June 13, 2011

Anglican Communion Bovarism

What shall it profit you if you gain a whole world church at the cost of your true self?

I rarely repeat posts on this blog, but in light of recent comments about "the Anglican Church" I think this one from almost exactly three years ago, slightly edited, bears repeating.

It seems to me that the effort to transform the fellowship of autonomous national and provincial churches known as the Anglican Communion into some kind of (even loosely) centrally governed world church is placing more of a burden upon the existing structures than they can either bear or even bear with. The genius of Anglicanism is to be a fellowship of autonomous churches who do not need to be bound by each others' local decisions. One province or national church is free to ignore things in another that would not go over well in its own bailiwick.

The real danger to this "blessed liberty" is that of Bovarism. Madame Bovary is probably the most misunderstood novel ever written — people see it as a kind of romance (and if one is to judge from the film adaptations, that is how it is almost universally played). But it is not a romance, rather an anti-romance: a study in the damage caused by romanticism. The "heroine" could have been perfectly happy in her life had she not filled her idle hours with reading fantastic romances, and imagining that this was what "love" was really about. In fact, her ordinary life as the wife of a modest middle-class doctor could have been as loving as she was willing to make it. Instead, she embarked upon one failed and tawdry exercise after another, until at last even her suicide was botched -- instead of downing the swift and romantic cyanide she gobbled the nasty and corrosive arsenic; and even as she lies dying — pathetically clasping at a last shred of fantasy grand tragedy — she is robbed of romantic death as the lyrics of a bawdy street song float through the open window.

"Bovarism" is this tendency to live in a romanticized world, in which real joy is bypassed in exchange for an unattainable and impractical ideal; real joy is destroyed by romantic ambition.

The Anglican Communion can continue to function as it has — a bit disorganized, even dysfunctional, at times, yet still able to do much good. Or it can quest after becoming something it never need become, nor very likely can become, and in the process lose the one gift we Anglicans offer as a model for the church in a day which alternately quests after submission to authority or anarchic disconnection.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

2 comments:

Fred Schwartz said...

Maybe we do agree ;-}

Lionel Deimel said...

A fine and though-provoking post. People keep saying that the Anglican Communion as we have known it is dead. I don’t know whether to believe that or not. I am sure, however, that the Anglican Communion under the Covenant will be a communion a good deal worse than that of the past.