Saint Paul observed, in an almost Hegelian way, that controversy and party-spirit, however deplorable in themselves, were almost necessary to the discernment of truth (1 Cor 11:19) There is nothing new in seeking, or at least pining after, an end to all controversy. I would suggest that the current press for an Anglican Covenant stems in part from this desire.
That this should happen within Anglicanism is natural, but to be regarded with some suspicion, as a desire for an end to contentions may merely conceal a desire for the peace of the world rather than the peace of God, which is not achieved by compromise but comprehension. I was perusing the pages of the work of the eminent Mr. Trollope the other day, and came upon a relevant passage. Here the Anglo-Catholic Mr. Arabin discourses with the Widow Bold on the subject of contention in the church, chiefly the Church of England, and dissuades from the easy solution of a governing head to put an end to controversy.
“Do not such contentions bring scandal on the church?”
“More scandal would fall on the church if there were no such contentions. We have but one way to avoid them—by that of acknowledging a common head of our church, whose word on all points of doctrine shall be authoritative. Such a termination of our difficulties is alluring enough. It has charms which are irresistible to many, and all but irresistible, I own, to me.”
“You speak now of the Church of Rome?” said Eleanor.
“No,” said he, “not necessarily of the Church of Rome; but of a church with a head. Had it pleased God to vouchsafe to us such a church our path would have been easy. But easy paths have not been thought good for us.” He paused and stood silent for awhile, thinking of the time when he had so nearly sacrificed all he had, his powers of mind, his free agency, the fresh running waters of his mind’s fountain, his very inner self, for an easy path in which no fighting would be needed; and then he continued: “What you say is partly true: our contentions do bring on us some scandal. The outer world, though it constantly reviles us for our human infirmities and throws in our teeth the fact that being clergymen we are still no more than men, demands of us that we should do our work with godlike perfection. There is nothing god-like about us: we differ from each other with the acerbity common to man; we triumph over each other with human frailty; we allow differences on subjects of divine origin to produce among us antipathies and enmities which are anything but divine. This is all true. But what would you have in place of it? There is no infallible head for a church on earth. This dream of believing man has been tried, and we see in Italy and in Spain what has come of it. Grant that there are and have been no bickerings within the pale of the Pope’s Church. Such an assumption would be utterly untrue, but let us grant it, and then let us say which church has incurred the heavier scandals.”
Barchester Towers, Chapter 21
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG