Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Draft, Another (Quadrilateral) Problem

All right, I’ve been mulling it over, and I need to comment on the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant. It’s not an extensive analysis. Rather, I’m noting something in the draft that trouble me. (Sure, I’d like to do more detailed analysis, and even to compare it to the Nassau Draft; but it’s just been too busy a week.)

My concern is in the first section:

1.1 Each Church of the Communion affirms:
(1.1.1) its communion in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
(1.1.2) that, reliant on the Holy Spirit, it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear significant witness, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation;
(1.1.3) that it holds and duly administers the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;
(1.1.4) that it upholds the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church;
(1.1.5) that our shared patterns of common prayer and liturgy form, sustain and nourish our worship of God and our faith and life together;
(1.1.6) that it participates in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God, and that this mission is shared with other Churches and traditions beyond this Covenant.

Now, this is intended to incorporate the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. That was where I found a problem with the first draft. The Nassau Draft separated the Quadrilateral’s reference to the historic episcopate to its own section of the Draft. In doing so, the Drafting Committee significantly elevated the authority of bishops beyond that established for bishops in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

Well, the Committee corrected that, reintegrating the language on the episcopate in roughly the form in the Quadrilateral. Unfortunately, at the same time they lost the language related to the historic creeds. Note section 1.1.1: in it the historic creeds are essentially subsidiary to Scripture. The Quadrilateral, as accepted by Lambeth in 1888, affirmed, “The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” That more accurately, I think, reflects the place of the Creeds in the life of the Church. Moreover, while we would want to affirm scriptural support for everything in the Creeds, they represent more, both in their history and in their use, than comments for a Bible study. Rather, they are evidence of the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, continuing to unfold the meaning of Christ’s work in the Church and the world.

We have commonly spoken in the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican tradition as being a “creedal,”, as opposed to a curial or a confessional. We have said this, I think, because we have seen the Creeds as summaries of the faith, drawn from Scripture, but also reflecting the Spirit’s guidance in understanding meaning and implication well beyond what is explicit in the text. If we are to continue to see ourselves as “creedal,” we cannot accept a statement that appears to diminish the integrity of the Creeds as evidence of God’s continuing guidance, and in that sense “revelatory” (evidence of revelation) in their own right.

There are those who would like to stick simply to the language of the Quadrilateral as the content of an Anglican covenant. The problem with that is the intent of the Quadrilateral. It was not intended to define what is “Anglican.” It was intended to describe “Christian,” or at least sufficiently to allow us to engage in ecumenical relations. As such, it is too basic to form an Anglican covenant by itself: there’s not really anything distinctively Anglican about it.

At the same time, if this is the way we have described the characteristics of Christian bodies, I wonder how far we can alter the characteristics, their descriptions, and their relationships without literally changing how we understand our own Christian body. If we by into a different description, we’re changing what it means for us to be Christian, prior to any explication of what it means to be Anglican. That doesn’t seem to trouble the Covenant Design Group; but it certainly troubles me.


Jon said...

I don't quite see how affirming the "faith ... which is affirmed in the catholic creeds..." puts the historic creeds in a subsidiary position with respect to Scripture. It seems more like the CDG was enumerating things in 1.1.2 that we might want to affirm about the faith.


Marshall Scott said...

Perhaps, Jon, but I don't know how that changes things. Yes, "the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures" is set forth in the Creeds, but not as revealed in the Scriptures. (A good example is our theology of the Trinity, which we would say has Scriptural warrant, but is not explicit in Scripture.) So, if this is intended to be about the content of the faith, it needs qualification. The point remains that the summary of the faith appears to be what is found in Scripture. Perhaps a better word than subsidiary might be derivative, and in the worst possible sense.

As near as I can tell, it might be just me; but I would feel more comfortable, and would see clearer reflection of the Quadrilateral (again, our description of the most basic characteristics of orthodox catholic Christianity) if clear acknowledgement of the Creeds as the "sufficient statements of the faith" were explicit.

Jon said...

I don't see the derivativeness in the clauses. It seems more like the creeds are supposed to interpret scripture (although perhaps scripture returns the favor). The most problematic bit seems to me to be holding that scripture is the "rule and ultimate standard of faith." although scripture is deeply important in the work of theology, that phrase doesn't seem to adequately place scripture WRT the other aspects of the work of theology.