November 17, 2008

Sur le pont d'Avignon

on y danse, on y danse...

There is due to be announced in short order the creation of what is being billed as a new and improved second Anglican Province in North America, consisting, among other things, of the some of the people, clergy, and former bishops of the dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth.

As Mark Harris has pointed out this would represent a very small fraction of the total membership of The Episcopal Church, even if the departures from these dioceses were total — which none of them are; the dioceses will continue as part of The Episcopal Church, though reduced in numbers for the time being. This is not to say it is insignificant, only to point out that what it signifies is not a great division in The Episcopal Church.

It may herald, however, a beginning of a larger schism in the Anglican Communion. For the time being the main extraterritorial ally of the former members of these four dioceses is the Church of the Southern Cone, which is, among the churches of the Anglican Communion, one of the smallest and most thinly spread. Again, this is not to play any sort of numbers game, as if numbers alone were significant of anything other than their numeric reality. But that reality will be important for future viability. If other provinces (and I'm thinking of those in the GAFCON continuum) sign on to this new Anglican Communion, it remains to be seen if they will also be able to maintain a presence in and connection with the other and older Anglican Communion — the one with Canterbury as first among equals; or unequals, as the case might be.

Some are beginning to liken this situation to the Great Schism that split the East from the West back in the eleventh century. It seems to me, however, since the focus appears to be more on leaders than on doctrine (all protests to the contrary notwithstanding) that the analogy to the other Schism sometimes called "Great" — the one that split the papacy in the fifteenth century — provides a better analogy.

Schisms by nature are not irrevocable. Time may heal all wounds — even, as someone once said, it wounds all heels. Fifty or a hundred years from now, it will be for those of that time to make a judgment on how sound were the reasons for those who felt a need to make this present split. In the meantime, the rest of the Anglican Communion should take this as an opportunity to refocus its attention on the mission to which it is called, which is not its own preservation as an institution, except to the extent that institution serves the cause of God, and cares for God's people, and God's world.

Otherwise this famous "bridge Church" risks becoming like the one in Avignon, which was little better than a dance-floor.

Tobias Haller BSG

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

As an outsider, I don't understand your statement "since the focus appears to be more on leaders than on doctrine." This whole Anglican mess IMHO is about whether the open acceptance of homosexuality is in accordance with Scripture or not. Beyond that, it has revealed the great divergence in Biblical hermeneutics within Anglicanism and divisions over the approach to how development of doctrine occurs. These are all fundamentally theological questions.

What am I missing here?

FrMichael

Tobias Haller said...

FrM., the differences of opinion on matters of sexuality have been discussed through relatively unimpassioned dialogue within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion for going on 33 years now, at the national and international level; there were other discussion at diocesan and parish levels long before. What has brought the matter "to a head" was the election and ordination of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire -- he has been the focus of attention.

The primary issue, then, is over the role of gay and lesbian persons in leadership. So yes, there is an issue of pastoral theology buried in the midst of this, but leadership issues are what as brought it to the light of day.

The "open" part is indeed significant. For years people were willing to tolerate gay clergy and bishops as long as they were discreet; so it is the openness that has "created" the problem. This is, I dare say, from my personal knowledge of a handful of gay Roman Catholic priests, religious, and at least one bishop (at whose institution his partner had a seat of honor along with the partner of the cathedral's organist), not unlike what would happen were certain closet doors to be flung open, particularly if, for example, a gay Roman Catholic bishop were to begin to attempt to justify himself. The "issue" is theological, but the "proximate cause" of the controversy would be the revelation. So the issue as it has emerged appears to be less about scriptural interpretation or theological principle, but about the degree to which the "traditional" teaching is allowed to stand unchallenged by an open critique and reevaluation, made personal in the choice of leaders.

Anonymous said...

I see your point. Thanks for clarifying. Fr. Michael

John-Julian, OJN said...

I know it's picky, but memories of my French class of some 60 years ago suggest that it is "L'on y danse, l'on y danse", yes? (grin)

Tobias Haller said...

Fr JJ, I learned it without the additional object marker. I did a quick google search and found both version extant, but didn't see anything definitive. As with much folk music! I suppose there must be a critical edition out there somewhere. Grammatically, it seems to amount to the difference between "One dances there" (less literally, "They dance there") and with the added object what is otherwise implied, "on it."

Simon Sarmiento reminded me off line that this is a real "bridge to nowhere" now, as it stops in the midst of the river. Not a bad image for schism, eh?

JCF said...

Heh: I love the communications dynamic I just observed on this thread! [And I'm not talking about French translations ;-/]

Now, if only I could replicate your technique, Tobias... (I just HAVE to get better connected! ;-X)