Carolyn Hammond

THE CHAIRMAN: We are now moving beyond seminaries. We are very fortunate to have with us Cally Hammond, the Dean of Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, whose writing some of you may know. Her recent work on words as they are used in worship has been really one of the most valuable books for me. I know the Cambridge college chapels rather better than Oxford, because they are nearer to me. My impression is that the quality of music in them, the quality of worship, the number of undergraduates I see in them, seem rather more healthy than they were in the 1970s when I knew them as an undergraduate. I hope Cally will give us a wider view of the students and what they make of the themes that we are exploring today – and whether they make anything of them at all.


Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge


It is always a bit scary when somebody introduces you with words about what they hope you are going to say when actually you have other plans in mind! I was asked to talk about faith challenges amongst young people as part of my brief, but our endeavour in this Symposium is so much wider than that that I think I can justify going off‑piste a bit.

I sent an e-mail to all chapel-going students at Caius to ask them what they thought ‘Catholic’ meant. What I got has partly decided me on the shape of what I’m going to say. I got just one reply, and the provenance of that reply is very suggestive. This is what that student said:

My understanding of catholic (little ‘c’) as in the Creed/declaration of faith is of one united Church (big ‘C’); the body of believers united as a family through the blood of Christ, so that we all have one common Father.

That came from the College Christian Union rep. There was nothing from the people that I myself would have identified as Catholic, which was interesting.

When I was in correspondence with Fr Stephen Tucker about coming to speak today, he referred to the loss of contact between the Church and the Academy, which he had mentioned in an article for the Church Times; and of course Bishop Graham has referred to that as well. It is a serious matter. It is serious, because right from the beginning Christianity has attracted brilliant minds. It does so because it has something to offer – because it is in itself brilliant. I do not think I am being unfair, but the current climate of hostility, or at least indifference, to theology is worrying – at least in part, because it departs from the tradition of fearless inquiry and hunger for truth which I would call our Catholic patrimony. I think we can say that the church of Irenaeus, Justin, Cyprian, Origen, Ambrose, Augustine and the Cappadocians is a church of thinkers. (You will know from that that I am in my comfort zone in patristics.)

The 1947 Report

There is a grave danger of historical naivety in an approach like the one put forward in the 1947 Report. (I am going on the summary, which I imagine most of us have read as preparation for this Symposium. The Report puts forward a vision of a primitive unity which was later vitiated by heresy, schism, and dissent. There are references in the full Report to the ‘many-sided “wholeness” of the primitive Church.’ But the overall emphasis remains on theological primitive unity rather than historical primitive diversity. But I have to say – this is only an opinion, but a reasonable one, I think – that the word ‘catholic’ was already sectarian in the fourth century, when Augustine, for example, used it to refer to his side in the Donatist controversy. You will notice that we call that controversy by the name of the people who lost it: the Donatists, named after an individual, a heretical and schismatic Christian, as opposed to the ‘according to the whole’ party, the Catholics. This is, of course, a consistent trend we can see with hindsight in the history of the Church. We talk about the Arian controversy and the Nestorian controversy. In contrast, the winners are Catholicism and Orthodoxy; so claiming this word says something about ourselves. This is not to make a value-judgement about the relative worth of the two versions of reality, but rather to serve as a reminder that the Christian emphasis on chronological development over time meshes with a providential view of history in which ‘what triumphed’ is sometimes too smoothly equated with ‘what was right’.

Let me quote the preface to Canon C15:

The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds….

I find those noble and inspiring words. I always have; but they are at least as much a statement of history as they are of theology. They are a claim to authenticity, if you like, rather than an expression of any partisan approach to ‘being church’. (I do quite dislike the idea of calling it ‘church’ without the definite article, but this seems to be the way we are going, so ‘being church’ it is.)

Elements of the 1947 Report

I want to start, therefore, with a brief commentary on some elements of the 1947 Report summary, and some observations which might help us today, and might suggest ways in which we can re-imagine the debate for our own time.

