Monday, January 27, 2020

Anglican Communion: with See or Chair?

In the most recent and second update to the previous post, I linked to an interview with Archbishop Greg Venables, who is not at all as cheery about the recent Primates' Meeting as its communique is.

I note that in the course of the interview ++Greg says this:

"Regarding the way forward we considered, as we often do, the structures of the Communion and the Instruments of Communion and the difficulties encountered when differences arise. There was passing reference to the incongruity that the Archbishop of Canterbury is chosen by the English government and just presented to the Anglican Communion. Now some people are talking about a mechanism for the Primates to choose one of our number to be the Chair, but it would be a Chair that we pick. Archbishop Justin (Welby) even made reference to that when he first came into office, and his openness to it. We also talked about our identity as Anglicans."

The larger section here is "Anglican identity" and a number of other things are said which I am not attempting to discuss here.

I am simply intrigued with whether it makes any difference to the Anglican Communion if the Archbishop of Canterbury is no longer the Chair (of the Primates' Meeting ... of other Communion bodies such as the Lambeth Conference itself).

For the ABC to no longer be the "convening bishop" or the "primus inter pares", would that matter?

For instance, for some of us, including myself, a critical element of Anglican identity is that one (as individual, as an Anglican church) is in communion with the See of Canterbury and I see this as essential to membership of the Anglican Communion.

But would this be a somewhat moot point if, say, the ABC goes to various meetings simply as "one of the bishops"?

It need not, of course, because we could distinguish the historical importance of the See of Canterbury to all things Anglicans from the human body which inhabits the role of Chair of this or that meeting or conference.

Of course, it is something of an oddity that I and others argue that communion with the See of Canterbury is vital to Anglicanism while having no say in which inhabits the See - that being up to the British government, on advice from the Church of England, and only on that advice.

At least when the Pope is elected, Cardinals from all around the globe get to vote!


  1. Synodicalists are fidgety about any arrangement that they cannot believe is the same governing structure that they see in the civil governments of normally democratic nation-states. Is learning more than one way of ordering things too hard for them?

    When they fidget about the ABC, what is usually proposed is an arrangement where the glory stays in Canterbury, but the work goes to an archbishop elsewhere. One is still in communion with Canterbury, which is to say the Church of England, but the voice on the phone trying to resolve the latest crisis over fox-hunting may have an Egyptian or Indian or African accent. The arrangement would look precisely like this--

    --except that the Anglican Communion Office might decamp to a warmer climate, and its head would be elected rather than appointed. This means that a handful of ambitious bishops could dream of getting the almost-top job and everyone else would have something new to fight about. An added benefit, for those who like intrigue, is that Anglicans too could enjoy scenes like this affecting one from Avignon--

    Much as the otiose and confusing Anglican Consultative Council now does, the proposal looks like an impulse purchase, a solution in search of a problem, something you wanted for a hot minute but would now be relieved to donate to a rummage sale.

  2. So then why do the heathen rage? Why do the fidgets imagine yet another vain thing? Because slender as they may seem on occasion, an identity and tradition have crystalized around Canterbury that seems grander than the decennial consultations of bishops that were their matrix. We may not think of this as a problem, but in the beginning most did not expect this to happen, and those who did dreaded it.

    Charles Thomas Longey who convened the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 gave assurances all around that the meeting was merely consultative. The Pall Mall Gazette and Punch may have been the first of the many who have demanded less tentativeness and more decision. "If the seventy-five members of the Pan-Anglican Synod have not a single word to say of the great questions, theoretical or practical, which concern the very existence of the Church of England, their impotent caution and misplaced decency will do more to endanger it than any external attack with which it is at present threatened."

    In retrospect, what matters is that the intrinsic authority of even a consultation was plain enough to even the readers of Punch that the ABC's assurances were demanded in the first place.

