Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Anglican Communion

On July 31st, Cardinal Kasper was invited to give a talk at the Anglican Lambeth Conference regarding issues surrounding the Anglican communion as it pertained to the ecumenical dialogue between Rome and Canterbury, especially in light of the recent fragmentation of the Anglican community over women's (non) ordination to the episcopate and acceptance of homosexuality.

I think Cardinal Kasper is a mixed bag. He often (mostly) makes me want to jump up and down and pull my hair out while I read what he says, but other times he can be pretty insightful. His address at Lambeth is the same way. One the positive side, he has a very interesting observation about what it means to "be in communion." For many Christians, and modern Catholics, too, to be in communion tends to have a humanist-grounded perspective that unity means simple unity among people. We see this in the Catholic Church with all the social justice influenced prayers and songs about all people getting together in unity, overcoming barriers, tearing down walls, blah blah blah.

In the ecumenical sense, too often unity is reduced to merely being in legal communion with the Bishop of Rome. Don't get me wrong, this aspect of unity is essential. As St. Cyprian said, Rome is the See "from which priestly unity takes its source." But being in legal communion with Rome does not exhaust the meaning of unity and falls short of the Scriptural meaning of unity (shalom), or the patristic notion. Cardinal Kasper points out to the Anglicans that an approach of "what is the lowest common denominator we can reach to get into visible communion" is not what Christ envisions when He speaks of the Church being one.

Rather, because the Church transcends time and includes all of the saints and angels, one must also be in communion with them as well, not just in the intellectual confession of belief in the communion of saints, but in being in active communion with the tradition of the faith. He noticed that Anglicanism has tended to focus on the practical aspect of keeping together its visible communion while ignoring what it is they are all attempting to commune around:

"While Anglican provinces have a responsibility towards each other and towards the maintenance of communion, a communion rooted in the Scriptures, considerably little attention is given to the importance of being in communion with the faith of the Church through the ages.”

Kasper means this in relation to the Anglican communion's shifting on issues of women's ordination and homosexual leadership in their church. I think it is a poignant observation: usually, we speak of communion with reference to persons, being in communion with the pope or the bishop. Kasper points out that all of the people who are in communion are in that state because of their common acceptance of the faith of the Church throughout the ages. In order to truly be in communion with any persons within the Church, we must be in communion with the historical faith of the Church. In all the efforts of the Anglican communion to hold its disintergrating mass together, perhaps they need to stop and ask why they are trying to hold themselves together and what is their principle of unity?

Of course, it is amusing from a Traditionalist point of view to hear Cardinal Kasper talking about the historic faith! Especially when he makes such comments about tradition, as in the following statement to the Anglicans on the Catholic position on female ordination:

"The Catholic Church finds herself bound by the will of Jesus Christ and does not feel free to establish a new tradition alien to the tradition of the Church of all ages."

It's great to see that he is so zealous to uphold the tradition of all ages! Let's see him apply that principle to his talks with the Jews, and then I'll be happy.

His talk is also the occasion of some mind-blowing comments, like this one:

"It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree."

The Anglican communion is "rooted in the historic faith"? Even if Anglicanism went back to its most "Catholic" form, that of the Caroline divines of the mid 1600's, it would still not be historic Christianity, most obviously because they have no Apostolic Succession (oh yeah, and all the heresy, the stuff about Purgatory being a "Romish fable" and all that). And why, when many other Catholic commentators are speculating that the divisions within Angicanism could lead to a widespread return of Anglicans to Rome, does Kasper say he wishes the communion to stay together? Probably so as not to offend them, which is of course the Prime Directive of modern ecumenism.

I'd say that this is a wonderful, rare and unique moment within the relations between Rome and Canterbury. The Anglicans seem to be looking to Rome for leadership, and we ought not to throw this opportunity away. The depth of this crisis is seen in the puzzling question posed to Cardinal Kasper by Rowan Williams several months back: "What kind of Anglicanism do you want?" Imagine an Anglican clergyman asking a Catholic Cardinal what type of Anglicanism he wants to see! Anglicanism cannot come closer to Rome on its current path. With the ordination of women to the episcopate, as Kasper told them, "It now seems that full visible communion as the aim of our dialogue has receded further." The Anglican identity is torn at its very heart, and nobody, not even Dr. Williams, knows how it will (or should) re-emerge.


Anonymous said...

I think you are his romanita with his actual intention. It is common to praise a person or group, not so much for something they're actually doing, but for the direction you'd like to see them take. Look at the late Popes' speeches to the Jesuits. So when Kasper mentions their fidelity to the historic faith, it is not really an observation (since fidelity to the historic faith is utterly lacking in all parties at Lambeth) as much as telling them what he wants to see. In parenting, they call it positive reinforcement.

Nevertheless, I think his speech was clear, intelligent and penetrating, at least by the standards of modern ecumenical dialog.

Basically, he says that historically we have spoke the same language, even though we've disagreed. If you continue to monkey with the priesthood and episcopate, we'll be speaking different languages, even if we use the same-sounding words, and we'll have to deal with each other in a much different manner. We'll need interpreters, dictionaries, tourist phrasebooks, etc... like we use with Methodists.

Boniface said...

Perhaps, but given Kasper's record, I think he really does mean all of these nice things about wishing the Anglicans would stay together and persevere in the historic faith and all that.