Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where does the fullness of the church catholic lie?

In a recent comment I wrote this: “I am not convinced that the fullness of the catholic church is found in a diocese (but am open to that concept which clearly has both ancient and modern theological underpinnings). Why am I not convinced? Because I do not know of any church which trusts that the fullness is present in a diocese alone: Anglicans like to confirm nominated bishops through ultra-diocesan means.”

Bosco Peters (a colleague here in Christchurch has responded): "With respect, Peter, I think you are confusing sensible human regulations with ecclesiological esse. The sensible human regulations can change (bene esse). It is a venerable ancient practice which calls for several bishops to participate in the ordination of a new bishop. But this is not essential. If a bishop ordains his successor by himself, it may not be the best idea, but it is perfectly valid. Our own province’s processes for a diocese selecting a future bishop have changed more than once – there is nothing unalterable about the process we have now. Probably the best way into this ecclesiology is the work of Zizioulas, who makes it clear that structures beyond the diocese do not belong to the ontology of the catholic church."
 
I appreciate very much the points Bosco brings here in response to my concerns. I do understand that (say) an asteroid wiped out all the remainder of the Christian church except one diocese with bishop, then the fullness of the catholic church would be present there, life could go on, and that bishop could ordain another bishop to form another diocese or to continue episcopal succession in the existing diocese. Nevertheless I wonder if the way Anglicans work out their polity around the Communion does take seriously the venerable notion that the fullness of the catholic church lies in a diocese.
 
My (admittedly vague at this point) understanding of church history suggests that the origins of this notion lie in a time when dioceses were not tightly lined up together in a larger organization, let alone bound into a strong canonical connectedness to Rome. Where a diocese was, there was the catholic church.
 
But, fast forwarding through many centuries, with developing Roman domination in the Western church, growth of national or cultural churches (e.g. Church of England, Russian and Greek Orthodox churches), to the specificities of churches such as the one Bosco and I serve in, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (a church straddling multiple nations and multiple cultures), are we not in the following situation:
 
(1) "sensible human regulations" re the ultra-diocesan structure to which dioceses belong, regulations which can change from time to time: regulations, that is, that arguably do not belong to the "ontology" of the church;
 
(2) an absolute determination that dioceses may not operate independently, may not choose to leave one set of "sensible human regulations" for another set, may not legislate within their own synodical life for revision or reform of doctrine belonging to the church, allied with an equal determination that (depending on whether we are talking about the Anglican or Roman or Eastern branch of the 'catholic church') revision or reform of doctrine may take place through appropriate ultra-diocesan means (i.e. respectively via General Synod or Papal-led synod or (new) Ecumenical Council).
 
That is, (2) is a change to the ontology of the catholic church: no ancient catholic church, with more than a passing knowledge of Nicean Canons and such like, actually believes that the fullness of the catholic church lies in dioceses, but rather believes that a limited expression of the catholic church lies in dioceses, the fullest expression lies elsewhere. Beyond possible variations in human regulations as to how ultra-diocesan life is worked out, beyond actual variations re the way Anglicans, Romans, and Eastern Orthodox make decisions, the shared ontology of these great branches of the catholic church is that the fullness of the catholic church lies beyond dioceses. I am daring to suggest that Zizioulas is wrong!
 
I put this up for discussion - respectful of the learning which Bosco brings to this blog on this matter on behalf (so to speak) of the catholic church - I am not wishing to imply that my onw knowledge of these things is such as to deem me to be right.
 
What do you think?

15 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

"Where does the fullness of the Catholic Church lie?" - P.C.

Surely the only answer to this can be: "In the Mind of Christ"

The Churches are still struggling to be 'One' - Some more than others - e.g. ACNA and GAFCON.

Peter Carrell said...

That is an answer to ponder, Ron!
Thank you.

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

I think that in your own example of everything being wiped from the earth but one diocese you show that everything that is the fullness of the church is contained in that unit. The diocese is the smallest unit that contains everything necessary for the church to continue by our episcopal way of thinking, the people of God gathered around a bishop in direct line of authority from the apostles, and holding the keys to the kingdom.

That would not be the case of a parish and a parish priest.

Aside from that, it has also been the custom of the church that Christians have banded together in national, regional and even international churches. In the Angican tradition these are national and regional churches. And it is these national and regional churches that have authorized the creation of dioceses within their borders. As such these dioceses, made up of the people of God gathered around a bishop, have submitted to the Constitution and Canons of the nation/regional church which gave it birth.

As of yet in our Anglican tradition, we have not banded together in an international church. We have only agreed to come together as a gathering or communion of national and regional churches.

Anonymous said...

