The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Prince Bishops?

Courtesy of Thinking Anglicans, I see that Bonnie Anderson is defending the function of the episcopacy in the American church, responding to Archbishop Rowan Williams' Advent Letter from December, 2007. Anderson's concern is raised by the Archbishop's statement that:
A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic Episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in the Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed
Anderson draws from this statement, and the fact that the responses to the second draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant is to be provided by the bishops, a concern that the American polity will be brushed aside, and bishops invited to aggrandize themselves. I can't say that she's wrong.

It's an interesting question, whether the Archbishop's rather high view of the episcopate should be or even can be a required one within all constituent members the Communion. I think, in view of the variety of views expressed within the Church of England (see, e.g., The Historic Episcopate, ed. Kenneth M. Carey (1954); K.E. Kirk, ed. The Apostolic Ministry (1947)), Abp. Williams's apparent suggestion that the role of the bishops inherently carries with it and even requires a certain ability to act unilaterally may be difficult to maintain as an item of faith. (In his contribution to the former, J.A.T. Robinson makes the interesting point that the result of a too-high episcopate is to isolate the bishop from the Church, to the detriment of both).

Well, we'll see how doctrinaire the Archbishop is, or whether indeed he intends to pursue this issue. And further study of this issue is warranted. In the meantime, I suspect that Fr. Tobias Haller's comment on TA that "[i]t isn't just that we are divided by a common language, but a common episcopate, it seems" may be the best one can say.

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