"THE Holy Father’s offer of the Ordinariate will take concrete form in 2011. In light of this impending reality, it is a matter of some urgency to clarify the options that confront traditional Anglo Catholics at this time. At first sight there seem to be four options: 1. Rome, via the Ordinariate or by personal reconciliation 2. Eastern Orthodoxy. 3. the Continuing Anglicans and 4. remaining in communion with Canterbury.
"However these options fall into two groups. If you take either of the first two options, you are entering communion with traditional apostolic Churches which understand the Church in terms of communion. In the second two options you are either joining some form of independent association of continuing Anglicans or you are choosing to remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion"
To the Eastern Orthodox the Papists are outside the True Church, and to the Papists, the Eastern Orthodox lack the fullness of the Catholic Church because they continue to "diss" the Successor of Peter in Rome. Bishop Elliot repeats this exclusive and intolerant refrain, even though using the glowing and positive spin of modern RCism about the Holy Spirit allegedly bringing everyone into unity with the Catholic (by which he means Roman) Church. It sounds nicer that way, but behind it lies the same old stuff.
Bishop Elliot follows his opening barrage by defining the Apostolic Sucession of Bishops in terms perfectly acceptable to Anglicans the world over. It is simply the doctrine that the Church of England never abandoned, and that Anglicans have lived by all along. But it is given that special twist.
"However, in an 'Episcopalian' [sic] understanding of the nature of the Church on earth, no bishop exists in isolation. He has to be in communion with other bishops, a communion of shared faith and order. He is part of an apostolic college that across the ages reproduces the original community of the twelve. Within the particular church where the bishop presides, his clergy and people are in communion with him. Yet his Church is meant to be in communion with other Churches, particularly apostolic patriarchates."
He uses the word "Episcopalian" no doubt to mean episcopal, that is, belief that the Church is governed by bishops who respect the authority and boundaries of each other in their respective dioceses. But here he throws in the claim that the Two One True Churches always assume, namely that Patriarchates, like Bishops, are of the esse (i.e., essence as in "essential") of the Church.
This is puzzling inasmuch as he goes on to address the question of Bishops as of the esse of the Church, somehow making a distinction between Anglo-Catholics and standard Anglicans to the effect that only Anglo-Catholics believe in the episcopal structure of the Church. That is, in itself, incorrect. The Canon Laws of the Church of England, and later of the churches of the Anglican Communion, today preserved by Continuing Anglicans, as well as the teaching found in the Catechism, as is further evident in practice, show that Anglicanism has known no polity except that of the Apostolic Succession of Bishops. It is not only Anglo-Catholics who fit this category.
The confusion that does exist, however, is over whether or not we may declare the ministry of other Protestant churches to be without the grace God gives, normally, through the sacraments. The difference between the Anglican approach and the Roman Catholic approach is simple. Our fathers gave us reason to say that a ministry is not sacramentally valid, but they never gave us grounds to presume to say that any ministry of the other Protestant Reformation churches is "absolutely null and utterly void."
To declare those ministries to be thus ineffectual would require some knowledge in addition to God's revelation. Our approach is radically different from Rome only in our refusal to overstate what we may know. Our approach is in harmony, however, with the Eastern Orthodox understanding of God's Economy. That is, in harmony though not identical.
Bishop Elliot's argument boils down, when all the irrelevant noise is taken away, to the question of Patriarchates. The Two One True Churches presume that if bishops are essential to the Church, then so is the governmental system of Patriarchates. The only issue upon which the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics appear to agree about us, and our place in the Church, is over this question of Patriarchates. This too is an illusion however, because Rome believes that there is only one Patriarch who really counts, as the others are supposed to be subordinate to him (and are currently in rebellion); but the Eastern Orthodox on one hand might count us all as Western, and on the other have seemed willing to extend their own Patriarchal communion, as if we needed it to be complete.
The truth is, the Patriarchate system was not revealed in Scripture, did not constitute a doctrine, and it has changed from time to time in the history of the Church. It served in the days of the Roman Empire, and in all the periods before the communication technology of telegrams was invented. In the days of persecution by the Roman Empire the church naturally fell into geographical jurisdictions of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. This system had become a tradition by the time of Constantine. When the friendly emperor built a "new Rome" named after himself, Constantinople was recognized as a Patriarchate, with dioceses carved out for it. Later, Moscow became a Patriarchate (and counts itself Rome's replacement since they believe the Pope separated himself from the One True Church long ago).
A simple practical way of organizing the Church during periods of history has grown into something treated as if it had been revealed by God, as if it has to be permanent, and as if it is equally essential to the Church with the Apostolic Succession of Bishops. This is in spite of the fact that there is no sacramental distinction between a Patriarch and any other Bishop of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It was not merely the Patriarchs, but all of the Bishops, who were seated as equals in the Ecumenical Councils.
We should look again at Article
Apostolic Succession is God's gift to the Church, and it is revealed in Scripture. But, if Bishop Elliot insists on invoking the word "communion" as a rallying cry, it must be replied that communion has to include right doctrine about essentials of the Faith, especially the Gospel. No matter how much tradition may stand behind the claim that everyone should be subject to one of the historic Patriarchates, the Great Tradition impels us only to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (I Thess. 5:21)
Elliot uses the word "Congregationalism" to condemn all Anglicans who refuse to come under Rome's rule, despite our due order and episcopal structure. He says:
"Hard questions can be asked. Could it be said that Anglo Catholics who choose 'to remain' have embraced congregationalism? Do they contradict their own Tractarian insistence on 'our apostolic descent'? Are they now saying that the Church is a collection of local congregations of those who maintain Catholic doctrine and sacramental practices? In this perspective, each parish becomes a Church in itself."
These superficial hypothetical questions are not "hard" at all. They are simply the usual Roman arrogance reasserting itself (and the clear implication exposes his rosy and seemingly positive mention of Eastern Orthodoxy to be disingenuous, as it cannot fail to be). The charge he has made is that outside of the Roman Catholic Church there is no Church. Without the Pope there can be no real communion. It is that same old boring refrain, and it is made all the more offensive by the sophistry all too characteristic of Roman Catholics who try to enlighten us.
With or without "Tractarian insistence on 'our apostolic descent,'" Anglican insistence on our apostolic descent has never allowed the episcopal structure of the Church to degenerate into Congregationalism, which is why the real Congregationalists reject our position in no uncertain terms. But, neither should we Continuers allow Communion to collapse into merely a political and legal issue in which truth takes second place. If we use the word "communion" to mean simply a legal and official recognition of one Bishop, the one who resides in Rome, then we drag it down into the legal and political mire that has never accomplished anything good in history, and that has been the seat of division since 1054 AD.
In the Bible, however, we see the basis of real Communion as the goal of true Apostolic Succession, the Apostolic Succession not only of hands laid on heads in history, but also of the truth taught faithfully.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (I John 1:1-4)
The word "fellowship" as used above by the translators in 1611, is the same word as the word used for "communion." The Greek word is koinōnia (κοινωνία ). This communion, this fellowship, is one of genuine Faith. It must not be reduced to simply a legal matter, an official recognition of one See with enormous claims. The approach used by Bishop Elliot is merely a repetition of the old problem, one that belittles the very Communion and Apostolic Succession it pretends to honor.