    Randall Davidson, who convened two subsequent Lambeth Conferences himself later recalled that Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, then Dean of Westminster and the great liberal of his generation, objected to "the partial character of the assembly, uncertainty as to the effect of its measures, and the presence of prelates not belonging to our Church." Dean Stanley, believing that only a strictly English church could be progressive enough to save Christianity for the future, refused to invite the attending bishops to the Abbey for a final service.

    "Partial character"-- what? The dean was tactfully referring to the fact that only the Convocation of Canterbury, which had slept soundly ever since it endorsed the 39 Articles, supported the idea. Which is to say: the first Lambeth Conference was boycotted by the Archbishop of York and most of his province. The stratagem of trying to delegitimize the Conferences in advance by staying away from them has been making stubborn prelates look vain and stupid for more than a century. York has attended all the subsequent Conferences. In is in; out is merely out.

    Lambeth Conferences meet to discern, and their discernments have amassed a certain soft authority, just as their first opponents feared that they would. But the shadow of those early assurances to them hangs over every concrete exercise of that authority. This is the Anglican Communion's only problem.

    When ++ Justin says from time to time "I am not a pope," he is doubtless correct-- then why must it be said so often?-- but the series Lambeth Conferences demonstrates that he is at least as much a patriarch as say Antioch or Alexandria or Moscow or even Constantinople. The challenge of his see is that neither liberals nor evangelicals-- two tribes perennially suspicious of traditional authority-- have made sense of a role that is more than facilitative chairmanship of debates for old times' sake but less than defining dogma *ex cathedra* and deposing local bishops. Ultimately, these tribes are perplexed, not that he is English or unelected or far away, but simply that he is human.


  3. An Irenic Postscript for Anti-Antiquarians

    Like most Protestants with a high ecclesiology, I see increasing similarity between the present Anglican episcopate and the ancient Mediterranean one to which the Holy Spirit entrusted the creed and the canonical scriptures. One can take a high view of that recurrence or a low one, but the vista itself seems clear.

    In the aftermath of the three great schisms, or after the Mongolian invasions and the rise of Islam, or at the advent of modernity, or perhaps amid the transition from Empire to Commonwealth, the Holy Spirit might have imposed a radically new structure on the life of the Body. But we actually observe that (a) the organism endures on both sides of every schism, (b) features not originally a part of it tend to decadence and even tragedy, and (c) polities devised in conscious contrast with the historic episcopate tend to resemble it in practice over time.

    Because creeds, canon, and episcopate emerged simultaneously and braided together, one cannot reasonably assign them different origins. For example, it is self-contradictory to believe in a supernatural origin for the Bible but a different and natural origin for the creeds and episcopate, just as it is to revere a heaven-sent episcopate while treating the creeds and canon as mere artifacts of time. Choose the metaphysic your mind can work with, but in reality what one is they all must be.

    If you take a high view of any one of the three, then you may wish to tug your view of the other two up to that. Or vice versa.

    But if you take a so-called low view of them all, then their empirical perdurance through time is the great fact about them. And in the natural world there is no more compelling authority than what *mutantis mutandis* endures.


  4. Of course, Bowman, as you are well aware, it becomes more and more of a challenge to distinguish Protestantism with a high ecclesiology and a vouched for pneumatological origin for Scripture, creeds and episcopate from a Roman Catholicism the more one presses in the direction you travel!

  5. No, Peter, the distinction is easily-- and to my mind usefully-- drawn by asking whether the Holy Spirit's gifts are presumed to be given through power centres (Rome, institutional Protestants, Moscow), or whether they are equally or more likely to be received far from those centres and recognized by them only after they have been widely and organically approved (Constantinople etc and Mike Bird's *gospel people*). In practice, the former is reflexively totalitarian because it cannot see that an institutional initiative may not be a movement of the Holy Spirit, and the latter is rather folksy because it allows very little programmatic change at all but conserves a generous margin for improvisation and discernment. Personally, I, like Jenson, see God as present in the Body, but also like Jens, see heavy institutionalism as an unhelpful counterfeit of the true gift.

