Primacy and conciliarity

Cardinal Walter Kasper has been talking about the October 2007 Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in Ravenna, and explaining what’s left in the process of achieving full unity.

The breakthrough, he said, was that “the Orthodox agreed to speak about the universal level – because before there were some who denied that there could even be institutional structures on the universal level. The second point is that we agreed that at the universal level there is a primate. It was clear that there is only one candidate for this post, that is the Bishop of Rome, because according to the old order – ‘taxis’ in Greek – of the Church of the first millennium the see of Rome is the first among them.
“Whereas the Orthodox must clarify more deeply the question of ‘primacy, ‘protos,’ on the universal level, we Catholics have to reflect more clearly on the problem of synodality and conciliarity, especially on the universal level,” he said.

‘So we do not want to impose the system which today is in the Latin Church on the Orthodox Churches. In the case of the restoration of full communion, a new form of the exercise of the primacy needs to be found for the Orthodox Churches.’


On the way to Easter – Lent 2

Life comes from outside us – we are ‘born from above’. We are not individually in charge of our own existence, means that life also come from outside us. This ‘outside’ John identifies with ‘above’, where God is.

Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? You are Israel’s leader. How can you not understand this? John 3.1-17

We are born, again and again, continuously. We are renewed continuously, from above. Our creation is not only a one-time event in the past – and so our relationship with God is not only a single event situated in the past, but it is also live now.

God is full of life and full of freedom and time, for us. He dispenses this life and freedom to us, gently, through time. God gives himself to us, slowly and piecemeal, always preparing us to receive more of him. The work of God is to ratchet us up into increasing participation in the economy of his life, in which new human action may continually come into being – the inexhaustible economy. The life we have comes from the Spirit, from above, our wellhead and headwaters, our source and provider.

On the way to Easter – Lent 2

What the Archbishop actually said

My Archbishop was given the title Civil and Religious law in England: A Religious Perspective.

But my Archbishop did not say that ‘some aspects of Sharia law “seem unavoidable”‘, as is widely reported.

He said that

a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’ (Ayelet Shachar Multicultural Jurisdictions: Cultural Differences and Women’s Rights (2001) p. 122) – seems unavoidable.

and this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a ‘market’ element, a competition for loyalty.

But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.

An element of competition between jurisdictions, or a ‘market’ of jurisdictions, for certain carefully specified matters – THIS seems unavoidable’.

It seems unavoidable given that what we want is ‘a pattern of relations…in which overlapping affiliations work for a common good’.

It is only unavoidable if we want the common good, mind.

Aftermath II

Here are some more views on the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s speech on Civil and Religious law in England: A Religious Perspective:

Ali Eteraz comment at ‘Sharia Subjects VI: Concurrent jurisdiction would be used to coerce average believers‘ at Our Kingdom

A majority of British Muslims are just fine with the legal system. They consider it an Islamic duty to obey the laws of the land. They have learned to balance the requirements of their personal faith with their public obligations and limitations. For example, when they get married they go to city hall and afterwards go to the mosque for a second ceremony. When they get divorced they go to court and then they do an Islamic divorce. If these Muslims find certain policies problematic, they participate in the political process to try and change them. This is, in my opinion, the easiest and most sensible position for Muslims to adopt. It also leads to better citizenship. The development of this position augurs well for the development of a â??minority fiqhâ?? – a jurisprudence for Muslims living in majority non-Muslim areasâ?¦.

Courts like the Islamic Sharia Council are outgrowths of local Muslim communities which, in turn, exert an enormous amount of what I call â??piety-pressureâ?? upon average believers. Subtle black-mailing and intimidation will become further entrenched if Islamic courts are given concurrent status. Sharia bullies will not only be protected by God, but by State as well, just as they are in Islamist regimes around the world. Concurrent jurisdiction for Muslims should be opposed. The position adopted by the vast majority of British Muslims is the correct one: Sharia should remain personal law. Those Muslims who do not adopt this position should be persuaded to change their views, not be compromised with.

And here is Andrew Anthony He ought to split his church from the state

If Dr Williams was seriously concerned about constitutional law and religious justice, he would look at the dwindling number of his followers in this country and call for the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Much of the grievance members of other religions and denominations currently feel stems from the privilege – state endorsement, parliamentary representation – that Dr Williams’s church conspicuously enjoys. Who can deny that the church’s special treatment looks increasingly absurd in our multicultural society? Even Dr Williams himself has acknowledged that Britain is not a Christian country in terms of “active churchgoers”. Therefore the choice on offer is either to downgrade the Church of England, or upgrade other religions. Dr Williams has made his preference obvious.

And here is Andrew Copson The archbishop adapts to survive

But it must nag at you that there is a bit of a mismatch between the power and privilege your organisation holds and the public support it has; you may find it hard to justify the position of a national church when it doesn’t any longer represent the nation. With an eye to the future, you really do need to find another way to shore up your church’s position.

Judging by the outraged reaction of so many at Rowan Williams’ comments on sharia law, there was considerable surprise that he said what he said. In fact, nothing could be less surprising. Of course Williams wishes to argue for the extension of at least some of the privileges enjoyed by his own church to other religions. [This] is the best defence the church today has for its own privileged position.

What would have been genuinely surprising would be for an archbishop to come out in favour of universal human rights and state neutrality in its dealings with each citizen, whatever their religious or non-religious convictions; for an end to the archaic privileges.

But ‘universal human rights and state neutrality in its dealings with each citizen, whatever their religious or non-religious convictions‘ is just what the Archbishop did come out for. It is what the Christian faith comes out for.

