Into the Desert: A Lenten Reflection
You don’t get many Anglican clergy converting to Rome these days. However infuriated they may be by the woolliness and general gutlessness of their denomination, there’s little or no incentive to cross the Tiber, and the present Holy Father actively discourages such a step. Nonetheless, there’s still a small trickle of Anglican converts, thanks mainly to Pope Benedict XVI and the Ordinariates.
Perhaps the most distinguished comparatively recent convert is retired Cambridge don Edward Norman. Dr Norman is unusual in that he’s not from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church, but tended towards Low Church evangelicalism. As we are now in Lent, I’m reproducing something he wrote as an Anglican which appeared over a dozen years ago in the London Times. It displays a most un-Anglican intellectual rigour, and an almost pre-Vatican II Roman insistence on the unpopular truths of the Christian faith.
Traditional Christianity was a structure of doctrine, which the individual did not expect to adjust to suit his own emotional preferences. It expressed obligations owed to God and involved not emotional fulfilment but privation.
Church leaders who attempt to present religion as a product to be sold on its appeal, as an advertising agent might do, are being unfaithful to the doctrines they are supposed to hold on trust. Religion does not ‘appeal’, and it is founded not in emotional need but in objective truths, many of which are deeply antipathetic to what humans regard as their entitlements.
At the centre of Christianity is the assurance of its Founder that there is something wrong in the hearts of men and women, and that what we need is not some pandering to our emotional greed but a structure of spiritual discipline. Religion is about giving things up. It is about denying ourselves things, including emotional entertainment, so that we may follow Christ into the austerities of the wilderness—and therefore into the clarity of the light by which we can see.