Delete Milton, insert Trollope. I'm sure he would have found the recent shenanigans useful for a plot for another chronicle. You see, matters ecclesiastical and quasi-ecclesiastical have caused cathedral closes across the shires to resound with the sounds of wailing and the gnashing of teeth and there has been hand-wringing in the cloisters. But not only have those matters ecclesiastical and quasi-ecclesiastical caused chaos in close and cloister, they have provided the letter editors of the more serious newspapers with the headache of choosing which letters to publish and which to spike.
The Church of England, the largest Protestant church in this country, is governed (I suppose that is the right word) by the General Synod which is comprised of three "Houses", those of bishops, clergy and laity. A proposal was before Synod last month that women should be permitted to become bishops. (It is now 20 years or so since they were permitted to be ordained priests.) For the proposal to be passed into legislation, it would have to be accepted by all three houses. Those of the bishops and clergy were in favour but the House of Laity voted, narrowly, against.
And why was this? One of the principal arguments against women bishops was that Christ selected only men for his apostles. Whilst accepting that statement is indeed true, what I can't accept is that it meant Christ was against women apostles. In any case, the world in the 21st century is completely different to the world 2000 years ago. Women these days have the vote; they are no longer mere chattels and are even allowed to own property in thier own name. And, anyway, if women priests are acceptable, why not women bishops also? Frankly, I think the House of Laity was acting like a modern-day King Canute in trying to hold back the tide of nature.
The other, quasi-ecclesiastical matter is still filling the letters page of my daily newspaper. This is the question of same-sex marriage. There is, I understand, a proposal to come before Parliament to allow marriages of same-sex couples to be effected in churches. But not the Church of England, which will be specifically forbidden to effect such marriages. Other churches, if the proposal becomes law, will be able to perform these marriages if they wish to do so but, as I understand it, they may also decline.
Like many other countries, we already have civil partnerships which provide same-sex couple with the same rights and responsibilities as married opposite-sex couples. Apart from the dogs-breakfast situation of some churches performing these marriages and some not, the main stumbling block is the definition of the word "marriage". Traditionalists insist that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman, that this has been the case even before the church took over responsibility for confirming the union (and subsequently yielded that responsibility to the state) and that the principal reason for marriage is procreation.
I have to admit to being in something of a quandary over this as I favour both sides of the argument. I suppose if I were to be forced to choose, I would come down on the side of the antis on the grounds that same-sex couples already have the rights of marriage (if not exactly the rites) and the proposal that civil partnerships be called marriages will cause offence to many people. Yes, I think on balance the best thing would be to stay with the status quo.
Walking across the Downs towards Plumpton Plain, the sky in front of me was mainly blue but there were heavy clouds coming up from the west - you can see the shadow on the left of this picture.