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Christian unity?

“Those that say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it.” Chinese Proverb

I have not been to the monastery of Bose, but, reading about it, I can see some similarities with the ecumenical monastery of Taizé (I have had a fascination with Taizé since my teenage years, have been privileged to spend time there, and continue to be affected by its vision). Maybe someone who has been to Bose, or who knows more about it, might like to say more about it in the comments.

Recently Bose hosted the start of the third Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) meeting. Please correct me, but I think that ARCIC 1 & 2 have had no formal reception from either partner?

Visualise denominational “boundaries” as vertical lines – I would like to suggest that unity and disunity is often more at right angles, the horizontal bands of contemplative, justice-focused, liturgical, charismatic, evangelical, etc. These horizontal bands cross denominations and also bleed into each other. Denominational divisions meant something in the modern world, but far less so in our post-modern reality, where people are far less ready to accept something on an “authority’s say so”, and pick and choose their perspective from the spiritual deli. Plot the increase of cross-denominational marriages…

In the Southern Hemisphere this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the Northern Hemisphere it is not. The leaders of ecumenical discussions between denominations cannot even agree on a united period to pray for Christian unity!

ARCIC members participated in the Sunday Eucharist with the sisters and brothers of the Monastery of Bose… The Co-Chairs, Archbishop Bernard Longley (Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham) and Archbishop David Moxon (Anglican Primate of Aotearoa, New Zealand, Polynesia) reflected on the readings… Archbishop Longley presided at the Eucharist in Italian, and at the conclusion Archbishop Moxon sang a blessing in Maori.”

But as Peter Carrell highlights, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t even recognise the Anglican Church in Aoteaora, New Zealand and Polynesia as a church. For Roman Catholicism David Moxon is validly baptised, but deluded to think he is ordained – he is a lay person singing a blessing.

ARCIC 3 may intend to use the language of “Communion” but one partner, Roman Catholicism, is an international church in which diocesan bishops are effectively assistants appointed by the world bishop, the pope, who can, for example, fire Australian bishop William Morris for even bringing up the idea of ordaining women or recognising Anglican orders. The other partner, Anglicanism, has for decades not recognised its own orders across its “Communion”.

My own hope lies not in the impotent debates between the vertical lines, but in the nourishment received in the horizontal bands, in the increasing openness between the bands, in the learning from each other. My hope is in the theology of John Zizioulas, Dennis Doyle, de Lubac, and others who draw on the earliest insights that see the fullness of the church present in the local church (Communion Ecclesiology underpinned by Eucharistic Ecclesiology), including in a monastic community; that sees the catholic (universal) church not as the international body, but as modelled in a hologram, where the image is fully there however small you cut it; where Peter is the leader of the church in the sense that every bishop is the successor of Peter…

The young people that frequent Bose, Taizé, and elsewhere break the paradigm that ARCIC et al still work from. Those that say Christian unity can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it.

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23 Responses to Christian unity?

  1. Hi Bosco,
    I like your post but in a friendly spirit I want to raise the question whether it is idealistic in its conception of the fullness of the church being found in the local church. Ditto that every bishop is a successor of Peter. There are local churches that are deficient in practice and theology; there are bishops whose real beliefs and actions fall short of (say) the Peter of 1 Peter’s teaching.

    Thankfully there are many wonderful local churches and many wonderful Petrine bishops. But can the local church be left to its own devices? Shouldn’t bishops be accountable to other bishops? If we answer respectively ‘no’ and ‘yes’ then we are up for some kind of institutional church and some kind of consideration of whether Anglican, Baptist, Roman etc model is most faithful to Christ’s own ministry, best practice etc.

    Into that consideration I welcome the voices of the theologians you cite and the energies of ecumenical pioneers found at Taize. A new emergent church for the 21st century could arise if we do not block it!

    • I think you are pointing towards some important issues, Peter, but one, I posit, that is not solved by moving from a Communion Ecclesiology to a single-international-body Ecclesiology. A few minutes reading the history of the Bishop-of-Rome-is-the-sole-successor-of-Peter approach will lead to the same criticism of beliefs and actions falling short. Until the Parousia we live with the imperfection of the means.

  2. On the matter, for instance, of ‘Inter-Communion’; many people will have observed how Bro. Roger, the former Prior of Taize, was given the elements of the Eucharist at the Funeral of Pope John Paul in St.Peter’s Square – this was when Prior Roger was a Lutheran Pastor. One might think of this as ‘Eucharistic Hospitality’ and therefore a ‘one-off’, but I think it shows that Rome may bend the Rules as and when it pleases the Pope – which still gives him the Primacy! I, when I am in Rome and in St.Peter’s at the Mass will just informally take part in the reception of the Eucharist. No-one knows except me and God, and I think God would approve. I wouldn’t pass Jesus by!

