I've been thinking more about the proposed Covenant and Archbishop Rowan's post-GC Reflections these last few days, including some helpful conversation in London, both with friends and in connection with other programs. I have also found Savi Hensman's essay to be of great help in providing some further digestive enzymes to break down the harder-to-swallow portions. I promise to offer some additional thoughts on the Covenant and the Archbishop's Reflections anon, but wanted to note a shift in direction within the Virginia Report and further movement in the Windsor Report which is, I think, to some extent diagnostic (if not prognostic) about less than helpful trends. It has to do with a shift in the understanding of subsidiarity.
The Virginia Report (4.8 ) helpfully quotes the Oxford English Dictionary for its definition of subsidiarity:
The principle of "subsidiarily" has been formulated to express this investment in the local and face-to-face. Properly used, subsidiarily means that "a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level."and goes on to say (4.9):
Subsidiarity may properly be applied to the life of the Church in order to resist the temptation of centralism.However, a bit further along the drift towards that very centralization begins to scrape bottom, including the introduction of vertical rather than horizontal language (albeit in scare-quotes):
4.10 ...Every "higher" authority ought to encourage the free use of God's gifts at "lower" levels. There must be clarity on what has to be observed and carried out at that level, and also on the limits of its competence. As much space as possible should be given to personal initiative and responsibility. For example, in the relationship between a bishop and a parish priest and congregation, there is initially a giving of responsibility to the latter for the task of worship, witness and service within its geographical boundaries or area of immediate influence. The priest and parish will be given a set of tasks which they are obliged to fulfil. These will be few in number and general in character The limits of their authority and responsibility will also be explained to priest and parish. These will essentially reflect agreements made previously by church synods, and expressed in canons and other ways. They will be honoured by all unless and until they are changed by the due processes of agreement. Subject to such boundaries the priest and parish will be encouraged to use all their gifts, energy and commitment to enable the gospel to go forward in that area. The bishop and parish priest will maintain the highest level of communication possible so that encouragement, advice, and, where necessary, correction can be given, together with new task as occasion arises.You will notice that the text I have italicized in section 4.11 has already inverted understanding of "subsidarily" from the assignment of broader duties to a more central authority into the grant of freedom to a lower level.
4.11 Anglicans may properly claim that the observation of different levels and the granting of considerable freedom to the lowest possible level has been a feature of their polity. In Anglicanism today canonically binding decisions can only be made at the level of a Province or in some Provinces at the level of a diocese.
By the time we get to Windsor, even this dim memory has faded, and subsidiarity is essentially trivialized, and described as only concerning matters literally of no importance.
38 This highlights a fourth key strand of our common life: subsidiarity, the principle that matters should be decided as close to the local level as possible. Subsidiarity and adiaphora belong together: the more something is regarded as 'indifferent', the more locally the decision can be made. It does not take an Ecumenical Council to decide what colour flowers might be displayed in church; nor does a local congregation presume to add or subtract clauses from the Nicene Creed. In part this belongs with the missionary imperative: the church must give its primary energy to God's mission to the world, not to reordering its internal life.And so it is that this notion, originally about the bottom-up nature of governance, which refers by a natural process broader functions to a more centrally coordinated authority, has become the classical pyramid of top-down government.
39 The fourth reason for our present problems is thus that it was assumed by the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster that they were free to take decisions on matters which many in the rest of the Communion believe can and should be decided only at the Communion-wide level.
Yet surely it can be shown, as I have stated time and again, that the actions of New Westminster and TEC were precisely consonant with the original meaning of subsidiarity. To use the language of WR39, their assumptions were precisely correct, and the false assumption was that of those who felt such matters could only be decided at the Communion-wide level. However, as the Virginia Report notes, "In Anglicanism today canonically binding decisions can only be made at the level of a Province." There is no Communion-wide canonical procedure for the approval of the election of bishops, for example, and no bishop has any authority outside his or her own province -- that is, the province that, through its appropriate canonical processes (the only such processes that exist, approved his or her ordination. The office of bishop is precisely the locus of a subsidiary function. Until an Anglican Congress or Council is established, bishops of the whole Communion have been given no authority to legislate for the whole Communion. They have not yet been granted that subsidiary authority, to do what cannot be done more effectively at a local level, where, if a Province doesn't want to have a partnered gay bishop, it need not do so -- nor allow such a one to function within its borders.
I will not comment at length on the topic of same-sex marriage, since it is of even less necessary impact beyond those places where it may take place. No one is forcing any other province to do what it doesn't want to do. In the long run, either the individual Provinces have certain liberties in matters of rites and ceremonies -- an explicitly Anglican declaration of subsidiarity and provincial liberty from the very beginning -- or they don't.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG