(Canterbury, Religious Intelligence) Truth is not the possession of any one party with the church or a single denomination, but can only be found through sustained dialogue with one another, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in an address to bishops and ecumenical participants attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference on July 19.
Warming to theme of the necessity of dialectical engagement with opposing viewpoints within the church, Dr Rowan Williams telegraphed his hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Communion — asking the bishops to hold together and in unity share in the search for the divine.
While his terms of reference were to the ecumenical movement, the message of unity through collective engagement was not lost upon the Anglican bishops gathered under the conference marquee at the University of Kent. Whether Dr Williams’ programme for church union can be sustained through the life of conference, however is unclear, as conservatives press for a resolution to the divisions of doctrine and discipline from within the church, while the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches have pressed Dr Williams to set his house in order.
“If we are not yet one as we hope and pray to be,” Dr Williams said, “Perhaps it is because we have not yet gone deep enough. We have not yet together sunk into that bottomless well of God’s love and God’s promise.”
“When we meet together as Christians …we do so in the hope of being taken into the depths. Launch out into the deep says Jesus to his disciples. Launch out into the deep of God’s own love, the deeper you go there the more you will discover unity in the heart of God from which the eternal word springs out,” he explained.
This meant that the “greater our union with our neighbour, the greater our union with God. The deeper into God we move, the deeper is our communion with our neighbor. The deeper our communion with our neighbor, the deeper our immersion in the bottomless well of God’s being,” the archbishop said.
Dr Williams stated the ecumenical participants at Lambeth were “not just guests” but “sharers of our work together” whose different traditions and theological viewpoints would “provoke us further in that endless journey of love and discovery toward that perfection” of the divine.
Whether the Anglican Communion’s dialogue partners will have the patience to wait while this journey unfolds is also unclear. In a letter of greetings to the conference, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State wrote the “ecclesiological questions which form the framework of your deliberations are a reminder that ministry conferred by ordination is bound by the apostolic faith handed down from the beginning and by the ‘regula fidei’ faithfully transmitted, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the ages.”
In a carefully phrased critique of recent theological innovations and ecclesial practices within the Communion, Cardinal Bertone said: “Our different understanding of the divine plan for this ministry in the Church is one of the issues which the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has been addressing for the past 40 years. New issues that have arisen in our relationship pose a further and grave challenge to the hope for full and visible unity that has been the long-standing goal of our joint ecumenical endeavour.”
Alexy, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia was blunt. “The topic of Christian morality, linked with that of gender, is high on the agenda of the present Lambeth Conference,” he wrote.
“There is intense debate about these issues among Anglican bishops, clergy and laity. It seems to me that members of the conference have a very serious task: they have to choose between the traditional, biblical norms of morality and tendencies which consider sin and general permissiveness as manifestations of love and tolerance. That is why there is laid on members of the conference such a great, historic responsibility.”
Continued relations with the Russian Church and the Orthodox world were on the line at Lambeth, he said. “The decisions you will take today are of immense importance for the whole Christian world, for on them, in many ways, depends the future of the relations of many Christian churches and communities within the Anglican Communion. The outcome of the Lambeth Conference will have particular importance for the Russian Orthodox Church, for the history of our contacts with Anglicans goes back to the 16th century. As a rule it has been marked by warmth and mutual understanding. I sincerely hope it will be possible to maintain such relations.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was rather more circumspect, but offered the same message as Alexy, urging Anglicans to set their house in order.
“Living as we do in an age of anxiety, at a time of rapid change and sharp controversy, it is often difficult for us as bishops to exercise our diakonia in an unifying way.”
Bartholomew said the Orthodox were praying for a successful Lambeth, one that “will prove to be a council of reconciliation and unity, an occasion for speaking the truth in sincerity and without compromise, yet an occasion for speaking the truth in love.”