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Colloquium Hears Anglican Perspectives on Vatican II

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Added on 15/04/2013

SEARCH: A Church of Ireland Journal and the Church of Ireland Chaplaincy at TCD joined forces to organise a colloquium to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The event, entitled Remembering Vatican II: Some Anglican Perspectives, took place on Saturday 13 April, in Trinity College Dublin.

A number of distinguished speakers looked at the impact of the Council on the Church of Ireland in particular and world–wide Anglicanism in general. Through an examination of some of the key Vatican II documents the fruits of the Council were analysed and assessed.

Speakers included Dr Andrew Pierce, Assistant Professor and Programme Coordinator in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at the Irish School of Ecumenics, TCD; the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Woolwich (Church of England); the Revd Dr Kevin Moroney, Rector of Christ Church, Ithan, Pennsylvania and Adjunct Professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia; and Dr Clare Amos, Programme Executive for Inter–Religious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches, Geneva. 

Both Archbishops of Dublin (The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson and The Most Revd Dr Diarmuid Martin) attended and gave opening and closing remarks respectively.

The opening remarks of Archbishop Michael Jackson follow here. The closing remarks of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and abstracts of papers given by the speakers are available on www.dublin.anglican.org.

United Diocese of Dublin & Glendalough

For further information please contact:

Lynn Glanville
Diocesan Communications Officer
Dublin & Glendalough

Mobile: 087 2356472
Email: Dublin & Glendalough DCO
Website: www.dublin.anglican.org




Vatican ii – some Anglican perspectives
Introductory remarks by Michael Jackson, archbishop of Dublin

Colloquium held in Trinity College Dublin, April 13.2013

One of the most important insights of Inter Faith engagement is that one ought not to compare, or indeed play off, the best of oneself against the worst of another, whether that be an individual or an institution. It is a perennial temptation. Its seductive attractiveness neither substantiates it nor justifies it. It is what makes me particularly reticent about commenting into today’s Seminar about the performance, for better or for worse, of Vatican ii fifty years on. I say this because I know my own Church of Ireland tradition all too well. First, it is a series of disparate traditions; secondly, it is far from homogeneous; thirdly, it is slow to take the responsibilities which risk demands and change requires. I therefore ask honestly: What reason have I to expect the miracles of liberalism of a church tradition which has perforce been subjected to the same historical mauling as has my own, when that mauling has left my own tradition cautious in being convinced that change brings anything other than institutional bereavement? In both of our traditions, the focus inevitably and by inheritance is on education and healthcare as expressions of an ethos of service. Both of these all too often we have wilfully and cynically turned into an ethos of exclusivity, therefore and thereby exchanging altruism for containment, as identity has become more specialised and narrowly focused on our own survival. And so we have turned our identity into something which props up our internal insecurity, no matter how loudly we shout about it or indeed shout down ‘the other side’, in order to convince ourselves of our in–built entitlement to supremacy in culture, in belief, in political influence. History has walked us into opposition as a definition of reality. We still bear the scars and have become the playthings of the professional politicians as a result.

For Anglicans in particular, this is nothing short of a distortion of the classical triad of: Scripture, Tradition and Reason which, when combined with Experience, give us the four walls of the edifice of contemporary Anglicanism. This methodology has to be more than an aspiration, it has to be an expectation of fulfilment within the self disclosure of Almighty God. It gives us an inter–active definition of identity and it is this: membership, in our self–understanding, of the Kingdom of God, insofar as this is possible on this side of eschatological fulfilment. And this demands of us elasticity and symphony as ways of interpretation. And these, in turn, require the generosity of spirit and the confidence of maturity. And these, again, demand our letting go of institutions as totems of identity and the releasing of ourselves for the celebration of content over form. Therefore, the best and the worst of our efforts, however prophetic or indeed gauche they seem in retrospect or in prospect, need to be proofed within this expression of charity and provisionality. If, as Anglicans, we lose or distort this, we cease to be active Anglicans, become at best reactive Anglicans and make ecumenical endeavour an exploration of Arctic proportions.

