Where have I been, where am I going, and where am I now?

(The following piece was originally posted May 15, then destroyed by a hacker. I am grateful for the assiduous Karen B. for recovering the text for me. I am posting it again from an internet center near the main train station in Rome. When I have a chance, I will restore all the links and comments.)

Where have I been?

The last few days have been extremely hectic as I have prepared to leave the country for eight weeks until July. However, as part of some last minute blog surfing, I came across two pieces from the Anglican Communion Insitute, by Drs. Radner and Seitz respectively, each arguing for particular vision of the future of the Anglican Communion.

You can read Dr. Radner’s piece here. It has sparked comment from Fr. WB at Whitehall, Andy at AllTooCommon, and on Titusonenine. You can read Christopher Seitz’ piece here. It too has been linked to Titusonenine, and probably elsewhere as well.

Both articles were also linked to the StandFirm website, with discussion of Radner here and Seitz here. It was in this venue that I made a few comments on each of these respective articles.

Much to my (pleasant) surprise, Fr. Al Kimel thought sufficiently highly of my comments to quote from them on Pontifications. It is a strange feeling to wake up and discover that a comment on an article has itself become (unbeknownst to its author) a post in its own right on someone else’s blog! You can find that post (and the discussion it has generated) here.

I will confess that I have not fully digested all that Drs. Radner and Seitz have to say, and may return to discuss their implications at a later date. However, I thought I would post the principle (though not the only) comments I made concerning their work here, while taking the opportunity to clear up a few typos or other malapropisms.

First, in reponse to Dr. Radner’s piece (or, more properly, the discussion of it):

1 – One of the reasons that I said the William Tighe and I actually agree more than disagree about the Articles is the question “original intent,” if by that is meant an effort to recover, attribute, and enforce some meaning to the Articles extraneous to their “literal and grammatical sense” based on a supposed reading of the mind of their authors. Such an “original intent” hermeneutic is impossible for all sorts of reasons, and anyway it will quickly devolve into an argument over specifics of theology, perhaps disguised as as argument over the “true meaning” or “original intent” of the Articles, but in fact carried out in at least a spirit contrary to the Articles themselves.

2 – The contrast between “confessional” and “conciliar” models takes us right back to the original horns of the Anglican dilemma: in what sense is the Anglican Communion “protestant” and in what sense “catholic”? The more “confessional” we are—i.e., a church apart from others with documents written in stone, the betrayal of which means a sacrifice of identity (as with Lutherans and the Lutheran confessions) or with unique institutions and doctrines unknown to the catholic consensus (as with WO)—the more sectarian we are. The more “catholic” we are—i.e., a church which bases its authority to decide doctrine on claims to be part of a wider, visible catholic church in continuity with the church of the apostles (see Articles XIX and XX)—the less it is up to the Anglican Communion to determine anything doctrinal except on a provisional basis, and the more we must defer to the common consent of antiquity and the wider catholic community (i.e., Rome and Orthodoxy).

You cannot claim to be only a part and yet act as if you represent the whole. This keeps coming up again and again and again, and people keep avoiding it again and again and again, from the Thirty-Nine Articles to the Windsor Report, both products of committees that dance around this problem without ever settling it, that use the word “Church” ambiguously (local? provincial? universal?), according to whichever outcome they desire in advance.

WO is only one feature of this problem. I do not intend to send this thread off in the direction of discussing this specific topic, but it does serve to illustrate the problem. People such as Radner continue to evoke a conciliar model, but refuse to accept the implications of that model, i.e., that we (Anglicans) can have all the Communion-wide councils we want, and that may be better than having everything doctrinal decided at a provincial level, but such councils do not amount to a hill of beans unless we recognize that either they are local councils that must be submitted to the wisdom of antiquity and the wider church (bye bye WO), or we don’t give a fig for antiquity and the wider church (hello sectarianism).

Which is it?

Second, in reponse to the discussion of Dr. Seitz’ piece:

Much of this discussion misses the point, a point which I made obliquely in another thread.

The question is not, what are our articles of faith? Rather, they are “by what authority do we require submission to any article of faith at all?”

