Monday, October 18, 2010

The Pope's strategy for Christian unity versus ours

In a post or two below I follow some aspects, slighty bizarre, of the present course of the Pope's offer for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic church via a kind of adjunct entity being known as the Anglican Ordinariate (though strictly it is a 'Personal Ordinariate'). Beyond any 'smoke and mirrors' aspects of the Ordinariate, the following seems to be an accurate description of the Ordinariate: it offers no concession to the normal terms for Anglicans becoming Roman Catholics (sign up to RC doctrine, leave your 'Anglican orders' at the door, some may, once through the door, be accepted for ordination) but it does offer some space for a few aspects of being Anglican to be maintained, along with the quirk that former Anglican bishops can dress up as bishops while not being bishops of their new church ... you see, we quickly get back to 'smoke and mirrors'!)

The Ordinariate expresses a strategy for global Christian unity. (Other parts of that strategy include ongoing conversations with the Eastern Orthodox). At this stage the Ordinariate part of the strategy doesn't look much. It is absorbing the Traditional Anglican Communion (which seems eccentric in certain ways, and is not part of the Anglican Communion), and now looks like receiving a congregation or two in the northern hemisphere, along with a bishop or two from England (and at least one of those looks like the kind of shoot-from-the-hip-while-shoving-his-foot-in-his-mouth opinionator that will cause a little media embarrassment!). But it could be a door through which more go. Within a few months the Anglican Communion may be finally declared broken and unfixable, and within a year the Church of England may be much messier than it currently is, for by then it will have more clearly decided the terms by which opponents of women bishops must abide. Can we tell now what the full attractiveness of the Ordinariate looks like when the situation really turns to custard?

By contrast, if we Anglicans ask the question, 'What is our strategy for global Christian unity?', the answer looks very thin. As I understand that strategy, it is for representatives of the Anglican Communion to engage in dialogue with the great churches, federations, and communions of the world and to work on agreements - where possible - between them and us (e.g. the Roman Catholic church, the Lutheran churches, the Eastern Orthodox churches). But our own Communion is now so divided that it is becoming meaningless to say that we have 'representatives'. Representatives of what view of what it means to be Anglican? And it is even less meaningful to suggest that we understand how global Christian unity might work, since we seem to have no understanding of what Anglican global unity might mean. Unless we think this works: "This is what being Anglican means, you can like it or lump it, and if you lump it you can leave us."



Brother David said...

Perhaps Peter we should stop striving for global Christian unity. Right now it appears that the more effort expended, the worse things get.

A couple of weeks ago you mentioned the presentation at Lambeth Palace by Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations department. In his talk he mentioned that the Russians were earlier prepared to recognize the CoE's apostolicity and orders. Then they ordained women to the priesthood and are preparing to make females bishops. Now everything is again off the table. So it is obvious that as far as the Russians are concerned there will be no unity as long as there are females in the priesthood. I think that you can put the other Orthodox in that boat. There are many of us, of many traditions, who will never return to an all male priesthood. Period. End of possible unity. Stop wasting the money on useless talks and the resulting agravation.

But after wading through the English of Hilarion's message of hope to the CoE (snark), I was curious about him and sought more information. I found a very interesting concept that he holds; '"The Orthodox Church as a whole does not have a unified structural or administrative format. Administratively, it is, if one can say so, a confederation of autocephalous, that is, completely independent of one another"

Why cannot we hold this in regard to the AC? Millions of us already do!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
Either of us dare to raise with IASCUFO the possibility that its purposes are very limited?

I think a difference between the possibility of Anglican autocephalousness and Eastern Orthodox autocephalousness is that in the East there is a much stronger confessional unity (Scripture plus decisions of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils).

As Anglicans we seem to shy away from the possibility of discovering, and enhancing how much doctrinal unity we have. All too quickly, in my view, such work is decried as 'confessional' and we get told 'we are not a confessional church.'

Brother David said...

Since many folks hold the Elizabethan Settlement to be almost sacred and divine inspiration, perhaps we are afraid to find out how different are the many beliefs which we hold in our confederation.

Andrew Reid said...

It's important in this discussion to be clear about what kind of unity we are talking about. It seems to me that "confessional unity" is becoming more significant that "institutional unity". Thus, the major groupings are becoming evangelical, liberal, Pentecostal, Catholic (of various forms) etc. rather than Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, etc. I probably have more in common theologically with the Coptic Orthodox Christians I live among, than with some liberal Anglicans. In the end, confessional unity is more important than institutional unity. We can work together across our denominational barriers if we hold to a common understanding of the apostolic faith, and share a common purpose of growing God's kingdom.

Just on the Ordinariate, it looks to me more like a strategy for dealing with those pesky Anglo-Catholics who keep knocking on Benedict's door, and ask if they can bring some luggage with them. I'm not sure it's a grand strategy for Anglican-Roman Catholic unity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
I agree that confessional unity is more important than institutional unity, though at certain important points 'institutional' unity matters (e.g. Baptists and Anglicans may share the same confessional approach to the truth of the gospel, but part company on what to do with those who respond to proclamation having already been baptised.

Unfortunately a lot of Anglicans (so it appears from the blogosphere) do not appreciate the importance of confessional unity!

Kurt said...

I agree with David; we have little in common with the Russian Church in terms of “unity.” Perhaps, if one day, a more modern Orthodox theological trend emerges which accepts women clergy, we can continue discussions with them. Right now, as David says, it’s a waste of time and financial resources.

The recent decision of the Diocese of Sydney to defy their own Australian leadership regarding deaconal/lay celebration of the Holy Eucharist, marks the beginning of the break-up of the conservative alliance of convenience (the self-styled “‘orthodox’ Anglicans”). Apparently the Jensenites have figured that since they have less and less money/influence to fling around nowadays, they might as well go ahead and do what they want to do no matter what the consequences are to the Global South block.

Personally, deaconal/lay celebration is not a “Communion-breaking” issue for me any more than the unusual configuration/numbering of NZ bishops is. However, when visiting Sydney I would certainly only attend churches such as St. James or Christchurch where deacons perform only their traditional liturgical functions.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY