Andrew Davison

The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences, and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he is also Dean of Chapel. He previously taught theology at Westcott House, Cambridge and St Stephen’s House, Oxford. When he gave this paper, he was just back from a year’s fellowship in Princeton, New Jersey, at the Center of Theological Inquiry, on a NASA-sponsored programme, where he was looking at the implications for human society and self‑understanding of life elsewhere in the universe. A natural scientist before moving into theology, he has a background distinctively different from almost all – perhaps all – the contributors to the 1947 Report Catholicity.


The 1947 Report

I have been asked to talk about the theology of the Report. The first thing to say is that it is really quite impressive, which is also rather sobering when we compare it to much that we are given today. There is a firm grounding in theology rather than pragmatic considerations, and a sense of inhabiting a distinct theological and religious tradition. That sense, of an Anglican tradition, can often be lacking.

We might also note the rather remarkable unanimity of this 1947 group of Anglo‑Catholics, compared to our unhappy divisions of late, and yet, on the subject of our historical divisions, we can hope that this Symposium itself marks something of a shift in the tide of Anglo‑Catholic relationships. While these, of course, have never been completely set in enmity, something seems to be changing and stirring today, and I am grateful for that. Philip North was the main speaker at the Anglican‑Catholic Future Festival this year.1 I note that ACF and Forward in Faith will hold a joint residential meeting for priests in 2018. These are all very hopeful developments. Whatever might be dispiriting about the Church of England as we find it today, if Anglo‑Catholics can come together in response, good will have come of it.

The Doctrine of the 1947 Report today

I have been asked to talk about the doctrine of the Report, and to comment on how it stands up today and what we might want to retain of it. I will start by noting a favourite theme of mine: the intrinsic interrelation of doctrines. There, I want to praise the Report heartily. After that, for the sake of grit, I will suggest a few criticisms, adding a relatively brief note of criticism and caution. Overall, however, I want to say that, with the perspective of hindsight, this Report seems to have been remarkably prescient. We do, however, need to note some of what has happened since the Report came out, including mention of the extended criticisms in the report The Catholicity of Protestantism2, alongside a sense of how developments in doctrinal and Christian philosophical thinking confirm the instincts of the authors of Catholicity. I will conclude by suggesting that it continues to offer some of our best prospects of hope in our current situation.

I do not think that a doctrinal theologian of a Catholic outlook would be anything but delighted and impressed by the emphasis in this Report on Christian doctrine as expansive and interrelated. It belongs to Catholicism to attend to the whole glorious panoply of Christian doctrinal themes: to creation as well as redemption; to the Church as well as theological anthropology; to eschatology and pneumatology; to Christ’s work and to Christ’s person.

The various deviations in doctrine which the authors diagnose – departures from Catholicism  –  are all, in one way or another, curtailments of this principle of interrelation. Whether they are distortions of individual doctrines or wholesale omissions, in each case there is a wholeness missing. Sometimes they point to doctrines which are more or less completely ignored or which are squashed by others, whereby downplaying a doctrinal topic within the whole. Inasmuch as they are talking about a more Protestant and a more liberal approach, on the Protestant end they talk about playing down creation and the Church, and from the liberal perspective, of playing down the necessity of redemption, or eschatology. Alongside diagnosis of these omissions, they talk about distortions. A doctrine may be discussed, they think – indeed, discussed at great length – but parts of the witness of the tradition may still be ignored. That may often involve downplaying the relations to other doctrines, which, had that been retained, might have shaped, developed and chastened what is being said. For instance, one might stress the effect of the Fall without stressing what is retained; one might stress the dignity of the human being without stressing waywardness and the need for grace. In the vision we are given in this Report, the attenuation of doctrine more or less inevitably rests on some sort of disconnection.

The coherent unity of Catholicism

In contrast to this, they hold that Catholicism retains the whole, and indeed emerges from the whole, and that Christian doctrine as Catholic has a coherent unity. Christian doctrine must neglect no part of the whole; it must attend to those mutually reinforcing and correcting aspects of each aspect; it must not neglect the sense in which each topic bears upon every other topic, and receives its shape from its relation to the other themes. I will give you some examples of this from the Report itself.

There is stress, for instance, on the need to attend both to creation and redemption, to acknowledge both affirmation and judgment as Christian principles, to be concerned both for this life and for life to come. From that perspective, we immediately see that what is today called ‘public theology’ cannot be properly Christian without the wholeness of these particular poles held together. I will quote from the Report:

On the one hand the Church preaches repentance and judgment to a world [entrapped] in original sin….

If we miss that, our public theology is not Christian.

On the other hand the Church appeals to the light that lighteth every man, and affirms the natural Law … and the positive significance of human civilisation and culture, embracing the hope that the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our God.

In my own recent writing on what it might mean theologically to bless things, people, places, or endeavours, I saw exactly these two poles: the sense of something recognised as wrong or out of kilter, and of something to be affirmed; to blessing there is something of celebration, but also of asking for protection. The engagement of the Church with the world must rest on both of these poles, which are very perceptively discussed in the Report.

Connections within the 1947 Report

The Report highlights many interconnections, many places, where a dual emphasis is needed, as well as the witness of the whole, but it particularly stresses the pairing of creation and redemption. There is a valuable discussion, for instance, of the relationship between creation and human beings in the image of God, on the one hand, and sin and the Fall on the other. The claim is – and here I quote again – that the Protestant emphasis on grace was ‘purchased at a heavy price’ when it comes to the doctrine of the human image. ‘What was sacrificed for it was the Biblical doctrine that man was made “in the image of God”, and that this “image”, though defaced by sin, substantially remains in fallen man, and is effectually restored by Baptism into Christ.’ We are instead left with what the Report calls a ‘distorted Augustinianism’, a ‘catastrophic pessimism concerning the results of the fall’. I pick out that passage because it is one of the points where the Free Church respondents in The Catholicity of Protestantism most of all cry foul, so it is worth asking if our Report does not sometimes go in for caricatures. Sometimes, certainly, but things can be said in its defence.

First, Protestantism, as represented in the best of its intellectual tradition, is not necessarily the same as Protestantism as it is encountered on the ground. The further we get into the twentieth century, the more profound and depressingly true that is (although a return to the attention of the Reformers is obvious among some, especially younger, Protestants). As I say, the Report is prescient. If there was in the 1950s more of an intellectual tradition and connection to the tradition among Protestants, through the words of the Reformers, that was to become even further eclipsed.

The second thing to say is that picking out the occasional counter-comment from a Reformer in offering criticism of our Report does not necessarily absolve him or his tradition of the problems being diagnosed. Protestantism, because of its historical background, has often been occasional, piecemeal and polemical in form, especially in the original writing, which does not necessarily make for consistency. (On that front, I would personally single out Luther, far more than Calvin.) We also see this in the authors of the follow-on report. I find their discussion of this very point – the image of God and sin – unclear, and in fact self-contradictory. Its response to the heart of this matter confirms the criticisms of the Report we are considering today, and the fudges they then offer really do seem to me unclear.

The third response to the criticisms in The Catholicity of Protestantism is that analysis may be helped by sketching extreme poles, as perhaps happens in Catholicity. Whilst the authors of that Report cannot be entirely absolved from the charge of caricature, part of what they are offering is a kind of structural analysis of the wholeness of Christian doctrine and of the kinds of parts into which it can degenerate. I think of Hegel, and his idea of what we might call ‘ideal types’, or in this case ‘non-ideal types’, which can be useful for thinking, even if they do not correspond exactly to empirical examples.

Perhaps, then, the method of our Report is so consistent, so watertight, as to risk being facile. Catholicism is defined as the whole, and partialness as a deviation from it. Any deviation, inasmuch as it is partial, can be said to retain some of Catholicism. If someone points to Calvin and says, ‘Oh, look, in Calvin we find all these Renaissance elements or open‑minded liberal elements,’ this does not undermine the analysis in Catholicism at all, because the authors can simply say, ‘Well, nothing ever completely departs from Catholicism, and inasmuch as Calvin also shows, as well as his Protestantism, the opposite element, that just shows that he remains to some extent still within the Catholic fold’ – as clearly he does. That risks almost a hermetic successfulness to the method that the Report deploys, for which it could perhaps be criticised.

