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Last week’s historic and symbolic events in Canterbury and Rome underlined the deepening relationship between the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church. The events included a symposium at the Gregorian University in Rome. Among the speakers were Professor Paul Murray from Durham University (PDM) and Dr Paula Gooder, a theologian with the Bible Society (PG). Here is the text of what they said:
Receptive Ecumenism and ARCIC III
Introduction: the context for ARCIC III
(PDM) Your Grace, Eminences, my Lords and, I feel I should add, ladies – sisters and brothers all in the one Lord – it is an honour and a joy to share today in this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Dr Paula Gooder and I have the privilege of having been asked to share with you something of the work of ARCIC III and the ways in which the thinking and practice of Receptive Ecumenism has been shaping the distinctive approach of this phase of the Commission’s work. We particularly thank Archbishop David Moxon, as Director of the Anglican Centre and Anglican co-Chair of ARCIC III, Archbishop Bernard Longley as Catholic co-Chair, and Bishop Don Bolen and Bishop David Hamid, as co-chairs of IARCCUM, for collectively extending this invitation.
As with natural seasons, talk of our being in an ecumenical winter seems to come around with periodic regularity. It was during one such period in 1987, when addressing the great Swanwick gathering under the auspices of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, that His Eminence Cardinal Basil Hume memorably reframed perceptions and gave new orientation and realism to the ecumenical journey in our isles by stating that “we are no longer strangers but pilgrims together on the way to the Kingdom”. This was taken up as the strap-line and guiding theme for the ecumenical project in Britain and Ireland for quite some years afterwards. At once it both helpfully articulated the distance already travelled and realistically recognised there is a further journey yet to be walked. Most importantly, it recognised that we are all on this journey together, each travelling to a new place; that this is a pilgrim way on which we are each being led from grace unto grace; a pilgrim way on which we each receive from and are sustained by the other; a pilgrim way on which the path of continuing growth and conversion for each of our traditions, no matter how challenging at times, is always into a greater flourishing and living in the communion of the Trinity.
No longer strangers but pilgrims together on the way is a fitting strap-line also both for all that today’s happy celebration connotes and for the work of ARCIC III. Taken together, the establishment of the Anglican Centre, the numerous formal visits of Archbishops of Canterbury to Rome and of Popes and Cardinals to Canterbury, the painstaking and imaginative work of ARCIC I and II, and the establishment of IARCCUM, have each played decisive roles in effectively moving us from being near-strangers to being pilgrims together on a shared if differentiated journey; all underpinned and actualised, of course, by the crucial work of forging fresh relations and mutual appreciation on the ground in parishes and dioceses. It is in my lifetime and memory that Catholics were discouraged even from praying with Anglicans, let alone from understanding themselves as fellow-travellers.
Looking back over 50 years it is clear that there are different moments in the ecumenical journey and different moods therein. But we must not be fooled into thinking that these moments and moods are always discrete and neatly sequential. Like the English weather and seasons, they tend to overlap and blur into each other within a given space and time. A better image at 50 years is of Anglican – Catholic ecumenism as like a rope, a cord, composed of many interwoven strands pulling together with a strength that no one of the strands can alone provide. Or to alter the image again, it is like a piece of music composed of multiple notes and musical chords and performed in a range of keys in varying circumstances, moments, and moods. As we turn to reflect on the work of ARCIC III specifically and the role that receptive ecumenical ways of proceeding have been playing here, it is helpful to name some of these strands, some of these notes and chords, which have been so important and which continue to play their part in ARCIC III.
Most fundamental has been the ecumenism of prayer and friendship as the work of the Spirit; the sine qua non of all ecumenism, whether IARCCUM’s ecumenism of life and witness, or ARCIC’s ecumenism of theological dialogue. Powered by this, ARCIC has variously reflected an understanding of the ecumenical task as one of:
• problem-solving, seeking to unpick the knots of past disagreement;
• openness to fresh understanding, both of the other and of the common tradition;
• recognition of legitimate and necessary difference in communion;
• sharing one’s gifts;
• hope-filled imaginings;
• loving desire for that which appears good and attractive in the other;
• recognition of our own need for help;
• patient faith and realism, as servants rather than architects.
So how are these various strands, these various chords, being played upon and put to work in ARCIC III? What is the particular moment through which we are now living in Anglican – Catholic relations? What is the nature of our times? And which strands, which chords, within the ARCIC oeuvre now need to be brought to the fore?
