A Pope for all Christians – Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
12 June 2006 • Permanent link: iarccum.org/?p=977
by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali for The Tablet. Pope John Paul II has invited leaders and theologians of other Churches to help him in seeking new forms for the papal ministry. In this article the Bishop of Rochester makes a contribution from the Anglican Communion’s point of view.
As I write, conversations are taking place in Rome on the future of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. Whatever structures are set in place, it is certain that the dialogue will continue.
It is sometimes easy to forget how much has been achieved. The agreement of the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission on the Eucharist and on the Ministry is of such depth and quality that in the judgement of the Vatican no further study would seem to be required at this stage, while the 1988 Lambeth Conference confirmed that the agreement is consonant in substance with the faith of Anglicans. Such agreement should reassure Roman Catholics that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the decree on ecumenism, that the Anglican Communion has a special place because of its retention of elements of Catholic faith and ecclesiastical structure, remains valid.
It would be idle to pretend, however, that serious differences do not remain. Indeed, some have emerged since the Council. Such differences exist not only on the question of admitting women to the priesthood but also in the area of moral teaching, for example on contraception, therapeutic abortion and the remarriage of divorced people. Differences also continue to exist in matters of devotion, especially towards the Virgin Mary.
Such differences are a matter for continuing theological investigation and dialogue. But they also relate to how the exercise of authority is perceived. It is significant that while ARCIC-I reached substantial agreement on eucharistic doctrine and on the ministry, there was only a certain convergence on the question of authority in the Church.
In its recent Virginia Report, the Inter-Anglican Doctrinal Commission recognises that there is a need to reflect on how the Anglican Communion makes authoritative decisions and maintains its different provinces in unity and interdependence. The report outlines the various structures and processes which serve as instruments of communion. These include the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Meeting of Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council (which brings together bishops, clergy and lay people) and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.
The emergent, Communion-wide role of the Archbishop of Canterbury is a sign that the logic of primacy remains deeply embedded in the Anglican understanding of the Church. The same logic is seen in the way a bishop is regarded as the focus of unity for the local Church, and in the way primates exercise jurisdiction within their provinces. In the Church of England, for instance, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have permanent metropolitical jurisdiction in their respective provinces in terms of discipline, appeal and the granting of certain faculties. At times when they carry out archiepiscopal visitations, they also have an ordinary jurisdiction which has the effect of suspending the jurisdiction of all inferior ordinaries.
In spite of the emerging world-wide role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglicans have no desire to set this up as an alternative papacy. In Lord Runcie’s words, they would rather continue to deal with the structures of the existing Petrine ministry, and hopefully help in its continuing development and reform as a ministry of unity for all Christians. This does not, of course, exclude a continuing role for the Archbishop of Canterbury among those of Anglican tradition once full communion has been re-established.
Despite the declaration in Article 37 that the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England, Anglicans have never rejected the principle of a universal primacy. Indeed, even at the height of adversarial polemics, following the Reformation, leading Anglicans, such as John Cosin, Bishop of Durham, acknowledged that the Bishop of Rome did possess a kind of universal primacy. Concern has been focused, rather, on the manner in which this primacy has been exercised at different periods.
Recognition of the need for a universal primacy has undoubtedly been strengthened by the rediscovery, in modern biblical study, of Peter’s place in the New Testament Church. Even the most Protestant scholars admit that it is Peter who is personally addressed in Mt. 16: 13-20 as the rock on which Christ is to build his Church. It is true that some go on to point out that this is not the Simon of nature but the Peter of grace and that the other apostles are also spoken of as the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2: 20). In all the lists of the apostles, Peter is mentioned first, and he is clearly the leader of the Early Church according to the opening chapters of Acts. He has a special place in the narratives concerning the appearances of the Risen Lord (e.g., Mk. 16:7, Lk. 24:34, Jn.21, 1 Cor. 15: 5) — and he is told to strengthen your brethren (Lk. 22:32).
At the same time, the New Testament writers do not shrink from mentioning his weaknesses. Immediately after he is told that he is the rock on which the Church is to be founded, he is sharply rebuked for attempting to turn Jesus from the Way of the Cross (Mt. 16:21-23). Even the exhortation to strengthen the brethren is set in the context of Peter’s approaching apostasy. St Paul confronts him when his nerve fails him and he is unable to have the courage of his missionary convictions (Gal. 2:11-14).
The Petrine texts, in themselves, say nothing about the transmission of Peter’s leadership. At the same time, both St Peter and St Paul are associated with the city and the Church of Rome from an early date and the Roman Church acquires prestige and authority because of this association. As the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue notes, the role of the Roman see and its bishop is enhanced both by its association with Peter and Paul and by the importance of Rome as a political, cultural and religious centre.
The lists of the early Roman bishops are exceptionally reliable and in the work of some of them, such as Clement I (88-97) and Victor I (c.189), we see already the growing importance of Rome. The authority of the Roman bishop continued to grow through the centuries and, in the early period, reached its climax in the way the Tome of Leo was received by the Council of Chalcedon as the standard of orthodox doctrine about Christ.
Acknowledgement of Rome’s moral and doctrinal authority, however, did not always go hand in hand with a recognition of her jurisdiction in matters of worship or discipline. Claims to such jurisdiction were widely rejected in the East, and even in the West the Popes had to press their claims with the aid of the imperial powers.
Even those, like St Cyprian, who had a high regard for the Chair of Peter, and who regarded the Roman Church as the origin and symbol of unity, were quite clear about the limits of Roman jurisdiction. Cyprian not only insists on the authority of individual bishops in their sees but also claims a certain measure of autonomy for the North African province, while acknowledging that appeals may be made to Rome in certain cases. He is also well-known for consulting lay people in matters relating to church government, in particular the appointment of bishops and clergy. It is worth noting that at the Council of Carthage (256) there were, along with the bishops, many presbyters and deacons present as well as lay people.
It is often said that Anglicans have a Cyprianic doctrine of the Church. This seems to be true in their insistence on provincial autonomy and in the involvement of lay people in church government. It needs to be further worked out, however, in relation to mutual interdependence within the Body of Christ and in developing the logic of primacy so that the service of love of the Bishop of Rome can be received again.
If this were to happen, what kind of primacy would Anglicanism be willing to accept? It would have to be a primacy which was more than just of honour. Even the primacy exercised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion is more than that. Anglicans would want a primate who exercised leadership not only in the Church but also in the world. Such prophetic leadership is seen sometimes in the travels, speeches and writing of the present Pope. Leadership of this kind can be acknowledged even before the restoration of full communion between the Churches.
Anglicans would want a primate who gathered the Church in different ways for consultation and decision. In certain well-defined circumstances, they might also be willing to acknowledge a function for the primate as a court of appeal. They would expect that such a universal primate would respect the principle of subsidiarity — not deciding at a higher level what can be decided at a lower one — particularly in matters such as church government, the appointment of bishops, inculturation in liturgy and theology, and freedom for theological research. Recent events have reminded Anglicans that they cannot be sanguine in these areas.
It is important that such a primacy is seen to function within the college of bishops and not outside it. It should be seen as a ministry which promotes the good of the whole Church and which, from time to time, articulates the sensus fidelium (the sense, or instinct, of the faithful). The teaching authority of the primacy should be exercised in a way that is manifestly faithful to biblical faith and apostolic tradition — and it should be able to accept criticism and correction which lead to reform and renewal.
Just as the logic of primacy impels Anglicans to look for a primacy which is a presiding in love for the sake of communion between the Churches, so also the logic of communion is leading Roman Catholics to rediscover the importance of collegiality among the bishops — that they should work as a team — and the place of the universal primate within that team.
It is leading them to rediscover the role of clergy and lay people in receiving and obeying the Word of God in contemporary contexts. It is leading them to rediscover the unity they have already with other Christians because of their common baptism. Together, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are rediscovering that the Church truly expresses its vocation to Catholicity when it reaches out to a world in need, bringing the Gospel of hope and healing and changing people and communities. A primate who was at the centre of the Church’s Communion and whose service built up the Church in biblical faith, holiness of life and mission to the world, would be very acceptable indeed.