Tuesday, December 05, 2006

San Joaquin votes to ... do what, exactly?

Here's the ENS story about San Joaquin's action in their diocesan convention. This story is being widely discussed on the blogosphere but there's no reason Whitehall shouldn't weigh in.

A few things to note:
First, note the incredible condescension in the responses of PB Schori and Bonnie Anderson. Surely, they say, surely, they can't be speaking with one voice.

Second, note the four actions:
1. remove references to the Episcopal Church,
2. make the Standing Committee the ecclesiastical authority in the absence of any sitting bishops,
3. put all diocesan trust funds under the control of the bishop, and
4. permit the diocese unilaterally to extend itself beyond its current geographic boundaries.

It is claimed, in this story, that San Joaquin is following a road map laid out by six Global South primates. Although I highly sympathize with this action, I've got to admit the ecclesiological ramifications have me tangled. It seems to me that step #1, in going over TEC's proverbial head and claiming direct communion with Canterbury, is unprecedented. Canterbury, as far as I know, only has relations of communion with provinces. Is that right? Are there any other single dioceses in the world that claim direct communion to Canterbury? Even when Anglicanism was established in the American colonies, we were under commissaries of the bishop of London. Does anyone know in what form communion was formally established between the mother church and the church in America? Probably in the person of William White. That was a direct relation with a diocese. Perhaps there IS precedent for this sort of thing. At any rate, it doesn't fit into the nicely organized categories that the Anglican Communion, as of the late 20th century, was only beginning to codify in documents such as the Virginia report. But maybe it's time for a change. It's clear that the Global South primates who laid out these stepping stones were not laying them within the stream of traditional American Anglican polity, but rather within the framwork of -- what ecclesiology? Anglican ecclesiology in the late 20th century was amorphous at best. We can only hope that our days of sloppy ecclesiology are over, and that the end of all of this will be a Communion with a much more defined [read 'catholic'] sense of the church visible.

The convention also passed a resolution directing the bishop, council, and standing committee "to assess the means of our affiliation with a recognized Ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion," and bring the next convention a "detailed plan for the preservation of our relationship with the Anglican Communion."

This feels to me like an admission that the cart is somewhat before the horse at this point. Communion is a two-way street, and unless Bp. Schofield knows something we don't about the primates and the ABC's intention to reciprocate (which Bp. Schofield may indeed know), this leaves San Joaquin out on an ecclesological limb. If the ABC decides NOT to reciprocate, they're in a pickle, all Global South affiliations aside. They'd become a missionary diocese of some other province, and you'd still have the problem of geographic overlap. Does the ABC's plan for a two-tiered Anglican Communion allow for geographical overlap? If so, that would be a clear statement that real communion with associate churches has been broken, and the lower teir of the system fades into nothingness.

We've got a real ecclesiological puzzle on our hands, that's for sure. I think it all would have been solved if Archbp. Eames' commission had spent more time looking for solutions in the Fathers and less time wallowing in contemporary dilemmas. And that's the tragic flaw of the Windsor Report, now reasserting itself. Until we reach the bedrock of Patristic catholicism, we'll always float listlessly, with some manner of leak in our life-raft. Anglicans once were renowned for our knowledge of the Fathers. Where is that Anglican scholarship today? Why does it not inform our discussions and decisions? Are we a Catholic Communion after all?


M. said...

It seems incorrect to me to characterize San Joaquin's claim of direct communion with Canterbury as going over the Presiding Bishop's head.

American dioceses have always understood their relationship with Canterbury as being one of direct communion, unmediated by a primate. It's important to remember that for most of its history, ECUSA never even *had* a primate, and the Presiding Bishop was simply that -- the bishop who happened to preside at meetings of the House of Bishops. He certainly wasn't the conduit of communion with Canterbury.

I would suggest that because of its trans-national reach and peculiar history (e.g., the fact that individual dioceses preceded the formation of any national body), ECUSA isn't a national province with any inherent ecclesial reality, but rather a confederation of willing dioceses. The basic unit of the American church is the diocese, and the ordinary is her highest episcopal authority.

If San Joaquin withdraws its consent to be part of this confederation, nothing really has changed.

There are precedents for the direct communion of an independent diocese with Canterbury, most notably the Episcopal Church of Cuba. It was formed in 1901 as a missionary diocese of ECUSA, but its American ties became problematic after the Cuban revolution, and so in 1967 it became an independent, extra-provincial diocese, which remained fully a part of the Anglican Communion and enjoys direct communion with Canterbury to this day, despite not being under the jurisdiction of any province.

I do agree with you, though, that San Joaquin has created a problem for itself if Canterbury decides not to accept this sort of relationship.

The next few months will be interesting to say the least.

Johnny Awesomo said...

Only addressing #1, there doesn't seem to be any ecclesiological problem as you suggest there might be. Bishops as such are a universal symbol of church unity and, as far as I know, have always been considered to be in communion with each other. The decision to remove TEC references seems to be a rejection of the usual governmental arrangements only.
The rest of it might be a problem, though...

mmbx said...

Has any presiding bishop, before KJS, used "primate" after their name like she does, "Presiding Bishop and Primate?" ARGH!

father thorpus said...


Thanks for that great info. Your account of the ecclesiological history of Anglicanism in America is spot on. I had never thought of the ramifications of not having a primate, but given what you've said, it seems quite right that each diocese IS ALREADY in direct communion with Canterbury. That throws San Joaquin's action into a much clearer light, and I'm glad of it. I hope someone influential in San Joaquin and among the other Windsor bishops is thinking along these lines.

