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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Cardinal Kasper speaks to the English House of Bishops

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It is no secret that the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion is in a very important controversy concerning the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England. This, on top of the other pressing controversy concerning the ECUSA is bringing a lot of tension in our communion. Below is the conclusion of the address and you can read it all at the C of E site. The Bishops are meeting to discuss the Guildford Report that will be debated again next month at our General Synod.

Such a decision broadly taken within the Anglican Communion would mean turning away from the common position of all churches of the first millennium, that is, not only the Catholic Church but also the ancient Eastern and the Orthodox churches. It would, in our view, further call into question what was recognised by the Second Vatican Council (UR, 13), that the Anglican Communion occupied ‘a special place’ among churches and ecclesial communities of the West. We would see the Anglican Communion as moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant churches of the 16th century. It would indeed continue to have bishops, according to the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888); but as with bishops within some Protestant churches, the older churches of East and West would recognise therein much less of what they understand to be the character and ministry of the bishop in the sense understood by the early church and continuing through the ages.

Amidst all of this, the question arises which also occupied John Henry Newman: is the so-called via media a viable path? Where and on what side does the Anglican Communion stand, where will it stand in the future? Which orientation does it claim as its own: the Latin, Greek, Protestant, Liberal or Evangelical? It may retreat to the Anglican principle of comprehensiveness and answer: We are a little of everything. Such comprehensiveness is doubtless a good principle to a certain degree, but it should not be overdone, as my predecessor Cardinal Edward Cassidy once told you: one arrives at limits where one must decide one way or the other. For without identity no society, least of all a church, can continue to survive. The decision you are facing is therefore an historic decision.

What follows from these conclusions and questions? What follows for the future of our ecumenical dialogue? One thing is certain: the Catholic Church will not break off the dialogue even in the case of such a decision. It will above all not break off the personal relationships and friendships which have developed over the past years and decades. But there is a difference between types of dialogue. The quality of the dialogue would be altered by such a decision. Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full church communion. That has been the presupposition of our dialogue until now. That presupposition would realistically no longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to episcopal office.

Following that action we could still come together for the sake of information and consultation; we could continue to discuss and attempt to clarify theological issues, to cooperate in many practical spheres and to give shared witness. Above all we could unite in joint prayer and pray for one another. All of that is, God knows, not negligible. But the loss of the common goal would necessarily have an effect on such encounters and rob them of most of their élan and their internal dynamic. Above all – and this is the most painful aspect – the shared partaking of the one Lord’s table, which we long for so earnestly, would disappear into the far and ultimately unreachable distance. Instead of moving towards one another we would co-exist alongside one another.

For many that may seem a more realistic path than what we have attempted previously, but whether it is in accordance with the binding last will and testament of Jesus, ‘that all may be one’ (Jn, 17,21) is of course another question. The answer would have to be in the negative. I ask you: Is that what we want? Are we permitted to do that? Should we not ponder what Cyprian tells us, namely that the seamless robe of Jesus Christ cannot be possessed by those who tear apart and divide the church of Christ (De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, 1,6)?

IV
That brings me back once more in conclusion to a consideration of the fundamental principles. I have quoted our common Church Father, Cyprian. In conclusion I would like to refer to another shared Church Father, Augustine, and to one who must be particularly close to you, the Venerable Bede. Both of them took up Cyprian’s ideas.

Cyprian had illustrated his thesis of the ‘episcopatus unus et indivisus’ through a series of metaphors: the metaphor of the sun which has many rays but only one light; of the tree which has many branches but only one trunk grounded in one sturdy root, and of many streams which spring from one single source. Then he states: ‘Cut off one of the sun’s rays – the unity of the light permits no division; break off a branch of the tree and it can bud no more; dam off a spring from its source, it dries up below the cut.’ (De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, 1,5).

Augustine took up these metaphors more than once in his text Contra Cresconium. I will quote just one instance: ‘Avelle radium solis a corpore, divisionem lucis unitas non capit: ab arbore frange ramum, fructus germinare non poterit: a fonte praecide rivum, praecisus arescit’ (lib II 33.42). [Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light; break a branch from a the tree, - when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up.] Similarly, the Venerable Bede says in a homily: ‘Pastores sunt omnes, sed grex unus ostenditur qui ab apostolis omnibnus tunc unianima consensione pascebatur.’ [All are shepherds but one flock is revealed. Then it was fed by all the apostles with harmonious agreement.]

‘Grex unus, qui unianima consensione pascitur’, that is the aim of ecumenical dialogue; it can only succeed if the unianima consensio of every single one of the separated churches is preserved and is then constituted step by step between those separated ecclesial bodies. May this, in spite of all the difficulties and resistance, be granted to us one day by the grace of God.

Appendix:
Address of Pope Benedict XVI to the clergy of Rome on 2 March 2006

‘Thus, the Church has a great debt of gratitude to women. And you have correctly emphasized that at a charismatic level, women do so much, I would dare to say, for the government of the Church, starting with women Religious, with the Sisters of the great Fathers of the Church such as St Ambrose, to the great women of the Middle Ages – St Hildegard, St Catherine of Siena, then St Teresa of Avila – and lastly, Mother Teresa. I would say that this charismatic sector is undoubtedly distinguished by the ministerial sector in the strict sense of the term, but it is a true and deep participation in the government of the Church.

How could we imagine the government of the Church without this contribution, which sometimes becomes very visible, such as when St Hildegard criticized the Bishops or when St Bridget offered recommendations and St Catherine of Siena obtained the return of the Popes to Rome? It has always been a crucial factor without which the Church cannot survive.

However, you rightly say: we also want to see women more visibly in the government of the Church. We can say that the issue is this: the priestly ministry of the Lord, as we know, is reserved to men, since the priestly ministry is government in the deep sense, which, in short, means it is the Sacrament [of Orders] that governs the Church.

This is the crucial point. It is not the man who does something, but the priest governs, faithful to his mission, in the sense that it is the Sacrament, that is, through the Sacrament it is Christ himself who governs, both through the Eucharist and in the other Sacraments, and thus Christ always presides.

However, it is right to ask whether in ministerial service – despite the fact that here Sacrament and charism are the two ways in which the Church fulfils herself – it might be possible to make more room, to give more offices of responsibility to women.’

1 Comments:

Anonymous Antonio said...

"Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full church communion. That has been the presupposition of our dialogue until now. That presupposition would realistically no longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to episcopal office".

When Cardinal Kasper says something so strong, it means that it's almost over.
May the Church of England gives us a surprise (but a nice one, this time).

11:32 pm  

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