The problem of Anglicanism is the problem of TEC writ large: a claim to be autonomous from the larger church while yet claiming to belong to that larger church. All talk of “conciliar” vs. “confessional” models misses this essential point—if we are going to ask that TEC (and by implication other provinces in the future) submit itself to something bigger than itself as a condition for membership in the Anglican Communion, to what does the Anglican Communion submit itself as a condition for membership in the church catholic?

If the answer is some text in and of itself, seen as final, whether it be the Articles, or some proposed covenant, or whatever, then this is indeed a recipe for sectarianism, as Messrs. Radner, Seitz, and others have pointed out.

If the answer is “Scripture,” you will have the same problem, with all of the baggage that sola scriptura carries and something itself unAnglican.

If the answer is “the consensus of catholic, patristic antiquity, in consultation with the wider church catholic” (note, e.g., how many of the objections to VGR invoke our ecumenical partners), then it isn’t only TEC that must radically reconsider its nature and direction, but the Anglican Communion itself.

We can have all the councils we want, and it won’t matter if their authority only begins and ends entirely within the Anglican Communion. That is still a recipe for sectarianism. You will still have splits, alphabet soups, etc. Only by explicitly committing itself to something larger than itself; only by expressing a willingness to forgo some of its own desires for how to formulate doctrine, ministry, etc. (and many of you will realize where I’m going here) will the Anglican Communion as such survive and prosper . . .

(here I quote myself from the previous comment)

In other words, in order for there to be an Anglican Communion that means anything, the Anglican Communion must commit itself to something larger than the Anglican Communion, or else the Anglican Communion is just TEC writ large, led to some new innovation whenever “the Spirit is doing a new thing.” Anyone who thinks that the Anglican Communion would somehow be immune from this, just because the debates would be playing out on a bigger stage, is hopelessly naive.

This is, in fact, precisely what we said of the Church of Rome in the 16th century; the problem was, we were never very specific as to what we thought Rome, as well as ourselves, should submit to. At times the answer was “Scripture,” at other times the patristic consensus, and at other times the wider church (East as well as West). Well, it is time to get specific, and to ask of ourselves what we asked of Rome. Otherwise, debates over models are just a waste of time.

Of course, to fully understand what I have written, you need to read the original articles by Radner and Seitz and the comments on them that have been posted in various locations, especially StandFirm. However, I will add one more comment.

In the preamble to the Constitution of TEC, it is stated that the Episcopal Church is a “constituent member” of the Anglian Communion. Much of the debate over Gene Robinson and all of the issues that his election and consecration have brought to the fore have centered on just what that means, or should mean. (It is hardly surprising that, in the statement issued from the HoB of TEC meeting in Camp Allen a few weeks ago, the HoB asserted that the meaning of this clause could be determined solely by . . . you guessed it: themselves!) Opponents of the current direction of TEC have pointed out that, if you claim to be a member of something, then you are only a part of that something, and it cannot be up to you and you alone to determine the conditions of that membership. “Constitutent” does not mean “whole” and certainly cannot mean “sovereign in all matters” unless we are in Looking Glass land.

It seems to me that what those such as Radner, Seitz, the authors of the Windsor Report, and others have failed to consider adequately is, to what does the Anglican Communion belong? If we say “the Catholic Church,” then what does that mean? If we are going to criticize TEC for trying to set all on its own the terms of its own membership in the Anglican Communion, then how are we to set the terms for the Anglican Communion’s membership in the Church Catholic?

For both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, this is no problem. Each of them believes they are the Catholic Church. They are the whole, and therefore they can rightly (in their own eyes) define what that means. For Roman Catholicism, this wholeness, this universality, this catholicity, is active, alive, and summed up in communion with the apostolic see of Rome. For Orthodoxy, it is also alive, but latent, there to be drawn on if need be (in theory there could be an eighth ecumenical council next week, an idea floated from time to time but never greeted with much enthusiasm).

