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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: The London Times on Church of England Reunification w/ Roman Catholic Church 
20th-Feb-2007 01:35 am
Vatican/St. Peter's
Holy Freaking Moses! Barnes just forwarded to me the link to this article from The Times of London about about a proposal to explore reunification issues with the Roman Catholic Church in the most explicit way I've seen any Protestant or separated church do so since before the death of Martin Luther. This is particularly interesting as the Anglican communion struggles with its interior unity to the point of schism.

From The Times
February 19, 2007
Churches back plan to unite under Pope
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response.

It comes as the archbishops who lead the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in an attempt to avoid schism over gay ordination and other liberal doctrines that have taken hold in parts of the Western Church.

The 36 primates at the gathering will be aware that the Pope, while still a cardinal, sent a message of support to the orthodox wing of the Episcopal Church of the US as it struggled to cope with the fallout after the ordination of the gay bishop Gene Robinson.

Were this week’s discussions to lead to a split between liberals and conservatives, many of the former objections in Rome to a reunion with Anglican conservatives would disappear. Many of those Anglicans who object most strongly to gay ordination also oppose the ordination of women priests.

Rome has already shown itself willing to be flexible on the subject of celibacywhen it received dozens of married priests from the Church of England into the Catholic priesthood after they left over the issue of women’s ordination.

There are about 78 million Anglicans, compared with a billion Roman Catholics, worldwide. In England and Wales, the Catholic Church is set to overtake Anglicanism as the predominant Christian denomination for the first time since the Reformation, thanks to immigration from Catholic countries.

As the Anglicans’ squabbles over the fundamentals of Christian doctrine continue — with seven of the conservative primates twice refusing to share Communion with the other Anglican leaders at their meeting in Tanzania — the Church’s credibility is being increasingly undermined in a world that is looking for strong witness from its international religious leaders.

The Anglicans will attempt to resolve their differences today by publishing a new Anglican Covenant, an attempt to provide a doctrinal statement under which they can unite.

But many fear that the divisions have gone too far to be bridged and that, if they cannot even share Communion with each other, there is little hope that they will agree on a statement of common doctrine.

The latest Anglican-Catholic report could hardly come at a more sensitive time. It has been drawn up by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which is chaired by the Right Rev David Beetge, an Anglican bishop from South Africa, and the Most Rev John Bathersby, the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia.

The commission was set up in 2000 by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity. Its aim was to find a way of moving towards unity through “common life and mission”.

The document leaked to The Times is the commission’s first statement, Growing Together in Unity and Mission. The report acknowledges the “imperfect communion” between the two churches but says that there is enough common ground to make its “call for action” about the Pope and other issues.

In one significant passage the report notes: “The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” Anglicans rejected the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the 16th century. Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a reunited Church.

In another paragraph the report goes even further: “We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

Other recommendations include inviting lay and ordained members of both denominations to attend each other’s synodical and collegial gatherings and conferences. Anglican bishops could be invited to accompany Catholic ones on visits to Rome.

The report adds that special “protocols” should also be drawn up to handle the movement of clergy from one Church to the other. Other proposals include common teaching resources for children in Sunday schools and attendance at each other’s services, pilgrimages and processions.

Anglicans are also urged to begin praying for the Pope during the intercessionary prayers in church services, and Catholics are asked also to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In today’s Anglican Church, it is unlikely that a majority of parishioners would wish to heal the centuries-old rift and return to Rome.

However, the stance of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the present dispute dividing his Church gives an indication of how priorities could be changing in light of the gospel imperative towards church unity.

Dr Rowan Williams, who as Primate of the Church of England is its “focus for unity”, has in the past supported a liberal interpretation of Scripture on the gay issue. But he has made it clear that church unity must come before provincial autonomy. A logical extension of that, once this crisis is overcome either by agreement or schism, would be to seek reunion with the Church of England's own mother Church.
20th-Feb-2007 07:53 am (UTC)
Part of me wishes to forward this gleefully to my advisor.

Of course, the other part knows that reunification would just mean he'd stay with whatever remnant of the Episcopal Church was left after that schism, and the terms of his never-ending attempt to see me convert would just have a change of vocabulary.
20th-Feb-2007 07:58 am (UTC)
I think I'm more in the gleefully wicked camp on this one. Take time to word it just so...!