JA, good point, too. In terms of patristic catholicity (ya'll feel free to correct me if this is wrong), all church governmental structures above 'diocese' and below 'synod/regional church council' are merely practical in nature. Bishops and dioceses are the basic unit of church, and all primates, metropolitans, and archbishops are practical, not theological, constructs. The only authority higher than a diocesan bishop is a syond, then an ecumenical council. Even the pope's authority and infallibility rest upon his function as the mouthpiece of the Church gathered in ecumenical council - hence ex cathedra.

Perhaps the cardinal ecclesiological failing of the reapprisers (isn't that the new buzzword for 'liberals' or 'progressives'?) is that they're giving too much theological weight to the provincial system. I hope someone influential at Lambeth Palace is thinking along these lines.

mmbx, I know Bishop Griswold used the title 'primate' while in office. He may have been the first, though, since it was during his tenure that the Primates' meeting became an important instrument of unity; and of course, we primate-less Episcopalians wanted a representative there.

Anonymous said...

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mmbx said...

This is all great info. I'm encouraged by the actions in San Joaquin! Maybe there's light at the end of this tunnel.

Anonymous said...

Father, note that the changes San Joaquin voted on was a FIRST reading. They do not take effect until approved a second time. They are clearly assuming that there will be another province waiting to receive them into its open arms by the time the second reading come up (presently scheduled for October, though Bishop Schofield implied they would move that up is Mrs. Schori comes after them). My guess is that the Southern Cone will be their new province, if an entirely new jurisdiction is not set up in the US by action of the Primates. So there really is no worry about "direct" San Joaquin/Canterbury relations. They will simply move from one recognized province to another when they pass these changes for the second time in 2007. An excellent model, IMHO.

father thorpus said...

Texanglican, I hope you're right. It feels a little like committing to move one's family to a new town without a job or house or anything lined up yet. Yes, it can be done, but is it a responsible way to go about things? That question raised, it should be noted that God's ways often feel less worldly responsible (e.g. Abram called to leave Mesopotamia, St. Joseph exhorted in a dream to take Mary as his wife, and again to go to Egypt, etc.). The 'smart' way is not always God's way.

Islandbear said...

There are several dioceses which have a direct relationship to Canterbury, and are "extraprovincial. The Dioceses of the Falkland Islands and Bermuda are two which come to mind

M. said...

Islandbear -

The Parish of the Falkland Islands is an interesting anomaly in that it's extra-provincial, but it's not analogous to San Joaquin because it's not a diocese with its own bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury provides direct episcopal oversight.

The extra-provincial Diocese of Bermuda is a good example, though. Can you think of any others?

Anonymous said...


In relation to your comment concerning knowledge of the Church Fathers - or, I would be so bold as to say, a deep knowledge of and appreciation for theology in general - I have been doing some work that required the use of the Parker Society publications, a 55 volume set from the 19th century that collects the major writings of the leading English reformers of the 16th century. It is interesting to see the way in which, at another volatile time in the history of catholic Christianity, arguments were constructed upon a theological foundation, and a very deep, nuanced, and thoughtful foundation at that. Even something remotely similar in style and intent would be a breath of fresh air in the current debates - on either side.


Anonymous said...

A listing of the contents of the Parker society volumes, for anyone who may be interested, is found here:



Anonymous said...

M. has it right - Bermuda is extra-provincial and Cuba was for a time. It can certainly be done. Historically, the diocese is the basic unit of the church as far back as St. Ignatius of Antioch. Larger structures have been for convenience not necessity.

Johnny Awesomo said...

Sorry Thorpus, just realized that this is your post and not WB's.

wyclif said...

Perhaps I'm reading something into your post, but why is the presence of an overlapping jurisdiction so problematic to you beyond the level of stating it's not normative?

After all, look at the Church of England overlapping the Church of Scotland in the 17th century. Also +Colenso and the situation that existed for many years in South Africa, not to mention America.

father thorpus said...


Overlapping episcopal jurisdictiosn mean that some kind of division has taken place. It means rival bishops over the same parishes, like what's been going on (last I heard, anyway) in Recife. Or, for a better historical example, Augustine vs. the Donatists. It's been a basic principle of catholic structure from the beginning that you don't have overlapping episcopal jurisdictions. One Church means one bishop in one place. It all gets back to the basic one-ness of the Church, and that's why it's a theological matter more than just a structural norm. When Rome appointed its first missionary bishops to England after the Reformation (help me out here -- 1830-ish?) that act was a theological assertion that there was no more catholic church in England, from Rome's point of view. If you need multiple bishops for practical reasons, suffragans are allowed, but always under the diocesan's authority. I don't think there has ever been a precedent for the kind of flying bishops that the CofE has used to skirt doctrinal issues around women's ordination.

Is there precedent for exception to this rule? Sure -- of dubious merit, I'd say, but its there, as you mention. But there are good theological reasons for the system that has been handed down to us.

The Ranter said...

I think BS is getting what she wanted-- she wanted to push issues, so she pushed issues. The dissolution of the church has begun. If I were that bishop, I would allow any parish wishing to leave ECUSA to purchase their property from the diocese for $1. Then I would hand over the diocese to BS, and say "have fun, dearie."
Then I would kick back and collect my pension.
The dissolution of the church, thanks to a bunch of aging hippies who call themselves bishops, has begun. Fasten your seatbelts, folks.