AN ADEQUATE ECCLESIOLOGY? Andrew Burnham

My last post was A Search for an Adequate Ecclesiological Provision (2005).  This post, containing an article written five years later (2010), and after the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (2009), is, in a sense, a sequel.

Background

FIVE years ago I wrote a paper, The Search for an Adequate Ecclesiological Provision, which I discussed with the Archbishop of Canterbury and most of the bishops in the third of England in which I serve.  Some of the sees have changed hands in the meantime and some involved in the discussion have moved elsewhere, for instance the Bishop of Birmingham, John Sentamu, became Archbishop of York.  In the paper I outlined three kinds of ecclesiological provision which might make sense to Anglo-Catholics: ‘the New Province Solution’, essentially the ‘free province’ proposal put forward by Forward in Faith, a ‘Historic Province Solution’, that is, the creation of new dioceses within existing structures to embody and enable the distinctive faith and witness of traditionalists, and what was called a ‘Society Solution’, where what was distinctive about the traditionalist constituency was not its belief that women could not be ordained to the episcopate and priesthood but its culture and life.  A ‘society’, like a church, could revise its rules and, theoretically, at least, such a society would have a continued use and value in the mission and life of the Church even after changing its rules about how could be its bishops and priests.

 

It is not the purpose here to argue afresh for any of these solutions: any who have ears to hear have surely by now heard the debate and it is important that we respect the integrity of each other – that word ‘integrity’ again – by assuming the good faith of others’ arguments.  Suffice it to say that the three solutions are seen to have insoluble problems.  The ‘New Province Solution’, it is said, is effectively an ecclesiola, a church alongside a church, the ‘Historic Province Solution’, with problems of who is in full communion with whom, makes distinctive demands of an archbishop which undermine basic ecclesiology.  There is also some fall-out on the whole issue of territoriality and the relationship of the Church of England with the civil authorities.  The ‘Society Solution’, the least developed of the ideas, continues to draw support but the relationship of the society with the parent body – the whole issue of permeability and interchange-ability (essentially the same issue presenting in two forms) becomes acute.   Bedevilling all three solutions is the problem that, somehow, women in episcopal orders and priests’ orders are not, as far as everyone is concerned, ‘the real thing’.  Indeed the Church would be setting up discriminatory structures in which those – from the evangelical wing and from the Anglo-catholic wing – who doubted women’s orders could not only flourish but claim to be the authentic, faith-bearing nucleus of a somewhat incoherent and unfocused organisation.

Recent Developments: (1) Manchester Group

Since those discussions of five years ago, there have been many developments, amongst them, most recently, the General Synod debate of July 2008 and the subsequent work of the Manchester Group, a legislative drafting group, a revision committee of the General Synod, with its own steering committee.  Though the Manchester Group (hereafter the Committee) has not yet completed its work (February 2010), delaying its reporting to Synod until July, the Committee chose to minimise the risks of rumour and distortion by periodically making statements about its progress.  Nothing is certain until the report is complete, indeed nothing is certain until the completion of the synodical process (which may or may not be successful) but it seems clear that, though the Committee was able procedurally to examine afresh every option, and not only to accept the steer of the July 2008 Synod, the three solutions in The Search for an Adequate Ecclesiological Provision have each been found wanting.  More than that, though the Committee agreed in principle to the transfer of powers to bishops who cared for traditionalists, it could not agree on what should be transferred and concluded, therefore, that any care of priests, parishes and people, unable to accept the ordination of women, should be delegated by the diocesan bishop and, logically it seems, to take place within the diocese, the local church, even if those invited to offer ministry on the diocesan’s behalf were themselves from further afield.

Recent Developments: (2) Anglicanorum cœtibus

Breaking in on this process was the offer in Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum cœtibus, published on 4th November 2009.  Briefly that extends the canonical provision associated with personal prelatures – of which there is at present only one, Opus Dei – to distinct groups of Anglicans supplicating to be admitted individually and corporately to full union with the Holy See.  Canonical provision is extended because, instead of a ‘personal prelature’, what is offered is a ‘personal ordinariate’, a canonical device made available for the organisation of military chaplaincies nearly thirty years ago.  The difference between the two is briefly: (1) a ‘personal prelature’ is ‘composed of deacons and priests of the secular clergy’ (Canon 294) which can ‘incardinate students and promote them to orders’ (Canon 295) but which is essentially clerical; ‘lay people can dedicate themselves to the apostolic work of a personal prelature’ (Canon 296) but they themselves – a not entirely uncontroverted point – remain members of the diocese, the local church in which they are set; (2) a ‘personal ordinariate’, on the other hand, is a species of local church whose laity belong.  Two persistent points of misunderstanding can be cleared up: first, the ‘personal’ refers to the relationship of the prelate or ordinary to the Pope (a similar relationship to that of the diocesan bishop to the Pope, but the diocesan bishop, as a successor of the apostles, is ordinary sui juris; second, the fact that the ordinary may or may not be in episcopal orders is not an overthrowing of basic catholic ecclesiology (though it is certainly an obfuscation), but a reflection that the relationship of the Pope to the ordinariate is fundamental.  (A similar observation might be made about the relationship at various times of the Archbishop of Canterbury or Bishop of London to various extra-provincial congregations).

 

It is not the purpose of this essay to argue about the circumstances of the papal initiative, though I should want to argue that those who see it as irrelevant to England have missed the point.  Indeed Pope Benedict’s address to the Bishops of England and Wales on their ad limina visit early in 2010 made it plain that this was an initiative which included Anglicans in England and Wales.  I should also want to say that, had the papal invitation occurred any later in the synodical process, Anglicanorum cœtibus might have been regarded as an opportunistic bit of poaching (in which light indeed some have nevertheless seen it).  My own view is that, by publishing the Apostolic Constitution whilst the Committee is still in session, and the Synodical debate is incomplete, what the Holy See is saying is that any such offer should be considered in its own right and not as some sort of a Plan B should things go badly for Anglo-Catholics in the women bishops’ legislative process.

