Friday, August 1, 2008

Kasper offers the ship a safe haven

Many years ago, somewhat more than I care to acknowledge, I enrolled at Knox Theological Hall, University of Otago in a course on a book called Jesus the Christ. The author was Walter Kasper, now Cardinal and President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. A day or so ago he addressed the Lambeth Conference. Its never possible for the Church of Rome to speak in such a way that no intrinsic or extrinsic offer of Rome as a safe haven for confused Christians is not offered. Here the safe haven is offered with the not unsubtle point that the ecclesiological arguments of former Anglican priest John Newman might be a useful navigation tool! His full address can be found here (hat-tip to Titus One Nine for this obscure link).

Some points notable to me are these:

"Our witness and mission have been seriously hampered by our divisions, and it was out of faithfulness to Christ that we committed ourselves to a dialogue, based on the Gospel and the ancient common traditions, which had full visible unity as its goal. Yet full unity was not and is not an end in itself, but a sign of and instrument for seeking unity with God and peace in the world."

"today we are confronted with additional problems on the level of the Anglican Communion of 44 regional and national member churches, each self-governing. Independence without sufficient interdependence has now become a critical issue."

"The episcopal office is thus an office of unity in a two-fold sense. Bishops are the sign and the instrument of unity within the individual local church, just as they are between both the contemporary local Churches and those of all times within the universal Church."

"It is significant that the Windsor Report of 2004, in seeking to provide the Anglican Communion with ecclesiological foundations for addressing the current crisis, also adopted an ecclesiology of koinonia. I found this to be helpful and encouraging, and in response to a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury inviting an ecumenical reaction to the Windsor Report, I noted that “(n)otwithstanding the substantial ecclesiological issues still dividing us which will continue to need our attention, this approach is fundamentally in line with the communion ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. The consequences which the Report draws from this ecclesiological base are also constructive, especially the interpretation of provincial autonomy in terms of interdependence, thus ‘subject to limits generated by the commitments of communion’ (Windsor n.79). Related to this is the Report’s thrust towards strengthening the supra-provincial authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury (nn.109-110) and the proposal of an Anglican Covenant which would ‘make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion’ (n.118).”

The one weakness pertaining to ecclesiology that I noted was that “(w)hile the Report stresses that Anglican provinces have a responsibility towards each other and towards the maintenance of communion, a communion rooted in the Scriptures, considerably little attention is given to the importance of being in communion with the faith of the Church through the ages.” In our dialogue, we have jointly affirmed that the decisions of a local or regional church must not only foster communion in the present context, but must also be in agreement with the Church of the past, and in a particular way, with the apostolic Church as witnessed in the Scriptures, the early councils and the patristic tradition."

"It also seems to us that the Anglican commitment to being ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’ has not always functioned in such a way as to maintain the apostolicity of the faith, and that synodical government misunderstood as a kind of parliamentary process has at times blocked the sort of episcopal leadership envisaged by Cyprian and articulated in ARCIC."

"In that vein, I would like to return to the Archbishop’s puzzling question what kind of Anglicanism I want. It occurs to me that at critical moments in the history of the Church of England and subsequently of the Anglican Communion, you have been able to retrieve the strength of the Church of the Fathers when that tradition was in jeopardy. The Caroline divines are an instance of that, and above all, I think of the Oxford Movement. Perhaps in our own day it would be possible too, to think of a new Oxford Movement, a retrieval of riches which lay within your own household. This would be a re-reception, a fresh recourse to the Apostolic Tradition in a new situation. It would not mean a renouncing of your deep attentiveness to human challenges and struggles, your desire for human dignity and justice, your concern with the active role of all women and men in the Church. Rather, it would bring these concerns and the questions that arise from them more directly within the framework shaped by the Gospel and ancient common tradition in which our dialogue is grounded." [PRC: here Kasper misses the influence of the Church of the Fathers on Cranmer and co].

Kasper makes a huge point when challenging our lack of communion with the past. When, referring to the ordination of women, Kasper offers this observation about the constraint on the Roman church on this matter, "The Catholic Church finds herself bound by the will of Jesus Christ and does not feel free to establish a new tradition alien to the tradition of the Church of all ages", he betrays both the strength and weakness of the Roman view. If the will of Jesus Christ is that women may not be ordained then no more need be said. But the will of Jesus Christ, friend of Mary and Martha, followed by Joanna etc, on gender exclusive ordination is not at all clear to some of us!

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