The Report gives many other examples of completeness and interconnection. The theme of incorporation into Christ, and the role of the Church in salvation and in the Gospel, are clearly incredibly important.3 Again and again, the Report turns to this sense of a lack of interconnection between doctrines. Luther’s theology is approached precisely in terms of both too great a separation between justification and creation, and too great a separation between justification and sanctification. The theme of the omission of the Church from the faith and from the Gospel also much concerns the authors, as surely it should, for amongst the most pressing problems in contemporary thought in the Church of England is exactly this idea of marginalising the Church as integral to a Christian vision of the doctrinal whole, as not particularly important in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Table of Dualisms in the Report

At the head of Chapter IV, on fragmentation and synthesis, there is a table of dualisms. The idea, as we might expect, is that Catholicism is whole, and that one tends to encounter fragments which veer either towards a Protestant approach or what they call a Renaissance or liberal approach. The Report gives this table of opposed fragments into which the whole can degenerate. This is a crystallisation of what the Report claims about Catholic doctrine and its disintegration; yet here I think we have to admit a certain heavy-handedness, and lack of consistency. Certainly, in some cases the contrasts are reasonable, and the elements need to be held together. One is ‘Christ for us’ and the other is ‘Christ in us’. Both are clearly true: we just would not want to lose one for the other. The Report talks of justification and sanctification, again both excellent and important; we just would not want to take one over the other. But this list is rather inconsistent, since in other places the Report gives us a binary where one side seems more theologically correct than the other. For instance, they give us ‘creator and creature incommensurable’ and ‘creature and creator mutually necessary’. I would not want to be left with only ‘creature and creator incommensurable’, but if I had to choose one over the other, then that is definitely what I would choose. The idea that the ‘creature and creator [are] mutually necessary’ deserves no place in Christian theology, not even as part of a balanced pairing.

On other occasions, the poles identified in the Report are clearly illustrative extremes, held by relatively few, but useful for diagnosing tendencies. For instance, the Report talks about revealed theology versus natural theology. Natural theology has certainly had a hard time of it amongst Protestants since Karl Barth (although that may be changing), but it really is not characteristic of the Protestant trajectory as a whole to reject all of natural theology per se. Similarly, while some liberals have given particular prominence to natural theology, few have gone so far as to reject any usefulness for revealed sources and become out-and-out deists.

This list, then, is on the one hand the crowning feature of the Report. In other ways, however, it is rather heavy-handed, and not particularly consistent. The basic idea, however, about the wholeness of doctrine for Catholics, and not ignoring any part, is vital, as is the emphasis on always having an eye on the interrelations.

Teaching Theology today

As has already been said today, we get woefully little time in theological colleges to teach doctrine, because we get little time to teach anything. It has always been my hope in teaching doctrine to ordinands– which I did for eight years – that they might learn enough, might live sufficiently with one theologian, so as to learn to see links, to be able to extrapolate, interpolate and think analogically.

In this theme of the relatedness of doctrine, which I really want to stress is a great point in the Report, we find – perhaps surprisingly – a great deal of the applicability of doctrine. The ordinand or priest will be asked questions at the church door, over coffee, in the pub, by the bedside: questions about which he or she has probably never read anything directly. Indeed, the priest may never have thought about this particular matter directly; but if one has a sense of the whole of doctrine and of its interrelatedness, that allows for a sort of creative, spur-of-the-moment extrapolation, interpretation, thinking by analogy. As I say, I think that knowing the thoughts of one thinker well is the most important thing. To be honest, I would not mind particularly if that were Aquinas or Bonaventure, Augustine or Barth. Being familiar with how the faith hangs together in one person’s mind provides enormous resources for being able to think about the interstices, which are exactly the kind of thing you might be asked when you least expect it.