 

Anglicanorum cœtibus and Ecumenism

What deserved to be argued further is whether this is simply a pastoral provision – a pope with a large pastoral heart offering refuge to those unchurched by ecclesiological uncertainties – (and it is certainly that) or whether it is also symptomatic of a new ecumenism, a ‘cutting of the ecumenical Gordian knot’, as it has been hailed by some.  The ecumenical explorations and negotiations of the Church of England have scarcely been impressive in terms of results (though they have engendered some very fine reports).  There is nothing to compare with the success of the Church of South India project (whatever one thinks of that methodology) and even the achievements of the Porvoo Conversations are mitigated by the outstanding problems round the gender of bishops, same sex marriage, presbyteral ordination and non-presbyteral eucharistic presidency, problems which are bearable not so much for ecclesiological reasons as geographical ones: the North Sea is wide, deep, and impenetrably dark.  The ARCIC process, though it continues, has no foreseeable outcome and the Anglican-Methodist Conversations have rather fizzled out because of Porvoo-type complications which are less negotiable here at home.

 

Compared with this, the Roman Catholic Church, despite its apparent intransigence, has had more success.  Major initiatives with the Orthodox – the big prize – are at least now tackling the main obstacle, Petrine primacy.  There has been real progress with the non-Chalcedonian churches, and the initiative with the Society of St Pius X, though in some senses a dialogue with extremists, is at least an attempt to repair a recent schism and restore a rather large nexus of conservatives to the fellowship of the Church.  It may be that Anglicanorum cœtibus should be viewed more as an initiative in line with these ecumenical explorations than as an initiative tailor-made for Anglicans.  Just as the ‘Society Solution‘ has  interested  some  Anglican bishops  –   distinct societies, with their own culture, being a way of holding not only Anglo-catholics and Conservative Evangelicals but also, potentially, Methodists, Salvationists, and the rest – so the ‘Ordinariate Solution’ (to generate a phrase) is potentially a way of the Catholic Church incorporating not only Anglican groups but Orthodox, and perhaps eventually certain Reformed groups too.  It is not only the similarity of these new ecumenical models but the differences which are important.  The Apostolic Constitution has drawn some criticism because it requires individual submission to the Ordinariate and full acceptance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It has drawn further criticism because it has been produced under the ægis of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) rather than as the work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).   It is the first two of these three features – individual conversion  (at least in formal terms) and credal conformity – which explain why this is a matter for the CDF.  It would be – and remains – the competence of the PCPCU to work for – and even effect – ecclesial reconciliation between sister churches.  But bringing about the reconciliation of individuals and groups, on the basis of what they believe, or have come to believe, is very much the competence of the CDF.  In my view the various political questions – about timing, consultation, and secrecy – have obscured the perception of the significance of the process.  It may be that this is a new ecumenism, somewhat shorter in its lead-in times not least because of the comparative modesty of its objectives, and that such practical problems as there have been are the problems endemic in any prototypical process.  Meanwhile, the older, established ecumenism – the ARCIC process as far as Anglicans are concerned – and it will be interesting to see how that process itself reflects on the contribution of the newer methodology.  If the weakness of the newer method is that it does not bring about the reconciliation of entire churches and ecclesial communities, the weakness of the older method is surely that there is neither individual and communal cost nor real prospect of anything much changing within anyone’s foreseeable future.

 

The Future of Anglo-catholicism in the Church of England

Returning to the Church of England, it is now difficult to see how a logical ecclesiological framework could be created for traditionalist Anglo-catholics and, looking at worked examples elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, one sees, in some places, something of a moratorium on the ordination of women bishops in most of the provinces that have voted currently to have them and, in others, a kind of Anglo-catholic congregationalism which relies on an evangelical definition of the local church as ‘the parish’ rather than Catholic one, where the local church is the diocese.  Any kind of future surely depends, then, on sexual discrimination and inadequate ecclesial structures.  This is highly defensible as a temporary phase: there is a generation of clergy and people whose expectations round the maleness of clergy which will eventually pass.  The question is whether it is defensible in the long term as part of the ongoing character and life of the Church.  Having said that, it would be surely intolerable if the only doctrinal test of clergy and laity proved to be their acceptance of ordained ministers of both sexes, and that has seemed to be the case sometimes in both North America and Scandinavia.    Against that, the fact remains that the rhetoric of ‘permanent and honoured place’ is part of the living memory of the ordination debate of the early 1990s.

 

Conclusions

The conclusions one might tentatively draw from all this may be summarised as follows.  Anglo-catholics can and should expect a protected place within the Church of England, even though such a protected place might fall well short of a robust ecclesiology, let along the prospect, intrinsic to Anglo-catholic self-understanding, that, however unlikely it is, the Anglo-catholic explanation and expression of the faith and order of the Church of England should be coherent and normative.  Second, as the Archbishop of Westminster has pointed out in connection with the Apostolic Constitution, there is a place and vocation for Anglo-Catholics within the Church of England and only those who, whatever their views on women’s ordination, see the Petrine ministry as a fundamental building block of ecclesiology, should seek to be reconciled with the Holy See.  Third, and following from that, that Anglo-catholics who respond to the papal initiative in Anglicanorum cœtibus are responding within the broad context of the convergence made possible by ARCIC – whereby they have moved from an essentially Cyprianic ecclesiology towards an acceptance of the Petrine ministry – are continuing to build the kind of bridge which mainstream Anglicans in general and Anglo-catholics in particular have always said that it was the Anglican vocation to build.

 

Dry Sandford

10th  February 2010

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