October 21, 2005

An Immodest Proposal

After listening last week to the interview with the Nobel-prize-winning economist and game theorist, and his reflection on how game theory provides a way to maximize positive outcomes for all concerned in competetive situations, it occurs to me that a little game for the Anglican Communion might not be out of place. So instead of the "compromises" offered by most of the Conservative/Reasserter folks out there (i.e., "If you stop doing what we don't like we won't [a] throw you out or [b] leave...") let me offer this vision for an Anglican Covenant:

Each province shall govern itself in all matters pertaining only to itself. This includes the interpretation of the historic faith and order as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer of each province, by the superior synod of each province (in our case the General Convention; in Nigeria's case, their synod.) This way, some provinces might have same-sex unions, women priests, or gay bishops, but another province doesn't have to allow or accept them either in principle or as individuals. This draws upon the already existing Anglican notion of provincial diversity in matters of rites and ceremonies, and the provision for the local adapation of the historic episcopate as described in the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

No decision affecting all of the provinces shall be acceptable unless and until all provinces have approved such an action, through their particular superior synods. This would essentially give each province an absolute veto over any action that would force it to take a position with which it disagreed. (This is, more or less, how the Orthodox do things: recognition of Anglican orders was held up because of the veto by two of the autocephalous Orthodox churches, if I recall correctly.) Such actions and decisions would be, I take it, very few and far between, and on matters of such import the church would move very slowly; and more importantly, together.

Lambeth and the ACC would function as conferences and consultative bodies rather than as legislatures, meeting only to address such questions as mission and program. This might actually accomplish something and allow them to serve more as instruments of unity than as forums for division.

This would, IMHO, solve a lot of problems, except those of the people within the Episcopal Church who simply cannot abide the fact that they are in a minority, and are unwilling to abide by the decisions of our General Convention, or work to change them through proper legislative means.


Caelius said...

The hot-button issues are all doctrinal or problematized to be doctrinal. Indeed, you note the severely deficient Eucharistic Prayer of the 1662 BCP. I can see justification at the roots of Anglicanism and the Church Catholic in general for provincial diversity in rites and ceremonies. But provincial diversity in doctrine might as well be the third rail in Anglican theology. Hooker seems clear on this to me (though he really was dealing with only one national church...) In 30 years, evil reassessor that I am, I can imagine a serious epidemic of apostasy in ECUSA. As much as I want to shake certain folks out of their worldviews now, I am fairly sure that I may be playing a variation on their tune when I'm 50. I am quite willing to deal with the problem through Diocesan and General Conventions, but if I were a Ugandan in the future but had my present views, I certainly would not want to be in visible communion with ECUSA.

Honestly, Father Haller, given the general animosity of one side for the other, we need to give each other a few theological kicks in the gonads and try to recompile the Anglican formularies. If we can do so, we will be a stronger Communion. But if we can't, it would be best if we walked apart, for otherwise we only delay the inevitable.

Anonymous said...


This is my understanding (ECUSA's understanding) of how things work, de facto, NOW.

[Though I understand that many Anglicans---including a minority within (?) ECUSA---would like to change that fact]

It might not be a bad idea to make the de facto into the de jure . . . but Rots of Ruck, if ECUSA should propose it! ;-/

try to recompile the Anglican formularies.

Say more about this, caelius?

Caelius said...

Sure, J.C. Let's look at a few trends.

1. For many years, the 1662 BCP was the gold standard in the Communion. The early Lambeth Conferences considered it the chief instrument of unity. However, a lot of provinces generally have been moving away from 1662, not only by updating language but genuinely changing the theology that underlies the Book. I have less problems with that than some, being a child of the 1979 US BCP. It predates me after all. Yet our Common Prayer was our common theology. If we are moving away from Common Prayer, we need some common theology of common prayer to give bounds to our liturgies. We need simple formulations about what we do in the Daily Office, the Sacraments (and or Pastoral Services or Episcopal Offices). And if we're to stay together, we need something Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals can stand.

2. I've seen a lot of debate on the 39 Articles during this last year. The Articles generally are good on many matters, but they have four problems associated with them.

A. People read them with little concern for original intent. (I often find myself doing this). However, this may be caused by an intrinsic property of the text. It appears to have been intended to be read to favor one's position. It's a compromise document.

B. The Articles are 450 years old. Our particular participation in Catholic Christianity may be ancient, but we didn't take flight until about the very time the Articles were written. We still were finding our voice. A lot of things have happened and a lot of good theology has been done. I'd at least like to bring us into the mid 19th century.

