Sunday, November 22, 2009

Richardson on Rowan in Rome

John Richardson of The Ugley Vicar has posted an outstanding analysis of ++Rowan's Williebrands address in Rome. He has entitled it Rowan's Roman Bluff. I encourage you to read it. In the comments below his essay I take issue with one aspect of the argument John Richardson mounts. But here I want to draw attention to something the essay highlights, which I describe in this way:

Archbishop Rowan Williams in this address (read here) offers a bold, intelligent, searching attack (albeit in the considered tones of theological language) on matters important to Roman ecclesiology (primacy, magisterium, universal church). But as I read John Richardson's citations of ++Rowan's address on these matters, along with John's own commentary, I am struck by how good the critique is and how weak the alternative is which ++Rowan proposes. On the one hand I am left wondering whether Rome might feel the effect of this address as a rampant All Black forward might feel the fend off of a spindly opposition fly-half, and on the other hand I wonder if the Anglican alternative to Rome on primacy, magisterium and universal church could be strengthened.

I would welcome any thoughts from readers ... I shall keep thinking about it myself!

Logically it is possible that ++Rowan is correct in (at least) this sense: the church as God in Christ intended it through the sending of the Spirit is a weak, fragile and vulnerable being, not actually designed to be made strong through human institutional machinery such as establishing primacy and magisterium. Paul's response to the messiness of Corinth is to patiently reply to each difficulty of doctrine and praxis, not to argue for the establishment of a Petrine type primacy. The Jerusalem church in Acts 15 forms a council rather than a magisterium, and (somewhat fatal for biblical arguments for Petrine primacy, James not Peter is the emergent leader of proceedings). But, as a counter, one could argue that the Pastoral Epistles represent the earliest church on the way towards primacy and magisterium as it begins to feel the full force of 'messy church' and its potential for damaging false teaching.

LATER: worth a careful read for hidden gems and nuggets are the following:

Austen Ivereigh whose comment on today's rift mending in Rome forecasts some intriguing possibilities for future development in ecumenical relationships - a Grand Covenant anyone?

Andrew Brown rounds up some insights into the background to Benedict's offer and the confusion, if not anger he cause both Archbishop Williams and Archbishop Nichols with the precipitateness of his action; as a bonus, there is also a good 'take' on the different models of a unified church at work in Benedict and Rowan's minds. (PS Ignore the link Brown talks about to a flowchart - that blogger has taken it down as its humour was being misunderstood!)

Then fellow Anglican down under, Charles Sherlock (Bendigo, Australia) gives a frank critique of Anglicanorum coetibus. He says that the Pope has skipped the language of love in this document. Place of publication of this critique? Eureka Street, a publication of the Jesuits of Australia!


Great attitude to ++Rowan demonstrated here; not.

Bishop Alan Wilson offers an appropriate 'appreciative inquiry' response to ++Rowan's address.

Charles Raven posts a fairly savage critique of ++Rowan, which concludes with this sentence (my italics):

"Rowan Williams is creating a myth of unity and it is becoming all the more urgent that orthodox global Anglicans committed to confessional unity do not give credence to such a retreat from reason."

He does ask a good question, however: "But if the Ordinariate is such a modest step – Williams refers to it as a ‘chaplaincy’ – why was he not able to support the formation of such a structure within the Church of England under his own leadership, as the Anglo-Catholic constituency in the Church of England have repeatedly requested?"

One difficulty I have with the Raven reasoning is something it has in common with many critiques being posted around the world: it weighs ++Rowan, the Communion, and the Covenant on the scales with an idealised form of authority in which this issue and that issue (i.e. homosexuality and ordination of women) is dealt with once and for all. Naturally ++Rowan, the Communion and the Covenant are found wanting and (take your pick, depending which side of the glasshouse you are throwing stones from) Rome or GAFCON or the Southern Baptists is found to be not wanting and thus worthy of praise and adoration. But why this particular measure?

What if we tried the world's religions, and the denominations and sects of those religions on the scales, measuring them against criteria such as treating women equally as men (e.g., pace one recent news item out of Somalia, not stoning women for adultery for which men are only whipped), and treating homosexuals as full human beings? We might find it is ++Rowan, the Communion and the Covenant which come out not wanting and certain Christian organisations, ecclesial communities, and claimants to universal churchiness otherwise! Might a thoroughgoing 'anthropology' be the basis on which ++Rowan is praised for the advancement of his reasoning and not denigrated for a 'retreat from reason'?


Anonymous said...

Peter, I am not so sure about John Richardson's critique of +Rowan. Richardson's key theological point is nothing less than a rejection of the entire ARCIC process:

"It is nothing if not a bold take on the ecumenical venture and on the issues which have divided us for the last 450 years. Yet if we simply survey it from a confessionally Anglican perspective, it is a vision which raises as many questions for Anglicans as it must for ecumenists. To begin with, is Williams right in his claims regarding what truly divides the Church of England from the Church of Rome?"

He points specifically to justification, saying that Anglicans and RCs are "are still as deeply divided as ever on this subject". This despite the ARCIC statement on justification:

"We are agreed that this is not an area where any remaining differences of theological interpretation or ecclesiological emphasis, either within or between our Communions, can justify our continuing separation".

Perhaps even more significant, of course, has been the Lutheran-RC Joint Declaration on justification.

If you reject the ARCIC process, the fruits of that process, and the quite amazing ecumenical convergence on justification, then it is quite unsurprising that you then also reject +Rowan's words in Rome.

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, that is a surprising observation from John R: either he does indeed dismiss ARCIC etc, or he does not agree that the convergence claims of ARCIC etc are justified ...