Blandly Absorbed At The Last

These are lean days for sacred cows. By papal decree sundry saints have been demoted (travelers must go more warily), red hats banished. The papacy itself took a clobbering for some brave and brutal words on birth control.

Foundation-shaking has been felt also among Anglicans. A publication from that stable carries three letters to the editor under the heading “Respect Due To Bishops.” Now, let me say at once that I am ill equipped to comment on this theme. The only bishop I knew really well won my respect immediately because he’d been to Tierra del Fuego, and wanted me to join him on a safari to Samarkand (I know that sounds unlikely, but it’s true). Negotiations broke down when it turned out he was thinking in terms of Flecker’s golden journey while I, with no poetry in my soul, became obsessed with the difficulties of getting a Russian visa.

But about those Anglican letters. The first pointed out, referring to a Lambeth Conference decision, that giving respect to bishops was “hardly likely to result in a mass return to church worship.” The second writer, perhaps shackled by an English upbringing, proved to be a self-confessed “My Lord”-er in addressing a prelate, though he added seriously, “whatever I may call him in the privacy of my own home.” But it was the third scribe who hit a note rare in the episcopal context. He told of the bishop who asked a class of children if they knew who he was. Came the answer from one: “Yes, sir—a miserable sinner.”

That bishops as a breed have not always had a good press might be adduced from a pronouncement of that nineteenth-century enfant terrible Sydney Smith. Let those in denominations currently under pressure to take episcopacy into their systems ponder ...

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