Wednesday, 2 March 2005

ecclesiastical autonomy

A very interesting legal paper has been published by Dr Augur Pearce concerning the ecclesiastial autonomy of the Church of England.

There is a summary of the key points (and a biographical note) on this page: English Ecclesiastical Autonomy and the Windsor Report by Dr Augur Pearce.

and the full 12 page article can be downloaded in PDF format from here.

The last two summary points read as follows:

  • Reflecting that the Windsor Report’s proposed ‘communion law’ (subordinating national ecclesiastical autonomy for the future to an international agreement and arbiters) could only be effected in England by primary legislation, the paper mentions two existing approaches to self-obligation in the legislative field (in the European Communities Act and Human Rights Act). Given that either approach would affect radically the tradition of independence that formed the English Church as now known, and that a possible consequence could be to narrow the national church’s broad popular appeal, Parliament may think very carefully before approving such legislation while leaving the Church of England its national status and associated endowment.
  • Being no expert in the history of the North American churches’ involvement with the Lambeth Conference, the writer does not seek to apply his conclusions directly to their situation. It is recognised that as voluntary rather than national churches, the conceptual basis for their autonomy is quite different. However it is suggested that if the Church of England is indeed presently not bound by Lambeth Conference majorities, the North American churches should consider whether it can be right for them either to own such an obligation.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 2 March 2005 at 11:08pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

My initial, ungenerous reaction to Pearce's article was that it was stating the obvious: i.e. he takes sixteenth-century concepts of ecclesiastical sovereignty, applies them to twentieth-century concepts of ecclesiastical federation, and concludes (surprise, surprise) that the two do not fit comfortably together. If canon law hasn't adapted itself to the modern realities of the Anglican Communion, then that is not a problem for the Anglican Communion, it is a problem for canon law.

But on second thoughts I decided I was being unfair. There is lots of fascinating stuff in here. In particular, it should cause liberals to look more warmly on the established status of the Church of England, since one implication of the article is that establishment could be used to prevent more conservative forms of Protestantism from being imported into the English Church. (Incidentally, I wonder what J.C Fisher thinks of that? She has repeatedly argued, in comments on this site, that the English bishops are parking their tanks on the Americans' lawn; whereas the implication of Pearce's article is that it is the other way round, i.e. it is the Church of England whose ecclesiastical autonomy is being threatened by the aggressive tactics of other churches.)

And in the final analysis, maybe Pearce is right: maybe the only solution is to go back to a sixteenth-century system of autonomous national churches, even if this does involve the collapse of the Anglican Communion as presently constituted. Let the Church of England legislate for the Church of England, and leave the Americans to settle their own schisms.

Posted by: Andrew Conway on Monday, 7 March 2005 at 3:03pm GMT
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