As Anglicanism is a fraternal system of federated churches which voluntarily relate to each other on various levels of communion, each province may or may not elect to be in communion with a new ecclesiastical entity in North America. The lack of law, custom and precedent, in the Anglican Communion on this matter, while glaring, allows the members of the Communion the flexibility to exist in an impaired state! What tools are at the church’s disposal to set it on a path of Catholic principles for communion? Let us start by looking at the nature of full communion.
If the concept of communion (which is not a univocal concept in Anglicanism)
is to serve as a key to faith and order for Anglicans, it has to be understood within the context of the biblical principles, the patristic tradition and conciliar ecclesiology. The idea of Anglicanism as a ‘communion of particular Churches’ is lived out in such a manner that it weakens the concept of the unity of the Church at the visible and institutional level. Anglicanism asserts that every particular/national church is a subject complete in itself, but the experience of this translates into a universal Church that exists as a result of a reciprocal recognition and covenant on the part of the particular churches. This ecclesiological unilateralism impoverishes not only the
concept of being a communion of the Catholic faith but also creates a vacuum that leaves each particular church with a poor understanding of the concept of communion.
As history shows, when a particular church has sought to become self-sufficient and self-directed in its own autonomy, it has weakened its real communion with the wider Communion of Churches. Its internal unity suffers too, as it runs the risk of losing its own identity as the Church Catholic while seeking its own trajectory.
As a matter of custom for Anglicans full communion is a mutual recognition between Christian churches or partner churches who hold ‘the essentials of the faith’. Typically, these are set forth not through theological statements such as Lumen Gentium from Vatican II, but in Covenants, Concordats and at times Canons. In these various legislations, the following principles indicate the depth and scope of Communion.
1. Mutual recognition of members in Christ’s one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church: each province forms a conciliar community among themselves with the Primates and bishops, witness to their own and other provinces’ fidelity to the apostolic faith.
2. Concurrence on the nature and efficacy of Baptism and Holy Eucharist: mutual admission of members of the other provinces to participate in the sacraments.
3. Concurrence on the nature of Ordained Ministry, followed by the interchangeability of clergy: the ministers of each province exchange with each other everywhere and in everything, subject only to canonical disciplinary decisions and agreements. When bishops of one province take part in the consecration of bishops of the other provinces, they acknowledge the duty of mutual care and concern which exists between sister provinces in the communion of the One Church.
4. Common commitment to mission: seeking to implement in complementary ways the Great Commission (a model for such common efforts can be found in the Vatican’s Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism which speaks about churches not competing for souls but sharing resources).
Full communion has never meant that churches merge into one entity and forgo their distinctive traditions but that they have maintained Catholicity in matters of faith and order.
Examples of full communion outside of the Anglican Communion’s own provinces include: the twenty-four Oriental Catholic churches in union with the See of Peter; the sixteen autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches (for example, the Russian, Serbian and Greek Orthodox Churches); the Oriental Orthodox Churches (consisting of the Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Indian Orthodox and Tewahedo Churches); the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India; the twelve churches of the Porvoo Communion.
To be continued….