John Hunwicke on John Paul II’s Exhortation Pastores Gregis

Coincidences can be hard to believe in. For example by ‘coincidence’ on Thursday 16th October, the Primates of the Anglican Communion (only one member of my family asked: ‘Are there any other Christian churches which are run by monkeys?’) issued a statement at the end of their Lambeth meeting to discuss the linked issues of ‘gay bishops’ and ‘gay marriages’. At the heart of the matter were questions about how, in our Communion, decisions are made; how communion can be maintained when violently opposed views are held. On the very same day, Pope John Paul II (JP2 in what follows) issued his Exhortation Pastores Gregis (PG in what follows) on the Bishop as Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World. In visiting (all 77 pages of it) the question of what a bishop is, it touches on questions of decision-making and communion.

The two documents are, of course, massively different in style. The Roman one is studded with biblical quotations, references to the Fathers, to the Great Tradition, and to classical Liturgy, while the Anglican text avoids all such trifles (except for a verse or two of 1 Peter tacked on at the end). And – considering how ‘legalistic’ Rome is often said to be – it is remarkable how much more preoccupied the Anglican document is with horse-hair wigs, Canon Law, and all that. As the Titanic sinks, ‘we reaffirm the teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than their own…’ All this is clearly coming from the same mind-set as Archbishop Crawley’s (he’s Archbishop of British Columbia and Yukon): ‘disciplinary proceedings against Bishop Buckle [who has taken under his Episcopal wing New Westminster parishes unwilling to remain in communion with a ‘gay marriage’ diocese] as provided in the canons have begun and will take their course… Buckle is attacking the fundamental structures of our Church… is himself the author of disorder…’ (no boring old stuff here about Innocent Until Proven Guilty!)

Cross Dressing

Anglicans have treated their lack of a doctrine of episcopacy as an ecumenical advantage. We dress blokes up as pontiffs and send them to hob-knob with Latins and Orientals, while explaining to Protestants that we impose no doctrine of episcopacy which implies any significant defect in the ecclesiastical equipment of Protestants. But our doctrinal nakedness is becoming increasingly exposed, and we are having to realize that we do not have hands nearly big enough to conceal it. Unintentionally, PG makes this clear. It explains the link (constituted by both Consecration and hierarchical communion) between bishops and the Episcopal College, a unity which is one of the elements by which the Church is constituted. The Universal Church is not just the aggregate or federation of particular churches – in its essential mystery it precedes the creation of the world itself; the bond between Universal Church and particular church is rooted in the unity between Episcopal College and individual bishops. PG points out that the College of Bishops is not just the sum-total of existing bishops but ‘continues the Apostolic College’, so it is something that precedes the office of being head of a particular church; it is an antecedent reality in which individual bishops participate (our own Dr Mascall explained this clearly enough in 1958). This approach makes possible a flexible deployment of episcopal ministries in complex modern circumstances: a fact which Rowan might find congenial.

Give them a thump

Such theology is diametrically opposed to the Protestant ecumenical agenda. Rome says: Because a man is a bishop, incorporated into the same historical entity as the College of the Apostles, even if he is not head of a particular church he can exercise ‘munera stricte episcopalia’, ‘ecumenists’ say: Because it seems to me that thinggummy exercises episcope he/she can be regarded as a bishop. This subjective, doctrine-free approach is wholly frivolous, because it enables us to be free of the control of objective criteria and to call anybody a bishop if it suits us. What is not controlled is arbitrary; and what is arbitrary can become exceedingly vicious. At the same time as Methodists are being assured that, although they do not have and do not claim membership in that Episcopal College which is identical with the Apostolic College, they really do have episcope, the canonical accessories of episcopacy are being used to persecute clergy and congregations which are off-message. Canonical structures defining episcopal jurisdiction are natural adjuncts of episcopacy as it has developed (although we should not forget Gregory Dix’s demonstration that, in the earliest centuries, bishops did not exercise ‘jurisdiction’ as such), but only on the understanding that a bishop acts in accordance with the congenial unity in faith and teaching practice of the universal (and I do not mean just Anglican) episcopate. Every pastoral act of a bishop, PG reminds us, is an act done in Collegio. For an individual bishop to cheat on that unity of faith and go on to beat up ‘dissidents’ is a gross abuse and arbitrary tyranny. In marriage, a spouse has certain rights; for example, to ius matrimonii and consortium vitae. But an abusive husband who cheated on his wife and made a habit of beating her up while at the same time paying a lawyer to assert his ‘rights’ to bed and board, would excite our contempt and derision. That’s roughly where the Bennisons and the Crawleys – and their legal teams – are.

