July 13, 2007

What Has This To Do With Us?

A number of folks have asked me directly, or posed the question in other forums: Why should we as Anglicans be at all interested in what the Roman Catholic Church has said about us recently. There is, as I have noted, absolutely nothing new in what they have said. They are simply reaffirming a position that has its roots in the middle ages, reasserted at the Counter-Reformation, restated with abundant clarity at Vatican I, and reaffirmed before and after by Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XII, and only very lightly nuanced by Vatican II and the pontiffs since.

So, it is true that there is nothing new here. Which makes it all the more important to ask, Then why did they issue this statement? I gave a partial answer to that question in a previous post. This statement addresses some Roman Catholic ecumenists, to say, as Larry David might, “Curb your enthusiasm.” It is a reminder to them that the old rules are still in place, and the CDF is acting in the role of a chaperone who has found her charge cozying up a bit too close with her date.

But again, what does this have to do with us other than recognizing that some of our Roman Catholic ecumenical friends may find themselves having to be a bit more stand-offish than they may have been over the last few years?

While I do not think this document was specifically aimed at the Anglican Communion, I would not want to underestimate Pope Benedict’s ability to hit more than one bird with a stone. He is certainly well aware of the current tensions in Anglicanism, and has gone so far as to comment upon them. He has also observed, if I recall correctly, that these tensions make it difficult to know who to talk to in ecumenical dialogue: if one Anglican “Church” (let’s remember the invisibles scare-quotes) can say this, and another can say that — whose authority are We to accept? Who is in charge? How can you really be in communion with each other and still disagree? Some kind of central authority would surely be helpful to settle these differences, not just so We will have someone to talk to, but for your own good order, don’t you think? You can’t really be even a “church” in scare quotes without some central government or headship.

I hope you can see where I am heading with this, and I am not, I think, misreading what the document may be saying to us; not so much as a shot across the bow, but as a reminder of how Roman Catholics understand the structures of the Church.

And that is by always combining communion with governance. Thus, as Vatican II said, the One Church of Christ, “constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.” The only thing new in this statement from Vatican II was the word subsists. The linkage of governance with communion goes well back into the roots of Roman Catholic self-understanding, from the medieval period through the Renaissance and up through Vatican I. It received probably its most eloquent theological exposition in the thought of Pius XII, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis — which even in its title expresses the concept of body joined with spirit, and which focuses explicitly upon the episcopate of the Catholic Church as the means by which the faithful are united in subordination to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Towards the end of this document the Holy Father turns a bit stern:

We, therefore, deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who conjure up from their fancies an imaginary Church, a kind of Society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which they somewhat contemptuously oppose another which they call juridical. To draw such a distinction is utterly futile. For they fail to understand that the divine Redeemer had one single purpose in view when He wanted the community of men of which He was the founder to be established as a society perfect in its own order and possessing all juridical and social elements — the purpose, namely, of perpetuating the salutary work of the redemption here on earth.

In short, no body of charity without a body of law. Vatican II nuanced this language, as I have noted. But it did not contradict it: the linkage of communion and governance is still the defining self understanding of the Catholic Church, focused upon the person of the Bishop of Rome. Let me close here with a quotation from the post-conciliar period, lest one think Vatican II undid all that went before. Pope Paul VI, in his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, writes:

Let us, however, be very careful not to conceive of the universal Church as the sum or, if one can say so, the more or less heterogenous federation of essentially different particular Churches.... Each particular Church that would voluntarily cut itself off from the universal Church would lose its relationship to God’s plan and would be impoverished in its ecclesial dimension... But at the same time a Church which is spread all over the world would become an abstraction if she did not take body and life precisely through the particular Churches. Only continuous attention to these two poles of the church will enable us to perceive the richness of this relationship between the universal Church and the particular Churches. (emphasis mine.)

Now, does that sound familiar? Isn’t this in part the very discussion that is taking place in the Anglican Communion in the movement towards an Anglican Covenant — a form of government to go along with the spirit of communion? “More than a mere federation,” and not simply all the churches spread around, but juridically bound, particular to particular, in a single government?

Implications and Possibilities

Obviously the church must have some form of government. You will get no argument from me on that. But, contrary to the Roman assertion, that government need not follow an imperial model of particular churches ultimately answerable to a single individual governor.

It seems that churches, like other human entities — and yes, I will dare say that the church as institution is at least as much the work of human hands as it is of God, just like the Eucharistic bread — churches often get stuck with the models of government available to them at the time of their foundation. Rome has inherited the imperial model. Anglicanism, which came to birth under an absolute monarch (with imperial ambitions, to be sure), came to maturity out of the fires of a civil war, influenced by the concept of a parliamentarianism. And the Episcopal Church, as is evident, was surely influenced in its form of government by the simultaneous national developments.

I would suggest that contrary to Paul VI’s vision, and the hopes of some Anglican Covenanters, that the Anglican Communion can do quite well as “a federation of essentially similar particular churches.” We have survived this far without any central government to bind us together; and ultimately those who wish to stay together will do so without constraint. That is, in large part, what communion means.

But how will conflicts be settled? some might ask. Let me ask in return, Who says that conflicts have to be settled? Who is in charge? some ask. Let me ask, Why does anyone have to be in charge? Didn’t Jesus tell the disciples, when they asked who would join him in running the world to come, “The kings of the gentiles exercise authority... but with you it shall not be so.” He rose from his seat to wash their feet, by way of example. Yet, he is the head of the church, not any one of us, nor even the whole collegial bunch of us.

So, while the current Roman Catholic document has no immediate bearing upon us, it does offer food for thought. The church of Christ can be governed quite well in and by a communion of churches, in service and charity to one another, under the only law required: Serve one another as I have served you; Love one another as I have loved you. And I have no opposition to a Covenant, so long as it is a Covenant of love and service.

Tobias Haller BSG


R said...

Yet more evidence that so much conflict at every level of the Church is rooted in issues around authority -- who has power, who doesn't, and why.

Which is why, of course, Jesus' admonition to his disciples to pursue and embody humility offers such a brilliant response and conclusion.

Thank you again!

Closed said...

Yes, thank you. Having been Roman Catholic, our slide toward what looks like curialization is troubling. We seem to have a number of different understandings of what is Anglican ecclesiology. Perhaps that should be up for discussion. For example, some folks refer to TEC, ACC, CoE, etc. as provinces of the Church, others as member Churches. That in itself underscores a different understanding of our governance, polity, etc.

June Butler said...

Jesus wanted no part of worldly power. He who is the greatest must be the servant of all. Why, indeed, do we need one person "in charge"?

Tobias, I absolutely could go along with a covenant of love and service, but what I hear from those who desire a covenant is the formation of a disciplinary body, perhaps with power vested in a group of bishops, rather than one person, which I still regard as unacceptable.

We can view the latest reiteration from the pope of the RC position as cautionary to the Anglican Communion.

Lord Acton's words still apply. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the crucial* word here is "communion". People who commune with each other may criticize, may argue with each other, may even go off for a while and sulk or hit the other person over the head with the nearest blunt instrument--but they don't order each other around. They accept the other person as their equal, with an indepedent mind worth conversing with.

*remembering, of course, the root meaning of that word

Anonymous said...

Outstanding, Tobias. Just great!

The linkage of governance with communion goes well back into the roots of Roman Catholic self-understanding

...which is why THEY broke off from us (Anglicans), at the Reformation. Communion&governance is a two-fer w/ them. If they can't govern us, they'll pick up their marbles (of communion) and go home.

So sad.

May we Anglicans (as expressed through TEC, anyway :-/) continue to call everyone, even our errant RCC kin, to Christ's "Y'all Come!" wedding feast! [No "submission" to *anybody's* ring necessary...]

Mystical Seeker said...

I think the problem has everything to do with power. If you claim to be sole repository of divine truth, then you get to tell everyone else what to do. You get to be the gatekeeper as well; you can say who gets to take communion (make sure you check your brain at the door and not question our divinely ordained dogmas!), you get to say who has salvation, you get to decide who is a "church", and you get to say that your theology comes directly from God, without mistakes.

