A Brief Survey of Developments 1981-1991
The ARCIC Statements on Authority have led to the Church of England reappraising its authority structure in many areas. Numerous books have been produced by theologians, bishops and members of General Synod. Among the most important of these are Authority in the Anglican Commumion (1987), edited by Stephen Sykes; By What Authority3F (1987), edited by Robert Jeffrey; Authority in Crisis3F (1988), by Robert Runcie; The Synod of Westminster : Do we need it3F (1986), edited by Peter Moore; and Episcopal Ministry (1990), the Report of the Archbishops' Groups on the Episcopate.
The report Episcopal Ministry gives much attention to the origins and history of the episcopate and has been most clearly influenced by the ARCIC statements. It states firmly that bishops are the esse of the Church1, as opposed to the widely held beliefs of them as the bene esse or plene esse. Previous semi official documents have stated this viewpoint but have been reluctant to use the word 'esse'.
There have been no further moves towards disestablishing the Church and the report Episcopal Ministry made it clear that it was hoped the Sovereign would continue to have a special place in the Church of England or in any united Church2. Parliament has shown itself reluctant to support every General Synod measure. In 1984 a proposal from General Synod to abolish the cong82 d'82lire and the fiction of an election for new bishops and archbishops was refused by the House of Commons on 17 July 1984. A subsequent proposal to ordain men who had been divorced only passed Parliament on a second attempt. Concerning the impressive list of statutes that would need repeal or revision before the Church of England could reunite with the Roman Catholic Church, given by Quentin Edwards3, there has been no move made by either Church or State. The Episcopal Ministry report did suggest some modifications in the relationship. It was felt that since the Church of England was not the Church of many Christians in England there should be representatives of other leading denominations in the House of Lords as well as Anglican bishops4. There was also concern shown that although the Church now had a major voice in new episcopal appointments, this agreement was of a purely voluntary nature and any future government was completely at liberty to repudiate it5. Some have felt that the advisory Commission forepiscopal appointments has given the archbishops too much influence. In 1987 Eric Kemp, Bishop of Chichester, called for their removal from the Commission to enable the dioceses to have more influence6. It has also been noted that since the Commission began advising the prime minister the number of suffragans who progress to diocesan bishops has increased. No serious moves have been made to alter the Commission's composition since its inception.
General Synod has met with increasing criticism. Many feel that its voting arrangements have undermined episcopal authority and that its function should be to advise the bishops, not to be able to overrule them. Many of the criticisms in The Synod of Westminster : do we need it? were directed towards this end, although it was also criticised for time wasting and the unrepresentative nature of its laity and many other reasons7. Those members of the Church of England who have been closely involved in it feel that the role of bishops in the Synod must be enhanced as it prevents bishops from exercising their function of oversightand would cause difficulties in any unity schemes8. It is planned that there should be a Synodical Government Review Commission in the near future but it may prove difficult to withdraw powers now given to the clergy and laity.
The role of Magisterium in the Church is also being looked at afresh. The growing concern at extremely liberal doctrine among Church of England theologians, such as was exemplified in The Myth of God Incarnate, was expressed by Robert Runcie, when he said in a speech in 1982,
'I sometimes fear that the Church of England is less and less in a real and relevant dialogue with its traditions. If the process of discarding forms and models goes very much further, there is a great danger that we shall cease to be a Church in which vertebrate and vigorous Christians can be nourished9.'
General Synod also felt that some of the reports of the various Doctrine Commissions and indeed some episcopal utterances had not been helpful to the majority of the faithful and asked for a more definite statement of belief from the bishops. This exposition, The Nature of Christian Belief (1986), was a consensus statement of the House of Bishops, and has been described as 'slightly to the conservative side of centre10'. It was meant as an expression of basic Christian belief for intelligent lay people, not a work for theologians. At the end of the work came a section on, 'The Individual and Collegial Responsibility of Bishops for the Faith of the Church', which was a reassertion of the teaching role of bishops and their guardianship of the Faith. They took the opportunity of reminding their fellow bishops that,
'it is argued that a bishop is obliged not only to refrain himself from statements contrary to the doctrine of the Church of England but also to use all his efforts against the statements whether made by those under his authority ?or by others11.'
