Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Glimpse into Williams' Ecclesiology

This letter from Archbishop Williams to Bishop Howe of Central Florida has been making the rounds recently with good reason--it is quite a remarkable fragment of ecclesiological thinking.

There is absolutely no question that it will serve to foment fragmentation and division, encouraging those dioceses like Pittsburgh and Fort Worth that wish to leave TEC intact to "get a move on". Williams' idea seems to be that Iker could take Fort Worth out of the Episcopal Church and remain in communion with the See of Canterbury, but a mere parish like Christ Church in Georgia or Truro in Virginia could not do so. I presume this explains why he has been reluctant to extend Lambeth invitations to Minns et al--the issue is not Carey's precedent so much as a more theologically substantive point.

Of course I would like to think I share ground with Williams here. Perhaps we agree that there is something fundamentally disordered about a parish without its bishop withdrawing from one diocese to join another; provided the bishop remains a bishop, it is impossible. The parish priest is a priest only at the behest of his or her bishop, and this is a matter of the parish priest being a priest. Thus, while Williams might not have a problem with Minns being a bishop, he might well have a problem with his claim to Lambeth attendance as a bishop of anything. He isn't a bishop of what was Truro parish anyhow. Then what exactly is he a bishop of?

The matter is different when one considers Bishop Iker taking the Diocese of Fort Worth out of the Episcopal Church. Ater all, for the time being Iker remains a bishop of a diocese.

Williams seems to me, in my limited knowledge, to be following Zizioulas here, a la "Being and Communion". The bishop of a diocese is the basic ecclesial unit on which provinces supervene--the provinces being no more than epiphenomena of their diocesan bases. For the bishop is the necessary precondition for the performance of the essential act of Christian being, namely the Eucharist. Thus we can say where the bishop is, there the church is, as if the church were instantiated wherever a bishop presided, and its "where" was the diocese.

Thus, there is no fundamental block to a province cobbled together of dioceses from England, the US, and Canada; there is no fundamental incoherence in a province continually changing its diocesan membership. The province is simply not necessary for the being of the diocese, and the Archbishop or Presiding Bishop is not at all to the provincial bishop as the bisho pis to the priest and deacon.

This is a very high ecclesiology, I think, and it portends a good deal of near-term chaos--if not long-term anarchy--but to his credit Williams appears ready to take a stand and let the dioceses fall where they may while watching provinces simply evaporate and reform like steam on a window. I had thought Williams was led by a need to keep the Church of England together; it seems I was wrong, as the CoE is just another epiphenomenal province. Consistency would require acknowledging that dioceses of the CoE could form provinces with dioceses of TEC. What might stop them? Tradition, legal problems, potential disestablishment perhaps: who knows?

Property issues are quite beside the point when we are talking the being of bishops and their dioceses. If Iker or Duncan were to leave TEC without property, it would be irrelevant to their standing as bishops of dioceses in communion with Canterbury.

Taking all this into consideration, it is clear what the Episcopal Church should do. It is clear that Bishop Iker cannot just take Fort Worth out of TEC ad hoc; he must, by his diocese's own rules, follow a process that takes time. When the process is completed--legitimately completed--there is no serious theological bar to his leaving TEC with Fort Worth--and of course remaining Anglican in good standing. If his fellow Episcopalian bishops do not like this prospect, there seems to be just one option. Secular law will not help. They will have to remove him and others like him from their positions as bishops of their respective dioceses. And they had better get moving; that process will take time to complete as well. Deposed, Iker and the others would have the status of a Minns: hovering in an ecclesial limbo. And faithful Episcopalians in Fort Worth and elsewhere will be safe.


At 11:58 PM, Blogger trueanglican said...

Precisely, Scotist. While national Episcopal leaders still appear reluctant to proceed against any of those threatening withdrawal, I'm inclined to think they must start at least one presentment action now.

