Canute has been occasioned by Archbishop Rowan’s Advent letter to the other Primates of the Anglican Communion. Paragraph 7 reads as follows (the bolding is mine):

This of course relates also to the continuing discussion of the Anglican Covenant. How it is discussed, the timescale of discussion and the means by which decisions are reached will vary a lot from Province to Province. We hope to see a full report of progress at next year’s Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting. In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. It sets out an understanding of our common life and common faith and in the light of that proposes making a mutual promise to consult and attend to each other, freely undertaken. It recognizes that not doing this damages our relations profoundly. It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function. I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.

I have highlighted the sentence which makes me think that Archbishop Rowan and I are living on different planets. Both Canon Alan Perry and the Revd Malcolm have already written in detail and with conviction about the oddities of this letter and I urge you to read their blog posts. But the sentence in bold type represents a view of reality which I find incomprehensible. How can 5,123 words possibly change the longstanding differences in the way we (each Province in the Communion) hold our forks, say tomayto or tomahto, elect or appoint our bishops and believe that there should be three or four orders of priesthood?  We should not even be trying to make ourselves all identical. We should instead be reminding each other that, while our Anglican neighbours may have motes in their eyes, we very probably have beams in our own.

Can it be that Archbishop Rowan is suffering from ‘courtier-itis’? It happened to Margaret Thatcher after she had been in office for a while, and it happened to Indira Gandhi. It has certainly happened to any number of tinpot dictators around the world. The version of reality that reaches rulers is sifted by courtiers and lacks the salty tang of the world encountered by the rest of us. Sometimes the ruler views life from another planet as a result, and at the very least he or she may develop astigmatism.

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