Breaking the silence

I realize that I’ve remained mostly silent on this weblog for several months now. That is because I don’t feel that I have had anything particularly constructive to add to the ongoing discussion and the worsening crisis in fellowship that is the Anglican Communion. Division – a division that may threaten to multiply itself along confessional or church parties, and a steady, almost ineluctable slide into apostasy (abandonment of apostolic faith and tradition) threaten the Churches of the Anglican Communion as never before. In the face of it all, I am largely silent. I haven’t even been sending out email news digests to friends and fellow parishioners of largely like-minded concerns, something that for several years (from October 2003) I did at least once, and sometimes several times, weekly.

But I am shaken from my silence by a chance to teach. (Or perhaps it’s just one of the trying parts of my personality – didacticism – that I cannot resist.)

Anglican Mainstream has picked up a news story from (the Revd Mr) George Conger, “US Bishops drop bid to have Robinson admitted to Lambeth Conference“. Much could be written about the news that Mr Conger shares in the article, but I am most interested in something of some theological weight; viz., why the Armenian Church and the Salvation Army are participating, when the celebrated “I’m not just the gay bishop” Gene Robinson of New Hampshire has been shut out of the decennial Lambeth Conference by not being invited, unlike every other bishop in The Episcopal Church.

The exclusion of Bishop Robinson raised an interesting issue, as the Salvation Army and the Armenian Church are full participants. The Salvation Army does not baptize and the Armenian Apostolic Church adheres to the miaphysitism [sic] where Christ is of one incarnate nature, where both divine and human nature are united.

(I presume that Mr Conger, a presbyter of the Church and seminary-educated, actually wrote “monophysitism”, and not “miaphysitism”, and that this is simply a typographical error. Edit (7/22/08): on reflection after George Conger commented in defense of the word, “miaphysitism” is precisely the word that should be used to describe Oriental Orthodox christology, as it is not an example of Eutychian monophysitism.)

The answer given by the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and inviter-in-chief to the Lambeth affair, was direct and to the point:

“Ecumenical participants are here precisely on that ticket. They are representing their Churches as sisters in communion as friends. They are there because they are Armenian Orthodox or Salvation Army,” he said.

Bishop Robinson was a different matter. “The problem that we face within the Anglican Communion is that bishops gathering for the Lambeth Conference represent not only their diocese, but their participation in the fellowship of worldwide Anglican Christians. Where there are bishops whose participation in that worldwide fellowship is for one reason or another questionable that’s the reason for questioning their participation here.”

Initially, Dr Williams pointed out that he could “answer with a long disquisition on Armenian Christology, but I don’t think I don’t think that’s an option for this audience.”

Here’s a short disquisition on Armenian Christology, or at least on the differences between the monophysitism of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (of which the Armenian Church is one) and the duophysitism of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Orthodox Churches: for the most part, in successively issued joint statements over the past three decades or so, these ancient Churches have all recognized that the theological differences between them, both now and at the Council of Chalcedon, are largely semantic. No, not a matter of weaseling out of what was written in the fifth century and subsequently by these separated communities (the Catholic Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches), but a recognition that both communities of Christians confess that Jesus Christ is

Perfect God as to his divinity, perfect man as to his humanity, his divinity is united to his humanity in the Person of the Only-begotten Son of God, in a union which is real, perfect, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without any form of separation.

(Common Declaration of John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I, 1996)

Dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches has produced substantive theologial statements about their unity in the faith and essential christological agreement, in both the First Agreed Statement of 1979 and the Second Agreed Statement of 1990.

So, as you discern by reading through these documents, there should be no theological reason that Anglicans , as catholic Christians who, though separated from their Catholic and Orthodox brethren by the 16th century schism, confess the orthodox faith of two natures united in one person, Jesus Christ, could not welcome in fellowship bishops, clergy and laity of the Armenian Church as brothers in Christ and sharers in councils of the Church.

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5 thoughts on “Breaking the silence

  1. While it has been some time since I last studied Armenian Christology and do not hold myself out as an expert in this area, the world miaphysitism was what I meant to write. It was my understanding that miaphysitism or henophysitism was the proper why to describe Armenian Christology—-that while it had been argued that it was monophysitistic the proper way to describe their teaching that the in the one person of Jesus, divinity and humanity are united without seperation is this term.

  2. Completely off topic:
    Cardinal Levada has written to the TAC (it’s everywhere on the net).
    I would like to ask you something. If there is a positive outcome of all this, would it have any influence in other anglo-catholics (non TAC members)?

  3. What you and Dr. Conger describe sounds like what is on the English-language version of the Coptic Orthodox Church site in Egypt. This church has survived 1400 years of Islamic oppression (in diminished numbers) and has experienced a revival in recent decades, so it would be hard to say it has been in essential error for all those centuries.

    Whether Anglican Christianity will endure in the English-speaking world is another question.

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