Should it be Duncan or Iker? The behavior of both has been pretty outrageous, but perhaps Duncan is the better choice. Unlike Fort Worth, where no clergy seem willing to lift their heads out of the foxholes, Calvary Church in Pittsburgh has had the gumption to take bishop and standing committee to court.

I haven't researched the canons to know quite what is involved, but it can't be too difficult. Look at all the trouble that was visited upon Walter Righter a few years back, and Righter was simply an assistant bishop who committed his alleged "heresy" doing what his boss told him to do.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger RFSJ said...


I think ++Rowan is wrong on this. Episcopal orders in TEC are only valid by consent *of the bishops of the province and the laity.* Dioceses themselves are created, changed, and dissolved only by action *of the Province.* The very nature of +Iker's bishopness flows from actions and authority of TEC itself. I do not believe the province - any province - in the WWAC is theologically irrelevant. The communion of (mostly) *national* churches in voluntary association is of primary importance. It is the very autonomy of provinces that is at stake here. So ++Rowan may be correct on some mystical understanding of catholicity, but I do nto believe it is correct to say that that a province merely supervenes a diocese. In TEC at least, the Diocese is wholly a creation of the Province, of the Bishops, Clergy, and Laity in Convention.


At 9:33 AM, Blogger Lapinbizarre said...

Thanks for casting a little light on what seems to be going on here - a good recipe for anarchy, by the look of things.

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, Episcopal dioceses may think twice about leaving if the Episcopal Church continues to assist in filing lawsuits against those parishes who leave, not the least because they are violating settled U.S. constitutional law regarding trust ownership of property. Title I Canon 7 makes it clear that ownership lies not with dioceses but with "this Church" - and "this Church" is represented by General Convention.
Nigel Taber-Hamilton

At 3:39 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I think a Williamsesque reply would go like this:

Property ownership may indeed be settled by a fusion of canons and secular property law. But such things are accidental to the identity and being of a diocese, inasmuch as the diocese need not possess just that property in order to be a diocese.

I repeat myself: make it so these fissiparous bishops are no longer bishops of our dioceses. That is the best approach, no?

At 3:42 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


You may be right, but then again, just where the truth of the matter stands is a substantive point of theology, and is not prima facie to be settled by trying to legislate reality.

It may be after all that the origins of an item are not necessary to its continuation in at least some cases. For instance, a child may outlive its parents. Just so, however a diocese comes into being, once it actually exists it may have identity conditions that no longer refer to the agents of its origin.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger RFSJ said...


Good point, esp. regarding children/parents. But isn't acknowledging the reality of something an essentially incarnational attitude? I think there are major implications for the Communion if the view holds that dioceses can indeed willy-nilly attach to whatever province they want. This concerns me greatly.


At 9:57 AM, Blogger Christopher said...


Folks are noticing Ratzinger's and Zizioulas' influence on Williams' ecclesiology. Before we go either or both of those routes, I recommend every Anglican read Volf's "After Our Likeness" in which he critiques both ecclesiologies, which on the whole are foreign to Anglicanism, except for among some Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals moving for power grabs.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Christopher and RFSJ,

Let me agree with both of you when I hear you say that Williams' approach is not the traditional Anglican self-understanding. He is doing something new, at least for us.

Has he written anything setting out a case for his kind of ecclesiology? There are at least two major problems here: (1)discerning just what his views are, since they are so unpredictable as so far off-tradition; (2)figuring out whether these are merely private cogitations operative due only to the accident of Williams' high position. For instance, how many primates agree with Williams? Does the ACC? Our GC? Any provincial synod?

There is something profoundly anti-conciliar in his thinking that needs to come out of the darkness and into the light.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Ah, and thanks for your reference to Volf, Christopher.

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" In TEC at least, the Diocese is wholly a creation of the Province, of the Bishops, Clergy, and Laity in Convention. "
That's the difficulty. What applies in TEC will not necessarily apply across the Anglican Communion.


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