More From Williams
Does Archbishop Williams' clarification via Lambeth Palace do anything to remove the perception some have that he is holding the Communion up to the fire of a very strange doctrine?
No; the key point he made earlier is left intact here: the diocese is the basic unit of the church, and the province is a convenience of great practical significance, but no necessity. In effect, the clarification underlines his key point by indicating it was not an unintended accident that came out in the letter to Howe, but is instead a settled view held with conviction.
Note this strong language from the clarification; it claims the original letter voiced
a response reiterating [a]a basic presupposition of [b]what the Archbishop believes to be [c]the theology of the Church.
Well, we are right to suspect the letter to Howe draws on his ecclesiology (and his ecclesiology is "the" ecclesiology ?!?); [c] confirms this. Moreover, the letter is based on basic presuppositions (from [a]) of his ecclesiology. Basicality is a slippery notion, but in this context it is not encouraging. That is, one might have thought that Williams might be open to the plausibility of other, contrary views more in the line of normative Anglican tradition; apparently he is not. His judgement here is a settled matter, a matter of basic premises from which one would start.
But note too that this is acknowledged (in [b]) to be the Archbishop's own opinion, his personal doxa, a private judgement. It is not said to be the opinion of the CoE, the AC, the ACC, the Primates, the Church universal, or any formal, communal eccesial entity. That is in tension, to say the least, with other claims made in the clarification: more on that later.
Recall when he once showed great reluctance to act while taking private and controversial opinions as premises--namely those permissive toward same sex unions. Then he claimed that duty to his office precluded it--as a point of catholic churchmanship even. He distinguished between the offices of a prophet and bishop. Those were the days! Days gone by. Apparently those fine distinctions hold no longer, or else they are being applied with curious--even aggressive--selectivity, as he now is ready to act on a private understanding of the church manifestly contrary to what had been the principal cluster of mainstream Anglican views.
His selectivity with principle is aggressive because in these two statements he adds considerable momentum to the separatist movement by validating their basic strategy. He implies the national church is a convenient, but expendable, abstraction whose dioceses--identity intact--can be reorganized into new provinces or new ecclesial entities as it pleases them and the rest of the Communion. If that isn't a green light to Fort Worth and others, what is?
Thus the clarification notes
The primary point was that – theologically and sacramentally speaking – a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses. The diocese is more than a ‘local branch’ of a national organisation.
There is little common ground here with the notion that dioceses are creatures of the provinces of which they are a part, unable to exist on their own apart from them, or in principle unable to secede with their identity intact. Satisfying "is a member of the Episcopal Church" is neat-o but accidental.
That may come as news to some deacons, priests and bishops, who might think they have some ground for allegiance to the national church over and above the diocese. No; it follows, there is no national church for Williams, except in a secondary and derivative sense.
Again, the clarification notes,
[d] The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, [e] simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and [f] in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church.
Part [d] reiterates Williams' key point with force. The significance of the province is merely instrumental; it is not a church in itself. It has administrative and practical functions that are important--and that is it. Period.
Thus, what might be meant by "fragmentation of the church" in [f]? On my reading of Williams, "church" there does not refer to "The Episcopal Church". There is no such church according to him. Its primary referent is the communion of dioceses, where communion of provinces is apparently taken merely to supervene on the relationship of the dioceses.
Finally, part [e] worries me. I have said a couple of times now that Williams' understanding of the church is not ours: not in the mainstream of normative Anglican tradition. It is private, I claimed, and suspect enough on that account alone. However, he seems to think it is not private. It is rather, he claims, the position on the nature of the church we have committed ourselves to apart from this controversy in ecumenical conversation. Is that right?