August 1, 2007

Plus ça change

There is an old saying about going away for a week and returning to find a changed world. Having been away for a week I find, upon my return, not so much a change as a continuation. Still, a few incidents have spiked above the background and I’d like to comment on them here.

The Church as Social Network

The Anglican Communion Network held a meeting at which it adopted a number of statements, most of them in the “continuation” mode as opposed to that of “change.” Part of that continuation is the gradual dis-entanglement of the Network from what its Moderator seems to be coming to regard as rather a lost cause. And that is what until now has been known as the Anglican Communion — the one with the Archbishop of Canterbury as first among equals. Protestations notwithstanding, the Network seems to be heading, along with the “Global South” towards the creation of a new and alternative Communion, no longer centered on Canterbury.

This has led one long time member of the Network, Dr. Ephraim Radner, to sever his relationship with it. I am not at all surprised, other than by how long it took Dr. Radner to see which way this particular convoy was heading. Dr. Radner, with whom I disagree on much but with whom I have had a number of helpful conversations over the years, represents what the hard-liners in the Network call the “Communion conservative” point of view. I suppose that I should call myself a “Communion progressive.” That is to say, both he and I see the Anglican Communion — in its historical form centered on Canterbury — as a gift to the church that is well worth preserving, imperfect and errant though it be. The Network seems instead to have adopted the Pure Society model for the church, in which unity is preserved only through allegiance to an agreed-upon and determinable truth.

A number of things strike me about this distinction. Classical Anglicanism, in the Elizabethan Settlement, represented comprehension rather than compromise: a capacity for sometimes strongly divergent views to be accommodated within a single household. Sometimes, as in the case of Eucharistic doctrine, this was managed by including opposing theories in equal measure. Sometimes, as with the doctrine of the Atonement, it was achieved by not singling out any one explanation for special recognition. Ultimately, as in the Lambeth Quadrilateral, a sense of commonality was achieved through a summary rather than a point by point exhaustive confessional list. (We have our Lord’s own example for the wisdom of this course, in the Summary of the Law as opposed to its detailed enumeration.) Rather like the clouds of quantum physics, the truth we proclaim is not yet collapsed into particular form, but is held to exist somewhere within the bounds the church has marked out as most probable. Our knowledge is incomplete, but sufficient.

The crucible of pluralism

It also strikes me that we are seeing, in the development of the Network, the final collapse of a geographical rootedness to the church. We are entering the world of the virtual church, the Church of the Five Faves, the church not of geographical and terrestrial space, but of affinity: Ecclesiastical MySpace.

It should not come as a surprise that this is happening in America. Although the Netherlands should be recognized as the antecedent for Christian pluralism, it was in America that disestablishment and separation of church and state were not only held to be foundational in principle, but gave to the adherents of the various sects all of the elbow room that Manifest Destiny could provide. As the preface to the first American Book of Common Prayer noted:

But when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil Government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such a manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity...

Many of us, in the midst of this swirl of possibilities, have chosen to seek to hold to that earlier vision of Anglican comprehensiveness as opposed to sectarian divisiveness. We have seen the Anglican Communion as a way to remain united in essentials while allowing a tolerable variety on matters about which a complete consensus has either ceased to exist or has not yet emerged.

I believe that this Anglican Communion — the fellowship of autonomous churches in communion with the See of Canterbury — will continue to exist.

It will continue, but it will be changed.

Some who have been part of this Anglican Communion until now have already made it clear they see a different future for themselves. As they are not forsaking Christ, but only this fellowship, I can wish them Godspeed. They are not lost; merely detached. Time will tell if these branches will be grafted onto other stocks, gathered into a bundle, or planted separately, where they may thrive — or not. They may eventually be grafted back to the stock that gave them life. Whatever the future, let us not cease to be open to the possibility of restoration, and a vision of unity in variety that is truly Anglican.

Tobias Haller BSG

See the follow-up post for further discussion in addtion to the comments below.


Closed said...

