February 22, 2016

Denature of Communion

My chum from New Zealand, Bosco Peters, has posted a very helpful essay on the nature of the Anglican Communion, focusing on the extent to which communion is an applicable term, given what it usually means — mutual recognition of ministers, and their ability to function within each other’s churches (mutatis mutandis).

The problem did not begin with the recent collapses and severances of recognition (and function) at primatial gatherings; nor in the disagreements in the wake of Gene Robinson’s election and consecration. Nor did the breaches start with the “impaired communion” (a term which has always reminded me of “partial virginity”) declared (or described) by Archbishop Runcie after Barbara Harris’ consecration (and concerning every woman bishop since, given the fact that a woman bishop can still not function as even a presbyter in some parts of the “communion.”)

For one could go back all the way to the 26th year of George III (1786), and the Act of Parliament that first permitted the ABC and ABYork (with others) to ordain and consecrate the Americans White and Provoost without the royal warrant, and absent the oaths normally required. Among other things, the Act stated:

...be it hereby declared, that no person or persons consecrated to the office of a bishop in the manner aforesaid, nor any person or persons deriving their consecration from or under any bishop so consecrated, nor any person or persons admitted to the order of deacon or priest by any bishop or bishops so consecrated, or by the successor or successors of any bishop or bishops so consecrated, shall be thereby enabled to exercise his or their respective office or offices within his Majesty's dominions.

So from the outset the Anglican “Communion” has been one in a (partially) shared spirit, a variable historical deposit, but lacking the uniform application of the standard mark of “communion” as it is used in ordinary ecumenical relations.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Marshall Scott said...

This, then, becomes really challenging to those who want to interpret communion only as a Roman-style integrated church, rather than as a fellowship. Granted, that initial stance would have included bishops consecrated for territories still part of the Empire at the time. If continued, while those in such territories might be seen as "successors," those in territories in the Western Hemisphere, whose roots are in the Episcopal Church would arguably still be under this injunction. And, then, just how would it apply to those territories now that they are no longer "within his Majesty's dominions?"

Do you know whether this specific act has been rescinded? If not, consider how attention to that might shake many assumptions.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Marshall. I think the historic reality (to say nothing of the current) underlines that the Anglican Communion is really a "family" or "tradition" even more than a "fellowship" (since not just anyone can join it, and some seem eager to disfellowship a few of the members!) But whatever it is, it is most definitely not a "communion" or world-church in any sense.

It could be argued that a "communion" in the real meaning of the word existed for the brief period (a century, more or less) between the calling of the first Lambeth (when I assume the Act of Parliament was either undone or fell into being ignored -- I've not been able to pin down which in spite of many requests to English folk who should be in the know!) and the beginning of the ordination of women in the mid-70s (at which point for the first time a person ordained in one province was categorically unable to function in another).

But even during that period there was no common canon law or liturgy (which is part of what unites the Orthodox) and no central hierarchy (which unifies the Roman) nor any form of shared confession (that gives some structure to the unity and mutual recognition within Lutheran and Reformed traditions). There was Wippell's. And when they had to introduce darts and bodices into their clergy shirts, and run the buttons t'other way round, the division was complete!

Unknown said...

As a non-Episcopalian following the controversy within the Anglican Communion, oft-times from my seat on the piano bench at St. James Episcopal church in Sonora, I find myself wondering why the people of TEC bother. While the "shape" of worship in the UCC and TEC is quite different, the main difference being that we are non-creedal, the "heartward" (yes, I made up a word) direction of the two bodies is very similar: we welcome all who come. I keep thinking that TEC and UCC have more in common with each other than TEC has with much of the Anglican Communion, including the COE and certainly the churches in Africa. I long for the day when we are in full communion, wrong-way buttons and all.

Marshall Scott said...

Sister Gail, I'm happy with the concept of "heartward," new word or not.

I think we have much in common with UCC, as we do with many churches in the Reformed theme in western Christianity (is "theme" a better word than "tradition," I wonder?). And when we focus on what we can do together, neither ignoring differences nor getting hung up on them, we can accomplish much. When Consultation on Church Union (COCU) renamed to Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC), that was the idea behind it.