I go further to state the obvious and to say that fundamentally Anglicanism is a theological method more than it is a church. This gives us a rare combination of freedom and responsibility which we rarely use to our advantage or, even more alarmingly, to the advantage of others. The recognition that there is one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is a Creedal reality which really matters to us and which defines an identity as expressive of who we are and of who we are yet to become, to adapt 1 John. I am reminded of the articulation of Henry McAdoo and I quote from his reflections on Vatican ii in the context of Vatican i: ‘…a basic reflection at this stage of the discussion in 1970 could be that Anglicans are not so much concerned with declaiming against papal infallibility as with insisting on the primacy of scripture…Anglicans see the Church’s role in respect of scripture as ‘testis et conservatrix’, to quote the Latin version of article XX. Its role resembles that of the judge who interprets, expounds and applies the law but is himself (sic) subject to it and who cannot add to it or take from it’ (New Divinity vol.1 no.2 pages 7,8). I suggest that not even McAdoo could have predicted the tidal wave of Neo–Fundamentalism, masquerading as traditionalism which, with ever–increasing rapidity, sweeps across the international religious world and gathers more and more of Christianity in its flotsam and jetsam. 

Another part of the reason that I am cautious about too ready criticism of the Irish reception of Vatican ii, which I do understand to have been lukewarm if not oblique, is that I am well aware of a deep running psychological trait in the Church of Ireland of my youth which overlapped with Vatican ii. What in those days, and until recently, we called ‘the two communities’ fed off one another in a way which was often unacknowledged and, in another way, utterly unhealthy. In the Church of Ireland, many were content to see the Roman Catholic Church as holding a moral monopoly right across Ireland and many in the Roman Catholic Church and in society were happy to be beneficiaries of this self–granted status. With a degree of self–indulgent cynicism, sections of the Church of Ireland were happy to use this as a moral backdrop while rejoicing to trumpet their difference – it went something like this: ‘Our people, particularly the people at the top, are not saying anything. We are glad somebody is saying something. But of course we don’t quite agree with all they say. They’re not ‘one of us.’ But we’re glad they are saying it anyway, that smebody. Is saying something.’ Caricature of the breadth of the religious tradition of another, maximising the particularity of geographical claustrophobia as it affects others, while not recognising the damage it is doing to you, is one thing; imputing that damage selectively to another is quite something else. And yet, in my experience growing up in Northern Ireland this is what was happening. People generally were not wilfully hurtful; they were just not giving such things theological attention. There were, of course, notable exceptions but the politicisation of religion and the asset–stripping of the theological versatility within religious traditions subtly shifts uninformed caricature into the realm of wilful distortion. I simply ask the question of those from the Republic of Ireland: How different really was it in those days? My own experience since returning to work in Dublin is that sectarianism, although polite in speech and smile, is alive and well in instinct and in prejudice. It is for this reason that I am particularly slow to agree that ‘ the bad old days’ are behind us. Naivety helps us in no regard, least of all in self–understanding.

We gather in what was once the bastion of Protestantism in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, whatever we mean by that term Protestantism. The flavour of our host today is secularism and it would seem that all of us can cope much better with that designation of identity. Modern and secular are words which hold together like bread and jam in the nursery of yesteryear. The developments which have come about through the admittedly piecemeal implementation of Vatican ii in Ireland are hard won in that they have brought great enrichment to those who reap their benefits but there have been many tragedies of innocent expectation along the way. There are landmines of trust betrayed, roadblocks of prejudices strengthened. They fulfil the spirit of the logo of the Irish School of Ecumenics: ‘Unless the seed dies…’ The genuine achievements must never be swept out on the tide of anxiety and revulsion which has been engendered by child sex abuse. It is not a creation of the post–Vatican ii era. And we must be very aware of that. The downside of any moral monopoly is always societal and professional collusion at all levels, not only the clerical one. However, when theocracy is added to monopoly there are very specific opportunities for clericalism to flourish to the detriment of the church and the society. The fuller story is surely yet to be told although, as with everyone else here, I can only express the deepest of sympathy and concern for all who suffered clerical sexual abuse and ask for forgiveness of all who perpetrated it.

Ireland 2013 is a stark place in which to witness to the presence of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. There is a strange circularity of predictability about this. If you speak innocently and confidently about religion, you are deemed to be sub–intellectual. If you say nothing, then you are widely understood to stand for nothing worth countenancing and to be colluding with secularist reductionism. The climate, like the weather itself, oscillates between indifference and hostility. Many enjoy their denominational identity, as indeed I enjoy mine. At the same time, I am acutely aware that a divided Christian witness simply hastens the fragmentation, privatization and compartmentalisation of religion as a compassionate and rigorous public force for civic society. Discipleship is still to be lived out in a confident western democracy like the Ireland of today which has had an unprecedented level of sustained international concern and privileged attention for a developed country particularly throughout its proactive European belonging, a period which in many ways overlaps with the post–Vatican ii period. We are now part of a world where people like us have less and less excuse about being under–informed. We are beneficiaries of a communications world which gives us instant infotainment, as Americans call it. And still local history and unforgiving memory play as much part as ever in the personalities we make of ourselves in our own lifetime and the attitudes which we present to others on a daily basis.

