Saturday, May 28, 2011

The odd calculus of ARCIC III's ecumenism

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.


Father Ron Smith said...

"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 quotation, from the report of ARCIC III, provides ample scope for useful reflection on some of the difficult areas of gender and sexuality that have plagued our own Anglican Communion of recent years.

The suggestion that the 'new life of grace in Christ' will be viewed through the Anglican tripos of 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason' must surely have been initiated by Bishop David Moxon or one of the other Anglican representatives on the Commission - a goodly advance from Scripture and Tradition alone.

At least, on this next ARCIC venture, there looks to be a willingness to engage with the real world on matters of importance to ordinary human beings - as opposed to the subjective view of eunuchs, even though they may be ever so righteous and holy. Engagement with the cosmos is sometimes seemingly beyond the remit of academic and moralising theologians. Prospects for real advancement seem good!

Bryden Black said...

Not wishing to gainsay what ARCIC III might be seeking to achieve under the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, but still wishing to inject an element of plain speaking, I would remind followers of this blog Down Under of Colin Buchanan’s excellent appraisal of ARCIC II, Is Papal Authority a Gift to Us? (Grove 2003). For here he points out the obvious: the very form of the question will determine the kinds of answers available, while precluding others. In other words, once we determine our ecclesiological approach to be that of “the Church as Communion” (pace B16, ++ Christopher Butler, et al), a certain agenda is set and other possibilities denied.

More expansive would be the ecclesial task Gary Badcock pursues in his recent The House Where God Lives: Renewing the Doctrine of the Church for Today (Eerdmans, 2009), where the Church as Communion is but one proffered option among others of equal and necessary worth. Would that our local Abp (and co-chair) pick up this volume - and/or talk with Gary on his next trip to Aotearoa New Zealand!

As for Ron’s professed ‘optimism’: knowing something of the present influence of the Archbishop of Venice, Angelo Scola, and his theology of Nuptial Mystery vis-à-vis the Church, I fancy he may be seriously disappointed eventually ... va bene?!

Matthew Bartlett said...

FWIW, I thought that line was alluding to having e.g. Jesus in common.

Peter Carrell said...

That is a very smart reply, Matthew. I almost stand corrected. But you would be talking about the Jesus present in the Roman eucharist that Anglicans may gaze at but not eat and drink? And the Jesus whose ministry we Anglicans purport to be ordered by, but in Roman eyes are play acting until a true successor of the Lord's apostles lays hands on us?

Bryden Black said...

“... 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, ...”

Thanks Matthew, for your worthy, “smart” comment. Not least as I too would wish to wholeheartedly embrace the Church’s Common Life in Jesus. But your and my desire has a bit of a problem, suggested pithily by Peter: the issue is one of mediation.

Superficially at least, ARCIC’s “plan” is right on target - until we read between the lines, knowing something of the history of theology. Working backwards from the brief quote:

1. Tom Torrance (for example) made the mediatorial role of the Incarnation front and centre, enabling thereby a fully functional trinitarianism, one that provided God’s own mediation in the economy of salvation. As divine, Jesus acts as God towards us humans; as human he acts representatively towards his Father in the Spirit. The scope of the Letter to Hebrews reveals this brilliantly. But ...

2. What happens post Arius, however, is, as JA Jungmann painstakingly detailed, the emergence of a mediatorial vacuum, due to Jesus being pushed up into the Godhead, as it were. ‘Never again are we to allow Jesus to be seen as anything less than God’ is the sentiment.

3. Subsequent centuries therefore have to wrangle with a key problem, “the communication or means of grace”. Set within an Augustinian framework furthermore, the Latin ‘answer’ necessarily involves the likes of: priests with sacer potestas, the Mass, conceived via the doctrine of transubstantiation, the communion of saints, etc. - the entire edifice of the Church as the container and instrumental means of grace between Heaven and earth, bridging both sides of the divide.

4. Even the Reformation, given its historical context, has to respond to this ‘answer’ from within a circumscribed set of questions and assumptions. Just so, the BCP’s Catechism’s - problematic - definition of a sacrament.