I have already registered some notes of caution about the Report: that list, for instance, which is so illuminating and useful in one way, but in others, rather incautious and inconsistent in its method. Let me note just a few more criticisms or points of caution.

Oversimplifications in the Report?

I think the Report tends to attribute rather too much unanimity to the traditions it discusses. Protestantism is clearly more than just one thing – perhaps never more so than today. Indeed, the distinctions, even sometimes enmities, between Protestant‑minded Anglicans today are as significant and worthy of note as those between Anglo-Catholics. Similarly, in terms of elisions, what the Report calls the ‘Liberal or Renaissance tradition’ is also widely varied.

We encounter a strong sense of the importance of the Eastern tradition and the robustness of the Eastern and Orthodox tradition throughout the Report. That is then taken further in a very specific claim that behind many of our Western theological and ecclesiological problems lies the division of the East from the West, and the sense that if only the Great Schism had not occurred, the West would not have evolved in the way that it did. At the end of the fifteenth century, we would not have stood on the edge of the Reformation. It’s a nice idea, but I wonder whether it stands up. Is it really the case that for every Western problem there is a nice countermanding strength in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox faith and practice?

While there is an enthusiasm for the East, there is also a rather excoriating passage where the Report is critical of Eastern weaknesses: it is ‘too dependent on civil power’; it missed the Reformation and the Renaissance, which here is seen as positive things; it is weak on science and Biblical criticism. The East, then, does not entirely avoid criticism.


What else could be said in terms of caution about this Report? It is rather dismissive of Protestant scholasticism. Of that, I would be rather inclined today to say: ‘Come back, all is forgiven’. It is also actually rather critical of Catholic scholasticism, accusing it of an attachment to dry syllogistic thinking. This is rather flat footed, for three reasons.

Firstly, that this particular syllogistic method is much more characteristic of Duns Scotus than it is of, say, Aquinas. It is not the whole of scholasticism.

Second, while I would have some criticisms of a perhaps narrow and overly neat approach in some Roman Catholic theology today – what is sometimes called neo-neo-Thomism, it has its strengths, and it is a good deal better than much of what is otherwise on offer. I am happy to criticise Suárez, Cajetan and the rest – but if I had to choose between them and what is being held out as a Protestant position in this Report, I would choose even the Baroque version of scholasticism in a heartbeat.

Third, and finally, something needs to be said about the allegation of sterile logic-chopping, and cold analytic thought. All in all, I am not particularly an enthusiast for analytic philosophy and its role in theology. I think it prides itself on its clarity of thought, but often makes mistakes about the subject matter. It will talk about the soul with enormous precision, but use word ‘soul’ in a way no theologian has ever used it. The authors of the Report might find something of an ally in me, when it comes to seeing the problems of cold logic and an analytical approach. Nonetheless, with every Church report I read, the more I realise that there is a need, a hallowed place, for logic and analytical thinking!

The Liberal Tradition

The 1947 Report is also perhaps rather light on its analysis of the liberal tradition. It is simply too pleased with itself over its association of Liberalism with Renaissance roots. Today, we would be keener to see the effects of the Renaissance also in Calvin, for instance, and to stress the origins of the Renaissance as a Catholic movement – indeed, to say that the Renaissance was but the latest of several historical Catholic renaissances. As I have already said, there is danger in defining things so that one thing just becomes the negation of another. Such an analysis is bound to work just because of the way in which it is set up.

So the sense that we get in the Report of a simple opposition between Protestant impulses and what it calls Renaissance/Liberal impulses seems somewhat wrong to me – not simply because of the Renaissance background to Protestantism, but all the more so because of the Protestant background to Liberalism. Of course, there have been more or less liberal Catholic tendencies, but I think what is under discussion here is a Protestant liberalism.

In sum, it might be said that the Report is not at its strongest in dealing with this liberal trajectory or tendency, witnessed not least in the way it jumps from its treatment of the Renaissance more or less directly into the nineteenth century.