23rd-Feb-2007 05:52 am (UTC)
Well, unfortunately we can't have a proper conversation on the matter, and sniping is counter-productive and alienating.
20th-Feb-2007 10:30 am (UTC)
I was listening to this on the news yesterday and wondering if you would pick up on it..
20th-Feb-2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
:-) Probably inevitable, unless I had my head in the clouds!
20th-Feb-2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
Sorry to be a skeptic, but, I doubt there will be much of a reunion among Anglicans and Roman Catholics. In my opinion, too much history to the contrary, too many differences theologically, not to mention differences in polity and governance with the latter being the real issue. Too much "give" and not much "take" on the part of Anglicans as compared to what Roman Catholics would give. And, personally, I hope the gay issue with which the Anglicans are honestly struggling would not bring a false unity with Roman Catholics, where, in my opinion,
there is a degree of hypocrisy and unwillingness to grapple with scripture, tradition, reason and experience in an effort to seek the Mind of Christ who is the Head of the Church universal.
20th-Feb-2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm certainly skeptical enough, too: nothing to be sorry about, there. Obviously there are all sorts of problems. I'd much more likely imagine a schism with those Anglican churches that have been leaning that way, anyway, over the ethical issues, and those who still adhere to classical Christian ethics seeking unity with Rome.

On the question of "hypocrisy and unwillingness to grapple with scripture, tradition, reason and experience in an effort to seek the Mind of Christ who is the Head of the Church universal", while I'll never disagree that hypocrisy and footdragging are always part of a church made of sinful humanity, I can't think of any church that so explicitly defends and is doctrinally constituted by a unity of engagement with Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. Vatican II's Dei Verbum and John Paul II's Fides et Ratio seem the definitive words on those lines....
20th-Feb-2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
I think the Anglican Church is trying to use these four sources of authority to find a way into the future.
20th-Feb-2007 03:33 pm (UTC)
Well, I had a big long comment typed up and then Livejournal ate it. Basically it came down to:

1. No one has ever been able to explain to me why "the gay issue" (as the Times calls it) is such a big deal in the Anglican Church. Why this ONE particular issue, after all this time? I don't get it, pardon my ignorance, but I'd love for someone who knows more about it to explain it to me.

2. In today’s Anglican Church, it is unlikely that a majority of parishioners would wish to heal the centuries-old rift and return to Rome. --Isn't this what it really comes down to? If the people in the pews don't favor it, how can anyone really proceed from here?
20th-Feb-2007 03:35 pm (UTC)
oh, also - related to point #1 - it just seems rather strange and counterintuitive to be discussing reunion with a weakened, fractured church that has its own communion problems. I know, the discussions are mutually sought, but it almost seems like taking advantage...know what I mean? And what kind of unity could really be achieved, when the Anglican communion itself is so beset with problems? Shouldn't we be sincerely encouraging them to look to their own house first?
20th-Feb-2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
I suspect that this union-talking might be with the wing that would be looking to break union with the wing of the Anglican Communion that so often seems to mistake the zeitgeist for God: if they're a majority now over the Secularists-in-cassocks, the very fractionalism of Anglicans might be what provides the push for thinkers in their direction. I don't think you're going to get a "healed house" in the Anglican church with how much of it has been diluted over time and has formed a "tradition" of dilution. I've never seen one church community that has held together with such a wide range of belief, stretching from classic creedal Christianity to the seeming faith in whatever the editorial page of The New York Times proclaims.
20th-Feb-2007 07:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, the Big Tent. In a way, I've always believed that God himself is something of a "big tent" - he takes everyone, no matter where they're at. But it seems that a religious denomination has to be something in particular; as a human institution, a human vehicle to God, it has to have its own identity, or how does it justify its existence at all? My boss left the ECUSA because he said "it doesn't believe in anything - and I do." Of course, he's now an Anglican, pending what the Anglican church does in the future...
20th-Feb-2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
1. Why this one particular issue, after all this time? Because it's the trendy issue today. Anglicanism is nothing if not a fine indicator of current intellectual fashion. And that's me simply trying to be accurate about the last century and to not be insulting. Hell, you see C. S. Lewis complaining about this all the time 50, 60 years ago, and can see exactly the hip, trendy, anti-"traditional" but publically deemed-to-be-enlightened positions of that day.

