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?