Community-Unity-Communion: Essays in Honour of Mary Tanner

By Wright, J. Robert | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Community-Unity-Communion: Essays in Honour of Mary Tanner


Wright, J. Robert, Anglican Theological Review


Community-Unity-Communion: Essays in Honour of Mary Tanner. Edited by Colin Podmore. London: Church House Publishing, 1998. ix + 294 pp. 9.95 (paper).

This collection of twenty-six essays on the three related subjects named in its title is a worthy volume to celebrate the retirement of Dr. Mary Tanner after sixteen years of distinguished service as the General Secretary of the Church of England Council for Christian Unity. There is also a select bibliography of her publications. Her ecumenical activities and achievements in England and in the Anglican Communion internationally, as well as in the World Council of Churches, have been considerable, and these essays well illustrate the range of her interests and influence. The contributors include, with some overlap, no fewer than nine bishops, fourteen non-Anglicans, and no fewer than seven Lutherans. It is perhaps significant that of the three American essayists two are Lutherans, and that there is no contribution from any American Episcopalian. Perceived differences between the approaches of the Episcopal Church and the Church of England toward relations with the Lutherans may have something to do with this fact, given the comment of the editor that "Questions about the goal of unity underlie the tensions between the proposed Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat in America and the Porvoo Agreement in Northern Europe."

There is much food for thought in the contents of this volume, and here it will not be possible to do more than indicate briefly my own observation upon some of the more important assertions made. Questioning "A Future for the World Council of Churches," the ecumenical institution to which Mary Tanner has given so much of her creative energy, John Habgood, retired archbishop of York, prophesies: "It is obvious that the present state of the WCC is not a happy one. I feel it has reached a transition point.... It can either become a slimmer, more centrally directed body, in line with those churches which believe that clarity and conviction, at whatever cost in the suppression of alternative opinions, constitute the right response in an age of confusion. Or it can embrace greater diversity, and take seriously the need to root ecumenism more firmly in local structures . . . while accepting the cost in terms of united prophetic witness." John Arnold, the dean of Durham, aptly describes William Tyndale as "the most Lutheran of Anglican martyrs"; it was Tyndale's translation of the New Testament, done in 1524 and for which he died at the stake in 1535, that largely influenced Coverdale's work on the Great Bible of 1539 and provided the earliest English translation of the liturgical Epistles and Gospels that entered the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. Eric Kemp, bishop of Chichester, commenting on the importance of a universally acknowledged ministry in the fourth point of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, delves back into the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 that "Bishops and clergy of our Communion would willingly accept from [the authorities of other Communions] a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations." He then urges, interestingly, the question of whether this "spirit of humility" might also be a way forward for Anglicans today in their relations with the Church of Rome, since the same Lambeth Appeal also remarked that "We believe that for all, a truly equitable approach to union is by the way of mutual deference to one another's consciences."

In an essay that seems strangely at odds with the tendency of the Virginia Report and the Anglican unity resolutions of the last Lambeth Conference, Paul Avis, who has been chosen to be Mary Tanner's successor as General Secretary of the Church of England Council for Christian Unity, locates "the distinctiveness of Anglicanism" in what he calls "the sphere of authority," not in any distinctiveness of belief but in the fact that "Anglicans do not recognize any central teaching authority (magisterium) with power to make binding interpretations of Scripture and tradition. …

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