Tuesday, October 23, 2007

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?


At 4:34 PM, Blogger RFSJ said...


I agree. I'm disturbed as well, the "clarification" (issued with great speed, how interesting) notwithstanding. My ordination vows are not to the Diocese, but to the Province which constitutes the Diocese and all that is in it. My orders ultimately flow from the national church to my bishop, who was ordained only with the consent of the Province as a whole. My bishop would not be a bishop, nor I a priest, without the Province which is the font of apostolic succession in this place.

I think Rowan has made a terrible mistake and has jeopardized the polity of the WWAC as we know it. I cannot help but see the implications of his statement as allowing Dioceses to pick and choose their Provincial allegiance. I also see his ignorance of the substantial nature, substantial as having substance, of having a reality far more than merely "practical," of TEC or indeed any Province as odd. The Dioceses of the Province of Canterbury are not free agents, after all, as someone has pointed out already.


At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to the conclusion that +Rowan's thought represents the ultimate explosion of Anglo-Catholicism, ironically in conflict with the ultimate expansion of the Evangelicalism: High Churchmen have argued for the catholicity of the English Church by, among other things, arguing against the Erastianism and nationalism (for lack of a better word) of that Church. So now +Rowan argues that the national church is only a notion: the genealogy of this sort of thought goes right back through Keble being irate over The Queen in Parliament monkeying with Irish dioceses, and beyond. But (so far as I know) the Irish church was in fact rearranged, and The Queen in Parliament, as noted, could change the number and nature of the dioceses in +Rowan's province at the drop of a hat. Part of the big tent of Anglicanism is Catholic-minded individuals living in a church founded on the principles of national sovereignty and lay supremacy: the Reformation was about Ecclesia Anglicana not about some dioceses that disagreed with Rome.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

It does seem that Williams' theory of the church endangers the WWAC as we know it, and even if most Primates of the GS disagree with his view, thay will find it for the moment convenient--as there is no comparable movement in the WWAC to detatch dioceses from the GS. But it's likely Williams doesn't mind the current utility of his theory.

As 4may1535+ notes, his view is probably Anglo-catholicism a la Oxford taken to a logical extreme.

4may's last line linking laity and nationality seems significant; more needs to be done to defend the theological legitimacy of the province as a church entity. Somehow Rowan has got his history mixed up.

At 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you are right, and your position as a minister depends on the provincilal structure, we had better run around and sweep the "extra-provincial" members of the anglican communion into provincial structures rightaway. Or we could relax and simply observe that the Lusitanian church or the diocese of Bermuda operate quite well enough without a province.

At 10:21 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

It could be that extraprovincial members of the WWAC function as they do on account of relations to other entities in the WWAC, including provinces. Their extraprovincial stateus makes them dependent on provinces for their normal function and well-being.

That may be fine when a diocese is developing and has good resopn to be dependent, but may become superfluous when the larger entity is no longer needed or for any of a number of resons desired.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Continuing the discussion of ecclesiology: Dale Rye's recent post on Covenant and the response to it by Sam Keyes: http://covenant-communion.com/?p=307#comments

PS: Scotist: if you are still interested in my notes on Wyclif and other late medievals on Dominion, to what e-mail address should I send them? You probably know how to find my e-mail, but is there an e-mail for you attached to this blog?


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