There is this idea that the Holy Spirit engages in some sort of corporate mind control, somehow ensuring with complete certainty that the members of the allegedly divinely ordained institution somehow never manage to make a mistake when they come up with a theological pronouncement or otherwise are trying discern God's will. I guess the doctrine of free will goes out the window when one is justifying one's own desire to exercise power. It's a conveniently self-serving fantasy.

Anonymous said...

A long time ago, Eric Mascall pointed out that the Church is sacramental by nature, but Rome makes it not sacramental but juridical -- viz.: submitting to the Roman pontiff -- whose office is not sacramental in nature -- it used to be a coronation -- just what does that investiture with the pallium signify -- & what about Peter's successor in Antioch -- which ought to have seniority, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

A very good discussion, and many good points, I think.

Much comes down to what we mean by the "one church" we profess to believe in. If we reject the Calvinist view of the "invisible church," and understand it to be a visible society of human beings (which of course not everyone does), then we have the inevitable problem of all human society, politics and power.

We can escape those only by reducing the faith to a matter of individual spirituality--a way that many have gone, but which is contrary to the catholic tradition.

The notion of a catholic federation of independent churches is an interesting one, but it still leaves, as you have recognized, the question of how much unity is required among them. Why do differences need to be resolved? Because some certain number of Christians will feel it is necessary, and the good faith attempts to compromise on what some feel to be central tend to come to grief. (There's a discussion over at Fr. Jake's over what strikes me as an ideal sort of Anglican-style compromise, followed by any number of good-faith explanations by some of why it still violates their fundamental notions of what Christianity must hold).

johnieb said...

I only want to thank you for this, Br. Tobias: Happy Bastille Day!

Rameau Ballet suites just finished: why not?

Ecgbert said...

Rome seems to have kept a diplomatic silence about the Anglican Communion this time but tacitly of course Apostolicæ Curæ stands and the Dutch-touch succession (which some churchmen say renders Pope Leo XIII's negative decision irrelevant) remains unremarked upon. Still, ex-Anglicans are never accepted in their orders like the few ex-Orthodox clergy are; at least some Dutch-touch ones like Mgr Graham Leonard are conditionally reordained (and have been since Fr J.J. Hughes in the late 1960s).

So based on current practice and current and past statements it seems that Anglicanism is still lumped together with the bishopless, Eucharist-less Protestants: a non-church ('ecclesial community' in the language of Roman documents).

The criticism of replacing the sacramental with the juridical of course is familiar to and often used by the Eastern Orthodox, whose ecclesiastical polity resembles Anglicanism's (not built around one bishop). Doing the 'communion' thing for more than a millennium and a half, back when Anglicans were Roman Catholics and before there was an English Church. Yet Orthodoxy doesn't have Anglicanism's problems or divisions: no Protestants and no Modernists.

(Once again, without British power forcing them together the contradictory Anglican churches - at least four, Catholic, Central, Evangelical and Broad - fly apart! That's happening now as the conservative Protestants and the liberal ones duke it out over gayness.)

The Orthodox I've read have been respectful and even supportive of Pope Benedict's statement; as a catholic church with a similar (mirror) exclusive truth claim ('we are the one true church') they get it. They know the claims about the papacy separate them from Rome (IMO the only seemingly insurmountable problem dividing the two sides; other than that they're the same religion) and are not offended by Rome's honesty on the matter. They appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Actually, there are 17 different Orthodox jurisdictions in the USDA along -- this does not include the various non-Chalcedonian Churches (Copts, Jacobites, Assyrians, etc.) nor the two different Old Believer groups nor the various spinoffs from Eastern Orthodoxy -- just sayin'.

Also, the Vatican II statement on ecumenism singled out Anglicanism in this way: "Still other divisions arose in the West more than four centuries afterwards. These stemmed from a series of happenings commonly referred to as the Reformation. As a result, many Communions, national or denominational, were separated form the Roman See. Among those in which some catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place."

Ecgbert said...

17? I'm not sure about that number, Father; I think it's far fewer. But again the main point is the actual Orthodox churches are one communion without any real differences in faith (again, no Protestants and no Modernists) or practice (other than language and minor differences in doing the Byzantine Rite). The splits such as the Old Believers are like the (once Calvinist ultra-Protestant) Reformed Episcopal Church and, yes, the Continuing churches (anglicans but not Anglicans) are to Anglicans or the sedevacantists (who believe in the papacy but that there has been no true Pope since Pius XII) are to RCs. Splinters.

I knew what V2 said about the Anglican Communion which was why I wrote Rome seems to have kept a diplomatic silence about the Anglican Communion this time.

That biretta tip and the Dutch touch seem(ed?) to leave a door open to more and better Malines-like dialogue and even the eventual recognition and corporate reunion that Anglo-Catholics have long hoped and prayed for.

But of course the longstanding Protestantism among many Anglicans (such as in England!) and now on top of that the changes in several Anglican churches over the past 40 years (including the ones now fuelling the Episcopal row) seem to make that very unlikely, even impossible.

Again, Rome now keeps a diplomatic silence about it all.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

YF, a couple of things, briefly.

I think there is a tendency to romanticize the unity of Orthodoxy. Apart from the doctrinal sectarians such as the old-calendrists, Old Believers, etc., which you rightly note as splinters to a greater or lesser extent, there are I think divisions similar to what you find among Anglicans in the various parties (until the recent proclamations from the most evangelical). The more or less friendly jibes between the High and Low and Broad church types of old are not unlike the "Yes, they're Orthodox, but not our sort of Orthodox" comments one can hear in those circles. A minor point, perhaps, but I think the divisions map fairly well if you leave the "sole-churchist" Evangelicals off to one side; as I think they will be before too long, leaving, I hope, the bulk of the Anglican Communion to pilgrim on.

On a more important issue, however, I think you miss something in the present document if you reduce it to the "valid orders" question. Even the Dutch Touch will not bring Anglicans into the "proper" fold; it would merely put us in the same position as the Orthodox -- almost, but not quite, there. I do not think we will be seeing any major changes, but I look to continued dialogue on some of the doctrinal issues. WO will still be a big question for Rome; less so for the Orthodox as they are beginning (with their typical caution) to see that the doctrinal basis against it is un-Chalcedonian. It will be an interesting millennium. ;-)

Ecgbert said...

Father, you might think this is more romanticising but having visited everywhere from Jordanville on one end to St Vladimir's Seminary on the other and Antiochian convert places and other points in between I'd say the churchmanship wars are more like Roman vs English Uses among ACs in bygone days.

I wasn't saying that Rome might accept the branch theory! Simply what you wrote, that the Dutch touch might give Anglicans the same status (catholic church not Protestant non-church) as the Old Catholics who gave it as well as the Orthodox in Rome's eyes, paving the way for the corporate reunion Rome envisages with the Orthodox rather than individual conversions, the only way for Protestants to go.

Anti-WO is 'un-Chalcedonian'? OK, I'm curious. Sounds suspiciously like modern gnosticism that separates one's sex (partly why the word 'gender', meaning sex as a man-made construct, is so hip now... that and the meaning of 'sex' has narrowed so the word makes people giggle), and what one does sexually, from what one is.

I know that

1) the improbabilist position theoretically allowing a change is a perfectly good Catholic one

Me: Larger church > everything else. (If you believe as I was taught that you are only part of the church then don't act like you're the whole church - my answer to everything in the Episcopal row.)

'That's it?'

That's it.


2) Orthodox such as Bishop Kallistos (Ware) and the late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom), both of whom I heard preach in England a long time ago BTW, say without arguing against the church's practice or for a change that the academic arguments against WO often aren't very good which is what I think you're trying to get at.

I don't think we'll be seeing any major changes either though.

