Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who's Calling for a New Ecclesiology?

I have read Archbishop Williams’ article in the Telegraph newspaper. It is an interesting article – interesting less for what it says about the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania than what it says about the Archbishop of Canterbury.

One point that struck me was this one:

[Those who were troubled by American decisions regarding GLBT Christians] needed more than an assurance that it had been thought about in America and that a lot of people there had concluded it was all right. The other question followed on: if an issue just might be in the "not mine to give away" category, how did the Church as a whole decide whether it really was in that category or not? How did it decide as a Church, not as a conglomerate of local independent bodies? And if it couldn't decide as a Church, how could it carry on talking with other worldwide Christian bodies on the same foundations?

The clear import of this is that the vision of unity of Cantuar is “a Church,” in contrast to his previous image of “even less than a federation.” It might be a “Church that could balance unity and consent…,” but it is a Church and not a federation.

Indeed, it is to be a Church that will be recognized as such by “other worldwide Christian bodies.” But therein I find myself confused. In the David Frost interview in which he expressed the concern that the Anglican Communion might end up “less than a federation,” he also said, “There are other world churches, the Lutheran Reform Churches, which get on with a federal pattern.” Here certainly is a “worldwide Christian body” that is able to enter into ecumenical conversations and pursue unity of the Body, operating our of a “federal pattern.” The Lutherans have perhaps as much diversity as the Anglicans, but their “federal pattern” hasn’t inhibited their capacity to interact with other “worldwide Christian bodies.” Various “provinces” of Lutheran national bodies have been able to reach full communion, including mutual recognition of ministries, with various Provinces of the Anglican Communion. The Lutheran World Federation was able to participate in the Anglican Lutheran International Commission. They have been able to meet and issue agreed statements with the Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox, as well as with Anglicans.

Of course, in that contrast to the Lutherans, Archbishop Williams also said, “There’s always been, I think, a higher expectation in the Anglican Communion, that we, we have more, more at stake than that.” That, I think, is why we have spoken of our body as a Communion. It speaks to the activities that have traditionally brought and held us together: communicating with one another at the Lord’s Table, and communicating between rites in fellowship and conversation.

On the other hand, there has been another authoritative voice that has made the distinction between a “Church” and other sorts of Christian bodies. Pope Benedict XVI when as Cardinal Ratzinger he issued the declaration Dominus Iesus, wrote of, “these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation.”

Now, some might recall that the Cardinal spoke of “true particular churches.” Specifically, he wrote,

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.58 The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches.59 Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.

As encouraging as that might sound to us, who uphold the validity of our Episcopate, it is in fact cold comfort. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church, affirmed as well by Cardinal Ratzinger, is that in fact we do not have valid orders. For all our recent conversations and gestures, the opinion of Leo XIII is still the official teaching, and our orders are viewed as “defective.” And on that point, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,61 are not Churches in the proper sense;…”

Thus, it seems to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury envisions something less “defective;” and if he does not seek true reunion with Rome (at least in the short term), perhaps he hopes for something more visibly and structurally parallel. There may still be a desire to “balance unity and consent,” but only within a structure that is “more,” and has “more at stake,” than “a federal pattern;” much less “something less than a federation.”

And so I am troubled by his concern about how we “decide as a Church, not as a conglomerate of local independent bodies.” We have in the past functioned as a Communion, local bodies more closely related than simply a conglomerate, but not so closely structured as “a Church.” Indeed, one could argue that such a structure has not affected our ability to communicate with Rome, in that it is basically the same structure as that lived out in the Orthodox family of autocephalous churches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to satisfy the vision of Cantuar.

I would agree that how we as a Communion decide which issues are really Communion-wide is important. Sadly, in the current arguments there is a powerful drive to decide these issues before we’ve really determined whether they are or should be Communion-wide issues, or even how we identify Communion-wide issues. We have seen ourselves in some sense as “autocephalous,” until now. But for Cantuar apparently that isn’t good enough.

We have thought, on this side of the Atlantic, that the drive for a centralization of authority and for conformity of teaching was coming from our Anglican siblings in the Global South. That seems certainly true of conformity, and may be true of centralization; but it sure looks like the drive for centralization is getting at least some enthusiasm from the very top.


jon said...

Here's something I just ran across that seems relevant to your post, although somewhat from "the other side":

Marshall Scott said...


Thanks for this link. I'll be considering it.