We will recall there was a gap between ARCIC II and ARCIC III, and that IARCCUM also went through a period of suspension whilst new areas of difference relating to human sexuality and tensions around women’s ordination served to recalibrate formal Anglican-Catholic engagement. It had become clear that it was no longer realistic to hope that the abiding goal of sacramental and structural communion would be achieved within a generation. This raised the question as to what this means for theological ecumenism. Has the entire ARCIC endeavour now simply reached a dead-end, a cul-de-sac? Are the limits of the possible now defined by the ecumenism of tea and crumpets, of prayer and politeness, and, possibly, some shared social action?
In this context, it was with the boldness of faith that following the September 2010 Lambeth Palace meeting, Archbishop Rowan and Pope Benedict identified the two key issues which would be taken up in a further ARCIC dialogue as: a) the relationship between the Church local and universal, and b) the discernment of right ethical teaching. Far from ducking the hard issues, this is to take us right into the issues which both between and within our traditions bring current tensions into clearest focus.
The challenge, then, for the members of ARCIC III, sharply aware of standing on the shoulders of ARCIC forebears, of being like grasshoppers amongst giants, was to ask which strands of the ARCIC cord, which chords of the ARCIC oeuvre were now to be drawn out and put to work. How were we to pursue a genuine theological dialogue that took current realities seriously and which could nevertheless help each of our traditions to journey further together along the pilgrim way of growth and conversion towards greater mutual recognition and deeper communion. At the first meeting in Bosé in 2011, the ARCIC III members were introduced to some of the thinking of Receptive Ecumenism, which has been long-incubated in the ecumenical movement and within ARCIC in a particular way. It was felt that this represented an approach which might prove to be well-suited to current challenges; that the time had come to draw this aspect of ARCIC’s resource kit out more explicitly and to explore its potential fruitfulness in a more focussed and extended manner than had previously been done in the context of a bilateral dialogue.
Receptive Ecumenism and ARCIC III
(PG) Receptive Ecumenism is, in some respects, what William James would have referred to as ‘a new name for some old ways of thinking’. It draws out certain strands that already exist in the ecumenical cord and gives them fresh prominence, viewing them as particularly well-suited to the ecumenical context in which we now find ourselves: specifically the dispositions of self-critical hospitality, humble learning, and on-going conversion that have always been quietly essential to all good ecumenical work. At the heart of Receptive Ecumenism is the conviction that considerable further progress is possible on the way towards structural and sacramental communion and full mutual recognition but only if a fundamental, counter-instinctual move is made. The belief is that we each need to move away from wishing that other traditions could be more like our own and to ask instead what our own tradition is able to learn, with integrity, from the others in ways that can help to address specific challenges and felt difficulties in our own tradition. As John F. Kennedy might have put it: ‘Ask not what your own tradition can teach the others. Ask rather what your tradition can learn from these others.’
For Receptive Ecumenism it is as traditions and communities and not just as individuals that we are called to grow further into communion with Christ in the Spirit. It takes inspiration both from Saint Pope John Paul II‘s invitation to theologians and church leaders of other traditions in Ut Unum Sint to help with the task of re-imagining the performance of papacy and from Pope Francis‘s words in Evangelii Gaudium §246, where we find: ‘If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.’
Much ecumenical engagement is a matter of getting the best china tea-service out: of showing ourselves somewhat formally in the best possible light to our distant relatives who are coming to visit rather than allowing the more “warts-and-all” self-understanding we keep locked behind the closed doors of the intimate family space to come into view. In contrast, rather than the ecumenism of the best china tea service, Receptive Ecumenism represents an ecumenism of the wounded hands: of being prepared to show our wounds to each other knowing that we cannot heal or save ourselves; and asking the other to minister to us from the particular gifts and grace given to them.
The conviction is that if each of our traditions were to give priority to this question then considerable further movement on the ecumenical journey would indeed be possible and in various ways. First, each of our traditions would be enriched in its own right by being able to avail itself of fresh resource to help address felt difficulties and challenges. Second, collectively our traditions would thereby also come to a deeper mutual recognition and sense of communion by being able to see something of the other in ourselves, something of ourselves in the other, and each of us as growing more deeply together into differentiated communion in Christ and the Spirit. As such, Receptive Ecumenism can be seen to represent a way of ecumenical ecclesial conversion and growth which although it is remarkably simple in vision, is also remarkably far-reaching in potential. We have been exploring it as the way that the Spirit might today be calling our communions to walk, first for the sake of our own respective greater flourishing and, second, as the means of our giving a clearer, more convincing witness to our communion in the Trinitarian life of God.
