The end of Anglicanism?


Apostolicam. It’s not a word that often appears in the paper, but there it was on Tuesday as the Post printed the entire Nicene Creed in Latin, apropos of an article on sacred music.

Dr. Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

The Nicene Creed summarizes the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, and of the Church it says that she is “unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam” — one, holy, catholic (meaning universal) and apostolic Church. In Catholic churches worldwide you will hear it every Sunday, and it is also prayed liturgically by the Orthodox, as well as Anglicans and many Protestants.

What does it mean to say that the Christian church is apostolic? It means that Christians take seriously the biblical testimony that Jesus founded His Church on the apostles, giving them both the authority and responsibility of handing on the faith to subsequent generations. Catholics believe that the successors of the apostles are the bishops who, in union with the pope, possess the same authority and responsibility as given to the original apostles by Christ Himself.

That’s why tomorrow in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will confer the pallium, a woolen vestment worn by archbishops at Mass, on all the new archbishops appointed in the last year. Thursday is the liturgical feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the ritual at St. Peter’s Basilica emphasizes the continuity of today’s bishops with the original apostles.

The ceremony remains vivid in my memory, as four years ago I was the deacon who carried the pallia from the tomb of St. Peter to the pope. The new Archbishop of Kingston received his pallium that day, and so I was permitted to assist at the Mass.

The significance of the pallium ceremony is clear. A bishop is not a free agent, but remains united to his brother bishops and the pope in proclaiming the same Lord, the same faith, the same gospel. And the faith he proclaims is not of his own invention, but the same faith handed on to the apostles.

All of which is at the heart of the recent travails in the Anglican Communion. This month’s convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) made it clear that they no longer regard themselves as apostolic, as they see neither an obligation to remain united with other Anglican bishops, nor do they feel bound by the uninterrupted tradition of the Christian church. The issue is same-sex marriage, but the stakes are much higher than that. Those in ECUSA who wish to make a sacrament out of what has always been considered a grave sin have declared themselves outside apostolic unity and apostolic tradition.

On Tuesday, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Communion, spoke to the significance of what has occurred, saying: “There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment.”

It is a momentous declaration, for the Archbishop of Canterbury is indicating that Anglicanism is on the verge of formal schism. The alternative to division is indifference to moral truth, which is impossible for a theologically serious church.

It is a momentous declaration, for the Archbishop of Canterbury is indicating that Anglicanism is on the verge of formal schism. The alternative to division is indifference to moral truth, which is impossible for a theologically serious church. Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, Anglican Bishop of Rochester ( England) worried about just that yesterday in these pages, asking whether “the Anglican Communion is just a loose federation with few, if any, firm doctrinal and moral moorings.”

Churches are not like impersonal states, which rely upon written constitutions and legal precedents for their moorings. Churches are personal, and all the more so for Christians, whose faith is personal, rooted as it is in the person of Jesus Christ. And consequently the “moorings” — doctrinal, moral, liturgical, spiritual — have to be personal. Those personal moorings are called “apostles.”

Dr. Williams spoke yesterday of “associated” or “constituent” churches that could be fashioned from those who reject same-sex marriage. But the very notion of fashioning a new church runs directly counter to apostolic succession. The apostolic church hands on what it has received; it cannot remake itself based on a political fudging of theological disagreements. We cannot create new apostolic churches; we can only be faithful to or abandon the tradition already received.

Is this the end of Anglicanism as it has historically understood itself as an apostolic church in the full-bodied sense of the ancient Nicene Creed? It may well be, and that would be a great sadness. But it may be inevitable now, for where there is no apostolicam, there can be no Ecclesiam.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The end of Anglicanism?" National Post, (Canada) June 28, 2006.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2006 National Post

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