Your distinction between summation and enumeration is intriguing. I think I've grown in the sense that I find myself resonating with your progressive Communion emphasis. The Archbishop of Armagh's sermon states some of my concerns as does just about everything Archbishop Ndugane says on these matters.

My own concern is that any ecclesiology we consider to clarify our governance and polity has first adequately taken note of our variety in our history and in our present. We must begin with the descriptive before moving to the proscriptive and prescriptive. Most of the offerings I've read tend to start with a prescriptive and proscriptive starting place and often carry with them tendencies of one or another of our variety or a want to mush our varieties in compromise as if our middle way were a habit of all in some moderate way rather than the meeting and mingling of our varieties--and both tendencies makes me nervous.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You have summed up the problem very well in this distinction between proscription and description. I generally find that this is where I run into disagreement with Dr. Radner, and to a greater extent C. Seitz -- in the tendency to see the proposed "cure" as already a reality.

An honest look at our history and our present shows we have not in the past had and do not at present have a communion-level judicatory -- and much as some see that as a solution (read, "prescription") it is not by any means clear that greater regulation is a more viable solution than greater tolerance. The implicit pressure is towards more structure rather than less -- but it is by no means clear that more regulation will preserve the church or the communion.

bls said...

This is a good one, Fr. Tobias.

I like the graphic, too; worth a thousand words, as they say. Reminds me a bit of Eliz. Bishop's Fish, for some reason.

Welcome back, too; hope your Convocation was a joyful one.

R said...

Tobias and Christopher,

Not surprisingly, I heartily concur.

Another way of saying the same thing might be that we are incarnational, that is, part of the present Body of Christ, so decription and seeking the work of the Spirit in the now of our Communion is paramount long before we assume to know where that Spirit is leading.

This shows a subtle, but important distinction between the "sides" in the sexuality controversy. We don't necessarily argue for a radically altered Anglicanism, but rather embrace the incarnational reality of our LGBT sisters and brothers and their covenanted relationships already part of the Body. This is why the accusation that we have torn the fabric of the Communion rings a bit hollow to me. No, we have merely disclosed what God has already been doing in our midst. We are being descriptive, yes, discerning the Body!

Anonymous said...

The question your comment raises with me is why discipline is appropriate at the diocesan and provincial levels, but not at the level of the communion. What is it about the unit of the "Nation" that should make it independent of the norms of the whole, and be immune from types of uniformity which the provinces are competent to legislate for their dioceses?

There is nothing incoherent about the notion of the communion as a federation of practically independent provinces. But there does seem to be something arbitrary about the province (whether governed monarchicly or by assemblies) being the primary locus of legislative and disciplinary authority--unless what is constituative is really that dislike of "foreign prelates."

June Butler said...

I think of Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana, my bishop, who did not answer my email and my letter which included questions about the direction he planned to take our diocese. Perhaps he did not want to put anything in writing.

He is a Windsor bishop - whatever meaning that description has come to have. I believe that he wanted to be a bridge between the two sides. He has said that he wanted to remain in the Anglican Communion and in the Episcopal Church, but he must have had some concern that realignment within the Episcopal Church might not go smoothly.

I don't understand how anyone could have thought that realignment would go smoothly. It seems a very long time ago that Bishop Jenkins was a candidate for presiding bishop.

My concern arose out of his response to the House of Bishops meeting At Camp Allen in Texas, which I could not make head nor tail of. That's why I wrote to question him, and I believe I may understand why he did not answer - not that I think ignoring me was quite the thing to do.

Whatever the future, let us not cease to be open to the possibility of restoration, and a vision of unity in variety that is truly Anglican.

That is my prayer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Rick,
Your question is so to the point that I am going to address it in a separate post...

Marshall Scott said...


Notwithstanding that Tobias will be giving a learned and more thoughtful answer to your question about the province/nationa as locus of authority, I will point out that there is a structural answer as well. In fact there is no structure above the provincial level to exercise discipline. The Instruments of Communion have been limited in their authority; and until the recent innovations of some of the Primates at Primates' Meetings, have always stated clearly their limits. To this point, this communion has no structure comparable to that of the Roman church to supercede the authority of Province/Nation.