All that said, the Report’s basic proposition that the wholeness of Catholicism can typically deviate in two directions – as a pair-wide disintegration of a more unified, more complex whole, as undue optimism or undue pessimism, as creation over redemption, or as redemption over creation – is rather an intriguing one, and has considerable value. We might wonder how our analysis, and our language and our stance, as Catholic-minded people today would move if we stopped talking about Catholic and Protestant distinctions all the time, and talked instead of Catholic breadth and integration over and against more than one fragmentation or attenuation.

The Report still relevant to the present day

If that is to say a few things by way of criticism, or at least of caution, let me say that there is a remarkable relevance and contemporaneous note to much of what the Report says, reading it 70 years on. One could say, ‘Well, that just shows there is nothing new under the sun’, but I think the authors put their finger on things that were problematic then and have only become more problematic since. Consider the following, for instance.

  • They point to a crisis of coexistence in the Church of England.
  • They say that we are losing the sense of the faith and the Gospel as something expressed, encountered and learnt within a way of life, something which Alison Milbank and I took as the provocation for writing For the Parish. 4
  • They note a tendency towards emotivism and a corresponding lack, or attenuation of, ascetical theology.
  • They say that the Church is moving towards centralism and bureaucracy.
  • They note the eclipse of liturgy as that which binds us together, and the attenuation of connection to the State which has helped to uphold Anglican identity.
  • They talk about overburdened bishops who ignore, or have no time for, ‘their apostolic function as the guardians and exponents of our theological tradition’.

I am reminded of my first experience of an episcopal consecration, which was quite recent. The people being consecrated were terrific people; but I was startled by the account of the episcopacy reflected in Common Worship, because that was written not so long ago. It holds up a model of what bishops are supposed to be which they hardly get the chance to do, even seventeen years on. They are asked: ‘Will you teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, will you hand on entire the faith that has been entrusted to you?’ Well, in what ways today do we really either support our bishops, or expect them to teach and preserve even fragments, never mind doctrine entire?

The Lure of Primitivism

There is also a reference here to what we might call Primitivism: the idea that the way forward for the Church is to hurtle back to the life and thought of the very earliest days – the time of the Apostles. It seems to me that Primitivism lies deep at the heart of much Protestant Anglicanism today, and is the motor for much that is most destructive. Our understanding of the Bible must be shaped by the history of the Church, especially in the centuries of the early councils. This is a gift, something positive, something that bequeaths upon us binding developments.

Also prescient are warnings against what we might call ‘lowest common denominator’ approaches to ecumenism and freedom within a church. In the realm of doctrine, to require no more than that which is most commonly acceptable to most people is simply to take Liberalism as the standard; it is to become a liberal church. In the realm of practice, to require no more than what is most commonly acceptable to most people is to take Protestantism as the standard; it is to become a Protestant church. This, of course, bears upon one of the most pressing questions of today – the nature of our relationship with the Methodist Church – which I think must be of prime importance as we think about Catholicity today. I am all for living with creative accommodation, but I think, as they stand, the proposals for our relations with the Methodist Church would really be the end of Catholic order for the Church of England.5

The Importance of Participation

I want to turn to a theme that I find compelling in this document, which runs right through it. In fact, the developments in scholarship that might help us put our finger on it now with clarity came about after 1947: it is what theologians and Christian scholars of metaphysics might call ‘participation’.6 Notice that in the setting up of this Report the Archbishop of Canterbury asks about the theological backgrounds for what is going on, and how they differ philosophically. I think this shows that we then lived in a more intellectually sophisticated climate, where people recognised that even those who disavow philosophy still have philosophy, and that one’s metaphysical outlook on the world shapes all sorts of preconditions. So Archbishop Fisher asked them to think about philosophy.

Throughout this Report we see this idea of participation. In what does this consist? By ‘participation’ we mean the very simple idea that everything comes from God, except for evil, which is precisely an interruption or occlusion of the full reception from God of what a thing should be. It is a compact idea, worked out through ideas such as reception and gift and likeness, but capable of a thousand variations and colourations in the works of Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius, Maximus, John of Damascus, Anselm, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, and even, significantly, in Calvin and bits of Luther. It was certainly important for Hooker and C. S. Lewis.

