The persistent oversimplification of boundary crossing and the ancient Church

[N.B.: The rejection of diocesan boundary crossing by bishops from other provincial Churches of the Anglican Communion, as has gone on for several years now in the United States, Canada and Brazil, continues to be an important (essential?) commitment on the part of some conservatives who remain within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, as in the latest offering from the principal theologians of the Anglican Communion Institute. I don’t comment on this piece, “Patient Endurance – On Living Faithfully in a Time of Troubles”, for reason of not yet having read it closely enough to offer either cogent criticism or praise. However, I am persistently bothered by the appeal to this rejection, one of the injunctions of the 2004 Windsor Report, because it represents an oversimplication of life in the early Church during the time of the Arian controversy (which, remember, was not settled by the Council of Nicaea but continued to rage at least until the Council of Constantinople, near the end of the fourth century). My objection to the Windsor injunction, and its continued endorsement by some conservatives, is grounded mostly in a protest against this oversimplication of history and against an appeal to the canons of the Council of Nicaea that is theologically incoherent in the current context for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the bishops gathered at Nicaea understood themselves, and those bishops in communion with them, to be The Church, while Anglicans do not so understand themselves. Episcopalians and Anglicans who appeal to the canons of Nicaea against diocesan boundary crossings skate on very thin ice indeed, when many Anglican dioceses have been set up where there previously had been bishops in historic succession, whether Catholic or Orthodox or Old Catholic (not to mention Oriental Orthodox or Assyrian Christian), in some cases for many centuries before Anglican incursions into these established apostolic sees. Examples of these incursions in North America alone include all Episcopal and Anglican dioceses in Quebec, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and the rest of the Southwest, California, Alaska, and Mexico. And yet Nicaea is not invoked against them. The only right basis for an appeal against diocesan boundary crossings by bishops in other provincial Churches of the Anglican Communion is an appeal to “the bonds of affection” – and the strain put on them by the actions of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada renders such an appeal difficult in the extreme.

The following is the original form of William Tighe’s essay “Abusing the Fathers: the Windsor Report’s Misleading Appeal to Nicea”, published in edited form in Touchstone, and republished here in its entirety, after publication in March 2005 on the original Confessing Reader weblog with Dr Tighe’s kind permission. While I am myself among those conservative “evangelical (and catholic, in my case)” Christians who appreciate Dr Wright’s scholarship, I believe that Dr Tighe does us a service in providing this critical analysis of the appeal to the canons of the Council of Nicea with reference to the current crisis in Anglicanism. Dr Tighe’s critique is no less apposite now than it was nearly four years ago.]

N. T. (”Tom”) Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, has for some years deservedly enjoyed a reputation of a first-rate Scripture scholar who has been able to counteract and debunk “revisionist” — read, if you will “heretical” or “anti-Christian” — views of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord and the authority of the Bible, such as those emanating from the “Jesus Seminar” or from the retired Episcopalian Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong. He appeals particularly to those “conservative evangelical” Christians who wish to uphold a generally “high” view of the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, as regards doctrine and morals, but who wish to leave room for some “developments” that more conservative and tradition-minded Christians find suspect, such as the ordination of women, of which Bishop Wright is a strong supporter.

A year ago, the uproar after the election and subsequent consecration of the notorious Vicki Gene Robinson — the Episcopal priest who divorced his wife and subsequently openly entered a homosexual relationship which continues to this day — as Bishop of New Hampshire, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a committee of Anglicans (five archbishops, five bishops, two female clergymen and five lay church officials) to look into the matter — it was a development which clearly contradicted the 1998 Lambeth Conference’s resolution declaring such relationships to be incompatible with the Christian faith — and to make recommendations as to how the Anglican Communion could deal with it in such a way as to maintain the highest possible degree of communion. The Chairman of this “Lambeth Commission” was Robert Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of the Church of Ireland, a man who, as chairman of a similar committee in the late 1980s about the issue of women bishops, helped to devise a way in which the Anglican Communion could avoid — as it has so far — a split over that divisive issue. Possibly the hope was that he would be able to work the same magic on this new, and even more divisive issue. When the Lambeth Commission produced its “Windsor Report” on October 18, 2004, the results fell well below the expectations of those who expected, or hoped, that it might recommend the expulsion, or at least the suspension, of the Episcopal Church (and the Anglican Church of Canada, whose diocese of New Westminster began officially to bless homosexual “partnerships” in May of that year) from the Anglican Communion, or at least some measure of firm discipline.

The report came to three conclusions: it called for a “moratorium” on the elevation to the episcopacy of all non-celibate homosexuals, a similar moratorium on the authorization of rites for the public blessing of same-sex “partnerships” and an end to the intervention of traditionalist Anglican bishops (usually from Africa or Asia) who have intervened in the dioceses of other Anglican bishops to support traditional Anglicans who have been under attack for their orthodox stance on this issue, or on that of the ordination of women: these bishops, as well as those responsible for fostering and promoting the blessing of such homosexual unions or involved in the consecration of Bishop Robinson, were called upon to express regret for their actions, which were deemed to be incompatible with the tangible and intangible bonds which held the Anglican Communion together. But no “enforcement clauses” appeared in the report, although there was the suggestion that those bishops who refused to express regret for their actions might abstain from participation in any function or forum in which the Anglican Communion as a whole was represented, and just the hint that if the first two condemned practices were to continue and the requisite “regrets” were not forthcoming, something further might have to be done about it.

Bishop Wright was a member of the Lambeth Commission, and in various places since the issuance of the report has defended its actions (and lack of firmer actions). He has, in particular, defended the Windsor Report’s implicit censure of the intervention of orthodox Anglican bishops in the dioceses of “revisionist” ones. In a report which he had published in the 23 October 2004 issue of the liberalish English Roman Catholic weekly journal The Tablet he justified this censure — which the African Anglican primates, who met in the last days of October, criticized strongly for “the moral equivalence drawn between those who have initiated the crisis and those of us in the Global South who have responded to cries for help from beleaguered friends” — on the basis that such interventions were “in contravention not only of Anglican custom but on the Nicene decrees on the subject.” As Bishop Wright’s grasp of the Church Fathers’ theory and practice seems a bit weak in these areas, it may be useful to pursue the subject a bit further. First, however, I have to note a regrettable feature of the Windsor Report — its lack of documented notes and references to back up its claims and assertions. This compares badly with such documents as those produced by the various ecumenical dialogues in which the Catholic Church has been involved, such as the “Joint Declaration on Justification” of 1999, in which the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation claimed to have reached a consensus on that issue, one of the most critical matters separating Catholics and Protestants (especially Lutherans) in the Sixteenth Century. That is a document for which one or more Biblical or (in some cases) Patristic references are provided for every assertion of a doctrinal nature which it contains. The Windsor Report, for example, simply cites “the ancient norm of the Church” for the unity of all Christians in one place, without any references, for its rationale against the intervention of outside bishops, and although there is an allusion to a canon of the Council of Nicaea tucked away in another section of the Report, it is far from obvious, as I shall show later, that it has any bearing on the current crisis in the Anglican Communion.

The Council of Nicaea, which met from May to August of 325 AD and is most famous for its formulation of the original version of the Nicene Creed — the version in universal use today is a modification approved by, if not created at, the Council of Constantinople in 381 — also produced twenty canons, or “rules,” to settle problems, or fix abuses, in the Church. Several of them concern the relations of bishops with one another, or of clergy with their bishops. None of them seem to have any real applicability to the situation of the Anglican Communion, or the Episcopal church, today — and it is clear that these canons as such have no legal force in any contemporary Anglican church — but when I read them over I thought that if any one of them underlies Bishop Wright’s oblique reference it must be Canon 16, which runs as follows:

Priests and deacons or, in general, any member of the clergy, who have the audacity, not considering the fear of God and not knowing the Church’s rule, to abandon their churches, must not under any circumstances be received in another church but by all means must be forced to return to their proper communities, and if they refuse, they are to be properly excommunicated. In addition, if anyone dares to take someone who is under the authority of another bishop and to ordain him in his own church without the consent of the bishop in whose clergy he was enrolled, let the ordination be regarded as null.