Let me start with the question put by Archbishop Fisher: ‘What is the underlying cause – philosophical and theological – of the contrast or conflict between the Catholic and Protestant traditions?’ At the risk of sounding both pretentious and annoying, this made me think of Thucydides’ analysis of the Peloponnesian War because, in that – for the first time in a piece of historical writing – he makes a distinction between two kinds of cause: between aitiai, which are the immediate triggers for an event, and the alethestate prophasis, which is the most true explanation of it. This contrast between apparent causes and real causes, or between superficial and underlying causes, or short term triggers and long term causative factors, is very helpful. If we think of the nexus of sensitivities around the word ‘Catholic’, we might identify as some of our short term triggers things like divorce, women’s ordination, gays, that kind of thing; but the underlying causes are something else – the alethestate prophasis.

Maybe that is not so clear, but I think it can help us.

  • Authority. Are we talking episcopacy, or are we talking scripture? This is a fundamental dichotomy between tradition as personal (bishops) and tradition as impersonal (books).
  • Authenticity. Are we talking the role of the Church, or are we talking the vocation of the individual Christian. If you will forgive me for the term, the meta-narrative for that is the individual versus the corporate. I know very little about the Enlightenment as a historical phenomenon, but I do recognise that one of the most important factors in our theology nowadays is the understanding of the base unit of Christian faith as the individual. Of course, Augustine had realised this long ago, but we always need to remind ourselves of it. The difference between Christians as individuals and Christians as corporate is fundamental to this Catholic outlook.

If Fisher’s underlying cause is philosophical, then I would suggest that the triggers – the aitiai – would be concrete and practical matters; but I do not think this is really true. I think conflict attaches itself to ideology and expresses itself through ideology, but that this can only happen because of underlying causes which are not intellectual, but practical and concrete. I will come back to this later.

Archbishop Fisher’s Questions

Another point to take issue with is this: ‘What are the fundamental points of doctrine at which the contrast or conflict crystallises?’ I have to apologise if I am treading on Andrew Davison’s toes, but I would say that the points of doctrine are not the issue. I want to argue for a less ideological perspective on the sources of conflict within the Church of England, both Catholic and Reformed. This is not to say that doctrine does not matter – I wholeheartedly believe that doctrine does matter – but if we assume that it is fundamentally the formulation of our ideas that separates us as Christians, we risk thinking that finessing our terminology will resolve our problems. I do not believe that it will. Again, I will come back to that later. The Report is aware of this, but again it argues that certain elements in Protestantism and post-enlightenment liberalism are like the ancient heresies caused by an imbalance in a certain direction – often as a result of a corresponding imbalance in the opposite direction.

Another question Fisher asked was: ‘Is a synthesis at these points possible?’ I only have a very simple observation to make here. ‘Synthesis’ is not an attractive word in English. It sounds negative because of the connotations of its cognate adjective. When we hear that something is synthetic, we think ‘not real’. In fact, however, to call something in the Church synthetic is a compliment to what we can do theologically to make disparate elements co-inhere. It is creative, because it is instinctively and inherently cooperative. The Report objects to the idea of synthesis for reasons it spells out.

Fisher went on to ask: “If a synthesis is not possible, can [disparate elements] co-exist within one ecclesiastical body?” The short answer to that is, ‘Of course they can, because they do and they are doing so right now’ – though not without a cost in terms of friction and conflicts about goals and perspectives.

To speak personally, every time I hear the words ‘mission’ and ‘leadership’ in a church context, my heart sinks. These words act as triggers for all my most negative feelings about people who think they can change the course of history with a few underpowered and un-financed initiatives and – worse – because they are based only on theological and scriptural foundations, and take little or no account of the sociological, psychological and anthropological factors which drive human religious behaviour. We have to take those into account as well.

Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics – then and now

Once upon a time, the classic split was between Evangelicals and Anglo‑Catholics. Now, to use metaphorical terminology, we are looking much more at a forward/backward or conservative/progressive split. Is the Catholic Church of England marching forward in faith, or retreating backwards in bigotry? As I say, these are metaphors, and they can clutter up our thinking. We need to keep firmly focused on the truest causes of our current confused state. When the Report summary suggests, ‘Today, our agenda is dominated by apologetics, mission, the relationship between science and belief, and between community, politics, church and world’, of course I want to ask first of all: ‘Who is the “our” in “our agenda”?’

We have moved through a time of profound anxiety generated by questions of scripture or historicity. Other anxieties have come to the fore, with what I would characterise as a crisis of confidence for the Church. The forces of militant atheism and secularism are very strident today, and are frankly intimidating. One thinks only this week of the business about the future of ‘Thought for the Day’ on the BBC’s Today programme, and the fact that it seems to be perfectly all right to attack three minutes of reflection on religious matters, but nobody questions for a millisecond the inclusion of racing tips or business news. I think encouraging people to gamble probably does a lot more damage – but then I was brought up Baptist.

Dubious Presupposition behind the 1947 Report

So here is my biggest problem with the 1947 Report. It presumes the primitive wholeness of the Christian faith and says: ‘Unity today can only be built on a recognition of that primitive unity.’ That is problematic for me, because I do not believe that there ever was such a unity. The facts of history are against such a fantasy. For this reason, I suggest that the question ought to be: ‘What sense can we make of unity, and especially our Christian duty?’ As one of my predecessors has quoted some Latin, I will use a bit myself: ut unum sint – ‘that they may be one’. If we are to stop staggering towards a mirage of unity and start working our way towards the reality of it, we have to understand what we think unity is.

And so, as a contributor to this Symposium, I am like that person who, when asked for directions, says: ‘Well, if you’re looking to get there, I wouldn’t start from here’. This is not where I would want to start from; but that does not mean such an exercise cannot be fruitful.

I found this statement in the Report summary more helpful: ‘Unity is based on a way of life which included belief, worship and morals.’ It goes on to express the eschatological event of redemption in the person of Jesus. Why is that more helpful? Because, instead of pretending that unity was there at the beginning of the Church, a kind of primitive patrimony later corrupted – and, by the way, this has always been the Church’s self-image, helped by the apologists and people like Eusebius – it allows us to re-think ut unum sint, ‘that they may be one’: Christ’s vision for the end and goal and purpose of the Church. I have to say that, as this week we commemorate the start of the European Reformation, the time is right. That gigantic shift 500 years ago played out as a fight about unity; but I would suggest that it was really about uniformity – not the same thing at all.

Importance of Uniformity

To see how important uniformity is, spiritually and emotionally as well as theologically, you only have to observe the anxiety levels in a congregation which does not know if it is supposed to be sitting, standing or kneeling at a given point in a service. A lack of uniformity in posture is profoundly disturbing to the peace of mind of a worshiper. A lack of uniformity of belief and praxis is, not surprisingly, infinitely more unsettling.

I have my own concerns about the risks of imposing a uniformity which pretends to be unity. This is not what is being claimed. Uniformity of doctrine and liturgy and morals can help us feel we are all one body in Christ. That is true, but only if within that uniformity we have the capacity to tolerate difference – and I really mean more than tolerate. I mean, ‘accept it with joy, not suspicion’. A favourite quotation of mine is from II Corinthians: ‘God loves a cheerful giver’. He wants us to be open and accepting in our reactions. If I may quote, not from the Bible, but from a very bad film called Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: ‘God loves wondrous variety.’ I cannot see a problem with that. It is a good watchword: ‘God loves wondrous variety.’

