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On Archbishop Welby and the Art of Surprise

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 04, 2013

The head of the Anglican Communion has promised upcoming surprises, in the tradition of Pope Francis, regarding relations between Anglicans and Catholics. But a good Englishman ought to regard this as a thoroughly bad show.

Unless Archbishop Justin Welby plans to reverse the official Anglican accommodation of the progressive loss of Christian faith within the Communion over the past few generations, it is difficult to imagine any real surprises in the Anglican relationship with Rome. Archbishop Welby hints at doctrinal progress in ecumenical talks, but while this would not be without value, doctrinal agreement in formal ecumenical talks is likely to mean very little in a religious group which historically embraces the prevailing culture while lacking significant ecclesiastical discipline.

This leaves one wondering whether the Archbishop simply wants to be viewed as a man of surprises. He seems to find Pope Francis very attractive in this regard. Perhaps he thinks that strategic surprise is the way forward for all right-thinking Christians. But not every religious leader is just plain different enough from the anticipated norm to be surprising. Pope Francis, for his part, is very different. As a result, we find him surprising. Many also find this quality endearing, but make no mistake: It is endearing only if it comes naturally.

It probably isn’t necessary to rain on anyone’s parade, but one of the signs that a person is not surprising is that he announces his surprises in advance. Not only is this exceedingly dangerous, since true surprises are rather unpredictable in their occurrence, but it also robs the results of—go deep with me here—their surprise.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Nov. 05, 2013 7:01 AM ET USA

    Quite right. Both John Henry Newman and Ronald Knox crossed the Tiber once to say that Anglicanism was spiritually bankrupt, and this long before the disastrous Lambeth Conferences began regularly to bless sin in various forms. Unless Welby intends to replenish his sect's depleted 'funds' from the deposit of faith -- perhaps by 'defrocking' all the phony Anglican priestesses, for example, or by declaring clearly that, yes indeed, sodomy is sin -- it's hard to see what 'surprise' he could offer.