This canon obviously deals with “clergy flight” and “clergy poaching:” it assumes a community of orthodox belief between the churches and bishops concerned, and says nothing at all about interventions in churches whose bishops have, in the view of other bishops hitherto in communion with one another, abandoned orthodoxy of belief and practice and have begun to oppress those of their flock who continue to uphold it, even if that “oppression” consists only in contradicting that orthodoxy and furthering those who teach and act against it. But while I was puzzling this over I received information form the Canon Theologian of the ECUSA Diocese of South Carolina, the Rev’d Dr. Kendall Harmon, that it was Canon 8 of Nicaea that had been cited in the Windsor Report. So I went back to the Windsor Report. There was nothing to help me in the Endnotes or in Section D of the report, the section which contains its conclusions. Finally, and after much searching, I found an allusion, rather than a reference, in Section A of the report, in a subsection entitled “Illness: The Surface Symptoms.” Paragraph 29 of that section describes — and while describing deplores “as now part of the problem we face” — the breaking of communion with ECUSA by other Anglican provinces and dioceses, attempts by dissenting parishes and groups to “distance themselves” from the dioceses, bishops and provinces within which they are “geographically located” and the interventions of Anglican archbishops from elsewhere in dioceses of ECUSA and the Anglican church of Canada. About this last “problem” it comments: “This goes not only against traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice” — and here there is an allusion to the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences — “but also against some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicaea).”

So what does Canon 8 of Nicaea say? It is, unfortunately, one of the longer of that council’s canons, and runs as follows:

Concerning those who have called themselves ‘the pure ones,’ if ever they want to come into the catholic and apostolic church corporately, it seems right and proper to the holy and great council that they (i.e., their clergy), after having received the imposition of hands, should then remain in the clergy. But first it is important that they promise in writing to accept and to follow the rulings of the Catholic Church, that is, that they will have communion with those who have been married a second time and with those who renounced the faith during persecution for whom a period (i.e., of penance) has been established and a date (i.e., of reconciliation) set. It is, therefore, necessary that they follow in full the rulings of the Catholic and Apostolic Church. Consequently, when in the cities and villages there are only clergy ordained by these ‘pure ones,’ let them keep their status as clergy; on the other hand, where there is a bishop or a priest of the Catholic Church, if certain of these ‘pure ones’ want to be admitted to the clergy, it is evident that the bishop of the Church should keep the dignity of bishop. As for the person who carries the name of bishop among the so-called ‘pure ones,” he is to have the rank of priest unless the bishop consents to let him have the honor of his title. But if he is not so disposed, let the bishop give him a place as a chorepiscopus (i.e., a bishop or perhaps a priest who exercised some supervision over Christian communities in the rural areas, while being himself subordinate to the bishop of a nearby city) or as a priest so that he can appear as being integrated into the clergy. Without this provision, there would be two bishops in the city.

“The pure ones” was the name given — perhaps self-given — to a schismatic group known as the Novatianists. They originated in the aftermath of the great persecution — the first empire-wide persecution — launched against the Church by the Roman Emperor Decius in 249-251. Before that persecution, a Christian who apostatized, or renounced Christianity, under pressure and then wished to return to the Church could only be readmitted to the Eucharist when on his deathbed. In the aftermath of the persecution, which saw apostasies on a large-scale, the Bishop of Rome, Cornelius, decided to relax this practice by allowing apostates to be readmitted after some years of public penitence (which involved, among other things, standing in a particular place during the Church’s liturgy and leaving before communion). Most bishops elsewhere adopted this practice as well, but in Rome Pope Cornelius was opposed by the priest Novatian, whose followers elected him as bishop in opposition to Cornelius, and in the ensuing years the schism spread throughout the Roman Empire. The Novatianists were moral rigorists, best known for their absolute prohibition of second marriages to their adherents and their refusal to readmit the “lapsed” — those who had renounced the faith — to communion. In every other respect, though, their beliefs were thoroughly orthodox. A Novantianist bishop turned up at the Council of Nicaea, where he was as vehement in his opposition to the views of the heretic Arius (whose views the council had been called to consider, and which it condemned) as any of the other bishops there, and it was only when he went on to insist on the exclusion of the lapsed from communion that his Novanianist allegiance came to light, and he was ejected from the council. Of all the various heretical or schismatic Christian sects — “heretical” or “schismatic” in the judgement of the “Catholic and Apostolic Church” whose bishops assembled at Nicaea — the Novatianists were the ones who were viewed with the most indulgence, as this canon indicates. It was common at the time to regard as “heretical” all Christian sects who pertinaciously and as a matter of principle separated themselves form the “Catholic and Apostolic Church,” while the term “schismatic” was applied to those separations, local in nature, and without any doctrinal basis, which resulted from such causes as disputed episcopal elections, and so while on a strict view the Novatianists would have been viewed as heretics separated from the “Catholic and Apostolic Church,” in practice the Council of Nicaea (as Canon 8 shows) was willing to treat groups of them who wished to rejoin the Church as though they were simply schismatics. But, in fact, few Novatianists took advantage of this offer: their church, or “denomination,” continued to exist (as a rigorous and “pure” alternative to the established Catholic and Orthodox Church) in parts of the Eastern Roman Empire for some three or four centuries afterwards.