Glandular Fever

PG describes the role of the Pope as Head of the Episcopal College and guarantee of its unity. The Pontificate has emphasized, more than any other for centuries, the limitations of the papal office and its collegial integration in the corporate life of the Church (PG: ‘The Roman Pontiff, the Head of the College, in the exercise of his ministry as Supreme Pastor of the Church, always acts in communion with all the other bishops and indeed with the whole Church’). Catholic Anglicans are unlikely to have problems with such a papacy. Nearly half a century ago Michael Ramsey wrote approvingly of a papacy ‘which follows the organic unity of all the bishops and of the whole Church’, and Eric Mascall wrote about the Pope ‘inheriting the primacy of Peter’ as ‘the divinely appointed Head of the Episcopal College, the divinely constituted organ and mouthpiece of the universal apostolic episcopate’; and the idea that the papal ministry is a force internal to the life of all the particular churches was strikingly expressed by Dix: ‘the Papacy… has consistently exercised a great external directive influence… But it has also exercised a more subtle although no less powerful influence upon the internal life of the Church, comparable to that of a gland in the life of a body’, an image uncannily reflected in PG: ‘the Universal Church is immanent in the particular church, making present the supreme authority, namely, the Roman Pontiff and College of Bishops; there is a perichoresis between Universal Church and particular churches, like the movement of the blood from and back to the heart; a vitalis humor flowing from Christ.’

On 4th September this year our Archbishop Rowan, paying, as the Codex Iuris Canonici requires, a post-appointment visit ad limina Apostolorum said to the Holy Father; ‘Your Holiness… your invitation to Christian leaders and theologians to engage with you in patient and fraternal dialogue about the Petrine Ministry is a sign of generosity and openness, and I will be glad to participate in the reflection on the possible sharing of a primacy of love and service’. (It will be fun to see what balance between clarity and nuance Rowan strikes when he takes part in the General Synod debate on this subject next year). PG does indeed reflect debates in the RC Church about decentralization and the relevance of ‘subsidiarity’, and reveals differing views about the balance desirable between Rome and local churches. But it is unlikely that the most liberal Catholic bishop would choose ‘freedom’ from that tension when he has before his eyes, in our ecclesiastical life, a demonstration of the alternative. And those among ourselves who inherit the gracious old traditions of ‘non-papal Catholicism’ must surely by now be wondering whether – to re-employ Dix’s imagery – our ecclesial body might benefit from at least a small dose of the vital fluid which flows from that particular gland.

Send in the tanks

And at a time when our primates have just ‘reaffirmed’ the ‘autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces’, the underlying theology of PG (‘every bishop is at once answerable, although in different ways, for his own church, for nearby sister churches, and the universal Church’) offers support to those who would be happy to send their panzers round the end of the Maginot line. On JP2’s behalf, Joseph Ratzinger, the ‘Panzer Cardinal’ himself, most remarkably wrote to the Plano meeting of ‘traditional’ American Anglicans in Dallas: ‘I hasten to assure you of my heartfelt prayers … the significance of your meeting is sensed … even in this city … the Lord … shows us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity of truth and a communion of grace which transcends the borders of any nation.’

I have tried to suggest how PG can be thought-provoking to Anglicans. I think they will also often find it moving. There is an entire section on the Bishop as High Priest of his church, which serves to remind us that, for most of Christendom (I speak diachronically as well as synchronically), ministry has not been a question of practical managerial arrangements, of furniture which can be moved around at will, but of given supernatural realities rooted in the mysterium Christi. Among much else, I commend the typological correlation between Moses and the bishop; the description of the bishop’s own life of prayer, transparently modelled on the Pontiff’s own; the emphasis, such a theme in this pontificate, on the preferential option for the poor. Despite the aftermath of 9/11, JP2 criticizes materialistic economic ideologies and the claim of a right to judge everything by efficiency and systems of violence and trade. He revisits world debt and speaks unambiguously of ‘the war of the very powerful against the very weak’. The bishop should be a prophet of justice; and not least by means of ‘twinning’. Now there’s an idea for the PEVs!

John Hunwicke is a retired priest