Incompatible with the Covenant 2

Anglican Covenant opens with an 'Introduction to the Covenant Text'.

However the Introduction is not part of the Covenant:
(4.4.1) The Covenant consists of the text set out in this document in the Preamble, Sections One to Four and the Declaration. The Introduction to the Covenant Text, which shall always be annexed to the Covenant text, is not part of the Covenant, but shall be accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant.
So what authority is the Introduction actually accorded?

The Introduction is perhaps an essay on the nature of communion, unity and division, sin and aspiration, under and with God. It is necessarily compact, begging more questions than it gives answers, and in some areas it is difficult to see just what it is trying to say. But, so far as I read it initially, it does not introduce the Covenant and it does not provide any interpretative lens through which to read the Covenant.

My summary:
1) Our communion with Christ is part of God's revelation. In communion we share in the life of God the Trinity. God's life 'shapes and displays itself' in the life of the church.
Comment: there's a conundrum from the very beginning. Does 'church' here mean the actual and historical church (which below (4) is described as divided by sin) or some abstract notion of an ideal church?

Sin appears in 4 of the 8 clauses of the Introduction, twice in clause 2, but not in the Covenant. Repentance occurs twice in section 2 of the Covenant but not in the Introduction. I'm not sure what to make of that.
2) The call to communion is part of the reconciliation of all creation with God. The OT covenants have been part of this process towards unity with God and humanity, echoed in our baptismal covenant.
Comment: to what extent are the covenants between God and humanity comparable with the present agreement? One key difference would seem to be that God sets the terms and calls on people to conform: they were never negotiated settlements.
3) Communion, as 'calling and gift', enables Christians to be unified despite 'human sin and estrangement'. 'The forms of this life in the Church' are an alternative to a 'hostile and divisive power of the world'.
Comment: this must refer to an idealised or aspirational image of the Church, not to its historical reality. Of course Christianity has been a force for good in the world and has contributed to the coming together of very diverse peoples - but it has also been a force for evil and division. The Introduction recognises this and struggles with it - but the implicit solution is to privilege the ideal over the real.
4) 'In the providence of God, which holds sway even over our divisions caused by sin, various families of churches have grown up within the universal Church in the course of history.'
Comment: the first sentence of paragraph 4 encapsulates the conceptual self-deception which characterises the whole introduction (and maybe more). Is the present divided state of Christianity an expression of divine providence - or of human sin? If the former it should be embraced and celebrated, if the latter it is to be repented of.

The bland phrase 'various families of churches' disguises the physical violence Christians have inflicted on one another in the name of Christian truth both within and between churches. It glosses over the fact that, to this day, some families of churches and some churches within those families, refuse to acknowledge other as validly part of Christianity at all. in what actual sense is the church 'universal'?

I strongly prefer the historical reality of the church as showing us how Christians are - for good and ill - in daily reality. Part of that reality is that Christianity is inherently an idealistic faith, in both senses. The vision of an attainable divine reality greater and better than this messy quotidian one has kept a candle burning through the darkest times. Yet it has also legitimated war, immoral violence and unChristian behaviour.

Thus slippery concepts can be used to justify the proposed exclusion of TEC from the Anglican Communion in the name of unity. The unChristian world, untutored in the true nature of the church (historical and ideal), might call this duplicity, bad faith, institutional hypocrisy, or worse.
4) continued, Maintaining unity in the Anglican Communion is a challenge requiring 'mutual commitment and discipline' as the world fragments around us. 'Therefore' we agree to covenant together 'to be faithful to God's promises through the historic faith we confess, our common worship, our participation in God's mission, and the way we live together.'
Comment: the self-serving ambiguities continue: which parts of the Communion need to be reminded of their duties of commitment and discipline? Not those seeking to split the Communion in the name of unity, of course, but those regarded as having taken steps unacceptable to the rest. Sorry, I'm putting words into the mouths of the authors. They would, of course, say these phrases apply to all members equally, which would have more weight if it wasn't for the historical context and conflict which has led to the Covenant.

'Therefore' only works if the principle of the covenant is already agreed. And who could disagree with the bland summary of shared Anglicanism - except that's there's a civil war going on which is simultaneously the cause of the Covenant and ignored within it.
5) But the Covenant 'is not intended to change the character of' Anglicanism, merey to re-affirm and intensify the current 'bonds of affection'.
Comment: change to the character of Anglicanism is, therefore, merely an unintended consequence. But if change was not intended why has so much energy been poured into the enterprise? Though similar statements have been made from the beginning of the process they have all been for propaganda purposes only: the Covenant will inevitably and deliberately change the character of the Anglican Communion from the beginning though changes will take generations to work their way through. 'Affection', my foot!
6) Fine.

7) Anglicans embody a 'coherent testimony' of faith. Anglican life is blessed by God though it also reveals our failings. Our mission serves God and entailed shared responsibility, stewardship and interdependence within ourselves and with the wider church.
Comment: does 'coherent' here mean internally logically consistent? or comprehensible? or monolithic? It is an elastic word which could suggest a rigid and narrow statement of faith or merely that it all makes logical (or theological) sense. However, there is a category shift between coherent testimony and the lives people lead such that embodiment seldom results in behaviour as consistent as the ideas they seek to express.
8) Yes.
Comment: We all need to pray for God's redemption given the mess we make of things.

* * *

So I was wrong in my first reading of the Introduction. It does effectively introduce the slippery conceptual basis on which the Covenant is built, the blurring of the ideal and the real in ways which can be made to suit whoever wishes to interpret it to their own advantage.

But I can't suppose that its authors intended this reading. I can't see what they meant by according the Introduction 'authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant'. It reads like the kind of phrase you might use for political purposes: to keep sweet the originators of the Introduction but not to give them or it any actual importance.

And there is another general comment which bears repetition: no document is its own interpreter. Every document requires people to interpret it and, if appropriate, apply it. Their writing too will need further explication. And so on.

The Covenant is not so much a basis of unity as a catalyst for further discordant interpretations and conflict over its application.

* * *

None of which helps my Penguin Archdeacon determine exactly how to interpret the Covenant in such a way as to lay a charge of incompatibility under it.

On the contrary, interpreting the Covenant through the lens of the Introduction would seem to make any charge possible, or none, depending on which way you look.


Incompatible with the Covenant ~ One ~ Two ~ Three ~ Four


  1. Thanks for taking on the covenant introduction. I have been meaning to do that myself, largely because its odd status suggests some attempt at deception. Unfortunately, I found it incoherent and, ultimately, incomprehensible. Apparently, the fault was not in my reading ability.

    I have thought of the first three sections of the covenant as laying out what the Communion has to fight about, and section 4 as explaining how the fight is to be carried on. Perhaps the introduction is material to help us fight about what it is we are fighting about. Perhaps it is just a smokescreen to make the rest of the document look reasonable.

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