Some thoughts raised by a conversation last night with Fraser and this morning’s collect at the end of Morning Prayer:
Lord God, you have made one people out of many different races and nations, united through confessing the glory of your name. They were born to new life in baptism: let there be one faith in their hearts, one love in their Christian way of life. Per Christum…
For some time I have been complaining that Protestant ecclesiology suffers from a lack of engagement with the communio ecclesiology that emerged in our theological consciousness during the 20th Century. “Fellowship”, as they call it, is established largely on the basis of similarity of doctrine–splits therefore take place over disputed doctrine. For an example of a Lutheran ecclesiology that has not properly engaged with communio theology, see this paper by Dr Adam Cooper: “The Church and the Churches“. (I intend to engage with it in greater depth at another point). On the other hand, for a surprising awareness of the implications of communio theology, see this paper by an Australian Anglican committee on the effect of women bishops on the unity of the Church: “Draft Issues Paper Episcopal Ministry and Women“.
Over against this “dogmatic fellowship”, I have emphasised the personal communion established by bishops with one another and (in particular) with the Bishop of Rome. Last night Fraser pointed out to me that I have tended to make a false dichotomy between dogmatic and personal communion. In our conversation, I conceded he is right: in Catholic (and Orthodox) tradition, it is unity of faith which establishes communion, BUT this union of faith is expressed incarnationally through real human relationships. The real problem is the tendency to speak of fellowship in faith in “gnostic” terms (as Fraser put it)–that is, without concrete human relationships.
This morning’s collect, cited above, expresses this beautifully. It is Faith and Baptism which establish the oneness of the Church–that is, Word and Sacrament. The personal/incarnational aspect of communio is established by the shared Sacraments just as the doctrinal/dogmatic aspect is established by shared Faith in the Word. Nor is this limited to baptism (although that is fundamental). The Orthodox churches have taught us to value a “Eucharistic Ecclesiology”, where communio is expressed in the local celebration of the Eucharist. Classical Protestant theology is not unaware of this double aspect, as they often use the terminology of “altar and pulpit fellowship”.
Nevertheless, I would say that a difficulty does arise if you limit the sacraments to just baptism and eucharist. Two other sacraments “cement” the personal/incarnational communion of the Church.
The Sacrament of Confirmation concretely links the baptised faithful in any given diocese in communion with their bishops. The Sacrament of Holy Orders concretely links the priests and deacons with their bishops and the bishops with one another. The fact that both sacraments include anointing and laying on of hands means that this really is a physical/personal/incarnational fellowship, and has no smell of gnosticism attached to it.
Thus far my reflections. Any advances?