    Some year you will skip ADU to spend a week on the Holy Mountain. When you do, you too will be struck by what seems to many a Roman Catholic pilgrim like a hot mess-- for more than a millennium, all of these monasteries have followed a Spirit-given ordo that could give an Anglo-Catholic acrophobia, and yet they do not follow a standard published version of it because there is none, and from one chapel to the next in the same monastery they are strict or loose about different details of it. For centuries, some monasteries have peaceably followed spiritual disciplines that seem opposed to those that other monasteries have followed just as long. These monks could not possibly be more serious about what they do-- it's their lives-- but it does not occur to any of them that there should be a central authority sorting it all out so that everything is tidy, uniform, efficient, approved, etc. To the contrary, the council of each of these monasteries has the power to recognise a deceased brother as a saint on the calendar of the world's Orthodox churches. The highest ecclesiology, the most radical decentralization. A pleasant place to be an Anglican evangelical.



    In the C21, who is a Protestant?

    The term was first applied to several individuals whose names we know-- the princes who presented the Augsburg Confession to Charles V. But those doing social research have long used the term as a default category for non-Catholic Christians of Northern European ancestry. The theological usage can be broader than the former and narrower than the latter.

    At ADU, I have normally used *Protestant* to refer to present-day members of churches that were non-papal and state-sponsored before about 1560. From roughly that time forward, the division between the Lutherans and the Reformed is assumed to be irreversible, although even then the Church of England urged the Swiss Reformed to tone down anti-Lutheran passages of Heinrich Bullinger's Second Helvetic Confession.

    But + Peter's "challenge" at 8:47 "to distinguish Protestantism with a high ecclesiology and a vouched for pneumatological origin for Scripture, creeds and episcopate from Roman Catholicism" presses a weakness in that usage. What about the Anabaptists, who arguably had the densest non-papal ecclesiology in Northern Europe?

    Anglicans sometimes know them only as those mentioned in the 39A as requiring re-baptism and community of goods while forbidding the swearing of oaths. In America, we also know them as the suburban Mennonites who witness for anti-militarism and peace, and the rural Amish who wear plain handmade clothes, drive horse-drawn buggies down country lanes, and reject most modern technology, but somehow bake mouth-watering pies and make elegant furniture and houses of wood.

    But it is most accurate to think of them as Christians who were thinking through the ultimate implications for the Body of the fast-secularizing states that were a by-product of the Reformation. Today, we all live in the world that they were the first to viscerally experience. Those fascinated by the Benedict Option have only begun to catch up to them.

    With respect to + Peter's challenge, recent theologians influenced by the Anabaptists such as Amos Yong and Stanley Hauerwas have replied that a truly high ecclesiology results in an ethos grounded in the virtues of martyrs that is somewhat subversive of even an ideal society of virtuous citizens. Within, the true church practices the *agape* of Christ-like servanthood symbolically enacted in the *ordinance* of foot-washing. Without, the true church is a puzzle to the world, a loving community too eager for the aeon to come to chatter about current events. In short, in the Anabaptist view, a high ecclesiology entails much more than the sacramental realism and authoritative clergy that we might expect to find in Rome.


  7. Hi Bowman
    I don’t think we are much in disagreement!
    I suggest, however, that there is a tension between seeking the koinonia (common life together) of the Spirit with some degree of urgency (what should our common life look like, e.g. as we respond to coronavirus, or update the Lord’s Prayer from KJV language, or determine whether we do or do not ordain women) and seeing the koinonia of the Spirit emerge (so, e.g., the Charismatic Movement breaks out around the world, across denominations, more or less simultaneously).
    With respect to the former, we do look to a “something” to enable decision-making for the Body to occur (whether a Pope, a local/national/international synod, a national executive, or the presbytery of local elders) and cross-fingers etc that “our” decision-making process allows for the Spirit to be heard!