Now, as we move forward with a covenant process, and individual provinces decide how they will participate and whether they will accede, your question will become more relevant. Indeed, your question is most relevant in thinking about how to proceded in a covenant discussion (or whether; but I see some value in the discussion, without presuming I'll find the result acceptable).

Thus, I agree and have said that the descriptive work has to be done first. We cannot come together as Anglicans until we take the time to come to some terms of what we mean when we call ourselves "Anglican."

Anonymous said...

Rick said: 'unless what is constituative is really that dislike of "foreign prelates".'

Malcolm observes: Of course, that was really the crux of the matter in the English Reformation. In most respects, Henry's policy was focussed on the English Church's independence from a particular foreign prelate. Some subsequent decisions (ie the dissolution of the monasteries) were more opportunistic in their origins. But the break with Rome was ultimately about one question and one question only.

So, in a certain sense, one can logically argue that "the dislike of foreign prelates" is exactly the constituative piece in Anglicanism.

Now, I think that Anglicanism grew to be more than just that, and the subsequent four and a half centuries have seen the development of a broader Anglican ethos.

But the distrust of governance by foreign prelates has continued to be an important principle. This was the basis of most of the objections to the original Lambeth Conference, and both the invitations and the Conference plenary (reaffirmed by subsequent Lambeths) were careful to assert the principle that Conference decisions were advisory and admonitive only.

In creating the Primates Meeting, the question of authority was answered preemptively with an explicit denial that the Primates individually or collectively had any authority outwith their own Provinces.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Malcolm.

I think it also fair to point out that this is not a one-sided antipathy. +Abuja has made it clear from the beginning that his primary concern with TEC actions arises from his perception of them as threatening his church -- i.e., that TEC will expect or force him to follow suit. Hence the language of "unilateral" action, which normally applies to action against rather than action simply. It has been pointed out over and over that Gene Robinson has no jurisdiction outside his own diocese, and can take no "action" in or against another diocese without its proper diocesan's consent. This goes back to Nicea, as has been noted; so the Henrician notion of "no foreign bishop" rests on rather solid ground.

Anonymous said...

"It has been pointed out over and over that Gene Robinson has no jurisdiction outside his own diocese, and can take no "action" in or against another diocese without its proper diocesan's consent. This goes back to Nicea...."

But doesn't the concept of a general counsel itself imply that bishops in council have some greater jurisdiction than their own individual diocese? How is Nicea authoritative for the whole church?

The following from Will Roper's Life of his father-in-law nicely encapsulates the argument that the Whole has some precedence over the parts:

Then was it thereunto by the Lord Chancellor answered, that seeing all the bishops, universities, and best learned men of the Realm had to this Act agreed, it was much marvelled that he alone against them all would so stiffly stick and vehemently argue there against. To that Sir Thomas More replied saying, "If the number of bishops and universities be so material, as your Lordships seemeth to take it, then see I little cause (my Lords) why that thing in my conscience should make any change. For I nothing doubt, but that though not in this Realm, yet in Christendom about they be not the least part, that be of my mind therein. But if I should speak of those that be already dead (of whom many be now saints in heaven) I am very sure it is the far greater part of them, that all the while they lived, thought in this case that way that I think now. And therefore am I not bound (my Lords) to conform my conscience to the council of one realm against the General Council of Christendom."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I would say that Robinson has a voice but not jurisdiction. No one would suggest that the Governor of New York has "jurisdiction" in Idaho simply because he sits in the occasional gubernatorial conference; nor that a senator from one state has any authority in another.

It is true that when the governing body as a whole makes laws, then all agree to abide by them -- even those who disagree with the decisions. But one of the reasons we have conflict now is that Lambeth resolutions are being treated, by some, as if they were laws, when Lambeth has never been granted the authority to pass laws. Lambeth was specifically founded not to be a governing body, but a forum for discussion. This is where we get the confusion between what is and what [some think] ought to be.