It is hard to see that this canon has anything to do with the troubles of contemporary Anglicanism that evoked the Windsor Report. It does uphold the “principle” of the unity of the local church, but the situation that it addresses is that of the reunion of a schismatic group with the Church, not the question of the appropriate reaction of bishops to the defection of one of their brethren from their common orthodoxy. However, such situations did arise in the Fourth Century, in the long aftermath of the Council of Nicaea and later still.

The main purpose of the Council of Nicaea was to judge the views of the Alexandrian priest and theologian Arius, who held that Jesus Christ, the Savior, the “first-born of all creation” was a creature — a divine being created by God before the angels, the cosmos and mankind, but a creature nevertheless. Nicaea condemned Arius’ views, and its creed the full co-divinity and co-eternity of “the everlasting Son of the Father” (the question of the nature and status of the Holy Ghost arose subsequently, and was not settled until the Council of Constantinople in 381). However, since the controversy continued unabated after Nicaea, and since the Emperor Constantine’s purpose in calling it together was at least as much to promote ecclesiastical harmony as to define dogmatic truth, the fact it failed signally to produce ecclesiastical harmony induced the emperor within a few short years to attempt to promote various attempts at theological compromise that would have the effect of reconciling Arius and his followers with those who upheld the decisions of the council. (The fact that many of the most influential bishops around the emperor were sympathetic to some degree with Arius’ theological outlook gave added impetus to these efforts at compromise.) Among the most vigorous and uncompromising upholders of Nicaea and its creed was the young archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius (ca. 296-373), who as a priest has accompanied his predecessor as archbishop, Alexander, to Nicaea, and had succeeded him as bishop three years later. Athanasius’ vigorous opposition to any compromise on the matter earned him the hostility of the bishops who had most influence with the emperor, who himself in the last decade of his life (he died in 337) increasingly regarded Athanasius as a disturber of the peace, and finally exiled him to what is today the German Rhineland; and after Constantine’s death, as his Arianizing son Constantius became master, first of the East and then (in 350) of the whole Roman Empire, Athanasius experienced repeated recalls and renewed exiles, as imperial policy shifted from conciliation to coercion of the adherents of Nicaea. As time went on, the whole church, especially in the Greek-speaking eastern regions of the empire, became divided over the question, with bishop opposing bishop. Athanasius, in particular, was willing, as the conflict intensified, to intervene unilaterally in dioceses whose bishops were Arians or compromisers, but he was not alone.

The Fourth-Century ecclesiastical historian Socrates (ca. 380-440) records that Athanasius, after his vindication by the Council of Sardica in 343, and the ending of his exile (he would experience more exiles over the next quarter century), undertook to ordain men in dioceses whose bishops were tainted with Arianism to serve the orthodox upholders of Nicaea, and that without seeking or obtaining the permission of those bishops. We do not know for sure whether Athanasius, then or later, ordained bishops for these orthodox communities faced with hostile heterodox bishops, or only priests and deacons. We do know that another contemporary “Nicene” bishop, Eusebius of Samosata, travelled around much of the eastern portions of the Roman Empire disguised as a soldier, and where he found Arian or Arianizing bishops he ordained deacons, priests and even bishops to care for the orthodox and oppose the “official” bishops and their supporters. Details of the activities of Athanasius, Eusebius and any other like-minded contemporary bishops, such as Lucifer of Cagliari, who wandered throughout the Mediterranean world in support of those who upheld Nicaea, or Epiphanius of Salamis (in Cyprus), a native of Palestine who conducted ordinations in Palestine in defiance of compromising bishops, are few, but in the Fifth Century, after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, both proponents and opponents of the council among the bishops in the eastern parts of the empire were willing to intervene, or intrude, regularly in dioceses whose bishops were on the “other side,” especially when the imperial authorities supported first once side, then another, or attempted to broker compromise settlements, during a period of 85 years after that council. All of this allows us to say that any attempt to construct a theory of the inviolability of diocesan boundaries — a theory which would serve to underpin the statements of more than one or two ECUSA bishops in recent years (such as Peter Lee of Virginia or Neil Alexander of Atlanta) that “heresy is preferable to schism” and that the faithful should feel obliged to put up with an unending stream of doctrinal absurdities and moral enormities — cannot find any support in the theory and practice of the Early Church.

In the light of this history, Bishop Wright’s invocation of “Nicene decrees” and the Windsor Report’s allusion to “the ancient norm” and “some of the longest-standing regulations” begins to look distinctly thin, and when on a closer look it seems all to boil down to Canon 8 of Nicaea, it vanishes altogether, and all that is left is “Anglican custom” (Wright) or “traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice.” But then one has to ask whether, if this is all that remains, it amounts to anything at all. Those who have followed the actual practices of Anglican churches, in the United States, Canada and Australia especially, over the past three decades, will see how readily proponents of one innovation after another have been willing to norms, decrees, regulations, canons, customs — you name it — in order to gain their ends: the illegal and uncanonical “ordinations” of priestesses in ECUSA in 1974 and 1975 and in Australia in 1991, and the subsequent cave-in of both Anglican churches on that issue; the casting of a blind eye towards clergy and ordinands in irregular marital or sexual situations; and, just recently in ECUSA, the production (as “resources”) of syncretistic rites introducing elements of “goddess worship” or outright paganism as acceptable, if unofficial, options. Speaking personally, for me the clearest and most instructive (as well as the saddest) lesson of this episode is how sincere and pious Christians, like Bishop Wright, who endorse one patently unbiblical innovation (or “development”), such as the ordination of women, but wish to oppose another (partnered homosexual bishops and clergy, and the blessing of such “partnerships” by their church), both deprive themselves of any compellingly persuasive basis for rallying a forceful “Athanasian” opposition to retake their churches from the heterodox innovators who dominate it and (in consequence) render their own situations hopeless, as able neither to fight nor to flee.

Dr William Tighe is Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College, specializing in the history of the Renaissance and the Reformation.


6 thoughts on “The persistent oversimplification of boundary crossing and the ancient Church

  1. Thanks for republishing this, Todd. Excellent work from Dr Tighe.

    I note this statement from the ACI offering linked above:

    The obedient form of differentiation suggested by the pattern of Christ is not separation but faithful persistence along a different path within the fellowship of the church that has nurtured one as a Christian but has, nonetheless, gone astray.

    Is it? The Nicene fathers would find it oddly incoherent to imagine that one could remain “within the fellowship of the church” simply by staying put — if one’s “church” was led by an Arian bishop it was by definition outside the fellowship of the Church.

    I do hope though that in resisting the oversimplification of the Nicene canons we do not fall prey to other temptations. Despite a somewhat suicidal tone, the ACI statement is right in its caution about placing oneself and one’s friends outside the judgment of God. The chaos of the 4th-5th centuries no more justifies misuse of authority than it does the straw notion of inviolable episcopal boundaries. There in particular I find Dr Tighe’s criticism of +Durham’s “thin” reading of the Tradition compelling: if we really want to be conciliar, orthodox Christians, we have a lot more to worry about than whether it is ok for Nigerian bishops to church plant in America.

  2. I don’t want to abuse your hospitality, Todd, but here (below) is a pendant to the above article that I wrote for *Touchstone,* but which (in the event) was never published:


    “With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”

    In an earlier article on the Windsor Report, “Abusing the Fathers: The Windsor Report’s misleading Appeal to Nicea” in the April 2005 issue of *Touchstone* I examined how the Windsor Report seriously misrepresents the teaching and practice of the Church Fathers in regard to bishops’ intervening in the affairs of dioceses with heretical bishops, in an attempt to press them into service to support the report’s attempt to prohibit such interventions. Here I wish to discuss another, and equally glaring, absurd feature of that flawed document: its stealthy attempt to to fix forever the acceptance of the “ordination” of women as one of the defining characteristics of Anglicanism. In this regard, “stealthy” is the operative word, as the Windsor Report presents its readers with a “pseudohistory” of the women’s ordination debate within the Anglican Communion to back up its attempt to declare (or rather insinuate) that the question has been settled and the innovation “received” (to quote the bureaucratic lingo for “freely accepted”). Having abused the Fathers in the matter of border crossings, the Windsor Report abuses conservative Anglicans and the Anglican tradition itself in its eagerness to “resolve” this other issue (an eagerness, by the way, which it manifested gratuitously, as nothing in the terms of reference under which the commission that produced the report mandated or even suggested that it should weigh in on this question).

