Confessions of a Conservative Liberal in a recent posting, catholicity and covenant decided to spend an hour thumbing through an old copy. The book was published in 1988, in the case of this reader, over half a lifetime ago. And it does evoke something of a different age - the references to the Falklands War, the miners' strike, to AIDS, to the then Bishop of Durham's statements on the Virgin Birth and Resurrection, to a Church and society seeking to come to terms (or not) with the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
What is also striking about Confessions of a Conservative Liberal, however, is the sense that contemporary Anglicanism appears to have lost the liberalism espoused by Habgood - a quite different liberalism replacing it. In defining what he meant by 'conservative liberal', Habgood first defines liberal:
We grow in knowledge only insofar as we are prepared to critcize what what we think we know alread. True knowledge is tested knowledge, just as true faith has to be sifted by doubt. That is why an illiberal faith must in the end be untrue to a gospel which promises abundant life and growth ... [Liberalism] is essentially about honesty, but an honesty rooted in what God has given us, both in revelation and in the created world.
That last sentence is perhaps key to understanding what he actually meant by 'conservative liberal', for he says of conservatism:
The essence of conservatism, as I see it, is to treasure what is given by tradition, what is best from the past, and what has proved itself by its durability. It is to display a certain humility towards the things we have received and may not fully understand, and so conserve them as potentially fruitful for the future.
Implicit in these definitions is a sense of the necessary interplay between liberalism and conservatism. Liberalism must reflect within the 'giveness' of conservatism. Conservatism must be open to the reflections of a liberalism which honestly probes what has been received. For Habgood, Anglicanism needs both:
I am unwilling to lose either conservatism of liberalism in the sense in which I have defined them. In fact, I regard it as essential for the Church of England (and not the Church of England only) to contain both.
This rootedness necessary for a liberalism which authentically serves the Church has, for Habgood, a particular centre:
The creeds, which try to catch in words the essence of the Christian faith as it was defined in relation to particular historical conflicts, stand as permanent signposts of Christian orthodoxy.
It is a quite robust statement of the Church's creedal centre, reminding liberalism that the context for theological inquiry is the catholic creeds - that there is, in fact, something called "Christian orthodoxy" which defines the Church's confession and witness.
In a reminder that Anglicanism's current divisions stretch back into the 1980s, Habgood also addresses tensions within the Communion:
By the time this is published I hope the 1988 Lambeth Conference will have gone some way towards tackling the problem of authority ... It is true that Anglicanism, with its somewhat haphazard history, suffers from the tension between diversity and cohesion in a particularly acute form.
Here, it seems, is a recognition of Anglicanism's "ecclesial deficit". And Habgood's answer? It was not the casual affirmation of the status quo so evident in much opposition to the Covenant:
My own belief is that the best way forward is by strengthening the theological coherence of the Communion.
To hear such words from opponents of the Covenant today would go some way to signalling their acceptance of the fact that the status quo within Anglicanism falls short of what life in communion should actually be. Rather than merely celebrating autonomy and independence, what - after the apparent rejection of the Covenant - can we Anglicans do to authentically strengthen our life together in communion and move from incoherence to coherence?
In place of the liberalism lof Habgood, we now have a highly ideological progressivism in parts of the Communion which seeks to deny theological conservatism a place in the Church's life and witness, which recoils from any concept of creedal orthodoxy, and which rejects a deepening of Anglicanism's life as communion. Perhaps Habgood does reflect a past era, shaped by the attitudes and conventions of mid-20th century English Church and society, and a liberalism which cannot be retrieved. If so, Anglicanism is self-evidently the poorer for it.