Divine Plenitude

The flipside of this participatory vision, of seeing everything as coming from God, would be an emphasis on mediation. What comes from God always come through the things of the world – and, from this perspective – the sense is that the plenitude of God cannot be represented by any one finite figuration, however glorious it might be. The plenitude of divine truth cannot be represented fully by any one finite proposition, or even by every finite proposition put together. This approach would be at ease with – and delight in – a sense of multiplicity. It would stress that we need many, many different statements; but then, beyond statements, we need narratives as well as propositions, poetry as well as prose, art and enactment as well as words. The fullness of the earth could not possibly reflect everything that could be said about God.

Since the divine plenitude cannot be represented even by all finite things and statements by all images and enactments taken together, a participatory approach would live at ease with mystery – mystery in the non-debased theological sense of the word: that the finite mind can participate in God, but cannot comprehend God. Indeed, since the nature and truth of every finite creature is, at root, grounded in its participation in God, there is even a fathomlessness to every creature. Aquinas says at the beginning of his commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, We could spend a thousand years investigating a single fly and not get to the bottom of it. Why? Because the truth, even of the fly, of the simplest thing, the smallest thing, is grounded in its relationship to God.

I leave you to do the work but, if you look through the 1947 Report, again and again you will find this theme, which today we would call ‘participation’. I will once again mention Aquinas, perhaps the greatest of participatory thinkers, though people were hamstrung from seeing this is 1947 by thinking that he was simply an Aristotelian. Of course there is a great deal of Aristotelian detail to Aquinas, but there is also a Platonic sweep. The structure of the thought is Platonic. People were obscured by the Aristotle from seeing the Plato, from seeing how participation is just so integral to Aquinas’s thought – but also, to that of all of the other theologians I have mentioned. It was really only in the second half of the twentieth century that this began to be re‑appreciated. We can now see that participation is central to what they are talking about here.

For instance, the Report talks about doctrinal ‘perversions’, as it calls them. Each one of these is about participation: the rejection of metaphysics; the idea that somehow thought itself does not participate in the order of God; the rejection of natural law; the idea that the order of the world is not such a participation in the eternal law that one can get something of a moral compass from it; a turn from materiality, which is then the flipside of a disavowal of mediation; and, finally, a retreat from history, the failure to see the origin of creation and its processes in God, a failure to see (as Plato said) that time is ‘the moving image of eternity’, a failure to see that mediation is so integral to a participatory vision.

In fact, the Report’s criticisms of the liberal approach are absolutely spot on when it comes to diagnosing questions of participation. It talks about man’s relation to God, about the absence of a profound sense of the dependence of creature upon creator. The belief that man is created in God’s image then becomes just a collapse of culture and society into the idea of an earthly programme. Augustine or Aquinas approach these very themes in a participatory way – the relation of human beings to God, the dependence of creature upon creator, ideas of likeness, the sense that all of culture and society can be seen as animated by its refraction of divine truth – and find in a participatory approach a way to stress the transcendence and difference of God from the world, just as much as talk about likeness. The likeness, as the Fourth Lateran Council has it, must always be understood against the background of a yet greater dissimilarity. In so many ways, then, much of what is being talked about in the Report falls under that rubric of a lively participatory vision.

As I say, the Report reflects all these participatory points so well, even though scholarship on participation would only get started a couple of decades later. In this respect, the Report is historically prescient: it keeps saying that something was happening in the Middle Ages that led to a position in the fifteenth century where the Reformation was thinkable. Today, many theologians would point to the fourteenth century on as a time when the participatory vision of Christian metaphysics and doctrine was occluded, when the divine ideas were downgraded, when natural law became less important, and when we saw paradigms of separation where there had previously been overlap between grace and nature, reason and revelation, logic and being, philosophy and theology – and so on.

