Saturday, February 17, 2007

Theses of Bonn and Declaration of Utrecht -- Let's Retire Them

One of my pet peeves about many jurisdictions within the Independent Sacramental Movement is that they use the Theses of Bonn and the Declaration of Utrecht as confessional statements. Now, many of the people that do this are very good people, some of the best in the movement, and my criticism of this practice should not be taken as any indication of whether or not a given jurisdiction is healthy or not.

The first reason I don't like these documents as authoritative in the ISM is that they were not produced by us -- but rather by our cousins in the Old Catholic movement as found in the Union of Utrecht. Many in the ISM wish they were a part of the Union of Utrecht, and some are actively trying to join (an exceedingly bad idea, IMHO) -- but the fact remains that, although we may have our roots in Utrecht Old Catholicism, we are a different animal. The only jurisdiction in the USA that was ever a member of the Union of Utrecht was the Polish National Catholic Church, which is no longer a member due to differences over women's ordination and lgbt inclusion. On the other hand, there is a jurisdiction that is in full communion with Utrecht, and it seems that those for whom full communion with Utrecht is important ought to seriously consider joining it -- I'm speaking, of course, 0f the Episcopal Church. Using Utrecht documents implies an identification or relationship with Utrecht Old Catholics that does not in fact exist, and I think we would be better off without that confusion.

The second reason I'm not fond of these documents is that they largely define Old Catholicism in negative terms -- by what Utrecht rejects about Roman Catholicism -- than in positive terms by what Old Catholics stand for. I can understand, historically, the reasons for this, and I don't deny that these documents may have been useful at the time -- but I would greatly prefer to see a positive confession of who we are and the principles we espouse, rather than a repudiation of those we reject.

Closely related to the second reason is my third -- much of what is rejected about Roman Catholicism - particularly in the Theses of Bonn - is obsolete thanks to developments in the twentieth century, up to and including the Second Vatican Council. The liturgy is now, for the most part, in the vernacular, and the Roman Catholic denomination now encourages scripture study in the vernacular. The statement that no translation of scripture can claim an authority higher than the that of the original texts refers to the fact that the Roman Catholics formerly regarded the Vulgate as the inspired version of scripture -- something put to rest by Vatican II. (I've heard many bizarre explanations of this particular thesis by ISM folk with no knowledge of Old Catholic history.) As a matter of ecumenical charity and truthfulness, it is inappropriate to hold up as our central confessional documents statements which reject aspects of another denomination's faith and practice which no longer apply.

Finally, there are aspects of contemporary church life which must be addressed by any confessional statement -- the question of women's ordination and lgbt inclusion -- which were not addressed at the time of these documents' composition. Regardless of where a jurisdiction stands on these issues, it certainly seems more relevant than questions about the Vulgate or vernacular liturgy.

I look forward to the day when we can produce our own confessional statements and not rely on outdated documents of other ecclesial families.


Rev.Tom said...

Though I no longer have the interest in religious organizations I once had, I agree with your sentiment when you say "I look forward to the day when we can produce our own confessional statements and not rely on outdated documents of other ecclesial families."

Whatever direction the ISM takes, it must include with any "agreement" the inclusion of women and GLBT clergy, the acceptance of what Matthew Fox terms "deep ecumenism" and the acknowledgement of the continuing revelation of the Holy Spirit to the Church. An absolute reliance on ancient creeds, often times hammered out by church councils under the influence of secular leaders, is no basis for a modern Christianity.

Though I don't always agree with John Spong, I concur with the following statement from his latest newsletter. He writes "My sense is that the Christianity of the future must be willing to let go the content of yesterday in a far more radical way than people have yet imagined, but to do so without sacrificing the experience that created yesterday's content. Only then can we begin the slow and laborious task of developing new content to make sense of the eternal experience of being human."

(Hi,Tim. This was my second attempt at commenting. Hope it gets through. I MUST learn how to use this computer better. Many Blessings.)

Tim Cravens said...


Glad your comment got through.

Not to toot my own horn, but I am so proud of myself for FINALLY figuring out how to do the imbedded links (as I did in this post to the Theses and Declaration!) -- I also have much to learn about computers!

Alexis said...

Oooooooooh! Extremely well argued! You've raised some fantastic points here.

Hmmmm now . . .gotta sit with some of them for a bit.

Alexis said...

One thing that jumps out off the top - funny . . . I've never seen the Declaration of Utrecht as a "confessional" statement.

As you say it is a "reactionary" document - stating what Utrecht is not, and clarifying why it is no longer in union with Rome.

To my mind - a confessional statment, ought to be a postive, or constructive affrimation of what we (the particular community) believe, rather than what we "do not" believe. Apophatic theology can only offer so much! (grin).

Alexis said...

Your other point is I think the most telling/powerful - and that is - these valuable historical documents (without them I think our history would be radically different) - are not only not of our time (even obsolete) but they are not of OUR DOING.

However, in order to bring members of our community together around a positive statement of our doing - necessarily means that there will need to be a process of sifting & sorting of the various groupings in the wider movement - otherwise the "statement" will be without any real substance, and not therefore contribute to expressing, and inspiring a positive self identity.