Unity Faith and Order - Dialogues - Anglican Roman Catholic
ANGLICAN/ROMAN CATHOLIC JOINT PREPARATORY COMMISSION
Comments and Criticisms
- After the publication of the first Statement on Authority the Commission
received comments and criticisms. Some of the questions raised, such as
the request for a clarification of the relation between infallibility and
indefectibility, find an answer in the second Statement on Authority. Another
question, concerning our understanding of koinonia, is answered in the
Introduction to his Final Report, where we. show how the concept underlies
all our Statements. Behind many reactions to the Statement is a degree
of uneasiness as to whether sufficient attention is paid to the primary
authority of Scripture, with the result that certain developments are given
an authority comparable to that of Scripture. Serious questions have also
been asked about councils and reception, and some commentators have claimed
that what the Statement says about the protection of an ecumenical council
from error is in conflict with Article 21 of the Anglican Articles of Religion.
It has been suggested that the treatment of the place and authority of
the laity in the Church is inadequate. There have also been requests for
a clarification of the nature of ministerial authority and of jurisdiction.
Some questions have been asked about the status of regional primacies?for
example, the patriarchal office as exercised in the Eastern churches. Finally,
a recurring question has been whether the Commission is suggesting that
a universal primacy is a theological necessity simply because one has existed
or been claimed.
In what follows the Commission attempts to address itself to these problems
and to elucidate the Statement as it bears on each of them. In seeking
to answer the criticisms that have been received we have sometimes thought
it necessary to go further and to elucidate the basic issues that underlie
them. In all that we say we take for granted two fundamental principles
? that Christian faith depends on divine revelation and that the Holy Spirit
guides the Church in the understanding and transmission of revealed truth.
The Place of Scripture
- Our documents have been criticized for failing to give an adequate
account of the primary authority of Scripture in the Church, thereby making
it possible for us to treat certain developments as possessing an authority
comparable to that of Scripture itself. Our description of ?the inspired
documents ... as a normative record of the authentic foundation of the
faith' (para. 2) has been felt to be an inadequate statement of the truth,
The basis of our approach to Scripture is ‘the affirmation
that Christ is God's final word to man ‘his eternal Word made flesh.
He is the culmination of the diverse ways in which God has spoken since
the beginning (Heb 1:1-3). In him God's saving and revealing purpose is
fully and definitively realized.
The patriarchs and the prophets received and spoke the word of God in the
Spirit. By the power of the same Spirit the Word of God became flesh and
accomplished his ministry. At Pentecost the same Spirit was given to the
disciples to enable them to recall and interpret what Jesus did and taught,
and so to proclaim the Gospel in truth and power. The person and work of
Jesus Christ, preached by the apostles and set forth and interpreted in
the New Testament writings, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
are the primary norm for Christian faith and life. Jesus, as the Word of
God, sumps up in himself the whole of God's self disclosure. The Church's
essential task, therefore, in the exercise of its teaching office, is to
unfold the full extent and implications of the mystery of Christ, under
the guidance of the Spirit of the risen Lord.
No endeavor of the Church to express the truth can add to the revelation
already given. Moreover, since the Scriptures are the uniquely inspired
witness to divine revelation, the Church's expression of that revelation
must be tested by its consonance with Scripture. This does not mean simply
repeating the words of Scripture, but also both delving into their deeper
significance and unraveling their implications for Christian belief and
practice. It is impossible to do this without resorting to current language
and thought. Consequently the teaching of the Church will often be expressed
in words that are different from the original text of Scripture without
being alien to its meaning. For instance, at the First Ecumenical Council
the Church felt constrained to speak of the Son of God as ‘of one
substance with the Father' in order to expound the mystery of Christ. What
was understood by the term ‘of one substance' at this time was believed
to express the content of Christian faith concerning Christ, even though
the actual term is never used in the apostolic writings. This combination
of permanence in the revealed truth and continuous exploration of its meaning
is what is meant by Christian tradition. Some of the results of this reflection,
which bear upon essential matters of faith, have come to be recognized
as the authentic expression of Christian doctrine and therefore part of
the ‘deposit of faith'.
Tradition has been viewed in different ways. One approach is primarily
concerned never to go beyond the bounds of Scripture. Under the guidance
of the Spirit undiscovered riches and truths are sought in the Scriptures
in order to illuminate the faith according to the needs of each generation.
This is not slavery to the text of Scripture. It is an unfolding of the
riches of the original revelation. Another approach, while different, does
not necessarily contradict the former. In the conviction that the Holy
Spirit is seeking to guide the Church into the fullness of truth, it draws
upon everything in human experience and thought which will give to the
content of the revelation its fullest expression and widest application.
