Discussion following the college principals

FROM THE FLOOR: Could I ask Peter to say something more about Noah Harari? It is a name which I have not come across.

THE REVD FR PETER ALLAN: Noah Harari is, broadly, an historian. He teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written two very wide-ranging books. The first is called Homo Sapiens and the second, Homo Deus. They have caught the public imagination. They have been bestsellers. People like the CEO of Google and so on read them. Harari is looking at our present experience of being a human being in the context of the whole evolution of homo sapiens and where homo sapiens sits in the evolutionary story, and then looking ahead to what is going to happen next – some of the consequences of the emergence of AI and all the rest of it.

FROM THE FLOOR: I wonder if Fr Peter could enlarge a little bit more on the concept of openness and participating in a shared understanding.

THE REVD FR PETER ALLAN: Those are, of course, two very different issues.

It is possible to be both positive and rather negative about the quality of openness. It can sometimes look simply as though you have a tabula rasa – people coming with absolutely no idea, nothing there – so there is an openness. They do not know what not to be open to. That requires tremendous responsibility of the theological educator in not abusing or presuming; but it is a quality in most of the ordinands who come to us now, which I do find attractive.

A shared practice. I think this is where, once again, we have not sufficiently taken into account the consequences of the journey that has brought us to this point. It is a bit like that wonderful Russell Hoban story for children, The Mouse and His Child, where the great goal of the clockwork mouse is to become self-winding. We have reached the point where we believe that we have become self-winding. This applies as much to Christians as to others. We negotiate with God on the basis of our self‑winding ability. The problem is how we confront that. That is the bit that concerns me.

FROM THE FLOOR: I have a question for Peter, which might be slightly beyond the remit of theological education per se. In terms of the importance and visibility of Catholicity in the Church of England today, would you say a little bit about the present state of religious life in Anglicanism – its present state and its future prospects?

THE REVD FR PETER ALLAN: Thank you. Of course, the first obvious sign of the Anglican religious life is decline. That is part of institutional life. Institutions come and go through cycles. Having been important in their generation, many of them do not have the seeds for renewal. There are some communities still which have the seeds of new life within them. What is interesting for me is that the candidates approaching communities at the moment of a very different kind. They are almost all lay. Many of them have very little connection or association with the Church, but they recognise in community life something which calls them. That is a huge challenge. How does a community like ours, with over 100 years of history, welcome and form somebody from such a different world?

There is another element which I must say something about: the emergence of what is called ‘New Monasticism’. I have to say that I think this is a symptom of the confusion of the age. I see almost no connection with monasticism in it. I see a desperate hankering for what we would recognise as the baptismal life. If only we had not lost our confidence in baptism, we might not be having the problems we are having with communities more concerned with writing constitutions than with living the life.

The following paper was by Cally Hammond.