The recent press release by Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests regarding the Vatican’s offer of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans provides an illustration of what is implied by my suggestion that we should be more positive about the theological foundations and coherence of the Church of England.
Amongst other things, the statement contains the following:
We are actively working to see women ordained to the episcopate and hold that this is entirely consistent with the teaching of the church and the historic nature of our orders. [Emphasis added]
What is not said is that this is “entirely consistent with Scripture”, and this raises a question about the sufficiency of this statement within the framework of the Church of England. For the absence of this phrase, whilst it may simply be an oversight, must in the context nevertheless be set alongside the twentieth of the Thirty-nine Articles, which states that, “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written.” And this, of course, is precisely the controverted issue when it comes to the ordination and consecration of women.
Now the point is not that the Church of England generally, or Affirming Catholicism particularly, have got it wrong. Rather, it is that a loyalty to its own foundational principles requires that the Church of England must act in ways consistent with Scripture and must never set this aside. Otherwise, it fails to be faithful to its own principles and is therefore open to challenge.
Significantly in this regard, Affirming Catholicism defines Anglican ‘loyalty’ as, “public recognition of and obedience to the decisions made by due canonical process by the Province to which one belongs.” Ultimately, however, the principles of the Church of England require that this can only be extended to matters where the Church has authority, such as regarding “Rites or Ceremonies” (Article XX). The individual must not “openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the Word of God” (Article XXIV). Yet a faithful member of the Church of England could not be required to agree to something which was ‘repugnant to the Word of God’ —not without the Church acting contrary to its own principles.
This itself raises thorny issues related to conscience and the decision-making processes of the Church. We may note, indeed, that the first ordinations of women in the United States were, by Affirming Catholicism’s definition, acts of disloyalty, since they went against the canons of PECUSA at the time. They were declared “invalid” and charges were brought against the bishops involved. It may be wondered, therefore, whether Affirming Catholicism really means what it says on this issue or whether it does not itself recognize some higher loyalty than to decisions made by canonical processes.
This is not, however, to argue for an individual free-for-all. The point is that we must ask of Affirming Catholicism, or anyone else, “Is this consistent with Scripture? Can you show us your working and your reasoning on this?”
Of course, this entails openness on the part of all. If ordaining women is Scriptural, then so be it —all Anglicans should accept it, whatever the traditions of our Church may be. But the principle must be maintained. It is not enough for truly loyal Anglicans that ‘the Church teaches so’, much less that ‘the rules say so’ —even when it comes to the teaching and the rules of their own Church. Our foundational formularies demand more, and to insist on this is to be a loyal member of the Church of England.
John RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select the 'Anonymous' profile, then type in a couple of letters, select 'preview', then close the preview box and delete these letters.
29 October 2009
29 October 2009
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