When I first read this interview with John Milbank, I confess that I found it mildly annoying. My emphases, excluding the questions.
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October marks one year from Anglicanorum Coetibus: how important is the meeting between the Primate Rowan Williams and the Pope?
I think it is important that the two leaders take the opportunity to show that their agreements are far more profound than their differences. For they espouse a similar sort of theology: rooted in the legacy of Augustine and the recovery of authentic Patristic and High Medieval tradition. Their approaches to the political and economic sphere are also highly compatible, with both of them stressing the importance of Civil Society as against either the State or the Market and both following Bruni and Zamagni in advocating a 'civil economy'.
In your estimation, how many bishops and faithful of the Church of England have taken up the opportunity offered by?
Extremely few and I don't think that many will follow in the UK, though more may in the USA. However, I still think that the AC will be of great importance in the future. First because it involves a new recognition by the Papacy of the validity of the Anglican tradition, beginning to equate it more with Eastern Orthodoxy; secondly because it can create a fluidity between the two communions that will help to lead to full intercommunion in the future. The debates about the role of women, married clergy and the norms for homosexuals are discussions that are now common to all the episcopally-ordered churches and in a globalised era it will prove anachronistic to think that they can be confined within any one single communion.
The pope will beatify the Cardinal Newman in Birmingham. Do you think it will bring Rome and Canterbury closer or, on the contrary, fuel controversy?
I think that this is a wholly positive development and will be welcomed by Anglicans. Apart from a few evangelical extremists, who dislike Newman's theology anyway, Anglicans by no means feel that Newman 'betrayed' them by becoming a Catholic. On the contrary, they are very proud of Newman's double contribution to both modern Anglicanism and to modern Catholicism. Newman is a sign of unity: he belongs to both Churches and I am sure that our prayers to God through him will aid us in the cause of Church unity, as in the revival of a Christian Britain.
Just over a week ago, the Synod of the Church of England ended in York. Lots of english newspapers talked about "defeat" of the Primate concerning the ordination of women bishops. Do you agree that it was a "defeat"?
No, that is a big exaggeration. Unfortunately, the two Archbishops of York and Canterbury tried to push through a minor amendment that was probably unnecessary, but was intended to safeguard the interests of those who cannot accept the advent of women bishops. Although this was defeated, most people involved agree that these interests will be in any case adequately safeguarded under the arrangements now agreed upon.
I think that Rowan Williams now also accepts that. His standing has not been in any way seriously damaged by this matter of detail. Clearly women bishops seem to be controversial from an ecumenical point of view, but I do not think that this will prove the case in the long term.
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Hmm… Who out there knows John Milbank? Does he think women bishops are inevitable in the Catholic Church? How do our Anglo-Catholic readers feel about the Ordinariates being seen as a bridge for, ahem, those enlightened views now in the Anglican Communion — how prophetic, you know — to help bring about ecumenism — an ecumenism that would profoundly alter the Catholic faith?
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John Milbank’s feelings about the Pope are not surprising; he is associated with the predominantly Anglo-Catholic movement known as “radical orthodoxy” and is known for his anti-secularism: in this and other ways the present Pope’s mind-set is congenial to him. It is what he has to say about John Henry Newman’s forthcoming beatification that needs to be questioned. He sees it as giving an ecumenical boost to Anglican/Catholic relations. “Newman is a sign of unity” he claims: “he belongs to both Churches and I am sure that our prayers to God through him will aid us in the cause of Church unity…”.
The “cause of Church unity”, however, was hardly one ever espoused by Newman, and I fear that Professor Milbank’s mellifluous sentiments are part of a general movement towards setting him up as a somewhat anaemic “plaster saint”.
The fact is that Newman was the very opposite of an ecumenist: he was, in his very bones, a controversialist in such matters. To say that “Newman belonged to both Churches” is absurd: the Catholic Newman didn’t believe that the Established Church was a Church at all, but a mere national institution.
This is how he addressed those of Catholic mind within the Church of England (Difficulties of Anglicans, lecture 4): “You can have no trust in the Establishment or its Sacraments and ordinances. You must leave it, you must secede; you must turn your back upon, you must renounce, what has—not suddenly become, but has now been proved to you to have ever been—an imposture. You must take up your cross and you must go hence.”
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So, folks, what think ye?
Go Oddie, I say.
And Milbank may be really more of a postmodern than an orthodox Anglo-Catholic, or at least he comes across like this in this particular interview. As I recall, his Radical Orthodoxy was an attempt to revisit the roots of the Christian faith (hence radical from radix) but yet speak to a postmodern culture. Why do I keep thinking of President Bill Clinton and his famous, "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is"?
For example, Rowan Williams may say a lot of the same things as Benedict XVI (though with far less clarity) on such things as, I don't know, divine filiation, for example. (But usually, he's talking about Millennium Development Goals, no?)
But I'm afraid the Archbishop of Canterbury may mean something entirely different by divine filiation than Benedict XVI does. If divine filiation means that we'll all soon discover that women and men are interchangeable at the altar, and homosexuals are meant to express their God-given sexuality in committed relationships as children of God, then that's not what the Church teaches. Divine filiation means something far more lofty than what the latest pseudoscientific discoveries tell us about gender and sexual orientation.
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