Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Sudden Burst of Fresh Air

This just in...from Lambeth Palace. I suppose there is a possibility it is not authentic, but I've now seen it (in the last ten minutes) from two different sources, and I'm going to assume its veracity. It is a letter from His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Bishop of Central Florida, John Howe, in whose diocese a handful of cardinal rectors have recently made clear their desire to move away from the Episcopal Church to the care of an offshore jurisdiction. Dr Williams offers his condolences to Bishop Howe, and speaks pointedly to both ends of the spectrum in American Anglicanism, and does so using the same language. Talk about "economy of means!"

Here's the first kicker:

...without forestalling what the Primates might say, I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing.

And then he drives it home with this:

I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'.

Now, the immediate objects of his remarks are the incipient separatists in Central Florida. (My former confrères in San Joaquin should also take serious note.) But his point about Catholic ecclesiology--that the diocese and bishop constitute the fundamental unit of the Church, is, I promise you, going to waken the sleeping hornets in the "progressive" General Convention supremacist camp--those who assert the "unitary" character of the Episcopal Church in distinction to any "free association of dioceses" theory.

This may be the clearest word that Rowan Williams has yet offered in this whole saga since he assumed office. I welcome it. It doesn't provide wiggle room to either extreme. It invites them to own their positions honestly, and consider the realistic consequences of those positions. What a breath of fresh air.


Marshall Scott said...

I am not so convicted that this will offer any clarity. I have serious concerns that this will undermine what meaning there is in provincial structures, including those of the Episcopal Church. I have also always understood that the diocese is the basic unit of the church, unified around the office of the bishop. At the same time, I have understood that dioceses could not function meaningfully beyond their own boundaries without the context of a province. Canterbury has consistently called for resolution of issues at a local level. We can appreciate that "local" for a congregation is within the context of a diocese. What can "local" possible mean for a diocese if not the context of a province? Indeed, in his comments in New Orleans in the press conference he seemed to extend this principle of "local resolution" to dioceses within provinces in just this way; as does the Windsor Report.

I imagine this will certainly get strong responses from progressives. I fear it will get even stronger responses from dissenting bishops, saying, "See? We told you we could leave if we wanted." I don't think that's really what Canterbury intended; but in that case this doesn't really clarify things all that well.

Anonymous said...

It was so good to "hear your voice" again. I was hoping that you would say something about "the letter"...altho I did read your comment on the HoBD. Not sure how much this will help our situation here but it "seemed" like good news. As least that's the way I'm going to take it.

Anonymous said...

Although I am encouraged that +Cantuar has affirmed this position, and also that he has permitted the letter to be made public, I am still unclear as to what his response might be in the event that the "National Church" attempts to bring more than simply moral suasion to bear on a diocesan who declines to conform to the new teachings that are being ascribed to the Holy Spirit by said "National Church." In the absence of some further statement, or action, by him, I am afraid the assurances contained in his letter to Bp. Howe are not as comforting is I would like to see.

Blessings and regards,