Monday, July 16, 2012

Questions to Traditionalists

A couple of friends will, almost certainly, respond to this, but I'd be interested to hear from others, too. Having grown up in an evangelical Anglican church, I both know the arguments and understand the instincts of that constituency of the church, even though I'm no longer a card-carrier for that viewpoint. However whilst I have seen the arguments put, I have some unresolved questions about the traditionalist catholic position within the C of E, regarding the recent debate on women bishops etc. Now the dust is settling from Synod, I'd be genuinely interested to read some responses without it being a ding-dong battle.
My interest is around the what is usually called the three-fold ministry. Some churches which came out of the reformation, separated from what we now call the Roman Catholic church, retained the pattern of ministry of that church - i.e. they continued to ordain deacons, priests or presbyters, and bishops. The Church of England is one such church. As things stand, Anglican ordination is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church, having been declared null and void in a Papal Bull called Apostolicae Curae in 1896. This continues to be the RC position, and those Anglican priests who have become Roman Catholics have had to be ordained again in order to serve as deacons or priests.

If I have understood the arguments correctly, one of the key concerns for traditionalists is to keep Anglican ministry as compatible as possible with that in the Roman Catholic Church, so that a formal reunion is still possible, with the aspiration that recognition of Anglican ordination might also be part of that. That being the case, my first question is why was there so little fuss when women were ordained deacon in 1987? If the three-fold ministry is that important (and the traditionalist position would say it is), then surely the admission of anyone to any of those 3 orders needs to be in keeping with Roman Catholic practise?

Ordaining women deacon caused a reaction at the time in terms of women being seen in dog collars, but there was no exodus and no structural provision for conscience. In fact Andrew Burnham, a leading traditionalist who was a 'flying bishop' and has now become a Roman Catholic, had a woman deacon on his staff when a vicar in Nottingham. If ordaining women as priests and bishops is seen as unacceptably moving us away from the historic churches (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) then it seems to me that the key moment was 1987. Either that or you have to say the diaconate doesn't matter as much, which is not the historic view of three-fold orders. (Conservative evangelicals could cope with women deacons, as it didn't place them in positions of authority, so women becoming priests/presbyters & bishops were the problem for them.)

The second issue is more about the aspiration of my traditionalist colleagues. I presume that the reason they don't just become Roman Catholics is that there is something about being Anglican which they would wish to retain if Anglicans were reunited with Rome. My question is what, exactly, would they hope to carry through into a church which came under Roman authority? Many traditionalist catholic Anglicans already accept Roman Catholic understanding on many theological issues, and many use Roman Catholic liturgies, so I imagine it's a hope of carrying the church community into formal unity and recognition. Perhaps there is also an aspiration that something of the Anglican experience, story and possibly even some liturgy, might find an accepted place in any future union. But I'm not clear on what that really means, and many of their fellow Anglicans, whilst keen on ecumenical cooperation in many areas, wouldn't accept all that being a Roman Catholic entails - which is why they're Anglicans.

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St said...

I have become reasonably friendly with one of the deacons at our local RC church. It seems to me he functions as much more of a deacon in the way the Bible anticipates than Anglican deacons who, largely, are curates on their way to becoming priest within twelve months. I know this was not where you wanted the discussion to go but I thought it was interesting. Carry on.

Mike Peatman said...

Chip in however you want, mate. You're welcome! Agree re deacons btw.

Sir Watkin said...

I think the short answers are:

"Why there was so little fuss in 1987?" - Lack of clarity. The debate over women's ordination was relatively immature, and a lot of people hadn't throught things through. Ambiguity over the question whether deaconesses in the early church were female deacons or not. General sense that this wasn't worth dying in a ditch over. [Incidentally hopes of reviving of the permanent diaconate (cf St's comment) muddied the waters still further.]

"Aspiration of my traditionalist colleagues" - The convergence of the Church of England with the rest of the Catholic Church (preferably East and West re-united) from which reunion would naturally and inevitably follow, something it would be a bit hard to achieve if they left. Thinking in terms of retaining things rather misses the point.

Anonymous said...

Why no real fuss in 1987?
Some of us understood that the early church had held to a practice that saw both men and women in this, for meny, life long role. This was not, we were told, a move that would lead to the ordination of women priests but a move to look at permanent life long deacons. Like fools we believed the liberal bishops then in control.
As to why I do not become a roman catholic. I firmly believe God called me to be a priest in the church of Englang. Many parishes need traditional clergy as the church attempts to either buy us off, look at what happened in 1992, or kick us out. They will not!!!
We will stay and be true to our first calling whilst still looking to unite the universal church back to the position it once held.
Oh and have you asked your bishop the questions you pose or do you think that might not help you?.
Just a question

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Mike Peatman said...

I'm just catching up with blog comments. The facebook feed of this post resulted in some interesting conversation with a traditionalist friend who essentially agreed with my logic and opposed women deacons at the time.

Sir Watkin and Anonymous, thanks for your post. Traditionalist friends say that there is no such things as 'Anglican orders' - hence the importance of maintaining practise in the C of E which is compatible with the Roman and Orthodox traditions. It follows, therefore, that irrespective of the interpretation of deacon/deaconess texts in the New testament, the ordination of women as deacons was a departure from the practise of the universal church.

As to Bishops, this is public domain, so I never post anything here I wouldn't be happy for my Bishop to read.