April 30, 2007

Feeling a Draft (Covenant)

I’ve been reviewing the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion over the last weeks, and continue to find it a strange document. Much of it is inoffensive and reads like a slightly expanded Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. But those very expansions, slight as they may be, void the soundness of the document, even were it not unacceptable due to the more serious implied threats folded into its latter sections. (As Petruchio observed, its sting is in its tail.)

The problems begin much earlier, with citation of the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer 1662, complete with its Ordinal, as foundational “historic formularies” to which “loyalty” is due. This is a particularly strange expansion, as the Draft Covenant itself is in direct conflict with these foundations in a number of particulars.

Most importantly, a characteristic mark of Anglicanism is the autonomy of national or particular churches, with a clear and absolute rejection of any and all episcopal authority from outside. This is clearly embodied in Article XXXVII of the Articles of Religion, which any interested reader can find at leisure in most versions of the BCP.

This clear preference for autonomy is also a crucial part of the 1662 Ordinal (which is much harder to find, as more recent editions of the so-called 1662 Book of Common Prayer were extensively amended over the years). But the original 1662 book contained, as a necessary step to ordination the swearing of an Oath which said in part:

...I do declare that no foreign Prince, Person, Prelate, State, or Potentate hath, or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, Ecclesiastical or Spiritual, within this Realm. So help me God.
This ecclesiastical independence is a formative element in the creation of the Church of England, and of The Episcopal Church, whose ecclesiastical independence from its Mother Church was seen as natural and necessary at the time of the American Revolution, as stated in the Preface to the First American Book of Common Prayer. The Draft Covenant is out of step with this principle, a principle at the heart of the very authorities in which its authors place so much stock.

I am troubled when authorities are so assembled without apparent engagement with what they actually say. I leave to one side, though I cannot resist citing it, the requirement of the Preface to the Ordinal of 1662 (amended only in 1964) that requires of candidates for ordination a facility “in the Latin Tongue” even before mentioning knowledge of the Scripture. One wonders how well-observed is this portion of the 1662 book among those eager to establish it as a touchstone or foundation? It makes me wonder how serious the authors of this Draft Covenant are in their appeals to these authorities; or if rather we are not witnessing the kind of debate in which slogans are waved like banners, and authoritative books are tossed about in virtue of their weight rather than their contents.

— Tobias Haller BSG


JP said...

Tobias - yes, of course member churches of the Communion are independent, and we should recognise each other's right to be independent.

What I think I and others are trying to argue is that the flip side of having rights is that we also have responsibilities to one another. So while TEC has the right to move ahead of the rest of the Communion in certain respects, it also has the responsibility to forego that right (in the interests of not scandalising the weaker brethren, if you care to put it that way). Equally, of course, the Nigerians and others have the right to plant missions wherever they like, but they also have the responsibility of not offending their American neighbours.

I hadn't thought of it quite that way before, but the way you framed your argument has helped clarify my own thinking on this point. What the Covenant seeks to enshrine, I suppose, is the notion that we could be independent of one another if we wanted, but that we choose not to be. I think that's something worth fighting for.

Unknown said...

I think the explanation of why the covenant is so assertive in the use of the 1662 ordinal lies more in Article 1 of the Church of Nigeria constitution:

"CANON I Of Fundamental Declarations
1. The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) hereinafter called “The Church of Nigeria” or “This Church” shall be in full communion with all Anglican Churches Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662and in the Thirty-Nine Article of Religion."

The covenant must be in compliance with the Canon and Constitutions of the Church of Nigeria not vice a versa

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you for the thoughts, JP. I agree in principle that the church is called to balance its rights and responsibilities, but I think the problem arises when one seeks to define the balance point, or the criteria that should govern the balance.

Avoidance of scandal, were it to be applied as a principle without limit, would lead to the abandonment of the great scandal (and he referred to himself in this light!) of Jesus Christ. Authentic Christianity was, and is, to a large extent scandalous to someone or other.

The more important aspect to consider, in my opinion, is the actual impact of the supposed "scandal." Is the offense taken in Nigeria by the election in New Hampshire either warranted or necessary? Surely it is a simple matter for +Abuja not to license +New Hampshire to function in his territory, and to deplore the act as much as he likes. But there is where his "right" appears to me to end. More problematical is the fact that some folks in NH may also be offended -- but this has nothing to do with the relationships between the various particular churches, and should be a matter to be worked out, in charity, within the province or diocese.

On this ground, I must disagree that Nigeria has a "right" to plant missions wherever they like. That is a violation of the rights of others to the governance of the church in their own province. Global Southerners may, indeed, see that they have a responsibility to do so! -- but they do not have the right -- on the very grounds of preserving communion. They should, rather, tolerate the situation while calling for change. That is a legitimate form of dissent, or of response to the offence.

Ultimately I don't see this primarily as a question of rights, but of responsibilities. The primary responsibility is to respect the "other" -- which allows disagreeing with the other from time to time in a spirit of charitable correction. It means, I think, allowing the disagreement to stay at that level, and not to lead to acts (such as invading territory) which break communion. This is ultimately why I do no like this Covenant, as it seems more a pre-nuptial agreement than a marriage covenant. It contains the seeds of dissolution, rather than a commitment to remain together in a relationship that may be very difficult at times, "for better, for worse" but to which the parties are committed.

Father Doug said...

Tobias, your comments are much appreciated. The thought of the covenant excluding the very thing ("for better for worse") that covenant ought to include is enlightening.

However, can we, in that state of fundamental autonomy that you argue is in the very DNA of Anglicanism ever enact that strong, marriage-like form of a covenant? I'm beginning to think that we use the word covenant because it sounds religious but that we are constitutionally unable to enact it.

I'd put it this way: we are (if Haller's reading is correct) a fundamentally PROTESTANT church whose original identity is derived from what we are NOT. (This is quite clear in that marvelous old oath about potentates.) Be that as it may with regard to theological correctness, it is damaging for covenantal union.

If I wanted to argue with you, I'd develop the point that the sisterly American separation from England which clearly does not intend "to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship" is quite a different thing than England's bloody separation from Rome in which such departures were the very substance of the separation. One can hardly count them as two species of the same genus.

But I tend to think that you are right after all. That we are, in the end, separatists. Thence flows today's intractable problem to be solved, only (so it appears) by more separation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Fr Doug,

I'm inclined to agree that the word "covenant" was used because it sounds churchy.

But I do not think us incapable of such a covenant; merely that it must be based on an ability to tolerate, forgive, and so on, and above all commit to remaining together. Protestantism of a certain stripe is incapable of this, because it is based on a concept of full or pure agreement -- the "confessional" model; whereas a proper covenant does not require a complete unanimity on all things.

To further the marriage analogy, even in the best marriages, while the couple becomes "one" in a very real sense, yet they still remain distinct as persons. At GC I reflected analogically on the nature of the Trinity along these lines: that Christ calls as "to be one even as I and the Father are one" -- and that unity of substance does not abolish the distinctiveness of the persons. This is where I think a true theology of communion needs to begin, at the heart of the Trinity itself: which is one at its ground of being, but various in hypostaseis.

Actually I would invert your genealogy: we are a fundamentally CATHOLIC church whose identity is derived from the basic ground beliefs of the Nicene church (its "ousia"), with intentionally as little ornamentation as possible -- we are minimalist in our shared beliefs, allowing considerable leeway in the "nonessential" matters, or those which, as the Preface you began to quote puts it, were necessitated by our circumstances. (Our "hypostaseis"; or to use a more casual term, our varying "personalities" -- realizing that I am drifting from strict theology here, but trying to make a point.)

I agree that the separation from Rome was far from irenic; but I also have to observe that many of the celebrated causes that led to the separation are today practiced by Rome herself, so they could hardly have been "essential." The primary difficulties that remain are what we Anglicans would regard as additions to the credenda that distort the truly catholic base of Nicene Christianity by additional requirements, some of them novel and recent.

There is a stream of separatism running through the current waters, rather like a current. But I dare say we can swim against it if we are willing to.

June Butler said...

Tobias, everyone, the covenant won't work. It just won't work.

A covenant, any covenant, will not bring us together; it will serve to further divide us.

JP, how do you arrive at the right of Nigerians to plant missions in the US outside of the authority of the bishop of the diocese?

Why should the consecration of Gene Robinson offend the Diocese of Nigeria, when it does not affect the diocese in any meaningful way? The consecration of Gene Robinson does not even affect my diocese here in the US in any meaningful way.

I do understand that it's likely that the case will need to be made against individual parts of the covenant and that my simple statement against any covenant will not serve. The effort will be made to come to an agreement on a covenant, but, deep down, I know that it will be futile and that no agreement will follow.

Jon said...