It was inevitable that some believed this to refer to the more controversial statements recently uttered by David Jenkins, then the new Bishop of Durham, which had been widely reported on television and in the popular press. However, the bishops made it clear that the Faith they were to guard was not to be over-narrowly interpreted and a wide range of theological statements was still acceptable12. It was an example of collegial responsibility rarely seen over previous years. The report Episcopal Ministry echoed these statements when it called for comprehensiveness in belief to have some limitations 13, but in the ensuing pages it does not suggest the criteria which would determine these limits.
Bishops have less discipline problems within their dioceses as ritual disputes have abated considerably over the last twenty five years. In 1991 attempts began to introduce proposals into General Synod to limit Parson's Freehold so bishops were more at liberty to move clergy who for some reason were no longer suitable for the parishes they served. Problems concerning Parson's Freehold rarely make the headlines but are an area of concern for most diocesan bishops. They are occasionally the subject of major rows as in the case of the dispute between the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Hardy, and some of the canons of Lincoln Cathedral. He believed them to have irresponsibly involved the cathedral in heavy debt and when they refused to resign their canonries at his request he was powerless to enforce their resignation14.
The increasing financial restraints are making some dioceses reduce the number of clergy. This is done by leaving livings vacant for some time and amalgamating parishes. Those livings in the gift of the bishops can have their status altered so the priest becomes 'priest in charge' without the security of a Parson's Freehold attached to a rectorship and thus these priests become more mobile and subject to more authority from the bishops. Financial restraints can be used to put pressure on patrons from some livings not held by bishops so that in future some of these, especially in rural areas, can also become amalgamated with other nearby parishes.
During the 1980's a second ARCIC Commission began work, turning to areas such as Justification and the Church as Communion, although they have indicated that the further study of Authority is very much on their current agenda. Throughout the last ten years there has been much discussion on ARCIC I's statements on Authority especially on the possibility of a universal primacy. However, the obstacles raised by the increasing number of Churches within the Anglican Communion which decided to proceed with the ordination of women has led many to believe that the prospect of a reunited Church has receeded further into the future. The Vatican Statement on ARCIC I which finally appeared in December 1991 endorsed this conclusion as it made it clear ?that the organic unity the Vatican hoped eventually to bring about would require a strict conformity to Roman Catholic doctrine, especially in the area of Authority, which would at present appear not to be acceptable to many within the Church of England.
The report Episcopal Ministry considered several aspects of the ARCIC I's statements on Authority, showing a certain concern over some current practices in the Roman Catholic Church especially where dioceses have been forced to accept bishops who were unwelcome to them15. It also demonstrated that a considerable suspicion remains within the Church of England over a universal primacy largely because of concern over the extent of its jurisdiction and how this would affect freedoms and traditions the Church would wish to retain in any future reunion16.
The report indicates the extent of unresolved difficulties in any union with the Free Churches which do not have an episcopate. Although these share the need for episcope they cannot yet realise the need for bishops, 'as a personal symbol of the catholicity and apostolicity of the Church17' and until agreement is reached on the theology of episcopacy between the Church of England and the Free Churches further progress is really impossible. Clearly a Church which is looking towards reunion with the Roman Catholic Church will be unwilling to consider a compromise or ambiguous settlement concerning episcopal ordination.
In several directions it is possible to see progress in resolving some of the dilemmas which faced the Church of England between 1928 and 1981 in the areas of episcopal authority. The ARCIC I statements appear to have been influential in reconsiderations of attitude towards Synodical government and Magisterium, and in recent attempts to give bishops more control over relocating their clergy. The issues concerning the relationship of Church and State still have to be faced. Parliament has demonstrated again to General Synod that its freedom is far from absolute and that some of its members are reluctant to grant the Church further autonomy from the State. The list of legal barriers to a reunited Church is quite formidable and only considerable determination from the Church and a Parliament less wedded to sixteenth century attitudes will be able to accomplish their removal.
1) Episcopal Ministry.p.8715188
3) See the chapter on Anglican Roman Catholic Relationships
6) John Whale, The Future of Anglicanism, (1988), p.46
7) See also Adrian Hastings, Robert Runcie, (1991), p.70
8) See John Halliburton, The Authority of a Bishop, (1987), pp.9,50 and this was also apparant fromconversations held with members of the ARCIC committee
9) Quoted in Adrian Hastings, Robert Runcie, (1991), p.201
10) Hastings, op.cit.p.203
14) See The Times, February 4th 1991, p.6