Don't you love the way 'official reports' say all the expected things in a pleasant way? Have you also found that even the expected things said in a pleasant way occasionally contain unexpected gems of English phrasing or nuanced barb's of subtle politicking or stuff which, if you ever served on a committee writing a report, you have to conclude were overlooked in the tiredness of the moment when yet another draft was being looked at while eyes anxiously hovered over watches, with planes to catch and loved ones to return home to?
ARCIC III has met and reported. Here is a paragraph of expected things said in a pleasant way:
'ARCIC III has decided that it will address the two principal topics together in a single document. It has drawn up a plan for its work that views the Church above all in the light of its rootedness in Christ through the Paschal Mystery. This focus on Jesus Christ, human and divine, gives the Commission a creative way to view the relationship between the local and universal in communion. The Commission will seek to develop a theological understanding of the human person, human society, and the new life of grace in Christ. This will provide a basis from which to explore how right ethical teaching is determined at universal and local levels. ARCIC will base this study firmly in scripture, tradition and reason, and draw on the previous work of the Commission. It will analyze some particular questions to elucidate how our two Communions approach moral decision making, and how areas of tension for Anglicans and Roman Catholics might be resolved by learning from the other. ARCIC III does this conscious of the fact that what unites us is greater than what divides us.'
Reserving the right to return to the matter, for now we will pass over the irony of ARCIC trying to work on how 'right ethical teaching is determined at universal and local levels' when the Anglican partners have no idea how we can do this among our own global family. No, here I am intrigued by this sentence:
'ARCIC III does this conscious of the fact that what unites us is greater than what divides us.'
What on earth does 'what unites us is greater than what divides us' mean? Let me hazard a guess. 'Greater than' means adding up things in common (say, baptism, Scripture, creeds, deacons and priests, sacraments, lectionary, episcopacy) and calculating they are more than things that differentiate us (say, pope, non-communion, ordained women, synodical governance).
But is such a calculation correct? From a Roman perspective, our orders are invalid as is one of our two sacraments (eucharist). Further, we are never officially welcome to share in full communion at a Roman mass. What kind of calculus is appropriate to estimate the value of these differences as we work out what 'unites' us? It is possible, I suggest, that the calculation actually works differently to the pleasant sentence in this report: what unites us is less than what divides us.
We have made zero progress, let us remember, through ARCIC I and II, on the basic question of recognition of orders and of sharing full communion together. Those are quite big divisions for two churches which otherwise have the appearance of many things held in common.
It is a good thing, which I wholeheartedly endorse, that Anglicans and Romans are talking together. It is in accordance with the will of Christ that we do so. But we must speak accurately of the reality of our relationship. Calculating the question of unity and division perhaps requires something more sophisticated than addition and subtraction.