‘Heresy and Schism’ - Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti (Recife)

03 June 2006 - Print Version

Source: Anglican Mainstream
June 1, 2006
By Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti
Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Recife

In recent years, as the growing doctrinal and ethical crisis has made painful inroads into Christendom (and the Anglican Communion in particular), a public debate has emerged over which is “better” or “worse”: heresy or schism? The very existence and terms of the debate itself reveal the tragic nature of the moment in which the Church finds herself. Both heresies and schisms are negative, damaging and utlimately destructive. The Church of Jesus Christ came into being for truth and unity. Heresies and schisms amount to a blunt negation of the very principles which the Lord held in His heart. They are, evidently, expressions of sin. Viewed from this angle, the debate over which is “the lesser evil” serves only to demonstrate the reality of the abyss we’ve come to.

Heresy is not different from schism. Heresy is schism. Schism means a break from unity, the rupture of the Body. We may classify schisms in two categories a) Formal Schism b). Material Schism.

Formal Schism implies the abandoning and mutilation of the institution to create another, or other dissident institutions. In this case, there may well be some discussion as to the validity of such an extreme step. For instance, it might be asked if there weren’t in fact some justification for this radical attitude, or whether it arose merely as the consequence of sectarianism, power struggle, or personal ambition. When a group is unjustly expelled from a given institution, or is compelled to withdraw on account of an unsustainable and insurmountable situation of oppression, one is hardly able to classify such an act as “schism”.

Material Schism occurs when a faction that maintains formal ties with a given institution, remaining within it, breaks de facto with that institution’s characteristic tenets and fundamental beliefs. We may imagine, for example, those who inherit a pharmacy, who, while keeping the same building, name and decor, decide to sell fabrics instead of medicine. Despite its appearance, for all intents and purposes the shop is in fact a fabric store. A deep rupture has occurred in terms of identity and purpose. This grave rupture is not with the institution itself, but with all that the institution represents. This is a material schism.

In Provinces and Anglican Dioceses, we may maintain the same old paroquial buildings with their traditional layout, their traditional symbols, vestments, and nomenclature, so that there is an appearance of unity. However, if what we understand by these marks of Anglicanism has nothing to do with and in fact opposes the consensual historical understanding of the same, then we are faced with a false, indeed a most unreal situation. Today’s heretics - the Post Modern revisionists - insist in maintaining formal ties with the institution, thus preserving an external formality, while importing a content that is the very negation of the edifice itself. In other words, the Church is being undermined and assaulted from within: the advent of a new Trojan Horse… The heretics, therefore, are no different from the schismatics; they are just a different type of schismatic.

On the other hand, as we mentioned above, the exit of a group of members from an institution in virtue of an unsustainable situation of oppression (caused by material schismatics), cannot justly be called “schism” (formal). Much less, when a group is expelled from that institution illegally, illegitimately and unjustly, as is happening in various parts of the Anglican Communion (so, for example, in the case of the Diocese of Recife), where the victims are faithful supporters of the See of Canterbury, upholders of the Articles of Religion and staunch defenders of the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference.

We must, therefore, insist on the false character of the dilemma concerning “the lesser of two evils”, and point to the fact that there exist diverse forms of schism, including the heresy of Material Schism. We all desire the continuance of the Anglican Communion but we are living in a time where geographical factors are becoming increasingly less important, and where today’s real boundaries are of an ideological nature, with differences so great and so opposite that they become irreconcilable. We are, in fact, two churches under one roof. An institutional realignment is as urgent as a fresh theological definition in the form of a Covenant. History demonstrates that within Anglicanism there have arisen certain exceptions in terms of institutional form. As I put it to the Archbishop of Canterbury when I met with him in Lambeth Palace last year: “If Your Grace wishes to save the Anglican Communion, be willing to enlarge existing exceptions and to create new ones” Clearly, insistence on a rigidity of form (geography + canons), coupled with a cultural relativism, will only accelerate the process of desintegration. Such a situation will be difficult to evade if we are left with politicians and without true statesmen.

In Brazil we live with the harsh reality of being unknown and on the periphery, while the Province invoked for our destruction the type of “autonomy” alleged by Sadam Hussein in his crushing of the Kurds. And so we look on anxiously, not only with respect to the uncertain destiny of the Anglican Communion, but especially, with regard to the lack of unity in action and courage to take necessary and non prolongable decisions on the part of defenders of the truth in the old Provinces of the Anglo-Saxon world.