Uniformity is measurable. We can measure it through law and liturgy and theology. It is also enforceable through canon and through episcopal discipline. Unity is not. Unity is an abstract concept. Christ does not pray for unity in his high priestly prayer. He prays ‘that they may be one’. That is why it is useful to think of it in Latin, because in Latin is has a paradoxical force: ut unum sint. Unum is singular, but the verb sint is plural. It is a paradox. ‘One’ does not mean ‘all the same’. As we have already heard, baptism unites us, even if we are divided at the sacrament of the altar. Scripture unites us, even though we are divided by our interpretations of it. For all these reasons, I think it is better to see unity as our goal, rather than our lost, abandoned, neglected, but potentially recoverable heritage.

None of what I have said so far offers any help in healing the breach between the two main traditions within the Church of England. Of course I am talking about the Catholic and the Evangelical here, rather than forward and backward, or progressive and conservative. Scripture, and the use of scripture, remains one key point of friction between the two polarities. I do not think either side does justice to the key role that scripture plays in the worshiping life of the other.

The Church is described in the summary of the Report in terms which I think it important to quote:

Only a Church which was not afraid of “tensions”, which could discern without prejudice the “wholeness” of the revelation in Christ, would have dared to set side by side four differing Gospels, the Epistles of St Paul and St James, the apostolic history of Acts and the eschatology of the Apocalypse, and to acclaim them all as normative.

I wish. I think that is too apologetic. The Church did not do away with multiple gospels, true, and did not do a Diatessaron solution by combining them all – but that was because of the need to maintain the authenticity of the apostolic documents, not because the Church in its early centuries was fearless about embracing diversity.

Divine Providence

That is me with my historian hat. What about the role of divine providence in all of this? If God is at work in human history (and I believe he is) and if human history is going in a direction (and I believe it is, because I do not have an ‘it happens’ view of history) – if God is in this, we do not have the luxury of saying that the past has been wrong. Not, at any rate, if we believe in divine providence, in the divinely willed direction of human progress and flourishing. Saying that history (in the sense of ‘what happened’) is wrong is like saying that blue skies are wrong. It is what it was; only for the present (if it exists – a conundrum for Augustine and others) and the future. Choosing to do things differently ‘now’ and ‘evermore’ is something else. We cannot say that history is wrong, any more than, in the patristic period, those commentators on the Bible who were so flexible and so inventive in their interpretations could ever bring themselves to say that a single jot or tittle of scripture was wrong. They could not do it. I do not think we should be able to do that with history. What has happened has happened. We are here now because of it. We should not even want to rewrite the past, because it is God’s past. No Christian, I believe, can ever say that history was wrong.

What the Church of England’s Catholicism needs to recover – and I am talking about this regardless of views on women and gays and ministry and all the rest of it – is a positive attitude towards itself and its message, a confidence that there are indeed incalculable riches in our Catholic patrimony; but we are never going to access them or communicate them if we focus on disputation amongst ourselves. Sometimes I think we Catholics are our own worst enemies in that respect. I learned long ago, and I guess this is true for many of us, especially those of us called to preach, that one should never preach a negative message. The Christian gospel is always a positive, and it must be preached positively. This is another way of saying we must be much clearer about what we are for than what we are against. Our record on this to date has not been good. A culture of sneering at the opposition and belittling people’s sincerity, their motives – even their faith – has prevailed. That is true on both sides.

Students at Cambridge

That brings me back – you may think at long last – to my brief: student ministry. Cambridge students are not stupid. One of my colleagues at Caius once said, ‘The students think we’re so much cleverer than them, but we’re not cleverer. We just know more stuff.’ People like Rowan Williams are I suspect more clever – but they do put before us the possibility that we can be too. It is, of course, true that, as we get older, we know more stuff; but we are not cleverer. Still, we may be wiser in knowing what to do with all the stuff we know.

Cambridge students are not stupid. Well, I did not think my parish congregations were stupid either. Congregations can tell when we preach what we believe, and pray what we mean. They are quick to detect negativism. But yes, some members of a congregation will be enthused by the idea of sectarianism and partisanship.

