|From the Canon Theologian|
A Response to The Windsor Report 2004
Very shortly after his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams informed all the primates of the Anglican Communion of his conviction that all bishops should uphold and proclaim whatever is believed by the vast consensus of Anglican provinces, the sensus fidelium, and that those who do not do this “threaten our sacramental communion.” Following the decision of ECUSA “to confirm the election of a priest in a committed same sex relationship to the office and work of a bishop” and of the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster “to authorize a public Rite of Blessing for those in committed same sex relationships,” the Anglican primates, meeting at Lambeth Palace in October 2003, declared that these decisions did indeed “jeopardize our sacramental fellowship with each other.” They added that many provinces would likely consider themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church (USA), and that “this will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level”– that “deepest level” being our “our sacramental fellowship.” Following their meeting, and at their request, the Archbishop of Canterbury established a Commission to examine “the legal and theological implications” of the above actions, and specifically the “canonical understandings of communion, impaired communion and broken communion.” The Windsor Report is the result.
In a statement following the Report’s publication, the bishop of Fort Worth pointed out that it once again made abundantly clear that the positions taken by the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth are in full accord with the practice and teaching of the worldwide Anglican Communion. That being so, he could personally accept most of the Report’s recommendations. Nevertheless, there seems to be a fatal flaw running throughout the Report which in the long run may very likely make it impossible for us to walk together as a Communion.
As far back as the Lambeth Conference of 1978 [Resolution 18:1 and note] the assembled bishops said: “It is a matter of urgency that we have a further theological enquiry into and reflection on the meaning of communion in a trinitarian context for the Anglican Communion. Such an enquiry should relate to ecumenical discussions exploring similar issues. This, more than structures, will provide a theological framework in which differences can be handled.” They saw the primary issues as theological, trinitarian and ecumenical, rather than structural and juridical.
Since that time the above statements of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other primates have made it abundantly clear that communion centers in sacramental fellowship, communio in sacris, and in particular eucharistic communion, for this is the greatest effective sign of the co-inherence we are all capable of sharing with the unity of Persons in the Blessed Trinity. It is this sacramental co-inherence that is threatened by the actions of ECUSA and New Westminster. But the Windsor Report has, without explanation, altered this understanding of Communion, and now says that it is "all about mutual relationships," and “expressed by community, equality, common life, sharing, interdependence, and mutual affection and respect.” The defining character of communion, which subsists in “visible unity, common confession of the apostolic faith, common belief in scripture and the creeds, common baptism and shared eucharist, and a mutually recognized common ministry” (Sections 45 and 49), is no longer sacramental fellowship but “bonds of affection.”
This hardly seems an adequate response to the urgent Lambeth request of 1978. There are bonds of affection between me and my dog, but this hardly expresses the unity of persons within the trinity. (See Section 45) And in the Windsor Report the “trinitarian life and purposes of the one God” gain only a casual reference in Section 3.
Having lost our theological nerve as a Communion, it would seem that we have moved from an intellectual and theological objectivity to a subjective and secular sociology. In spite of Our Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit shall lead us into all truth, we have substituted affection for truth as the sufficient ground of communion. Here the Commission follows in the footsteps of August Comte, the atheist inventor of positivist sociology who proclaimed: “The necessity of assigning with exact truth the place occupied by the intellect and by the heart in the organization of human nature and of society leads to the decision that affection must be the central point of the synthesis.” And again: “The foundation of social science bears out ... that the intellect, under Positivism accepts its proper position of subordination to the heart.” (As quoted by Etienne Gilson in “The Unity of Philosophical Experience.”) August Comte substituted sentimentality for metaphysics, and the Windsor Report has done much the same – substituting sentiment for theology as the central point of its ecclesiology. Lambeth 1978 urged the Communion to provide a theological framework for communion in the context of the trinity and ecumenical discussion rather than structures, but the Report has offered us new political and juridical structures rather than adherence to a given and objective sacramental faith as the necessary safeguard of communion.
This is surely why the Commission is so sanguine about the effect of the ordination of women on the entire Communion. They hold up the juridical decisions of 1978 and after as a model of reconciliation within a diversity of theological opinion, and one rather thinks that they hope a similar resolution will be forthcoming in the debate about homosexuality. But what the Commission ignores is that the ordination of women broke communion at its deepest level – at the altar, and this brokenness shows no sign of healing even though we all remain within the same socio-political structures.
Because the Report defines communion in terms of socio-political structures rather than orthodox faith, it is understandable that it believes that the crossing of diocesan boundaries by other bishops threatens communion just as much as the actions of ECUSA and New Westminster. But this is bad sociology as well as bad theology. Given the mobility of our contemporary world, geographical boundaries are no longer relevant; geography has become history. And belief in the absolute sovereignty of the diocesan bishop, no matter how heretical his or her teaching may be, runs contrary to the teaching and practice of the early church.