    Paragraphs 12-21 of the Windsor Report give an account of the women’s ordination controversy within the Anglican Communion, describing it as a process of “mutual discernment” — and one which, as paragraph 22 goes on to state could and should have been the sort of precedent to follow in order to deal successfully with the current controversy over practiced homosexuality. The account in these paragraphs is austerely institutional, describing the inconclusive Resolution 34 of the 1968 Lambeth Conference on the issue (which had been submitted to it by the Diocese of Hong Kong & Macao), the 1970 resolution of the Anglican Consultative Council (which passed by a 24 to 22 vote) that such ordinations would be acceptable if the requisite institutional procedures were followed, Resolution 21 of the 1978 Lambeth Conference which recognized the “legal right” of each Anglican church to make its own decisions on the matter, the noncommittal Resolution 1 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference which recognized differences of principle on the issue but which recommended “maintaining the highest possible degree of communion” between the differing Anglican churches and the work of “The Commission on Women in the Episcopate” — the first “Eames Commission” — to monitor the “process of reception” of women bishops. At the end, paragraph 21 described the whole process as a success, in the sense that the process was carried out “without division.”

    The amazing thing about this section is that while it does not contain so much as a single false statement, the effect of its institutional focus is to insinuate the conclusion that the whole process has been gentle and painless, and has in the end come to a harmonious resolution. This is a grotesquely false representation of what actually happened. It ignores entirely the formation of pressure groups, the generation of publicity, the presentation of arguments largely devoid of theological contents, the demonization of opponents and dismissal of their arguments, the uncanonical (meaning “illegal”) ordinations of women, in the United States (1974, 1975) and in Australia (1992), in order to force the issue, the narrow victories which proponents won, the (in the event entirely bogus) offer of “conscience clauses” to traditionalists, in order to encourage them not to leave, with the hope that the decision to ordain women might be reversed or, if not, that those of a traditional stance would have a safe and secure place in their churches and the subsequent pressures upon dioceses whose bishops had opposed women’s ordination to elect bishops eager to introduce female clergy — just as it avoids any allusion to the exodus of clergy and laity from some of the Anglican churches that adopted the ordination of women to Rome, to Orthodoxy and (most amazingly of all) to the Continuing Anglican churches and other “para-Anglican” bodies, almost all of which arose in reaction to the decision of one or another Anglican church to ordain women. And it avoids any allusion to these “down to earth” matters, it must be said, because to include them would show, contrary to the view of the Windsor Report itself, that the process which has been followed to date on the issue of the practice of sodomy as an acceptably Christian “lifestyle” is exactly parallel to that which the proponents of women’s ordination pioneered a quarter-century earlier.

    The issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood has hardly been settled in the Anglican Communion, much less that of the ordination of women to the episcopate. But, given the manner in which the Windsor Report wishes to frame its contrast of the two issues, the one handled properly, the other not, it can hardly admit this. Rather, it must forge ahead to postulate a “logical,” if absurd, conclusion in the section of the report dealing with elections to the episcopate. Paragraph 126, coming between a paragraph that states that the acceptability for selection as bishops of persons who have been divorced and remarried is unclear (paragraph 125) and another that states that the unacceptability of those involved in “same gender unions” is clear (paragraph 127) has to be quoted in full:

    There are some matters over which the Communion has expressed its mind. As we have seen, the contentious issue of ordaining women as bishops was the subject of extensive debate and discussion in the Communion for some considerable time before a common mind was reached. After lengthy deliberation, the Instruments of Unity concluded that although the ministry of a woman as bishop might not be accepted in some provinces, that represented a degree of impairment which the Communion could bear. (emphasis mine)