At this time of Pentecost, we invoke the Spirit of Truth, who leads us into all truth. Unity without Truth is not Unity at all.

4 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Michal Says:

    But we before we go that far, There are issues more agent especially within the Churches of the south.
    African Anglicans are telling the real stories that have been swept under the carpet. The book is yet to be published but take time to read the following artical from one of the leading Theological Educators in kenyan. Inspirational!

    Senior Kenyan Anglican holds different views on homosexuality from the Archbishop
    Tuesday, 23 May 2006
    by Colin Coward


    In the recently published book Other Worlds, Other Voices, Esther Mombo, Academic Dean at St Paul’s United Theological College, Limuru, expresses a very different perspective on homosexuality from those of the Archbishop, the Most Rev. Benjamin Nzimbi. Esther Mombo is a member of the Inter-Anglican Doctrinal Commission and served on the Lambeth Commission that produced the Windsor Report.

    She offers a Kenyan Anglican woman’s reflection on the ongoing war of words on homosexuality and says the church must provide a safe space, free of condemnation, where we will listen to those who are of the gay and lesbian communities. Such a loving approach will open new understanding and provide a way to live with those who might be hiding their sexual identities and living in a world of fear. This is a radically different relationship with the presence of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion compared with the views expressed by the Most Rev. Benjamin Nzimbi, Archbishop of Kenya.

    She says that the Kenyan general public’s silence on homosexuality does not mean that this sexual style is non-existent in Africa, as popular opinion would have us believe. The truth is that homosexuality exists in Africa even in the most sacred echelons. From her personal experience as Academic Dean, in an encounter with a student, she writes that homosexuality is not a western issue but a human issue.

    From a brief review of qualitative data, she concludes that homosexuality is not foreign to Africa, though the known episodes of homosexuality in Africa appear largely of the negative type.

    Following this, she undertook her own research on the internet for indicators of the possible prevalence of homosexuality in Africa. Using the Google search engine, 316,000 hits were returned for ‘Men seeking Men Kenya’ and 360,000 for ‘Women Seeking Women Kenya’.

    Esther Mombo reflects that the focus on the homosexuality debate in Africa has come in handy for bishops who wish to avoid responsibility for problems on their own doorstep in dioceses and parishes. They may claim that such problems have priority, but in reality they do nothing about them. Issues of poverty, HIV/AIDS, theological education, women and children are pushed under the carpet while the flag of homosexuality is flown high and used by Kenyan bishops and others to break apart the Communion.

    She states categorically that the reasons why people are gay should not be trivialised because this is violence. The church has failed lesbian and gay people because it has demonised and criminalized them. Now, in Kenya, there is a major concern about me on the ‘down low’, which means covertly homosexual. What is frightening is that homosexual persons are forced to hide their identity, to marry wives, and then to live with a double sexual life.

    She quotes from a article published by the Sunday Standard on 5 September 2004.

    Socially, it seems, the Kenya gay man is a gypsy-nomad, forever condemned to shifting from place to place, leaving sniffles and scandals in their wake. The homosexual/gay community mostly remains invisible behind the straight façade of mainstream heterosexuality. Like a stream running crooked underground beneath plain terra firma. Like all groups that feel marginalized, the city’s gay community is both a close-knit and underground lot, paradoxically operating in the open but with some secrecy, like eyes behind sunglasses.

    Other Worlds, Other Voices, ed. Terry Brown, is published by; Darton, Longman and Todd; ISBN 0232525692
    P. 142 Kenya Reflections: Esther Mombo

  2. James Gibson Says:

    This is somewhat akin to the all too common tactic of the American media hyping a handful of renegade nuns who oppose the pope. “Other voices” are a dime a dozen.

  3. mccabe Says:

    From the above article: “Today’s heretics - the Post Modern revisionists - insist in maintaining formal ties with the institution, thus preserving an external formality, while importing a content that is the very negation of the edifice itself.”

    You can not break that which is not of one piece. There is no formal Anglican Communion with binding authority on all the ‘Anglican’ churches. ‘Heretics’ on the one hand and ‘open idolatry of The Book’ on the other hand. What a state of ‘communion’ we have ask Christ Jesus to bless and call His church.

    Michal is a brave soul to publish surpressed data.

  4. Marlin Says:

    I ageree with you James. Heretics on one side and those who believe the truth of Scripture on the other; and the “media hype” for the heretics.