It is (or has been) the implicit claim of Anglicanism that this is not so, that, in the current divided state of catholic Christendom, the Roman Church, for example, cannot act as if it were the whole church, with various other “churches” treated as either (politely) “separated brethren” or (more bluntly) sects of varying approximations to the truth. Instead, we have pointed, most times implicitly, occasionally explicitly, to a model of catholicity based on patristic consensus requiring a fidelity to the early centuries of the church (a fidelity we claimed Rome lacked).

Moreover, this fidelity to catholic consensus also required keeping an eye on the wider Catholic community of today, in order to criticize other communions both faithfully and constructively, to maintain the hope of eventual, visible reunion, and to ensure that we ourselves did not stray too far from the moorings of the universal faith of the wider catholic community. As such, Anglicanism’s vocation was to witness both to the ancient patristic faith (though in a more-or-less western mode, a sort of Western Orthodoxy if you will) and to the apparent brokenness of fully Catholic Christendom. Such a brokenness has been summed up beautifully by Pope John Paul II (though from an admittedly different perspective) when he referred to the eastern and western traditions of catholic Christianity as the “two lungs” of the Catholic church.

In the words of the Windsor Report (emphases mine),

When “the Anglican Communion” describes itself as such, it is self-consciously describing that part of the Body of Christ which shares an inheritance through the Anglican tradition, that is, from the Church of England, whose history encompasses the ancient Celtic and Saxon churches of the British Isles, and which was given fresh theological expression during the period of the Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Reformers of that time looked back explicitly to the Bible and the early Fathers, and had every intention that their theology would be ‘catholic’ in the sense of sharing the faith of the universal Church. The very fact that the family of churches which traces its roots back to the ancient churches of the British Isles should call itself an Anglican Communion is itself indicative of the twin fundamental concepts on which the community is built: our shared inheritance (’Anglican’) and our worldwide fellowship as God’s children (’communion’). That shared inheritance has itself included a developing understanding of communion, which has been expressed, for instance, in some of our ecumenical dialogues. It also makes us aware of a responsibility, not only to our contemporaries within the Communion, but to those with whom we share in the Communion of Saints.

In the words of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher,

The Anglican Communion has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ’s Church from the beginning.

Or Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey,

For while the Anglican church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to the Gospel and Church and sound learning, its greater vindication lies in its pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and the travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as ‘the best type of Christianity’, but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church. (The Gospel and the Catholic Church)

Being thus only a part, but a part that exists to call the wider whole ad fontes, the Anglican Communion has no more authority to alter basic patterns of catholic faith and practice than does the Episcopal Church. To do so is to act as if it were we, and not the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, that summed up in ourselves the fullness of the catholic church. It is to claim that we posses the authority of the whole, even as we claim to be only a part, which simply makes no sense.

Thus any Anglican Covenant must deal with this dilemma. Beyond determining the terms of membership in the Anglican Communion, we must determine the terms of our membership in the Catholic Church—and just as any claim to membership for a church in the Anglican Communion is meaningless without some form of mutual submission, so any claim to membership in the Catholic Church is similarly meaningless without some acknowledgement that we (the Anglican Communion) are not free to meddle with catholic faith and practice, that we are in some measure accountable to something wider than simply the Anglican Communion, and therefore that controverted questions of faith can only be answered within the Anglican Communion on a provisional basis.

Where am I going?

I have written three installments in a series “Anglican Formularies and Anglican Authority.” It is my hope to write two more installments under the heading of “prolegomena” before turning to the actual texts of our formularies (the Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal, particularly their Latin text) and considering such issues as the authority of Scripture, of the Church, of ecumenical councils, and other matters. However, this may have to wait a few more weeks. Why? Because . . .

Where am I now?

Italy. That’s right, I have returned to bell’Italia for another five weeks of teaching and three of research (I have to give a paper later this summer). So I hope to post something from time to time as I did on my last trip; but when you are conducting a study abroad class, such opportunities are very limited. So pray that I can do my job and, as God wills, post something to keep us all thinking, or amused, or both.

Ciao!

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One Response to “Where have I been, where am I going, and where am I now?”

  1. Conciliar Anglicanism? « Rather Not Blog Says:

    […] I have addressed this issue previously. Here I will both summarize and further elaborate: […]

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