Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Clarification (Confusion) - Communion Withers!

So Lambeth Palace issued clarification dated 23 October 2007:

It should be understood that the Archbishop’s response to Bishop Howe was neither a new policy statement nor a roadmap for the future but a plain response to a very urgent and particular question about clergy in traditionalist dioceses in TEC who want to leave TEC for other jurisdictions, a response reiterating a basic presupposition of what the Archbishop believes to be the theology of the Church.

The primary point was that – theologically and sacramentally speaking – a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses. The diocese is more than a ‘local branch’ of a national organisation. Dr Williams is clear that, whatever the frustration with the national church, priests should think very carefully about leaving the fellowship of a diocese. The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church.
Obtained from Thinking Anglicans

The question now is whether this clarifies. Principally Rowan Williams answered a specific problem with a general answer, and thus everyone took the general answer to apply in general - which it does and still does. So the question remains, what does the national Church do? Well a statement
about this can be focused upon specifically:

The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions...

This is too limited. The Church is the basis of a bishop's existence, and it makes the diocese of which any one bishop is the focus. The Church is the named entity under which the bishop exists. As said before, a bishop is first of all consecrated according to a line or lines of bishops with claim to apostolic succession. All those bishops come under jurisdiction of a Church of one sort or another. The consecrated has also to be in a Church. This is the point: the Anglican Communion is not the Church, nor is it a substitute for a Church. The bishops may be in communion with each other - or they may not. They may be in communion with the Old Catholic Church Utrecht Union - but it does not constitute a higher Church.

It is therefore quite in order for the Nigerian Church, say, to make a decision not to recognise The Episcopal Church. Because each is recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury does not mean that each is in communion with one another. It may be preferable if they were, but they may well not be, and if not then that is that. The structures are therefore not purely administrative, and it matters that each Church gives out its own canon law. It is indeed a unified canon law because it comes from the unified Church in each case.

The "ecumenical agreements" are indeed that between Anglicans - called bonds of affection, because of a shared practice. This has not been clarified by the Archbishop of Canterbury, probably because he thinks there indeed should be more to the communion than there is.

My view (for what it is worth) is that this episode is a bit like Mikhail Gorbachev when he was trying to find ways to establish a new Commonwealth as a successor to the old Soviet Union. After a reassertion of the Soviet Union old style, he was brought back to his constitutional position, but the result was that the institution which he led - the Soviet Union - collapsed, including any meaningful Union. So it is likely here. By this over assertion and now clarification, the outcome most likely is that the national Churches will properly reassert themselves, and the Anglican Communion given such elevation on 14th October is probably now dead. The national Churches are the key institutions and where, to put it this way, the effective power lies.

Over at Fulcrum Bishop Pete Broadbent makes a very good analysis - open to criticism but still important:

The questions of the coherence of the Communion are actually being forced upon us by three separate catalysts:

1. the confessional/doctrinal vs baptismal covenant/unity polarity. I think that in the end the Anglican Communion will be forced to choose between these two models of what binds us together

2. the juridical/territorial model of church vs the network/fellowship model of church. It could be argued that the first of these has had its day (and that therefore Rowan and others who argue for the bishop in diocese being primary may well have lost the argument - but so will the provincialists).

3. the strong forces of postmodernity and communication immediacy, which mean that we find our networks of affinity wherever they may be, and that a sense of place and neighbourhood no longer determines with whom we are in relationship. This third secular pressure may ultimately lead to the division of the Communion into (at least) two separate units.

The criticism is something like this: point 1 is the same as Reformed versus Catholic. Reformed as the basis of the Church, that is the Church decided on a doctrinal and confessional basis, can still be the Anglican middle way formed by practice and minimal documents, and does not imply an evangelical view (it could be liberal - it was one strand of the Reformation too). Catholic is baptismal and unity based, though this does not imply Roman Catholic. The Eastern Orthodox model may be more appropriate: the effective Church is one or two levels above the dioceses. It delivers grace through the sacraments, and can directly give doctrinal space.

He argues against all territory - not just the diocese but also the province. If this is so then there is effective congregationalism, or pick a bishop, any bishop, the bishop who most suits the fellowship in linking with other fellowships. It's possible - and could happen if a Covenant is rejected by some and various Covenants then appear. A Covenant that restricts is going to be rejected; if it excluded some Anglicans then they will produce their own Covenant. This is a function of, again, Rowan Williams's belief in centralisation, which will simply result in fractures and splits and variation.

It is indeed at least two units of Communion likely as today's communication and the postmodern take effect. But then there are already continuing Anglicanisms, just as there are other Catholics, many denominations, wandering bishops, and every variety under the sun of Christians and Christians plus or Christians minus. As an individual I move one parish away from where my home is situated in order to go to an Anglican church - and this is for preference of style and message; plus I communicate with those with whom I have views in common. Indeed his third reasoning encourages further specialisation, and this specialisation is driving the first two reasonings into fracture.

So now Rowan Williams has back-pedalled a little, but not enough to be clear. By making his general statement for the need of a particular problem, he raised the Communion to the status of a Church. By back-pedalling and knowing that the Churches will decide their own relationships, he has probably rendered the Communion meaningless.

This patient has been sick for a while and needed gentle treatment. This continued and thus recently reasserted effort to solve a division by centralising has demanded too much of the sick patient. The machine is giving one long tone now. It may be, after a time, that the national Churches also fail (after all, there is new and effective denominationalism going on within and between the Western Christian Churches of many kinds), but at this moment they are the units of decision making and accountability most likely to assert themselves. The Communion now is body dead and may well be brain dead too.


Anonymous said...

Bishops are consecrated by other bishops, so they cannot stand alone, but must belong to a church. In the RCC that means the church as a whole; but since some decades before Vatican II and especially after Vatican II national or regional Episcopal Conferences have asserted their importance. In the early church local synods -- of the African bishops in Carthage for example -- had huge importance. The question is whether this importance entitles them to some kind of properly theological status.

In the Anglican Communion the church to which individual bishops belong is not, apparently, the Communion as such but one of the churches of the communion, such as the Church of Ireland or the Episcopal Church -- which title themselves churches. So these groupings have far more theological importance than local groupings of bishops within the Roman Catholic Church. Rowan may be relying on older definitions of Anglican ecclesiology from 1920 and 1930 that do not take into due account the status of the regional churches.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

This bit I'd need to look into:

"older definitions of Anglican ecclesiology from 1920 and 1930 that do not take into due account the status of the regional churches."

So was there once a more implied Communion based theology that was dropped as a Communion developed?

Other than this puzzle (something to look into), I agree with what you say.