I jot down these few ideas in response to Ed Pacht who observed the remarks of Archbishop Haverland in regard to Archbishop Falk and the TAC, affirming that there is an ongoing debate. I can easily see that there are two sides to any difficulty, just as my father said to my sister and I when we had childhood disputes: Six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Since I joined the English Diocese of the ACC, I resolved to keep out of American Continuing Anglican politics and I believe I should continue to keep this resolution. At the same time, I am concerned that there should be peace and cooperation between the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions in America as in the other parts of the world. There have been meetings, notably at Brockton, considered as an important milestone in restoring peace and unity between jurisdictions that have until recently been in conflict. The ideas are out there, and the work is already begun.
All I can do here is offer a few reflections which may meet with “That is already on the agenda” or “That idea is totally inappropriate or impractical“. I am just taking pot shots in the spirit of positive “brain storming” for our own little blogosphere discussions.
It would strike me that many of the problems date from the 1980’s and 1990’s and concern many bishops who are now retired or deceased. Someone is going to have to write a good an unprejudiced history to improve on Douglas Bess and others who would trash the “Alphabet Soup” en bloc and encourage conversion to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Having myself lived though the Ordinariate events from the point of view of the TAC, I have seen how things can become so destructive, and so I resolved to do what I could to help and collaborate in the regrouping movement. Eventually, I found myself in a part of the world where the ACC was quite unharmed and the TAC may yet take many years to get anywhere beyond pious wishes (they are doing well in parts of the USA, but I’m not in the USA). I left the TAC with my prayers for their good, and sought to offer my priesthood to a Church with more youthful hope and life to do its work in my native land and this Continent of Europe.
There may be two possibilities: forget the conflicts of the past and wait for time itself to efface memories and bitterness, or engage dialogue to face causes and look for ways to remedy the difficulties. Since the 1990’s, I notice that in the ACC there is a much higher standard of theological education among the clergy, and this together with other factors has brought an atmosphere of seriousness and maturity that attracts trust and confidence. This spirit also seems to be getting into the other main American jurisdictions. In England, I find a different spirit from the parochialism and petty-mindedness of the 1990’s. The basis is there for something new and refreshing.
An obvious model for sorting out remaining problems would be the early ecumenical movement in Europe involving the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans and Anglicans. With roots in the end of the nineteenth century, it was largely a reaction to the suffering and hopelessness caused by two world wars and man’s need for hope. Christianity would be that much more credible if the separated Churches and denominations were seen to be uniting in accordance with the mandate of Christ – ut omnes unum sint – that they all might be one.
Ontologically, the Church is already one through belief in the Gospel and the Sacrament of Baptism. Unity is found in degrees between this base and the fulness of sacramental life and Catholic faith found in all the episcopal and patriarchal Churches. However, there is the human dimension of the Church which is broken through sin. The Church, visible through its sacramental signs and humanity, needs to be a bringer of hope and peace in a world torn by warfare, greed and oppression.
There are different approaches to unity, some of which can be counter-productive without a spirit of wholeness and generosity. The Continuing Anglican world has fewer theological differences to resolve than, for example, the Swiss reformed churches and Rome. All ecumenical dialogue involves avoiding “getting stuck” and being prepared to discuss everything. The Orthodox and Rome are much more reticent about intercommunion, whilst the Continuing Anglican Churches, including the ACC, are prepared to give Communion to Christians of other Churches if they are baptised and believe in the Eucharist in the Catholic way. We are thus looser on questions of intercommunion and degrees of unity.
Between the Catholic (not only Roman but also Old and English) and Orthodox Churches, there are two approaches – a dialogue of love and a dialogue of truth. In our Continuing Anglican Churches, this can take the form of forgiving and forgetting the sins of the past, bishops and archbishops meeting together and visiting each others’ churches and congregations. Between high-church and Catholic jurisdictions, there should be no problem about dogmatic agreement based on a common commitment to the Affirmation of Saint Louis. The problem is to what extent we can dialogue with low-church Anglicans whose theology is heavily influenced by Calvinism.
I have already touched upon the square pegs and round holes of comprehensiveness and its limits. This would have to be the subject of dialogue, and is way beyond my “pay grade”!
There are things that can be done. There has already been the meeting at Brockton, just as long as it is followed up and maintained. There can surely be a sharing of resources like seminary faculties, libraries, internet resources, churches and schools and humanitarian efforts. We all need to be motivated by the prayer of Christ more than our grievances and gripes. We could do well to take inspiration from the Vatican II decree on ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, and Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint. I won’t quote them here, but the ideas are plain enough and inspiring.
The prerequisite for any dialogue is a change of heart and a disposition to forgiving and seeking forgiveness, self-denial and humility, gentleness and generosity. The collective memory and consciousness of humanity are extremely powerful, and we “remember” events of long before we were born. This anamnesis can be for good or for evil.
We have to overcome prejudice and misunderstandings through ignorance, indifference and complacency. Divine grace obtained through prayer, asceticism and the Sacraments will help us purify the bad memories of the past. When we have order in our own houses, we can set about going the way of dialogue and reassuring the other of our own integrity and trustworthiness.
When discussing issues of theology, there is a certain “hierarchy of truths” – but within limits. Not everything is negotiable, but discussion will enable us to deepen our own perception of truth and revealed dogma. We are not to ask each other to compromise or be unfaithful to our own convictions, because revealed truth is objectively true. But, it is not for us mortals to possess the truth. We are all learning it and approaching the Mystery with fear and trepidation.
Perhaps the goal should be more that of a common celebration of the Eucharist rather than institutional problems of abolishing differences between presently separated Churches. There needs to be a living consciousness that the Catholic Church subsists in all episcopal communities where the Sacraments are true, the Faith is taught and believed, and the Eucharist is celebrated. Christ is mutually recognised in the Breaking of Bread.
Just one final note: I have avoided discussing the “liberal” churches that have adopted sceptical systems of thought in their theology, have modernised their liturgies and follow modern feminist and homosexual agenda trends. This article has been about unity within Continuing Anglicanism. Relations between Continuing Anglicanism and Rome and Orthodoxy would have to be the subject of another article, which I may never feel inclined to write.
Whatever the obstacles, we must persevere.