It is primarily concerned with the growth of the seed of God's word from
age to age. This does not imply any denial of the uniqueness of the revelation.
Because these two attitudes contain differing emphases, conflict may arise,
even though in both cases the Church is seeking the fullness of revelation.
The seal upon the truthfulness of the conclusions that result from this
search will be the reception by the whole Church, since neither approach
is immune from the possibility of error.
Councils and Reception
- The Commission has been said to contradict Article 21 of the Articles
of Religion in its affirmation that the decisions of what have traditionally
been called ecumenical councils ‘exclude what is erroneous'. The
Commission is very far from implying that general councils cannot err and
is well aware that they ‘sometimes have erred'; for example the Councils
of Ariminum and of Seleucia of 359 AD. Article 21 in fact affirms that
general councils have authority only when their judgements 'may be declared
that they be taken out of Holy Scripture'. According to the argument of
the Statement also, only those judgements of general councils are guaranteed
to ‘exclude what is erroneous' or are ‘protected from error'
which have as their content ‘fundamental matters of faith', which ‘formulate
the central truths of salvation' and which are ‘faithful to Scripture
and consistent with Tradition'. ‘They do not add to the truth but,
although not exhaustive, they clarify the Church's understanding of it'
The Commission has also been asked to say whether reception by the whole
people of God is part of the process which gives authority to the decisions
of ecumenical councils.
By ‘reception' we mean the fact that the people of God acknowledge
such a decision or statement because they recognize in it the apostolic
faith. They accept it because they discern a harmony between what is proposed
to them and the sensus fidelium of the whole Church. As an example, the
creed which we call Nicene has been received by the Church because in it
the Church has recognized the apostolic faith. Reception does not create
truth nor legitimize the decision: it is the final indication that such
a decision has fulfilled the necessary conditions for it to be a true expression
of the faith. In this acceptance the whole Church is involved in a continuous
process of discernment and response (cf. para. 6).
The Commission therefore avoids two extreme positions. On the one hand
it rejects the view that a definition has no authority until it is accepted
by the whole Church or even derives its authority solely from that acceptance.
Equally, the Commission denies that a council is so evidently self-sufficient
that its definitions owe nothing to reception.
The Place of the Laity
- The Commission has been accused of an overemphasis upon the ordained
ministry to the neglect of the laity. In guarding and developing communion,
every member has a part to play. Baptism gives everyone in the Church the
right, and consequently the ability, to carry out his particular function
in the body. The recognition of this fundamental right is of great importance.
In different ways, even if sometimes hesitantly, our two Churches have
sought to integrate in decision-making those who are not ordained.
The reason why the Statement spoke at length about the structure and the
exercise of the authority of the ordained ministry was that this was the
area where most difficulties appeared to exist. There was no devaluing
of the proper and active role of the laity. For instance, we said that
the Holy Spirit gives to some individuals and communities special gifts
for the benefit of the Church (para. 5), that all the members of the Church
share in the discovery of God's will (para. 6), that the sensus fidelium
is a vital element in the comprehension of God's truth (para. 18), and
that all bear witness to God's compassion for mankind and his concern for
justice in the world (Ministry, para. 7).
The Authority of the Ordained Ministry
- We have been asked to clarify the meaning of what some of our critics
call ‘hierarchical authority, ? an expression we did not use.
Here we are dealing with a form of authority which is inherent in the visible
structure of the Church. By this we mean the authority attached to those
ordained to exercise episcope in the Church.
The Holy Spirit gives to each person power to fulfil his particular function
within the body of Christ. Accordingly, those exercising episcope receive
the grace appropriate to their calling and those for whom it is exercised
must recognize and accept their Godgiven authority.
Both Anglicans and Roman Catholics, however, have criticized the emphasis
we placed on a bishop's authority in certain circumstances to require compliance.
The specific oversight of the ordained ministry is exercised and acknowledged
when a minister preaches the Gospel, presides at the eucharist, and seeks
as pastor to lead the community truly to discern God's word and its relevance
to their lives. When this responsibility laid upon a bishop (or other ordained
minister under the direction of a bishop) requires him to declare a person
to be in error in respect of doctrine or conduct, even to the point of
exclusion from eucharistic communion, he is acting for the sake of the
integrity of the community's faith and life. Both our communions have always
recognized this need for disciplinary action on exceptional occasions as
part of the authority given by Christ to his ministers, however difficult
it may be in practice to take such action. This is what we meant by saying
that the bishop ?can require the compliance necessary to maintain faith
and charity in its daily life' (para. 5). At the same time the authority
of the ordained minister is not held in isolation, but is shared with other
ministers and the rest of the community. All the ministers, whatever their
role in the body of Christ, are involved in responsibility for preserving
the integrity of the community.