    What does this mean? It has been read by many as stating, or at least insinuating (and the Windsor Report appears to have a penchant for insinuating matters which it might seem imprudent to declare outright), that the “process of reception” in the matter of the ordination of women is over, that the innovation has been “received,” and such a reading appears to have convinced a prominent Anglo-Catholic priest of my acquaintance engaged in a prolonged battle with his “revisionist” bishop that there is no future within the Episcopal Church or even the Anglican Communion for those with his, and his parishioners’, convictions. Initially, I thought such a conclusion unlikely, since there are numerous Anglican church provinces where women are not ordained to the priesthood, and only three of them — Canada, New Zealand and the United States — have women bishops. What I thought it meant to conclude, or insinuate, as its “common mind” was that the toleration by all the constituent member churches of the Anglican Communion of an innovation rejected for themselves by some of these constituent member churches (hence “impairment”) is (always?) preferable to disruption of the Anglican Communion. Put differently, it says that institutional maintenance (which is what is meant by the phrase “the Communion” towards the end) is more important than a common faith or sacramental communion (cf. “impairment” — i.e., of communion in faith and sacraments). It seems therefore to be insinuating that the primary duty of individual Anglican churches is to maintain membership of the organization, even if there is such disagreement about fundamental matters that “communion” in the more traditional, sacramental, sense of the term cannot be maintained. It is possible to put this view in a more cynical manner, by seeing paragraph 126 as an attempt at ecclesiastical legerdemain, its first sentence flashing before the bemused, and perhaps gullible, onlookers that which the second sentence snatches away again. “A common mind has been reached,” on the one hand, “but it amounts to an agreement to disagree” (and perhaps to “avert one’s eyes”), on the other.

    This is what I believed paragraph 126 meant. But when I thought this I had not yet considered (or even looked at) the “Anglican Covenant” which the Windsor Report proposes in its Appendix Two — a “covenant” whose purpose, as there defined is “to foster greater unity and to consolidate our understandings of communion” among the member churches of the Anglican Communion. Article 12 (“Apostolic and Ministerial Commitments”) of this document states that each Anglican church shall:

    1 uphold the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons; 2 recognize the canonical validity of orders duly conferred in every member church; 3 welcome persons episcopally ordained in any member church to minister in the host church subject to … the law of that church; and 4 permit any person ordained in that church to seek ministry in any other member church subject to its law and discipline

    Unless “canonical validity” is to be contrasted with some other sort of “validity” (sacramental validity?), and “duly” with an implicit “unduly” — all of which is passed over in the most complete silence — then it does seem that the effect of the Windsor Report, if not the intentions of those who composed it, is to put an end to the “reception period” in which the ordination of women has been — purportedly — “tested” and to declare (or rather, once again, insinuate) that it has been “received” by the Anglican Communion as a whole, even though some of its individual member churches have been unable or unwilling to practice it themselves, or at least not yet. But this, in turn, raises the question of whether the event which triggered the uproar which occasioned the Windsor Report, the election and consecration of the heterosexually divorced and homosexually partnered Vicky Gene Robinson, can with any plausibility be represented as (in the case of his election) “canonically invalid” or (in the case of his episcopal consecration) “unduly conferred.” No more, I would say, than the election and consecration of Barbara Harris in 1989 as Suffragan (assistant) Bishop of Massachusetts, and no less. And from this it would appear that, absent an effective means, if not a willingness, on the part of conservative bishops and churches in the Anglican Communion to reject (or ignore) the parallelism between the two issues and to proceed to try to lay down the law to the Episcopal Church, its supporters and friends when the Anglican Primates gathered in Northern Ireland in February 2005 — or, as a last effort, at the 2008 Lambeth Conference — the innovationists will have won, however long it may take thereafter to bring the rest of the Anglican Communion into line. In such a case, Anglicans conservative on the homosexual issue, churches as well as individuals, will have the choice of leaving or acquiescing — the same choice that has faced opponents of the ordination of women for many years, and which so many of them have contrived for so long to avoid resolving. It is remarkable how the more conservative Anglican proponents of priestesses appear unable or unwilling to see how the Windsor Report’s pseudohistory of the ordination of women controversy within the Anglican Communion, and in particular its blithe inattention to the way in which the course of the earlier controversy parallels the later one, all-but-ensures that the innovators in the current controversy over homosexual practice will prevail in the same manner that those in the earlier controversy over women’s ordination did. The conservative “orthodox” in the Episcopal Church would be well advised to heed Gandalf’s advice (lacking as they do a Gandalf of their own), especially as their Balrog, far from having fallen into an abyss, is among them, and has been busy picking them off, one by one.

  3. Just a quick comment on the notion that WO has been completely “received”: For whatever reasons it was shockingly clear to me at this summer’s Lambeth Conference that the Communion’s bishops have not the will to take the issue seriously as a sacramental problem. I say “shocking” because even when Eucharist was led by provinces without women bishops or priests there was no guarantee that there would not be a random woman concelebrant or two. Visibly, women’s ordination was not under “reception” — it was under gradual implementation.