    When I was an Anglican Franciscan Brother in Brisbane we visited the local R.C. Friary, but were never invited to partake of the Eucharist. However, when I was invited to be present at a Jubilee Celebration Mass for a Sacred Heart Sister in Auckland, the Sisters (whom I knew personally) sat me at the front and insisted that I communicate from the hand of their Bishop. He knew who I was and didn’t bat an eyelid (I don’t know whether he crossed the fingers of the other hand, though).

    Perceptions of, and yearning for, corporate union with both Catholics and Orthodox may be a logistical unreality in this world. But I’m sure God has us all in one or other of those ‘many mansions’ that Jesus spoke of. I really do think that the Church is where we worship at the Eucharist, live and move and have our being.

    • Thanks, Fr Ron. Your points illustrate well the unity I describe in the horizontal bands that cross denominational vertical lines. I know what happens at Taize. I would be interested to know what happens at Bose. And what happened at that ACIC eucharist described at Bose.

  3. Re the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Actually, they determined that the Almighty would be overwhelmed by the entire globe praying at once. So it needed to be split into two periods.

  4. The question then, Bosco, is which is the least imperfect model, and naturally you and I subscribe to the Anglican way as that ‘best of the bunch’ model.

    The next question then (I suggest) is what is the best way to be Anglican: e.g. Communion with Covenant; Communion without Covenant; a looser arrangement between Anglican churches in which no particular pretense at being a Communion is made, etc.

    • I am not sure that the models can be so easily ranked on a one-dimensional line, Peter, and a least imperfect one chosen. Each model appears to come with certain strengths and different weaknesses. The Eastern Orthodox and the Old Catholics have much to teach us about Communion – I would be interested if either of those have a “Covenant”. I am not aware of a Communion that works with (is enhanced by) a “Covenant” so any attempt to introduce a “Covenant” into Anglicanism may be a novel venture manifesting new weaknesses. It also, of course, depends on the particular “Covenant”. You are right; Anglicanism has been an impaired Communion since the ordination of women. It is interesting how little that is reflected on.

  5. Peter, for many of us you would be hard pressed to prove to us that Peter who was given the Keys to the Kingdom, is anyone called Peter and associated with 1 Peter.

    It is too bad that you are not more inclined to be Roman Catholic, because you seem to want us to be the RC church without the parts which you do not like. And there are folks like me who are fighting with all with which we are worth to see that we do not become that. You desperately want a future were somehow we are together because folks like me have abandoned our beliefs and I see that as never being possible or happening.

  6. You raise some important points here, but I see an unnecessary dichotomy at play: doesn’t the Church (interpret this word as broadly as your conscience demands) consist of both the international body AND the local community? What would catholicity mean, what extent of unity could there be, were this not the case?

    And if the Church is a big tent, as a few wise people I know have described it, then surely it has as much room for, say, a Ratzinger (who is not quite so easily stereotyped as some might think) as a de Lubac or Zizioulas. The temptation to draw ecclesiological boundary lines cutting out the people one disagrees with is equally enticing, and thus equally dangerous, to the Left and the Right alike.

    My final point is simply that Vatican II (I think this was in Lumen Gentium) affirmed another significant both/and, namely the overlapping roles of clergy (who are themselves part of the body of the faithful) and laity (who share in the common baptismal priesthood). So even the infamous Roman Catholic Church does not draw the lines as starkly or simplistically as you are portraying here.

    • Thanks, Julia, for your contribution and your invitation to clarify some points. Indeed, in a blog post of a few hundred words it is inevitable that there is some oversimplification.

      “doesn’t the Church consist of both the international body AND the local community?” I would go further and see it as including “all who stand before God in earth and heaven”. It is in translating church to be “the international body” that I suggest it is worth pausing as we so readily filter that phrase through particular lenses.

      “What would catholicity mean, what extent of unity could there be, were this not the case?” The marks of catholicity and unity are clearly connected, but let’s stay with catholicity for the moment. Catholicity, the presence of the universal church, in the early church IMO was understood as local: “the Church of God that is in Corinth”. Roman Catholicism has recently invented “particular Church” as the local presence of the universal Church where universal Church is understood to mean “worldwide church”, your “international body”.

      “surely it has as much room for, say, a Ratzinger?” I would protest if anyone here suggested that Ratzinger is not a member of the church!

      “So even the infamous Roman Catholic Church does not draw the lines as starkly or simplistically as you are portraying here.” You are welcome to understand the Roman Catholic Church as infamous. Please allow me not to concur. You would need to explain how overlapping roles of clergy and laity bears on my image of the unity across denominations.

