October 22, 2007

Strange Advice

What a very strange letter from Archbishop Williams to Bishop Howe.

The diocese and diocesan bishop come before the "abstract" provincial or national church? Really?

Then where do these independent concrete entities come from? Whence these supremely autonomous bishops? If you need three bishops from the surrounding dioceses of the province in order for an individual diocese to consecrate a bishop, plus the consent of the Metropolitan --- doesn't that give the lie to the autonomy of a diocese? Aren't bishops "of" the church since they come "from" the church? Isn't the diocese simply one organ in the body of the Province? Speaking of which, if the province is just an abstraction, I wonder why we need Primates. Or why we should be so keen in listening to them.

The letter seems to describe an odd sort of fibrillation at the heart of the church, whereby the orderly connection of authority in an organic process arises from parishes (which must remain in union with their bishop) but then skips a beat at the middle stage of the Province and jumps right to a novel view of the Anglican Communion as a collection of dioceses in personal communion with Canterbury. I say this is novel because the only individual dioceses that at present fit into that model are the odd extra-provincial few like Bermuda and the Iberian churches. And they are odd precisely because they aren't Provinces, or parts of Provinces.

What has become of the reality of "this realm of England" and the basis of the independence of the national church from a global one, in the creation of the Church "of England"? Why should England matter, so that if the Diocese of London wanted to remain Papist, why should it not? What of the principle of subsidiarity and mutual interdependence? What of the Anglican Consultative Council, made up of representatives of the provinces, not the dioceses? What of the due deference to "superior synods" -- and at present the highest synods in Anglicanism are provincial, not diocesan?

I thought the Archbishop was interested in preserving the Anglican Communion rather than balkanizing it. I thought he was trying to get away from the church as a loose confederation or federation (with emphasis on "diocesan" rights playing the role of "states" rights in this ecclesiastical setting). I thought he was interested in the provincial structure of our communion, as it has been described up until know as a fellowship of churches, not a collection of dioceses -- and moreover that was the reason such trust was placed in the Primates rather than trying to hold a bulkier "Anglican Congress" -- a general synod of all the orders of all the dioceses.

Of course, it is always possible he didn't mean this letter to go beyond the immediate application he had in mind: as an effort to keep individual parishes from wandering from their Floridian bishop; thus echoing the language of Ignatius of Antioch. But if that was his intent, he could simply have used the language of the Panel of Reference regarding the union of parishes with Canterbury only through the diocese, and the importance of dioceses only (with those few extra-provincial exceptions) being recognized through their Province, in accord with the English canonical principle that Canterbury and York determine what "churches" (not "dioceses") are in Communion with the Church of England. This comes as literally the last word in the English canonical supplement: "Rule 54(5) of the Church Representation Rules provides that 'if any question arises whether a Church is in communion with the Church of England, it shall be conclusively determined for the purposes of these rules by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York'."

Tobias Haller BSG


The Anglican Scotist said...

Would you agree that wherever the substantive theology comes down on the question, Williams' views take a sharp turn against traditional Anglican understandings of the church?

WIt is exceedingly odd that he should unilaterally foist his understanding on the Anglican Communion this way, as operative presumptions guiding his judgement. How many other primates would agree with his relatively radical views? What would the ACC say? Shouldn't there be some preocess of discernment on the question?

How odd for him to castigate TEC et al for moving so far ahead of parts of the AC, while he acts unilaterally on such beliefs just as far out to left field.

Marshall Scott said...

My take (and at greater length) is that his desire for a Communion that is closer to a Church (using terms remarkably similar to those of Ratzinger in Dominus Iesus) is so profound that at times he loses track of Anglican history and experience. I do fear that he was so focused on the principle of seeking reconciliation at the most local level that he failed to consider what might frame "local" for a bishop and diocese. And what might frame "local" for a diocese except for a province? Certainly, that was the implication of the Windsor Report in affirming Designate Episcopal Pastoral Oversight; and of the recent statement of the Joint Standing Committee regarding interventions.