- Critics have asked for clarification on two matters. First, what do
we mean by jurisdiction? We understand jurisdiction as the authority or
power (potestas) necessary for the effective fulfilment of an office. Its
exercise and limits are determined by what that office involves (cf. Authority
II, paras. 16-22).
In both our communions we find dioceses comprising a number of parishes,
and groups of dioceses at the provincial, national or international level.
All of these are under the oversight of a special episcope exercised by
ministers with a shared responsibility for the overall care of the Church.
Every form of jurisdiction given to those exercising such an episcope is
to serve and strengthen both the koinonia in the community and that between
different Christian communities.
Secondly, it has been questioned whether we imply that jurisdiction attached
to different levels of episcope even within the same order
of ministry is always to be exercised in an identical way. Critics
give the example of the relation and possible conflict between metropolitans
and local bishops. We believe that the problem is not basically that of
jurisdiction but of the complementarity and harmonious working of these
differing forms of episcope in the one body of Christ. jurisdiction, being
the power necessary for the fulfilment of an office, varies according to
the specific functions of each form of episcope. That is why the use of
this juridical vocabulary does not mean that we attribute to all those
exercising episcope at different levels exactly the same canonical power
(cf. Authority II, para. 16).
- Concern has been voiced that the Commission's treatment of regional
primacy is inadequate. In particular, reference has been made to the ancient
tradition of patriarchates.
The Commission did not ignore this tradition in its treatment of the origins
of primacy (cf. para. 10). It avoided specific terms such as ‘metropolitan'
and ‘patriarch', but in speaking of bishops with a special responsibility
of oversight in their regions, the Commission intended to point to the
reality behind the historical terms used for this form of episcopal co-responsibility
in both east and west. It also pointed to the contemporary development
and importance of new forms of regional primacy in both our traditions,
e.g. the elective presidencies of Roman Catholic episcopal conferences
and certain elective primacies in the Anglican Communion.
Primacy and History
- It has been alleged that the Commission cornmends the primacy of the
Roman see solely on the basis of history. But the Commission's argument
is more than historical (cf. para. 23).
According to Christian doctrine the unity in truth of the Christian community
demands visible expression. We agree that such visible expression is the
will of God and that the maintenance of visible unity at the universal
level includes the episcope of a universal primate. This is a doctrinal
statement. But the way episcope is realized concretely in ecclesial life
(the balance fluctuating between conciliarity and primacy) will depend
upon contingent historical factors and upon development under the guidance
of the Holy Spirit.
Though it is possible to conceive a universal primacy located elsewhere
than in the city of Rome, the original witness of Peter and Paul and the
continuing exercise of a universal episcope by the see of Rome present
a unique presumption in its favor (cf. Authority II, paras. 6-9). Therefore,
while to locate a universal primacy in the see of Rome is an affirmation
at a different level from the assertion of the necessity for a universal
primacy, it cannot be dissociated from the providential action of the Holy
The design of God through the Holy Spirit has, we believe, been to preserve
at once the fruitful diversity within the koinonia of local churches and
the unity in essentials which must mark the universal koinonia. The history
of our separation has underlined and continues to underline the necessity
for this proper theological balance, which has often been distorted or
destroyed by human failings or other historical factors (cf. para. 22).
The Commission does not therefore say that what has evolved historically
or what is currently practiced by the Roman see is necessarily normative:
it maintains only that visible unity requires the realization of a ?general
pattern of the complementary primatial and conciliar aspects of episcope'
in the service of the universal ?koinonia of the churches' (para. 23).
Indeed much Anglican objection has been directed against the manner of
the exercise and particular claims of the Roman primacy rather than against
universal primacy as such.
Anglicanism has never rejected the principle and practice of primacy. New
reflection upon it has been stimulated by the evolving role of the archbishop
of Canterbury within the Anglican Communion. The development of this form
of primacy arose precisely from the need for a service of unity in the
faith in an expanding communion of Churches. It finds expression in the
Lambeth Conferences convoked by successive archbishops of Canterbury which
originated with requests from overseas provinces for guidance in matters
of faith. This illustrates a particular relationship between conciliarity
and primacy in the Anglican Communion.
The Commission has already pointed to the possibilities of mutual benefit
and reform which should arise from a shared recognition of one universal
primacy which does not inhibit conciliarity ‘ a ‘prospect (which)
should be met with faith, not fear' (Co-Chairmen's Preface). Anglicans
sometimes fear the prospect of over-centralization, Roman Catholics the
prospect of doctrinal incoherence. Faith, banishing fear, might see simply
the prospect of the right balance between a primacy serving the unity and
a conciliarity maintaining the just diversity of the koinonia of all the