Caution's not a bad thing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think we agree, Y.F., about the differences among the mainstream Orthodox. It is rather like the more-or-less amicable disagrements between the old "parties" in more peaceful times in the Anglican Communion. The lesson is, I suppose, that died-in-the-wool evangelicalists will ultimately only be happy in a church of their own. They never fit into Orthodoxy, and will eventually separate themselves from Anglicanism (which is in many ways far closer in spirit to the East than to Rome or Geneva.)

Don't have time to go into the whole un-Chalcedonian thing, but can give a synopsis: I wrote about this years ago, but was very happy to see a number of Orthodox scholars take it up at the Old Catholic / Orthodox Colloquium reported on in the Summer 2002 issue of Anglican Theological Review. Briefly, Chalcedon teaches that all that pertains to the human nature in Christ derives entirely from the Virgin Mary. Ergo, no human characteristic that is not common to Mary can be held to be of ultimate significance. The sex difference then is reducible to a non-essential difference as regards the totality of the "human nature." The Orthodox scholars at the colloquium have recognized the implications, but of course have a great deal of the "Tradition" against which to swim upstream. But I think as the Orthodox are both very serious about dogmatic issues (even as they relate to Tradition) and very devoted to the Theotokos (and this emerges from the Definition itself) they will eventually see their way through to the logical conclusion, that maleness and femaleness have no import in Christ, and should serve as no impediment to fulfilling ministries, any more than race or height or social status or any other variable not common to all human beings. This is far from Gnostic: it is Orthodoxy at its most fundamental level.

Anonymous said...

What Tobias said -- BTW, the # of different Orthodox churches in the USA is from a talk by Bishop Kallistos -- it may have changed since then, but not by much.

I don't have the link handy, but the Greek Church is moving toward ordaining post-menopausal deaconesses (in the Eastern churches women are not permitted in church during their periods -- we have St. Gregory the Great to thank for stopping that nonsense in the West).

Ecgbert said...

Not counting the Oriental Orthodox communion's churches (there are lots of Armenians and some Copts in America) or vagante pseudo-dox, in America there are:

The Greek Archdiocese (the biggest: more people than the others)

The Antiochian Archdiocese

The OCA (the old Russian dioceses)

The Moscow Patriarchal Parishes exarchate, a creation of the USSR when the Russian dioceses in 1946 said nyet to Soviet control. They are now represented in SCOBA by the OCA.

ROCOR, again a product of the Russian Revolution, the tsarist exile church, now back in the Moscow Patriarchate

Groups under the Patriarch of Constantinople like the Greeks:

- the Ukrainian Orthodox Church based in South Bound Brook, NJ (regularised about 20 years ago after years of being uncanonical/schismatic)

- the Carpatho-Russian Diocese (1930s schism from the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics over bad treatment by the RCs)

The Bulgarian Church has some parishes in America under it.

As does the Romanian one. (There are also Bulgarian, Romanian and Albanian dioceses of the OCA.)

As does the Jerusalem Patriarchate even though they promised not to.

So that's all the churches actually in the Orthodox communion.

Then there are 'orthodox but not Orthodox', not vagante fakers and part of the family (splits started by ethnic Orthodox) but out of communion like the Continuers are to Anglicans:

I don't think the Old Believer Church in Russia, with its own Metropolitan of Moscow, has churches in America...

...but the Priestless Old Believers do! They have lay pastors, nastavniki, in cassocklike garb who go by 'Father' and baptise, marry, bury and conduct services including a kind of ante-Communion, something like the Liturgy but stopping right after the Gospel. They build churches without altars, with the iconostasis right on the wall.

At least one Greek Old Calendarist church (the Genuine or True Orthodox Church) has a bishop and churches in America. (I know somebody who joined.)

There are two splinters of ROCOR active in America, with tiny followings (not around when Bishop Kallistos spoke).

So that adds up to 14, 10 of which are bona-fide Orthodox.

I know the Church of Greece has women deacons, all nuns and so by Western standards all cloistered. The post-menopausal part sounds right: such nuns are allowed 'in the altar' in convents to clean.

Anonymous said...

Nicholas Lash in The Tablet