It is in the delicate interplay between scripture, tradition and reason that the Anglican method of doing theology has been and continues to be pursued, always recognising that scripture is the normative, primary and controlling source of our authority. As HP Liddon, the considerable Tractarian scholar, reminds us: 'We cannot separate the Bible from the church which recognised and has preserved it. The divine book and the divine society are the two factors of the one revelation - each checking the other.'
So, for Anglicans, tradition is to be understood as that which is consonant with and conformable to the holy scriptures. The former Archbishop of Dublin Henry McAdoo wrote that 'the function of the Anglican appeal to antiquity is both faith-guarding and identity-affirming', and it is in this context that reason, our own freedom for exploration, questing and questioning, continues to be pursued.
It is in this context too that contemporary issues and questions are to be explored. As much as anything in the debate concerning the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood and episcopate there lurks to my mind the substantially more important question of authority and decision-making in a divided church.
There remains a formidable theological task to which I believe Anglican Catholicism must be committed, and where it appears to be somewhat lacking at the present time. Furthermore, in place of the considerably negative mind-set of the catholic movement with its siege and ghetto mentality, there needs to be an altogether more positive participation in and contribution to the many issues before our church, indeed before the Church Universal; and a greater openness to hear and to seek God's will and God's way for his people.
As ever such a will and a way will not always be crystal clear. More often than not the way is opaque and obscure, discerned, paradoxically, more in the unknowing than in the knowing. But it is only in the staying with the questions, in the discussing, the listening, the reflecting and the praying - rather than in the shouting down, marginalising and excommunicating - that we shall, as part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, be led towards the truth by Him who is the spirit of truth, the lord and the giver of life.
The theological enterprise can be hugely frustrating; it can also be immensely exciting, for it is nothing less than an engagement with the deep mystery of God, creator and redeemer of all that was and is and ever will be.
I looked, and behold, a great multitude.
But 'church', its being and nature, cannot remain in the realms of purely theological enquiry. We rejoice that we are 'church', part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, through time and in eternity. I deliberately say 'we' - it is an inclusive term, not an exclusive one. To my mind Anglican Catholicism has been too much concerned with ordained ministry and not enough concerned with the ministry and mission of the whole Church.
Those of us who are ordained have a particular and distinctive ministry which is at heart diaconal in its exercise; we are stewards and servants at the bottom of the pile rather than at the top so that we may encourage and enable the whole Church to be what together we are called to be - lights in the world, salt to the earth. I would like to see a much greater attention being given to a theology of the laity, a theology which is in no way patronising, but which recognises the primacy and priority of who and what together we are. Whether we are priest, deacon, bishop, churchwarden, organist, in the third row or the back row, together we are women and men baptised into Christ Jesus; once we were no people but now we are the people of God. In other words, the enhanced status, if such terms are at all appropriate, ought to go to the laity rather than to the clergy.
A further difficulty which needs to be addressed is the over-preoccupation with the stuffy and constricting world of the Church, with ecclesiastical politicking, committees, synods, more meetings and yet more paper. The Church is actually sent out and sent forth to be both the sign and instrument of that new and living way forged through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The catholic movement has become immersed within the confines of the Church, even of the sanctuary, whereas in truth the eucharist is the very springboard for mission and the proclamation of justice and righteousness for all - the celebration of God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
That perspective of forwards and onwards is ours today. Our forebears in the catholic movement were zealous for the transformation of the Church and the conversion of England. That task remains and if we are at all to address ourselves to it then we need not only to recover the full meaning of 'catholic' - in the sense of wholeness and inclusiveness, rather than issue-driven and exclusive, and quite irrespective of whether we consider ourselves to be of the affirming variety - but also to realise that we are being called to look beyond ourselves to the vast and increasing numbers of people for whom the Christian message is either of little importance or totally irrelevant.
That is the thrust of the eucharist - we are to go forth to love and serve the Lord, to go with confidence and joy in the name of the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ. We are ourselves to live his risen life, surrounded as we are by so great a cloud of witnesses, and ourselves to be the instruments of the Lord's love in bringing others to faith. Yet all the time we must keep alive that vision of the Church which was so dear to those who have gone before us and with whom in the holy mysteries we are united in that love which knows no end - that vision of the Church of Jesus Christ as a divine society, as a wonderful and sacred mystery: truly a home for sinners and a school for saints.
The Right Rev David Hope's Living the Gospel is published by Darton Longman Todd, pounds 6.95.Reuse content