Thursday, January 20, 2022

DUK Birthday Preparations

 Very shortly, the little Diocese to which I belong will be thirty years old and I am truly grateful to God that we are still here and in rude health. Given our ups and downs, I see it as a true grace of God that we remain. I do my best to defend my Diocese from its many detractors but, truth be told, I am not very clever. Indeed, my lack of learning in Canon Law is quite embarrassing and something that I desperately need to improve upon. As a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, I am often asked about my relationship with the “Anglican Communion” and I have to answer that, along with former Archbishop Rowan Williams, there is no longer a consensus as to what the “Anglican Communion” is. Bishop Williams likens it more to a (dysfunctional) family. So how do I understand the separation of the ACC from ECUSA in 1978? I shall try to give an answer, though I suspect I will be corrected by those who know better either by virtue of knowledge or by experience of actually being part of that wonderful Congress. In what follows, I use the word “heresy” in its technical sense of departure from the Catholic Faith. I have no wish to vilify any single human being in doing so and am content that, if one calls oneself Catholic I will recognise them as such until they demonstrate evidence to the contrary. For the record: as is very well known to my readers, I believe the attempt to ordain women to the sacred priesthood is heretical.

Let me begin at the middle of the beginning. The Continuing Anglican Churches owe their existence to Bishop Albert Chambers, former bishop of Springfield, Bishop Francisco Pagtakhan, Bishop Charles Boynton and Bishop Mark Pae. Although only Bishops Chambers and Pagtakhan consecrated Bishop Charles Doran, Bishops Pae and Boynton sent their consent via letter. Here it is to be noted that  Apostolic Canon I, together with evidence from St Bede in his Ecclesiastical History states that it is possible for valid Catholic Orders to be conveyed by fewer than three bishops onto the consecrand. This may be a departure from the norm for Post-Reformational Anglicanism but not for Pre-Reformational Anglicanism which the ACC also seeks to continue. If Anglicanism itself seeks to continue the Early Church, as evidenced in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and the Apostolic Canons are part of the Early Church then the Apostolic Canons are part of Anglicanism. If the ACC intends to continue Anglicanism (albeit as the legitimate continuation of the Oxford Movement) then the Apostolic Canons are part of the Continuing Anglicanism. Following the Canons of the Council of Nicaea, three bishops are the norm but the sacrament is certainly validly conferred by two. St Bede’s evidence shows how it is possible that a letter of consent (in this case by the Bishop of Rome) makes up for there being fewer than three. Given the political pressures and ill-health on Bishops Boynton and Pae for their inability to attend physically, their intention is clear and the Chambers’ succession is valid.

What about the vexed question of jurisdiction. Well, first, one may legitimately ask what is meant by “jurisdiction”. According to Rhidian Jones’ Handbook of the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England (T&T Clarke 2000) this is the power of governance. Is this power conferred on the bishop at his consecration as part of the sacrament, or is it merely a legal assent by the Church? Can a bishop lose that power by virtue of retirement which is a legal state and not a sacramental state?

Bishop Chambers certainly once possessed ecclesial jurisdiction as Bishop of Springfield. If the power conferred to him is part of the grace of the Sacrament of Episcopal Ordination which may not be repeated and places an indelible character on the recipient, then Bishop Chambers could never lose that power and this means that “Personal Jurisdiction” is meaningful for a Catholic and Anglican, since it is the Church’s recognition of that Episcopal Grace embodied in the person of Bishop Chambers. By what authority could this grace be laid aside if it is indelible?

If the power conferred is merely legal, then “Personal Jurisdiction” becomes the recognition of the authority of the bishop by the faithful. In the event of an heretical or schismatic bishop, the nearest orthodox bishop becomes the authority as attested in Canon III of the Oecumenical Council of Ephesus. This is in accordance with the definition of Catholicism as put forward by St Ignatius of Antioch and St Cyril of Jerusalem who understand the Church as being the people gathered around orthodox bishops faithful to the Catholic Faith. Any ecclesial body that possesses no orthodox bishop cannot be properly Catholic even though it may be faithful in its intention to worship the Risen Lord. In either situation, the idea of “Personal Jurisdiction” is well-defined and well-founded.

While the General Convention of ECUSA had legitimised heresy, not all bishops immediately consented to this act. Thus the Affirmation of St Louis contains the statement that:

“We affirm our continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. WHEREFORE, with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto.”

This requirement was dropped when, in 1994, the See of Canterbury ordained women as priests for the first time. Incidentally, this is when Bishop Br John-Charles Vockler was received into the ACC in his episcopal orders and became its archbishop in due course.

Nonetheless, the clear intention of the then-ACNA-now-Continuum was to remain in communion with ECUSA as far as it could. Thus although Chambers et al, did not officially join the ACC, the ACC was still in communion with the orthodox parts of ECUSA. Thus there was no repudiation of jurisdiction on the part of Bishop Chambers et al. because members of the Continuum still saw themselves as part of the orthodox ECUSA. Likewise, with Archbishop Vockler, the legitimacy of the ACC was strengthened as the See of Canterbury fell to heresy and he was received into the ACC. Archbishop Vockler was the Chief Consecrator of Bishop Rommie Starks who, in turn, consecrated Bishop Damien Mead who ordained me nearly a decade ago.

This, to me represents the legitimacy of our walking apart from the Anglican Communion. Others may disagree but I must assume that they have their own understanding of Christian integrity. There are many Christians out there who do not see things the way I do but, as the Affirmation of St Louis states, we each have to take responsibility for the state of our souls. If I can be of any spiritual help then I will endeavour to do my best. I still remain committed to the growth and health of my Diocese and my Church which I truly love.


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