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A section of the original Concordat of WormsHallo again to all.

In late September of the year 1122, Pope Calixtus II and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V signed an agreement in a place not far from the village of Vormatia on the Rhine river. That village has grown into the modern German city of Worms, and the agreements those two men signed together are usually called the Concordat of Worms. The Vatican also calls its copy Privilegium Calixtinum (Henry's record-keeping wasn't as good as the Pope's, and his copy has been lost for many centuries).

This agreement, the first ever signed between church and state, was the official end of lay involvement in church governance. Calixtus then summoned to the Council of the Lateran every bishop and archbishop and abbot that he could locate, and read aloud both of the Worms documents so that they could be ratified by this huge collection of holy men. Despite this ratification, it took another hundred years for its practice to end; it wasn't until the fourth such council in November of 1215 (now known as the Fourth Council of the Lateran) that this pesky involvement of lay people in the governance of churches was finally ended.*

In those days, the words 'government' and 'king' or 'emperor' were nearly synonyms. 'Investiture' meant in practice that the Pope crowned the emperor and the emperor chose the Pope. Very cozy. The concept of 'lay involvement' did not mean that there were parochial church councils or houses of deputies or democratic elections, rather that the king was involved.

Once the authority of the king was no longer officially God-given, the imperial power of national kings began to decline, and governments needed to find other power bases, such as democracy. Once the church was no longer accountable to anyone outside itself, it became more imperial and impervious to change. No one outside the church had the power to change it, and few inside the church had motive.

Burdinus, Antipope appointed by Holy Roman EmperorThe governance structures of the provinces in today's Anglican Communion are many and various. The include the mother Church of England itself (whose governance is complexedly intertwined with the government of the country), democratic models independent of national government structures but reflecting them, such as those in the USA and Australia, and those that seem to be modelled on monarchy. The documents defining the governance structure of a 'national church' are hard for an outsider to come by, but it appears that many vociferous provinces are governed absolutely by bishops, over whom a (male) archbishop often has metropolitan authority, which makes him the equivalent of a king. Even if there exist canons limiting the power of primates or balancing their authority with some sort of council of clergy, the public behaviour of some primates suggests that they think of themselves as having absolute power over the dominion of their church.

All of recorded history suggests that people and organizations that are not accountable to review will in time degenerate and be awash in a mixture of mediocrity and darkness. We've all heard Lord Acton's warning that 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely', but more to our point is a quote from William Pitt the Elder to the House of Commons in 1766: 'Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.'

We've believed for a long time that the media battle in the Anglican Communion, allegedly about sex, is really all about power. Some form of democracy, with its checks and balances and accountability to the public, is used by almost all secular governments, but precious few church governments. We note that the US Episcopal Church has a form of governance in which outsiders (lay people) share power with insiders (bishops). We note also that the church provinces making demands on the US Episcopal Church appear to be mediæval-style monarchies. And we observe that over the last few centuries, power struggles between monarchies and democracies have favoured the latter.

The recent communiqué issued at the end of the Anglican Primates' meeting in Dar es Salaam is a thoughtful document that ought not be threatening to anyone who actually reads it. The only province mentioned specifically by name was the US Episcopal Church, whose Presiding Bishop offered this reflection on it all. Some press releases and public announcements by various factions are demanding changes to it. We have faith in the nature of the governance process of the US Episcopal Church and in the ability of that process to respond faithfully, with internal consistency, and in the spirit and service of truth, unity and concord.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 25 February 2007

*We note with amusement that the same man who called the Fourth Council of The Lateran, Innocent III, had shortly before that Council spoken out passionately against England's new Magna Carta, which had been signed earlier that year; presumably he felt that it was an affront to his authority over England's king.

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