MadPriest said...

I would agree that the locus of the church is in the diocesan bishop, but only in his role as validator of the eucharist celebrated in the parishes.

Of course, bishops have been grabbing power since the earliest days of the church, so there could be a case to say that authority also rests with the diocesan bishop.

However, Anglicanism should have kicked that in to touch at the Reformation. The locus of the church, in my opinion, should be at parish level, with parish priests merely the servants of the congregation. The authority of the Church should be collegiate, at both the diocesan and provincial level. At inter-provincial level there should be no authority - just communion (as in Anglican Communion).

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear A.S., and Marshall,
If Rowan's words here do express a deeper trend (and they might not, as I suggest the letter was clearly written in haste for a topical end) it does coincide with a view he has mooted before -- a desire to move away from what he calls a "federation" into something more like a world-church. This obviously, as Marshall points out, resonates strongly with RC ecclesiology. But it is distinctly un-Anglican, and un-Orthodox.

Dear M.P. (in whose honor we gathered yesterday, Huzzah!)
I share your qualms about the emergence of a "higher-level" synodical structure in Anglicanism, though I'm willing to look at a draft of what it might be. My sense is that the cultural differences (to say nothing of the churchmanship divisions) are too broad to make for a rigid international structure. I think what we've got is fine, and we should allow it to work withough making up novel structures or giving new authorities to bodies such as Lambeth and the Primates.

I'm going to reflect more on this in a subsequent post, but there is a "fractal" quality to the structures of Anglicanism (at least in the US, and to some extent in England) where at each level there is a resemblance in structure, with shared authority by clergy and laity (with different portfolios) -- but that we don't have such a judicatory body at the level above the province. And perhaps we shouldn't!

Christopher said...

Many on the net have pointed to Williams drawing on Zizioulas and Ratzinger. Before we go further down those two roads for ecclesiology, I recommend Volf's critique of both in "After Our Likeness". Both ecclesiologies are foreign to the main thrust of Anglicanism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Christopher,

Thanks for this note.

Not yet having read Volf's response, I see immediately that a major difference must stem from the sense that both Rome and the East regard themselves as "the" Church. Anglicanism, from the beginning, accepted (perhaps reluctantly) that a plurality of churches was a reality, even if the establishment guided towards a single ecclesiastical structure in a given realm, and that this was not in itself a bad thing. The limit, in the early days, was the national boundary -- though in later days the example of the US served to help the English enact toleration for coexisting "churches" to function.

This, for me, is in part why the visions of Ratzinger and Zizoulas are inapplicable to our situation. A Roman Catholic bishop in his diocese can indeed claim to be "the church in this place" to the exclusion of all other Christian bodies. We Anglicans have admitted to a greater "ecclesiastic humility" -- which, as far as I can see, is also more relevant to reality in a pluralistic age.

June Butler said...

I hope that Abp. Williams concedes that the English church also is no more than an "abstract reality of the ‘national church’".

This sounds terrible to me. Is he giving permission to the Windsor bishops to take leave of TEC and assuring them that they will still be part of the Anglican Communion?

He has no power to do that, unless he has been made pope of the Anglican Communion while I have been offline.

Anonymous said...

I would like to draw the attention to the fact that in stressing the role of the local bishop, the ABC is, at the same time, downplaying the role of the Primates, and hence, their collective power.


Dennis said...

He was, Mimi.

It happened today while you and I and David were at the Met. I forgot to mention it to you over lunch.

I put the whole story up on my place, of course (the trip to the Met, not Rowan becoming pope!)

Tobias - it was great meeting you. You are as reflective and thoughtful in real life as you are online. Hope to see you again soon.

johnieb said...

Thank you, Tobias. Between you and your commenters, especially Scotist, I have a much better understanding of the latter's implications.

And it was great to meet you (or y'all); I only wish we had more time to converse!