  4. Sam,

    Thanks for this. All this supports my notion that it is little short of insane for FtW, Quincy, SanJ and FIF/NA to affiliate with the proposed ACNA unless the parties to it agree, at the very least, to an absolute moratorium on WO to the presbyterate. I have been sounding this note in season and out of season, and including the bishops of those three dioceses on the distribution list for my “ratings.” For them to affiliate with a “province” that so institutionalizes WO that a supermajority is necessary either to end it or make it mandatory, is simply to attempt to create a second “Elizabethan Settlement” — about which Dix once wrote “Except for those doctrines upon which there was a general conventional orthodoxy at the moment quite apart from her dogmatic teaching, the English Church was to have no teaching and no revelation. Conformists might in their hearts believe what they willed of all the doctrines on which men differed, provided they conformed. It was the authority of a church by its own 21st Article admittedly fallible most thoroughly enforced.” (“The Revealing Church,” *Laudate* VIII:29 [March 1930], pp. 24-46)

    But who will “enforce” this Neo-Elizabethan Settlement, absent a “Supreme Governor, as well in all causes spiritual or ecclesiastical, as temporal or civil?” Lacking such, it seems fated to expire, as the Marxists would say, of its own inner contradictions. Still, it seems a sad denoument for Anglo-Catholicism within ECUSA, to leave the “House of Bondage” and yet cast themselves into a situation which perpetuates the very thing against which they have been struggling for over 35 years. I cannot but think of the old adage “Quos Iuppiter vult perdere dementat prius.”

  5. William Tighe: “I have been sounding this note in season and out of season, and including the bishops of those three dioceses on the distribution list for my “rantings.””

    You’re not the only one “ranting”. See this:

    Church of England’s parliament is ‘sinful’ over women bishops vote, says Bishop of Fulham

    The Church of England’s governing body is sinful and should be destroyed, according to a leading traditionalist.

    The Rt Rev John Broadhurst, the Bishop of Fulham, condemned the General Synod for going against the Bible and tradition by voting to introduce women bishops without making provision for opponents to the historic reform.

    In a strongly-worded speech, he also declared the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion “finished” and likened the organisation of its once-a-decade meeting, the Lambeth Conference, to Stalin’s Russia.

    His comments come amid continuing turmoil in the Church of England over the ordination of female bishops.

    In July the Synod, the 467-member “parliament” which is made up of lay members as well as clergy and bishops, voted that women should be admitted to the episcopate with only as unwritten code of practice to cater for Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals who are bitterly opposed to the innovation.

    The controversial decision not to create special “men-only” dioceses or a new class of “flying bishops” for traditionalists left one bishop in tears and led to threats of a mass exodus from the church of more than 1,300 clergy.

    As The Sunday Telegraph reported last week, bishops are now working on a new plan to avoid a damaging split by bringing in flying bishops to cater for opponents of women prelates.

    In a keynote address to the annual meeting of Forward in Faith, the church’s Anglo-Catholic wing of which he is chairman, Bishop Broadhurst told members that the Synod’s decision had been wrong and urged them not to leave the church as the outcome of the dispute could still be changed.

    He said: “The General Synod is presuming to change things as it wills, presuming to decide doctrine separate from the tradition, separate from scripture, separate from the universal brief and practice of the church. Sinful presumption, sinful.

    “This is not a vote we’ve lost, this is sin. This is human beings presuming to tell God in Jesus Christ he got it wrong, presuming to tell the majority of Christians we know better.”

    He went on to say the Synod is “unfit for purpose” because it does not consider God first and added to applause: “The sooner it is trimmed, culled, sorted or even destroyed, the better.”

    Bishop Broadhurst, who earlier in the year accused liberals of “institutional bullying” and warned of legal battles over churches if traditionalists defect to Rome, added that the Synod’s decisions can be undone and reiterated that he wants it to create a separate jurisdiction enshrined in law for opponents of women bishops, not a “ghetto for bigots”.

    He also declared that the worldwide Anglican Communion is “finished” and called the Lambeth Conference “horrendous”.

    The meeting earlier this summer was boycotted by 200 bishops because of the presence of liberal Americans and Canadians who have gone against church teaching on homosexuality, and was branded an expensive exercise in futility as no votes were taken on the divisive issues of whether gay clergy and same-sex blessings should be allowed.

    “Manipulation worthy of Stalin’s Russia,” Bishop Broadhurst said. “All may talk but none may have a say. All may talk but no votes.”

    From here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s