Rowan Williams – Defender of the Faith
His speech/lecture/sermon/six theses, that he nailed to the door of Gregorian University in Rome, made as strong a defence of Anglicanism as Cranmer has ever heard his successor deliver. He reiterated his commitment to women priests, and called for ‘clarity’ on the future of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue which (let’s face it) has been a little stalled over the past decade and somewhat stifled by the Pope’s decision to heed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to offer ‘Personal Ordinariates’ to disaffected Anglicans who think their church has gone a via media too far.
He has said that he was kept largely in the dark about the Pope’s master plan, which The Telegraph says he referred to ‘the elephant in the room’ (though the phrase does not appear in the version on the Archbishop’s website). He diplomatically referred to the move as ‘an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some’, but added that it ‘does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground’. He said: “It remains to be seen whether the flexibility suggested in the Constitution might ever lead to something less like a 'chaplaincy' and more like a church gathered around a bishop.”
And Cardinal Kasper seems as disapproving of the Pope’s move as the Archbishop was irritated. He said that such delicate issues ‘should be undertaken in the greatest possible transparency, tactfulness and mutual esteem in order not to entail meaningless tensions with our ecumenical partners’.
The Archbishop asked quite directly why the ordination of women by some local Anglican churches had become a deal-breaker in Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, in spite of the fact that the two religions had reached agreement on far more complex theological questions in the centuries since the Reformation. And he added a rebuke to the Roman Catholic Church, asking in what way the ordination of women as priests ‘compromise(s) the purposes of the church’.
And he continued, setting out quite clearly the issues which divide: ‘issues about authority in the Church, about primacy (especially the unique position of the pope), and the relations between the local churches and the universal church in making decisions (about matters like the ordination of women, for instance).’ He asks: ‘Are they theological questions in the same sense as the bigger issues on which there is already clear agreement? And if they are, how exactly is it that they make a difference to our basic understanding of salvation and communion? But if they are not, why do they still stand in the way of fuller visible unity? Can there, for example, be a model of unity as a communion of churches which have different attitudes to how the papal primacy is expressed?’
And he gets to the nub of the matter with: ‘The central question is whether and how we can properly tell the difference between “second order” and “first order” issues. When so very much agreement has been firmly established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?’
He praised Vatican II because it ‘turned away from... the Church as primarily an institution existing because of divine decree, governed by prescription from the Lord, faithfully administering the sacraments ordained by him for the salvation of souls – an external, visible society, whose members, under a hierarchical authority headed by the pope, constitute with him one visible body, tending to the same spiritual and supernatural end, i.e., sanctification of souls and their eternal happiness'. And by praising the Ecumenical Council from which Pope Benedict appears to be distancing himself, the Archbishop is seeking the ear of a very sizeable constituency of the Roman Catholic Church indeed.
He identifies the two issues which divide as authority – the nature or indeed the very possibility of the magisterium; and primacy - the extent to which the integrity of the Church is ultimately dependent on a single identifiable ministry of unity to which all local ministries are accountable. And he repudiates ‘the language of rule and hierarchy established by decree, with fixed divisions between teachers and taught, rulers and ruled’, advocating instead ‘filial and communal holiness held in a universal pattern of mutual service’. As far as he is concerned, papal primacy is ‘allied to juridical privilege and the patterns of rule and control’ to such an extent that it fails to achieve what it sets out to do. He realises that this is a ‘slightly sensitive discussion’, but he asserts that ‘the question of altar fellowship and of mutual recognition of ministerial offices should not be unconditionally dependent on a consensus on the question of primacy'.
The Archbishop of Canterbury articulates the historic via media when he observes ‘a restored universal communion would be genuinely a “community of communities” and a “communion of communions” – not necessarily a single juridically united body – and therefore one which did indeed assume that, while there was a recognition of a primatial ministry, this was not absolutely bound to a view of primacy as a centralized juridical office’.
He indicates that the corporate reading of Scripture, obedience to the Lord's commands to baptise and make eucharist, the shared understanding of the shape and the disciplines of what we have called filial holiness, do not need any ‘further test’ and certainly not ‘a universal primate’.
And so he repudiates those Roman Catholic theologians who assert that the ordination of women priests ‘makes the Anglican Communion simply less recognisably a body “doing the same Catholic thing”.’ But he says, for many Anglicans, ‘not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women, which in their view threatens to undermine the coherence of the ecclesiology in question’.
‘And the challenge to recent Roman Catholic thinking on this would have to be: in what way does the prohibition against ordaining women so “enhance the life of communion”, reinforcing the essential character of filial and communal holiness as set out in Scripture and tradition and ecumenical agreement, that its breach would compromise the purposes of the Church as so defined? And do the arguments advanced about the "essence" of male and female vocations and capacities stand on the same level as a theology derived more directly from scripture and the common theological heritage such as we find in these ecumenical texts?’
‘Even if there remains uncertainty in the minds of some about the rightness of ordaining women, is there a way of recognising that somehow the corporate exercise of a Catholic and evangelical ministry remains intact even when there is dispute about the standing of female individuals? In terms of the relation of local to universal, what we are saying here is that a degree of recognizability of 'the same Catholic thing' has survived: Anglican provinces ordaining women to some or all of the three orders have not become so obviously diverse in their understanding of filial holiness and sacramental transformation that they cannot act together, serve one another and allow some real collaboration.’
‘...It is this sort of thinking that has allowed Anglicans until recently to maintain a degree of undoubtedly impaired communion among themselves, despite the sharpness of the division over this matter. It is part of the rationale of supplementary episcopal oversight as practised in the English provinces, and it may yet be of help in securing the place of those who will not be able to accept the episcopal ministry of women. There can be no doubt, though, that the situation of damaged communion will become more acute with the inability of bishops within the same college to recognise one another's ministry in the full sense. Yet, in what is still formally acknowledged to be a time of discernment and reception, is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene? At least, by means of some of the carefully crafted institutional ways of continuing to work together, there remains an embodied trust in the possibility of discovering a shared ministry of the gospel; and who knows what more, ultimately, in terms of restored communion?’
‘...At what point do we have to recognise that surviving institutional and even canonical separations or incompatibilities are overtaken by the authoritative direction of genuinely theological consensus, so that they can survive only by appealing to the ghost of ecclesiological positivism? The three issues I have commented on may all seem, to the eyes of a non-Roman Catholic, to belong in a somewhat different frame of reference from the governing themes of the ecumenical ecclesiology expressed in the texts under review. If the non-Roman Catholic is wrong about this, we need to have spelled out exactly why; we need to understand either that there are issues about the filial/communal calling clearly at stake in surviving disagreements; or to be shown that another theological “register” is the right thing to use in certain areas, a different register which will qualify in some ways the language that has so far shaped ecumenical convergence.’
And the Archbishop ended by noting that these are ‘political matters’ which ‘there is no point in approaching theologically’. And he posed a final question:
‘For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain. And if it isn't, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?’
Cranmer can hardly wait to hear the response of His Holiness today, for we Anglicans ‘need to have spelled out exactly’.