      Easter Season Blessings

  7. That is a good insight, Bosco, but in the end, weighing the strengths and weaknesses, I judge the Anglican way the best!

    I am afraid I am confused by your comment David. 1 Peter is associated with Peter the Apostle (whether actually written by that Peter or not); and Peter the Apostle was the one addressed by Jesus in the keys of the kingdom speech. Otherwise you seem to know more about me than I know about myself!

  8. OK Peter, whatever you say. You play this game a lot, which is what makes trying to actually carry on a real conversation about real topics with you frustrating.

    I think I shall give up trying.

  9. Hi, Bosco. On the question of Anglicans giving blessings at joint services with Roman Catholics, we should remember the archetype of them all, when at the end of their historic 1966 meeting Pope Paul VI invited Archbishop Michael Ramsey to give the blessing with him at the concluding service in the Sistine Chapel. Archbishop Ramsey apparently didn’t understand the impromptu request, so Pope Paul took the archbishop’s arm and made the sign of the cross with it over the congregation. Afterwards, the Catholic seminarians at the English College, who had hosted the Archbishop and his staff, asked him to bless them as well, and all ninety of them, in their cassocks, knelt down outside the college to receive his blessing. (See this story recounted in The Tablet, 11 Nov. 2006.)

    I humbly submit that we “separated brethren” shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist over the Catholic Church’s failure to recognize our orders or to call us “churches”. Obviously we disagree with them on this point! But the terminology of “churches” vs. “ecclesial communities” was a major breakthrough in ecumenical vocabulary at Vatican II. If we find it an irritating or offensive distinction today, it’s only a sign of how quickly good will and fellowship have replaced the animosity and suspicion that characterized our relationships until very recently. And on the subject of orders, it can hardly be denied that recent developments have shown that our understanding of holy orders differs in important ways from the Roman Catholic position — even if, as those on both sides who have studied the question carefully will admit, Rome’s original decision on Anglican orders (Apostolicae curae, 1896) was deeply flawed in its arguments, as was made clear in the learned and crushing Anglican response, Saepius officio. (Rome is often deeply inconvenienced by the possession of an infallible magisterium…)

    A previous parish priest of mine when I lived in England told me a wonderful story of his visit to a French cathedral while on holiday. He always brought postcards of our church to leave with the clergy of churches he visited while abroad. Not wanting to make waves, he introduced himself to a priest in the cathedral as un pasteur anglais. Puzzled, the priest asked if he were a Baptist or something. He then explained that he was an Anglican priest, but that knowing that the Catholic Church did not recognize his orders he had chosen another term. The French priest grasped his arms, looked into his eyes, and said, Mon père, vous êtes mon frère.

    We do well also to remember the story of St. Chad (d. 672), whose episcopal consecration was called into question because two of the co-consecrators had been “British” (i.e. Welsh) bishops who held to the Irish dating of Easter. When Archbishop Theodore expressed his doubts about Chad’s consecration, Chad replied: “If you believe that my consecration was irregular, I gladly resign from the office; indeed I never believed myself to be worthy of it. But I consented to receive it, however unworthy, in obedience to the commands I received” (Bede, Historia ecclesiastica, IV.2). Theodore then re-ordained him through all the ecclesiastical grades.

    If the church catholic ever achieves visible unity, it will be through the humility of people like St. Chad and, indeed, my old parish priest and his French colleague, who count themselves but unprofitable servants. Does Luke 17:10 get a mention in the Anglican Covenant?

    • Thanks, Jesse, for these wonderful stories. Just a couple of points for other readers: the infallibility of Apostolicae curae would be disputed. Validity and regularity of orders are two different concepts. The regularity of St. Chad’s ordination may be questioned – its validity is not.

      • Important distinctions, Bosco! I heard a terrific paper by Thomas Charles-Edwards a couple of years ago that argued (a) that Theodore’s ordination denuo of Chad was entirely inappropriate (as implying invalidity rather than irregularity — see the account in Stephen of Ripon’s Vita Sancti Wilfridi, ch. 15) and (b) that this basic assumption of validity was further reflected in the scattershot way in which other clergy in the “British” succession were re-ordained at that time. It was never so much about validity and sacramental assurance as about asserting the dominance of the Romanist Anglo-Saxon hierarchy. Once that dominance was established, re-ordinations ceased.

