17 January 2011

Defining Communion

In the proposed Anglican Covenant, the word “communion” is used many times. It seems to be used in at least three different ways.
  • First, it is used capitalized to refer to the collectivity of Anglican Churches throughout the world, the Anglican Communion;
  • Second, it is used to refer to the relationship of those churches to the whole People of God, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the world;
  • Third, it is used to refer to the relationship of the Churches of the Anglican Communion to one another.
The trouble is that this word is never clearly defined in the text of the proposed Covenant.

The key question is what exactly is meant by the third use of the word. For a model we turn to ecumenical agreements of Full Communion such as the Porvoo Communion of British and Irish Anglican and Nordic and Baltic European Lutheran Churches.

The Porvoo Common Statement offers the following definition of communion at paragraph 24:
Communion with God and with fellow believers is manifested in one baptism in response to the apostolic preaching; in the common confession of the apostolic faith; in the united celebration of the eucharist which builds up the one body of Christ; and in a single ministry set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands.
Porvoo also contains this salutary warning about the nature of unity:
Visible unity ... should not be confused with uniformity. ‘Unity in Christ does not exist despite and in opposition to diversity, but is given with and in diversity’. Because this diversity corresponds with the many gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church, it is a concept of fundamental ecclesial importance, with relevance to all aspects of the life of the Church, and is not a mere concession to theological pluralism. Both the unity and the diversity of the Church are ultimately grounded in the communion of God the Holy Trinity. (Paragraph 23)
Based on that understanding, the Porvoo Declaration commits the churches, in part:
to welcome persons episcopally ordained in any of our churches to the office of bishop, priest or deacon to serve, by invitation and in accordance with any regulations which may from time to time be in force, in that ministry in the receiving church without re-ordination;
Similarly, and more clearly, the Waterloo Declaration of Full Communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada contains the following succinct definition of Full Communion:
Full communion is understood as a relationship between two distinct churches or communions in which each maintains its own autonomy while recognizing the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and believing the other to hold the essentials of the Christian faith. In such a relationship, communicant members of each church would be able freely to communicate at the altar of the other, and there would be freedom of ordained ministers to officiate sacramentally in either church. Specifically, in our context, we understand this to include transferability of members; mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries; freedom to use each other's liturgies; freedom to participate in each other's ordinations and installations of clergy, including bishops; and structures for consultation to express, strengthen, and enable our common life, witness, and service, to the glory of God and the salvation of the world. (Introduction, paragraph 7)
Communion, or being in communion, thus suggests, in part, a mutual recognition of the authenticity of the Church, and the validity of all sacramental acts, especially the sacrament of Orders. That is, we recognize that the other members of the Communion, for lack of a better word, are truly Christian Churches, in all their attributes, and that they validly confer orders, and their clergy validly administer the sacraments. Their baptism is valid, their eucharist is valid, their confirmation is valid, their ordination is valid. And, based on this recognition, we count the members of our partner churches as validly holding whatever status their “native” church says they hold: baptised, confirmed, ordained. And it is possible for a member of a partner church to transfer to another partner church retaining the same status.

The most significant example of transfer, of course, has to do with clergy. (Sorry, laity.) So it is possible for a priest in one church to transfer to and serve in another church. It is possible for a priest in one church to be elected as a bishop in another church. And so on.

All of this suggests that we each recognize as valid the canonical, administrative and liturgical processes by which orders are conferred in the various partner churches. But, and this is a big but, it also implies to me that we must accept the various canonical and administrative procedures by which orders are either inhibited (under discipline) or revoked or relinquished.

Why is this important, you might ask? There are a number of ex-clergy around North America, and possibly elsewhere, who have either been deposed or who have relinquished their ministry (that is to say, have “voluntarily relinquish[ed] the exercise of [their] orders and use [themselves] as ... lay[men]” in the words of the Church of England’s Canon C1(2)) who purport to continue to exercise ministry as Anglican clergy, having purported to have been licensed by other Provinces. Licensing as a cleric someone who is not a cleric in good standing is simply not possible canonically. For Province A to purport to license an ex-cleric from Province B breaks communion just as much as refusal to accept the validity of Province B’s orders.

The proposed Anglican Covenant assumes an understanding of Communion which is not unlike the understanding in the Waterloo Declaration, and which may be inferred from the proposed text. But it’s not clearly stated as in the above Declarations.

If the proposed Covenant is supposed to define the relationships of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, one might have thought that a good starting point would have been a clear and succinct definition of what we mean by Communion.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, but moderated. Please use a name, any name or alias, or your comment will be deleted. I welcome constructive criticisms, profusive praise, and intelligent interjections. Abusive, nasty or libellous comments will be ruthlessly deleted. Hey, it's my blog and I get to be as arbitrary as I want!