It is, of course, the case that a great deal of receptive learning has already taken place between our traditions in the ecumenical movement and it has taken place at many different levels: from hymnody to devotional practices, from missiological strategy to even, in some instances, theological understanding. Receptive Ecumenism seeks to build upon and to extend this receptive ecclesial learning, in whatever form it comes, by focussing on it in an intentional way.
Its particular aim is to pursue the potential for fruitful learning in relation to our respective ways of being and living as church, as ecclesial communities and communions; or, in other words, in relation to the respective structural and organisational realities of Anglican and Catholic life. Receptive Ecumenism seems doubly well-suited to the first half of ARCIC III’s mandate concerning the relationship between the church local and universal: not only does it seek to take seriously the changed ecumenical climate and context in which we are now working; it also has a particular concern to explore what our differing traditions can learn from each other in relation to our respective ways of organising, structuring, and living our ecclesial lives.
ARCIC III has been influenced by Receptive ecumenism not just in the way we have sought to listen to each other but also in the emerging shape and character of what is intended to be this Commission’s first agreed statement. Following an Introduction, an extended scriptural orientation, and a chapter seeking, as far as is possible, to articulate our commonly-held communion ecclesiology, the following three chapters detail in turn our respective ecclesial structures and their interrelationship at the local, regional, and universal levels of Anglican and Catholic life. Within each of these three chapters there are three key concerns at work: 1) to describe our respective structures and related processes as they currently exist; 2) to acknowledge related areas of felt tension and difficulty within each of our traditions; and 3) to identify specific ways in which these respective tensions and difficulties might be addressed through learning from aspects of related understanding and practice in the other tradition.
As we wish to reflect the fact that our two traditions are walking along the pilgrim way together, parts of each of these three chapters are set out in parallel columns. The Anglican and Catholic examens on the path of conversion and growth are conducted in the company of the other and are explicitly open to learning from the other. The experience has been and continues to be challenging but, we hope, it is equally enriching and life-giving. We turn now to a brief consideration of some of the areas of ecclesial learning that we have begun to identify in the company of the other.
Possible Catholic learning from Anglican practice of the Church, local, regional, and universal
(PDM) The exploration of Catholic structures alongside and in conversation with our Anglican brothers and sisters highlights, amongst other things, two specific areas of Catholic practice which are comparatively undeveloped: concerning the role of lay people in ecclesial governance and decision-making; and concerning the role of regional bodies in helping to shape the thinking of the universal church.
It is Catholic teaching that all the faithful, lay and ordained, participate in different ways in the tria munera of Christ, to which belong the tasks of sanctifying, teaching, and governing. Behind teaching lies the process of discerning; behind governing lies the wider area of decision-making; and Catholic laity also play an increasingly large part in ministry to the faithful within the church, as well as to the world. Despite this, lay people are restricted to non-deliberative consultative roles in ecclesial decision-making and discernment processes. This has a potentially negative impact on the quality of the thinking and practice of the church given that it limits the extent to which lay experience and understanding can effectively contribute to its shaping. In addition, it also means that clerical exercise of governance is largely devoid of checks and balances by those governed in a manner that can give rise to problems.
By contrast, Anglican lay people routinely share in the munera of ecclesial governance in a more determinative way.
• The question is consequently raised as to whether the Catholic Church might look to the roles accorded to the lay faithful in Anglican parochial, diocesan, and regional conciliar structures as models that could be transposed into the Catholic context in such a way as would still preserve the respective executive roles of parish priests and bishops.
• Similarly the Catholic Church might have something to learn from some of the routine Anglican processes of deliberative consultation around the selection and appointment of clergy, particularly bishops.
It is Catholic teaching that the primary locus of authority in the church is the College of Bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the Chair of the College. So the teaching emanating from Rome is meant to be articulated with the perceptions and concerns of the diverse particular and local churches throughout the world. In reality, however, the strongly centred nature of Catholic polity in the organs of the universal church limits the extent to which Catholic teaching and practice is effectively articulated with the diversities of cultural context. Compounding this situation is the fact that the Catholic Church struggles to articulate a theological basis for the nature and extent of the teaching authority of national and regional episcopal conferences as part of the ordinary teaching magisterium of the church.
• Whilst recognising the significant asymmetry that exists between the traditions in relation to the respective status of the regional church and the consequent inability simply to transfer across in any direct way, it is nevertheless the case that Catholics could profit from looking closely at what there is to be learned from the characteristic theology and associated principles of the provincial church in Anglican tradition.
• With this, and recognising the need to preserve the executive function of the Bishop of Rome as Head of the College of Bishops, Anglican models could be drawn upon in order to develop the Synod of Bishops from being a purely consultative body, to being a deliberative body which could function as an effective organ of collegiality.