2. The Anglican Church wouldn't be in half the idiotic messes it is if it paid the slightest attention to the "man in the pew." Perhaps that principle can work the other way, too. And, to be sure, The Times might be speaking here either of just the church in England, or in a wishful-thinking, anti-Roman way. The case might be much different among the majority Africans, for example, for whom traditional (and potent!) English anti-Catholicism doesn't hold so strongly.
20th-Feb-2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
With all kindness and gentleness and respect, I say, I hope you are aware of the ways the Roman Church pays the slightest attention to the "man in the pew."
20th-Feb-2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
On a juridical level, obviously it seems negligable. If not non-existent! When you're in the middle of the process, it's equally obviouse that the situation is much more complex. I'm a layman and not a cleric, entirely "governed by the whim" of the bishops, one might say, but I've also been sought out by bishops and priests for years to explain some point of Christianity to them. I teach, as well as am taught by, the official teachers of the church.

That's part of the strange and unusual state of being a theologian and a teacher, though, and much more obvious than other types of interactions. Lay contacts with bishops or clerics in the right positions, etc., are very potent on occasion, as has been more publically clear in cases like that of Opus Dei. Historically, one can also point to the defense of Nicean Christianity as led by lay people in the fourth century, and from experiences like that, the Magisterium's teaching that no teaching of theirs is authoritative if rejected by the Faithful with their own sense of the faith. That's not a terribly juridical form of engagement, by any means, and usually takes some centuries to sort out, but things like the birth control teaching of 1968, for example, are exactly the kind of thing that could come out in the future as seen as an overruling of what was a papal position, although at this point in history – in the middle of the debate – both sides will be utterly human and political in their insistence that their take on the debate is inarguably correct. Such, of course, is the nature of people in debate....
20th-Feb-2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
thanks for sharing your insight and understanding.
20th-Feb-2007 07:05 pm (UTC)
I found the "one-sided conversation" with the officials of the Church to be extremely aggravating in all the ways that people do, until I started really thinking about all the non-juridical or unofficial forms of interaction. It's a lot harder to quantify, of course, or often even to notice, but I do think that the situation is a lot more complex than we tend to see, particularly with our tendency to politically polarize everything.
20th-Feb-2007 07:13 pm (UTC)
Interesting point #1. I just wondered why, given the history of the Church of England, this one bizarre issue is the one causing the rift. Why not something long before now, if the communion is so unstable? Personally, I'd have been freaked out around the time Henry the freaking Eighth declared himself head of the church. I mean, you think the church needs reform, you want a new church with a new leader, fine, but...Henry VIII? Seriously? I'm only half-kidding here.
21st-Feb-2007 01:54 am (UTC)
This made me laugh and I think you really have hit the nail on the head on both counts.

Too many Anglicans I know take their moral cues from the world around them and try to make the Bible conform to the current world view, instead of making their personal world view conform to the Bible regardless of the world around them. (That criticism could really be leveled against most denominations.) One of the weird differences between us and other denominations, at least in our diocese, is that its the clergy that are shocking the laity with their rejection of scripture and not vice versa. I ran one Lenten study once and we got along fine discussing Biblical passages on certain topics for a few weeks. Then our minister came. He answered almost every question with an answer implying that the Bible was confusing or not to be taken literally or not to be taken seriously. After that night, I had people ask me if I could subtly suggest to him that he not return the next week.

If we actually took democratic votes in the Anglican church (one member - one vote) instead of having synod delegates and so many lay votes to so many clergy votes, we would have resolved the so-called gay-issue years ago, at least in our diocese.
21st-Feb-2007 01:40 am (UTC)
Facinating. I wish I had been able to read this before I went to a pancake supper with my Small Group. The liberal guy in our group was arguing about Paul's passages on slavery showing that the Bible advocated slavery, thus supposedly proving his point that the Bible advocates lots of wrong things - like homosexuality being a sin. I didn't know where to begin with that arguement, so I just changed the subject. :)

It would have been nice to have mentioned this report - that would have shut him up.
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