It is quite exciting, especially when you are young, to be contra mundum – against the world, against the majority – to be set apart, select, special. It seems to me that there is a risk here, for both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, of going astray in what I can only describe – I cannot think of a better way of describing it – as ‘recruitment processes’ and ‘systems of selection and promotion’, which single out particular individuals, set them apart from their peers and encourage them to think of themselves as special and different and better. There is an element of grooming in all of this. We recognise it quickly amongst the Cambridge deans and chaplains when it happens with the Cambridge University Students’ Union, where students are talent-spotted, taken to lunches, encouraged to lead things, and groomed up. But it is also true of ourselves, I think.

The Church Necessarily Conservative?

The Church has to be a conservative institution to protect its patrimony. It would not have survived for 2,000 years if it had not been conservative. I find it sobering to reflect on that extraordinary success. If you think how old the English monarchy feels, remember that the Church is nearly twice as old. It could not survive without being conservative; but it also cannot survive without adapting. One of the things that matters most is how we identify what should and should not change. That is far more important than thinking about protecting our own positions. And we have to accept that both continuity and authenticity can only be built on creative tensions between them. We cannot resolve those tensions without losing babies with bathwater.

I want to say a few final words about my historical perspective on the subject I have been given. My doctorate was written on Roman historiography. I am interested in how historians express conflict and how they characterise and morally evaluate events. Conflict in history can be triggered by things – as I have said already, by immediate causes – but it can also have more fundamental or structural causes.

Anglo‑Catholic/Evangelical tensions today

So what is, or was, or ever will be, the Anglo‑Catholic/Evangelical split about? Perhaps I am being controversial here, but I do not really think it is about theology or, indeed, about scriptural principles. I think we will get much more insight into the difficulty we must come to terms with and manage if we understand that, at a fundamental level – like every conflict in history – it is about competition over resources, power and control, whether those are concrete (land, money) or abstract (ideology, relationships).

Here is a parallel from another field. Think of the New Atheists. They are always blaming religion for starting wars and conflict. It is one of their principal reasons for saying that religion should be edited out of the public sphere and public debate. Whenever they do this, we jump in quickly as religious people and say: ‘No, it is not religion that is at fault. It is the misuse of religious beliefs in a political or military cause.’ I think that is true, but we cannot have it both ways. If the factors which drive those kinds of conflicts are not really religious, then we have to apply that principle to ourselves as well.

To understand this more clearly, we need to start thinking in terms of agencies and mechanisms for change, and for defence or preservation. We need to start analysing the questions we set ourselves in terms of resources – and here I am talking historically about things like buildings and territory, offices, senior appointments, attractive jobs, the nicest churches, closed charitable funds. We need to think about the instruments by which we put our principles into effect:

  • Our legislature (the General Synod).
  • Our leadership – the episcopate – which, by the way, if you think in terms of a parallel from Roman history, acts both as army and police. This is a bit scary for bishops, being both army and police together, but they are a regulatory body like that.
  • The cursus honorum: the system of appointments, roles and leadership, who gets the positions of influence, how they get there and, once there, what they do.
  • On a very basic level, how people learn their Christianity and what it consists in.

Wherever there are sufficient resources, there is less conflict; but when we have competition for resources, whether that is prominence or something more concrete, we get conflict. The traditional Catholic/Protestant dichotomy appears to be ideological. To some extent, that is true. Christians care about their beliefs enough to fight for them and even die for them. History tells us so. So yes, the Anglo-Catholic/Evangelical divide may play out in terms of arguments about ideology or apostolicity or whatever; but more often, I suggest, it is actually tribal. It is about loyalty and identity as much as ideology. It is not surprising in a religion based on the Word incarnate that we behave as though finessing over formularies will create and sustain unity – whatever we mean by ‘unity’.