C. Furthermore, the Articles were written about the era of the Council of Trent. This isn't necessarily a problem, but if you are going to be Anglican, chances are that your theology will be born of tension. It's not just that the theology underlying the Articles has evolved, our new formularies will have to answer questions no one could have asked in the 16th century. And I don't just mean the hot button issues, I mean underlying principles, i.e., there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism but many expressions of apostolic faith, for there were many apostles. Is it really possible to hold this? Are women to be silent in the churches or are all equal in Christ?

D. Anglican theology doesn't reach the ground. I feel that most Anglicans are reading from some other script. I truly believe there is a truly Anglican way (and let be clear that I mean a method) of seeing God, the world, and our relations with God and one another. I would prefer to believe that we're not just a bunch of Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Catholics who became too lost to find their way home. We need something in plain, beautiful language that states the essentials of the Faith according to the Anglican method. I want it to be something for my future children (Deo volente) to memorize. I'll even hang it from my doorpost if it makes the point. When I say I'm an Anglican, I don't want to have to mention Henry VIII and his six wives right off the bat. (Secretly, I want to begin the story with Acts 17:16-34). I want to show people Jesus Christ and have millions be my witnesses. So I'm a little ambitious. The Lord grant you all your requests likewise.

(I apologize, Father Haller, for the length of the clarification).

Anonymous said...

Alas for number 2 on your list, the problem here is precisely that folks like Akinola think that the so-called "unilateral actions" of whoever (the list is rapidly expanding, of course, now it is the US, Canada, Brazil, and England) do affect all of the provinces. So said their predecessors when the issue was the ordination of women.


Closed said...


I'm going to quibble with you a bit. We in the U.S. after Seabury have been committed to Scottish 1637 usage rather than the 1662 English usage, and there are some important differences. The 1637 work known as Laud's Book draws a great deal upon Eastern Christian sources and gives a much more catholic caste to our forms than those found in provinces that draw on 1662, especially since by and large it returns to 1549 usage over 1552 from which the 1559 and 1662 draw upon. The myth of a common prayer book we've all drawn upon is that, a myth--we're really working with two streams 1549 and 1552 variously drawn upon, and of course, in the 1979 BCP ApTrad and Antioch. Indeed, we're in need of some theological bounds, but I would suggest some are seeking to draw them tightly in precisely the wrong places, i.e., sex, rather than Trinity and Incarnation, for example.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all for the insights and responses.
First, hats off to JC Fisher for seeing my not so leger-de-main: I think my "proposal" actually is the way Anglicanism was supposed to operate until Lambeth started legislating. I agree that it is time to recover the wisdom of a communion that stays together "for better for worse" over against a federation that quibbles and carps, connives and constrains.
Which is to move on to the points raised by Caelius and my Brother Thomas: I am advancing a return to the more laissez-faire, "no windows into men's souls" kind of Anglicanism that avoided adopting formularies that were capable only of one interpretation, in favor of the sometimes frustrating ambiguity of the Articles. So support Caelius' comment on their purpose, the Articles were meant to cover a multitude of sinners!
The problem is, that this kind of ambiguity will not satisfy people of a certain irascible temperament: folks who are not only sure they are right, but so right that everyone has to agree with them about whatever they think is important. This brings me to Thomas' comment on my second clause: yes, +Akinola et alia do think the existence of a gay bishop in New Hampshire befouls the whole church. My response is: They are mistaken; their feelings are their problem, and no one else need respond reactively with a heavens to Betsy, "Oh my, we can't have anyone upset about anything." Let them be upset. They will get over it --- or if they don't, time, as one wag said, wounds all heels; and in the God's eye view of things it will work itself out as long as we are patient with the noisy protests. My earlier notes on adiaphora come in here: all the things of great moment in the past, the controversies about vernacular liturgy and the common chalice, baptismal regeneration, circumcision, in -- what -- another generation, dare I say even the ordination of women (which the East is taking a serious look at and which even Rome cannot stonewall forever! : all of these matters eventually come to a settlement, if we are patient and allow each other the space to think as we do and act as we do without the pressure of Uniformity -- the unquiet ghost which has haunted Anglicanism as its shadow from the very beginning. So I am not so sure that we need to recompile the Anglican formularies as to read them with care, and appreciation for the astounding breadth of the Articles, and the even more spacious courtyard offered by the Quadrilateral. One neglected source of such repackaging is the work of William Reed Huntington, who wrote with elegance and grace. (I have first editions of all his major works, and hope to make them all available on line to Project Canterbury or some such when I can get the time to scan them.)
So let's keep the faith, my friends, and continue to offer the hopeful gospel of Christ to a suffering world!