To set out the secular sphere, by distinguishing between State and Church, is the privilege given to the Christian Church. It is the task which the Church has to perform for the nation as a whole. But this task is given to the Church by Christ, not by the State through ‘establishment’. ‘Establishment’ and an ‘established’ Church merely indicate that the State acknowledges that the Church has this role, and that the State does not, which is simply to acknowledge that any State must be secular, by definition – unless it is to start making its own religious, ideological or totalitarian claims.

Clearly we still have some convincing to do. Time for a more robust account of the Christian contribution to secularity and the public square. Perhaps London needs an institute for the Church and the public square?


Rowan Williams comments would have been much better said by someone else. The trouble is that he’s leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. His words therefore reflect on Anglicans in Pakistan, Nigeria and Uganda, whose churches are being firebombed by gangs of Muslims, whose leaders and their families are being attacked and murdered. Patrick Sookhedeo of the Barnabas Fund is pretty trenchant:

Furthermore for the many Anglicans and other Christians living in contexts where shari`a is being applied and causing untold misery and suffering, for example in parts of Nigeria and parts of Sudan, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s suggestions are not just unwise, but insensitive to the point of callousness.

In many parts of the Muslim world, England is (mistakenly) seen as a ‘Christian’ country, so for the leader of global Anglicanism to suggest that Muslim law could possibly replace ‘Christian’ laws looks like a massive admission of defeat by Christians. The Ugandan church’s decision today to disassociate from the Lambeth conference may, in part, be a damage limitation exercise. There is a cost to the mission and ministry of the church in Uganda of being associated with a global church which looks like it’s lost confidence in the Christian faith. We haven’t lost that confidence, it’s just that a debate about culture, law and society within the UK looks very different when you’re looking from Uganda. That’s why, if this needed to be said (and the issue certainly needed to be raised, though maybe not this way), it would have been better said by a local, English bishop rather than AB of C. Symbolism is so important.

David Keen For what it is worth

The inner city vote

On Thursday Gordon Brown’s spokesman denounced Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ claim that the introduction of sharia to the UK was inevitable. However, Gordon Brown himself has been quietly seeking to appease certain aspects of the agenda of ‘peaceful’ Islamist groups in the UK – including what amounts to a partial implementation of sharia.

In the 2005 general election Labour’s share of the Muslim vote collapsed from its normally rock solid 85% down to around 70%. It lost safe Labour seats to the Lib-Dems like Rochdale (5,650 maj), Hornsey and Wood Green (10,600 maj) – not to mention losing Bethnal Green and Bow (10,000 maj) to George Galloway – and nearly lost several other Labour seats. This was partly due to a Muslim Vote card campaign run by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a Muslim umbrella organisation whose leadership was largely taken over by Islamists as soon as it was formed. Candidates of all parties were told to sign up to a range of Islamic issues – public funding Muslim schools, changes in UK foreign policy etc the MCB told Muslims told to vote against candidates who refused to do so. The MCB claimed it could swing the vote in at least 20 constituencies – as the Muslim majority was greater than that of the sitting MP – who was almost always Labour.

So whilst Labour’s record of appeasement may disappoint us, it perhaps shouldn’t surprise us. Labour has a similar relationship with Islamic organisations as it had with the trade unions in the nineties. It wants their votes – but doesn’t agree with all of their agenda. So, it appeases them by giving them some of what they want.

Cranmer Shari’a law and the hypocrisy of New Labour

Simultaneous union and distinction

Maximus views the liturgy thus: the first entrance of the bishop signifies the first coming of Christ and his saving passion; the bishop’s entering the sanctuary and mounting the throne is nothing less than Christ’s ascension into heaven and sitting on the heavenly throne; the reading of the Gospel signifies the end of this world, and the bishop’s descent from the throne his second and glorious coming; the dismissal of the catechumens is the final judgment; and all that follows belongs to the life of the future kingdom of Heaven. It is the eschaton made present: union of all with God as he is.

The ‘liturgical becoming’ reaches its fulfilment when the bishop-‘Christ’ makes the invisible future kingdom present to the faithful. He distributes, as it were, himself to the faithful in the sacrament, thus truly becoming inherent in them. The sanctuary becomes the actuality of the nave; and the future kingdom dwells in the temporal assembly of the faithful. There is, then, a ‘coinherence’, a simultaneous union and distinction of the nave and the sanctuary, of time and eternity, of man and God.

Melchisedec Törönen Union and Distinction in the Thought of St Maximus the Confessor

Wright on Williams on law and religion

The fundamental issue [Archbishop Rowan] was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction. That’s why we’ve seen an airline worker sacked for wearing a cross, while in France the government has tried similarly to ban Muslim women from wearing their traditional head-covering. Because we haven’t had to address these issues before, our society has tended to slide round them by emphasizing words like ‘multiculturalism’, which often doesn’t actually mean that we celebrate our different cultures but rather that we subordinate them all to whatever the secular state wants. That is as much a problem for Catholic adoption agencies, as we saw last year, as it is for Muslims who want to follow their traditional teaching about (for instance) the prohibition of interest on loans while living within a society where the mortgage system is endemic. +Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls ‘interactive pluralism’. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can’t be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolise’.

Bishop Tom Wright Letter to Durham clergy on Religion and Public Life

Turkey's Anglicans

The head of the Anglican church in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, was locked out of six churches in Turkey by their congregations after his controversial decision to ordain a local convert to the priesthood.

In an unprecedented step and amid fears that the ordination would endanger the lives of congregants in the mainly Muslim country, furious Christians denied the bishop access to any of his own churches to conduct the ceremony at the weekend. He was forced to carry out the ordination in a small Calvinist chapel in Istanbul.

It was the first time in the 430-year history of the Church of England in Turkey that a sitting bishop has faced such protests. A heady mix of nationalism, anti-western sentiment and Islamic extremism has resulted in Turkey’s tiny Christian community being increasingly targeted.

Bishop locked out of churches over Turkish priest