Unity’s winding path

John Hunwicke offers a stark warning on the prospects for ecumenical advance and looks back at an important document too little known in the Church of England, Church Eucharist Trinity

The Catholic clergy spent their time in sacraments and prayer, Perusing Scripture, offering outdated pastoral care, But we, the Ecumenicals, had planned our route before, Through Lima and through acronyms and through Reports galore; ‘Porvoo!’ we sang in drunken joy, with ‘Meissen!’ our refrain, The night we went to Reuilly by way of Fetter Lane. (after GK Chesterton, with apologies)

No; you aren’t sure which of those momentous ecumenical documents explains the full Catholic authenticity of German Lutherans or French Calvinists or the Moravians or the Scandinavians. You have better things to do with your time! You noticed references to them in Rochester and above all in An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, where you were surprised to learn that you could not query whether Methodist ministers really are priests, because the CofE had already committed itself in these documents to accepting that its own Orders were not essentially different from those of nonepiscopal Reformation denominations.

Like bearers of a horrible mutation of avian flu, those distant chickens have now come home to roost. To put the final icing on the cake, women bishops will soon mean that we have nothing, just nothing, to look forward to but a bleak future of ‘unity’ with Liberal Protestantism and Feminism. And this is happening just at the moment when Rome and Orthodoxy are in a striking phase of rapprochement. So: is a new and even greater chasm to open between us and the ancient communions of East and West at the precise time when that schism of the first millennium has the best chance in a thousand years of being mended? No wonder Cardinal Kasper starkly asked the English College of Bishops, ‘Where and on what side does the Anglican Communion stand, where will it stand in the future? Which orientation does it claim as its own?’

Pope Benedict

It is now clear that Benedict XVI is making Christian Unity the great aim of his ‘brief pontificate’. We hear of a visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch; reports of a major and extended visit to Rome by the Patriarch of Moscow; of a major RC– Orthodox document next autumn; of overtures to some of the more orthodox separated fragments of Latin Christianity. There surely can be no doubt that Cardinal Kasper’s visit to England should be seen in this context. Rome is in effect saying ‘Do you want to join the game? After all, we thought you did, back in the Sixties when together we set up ARCIC [the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission]. Have you really now abandoned the old Anglican dream of unity with us and with the ancient churches of the East? Does the Lord allow you to do that?’

And there are persistent rumours of a Vatican committee set up to take a careful look at those parts of the fracturing Anglican faith-community which are Catholic-minded and Catholic-converging. After all, Benedict XVI is the Joseph Ratzinger who spoke so sympathetically about us in the early 1990s; who sent a telegram of solidarity to a traditionalist Anglican gathering in America; who encouraged the Anglican Usage of the Roman rite – Anglican parishes in America united with Rome and continuing to use what is in effect an Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

So there is a real prospect of a great outbreak of Christian Unity and of us out in the cold. In the past, some Catholic Anglicans have been keener on unity with Rome, while others have looked further east. This is now a seriously dated disagreement. What we now face is East and West uniting, while we sink into a morass of women bishops, gay marriage, and liberal Methodists; doubtful sacraments and clergy who make light of the doctrines of the Creed. And all Kasper got from his journey to warn us was unreconstructed archiepiscopal abuse of Rome in our Synod, and a silly ‘paper’ by two bishops saying that Junia is the answer to everything.

So let me resurrect an ecumenical report of 1982. You won’t have met it in Rochester or Guildford or the Anglican-Methodist ‘Covenant’; I am pretty sure that Porvoo, Reuilly, Meissen, and the rest don’t include it in the close-meshed apparatus of footnotes by which they cite and adduce each other so as to build up their incestuously self-validating magisterium of pan-Protestant ecumenical theology. I am referring to a slender document called Church Eucharist Trinity (CET). It was produced by the thirteen main Orthodox Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. Its authors included very big hitters; Benedict XVI, then Joseph Ratzinger; John Zizioulas, the famous Greek theologian who is now Metropolitan of Pergamon and Chairman of the current RC–Orthodox discussions; and Louis Bouyer, Jean Tillard and Jan Willebrands.

