Saturday, May 14, 2011

Waterloo, ten years on: communio in sacris and learning from dissent

Apologies for my relative apophasis this year. I didn't anticipate the extent to which the transition to seminary life would swallow up all non-essential (defined more broadly than I would prefer) matters in its vortex. The Easter Ordo will be up soon: I hope you are all faking it adequately with McCausland's in the meantime! The good news is that summer will allow me to develop en banc some posts that have been brewing and aging over the past few months.

This month the Anglican/Episcopal and Evangelical-Lutheran churches in North America celebrated a decade of full communion. I myself had never set foot in an Anglican church at the time (that landmark would not come until Accession Day the following year, the Golden Jubilee, and any serious interest in Anglicanism considerably later). However, when I was received the accord was still new enough in its reception among the consensus fidelium that I recall mixed feelings about it, both from myself and others, particularly in the prayer-book, Anglo-Catholic circles I travelled in.

I've been reminded of this now that the story has been covered by the Anglican Journal, attended by the usual snarky comments from presumably former members of the ACoC who still harbour a bit of a crush after their breakup and feel the need to traverse the web disparaging their former church home. What I'm interested in here is the degree to which mistrust of the agreement was shared on both sides. Anglican and Lutheran reservations about full communion have significant differences as well as significant overlap.

Since the vagaries of either tradition's internal politics are likely arcane each to the other, they bear some comment, particularly since as I say they converge in many respects. In the first place, while the language of "churchmanship" is not indigeneous to Lutheranism, both traditions have schools of thought emphasising Catholic (Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical-Catholic), latitudinaran, and Protestant (Evangelical or Pietist) strands of thought. In Lutheranism, the Evangelical-Catholic and Pietist edges of the spectrum are both often found in congregations of German descent, since the Prussian Union forcibly yoked Lutheran churches to Calvinist influence, while galvanizing opposition to the union (many of whom settled in the US as what would become the Missouri Synod - and Australia). Thus Zion Detroit, the "S. Clement's of Lutheranism" is an LCMS parish. St Luke's Chicago, perhaps the highest ELCA parish, comes from the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the youngest of the ELCA predecessor bodies, formed by theological moderates purged from the LCMS during its "right turn" in the 70s.

The LCMS itself bears some further comment. Anglican pewfolk may be dimly aware that there are Lutherans other than "ours" but the alphabet soup can be a bit daunting. Further confusion comes from the differing use of "synod": the Missouri Synod is not simply the ELCA's Missouri diocese but a distinct denomination. It has been said that Anglicans will endure any amount of heresy to avoid schism while Lutherans will put up with endless schism for the avoidance of heresy. While flippant, this remark points to a significant difference in the ecclesiology underlying the discourse on full communion in both traditions. (It's worth noting as well the geographical difference. In Canada, the ELCiC is considerably smaller the Anglican Church, which is dwarfed only by the Roman Catholic and United churches. The Lutheran synod in which the Diocese of Toronto lies covers virtually everything east of Manitoba. Both the ELCA and the LCMS on the other hand are larger than the Episcopal Church. The LCMS' Canadian districts formed the autonomous "Lutheran Church - Canada" in the 80s).

The reason this observation about the two traditions' respective priorities is interesting is that it illustrates two hot potatoes in the communion negotiations, namely the Eucharist and the episcopate. Traditionalists in both camps viewed the other as being weak on one of these. As the aphorism suggests, Lutherans have a tradition of considering the organization of church polity a secondary matter. Indeed, everything is really secondary to the proclamation of the Gospel: the correct polity is the one which best lends itself to that goal. Thus, faced with a lack of episcopal support for Lutheran congregations, Luther had no qualms about turning to the prince to provide episcopal succession. This is not in keeping with a strict RC or Anglo-Catholic understanding of apostolic succession, but as the article on the Coronation Mass in "Liturgy and Worship" reminds us, the attribution of quasi-pontifical status to the sovereign is not a new idea and has traces even in our own tradition.

Conversely, the Book of Concord is unambiguously emphatic about the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. While philosophical explanations are avoided, there is no wiggle room from Christ's promise that the bread and wine are his body and blood. Anglicans, on the other hand, have traditionally "comprehended" a wide variety of interpretations about the Eucharist, while keeping the episcopate as our defining feature, and indeed in many countries our namesake.

Hence the stereotype of the ragtag Anglican popular front with its hangups about polity and vague doctrine (the Queen, as the cunning deputy minister Sir Humphrey Appleby reminds us in Yes, Prime Minister, is essential to the Church of England; God, an optional extra). Likewise the proliferation of Lutheran conventicles, each in search of a purer form of confessional subscription. (Thus the Wisconsin synod in turn looks rather askance at Missouri's female congregational suffrage and openness to praying with outsiders).

The Anglo-Catholic and the "confessional" Lutheran dissident thus actually have a robust eucharistic theology in common: the Anglo-Catholic is sceptical of the concordats because he imagines Lutherans to be "Protestants" (a term which Lutherans freely own but which can scare the horses in certain Anglican quarters) while the conservative Lutheran sceptic also does not trust the eucharistic theology of the mainline bodies - but sees this not as a result of Lutheranism but of deviation from Lutheranism. But then it is unfathomable to him why the Anglo-Catholic would remain in fellowship with Christians (i.e., other Anglicans) whose theology is likewise suspect to begin with.

On the other hand, to take on board the necessity of episcopal ordination and the discontinuation of lay presidency under special circumstances is, to a certain variety of Lutheran observer, to elevate a matter of form to the status reserved for the Gospel. The works suspicion of Lutheranism lends itself to an aversion to trying to micromanage the sacraments: they are more concerned with the reverent execution of the sacraments than they are about who does it.

Like Anglicans, Lutherans are a polyphonic bunch, though not perhaps quite so diverse. (Apart from the ordinariate-bound Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church, which uses the Roman Rite and disavows all Reformation teaching at variance with Rome and is hard to pin down as Lutheran in any meaningful sense, there is no equivalent to Anglo-Papalism). So their Pietist outliers should not alarm the Anglo-Catholic anymore than our own. Concerns about the episcopate are likewise time-limited: in the near future, cross-consecration will render the issue of pedigree moot as in India.

Lutherans meanwhile can take comfort that the understanding of lifetime episcopal ordination does not entail a monarchical understanding of pontifical authority: retired bishops remain bishops and can licitly function as such with the permission of the ordinary, but they do not themselves exercise ordinary jurisdiction. The convergence of the traditions provide us with the opportunity to reconcile Anglican praxis around the catholic threefold ministry with Lutheran democratic polity. The impending extension of full communion to the Moravians bodes especially well for this project, as bishops in the Unitas Fratrum serve as pastors-to-the-pastors and are the ministers of ordination but lack a juridical role. These new frontiers in intercommunion are not an assault on the "faith once delivered" but an exciting expansion of the same.