Caelius said...

I yield the point about the Prayer Book. (Your account explains why our prayer books and the Non-Juror prayer books have striking similarities.) I, however, can imagine a variety of rites that point to the same verities, if you get my drift. What worries me as I am sure worries you is that the verities (which are intimately connected to the Trinity and the Incarnation) are no longer the same among Anglicans. So yes, unity through the BCP itself is probably a myth. But I think Anglicanism needs some sort of unity through common prayer, even if the first Lambeth Conferences were too focused on the text itself.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tobias: this is excellent. Reminds me why althusius should be taught in Seminary. Why isn't he? [I'm requiring my aspirant to do such!]

Closed said...


Yes, I worry too about the verities. I mention Trinity and Incarnation because they are central dogma as far as I am concerned. Many doctrines arise from such matters, but whether one believes in a substitutionary model of atonement or a christus victor model are left to particular parsing out. I hope we can keep it that way. I personally am of the deification model that doesn't focus on atonement, but Incarnation as the concern of our Creeds to begin with.

I do think that women's ordination and marriage (hetero- and homo-) do reflect how we think about and live out central Creedal matters, but I think that given differences of opinion at this time as to exactly how, we'd be able to hold fast to the central dogma in the midst of our disagreement. Such does not seem to be the case. And it may be that we've let go of central dogma, perhaps not at the official level, but in the hearts of many in the pews? I don't know. I hope not.

I do wonder if your perception of an epidemic of apostasy is coloured by the parish you worship at, though Joe at Canterbury Trail sees a similar trend. How much of this is shaped by the failure of progressive Anglo-catholics and Evangelicals to enter the fray rather than let the more justice-oriented Liberal folk take the lead on such matters? This can only give rise to the fears of conservatives and traditionalists. Though on matters of central dogma, I could be counted traditionalist myself, but I draw out implications more radical than the status quo baptisms many such seem to conclude.

After all, I worship at a rather gay and Anglo-Catholic parish where if anything overtime folks become more radically orthodox doctrinally. I think you are right to connect bounds to common prayer, and I'll say something about that soon. But we can't let liturgy alone bear the weight of enrichment and education in the central points of the faith and how these might relate to hot-button matters from points of view that ground justice in something larger.

Anonymous said...

Caelius --

Pardon me, but I confess that I am curious as to what it is in the 1979 BCP that you find contrary to the Trinity or Incarnation.

Caelius said...

I don't think I said that, Prior Aelred. But I can see where you thought it implied. I'm a rather big fan of the 1979 BCP (and would promote more fidelity to it in my present situation). But I also recognize that Holy Eucharist Rites I and II differ subtly but importantly on the relationship between God and us. Holy Eucharist I truly works to humiliate us and convince us of our unworthiness before God before it draws us and the essence of our lives into participation in Christ's sacrifice. Holy Eucharist II really doesn't do as much work. (And that does touch on the Incarnation).

I have yet to make a systematic study of the New Zealand, new Church of Ireland, and other newer Prayer Books, but I do suspect they theologically drift from the 1662 Prayer Book so popular in some of the Communion (and ours as well).

To give you an example of drift from usual practice:
The new Irish Holy Communion 2 puts the opening of Pascha Nostra just before the Great Thanksgiving. (They say something different at the Fraction Sentence). What is that about? The point is, our diverse rites could be interpreted either as perfectly innocent variations or as evidence of major doctrinal disagreements rather easily.

C. Wingate said...

My main comments are here, but I would like to add a few remarks specifically related to the comments about BCP theology.

There are a variety of shifts of theology one could pick out from 1549 to 1979, depending upon exactly how closely one wants to pay attention to the text, and what meanings one wants to impart to the changes. And it seems to me that Anglican comprehensivity was from the beginning directed towards smoothing out, to a degree, these very differences. Conversely, it has always appeared to me that the 1928 vs. 1979 dispute was centered more in parties of which the two books were proxies. (1928, after all, didn't slow Pike down much.)

All of this relied on people being able to say whatever the BCP said without actively balking. And I suspect it specifically relied on bishops not balking. As soon as three or more bishops balk, then the "affects everyone" clause kicks in.

Anonymous said...

perception of an epidemic of apostasy . . . [by] the more justice-oriented Liberal folk


Liberal apostasy? I confess, I find that rather an oxymoron.

After all, by "Liberal" we are talking about faith in the Liberating Divine, right? If so, how can they go very far wrong?

Economy of grace, folks: harmless heterodoxy all comes out in the wash! :-D

[Whereas the Hate-full orthodox may find some hot, hot, happenings ahead . . . ;-/]