Thomas More's testimony is touching, but calling on the surmised opinions of the dead is a risky basis for argument. For him to assume he held such a proxy, rather than simply stating that in his own judgment he could not assent to the Act, was a rhetorical flourish, but it hardly won his case. It also shows up once again the difference between the real and the ideal: that is, the actual definable legal structures of English Law vs. some surmised external universal consensus of either the past or the present. England was a nation of laws, and as More knew, he would have been better to stick with the tensions between the Act and Magna Carta, as these could be argued as facts on the ground.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you know that those arguments went nowhere as well:

And for proof thereof like as amongst divers other reasons and authorities he declared that this Realm, being but one member and small part of the Church, might not make a particular law dischargeable with the general law of Christ's holy Catholic Church, no more than the City of London, being but one poor member in respect of the whole Realm, might make a law against an Act of Parliament to bind the whole Realm unto: so further showed he, that it was contrary both to the laws and statutes of this land, yet unrepealed, as they might evidently perceive in Magna charta, Quod Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit et habeat omnia jura sua integra, at libertates suas illaesas, and contrary to that sacred oath which the King's Highness himself, and every other Christian prince always at their coronations received....

But this is just having fun with quotations, and nothing to your point.

Your senator and governor analogies are interesting because neither quite fits the case of a bishop. A governer governs a state, but a resolution of a governor's conference has no legal authority of itself. A senator's vote does make law binding the whole, but the senator, alone, has no authority strictly on his own, even in his own state.

Seems to me what is going on in Anglicanism is a choice between affirming the communion as a federation of independents or taking the road of "concilliarism" rejected by the Catholic Church at the dawn of the modern era. The danger of the former is greater and greater divergence between the provinces as new differences come up, as they undoubtedly will. The danger of the latter (I wouldn't characterize it as a danger, but in some Anglican circles I think it would be so viewed) would be the development of a magisterium outside of the national churches.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, Rick, and I think St Thomas More knew full well that the sword of Magna Carta cut both ways -- that is, depending on the construction (or constructionism!) the 'liberty' of the Church of England could just as well have been liberty from Rome as from Hampton Court!

As to his other argument, I fear it is a classic case of petitio principii, since the allegiance of the C of E to the "whole Catholic Church" is precisely the matter under discussion. The false analogy with London vs. England apparent in the actual and real codes of English law that explicitly state that London can make no laws against the realm.

But, as you say, this is fun with history and perhaps not as much to the point as your closing comment.

I raised those two analogies without fleshing them out fully, as I acknowledge neither alone is complete: I'd suggest the governor in a conference of governors is like a bishop at Lambeth; and more like a senator in congress when seated in the House of Bishops. In the former case no legal power is even suggested, in the latter it is there, but as you note, held by the body and not the individual. This is what I mean when I say a bishop has no jurisdiction outside his or her own diocese.

I agree with your final paragraph, though I see less danger in the course of a coalition of independent churches, as I believe the natural evolution will eventually bring us to greater agreement over time. The danger of affinity networks is the hardening of opinion in self-sustaining conventicles.

Anonymous said...

Not only has Lambeth never claimed governing authority over the whole Communion, Lambeth itself has expressly denied that it has such authority - and that more than once.

One cannot change that of a whim - and certainly not without the consent of the would-be governed. I would submit that even a clear Lambeth resolution passed by an overwhelming majority and subscribed to by all but one of the Provinces would not be sufficient, canonically, to make this so.

There may well be a need to develop some sort of extra-Provincial governing or adjuducating authority. Had this issue arisen in the abstract, the idea of a Covenant may have been the way foreward towards a solution.

But my wife the lawyer advises that hard cases make bad law. We have seen this in the initial proposals for a Covenant, in which one "side" of the current dispute has clearly siezed control of the agenda in order to create a Communion in which their position "wins." These drafts are not about a Covenant to live together, but rather about a weapon with which those who disagree would be subdued.