The Anglican Communion should be replaced by a looser club. Let's hope the Catholic Church doesn't go the same way
There is news from the Anglican Communion, and the news is that it no longer exists, and that Archbishop Welby is going to replace it with some looser structure, in which the various Anglican Churches abroad will enjoy a relationship with Canterbury, but not with each other. This is all well covered in the Guardian, with insightful commentary from Andrew Brown and further analysis here and here.
Given that the Anglican churches around the world have always been canonically autonomous, and given that they have never really sung from the same hymn sheet doctrinally, while all claiming some sort of common Anglican heritage, the news that the Communion is, not to be dissolved, but to be acknowledged as a term without any true meaning, is nothing more than common sense.
There are, though, let us remember, authentic communions of Churches. The twenty-three autocephalous churches following various Eastern rites, who are in communion with the Pope, are one such. The ever-useful Wikipedia provides us with a list of these autocephalous Churches, and estimates their combined membership at over 16 million. These Churches are united in dogma and in canonical practice (though they are liturgically diverse, each following their own tradition), and the guarantee of unity is communion with Peter. Anglicanism, of course, was founded by people who wanted to get away from Peter, and its initial charter was the Act “in restraint of Appeals” which stopped what was seen as the interference of a foreign bishop in English matters.
That was back in 1533.
People who claim, as I do, that there can be no unity without the Petrine ministry are often countered by the example of the Eastern Orthodox, who are a communion of 14 separate autocephalous churches. Though the Orthodox are strongly united in liturgy, they are not so in all matters of theology, and they are frequently rent by schism. Right now there are several schisms in the Orthodox church: there seems to be one between the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch over the status of Qatar.
There is also some sort of schism going on in Serbia, the ins and outs of which I do not understand. Because these schisms have been going on for some time, there are numerous splinter groups in Orthodoxy such as the Old Calendarists, none of which are in communion with Constantinople, though they may be in communion with each other. They are generally called “non-canonical” Orthodox. It is all very complicated.
I believe, along with Andrew Brown, that it is surely correct to call time on the Anglican Communion, which has never really stood for much, especially in recent decades. Some sort of looser club, which has no pretensions to doctrinal unity, is to be preferred. The idea of claiming a unity that does not exist is not just absurd, it’s also morally wrong.
But this leaves two challenges. We are meant to be united. All Christians are called to unity. How are we to bring this about, when unity seems further away than ever: after all if the Anglicans cannot unite with themselves, how on earth are they to unite with Rome?
The second challenge is internal to the Catholic Church: how are we to safeguard unity? How are we to ensure that the practices and beliefs of the Church are the same everywhere, and in continuity with the inherited tradition? Every generation has its challenges. As October, and the synod, looms, we certainly have ours.