Boundaries redux

Here’s the bit I was referring to before, the part which (in my opinion) gives the Primates a power they have not had (and ought not have):

[The member churches commit themselves] to seek the guidance of the Instruments of Communion, where there are matters in serious dispute among churches that cannot be resolved by mutual admonition and counsel:

  1. by submitting the matter to the Primates Meeting
  2. if the Primates believe that the matter is not one for which a common mind has been articulated, they will seek it with the other instruments and their councils
  3. finally, on this basis, the Primates will offer guidance and direction.

What exactly does it mean to offer “guidance and direction”? And to what extent does a primate (or group of primates) from outside a member province have any jurisdiction, authority, or power to offer either “guidance” or “direction” to that province?

As the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, our Presiding Bishop, put it in a letter of April 30, 2007, addressed to Archbishop Akinola, “the ancient customs of the church [limit] the episcopal activity of a bishop to only the jurisdiction to which the bishop has been entrusted, unless canonical permission has been given.” It looks to me like the covenant proposes that all provinces of the Anglican Communion give blanked “canonical permission” to the Primates (as a group, or individually?) to do so.

In essence, the covenant would create an Anglican curia made up of the Primates. Or would it be a “collective papacy”? In any event, it would allow the Primates to step willy-nilly over provincial boundaries and dictate (excuse, me “offer guidance and direction”) to the provinces of the Communion.

Queen Elizabeth I, coronation portraitThis also is contrary to the Anglican ethos. Historically, the Anglican Church came into being because Henry VIII and the English bishops (seeking an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon) decided to throw off the authority of a foreign primate.

It was Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, who completed that act. In the Act of Supremacy, the English monarch was declared the “Supreme Governor of the Church in England.” No longer would any foreign primate exercise authority over the English province. As the Anglican Communion has grown, as national provincial churches have become independent of their colonial or missionary origins, those new Anglican Provinces have also become self-governing according to their local traditions and constitutions.

Now, 45o years later, Anglican provinces are being asked to accede to the authority of foreign primates.

And all this because of something not central to the Gospel! Late in Elizabeth I’s reign she is said to have declared, “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith; all else is a dispute over trifles.” Would that todays Anglican leaders would adopt a similar attitude!


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