Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two Tracks Communion and being a Catholic Communion

A rich ore of theological reflection has been laid down by Archbishop Williams in his response to GC 2009. A teasing tension is set down when he can speak on the one hand in this way:

“two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency.”

Then on the other hand the Archbishop can also say,
“9. … So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.”

Clearly ++Rowan’s ideal church is ‘the Church Catholic’ in which certain matters are agreed and adhered to by the ‘whole’. Implicit here is a longing for the pure Church Catholic, the church of churches, but the fact is that, in the meantime, ++Rowan’s first loyalty is to ‘the Communion’ in which are number of things are agreed and adhered to which are shared with many other churches (including the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches), but some things are not so shared, including, for instance, the possibility of being a married bishop (as ++Rowan is). Also implicit here is a desire that, as far as possible, the Communion should be at one with the Church Catholic. Thus his recognition of the fact that for the foreseeable future there will be ‘two styles of being Anglican’ cannot be a congenial matter for the Archbishop.

Indeed ++Rowan does not treat the two styles or tracks as being equal and opposite or equal and complementary states of affairs. Only one track can supply people who will have a ‘representative function’ for the Communion. This incidentally, is a just situation according to the logic at work in ++Rowan’s ecclesiology: one track is characterized by prioritizing local autonomy ahead of interdependence with other members of the Communion. On this track Anglicans neither enter into the fullness of the meaning of ‘communion’ nor do they follow the ‘public teaching’ (one might also say ‘common teaching’) of the Communion. True representation of the Communion follows only from full participation in the Communion. In this ecclesiology one cannot say ‘I am a participant in the Communion but I do not listen to the Communion’ (a point on which, incidentally, my church ACANZP should do some penitential reflecting since it has ignored the Communion’s voice on at least one significant occasion).

By distinguishing between ‘the Church Catholic’ and ‘the Communion’ (while longing for the Communion to be at one with the Church Catholic), ++Rowan allows for the Communion to differ on some matters with the Church Catholic. One matter, not mentioned in his response, is the ordination of women. It would be difficult for ++Rowan to say that on this matter the public teaching of the Communion endorses ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopacy (I think, given Sydney’s acceptance of women in the diaconate, we can now say that the Communion endorses women as deacons). But he could say that the public teaching of the Communion is flexible on the matter. (An analogy, in my mind, is the question of a married and a celibate priesthood in the Roman Catholic church: it is flexible on the matter, teaching in the West that the priesthood is to be celibate (with rare exceptions), and the East that it may include married men). ++Rowan would also observe that disagreement over the ordination of women has not divided the 'wholeness' of the Communion.

(This does not mean that within individual member churches of the Communion there is flexibility about the ordination of women. In some churches (not the Church of England) the consensus reached is that their public teaching is that women may be ordained to all three orders of ministry without reservation. In this case ‘representative function’ belongs to those who adhere to the teaching of their churches. An interesting question for such churches is whether the consensus means that the representative function of priesthood is open only to those who will faithfully and publicly represent the teaching of their church on this matter or whether it is also open to those who feel unable to publicly support this teaching.)

One day the Communion may reach a position on which its public teaching on the blessing of same-sex unions is similarly flexible to its teaching on the ordination of women. But that day is not today. It will not be tomorrow unless some new way is found in which theological arguments in favour of such blessings gain the attention and approval of the Communion as a 'whole'.

Postscript: a step in the direction of how such theological arguments might unfold is set out in this sermon by Joseph Cassidy (h/t Paul Fromont).


Paul Fromont said...

Peter, thanks, as always, for your reflections. You may have read Joseph Cassidy's "Who's in and who’s out" published in "Living the Magnificat" ed. Mark D. Chapman.

I linked to the sermon/address when it was first delivered in Sept. 2006. At the time I thought it prescient and wise. I continue to think so. Anyway, in case you haven’t read it (or your readers too for that matter), you can find it via the link below if you’re so inclined.


Go well

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Paul
That is a good sermon!

I will post the link as a postscript to my post!