November 17, 2010


As a follow-up to my note on Canon Barnett-Cowan's assurances about the Anglican Covenant, and early morning thought came to mind. The Canon writes:

The assertion is often made that the ordination of women could not have occurred if the Covenant were in place. It is not at all clear that this would have been the case. The consultative processes of the Anglican Communion actually resulted in the discernment that this was an issue about which Anglicans were free to differ. 
This would be more accurate if the words "to the priesthood" were inserted in the first clause following the word "women." For unless I'm very much mistaken, the paradoxical phrase "impaired communion" entered our ecclesiastical lexicon from the lips of Archbishop Robert Runcie almost immediately following the election of Barbara Harris as Suffragan of Massachusetts. To this day, women bishops from around the Anglican Communion are unable to exercise episcopal ministry in the Church of England. They go there hat in hand, if I'm not mistaken.

And since "mutual recognition of ministers" is the bedrock definition of communion (at least when dealing in ecumenical circles and matters strictly ecclesiastical), we are now not only "free to differ" but do differ on a defining aspect of church polity.

So the thing the Anglican Covenant is designed to prevent, we have, and it's not so bad, really, is it? Or is it? And if all the Covenant does is conditionally baptize problems of this magnitude that already exist, it will not prevent future controversies, or settle them, unless they too are considered adiaphora. People will accept and live with whatever degrees of ambiguity and imperfection they accept and can live with. The Anglican Covenant is less a self-fulfilling prophecy than an engineered and costly tautology.

And as to "impaired communion" — like the new and improved "enhanced communion" introduced by the Anglican Covenant — it sounds a little like "slight pregnancy" or "virtual virginity." What is impaired or enhanced isn't really communion, except in the area of eccelsiastical rosterings. The real and important communion isn't something we do, but what we are — in Christ, as even the opening of the proposed Covenant admits. So why not stop there? All the rest is gloss.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Spot on! as so often, my reverend friend ;-)

Unknown said...

Prior to the Act of Synod which permitted the ordination of women to the priesthood in the CofE women priests ordained elsewhere in the Communion could not function in the CofE.
The term 'impaired communion' may have been on the lips of the ABC after Barbara Harris' election, but defacto impaired communion was already old hat.
I do agree with you that the CofE bears the responsibility for breaking the mutual recognition of ministers within the Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You're welcome, Göran.

Chip / Joseph, yes, I was aware of that -- and it is another thing glossed over by those who wish to paint the process of reception in more lambent, rosy tones than is warranted! And I quite agree that "communion" in the juridical sense was already impaired, or rather, shattered, at that point -- though mended once England began to allow women in the priesthood. (My parish at the time sponsored an English woman for ordination here, who later was able to return home and function in that capacity.

I think the explicit language of "impaired communion" in relation to Barbara Harris emerged because it involved the episcopate, and as we already know, in Anglican circles that's where the real concerns lie -- as we are now seeing acted out once again in the C of E. Thanks for dropping by.