Possible Anglican learning from Catholic practice of the Church, local, regional, and universal
(PG) If there is a key theme that runs through all the many detailed ways in which Anglicans have much to learn from our Catholic brothers and sisters, it is simply this – mechanisms for unity. Anglicans are good at diversity – you could even say that it is our speciality. Across the world wherever Anglicanism has become embedded, it is easy to see the ways in which Anglican worship and practice has adapted to the local context.
I reveal nothing new when I say that Anglicans are far better at articulating what makes us different from each other than we are at identifying what brings us together. One of the repeating strands that runs through the question of what Anglicans can learn from Catholic practice at local, regional and worldwide levels is a commitment to the unity and communion of the wider church.
It is impossible in so short a time to do justice to the many and varied ways in which Anglican life together could be enriched through our learning from Catholic practice, I offer here just a few particular examples which are themed to a greater or lesser extent around the strand of the unity and communion of the wider church:
• One of these is the way of learning represented by the synodical system. Anglican synods, particularly but not exclusively those in the Church of England, were often founded on a combative parliamentary model and where debate on an issue proceeds using a ‘for’ and ‘against’ debating style. There is much to be learnt here from the Catholic synodical method with its greater emphasis on gathering for formation, learning, consultation, and discernment.
• In a similar way, the emerging patterns of Catholic episcopal conferences offer possible models of corporate episcopal leadership at a national level which could allow greater flexibility to immediate needs and aspirations in some contexts.
• One of the constantly challenging issues for Anglicans is how to maintain appropriate Provincial autonomy while, at the same time, hearing the voice of the wider Anglican communion. The Catholic practice of an Apostolic Nuncio may have much to offer in this context, representing the outside voice of the wider church into the particular context of a Province.
• Connected to the previous point, is the wider issue of finding appropriate mechanisms to provide mutual accountability across the communion. One possible suggestion might be to learn from the recent Synods of Catholic Bishops which allow for times of intensive consultation and commitment.
There are, of course, many more points for potential learning and enrichment but these give just a taste of the work we are currently undertaking to identify what we can best learn from each other.
Key questions to ponder in relation to our respective contexts and spheres of influence
• Does the description provided here of the context for ARCIC III and the challenges associated with it resonate with your own experience?
• What do you think about the possible contribution of Receptive Ecumenism in this context? It emphasises a dual need for: a) honesty about the difficulties in one’s own tradition’s ecclesial practice and structures, and b) associated receptive learning, where relevant, from the other tradition. Does this sound like a useful and realistic resource?
• What specific difficulties in your own tradition’s ecclesial practice, ethos, and structures arise within your own context and spheres of influence?
• In such regards, what specific aspects of the other tradition’s ecclesial practice, ethos, and structures might it be worth exploring as potential opportunities for fruitful receptive learning?
Closing/opening scriptural reflection
(PG) As we give thanks for all those over the past 50 years who walked the way of ecumenism before us, it is, perhaps, reassuring to remind ourselves that our struggle to live, work and pray together is no more challenging for us than it was for the earliest Christians. In attempting to identify a passage that might inspire reflections on our theme, it is worth noting that I was spoilt for choice. There are many, many verses that speak of the need, the calling and the complexity of walking together on the way of Christ.
Today no less than 50 years ago; today no less than 2000 years ago we follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us, struggling, yet persevering, to obey Christ’s call to live together in the bonds of peace.
In the end I chose an old favourite, the passage from Ephesians 4.1-3, which encapsulates Paul’s entreaty to the Ephesian community to live together in the newly reconciled reality that Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection. I chose it for two reasons:
• The first reason is simply the characteristics laid out in these verses – humility, gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love. These virtues, these ways of living, capture the spirit of our ecumenical journey thus far and hold before us a vision of how to continue. Wherever we go together and whatever we achieve may our prayer be that we do it with humility, gentleness, patience and loving mutual endurance.
• My second reason for choosing it is the verb Paul uses to describe the Ephesians life together. What the NRSV, rightly, translates as ‘lead a life’ comes from the Greek verb peripateo – to walk around and hence to behave or live. It seems right to end as we began with the remembrance of Cardinal Hume’s words ‘that ‘we are no longer strangers but pilgrims together on the way to the Kingdom’. May our pilgrimage onwards from here continue to be as Paul envisioned it ‘a walking around together’ in the bonds of peace.
I hope, then, that you will grant me just a little translational latitude as I read out Ephesians 4.1-3 to end our reflections: “I beg you therefore to walk onwards together in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”