Anglican, Catholic, Esoteric?

Now here’s a man to feel sorry for. The Most Reverend Archbishop Rowan Williams. Presumably since he actually seems quite genuine, he felt God wanted him to be Archbishop of Canterbury. But these are very troubling times for Rowan. Not only is he having to reside over an Anglican Communion that seems determined to rend itself apart over women priests and gay bishops, but now he has been delivered a big wallop to the head courtesy of the Papal Crosier. For those who have not seen the reports, Pope Benedict, that sly ol’ dog from the modern day Inquisition, has just opened the doors to admitting whole communities and parishes of disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church. This has not occurred since the Reformation. Religious history is being made as I type.

And poor Rowan knew nothing about it until days before the Pope’s announcement of the Apostolic Constitution. At the press conference he had to smile and sit side by side with the Catholic Archbishop of Westminister, Vincent Nichols and put the best spin he could on the whole affair. I suppose he felt glad he was invited at all. No one believed his confident, “this is business as usual” remarks and insistence that there was nothing untoward or aggressive about the Vatican moves. Nor can he be happy that this new Constitution, coupled with the reiteration by the Vatican on the big no-no of women Priests, effectively makes it clear that the Holy Father sees him and all the other Anglicans as plain and simply wrong. Destined for a one way ‘down escalator’ ride, even.

How many Anglicans will take the opportunity to become Catholics (while still being Anglicans really), is unknown, but there could be hundreds of thousands. The last 20 years has seen the Anglican community struggle and splinter. There are many who are seriously pissed off that women can be priests, let alone gay folk. I find this all very sad and have blogged on this before. The most significant aspect of the decree though is that the new ‘Anglican’ enclave within the RC church can form its own seminaries and allow married men to remain and be trained as Priests. All within communion with the Catholic church. This is quite amazing.

NOT the type of married priests the Pope had in mind.

NOT the type of married priests the Pope had in mind.

The Catholic church already accepts some married Priests within its arms – those belonging to various Orthodox rites in communion with Rome. But extending this to the Anglicans is unprecedented to say the least. And yet there’s more. The new Anglican-within-Catholicism rite will not be permitted to ordain married Bishops, just like the existing Orthodox rites cannot. However, their internal jurisdictions may be ruled by clergy having effectively the same power as Bishops but being able to remain a married priest. Doesn’t that gorm your head out?

How this will all unfold is any one’s guess. Andrew Brown, a perceptive blogger with the Guardian made his take on it clear: ‘the end of the Anglican communion’ he proclaimed. It’s very easy to see where he is coming from. Month by month there is less coherence and unity with Anglican Communion, such as it is, and maybe now we need to start talking about the Anglican tradition and the various churches within it, holding differing theological positions. It’s a bummer for sure.

What relevance does this have for the western esoteric traditions? Well, plenty really. Anyone following the recent theological trends in the west will have noticed the beginning of a remarkable shift towards an older, traditional view and acceptance of the deeper apophatic spirituality, which has always been central to the esoteric. The rise of fundamentalism and the obviously immature spirituality it offers has been a great offset by which to stand back and judge western religion and spirituality. The sharing of some of the principles of quantum and new physics, which seem to resonate with themes found in all depth spiritual traditions, has encouraged revaluation of spiritual truths. The rise of the new atheism with its sustained and valid attack on immature religious forms and theologies have forced theologians to reexamine the meaning of religion in the west. Rev Williams himself shows an appreciation for apophatic and depth spirituality in his ‘ Silence and Honey Cakes‘, a work on the Desert Fathers and Mothers. This is one of the reasons I have watched in dismay as he has succumbed to the politicizing and pressure of a disintegrating Communion.

You see, I have a sneaking, half formed hope which I have been afraid to voice; that western religion will again find its bearings and become open to the esoteric, the depth spirituality we as magicians and others hold within our traditions. I really believe this can happen. This is from the new Karen Armstrong book, The Case for God, a work that is available in any bookshop, selling presumably by the bucket loads:

It is clear that the meditation, yoga and rituals that work aesthetically on a congregation have, when practised assiduously over a lifetime, a marked effect on the personality – an effect that is another form of natural theology. There is no ‘born again’ conversion, but a slow, incremental and imperceptible transformation. Above all, the habitual practice of compassion and the Golden Rule ‘all day and every day’ demands perpetual kenosis [emptying of the self to disengage the ego] … The effect of these practices cannot give us concrete information about God; it is certainly not a scientific ‘proof’. But something indefinable happens to people who involve themselves in these disciplines with commitment and talent. The ‘something’ remains opaque, however, to those who do not undergo these disciplines, just as the Eleusinian ‘mystery’ sounded trivial and absurd to somebody who remained obstinately outside the Cult Hall and refused to undergo the initiation.

Isn’t this a description of the esoteric spirituality you and I practice? If such a popular writer as Ms Armstrong is saying these things, again and again, I have hope religion in the west may listen and change. However, such a hope has been dealt a savage blow by the Big Papa’s adroit bit of religious-politicking. To create further division and engender further antagonism based on outer principles such as who Priests may bonk and if they’ve got a dick or not moves the focus away from the deeper issues of religion. Focus goes outward into defense and attack rather than into re-visioning and restating once more the eternal verities upon which Christianity is based. Such is life. We can only pray that Rev Williams and other Anglicans see the recent events as an opportunity to take stock and focus on the actual meaning of religion and its purpose rather than react to what is obviously an attack on their spiritual validity.


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