Zizioulas writes as an (Eastern) Orthodox Christian. Orthodoxy holds that it is unbroken continuity with the teaching and practice of the Apostles. Its conception of the Church is not so much legalistic or institutional as 'pneumatic', i.e. the Church as the living embodiment of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern concept of the Church and its "sacraments" (musteria) is markedly different from the Latin legalistic tradition launched by Tertullian. That means the Holy Spirit can pick anyone He wills - including some obscure starets - to further His purpose, and override any man-made structures. What matters in the Eastern mind is a perceived continuity with the teaching and practice of the Apostles: 'Holy Tradition".
Remember that in the mid-4th century most of the validly elected bishops in the Church were Arians. Do you think these legalities mattered a whit to Athanasius?

Peter "Palaiologos"

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Peter
Could you expand on that last point re Athanasius? E.g. are you saying that Athanasius did not accept that the fullness of the church catholic was present in the Arian-led dioceses?

Anonymous said...

I am no expert on Athanasius - or anything. But I do know that the years between Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) were very turbulent ones, in which the State variously supported Nicene or Arian Christianity and persecuted the other, through exiles and attempted assasinations, including attempts on Athanasius's own life, which may explain some of his vehemence. I don't know what Athanasius would have made of such abstractions as "the fullness of the church catholic" - in his time, bishops were being expelled and exiled all the time. The Arian controversy roiled the church for years, and continued long after 381 when the Arian Germanic tribes overran the Western Empire and North Africa and established an Arian hegemony over the Catholics. Clovis's Franks were the only exception.

Peter "Palaiologos"

Peter Carrell said...

In other words, Peter, the fullness of the catholic church would scarcely be present in a diocese where the bishop did not believe the fullness of catholic doctrine (e.g. if the bishop were an Arian).

Thankfully we got rid of Arianism a long time ago :)

Anonymous said...

Arianism is like a bad penny.
The Thirty-Nine Articles don't discuss abstractions like "the fullness of the Catholic Church" (whatever that means), but instead affirms that 'the visible Church of Christ' is where the 'pure Word of God is preached' and the Sacraments duly administered 'according to Christ's ordinance' (Art. 19) by men who have been 'lawfully called' (Art. 23). Art. 23 puts preaching and 'administering' the sacraments on the same level, as the historians of Sydney understand.

Peter 'Palaiologos'

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

Oh Merciful Heavens, then God forbid that when the whole church is wiped from the earth, except for one diocese, that it be one with such a bishop!

OFF TOPIC -
Since the Arian doctrine of the Trinity is founded on a verse of scripture, perhaps you lot should compile for us a list of the scriptures that you do not actually believe to be true, or are in error or where Jesus or another Christian leader outright lied.

For there is obviously something wrong where Jesus said "...my Father is greater than I."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
Evangelical Anglicans seek to be faithful to Scripture in what they believe, guided from the shoals of error such as, say, Arianism and Docetism, by the creeds of the universal church as affirmed in the 39A. The error of Arianism is not that they read one verse erroneously but that they did not read the whole of Scripture on Father, Son and Holy Spirit truthfully.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Peter,
Why has Sydney gone down the pathway of levelling out preaching and presidency towards 'lay presidency'? It would be characteristically Anglican (on the logic you introduce here) to require all preachers to be priests or bishops! (A point not uncongenial to Sydney because it trains its priests and bishops well and expects its preachers to be well trained).

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for Sydney, Peter, but I imagine those good Protestants would say we are all priests already! :)
There was a (brief) time when Anglicanism wouldn't countenance lay preaching.

Alas, I was going to make my joke about supporters of Arian ideology today, but no doubt someone will invoke Godwin's Law. But I see there is a piece on Arianism in a 'Churchman' pdf. touted on Sydney Anglicans website.

Peter "Palaiologos"

Anonymous said...

Peter summarised Peter:

In other words, Peter, the fullness of the catholic church would scarcely be present in a diocese where the bishop did not believe the fullness of catholic doctrine (e.g. if the bishop were an Arian).

Or if the bishop is a woman.

Alison

Anonymous said...

Peter writes

I appreciate very much the points Bosco brings here in response to my concerns. I do understand that (say) an asteroid wiped out all the remainder of the Christian church except one diocese with bishop, then the fullness of the catholic church would be present there

I don't think you appreciate Bosco's point at all. Because what you describe here still makes the "fullness of the catholic church" the sum of all Christians on the planet - which is not what Bosco/Zizioulas is saying at all.

Your position is equivalent to the papal position. The international body is the fullness of the catholic church. Your asteroid has merely reduced the numbers.

Alison

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
It is a serious possibility to ponder that (1) the fullness of the catholic church is present in a diocese (without further qualification); (2) the fullness ... in a diocese (with qualification such as "led by a bishop who is orthodox" or "led by a male bishop who is orthodox"); (3) the fullness of the catholic church lies in an international body of Christians (e.g. the Roman Catholic church; the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches; the Anglican Communion: the three branched church of Romans, Easterns, Anglicans).

I am open to pondering all these possibilities but not inclined to believe that the fullness of the catholic church is confined to those bodies not ordaining women to the presbyterate or episcopate.

What is your view on where the fullness of the catholic church lies?