Finally, the socio-political understanding of communion undermines any serious ecumenical interests, and it is no wonder that in all the Report’s discussion of communion there is scant reference to ecumenism. We have no way of talking with members of other ecclesial bodies about unity if we see unity as primarily juridical; we have experimented with juridical mergers and they have all failed, because other Christians do not necessarily want to be Anglicans no matter how much we compromise our inheritance for their sake. But many do want to be united with us in a single communion of faith and sacraments. And this is not just true of non-Anglican Christians. There are many ecclesial bodies that consider themselves to be faithfully Anglican but are not recognized as constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Most have broken their juridical ties with their former Anglican provinces over the ordination of women. Though they uphold our common Anglican tradition of faith and sacraments, they are not mentioned in the Windsor Report. And one wonders if this is because their existence gives the lie to the Commission’s insistence that the ordination of women does not impair the communion that once existed among us.
I am thankful that the Windsor Report, following consistent Anglican tradition, rightly upholds the primacy of scripture as the ultimate test of faith and primary source of communion. However, the present divisions within Anglicanism do not concern the primacy of scripture but standards for its proper interpretation. Here I find the Report sadly deficient. Like us, the 16th-century Anglican Reformers also had to inquire into the necessary criteria or standards for maintaining communion among Christians of diverse opinions, and for them the question had national as well as ecclesial urgency, for in the 16th and early 17th centuries virtually no one thought it was possible to have one nation with more than one church. Anglican divines from Jewel and Hooker onwards declared that tradition and reason were the proper means of interpretation. But in doing so they had only a pre-Kantian understanding of reason as the intellectual means for grasping objective truth, rather than as the culturally formed reason of the Virginia Report. And by tradition they were not simply appealing to cultural history but specifically, as embodied in the Canons of 1571 and 1603, to the teaching of the ancient and catholic fathers of the undivided church. Whereas the Windsor Report alludes to the ancient fathers as of historical interest and value, classical Anglicanism treated them as essential standards of scriptural interpretation. The canons of 1571 state that preachers shall "teach nothing ... save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old and New Testament, and what the catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this selfsame doctrine." And they then go on to say that “whoever does otherwise, and perplexes the people with contrary doctrine, shall be excommunicated”– a judgment stronger surely than just “breaking bonds of affection”! Their appeal to the faith and practice of the primitive church and ancient fathers was based on their conviction that the Holy Spirit was leading the church into all truth and that this truth could be perceived by the consensus of the whole church, by its consistency with the church’s original apostolic teaching, and by its common expression in a variety of countries and cultures. In other words, the court of appeal for such Anglican divines as Andrewes, Hammond and Thorndike was to the so-called Vincentian Canon: that which has been believed ubique, semper, et omnibus. Lancelot Andrewes could thus write: “Let that be reckoned Catholic which always obtained everywhere among all, and which always and everywhere and by all was believed.” He then goes on to say that the English church did not need “a coercive jurisdiction” but a “moral authority” which he found in the continuity of Anglicanism with the primitive church. [As quoted by Arthur Middleton in Fathers and Anglicans] The Windsor Report only refers to the Vincentian Canon’s threefold standard of interpretation tangentially and never by name (Sections 62 and 68), because throughout the Report the Vincentian Canon like the early fathers is only treated as of historical interest rather than upheld as objective standards of faith for judging the differences among us.
The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is alone cited as objectively authoritative for all Anglicans in that it “commits Anglicans to ‘a series of normative practices ...’’” (Section 51). But the Quadrilateral was never designed as a fourfold standard of normative Anglican belief and practice but as a minimal requirement for entering into any form of ecumenical discussion with other ecclesial bodies. It was not seen as specifically Anglican but as normative for the entire church catholic and therefore inadequate as a means for settling the differences among us and with fellow Christians.
The Windsor Report has offered a possible program for restoring full communion among us by strengthening and initiating new juridical structures within the Anglican Communion, many of which are undoubtedly long overdue. I commend the Commission on many of their suggestions. Nevertheless true communion has to be a spiritual and moral reality based on an objective adherence to scripture and its right interpretation. In this area the Windsor Report seems to me to be woefully inadequate. I fear that we shall never walk together again until this Commission, or another like it, repudiates the current drift of Anglicanism into subjective sociology and restores the objective criteria for scriptural interpretation once upheld by Anglican divines.
|Canon Heidt's response was prepared at the request of Bishop Iker. It has been forwarded to the Windsor Report “Reception Committee” in accord with the Lambeth Commission’s request for responses to its Report.|
Clicking this link will take you to the Lambeth Commission’s page, which details the process of reception of the Windsor Report and introduces the members of the reception committee.