Saturday, August 14, 1999

Glastonbury and The Gift of Authority

I originally posted this essay to the OrthodoxAnglican e-mail list. In the pre-blog era, this was where conservative Anglicans of various stripes, as well as their sympathizers in other communions, shared news and debated the issues of the day.

Thanks to Fr. Wilson for posting Fr. Houlding's Glastonbury sermon. It addresses a subject that has been on my mind for the past couple weeks, following my readings of two other pieces on the same topic. The first is, of course, the ARCIC document, The Gift of Authority, to which Fr. Houlding refers in his homily. The second was recently introduced on this list by Richard M.: "the famous text of Dom Lambert Beaduin's The Church of England United Not Absorbed, . . . a seminal document in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, written in 1925."

Both of these documents, like Fr. Houlding, take the desirability – even the necessity – of union with Rome as a given. For those in the Ritualist/Romanist wing of Anglo-Catholicism, perhaps this seems so obvious that it needs no elaboration, explanation, or defense. But for most Anglicans – including most Anglo-Catholics, I daresay – it is not so obvious.

Without endorsing every twist and turn of Anglican history, most of us think that the separation of the Church of England from Rome was not an entirely bad thing. For nearly five centuries, the West had been drifting further and further from the teaching and practice of the Undivided Church. Those who inaugurated the C. of E. might not have articulated their rationale in a clear, unanimous, or consistent way, but their failure has been remedied by the best Anglican theologians from Hooker on. We have failed miserably to live up to this vision of Anglicanism as a restoration of the ancient, Undivided Church in England. There have always been differences on exactly what this vision entailed. And there have always been those who rejected this vision in favor of another, whether Protestant or (Roman) Catholic or Modern. But I think this vision is still the right one – the only one under which the existence of Anglicanism makes any sense, and therefore the only authentic one.

A Gift?

The Gift of Authority, the most recent product of ARCIC, embodies the usual flaw of post-Schism Western theology: It begins with a deficient understanding of Tradition, and then tries to fill the resulting vacuum with Authority. Clerical authority, to be more precise. And, ultimately, Papal authority.

Fr. Houlding says, "That universal stability, I believe, is only to be found ultimately in union with the See of Peter."

We often hear traditionalists of all stripes lamenting the "crisis of authority," which they blame for the instability of our church. I don't get it. When has authority ever been a source of stability? Authority is, rather, a force for innovation. Didn't Vatican I teach us that?

If you want to see what happens to a church without clerical authority, look at the Old Believers. Now that is stability.

Anglicans as Uniates?

Dom Lambert Beaduin's United Not Absorbed proposes that the Church of England should be restored to union with Rome on a basis similar to that of the Melkites – i.e., with internal autonomy under its Patriarch/Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who receives his authority, in the form of the pallium, from the Pope. He lays out thoroughly the historical basis for such a relationship between Rome and Canterbury. He seems to pre-suppose a Church of England that is equivalent to the Melkites before their schism with Constantinople – an ancient, autocephalous church with its own rite, canons, traditions, and hierarchy. Apart from his acceptance of the necessity of reunion with Rome, his vision of the C. of E. is actually quite similar to mine.

Interestingly, the Melkites have recently expressed regrets about their acceptance of Papal supremacy ca. three centuries ago.

The Undivided Church

Some, doubtless, will recall my Eastern Orthodox sympathies, and will wonder whether I am not just slamming the idea of submission to Rome because I am holding out for submission to Constantinople, instead. But I do not think we should feel obligated to take the Byzantine tradition as normative, any more than we should have to take the Roman tradition as normative. If we would simply live up to what our own Anglican tradition tells us we are supposed to be – a restoration of the ancient undivided Church in England – we would not need to look to other churches for our norms at all. This was the central message of a recent address by the Most Rev'd Dr. Keith Rayner, Primate of Australia, "The Future of Catholic Anglicanism." Naturally, we should feel free to borrow from those traditions, and from others – but within the norms established by our own tradition. We should not try to imitate another church, whether that of Rome or that of Constantinople (or that of Geneva). We should simply be strive to live up to the vision our own best theologians have set for us over the centuries.

If I look to Orthodoxy as a model, it is only because I think that by being good Anglicans we would inevitably come to look like an Orthodox church – an autocephalous national church with a liturgically centered life rooted in a tradition defined by the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils.