Why should the Communion be predisposed to endless debate and keeping the questions alive?

Dr Bryden Black is a clergy from the diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand

Many thanks indeed Canon Wong for your considered “editorial comments”, notably their mixture of hope and realism.  My response might be a little long, but it tries to recognise that how we have reached our present plight is complex.

While the final Reflections document is said to offer a generalised, accumulation-of-all-voices “snapshot” (John Howe) of what has percolated up from the bishops’ Indaba Groups during 20 hours of face to face engagement, for all the world outside how will it not be business-as-usual in the weeks and months ahead?  How will the ‘Good Ship Anglicana’ not strike that iceberg?  In other words, what might be the long term legacy of this, Rowan Williams’ Lambeth?

Robert Jenson, in his admirable review (Pro Ecclesia XI/3 2002, pp.367-9) of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s collection of essays, On Christian Theology (2000), asked this: “Is it really the chief proper use of dogma and other theology ‘to keep the essential questions alive’ (p.92)?” He continues by pointing out that “God is indeed a mystery, but between honour for the biblical God’s specific mystery and the kind of endless semi-Socratic dialectic Williams often seems to commend, there is, I would have thought, some considerable difference.”

Now; Williams’ seminal work on Arius (Arius: Heresy and Tradition, DLT, 1987/Eerdmans, 2nd ed. 2002) itself both upholds “the biblical God’s specific mystery” and also dares, necessarily in the light of God’s own “exegesis” (John 1:18), and after extensive subtle qualifications, to foreclose on certain key options for understanding deity derived from the classical culture of the day, despite their traditional legitimacy.  So; there is not only space for some clear differences after all, in the light of God’s specific revelation and its ecclesial interpretation, but the need for upholding such distinctive claims in a Church that would be “one holy catholic and apostolic”.  Followers of Arius and his ilk are clearly seen to be on the ‘outer’ by these means.

If the Church has felt it necessary to anathematise certain G/gospels derived from non Nicene understandings of deity, then mutatis mutandis why should the Anglican Communion be predisposed to endless debate - “keeping the questions alive” - regarding the significance of human being created in the image of the Triune God?  For surely, when it comes to “essential questions”, an aspect of God’s mercy and kindness is that we humans have neither been kept in the dark nor “as orphans” (Jn 14), but God has come among us with sufficient “perspicuity”.  True; to “the crowds” much remains in parable and riddles (Mark 4, Matt 13).  Yet for those who have been gathered around Jesus, a community of acknowledged insight and faithful interpretation has grown and developed.  Surely therefore the onus of proof is ever on those who seek to legitimise new beliefs and practices contrary to these traditions of learned discernment.

My concluding comment to both the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops at Lambeth is this.  “Holding paradoxes in appropriate tension” - which is the call from Lambeth 2008 - may be a useful process in certain domains.  Our understanding of the behaviour of light in contemporary physics is one such.  But to ask Athanasius or the Cappadocians of the 4th C, and now the Anglican Communion of the 21st C, to stay in formal fellowship with those whose beliefs and practices are “essentially” contradictory and not merely complementary (as are the two contemporary models regarding light) is itself anathema - as many a Church Council canon has affirmed.  At root, the traditional logic that undergirded the idea of comprehensiveness is no longer the contemporary logic that is driving the call for inclusivity, in all manner of spheres.  It is therefore a “catastrophic failure of leadership” (Nelson Mandela), I submit, to permit, let alone to foster, the continuation of such an incoherent form of Communion as is now the result of Lambeth 2008.

This comment is not born of frustration or fear.  Nor does it try to preempt what may or may not happen at the next ACC meeting in May 2009 re the proposed Covenant, nor the extended probable scenarios beforehand via the Primates or thereafter via all the provinces.  On the contrary, it has grown itself from a fellowship that is quintessentially Anglican, a process of broad conversation and engagement, pastoral and intellectual, local and international, with the living and the dead, over 25 years, coram Deo.  It comes, as with Archbishop Orombi, out of “love [of] the Lord Jesus Christ, and ... love [of] the Anglican Communion”.  Such love comes too with a final concern: “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31).