    On a slightly different note - but keeping the latter “emergence” in mind ... it is interesting to see where the Spirit’s work eccelsiologically has arrived at in our smaller towns, as passed through recently by me when on holiday ... effectively there are three churches visible in these towns: Protestant (Anglican or Presbyterian or “co-operating”; Catholic; independent Pentecostal.

  8. Peter, the distinction that you draw is sensible, but I do not see the tension between the two classes of cases that you do. Perhaps we see different cases in the two classes.

    #1. For uncertainties, especially personal ones, the Lord gave us the keys. A synod, bureau, or pope might possibly calm the hysterical by certifying that a matter truly is uncertain-- ie it cannot be reduced to the routine application of a received canon for a specified reason-- but then, if the matter actually is uncertain, what more can they do about it? In the end, the local bishop will make or oversee a provisional one-off decision under God, indefectible but not infallible, and every other opinion about a case is excrement. Later and in retrospect, the experience of the Body may permit a matter to be treated in a more routine way. Or not.

    Most cases arising from That Topic are in this class. We can explain why a few decisions once routine no longer are so, but we do not have new routines to replace the old ones because we do not know what they should be.

    #2. Emergent order from the Holy Spirit requires only recognition, reception, and gratitude, not official action. Again and hypothetically, it might be helpful for a synod, bureau, or pope to post a field report that the Body has been observed receiving a gift from the Holy Spirit, but in most of the examples that come to my mind nobody did anything like that. Rather-- with no prior authorisation or posterior approval from officeholders-- penitentials, lives of saints, liturgical ordos, collections of canons, systems of chant, iconographic programs, monastic rules, parish customaries, coronation rites, etc have either crystalized in the matrix of practice or else have been collected and organized by some energetic individual and put to work by others who needed them.

    The Book of Common Prayer belongs in this class, although it is a misleading example. Thomas Cranmer spent two decades on his ordo for the English, and in that time he was no different from any of the others, West and East, who have compiled and arranged artifacts of the Body's inner life in God into a usable form. But because he was also ABC when the Tudors were centralizing power and negotiating uniformity, we remember his work less as an adaptation of received tradition than as the promulgation of a reforming law.

    Is divine law discovered and observed as real or decided and imposed as will? Such daylight as there is between our points of view may arise from differing answers. Personally, I prefer the sane harmony of the scriptures with the former view, and so I am not at all bothered by the thought that there are inherent limitations in what synods, bureaus, and popes can do about many things. I understand that others, perhaps including yourself, live in a culture that imagines order and responds to anxiety differently.


  9. Hi Bowman
    I do understand that law follows practice (civil and canonical) or, if you like, great law is effectively a blessing of what has emerged and evolved in our life together, society and church. On same page as you re much of what you say above!

    Nevertheless (and I think I have had this discussion previously with you), there is a role for law (civil and canonical) to give a lead to our life together ... a classic example (so it seems to me) is the ordination of women. While the emergent, evolving situation may be a gradual increase in involvement of women in aspects of church life, there is a point where ordination (solemn and sacramental action that it is) either "emerges and evolves" because someone somewhere rebels against existing ordering of our life together, or the body, represented in synod/conference makes a determination that the time is ripe for the ordering to change and thus for (e.g.) the ordination of women to take place without rebellion.

    Of course the talk about such decision-making might be unfortunately grandiloquent, e.g. claiming that the Spirit's lead was exclusive to the synod/conference itself. Whereas the truer description, and in keeping with emergent, evolutionary developemt would be that the Spirit had been speaking, for a while now, and thank God the Synod realised it was thus and so!

  10. Dear Bishop Peter, your choice of +Greg Venables as commentator on the recent ACC Primates Meeting is a wee bit unfortunate. As one of the leading members of the GAFCON Conglommerate, Venables is hardly likely to post a favourable outcome. No doubt he will post a more optimistic view when he repots backfrom the next GAFCON Primates Meeting - of which he is an active member and which he believes holds the "Higher Moral Ground'.My question woukd be why did he attend the ACC Primates' Meeting if he really thought they were apostate?