In which light, ARCIC’s real agenda should be: how to break out of this lopsided legacy?! But given the RCC’s high view of itself, and despite JP2's desire in the likes of Ut Unum Sint, they are just far too locked into a prescriptive frame of mind and practice. [E.g. the institutional Church’s continuing linkage directly and precisely with “the Paschal Mystery”: a real cart before the horse scenario, if we read Ecclesia de Eucharistia!] Nor are Prots to be let off the hook: we are mostly too locked into the Zeitgeist! Either that of the immediate past or that of modernism generally ...

Nah! I am not holding my breath frankly, since no “calculus” to date has shown itself anything like profound enough to deal with not just divisions but false because only partial premises ... BTW; & IMHO!

Bryden Black said...

Mea culpa! I am getting old and lazy! Potestas is feminine; and therefore the qualifier should be sacra. Apologies to you Latin pundits - and our host!

Peter Carrell said...

There was a reason, Bryden, why you were overlooked to translate the old Latin mass into the new 21st century English mass ... :)

James said...

Living in Belgium, I speak as a catholic protestant in a largely Catholic country. I can identify with the frustrations with the Roman Catholic Church. But so do Roman Catholics. It is highly important that we acknowledge both the advantages and disadvantages of their teachings, in trying to move into a deeper understanding.

Regarding "closed communion" - until some time in the 20th Century, this was the norm for most protestant churches as well. I certainly do not support closed communion, and am delighted with the gift of open communion - i.e., communion of all the baptized who are Trinitarian Christians.

However, let's look at things from a Roman Catholic perspective for a moment. Protestants, in embracing some very vague "unity thing," still have enormous problems in understanding the church as the body of Christ. When we throw our nets too far, we are wallowing in such vagueness that there's little concreteness in a person's faith. Protestants tend to like to talk about "all Christians" but then get confused ... who are these "all Christians"? Does it, e.g., include Muslims? Some Christian clergy - especially Anglicans - teach that Jesus is dead (if we formulate their view in plain language which isn't explicitly metaphorical). But Muslims believe that He lives.

I think they are right to ask their adherents not to commune with us in normal circumstances. I made the mistake of identifying myself as Anglican without differentiating myself as Trinitarian years ago ... which resulted in a friend, inspired by our contact, purchasing a book by an Anglican Bishop. Spong, of course. And that person promptly lost all interest in faith.

Had I told her: "Yes, I'm Anglican - but you have to be careful with us. Some of what we teach is great - some is horrid. Talk to me, sure ... but don't come to our church - or if you do, don't take eucharist with us - for your own good. You don't want to associate with us like that" - well, she might have maintained her interest in faith in Christ. Instead, new obstacles arose.

Catholics see correctly: we Anglicans are really in this mess together. It does little good to say, "My parish, we're different, we really believe in the creeds!" Sooner or later, given that communication is now so globalized, our parishoners will be confronted with, "Anglicans teach that other Christians believe in divine sperm," or "Anglicans teach that Jesus is dead." Both of these statements are, literally, true.

In a sense, I think the Catholics are generous even wanting to speak with us at ARCIC. They know we need to be handled gently ... if we are so arrogant as to teach or flocks lies about what people in other churches believe (note how the "divine sperm" thing aims particularly at Catholics, who emphasize the Virgin Mary in ways protestants do not), surely confronting us with the light of truth must be like trying to teach an angry baby to take his first steps.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Peter; you are so kind! There is however a rather delightful piece of irony (yet again): let’s not be blind to the fact that “the Paschal Mystery” may apparently only be communicated/mediated to us authentically in LATIN. Otherwise, why all the fuss about special new translations etc ...?

And again, thank you James for a thoughtful comment, the likes of which I too endorse fully. Being in an Interchurch marriage/family, there is much my wife and I have traded over 30+ years - even as our kids sometimes show frustrations of yet another kind probably than those you allude to! For they are only too aware of the great range of ‘beliefs’ held by members of both communions. Only to be puzzled also as to why some of them still wish to label themselves either Roman or Anglican - or whatever! It surely is a wry old world at times ...