        Agreed, Apostolicae curae was not issued under the ex cathedra conditions of an infallible teaching. But the then-Cardinal Ratzinger considered it to demand the “firm and definite assent” of all Catholics. Would this fall under the somewhat shadowy infallibility of the “ordinary magisterium”? I’ve often thought that the one truly distinctive doctrine of Anglicanism is contained in the 19th Article of Religion, which affirms that all the historic churches have from time to time erred, “not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith”. It’s wonderfully liberating not to have to explain how even when you were wrong you were really right…

        One of my (Anglican) professors recently amused a room of (mostly) Roman Catholics discussing women’s ordination by saying, “It’s of course possible that in four hundred years we’ll decide that it was wrong for the Anglican Church to have ordained women. But I think it far more likely that around that time the pope will issue a bull beginning, ‘As the Church has always taught…'”

        While we’re on the subject of priesthood, at your suggestion, Bosco, I recently read Colin Buchanan’s An Evangelical Among the Anglican Liturgists. A terrific read! He expresses irritation with any Anglican attempt to have our “priestly” orders recognized by Rome, when he argues that Rome is wrong to think that there is such a thing as a Christian priesthood!

        • As you recognise, we are meandering a bit, Jesse, but such is the nature of a conversation. Whilst you do not regard Apostolicae curae as fulfilling the ex cathedra conditions of an infallible teaching, others do – this is the subject of one of my blog posts. Fallible humans are left to fallibly decide which teachings are infallible and which aren’t.

          I understand Colin’s perspective in his not wanting the full weight of RC priestly theology to be borne by Anglican orders, nonetheless, Anglicanism continues the Western understanding of the validity of orders, including in its approach to which orders are valid and which are not.

          Blessings

    • Thank you for this, Jesse. I do want to go on record as a Catholic (only begrudgingly “Roman”) in affirming the genuinely sacramental traditions of other churches, and I know for certain that I am far from alone, even among my more unflinchingly Roman fellow Catholics.

      Going a step further, I find the distinction between “churches” and “ecclesial communities” rather absurd, since “ecclesial” means “church”. Given the confusingly varied semantics of a word like “church”, Pope Benedict must have known how easily misleading it would be to comment on that sort of distinction, and I always regret the times when he seems to be blowing up some of the bridges that his predecessor spent so long building. But I am heartened by the more pastoral example of this French priest. As long as my church has room for people like that, I can confidently belive that it has room for me.

      You are also right about the breakthroughs in terminology that came with Vatican II, without which I know I could never conceive of being Catholic.

  10. With respect, Bosco and David:
    (1) I have tried here to engage with this post in this thread of comments – nothing to do with other conversations elsewhere.
    (2) I genuinely do not understand what David was saying in a comment above re Peter, and also about what I apparently want the Anglican global church to be. If I cannot state that without incurring allegations that I am ‘playing games’ then, well, I can only attempt to speak plainly.

    • Peter, from where I sit I judged a couple of David’s sentences to be not directly drawn solely from within this particular post and thread of comments but connect to an ongoing discussion that you two have, more on your blog than on mine. I could have been obsessively tight in my moderation and require that only what connects solely to what is here be allowed, I could have been very loose, leaving people wondering where David’s comments were suddenly coming from. What I did was (the middle way!) try and point to why I think this conversation here makes sense, connecting here, and part of a conversation you two have on your own blog. I’m in the unusual position of understanding what both of you are saying. Of course I may be wrong 🙂

  11. Forgive me Father, I will not be engaging with Peter any longer, so things will no longer seem split between the two blogs. I will strictly stay on topic here at Liturgy in future posts.

    Regarding this post, I am naturally the skeptic when it comes to the RCC. Just as I am pretty much a skeptic regarding an “ecumenical” religious community with mostly RC members and an RC prior, such as is the case with this community at Bose.

    I think that continuing the dialog of ARCIC is basically a waste of time and resources. I am embarrassed by the groveling behavior of the ABC towards Rome. I found the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham a slap in Rowan’s face. I think for the RC bishop of Rome to wear the stole of his predecessor, Leo 13, as his vestment of choice when he visited Westminster Abbey speaks volumes of his personal feelings of contempt toward the Church of England, and ultimately the Anglican Communion.

    We have all seen the documents under the guidance of which the RC members of the ARCIC operate. The end as far as they are concerned is predetermined because their hands are tied and some of us who are Anglican are never going to be willing to sell our souls in order to make it work.

    Yes, I am feeling like I am sitting under a little dark cloud today!

    • Hermano David, I’m sorry about your little dark cloud. About most of what you write I have written similar points as you know. I know essentially nothing about Bose and would be interested to know how that all functions. The positive side is that there are RCs who agree with each of your points – that was an important part of my post: there are bands of agreement across denominational lines. Blessings.

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