In my previous diocese of Clogher and again here in Dublin and Glendalough, I have never made any secret of my respect for and friendship with my Roman Catholic episcopal counterpart and with the people and clergy of the dioceses. Friendship lies at the heart of shared adventure and fortunately it is somewhat infectious. Too often I am tentative because I simply cannot read those who might be described as ‘my own people,’ and the courage to be adventurous is given me by those whom my own people would still call ‘the other side.’ However, the rewards are rich. Archbishop Martin and I are convinced that co–operation across both our traditions in the areas of the full expression of the vocation and witness of the laity, clerical formation and baptism is essential. To that I would add social action and engagement, areas in which the Roman Catholic Church tradition already leads the way. The irony is that in parts of the rest of the world, such co–operation is commonplace and quite unexceptional and is no longer even called ecumenical because it does not need to be patronised.

My personal understanding of The Second Vatican Council is that it was primarily for the members of the Roman Catholic Church, with a very generous instinct of inclusion of those from other Christian traditions. Its institutional background, namely that of The First Vatican Council of 1870, makes its scope and shape all the more remarkable and breathtaking. My concluding remarks combine some jottings of my own along with much more penetrating insights of Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalen College Cambridge and formerly archbishop of Canterbury. For my own part, the genius of the Documents is in their ambiguity about what is meant at any given point by the term: the church. This gives space for openness of exploration to those who are open to such exploration, but in my opinion it insufficiently gives scope to those who wish to change a culture of assumed ecclesiological superiority for the existing and inherited Roman Catholic Church. This tension is at its most painful to me at the point where membership of the church and baptism are not conceived as coterminous. I find this important because in relation to a whole range of taboo subjects in the Church of Ireland, for example the ordination of women, the argument from baptism is the vital one. And yet we are able to tolerate one another and to co–operate very willingly and creatively. The second is the courage given voice in the area of Inter Faith engagement and in the realm of structured social justice. The former gave Christian and ecclesiological prominence to the instinct of Genesis to honour humanity made in the image and likeness of God; take for example a statement such as: ‘The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.’ And anti–Semitism is well and truly nailed and rejected: ‘… what happened in this passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today … The Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the Holy Scripture.’ The latter began to tackle head–on the thorny thickets of theocracy in terms of nationalisms and colonialisms across the inhabited world. One has to remember just how thankless a task this was in its day and in its time. My final comment is about the inconsistency in implementation of the broad vision of the people of God. To an Anglican such as myself, I marvel at the patience of lay people in the Roman Catholic tradition and at the same time wonder where the definitive break throughout will really take place and take root. But once again I find myself asking the same questions of my own tradition. How successful have we in the Church of Ireland been in confronting clericalism and in acknowledging and honouring and investing the vocation and ministry of lay people in a church which trumpets synodical democracy and, on its own admission, craves leadership but rejects direction? And theologically I am left pondering the depth of influence of both Calvinism and Jansenism to this very day on the traditions of Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism in Ireland, those twins of the Reformation and post–Reformation era, so attractive in cold theological climates.

Dr Williams has drawn attention, in his customary and devastating rhetorical innocence, to aspects of intellectual and theological development which prepared the way for Vatican ii. They were his final contribution as archbishop of Canterbury to The Tablet in 2012. They remain worth pondering as we seek together to plan a way forward in church structures which all to often rejoice actively to be anti–intellectual. I quote: ‘ If grace is truly to be grace, it must not be required to fit into a predetermined gap in the natural order; nature must be itself, and must have its own proper integrity.’ (The Tablet 22/29 December 2012 page 24) And he says elsewhere (ibid. page 25): ‘ Creation is made with a purpose, and that purpose is a full reconciled relationship with its maker. It simply isn’t possible to give an adequate account of a “natural” reality, in particular a human life, without bringing in this dimension.’ And finally I quote Williams’s own assessment of de Lubac: ‘ … his superb book on Catholicism, which introduced a generation both of theologians and of educated general readers to the early Christian vision of the church – to a view of human nature as created for communion, so that the Eucharist was both a pleading of Christ’s historical sacrifice on Calvary and a foretaste of humanity fully restored in union with him: a foretaste of the full mutuality for which human persons were made.’ (ibid. page 25). If all of this thinking was indeed accessible before The Council, from within and without the Roman Catholic tradition, just think what might have been by now had we all run with it. If cynicism is the death of spirituality, perhaps traditionalism is the death of possibility.