By Deacon Jonathan Munn of the ACC in the UK – Branching out of Yggdrasil. Our English and northern French culture is full of the old Norse mythology. It’s in our blood like the sea!
Deacon Munn discusses the English branch theory of ecclesiology, which has something to it as a fundamental intuition. However, Eastern Orthodox theology, in the hands of its more enlightened exponents, has a finer and better-defined notion of the Church being ontologically one even if it is humanly divided. Such a vision is made possible by the Chalcedonian notion of without confusion or separation as applied to the Hypostatic Union in Christ. The human dimension of the Church is called to realise the Unity that already exists, not only in one Church but in all Churches professing the Faith of the Apostles and the Fathers and enjoying the Apostolic Succession and valid Sacraments.
He is clear in the idea that the vocation of Anglican Catholicism is none other than that of Old Catholicism and Orthodoxy. His notion of Tradition is welcome, since organic development as expounded by Newman and Pope Benedict XVI are not exactly foolproof. Classical Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and Catholicism, for that matter, resemble the vision of Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet in the seventeenth century – variation is a sign of heresy or at least something questionable. The famous Vincentian Canon (quod ubique, quod semper, &c.) is of interest but also is not an absolutely infallible yardstick.
I do find Deacon Munn’s approach a tad apologetic, but he himself sees these issues of ecclesiology and fundamental theology not to be above question. For me, there is no reason why the Church should not subsist in the Anglican Catholic Church as also in so many others also professing the Apostolic Faith and traditionally recognised by Old Catholicism to have a valid priesthood. The ACC is certainly doing the work of the Church.
Theology is always expressed by analogies, because the object of theology is the mysteries of faith (what is not against reason but above reason). Analogies are always imperfect and never above criticism or the observation that the analogy breaks down somewhere. The explanation and reasoning are imperfect, but nevertheless give a part of the picture. We don’t reject the whole because a part is imperfect. This is a case with the branch theory as expressed by some of the Oxford divines in the nineteenth century. It isn’t all wrong, even if I find more refined analogies in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Russian theologians and thinkers.
Some kind of analogy to admit the possibility of some measure of ontological unity between all sacramental Christian communities is certainly an improvement to the idea according to which only one human institution contains the true Church and other institutions are fakes and to be destroyed in view to mining them for individual converts. Trees, branches, universal communion – there are many ways of trying to see all this positively and look for the good in others rather than showing one’s own evil eye by pride and the customary lack of empathy.
I find Deacon Munn’s thought most promising and well-intentioned. I like the analogy of the Yggdrasil tree with the Níðhöggr dragon gnawing away at the Church at its roots, the very place where Unity is found and manifest. Well done!