Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three Popes of the Anglican Communion

Arguably the worst period in the history of the Roman Catholic church was the period of the Three Popes (1410-1417, closely followed by the period of the Two Popes, 1378-1410). When the point of a pope is to hold the unity of the universal church together (after 1054, at least the unity of the universal church in the West), to have two popes is unfortunate and to have three is a disaster. Whether divided in two or in three, a divided universal church has no claim to be universal!

But the Roman church came through this crisis, not least because it re-asserted its unity around a single pope by choosing to fall in behind one and only one pope from 1417. The way was paved for the development of doctrine both as a system (building on Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274) and as a way of life (following the notable example of Francis, 1182-1226) in a coherent, elegant catechetical edifice. Fast forward through the debacle of papal ambition for an edifice of a different kind - sparking the Reformation (ameliorated from a Roman perspective by the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation) - and you get to Louise Mensch's sympathetic endorsement of the edifice and its sharp edge re her own situation as a divorced and remarried woman (mentioned in my previous post).

Arguably, when I pronounced, possibly prematurely, the death of the Anglican Communion, a few posts ago, I should have talked instead about this being the worst period in the history of the Anglican Communion. We do not quite have Three Popes but we do have Three Anglican Fellowships, each (effectively) competing for the role of 'pope' as in a unifying force for global Anglicanism:

- the Anglican Communion itself (but we cannot get all 38 churches to meet together in the same place at the same time for the one eucharistic service);

- GAFCON (roughly, the most conservative Anglicans of the Communion, as well as ACNA); and

- Global South (roughly, Anglicans from across Communion provinces in Africa, Asia, and two Oceania provinces, with warm welcome to observers from Australasia and North America, including ACNA, and recently offering oversight to the no-longer-with-TEC Diocese of South Carolina).

What might happen when we come out of this worst period?

It is too early to tell. But it is not rocket science to suggest that what will come out is something which affirms the distinctiveness of Anglicanism as a way of being Christian which is not confused with other ways of being Christian. Part of what is going on at the present time is a sifting out of the Anglicans who were so Roman they now literally belong to Rome and ditto of those who were so Genevan that they now no longer belong to Canterbury.

Perhaps harder to see, but I think the signs are there via aging, greying congregations in the West, is the sifting out of liberal theology from Anglicanism. The folly, for instance, of liberal celebration of extreme diversity, has been exposed by the divisions which are fracturing the Communion. The future of global Anglicanism lies with the celebration of diversity-in-unity through theology which binds us together rather than drives us apart.

The combination of unifying theology and distinctive theology is going to take us back to the key insights of the Reformers as they eschewed Presbyterianism, Puritanism and Papacy.

But what structural form this resurgent global Anglicanism will take is not yet determined (in my view). However, in a further clue from the days of the Reformation and of the subsequent Elizabethan Settlement, it is likely to be a form which wins wide popularity, a form to which people happily subscribe.

There are two forms of Anglican fellowship which I do not think will win popular, global subscription. On these I will pronounce blog tomorrow!


Kurt said...

I look forward to reading your observations, Peter. However, since I will be Upstate at a conference for the next few days, and totally “plugged into” that mode, please don’t take my “silence” here as a refusal to engage!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Best wishes, Kurt!

liturgy said...

Thanks, Peter, I am looking forward to this thread developing, and I stress your points are not really dependent upon your lens with which this comment of mine expresses my disagreement. We have been here often before: I disagree with your lens that “Whether divided in two or in three, a divided universal church has no claim to be universal!” This is a RC lens you are using.

The consequence of this lens is that you cannot have Anglicans as being part of the universal church! You appear to me to attempt to slip in Anglicanism as being its own, independent “universal church” – as if there can be a number of universal churches (contrary to the creed which asserts that there is only one). Your attempts to view the Anglican Communion as a “universal church” suffers from this lens.

Your own assertion this time highlights the oxymoronic nature of an Anglican using this lens – there can be only one universal church because “a divided universal church has no claim to be universal!”

Far better is the Eastern/Early Church lens of the universal church being present locally.

I would add my interest in the Donatist tendencies of Anglicanism (contrary to Article 26). The Anglican Communion in fact ceased to be a communion with the ordaining of women. When my male priest friend could not preside in the Church of England because he had been ordained by a woman, that was when, theologically, the Anglican Communion ceased. That no one made a fuss of that but did when a homosexual in a committed relationship was ordained shows up our Donatist tendencies. Our bishops play fast and loose with our ordinal, but only when a homosexual in a committed relationship is ordained is the validity of the ordination questioned. A communion stands and falls on the mutual acceptance of ordination.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Fair points!
When talking about Roman universalism I am looking at that in their own terms, I.e., the Roman claim to universalism is shattered when their are two or three popes all claiming to be 'the' pope.

Anglican claims re catholicity are in line with Eastern thinking, where the local is, there is the universal, or at least should not pretend to be different to such thinking.

As for the brokenness of the AC: indeed. My post looks around and ahead to the nature of Anglican trans-national fellowships, less interested in how many there might be and more interested in what might be the shape, if not the size of the largest of them.

Clearly I have not yet involved the adjective 'Donatist' in phrases such as 'global Anglican fellowship'!

Father Ron Smith said...

Regarding the idea of the Church Universal; surely this still stands - despite the insistence by some church denominations that they, alone, hold the only 'orthodox' view. The Founder and Foundation of the Church is none other than Jesus Christ, into Whom all the members of His Body, the Church, are baptized.

This is what renders the GAFCON claim to represent 'true Christian orthodoxy' - thus sidelining other Anglicans or other Christians as 'un-orthodox' - so ridiculous. This may be one of the blind-spots, Peter, that you refer to in another post.