It seems to me, Tobias, that the ability to tolerate, forgive, etc. is running a little thin at the moment. What sorts of things would be helpful in building up these abilities, and perhaps building up trust as well?

My sense is that at least giving a nod to documents, like the Articles of Religion and/or the 1662 PB, that have been important in Anglicanism is an important part of this building up of trust. Not that the documents should be given some sort of controlling authority over what we do and say today, but the old documents can still be helpful in thinking about the church. Would clarifying that the Articles of Religion and the 1662 PB aren't the limits of Anglicanism start to address your concerns about the draft covenant?


JP said...

Let me have another go! I didn't put my argument about rights and responsibilities very well, did I? The terms just complicate matters, so I won't pursue this.

All I was trying to suggest was that there is a distinction between what different parts of the Church can do de jure and de facto. Whatever the historical or legal position might be, surely the fact is that no part of the Church is completely autonomous - no province is an island, entire of itself.

Agreed that the gospel must always be a scandal and foolishness. But the real scandal of the upside kingdom of God is in danger of getting obscured by the lesser but more obvious scandal of our disunity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear GM,
I agree that the present Covenant won't work, mostly because it isn't really a covenant, but also because few seem to want a real covenant (which would be an agreement to stay together in spite of differences, and seek ways to address those differences without an implicit or explicit threat of division.) Problem is, that won't fly because that isn't what the irate want -- which is that Protestant purity syndrome at work.

Jon, I have no particular problem with the 39 Articles (actually I quite like them!) though the 1662 book is more problematical for us in the US, as our "historic" book is closer to the 1549, via Scotland. My guess is that the 1662 is settled on because it is still to a large extent "the" book of the C of E, and in some sense, the last "common" BCP prior to the emergence of all the national variants. (Except for Scotland...!) But it also seems to me that this is really a minor problem in the face of the larger difficulties with the covenant.

Thanks JP for willing to continue and help us get away from the other language. I would say that there are certain "natural" limits to provincial autonomy, and that these are defined in the Windsor Report as those matters which "touch" only the province and not outside it, recognizing that some decisions are mixed, but that generally (in keeping with subsidiarity) decisions should be made at the level that is affected.

Now, one has to ask how a gay couple getting blessed in New Westminster has any real effect whatsoever at any level beyond even the parish, let alone the province. "Not liking something" or "disagreeing with something" is not an effect. The same goes for the ordination of Bishop Robinson. He was elected by his diocese, and approved by the whole Episcopal Church, through its decision-making processes, by an overwhelming majority. But his authority (and effect) as a bishop ends at the border of that national church, and is strictly limited within it. If any other church in the communion wishes not to license him -- as a bishop has NO rights or responsibilities outside his or her own province, and few outside his or her diocese other than membership in provincial councils -- that is entirely in their power and control. +NH has no effect that anyone outside TEC doesn't want him to have. The irony is that the WR uses the example of Women's Ordination, which has exactly the same limits (that is, no one need license a woman bishop to function in their province if that province doesn't accept WO).

Add to that the fact that the Anglican formularies give explicit authority (and autonomy) to provinces in matters of rites and ceremonies (and marriage and ordination are exactly that) and it seems that we in the US and Canada are acting well within the "natural" bounds of our autonomy. No one, I repeat, no one, is forced to accept our actions or agree with or imitate them, and they have no power outside our boundaries that anyone need give them.

The real disunity here is arising because of the Puritan impulse on the part of those who insist that all must do it "their" way, the spirit that cannot tolerate disagreement. It is they who are making what could be a mere disagreement into a scandal.

janinsanfran said...

I'm afraid we can never completely discount the influence of the embarrassment felt by some at carrying the same ecclessiastical title as a "fag."

On the other hand, the ongoing repetition of the words "gay bishop" in press accounts of all this normalizes what the same folks are wishing to suppress.

June Butler said...

I'm sorry. I meant "effect", not "affect". You know, I can't get those two right. I have a block, which usually ends in embarrassment, if I don't check them out every time.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Mimi, you were right the first time. Affect is a verb, effect is a noun. Someone affects you and thus has an effect on you.

June Butler said...

Anonymous, I was right, wasn't I?

But you do see how easily confused I get with the words. Actually it was Tobias' fault. When he used "effect" as a noun in his comment, that made me think I was wrong, but I wasn't.

There. It's all clear as mud now.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Cara Mimi, this just goes to show that we are always right. Of course, we could be wrong about that...

Nick Finke said...

I agree with Tobias and others in their analysis of the current juridical situation. It is beyond dispute that member provinces of the Communion are autocephalous. This understanding rests on the very idea of a national church and can be traced back the Statute in Restraint of Appeals in 1533 and to the praemunire disputes for several centuries before that.

It is also clear from history that the concept of a "national church" was not invented by the emerging nation-states of 16th century Europe but can be traced to Constatinople's recognition of the autocephaly of the Bulgarian Church in 927.

The real question for us today is whether or not the idea of a "national church" retains any validity as an ecclesiastical organizing principle beyond simple convenience. For Anglicans, the identity between nation and church began to fall apart under the Stuarts and came to an end at the Restoration.

I agree that the references to the 1662 BCP are used purely for effect to make it seem that those who are pushing the Covenant are actually supporting the Anglican tradition. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, as Tobias makes clear.

In the recent statements of the ABC (among others) I sense elements of a vision that sees the idea of autocephalous provinces as undesirable, as no longer theologically or culturally valid and as a phenomenon to be transcended in an effort to make more effective the underlying unity of the Church Catholic. I think this is the real genesis of the movement towards the Covenant.

I have some sympathy with this point of view because I also no longer see the usefulness of the "national church" model. What I cannot agree with is the tactic of assuming as fact that which you are trying to achieve. Cantuar and others are trying to make our theological unity reflected in some sort of juridical structure. The means they have chosen to bring this about is to ascribe jurisdictional power to the Primates and/or the Lambeth Conference. This puts the cart before the horse and makes no sense.

Our mutual failure to communicate in any effective fashion will continue until and unless we reach an understanding on this topic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Nicholas,

Thank you for your very wise and sound comment. I certainly agree that "national" is far less applicable in our present day, given both disestablishment and pluralism. The focus of autonomy is therefore more ecclesiastical than geographical (or even cultural or linguistic — other aspects of "nationhood" that have generated autonomous church bodies that remain in communion.) The proper focus is on The Episcopal Church as a dispersed structure of ecclesiastical authority and canonical agreement than a "national church" in the historic sense. No one would be so foolhardy as to pretend that The Episcopal Church is the only Christian Church in North America. Even William Reed Huntington, who in his work A National Church sketched out a plan by which our church might serve as the uniting center for all of the Protestant churches in our country, realized later in life that this was a fond hope vainly conceived.

I think you're quite on the nose concerning the pressure towards a greater degree of synodical centralization at the communion level. It seems to me to be a kind of wish fulfillment; one which, moreover, as I have reflected before, unduly devalues the unity we already share in Christ by placing a greater emphasis upon what I can only regard as the far less significant matters of church government. Ultimately, if a united global world church is the only "real" church, I am forced to conclude either that such a church will never be, and that it would be best to chuck such experiments as Anglicanism and align oneself either with Rome or the East. I have gently suggested that those who argue that centralized ecclesiastical authority is of the esse of the church are certainly welcome to join one of the larger clumps, if that is where their values lie.

However, one of the reasons I remain unwilling to give up on the classical Anglican model is my belief that the church is more effective at this midpoint between a congregational polity and a centralized governance. It is a difficult position to maintain, but I think that is often true of the best solutions. This model seems to me to contain error more effectively (and allow both for reception and correction) more efficiently than do the larger and more centralized bodies such as Rome. Moreover, having, as Huntington put it, a minimal core of doctrinal agreement gives us the flexibility to accommodate the cultural realities that still have a major impact on the life of the church. These cultural differences are not always coterminous with the nation, but surely one cannot help but recognize the geographical dispersal of some of our differences of opinion! The "Global South" does not call itself that for nothing; and a perusal of the list of dioceses governed by the "Windsor Bishops" steering committee suggests a similar southern sympathy.

Thank you again for sharing your wisdom on this, and please do come back.

Anonymous said...

First rate (as usual) Tobias!

Grandmère Mimi -- "shall" & "will" were always my downfall!

One of Eric Mascall's problems with Rome (& one of my problems with the '79 BCP Catechism) is his (my/our) conviction that the Church is essentially a sacramental reality, which Rome undermines by making membership in the Church dependent on recognition by the papacy (which is decidedly NOT a sacramental office, but is entirely juridical) & the Catechism obscures completely (rather surprisingly, considering the list of those involved in composing it).

BTW -- as near as I can see, the only purpose of the proposed Covenant is to give the primates the authority to kick someone out of the Anglican Communion -- how very sad!