    (Posted from the south Pacific Ocean)

  11. Dear Ron,
    I do not subscribe to a view of global Anglicanism which picks and chooses which views of Primates are acceptable for publication and which are not as wee seek to listen and discern what is going on when the same Primates turn up to meet together.
    To get a realistic sense of the “temperature” of the Communion we need to hear from all sides when all sides turn up to the same event.
    This is not the same as (say) listening to the views of those who do not turn up but make critical comments from the sidelines.
    Sure ++Venables has (in my experience) consistently commented negatively about many Communion developments over the years and a number of his comments in the published interview are, shall we say, predictable.
    But he did bother to turn up and he does shed light on some views, not only his own, in the Meeting, which may not be as well reflected in the Communique as would be desirable ...

  12. Hi Peter

    As usual, you frame the matter well. Two replies.

    (1) I return to it as often as I do because I am a Christian trying to see the Body of Christ in the ecclesiastical goings-on that we talk about at ADU. I can see the Body in the keys because (a) they are from the Lord, and (b) they are a mode of the presence of the Son. And I can see the Body in the reception of tradition because that is plainly the proper work of the Holy Spirit. The Body is visible in these goings-on because belief in the Trinity is all that we need to see it.

    But if the Body is visible at all in synods organized as parliaments, then it is shrouded in a thick fog. And that is unsurprising insofar as one cannot see how faith in the Three leads ineluctably to the procedural crank and gears that somehow turn out a holy sausage. One of my old teachers opined that the form of every valid Christian norm is-- "As I the Lord your God have done for you, now you too do X so that the nations might know that I am YHWH." Nearly everything else that churches do can be fitted into X, but this...

    Perhaps you do not feel this, but to me there is a strange noise interrupting the music, a 40,000 foot drop into Antarctic seawater, an advert just when the football was really good etc when the Body lurches from being a locus of discernment and tradition into being say, the General Convention following the procedures of the US House of Representatives. It looks like an earnest but confused mistake, much as the Holy Inquisition was an earnest but confused mistake. So of course I want to figure out what precise error has been made and how it can be corrected.

    (2) Here up yonder, the ordination of women came about my way in TEC and your way in the CoE. This makes for an interesting comparison.

    In retrospect, the retired bishops who ordained the Philadelphia 11 were *thinking with the Church* in what they did. In contrast, the General Convention was playing politics when it first forbade this, then denied the validity of the orders conferred, then begrudgingly acknowledged their validity, then authorised the ordination of women. The old bishops were doing what bishops do, and explained their action with theology approved at Lambeth Conferences and the General Convention itself. Meanwhile, the General Convention was acting like a parliament passing a tax law, and so nobody knows what it was thinking as it voted to zig, then to zag, then to zig and zag again. Now that Anglicans in America must put up with African bishops parachuting into cornfields in the heartland, it seems quaint to think of retired TEC bishops as rebels when they followed decades of Lambeth and TEC resolutions to finally do the deed that is completely canonical today.

    As you surely know, women seeking orders in the Church of England had a much, much harder time than their sisters here. I will not describe their several humiliations, but I will note that (a) the General Synod also voted without explaining what its votes mean as a matter of faith, (b) the GS also voted for outcomes that did not *prima facie* make coherent theological sense, and (c) happy warriors exploited the parliamentary silence and incoherence to put hurtful partisan spins on what was being decided.

    Do we learn from this comparison that synods are wicked or stupid? Not at all-- Lambeth Conference resolutions and General Convention reports were indispensible to the better result. But the idea that any synod can hold a sacrament hostage until the right deals have been struck to endorse it is a screeching noise, a chilly ocean, an annoying advert where we expect the music, the soaring, the play of living faith.

    Perhaps the error is this: any body in the Body is a fuzzy set, but parliament-like synods represent churches as crisp sets.