Celebrating Anglicanism

And here, I think, is where we can end with hope amidst the gloom, and with a note of celebration of Anglicanism. The point of hope is that, across the world, for the past few decades, Catholicity is being embraced enthusiastically, not least in terms of thought. My experience in working with theologians is that, again and again, especially among younger people, one hears, ‘My approach is a theology of retrieval. For me, the sources are the Fathers of the Middle Ages. The Protestant Reform was in continuity with them’. There has been an embrace of Catholic vision in the theological world and sources, and that retrieval is often intrinsically attracted to this participatory vision. Today we see Calvinists and Lutherans returning precisely to these participatory themes in their own theological heroes. There is substantial participatory material in Calvin, and in what seem to me the usually more inconsistent offerings of Luther. There are books on participation by Bonhoeffer and Wesley. This is an intellectual patrimony that is drawing many to a Catholic way of thought. Of course, Anglicans have been important in the rediscovery of some of these themes.

Let me end by turning to a rather more practical note. I want to say, and will say at every chance I get, that our task is to introduce Evangelicals to Catholic faith and practice. Many of the most enthusiastic, perceptive and receptive students I have had when it comes to encountering the wholeness of Christian doctrine or Catholic doctrine have been Evangelicals. Similarly, many of the most energetic Anglo‑Catholics in this room will have come from an Evangelical stable. As Plato says, that which is only a part longs to be joined to what makes the wholeness, even if it does not know that and what it means until it is encountered.

So let me issue a plea to the pious Anglo-Catholic societies to look outward, to catechise, to hold out the fullness of the faith to those will take it up and be its apostles today. Does the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament hold festivals and buy monstrances? But to do that and fail to teach basic sacramental theology, in all its glorious attractiveness, to the whole Church, whilst the Church rapidly becomes post-sacramental, is to fiddle whilst Rome burns – or perhaps we should say, fiddle whilst Canterbury burns. Does the Guild of All Souls say masses and circulate dead lists? It does, and I am glad to receive them; but if it does not forcibly and creatively advocate prayer for the dead as part of the life of the Church, it is failing in its duties. For my part, I think that prayer for the dead should feature prominently in our work of evangelism. If we had in our churches Masses for the dead every month, and opened our churches and invited people, what a contribution to mission that would make. So let us have votive masses, and let us have dead lists, but let us also not neglect to look outward and spread the vision. Does the Society of Mary hold evensong and benediction and have processions? I am glad that it does, but our task is also to introduce – to recall – the whole of the Church to the whole of the faith and the life of the Church. Thanks to Pope Francis, we have celebrated a year of mercy. Let us remember that the first of the spiritual works of mercy is ‘to instruct the ignorant’.

The 1947 Report – an Intellectual and Practical Provocation

This Report Catholicity is a wonderful intellectual provocation, but also a practical provocation: do we care for the Catholicity of the whole? Could there ever be a Catholicity that neglects the whole? What will we do to advocate for that wholeness amongst the fragments? The pious societies, the Society of the Faith, all of us – we must not just huddle together. We must not even huddle apart. We should instead expand, and teach, and urge, and proclaim the whole of our Catholic faith and practice, because there is a receptive audience for it. Let us not fiddle whilst Canterbury burns. Let us not neglect the part that we can play, out of our tradition, in the evangelisation of our nation. Let us not refrain from practicing that act of the mercy it would be to introduce those who have been given rather thin gruel to the strong meat of our great Catholic tradition.

The next paper was by Bishop Martin Warner.


1. Bishop Philip North is a traditionalist; Anglican Catholic Future embraces the ordination of women.

2. Another report commissioned by Geoffrey Fisher.

3. These are particularly important themes for a distinctively Catholic account of doctrine. I have explored them in Participation in God: A Study in Christian Doctrine and Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and – with Alison Milbank – in For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM Press, 2010).

4. For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions, Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, SCM Press 2010

5. Happily, General Synod has recently recognised the need for further work on the proposals set out in Mission and Ministry in Covenant.

6. Since this talk, Dr Davison has published his ground-breaking study of the topic, in Participation in God (Cambridge University Press, 2019).