A serious ecumenical report

CET emphatically asserts that ‘The bishop receives the gift of episcopal grace in the sacrament of consecration effected by bishops who themselves have received this gift, thanks to the existence of an uninterrupted series of episcopal ordinations [Porvoo please note], beginning from the holy apostles... He receives the ministerial grace of Christ by the Spirit in the prayer of the assembly and by the laying on of hands of the neighbouring bishops, witnesses of the faith of their own churches.’ Indeed, CET repeatedly uses the phrase sacrament of consecration. Protestantizing ecumenical apparatchiks, who treat episcopacy as a matter of organization (‘furniture which can be shifted around,’ as they sometimes call it) are talking about something totally different from what the Orthodox–RC dialogue is describing.

I am reminded of Kasper’s fears about ‘the Anglican Communion...moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant churches... It would indeed continue to have bishops...but, as with bishops within some Protestant churches, the older churches of East and West would recognize therein much less of what they understand to be the character and ministry of the bishop, in the sense understood by the early church and continuing through the ages.’

As for the authors of Rochester and Guildford, with their concern for the minutiae and niceties of episcopal jurisdiction, they are wrong-footed by the CET assertion that ‘The union of the community with [the bishop] is first of all of the order of mysterion and not primordially of the juridical order’ – a point Dix kept making.

Walter Kasper’s paper given to the English bishops, explaining what episcopacy is all about, can be summarized in his words, ‘The episcopal office is thus an office of unity.’ CET likewise cogently declares ‘The eucharistic unity of the local church implies communication between him who presides and the people to whom he delivers the word of salvation and the eucharistic gifts... The bishop cannot be separated from his church any more than the church can be separated from its bishop… He is the minister of unity.’ This leaves no space for the sort of organisational tricks attempted by Anglican committees whereby a confused answer is given to the question ‘Who is my bishop?’ There is no way of getting round this question or fudging it.

An authentic particular church has one bishop who is the bishop (even if he may have coadjutors who function as extensions of his episcope). CET starkly says ‘Mention of him in the anaphora is essential.’ Mentioning the bishop in the eucharistic prayer as Orthodox and Catholics do is not so much an expression of prayer for him as of full, unimpaired unity with him. We need a structure in which for each of us there is ‘the bishop,’ and it is perfectly clear who he is, so that we have no difficulty mentioning him by name.

Relevant to our crisis

Another area in which CET is relevant to our current crisis is its conviction that ‘mutual recognition between this local church and the other churches is also of capital importance… It implies unity of witness and calls for the exercise of fraternal correction in humility.’ Fraternal correction, surely, is exactly what Walter Kasper, in the name of Christ, came to offer us. And these words of CET remind me of the 1999 ARCIC agreement which proposed that Anglicans should ‘receive’ the papal ministry. Where has that got to in our synodical processes?

I conclude with the important teaching of CET on what ‘the Church’ is. There is the universal church’; there is the ‘local church’. The local church is not a denomination or a national or regional body. It is ‘the local church which celebrates the Eucharist gathered round its bishop... The eucharistic celebration makes present the Trinitarian mystery of the church.’ So ‘the local church...is not a section of the body of Christ.’ On the contrary, ‘the universal church manifests itself in the synaxis of the local church;’ ‘the one and only church is made present in [the bishop’s] local church... the universal and local are necessarily simultaneous.’ Readers will here recognize the ‘eucharistic ecclesiology’ which has characterized the writings of John Zizioulas, and the documents Communionis notio and Dominus Jesus of Joseph Ratzinger, now Bishop of Rome and Successor of St Peter.

Six years ago, in his enthronement sermon at Exeter, Bishop Michael Langrish memorably called ecumenism ‘a journey without exits’ and added, ‘There can be no easy walking away from those with whom we are put together in Christ.’ Let us pray that we are not now on a slip road taking us away from the main motorway.

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