Saturday, 21 November 2009

Speech of Archbishop Williams in Rome

On Thursday 19th November the Archbishop of Canterbury gave an address in Rome, as the guest of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The address is part of a symposium being held at the Gregorian University, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Cardinal Willebrands, the first president of the Council.

The Archbishop’s address is divided into six parts. Dr Williams uses his depth of theological knowledge and tradition to build an argument that may contribute to further the ecumenical debate.

Dr Williams points out that from the ecumenical work of the last forty years or so the main achievements were in the field of ecclesiology. These ecumenical discussions converge on an understanding of the Church as a community of believers that through their divine filiation, resulting from God’s supreme action and the Incarnation, becomes a living communion with God and with each other. The community becomes communion through the celebration of the sacraments. This realisation stemming from the documents of Vatican II, according to Dr Williams, will enable us to define what is the difference between matters of first or second order that will identify the identity and mission of the Church.

Dr Williams sees a vital struggle for a genuine ecclesiology taking place after Vatican II. He quotes from Roberti & Palazzini to show that an understanding of the Church as a societas divina in a hierarchical structure may be imperfect. But the fact that an argument is imperfect it does not make it wrong. While Williams is trying to make us view a different structure of hierarchical order of the Church he is putting forward a hierarchy of theological ideas with first and second order issues.

Williams rightly points out that good ecclesiology results from a healthy reflection on the nature of God. I believe that we can have no ecclesiology without a good Christology, as the Church stems from the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. As Williams points out it is in the mystery of Christ that divine filiation can be understood and happen. This divine filiation creates the communion of the faithful with God and with each other. Williams celebrates the fact, quite rightly so, that there is convergence among the historic churches as regards the mystery of God, the incarnation of Christ, divine filiation, communion and how this is celebrated in the sacraments and other liturgical actions. Those are matters, according to Williams, of the first order. Williams then identifies three issues of the second order. These are authority, the office of the Pope and the admittance of women to Holy Orders.

William mentions Yves Congar OP earlier in his speech, it is surprising that he does not mention him when he separates hierarchy and Order from issues he calls of the first order. I am surprised as Congar does not admit of such innovative duality. In fact he says: “The same single Church is declared to be both visible and invisible, to be a hierarchically constituted society and a mystery of heavenly wonders how Protestant authors have been able to miss the evidence for so long...for the Holy Scriptures it (the Church) is the visible, organised body of Christians that is the Body of Christ. There is nothing in the texts to suggest a dissociation between a community of faithful that is a pure creation of the Spirit and the system, still rudimentary but very solid, of dogmas, sacraments, powers and ministries exercised under apostolical authority.” ( Y Congar, “Lay People in the Church, 1957, pgs., 32-3)

As Dr Williams says, ministry is not an end in itself. It is however, a vital means for the Church to achieve its end as described above. However Dr Williams gets it right when he says that the Church is called to obedience, that, I agree, is vital.

Now how the Apostles and the Fathers understood authority and ministry is different from the model offered by Williams as nowhere do they make a distinction between communion as first order doctrine and ministry as second. This seems to be an innovation to try to salvage what might be termed a wreck. My unease with the Archbishop’s speech comes especially in section 4 when sadly he uses the term: “Western Patriarchate” twice. What an unfortunate choice of words, or was that deliberate? Shortly after his election to the See of Peter, Benedict XVI abrogated one of the titles used for the Pope which called the successor of Peter as Patriarch of the West. Was Rowan Williams trying to make a point? It was always the understanding of the Church that the bishop of Rome is more than the Patriarch of the West.

It is also here that Williams suggests to the Latin Church the adoption of Anglican fudge by having one Church where some abide to the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him and others do whatever a show of hands decides. In this same section Dr Williams mentions the Apostolic Constituion as an imaginative pastoral response, which is what the Holy See claimed that it is was. The ecclesiology of the Latin Church is defined in Lumen Gentium, a document of Vatican II.

In my opinion, ill advised was the point in which Dr Williams decided to use the word chaplaincies to the Ordinariates as opposed to a church gathered around a bishop. In fact a closer reading of the Apostolic Constitution may reveal that there is a bishop, the bishop of Rome, for whom the ordinary stands.

In the penultimate section (5) the Archbishop discusses the admittance of women to Holy Orders in the Anglican Church. The use of words is interesting: “in what ways does the prohibition against ordaining women so ‘enhance the life of communion” Dr Williams asks. I think he answered himself when he spoke of obedience and of the Church as community coming together to discern the will of God. Why does Dr Williams contradict himself? Should the local Church work together with others on matters of second order such as hierarchy and petrine ministry but on its own on the matter of admitting women to priesthood and episcopate? And the fact that such churches acted unilaterally and against the continued advice of “sisters churches” why should the whole be asked to accept the part especially when, as Dr Williams says, the English provinces are still formally in a time of discernment and reception? The good news here is the trust of Dr Williams in supplementary Episcopal oversight. If he mentions this system in his speech in Rome to try to show how people of different theological beliefs can live together, why does he not speak formally and officially to the English Provinces and ensure a secure structure for those who hold different theological opinions from him? If Dr Williams recommends this model to sister churches surely it must be good to use in his own home.

And if the Church of Rome or of the East answer Dr William’s questions in section 6, and their answers are obvious and well stated elsewhere, will Dr Williams and other innovators ever listen?

The Church was instituted by Christ as a sacrament, ‘a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race’, (Lumen Gentium 1) which means that anything which causes division among the baptised (such as ordination of women) ‘openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalises the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature’. (Unitatis Redintegratio 1) From Incarnation we learn that the Church is both an invisible spiritual communion, and a hierarchically-organised visible communion, (Lumen Gentium 8) and full communion with the Catholic Church is manifested by those who baptised are the visible body of Christ, through the bonds of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance. Dr Williams and those of his school cannot and will not configure in their image and thought the Church (the bride) as established by Jesus Christ (the bridegroom). Rather than humbly admitting that we have made a mess out of Church polity we invite Rome to join us in the fun. Somehow I do not think so.

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