Don’t Fudge the Issues

Just to speak personally again: not so long back, I was on a subcommittee of the Faith and Order Commission tasked with producing a document on men and women in marriage. Oh yes! Not our finest hour! There was fundamental disagreement between members of that working group about both the approach to marriage and the conclusions drawn. Paraphrasing, but only slightly, the reaction of the chair to that clash was: ‘Let’s put our thinking caps on and come up with a form of words which covers both.’ To me (and, as Fr Tucker points out, to the authors of the Report), that is fundamentally improper. This is not what it is about – finding a form of words which can glue us together, when the tension is actually too great for the two sides to stick.

The truth is simpler, and also harder. As I have said, most students, like most parishioners, have to be taught what heresy and schism are, and relatively few of them have any instinctive enthusiasm for what I would call ‘true theology’ in the sense of ‘reasoned discourse about God’. Very few of them have any fixed idea of what Catholicity is. Most of them – most of us, I suspect (it would be hard to construct the appropriate research but fascinating to get its results) – begin with a sense of the divine which we cannot explain or express, and come to find it crystallised in the person of Jesus Christ. Everything else comes later and remains secondary, both in our belief and in our praxis throughout our lives.

In other words, we are taught – and learn – to separate ourselves from our fellow Christians because our natural desire to embrace authentic Christian faith makes us vulnerable to fears about being found on the wrong side. We have to choose our side. Will it be a side like Manchester United or Arsenal? Will it be a side like Wolverhampton Wanderers or (Fr Peter will forgive me) Queens Park Rangers? Will it be a team that is glamour or naff, good or bad, strong or weak, right or wrong? We choose it and hold to it, buckle and thong. Just like football supporters, we learn to sing the songs as a way to mark and defend our territory, and at the same time we learn the mind-set of ‘My team, right or wrong’. We learn which team to support, and which teams to hate and belittle and jeer at. I defy you to find anybody who watches Arsenal at the Emirates who has never sung Stand Up If You Hate Tottenham.

Ours is a faith of the incarnate Word, so we privilege words in our negotiations and in our self-identity; but a less ideological perspective would clarify what is really at stake. As you might say, ‘Cui bono?’ – ‘Who stands to gain?’ Or as you might say, thinking of film culture: ‘Follow the money’. Once we can see clearly who stands to lose or gain from the conflicts played out by the Anglo‑Catholic/Evangelical divide in the Church of England, we will be better placed to encourage all the positive riches of our Catholic patrimony: our apostolicity; our authenticity; our faithfulness to scripture; our unity of identity; the full riches of sacrament in one body without, God willing, imposing a rigid and restrictive uniformity.

Following Jesus

Inside and outside the faith, so-called ‘ordinary people’, like my students and parishioners, are busy following the advice of our Lord Jesus. ‘By their fruits you will know them.’ They are not interested in the clever forms of words we can devise to glue our fractured communion together. They see straight past all the theology and principle and the debate about authentic Catholicism, and look at how we behave to one another, and what we say about one another when our guard is down, when we are not on our best behaviour. By their fruits they will be known. By our fruits we will be known. I suggest that those fruits had better be fruits of repentance and firm purpose of amendment, so that even if, not now or in the past, then in God’s good time, we may be one. Thank you.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you so much, Cally. I think Andrew, Robin, Peter and Cally have all illustrated, in their different ways, that our theme today is certainly not a redundant one – although, as Cally has illustrated, it is pretty messy and rather contested. If the crisis of confidence in the Church is to be overcome – and I am sure Cally is right here as well – then there must be something more than projects to do it. As somebody who has to speak sometimes about mission and leadership, I can sometimes hear myself critiquing the very things I am saying. I also have sympathy with where Andrew began this morning, with Geoffrey Fisher wanting results. We all do. I am certain our Church today is seeking results, and I expect we will not find them without a renewed Catholic theology – and indeed a renewed common life. We need to look back to Lionel Thornton, not just in relation to religious communities, but also to the theology of baptism of which Peter was speaking.

The next paper was by Andrew Davison.