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COMPLEXITIES OF COVENANT

Inevitably from me, a bit of history. After the Restoration in 1660 the CofE sought to restore its disciplinary authority. Gradually over about 50 years, two factors frustrated this process. The Later Stuarts, in seeking to protect Roman Catholics from ecclesiastical, statutory discipline issued a series of Indulgences. To demonstrate even handedness they covered Nonconformists by these Indulgences. (James II went too far and was forced to abdicate.)  These Indulgences were also in force in the colonies in which the CofE was Established.

With the accession of William and Mary the CofE leadership attempted to reconcile the mainstream Nonconformists by backing the repeal or non observance of the laws which restricted their freedom. A side effect of all this was a decline of general disciplinary standards. Although this opened the door for movements such as the Evangelical and Tractarian revivals, which each in their own way defied liturgical conformity, the result was a “live and let live” policy. In the later 19th Century both the CofE and TEC attempted to reassert discipline with respect to Anglo Catholicism with lamentable results. What emerged was a sort of offical Nelsonian blind eye to experimentation, accompanied by a refusal to officially endorse controversial experiments until they became generally tolerated or received. Indeed this form of liberality became an unofficial “mark” of Anglicanism, and asserted as one of its virtues.

It is from this “tradition” that the Communion now faces the challenge of what may be permitted and what not. Canterbury presides over a church in which this form of liberality is generally accepted. Ironically contemporary Anglo Catholicism has asserted this freedom in England by using rites and ceremonies not officially permitted by statute while opposing latitude shown to other “parties.”

Canada, for instance, may escape censure at present because it has not institutionalized its “experiments” while turning an official (and encouraging) blind eye to their use. TEC on the other hand has taken actions which formalize practices not generally received and so (with the Southern Cone and others) is disciplined.

The Covenant attempts to draw borders, breaches of which are defined as the official, legislative actions of participating provinces which breach these borders. One of the problems the Covenant process encounters is that while some provinces have created disciplinary structures tougher than those historically in use in other provinces whose composition is “comprehensive”.  They are heirs to missionaries who imposed upon their dioceses and later provinces a monochrome form of Churchmanship and thus discipline.

Thus we have here two forms of Anglican expression, one which is used to discipline and the other used to general freedom. Both may appeal to an Anglican tradition which seems to support their position.  What has changed is that many “comprehensive” provinces,  while appealing to comprehension, in fact have been narrowing that form of inclusion in favor of a governing “party”.   The Covenant seeks to straddle both traditions by identifying limits to diversity while affirming comprehension, no easy task, for in one way or another, both forms of Anglican tradition are challenged by a process which may seem either too disciplinary or too lax.

One Response

  1. Thanks for a helpful discussion.

    Lionel Deimel

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