Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5959bf8d4d-xqm7d Total loading time: 0.52 Render date: 2022-12-07T18:06:32.350Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The Anglican Covenant Proposed by the Lambeth Commission

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2008

Norman Doe
Director of the Centre for Law and Religion Law School, Cardiff University


The Lambeth Commission (2004) proposed a number of short-term and long-term solutions to issues raised by recent and highly controversial developments in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the diocese of New Westminster (Canada). From these events have emerged important questions about the nature of communion between, and the autonomy of, each of the forty-four member churches of the Anglican Communion, and the way in which decisions of common concern are made. In order to consolidate this communion, as a long-term project, the Commission proposes the adoption of an Anglican Covenant by all forty-four churches of the Communion. This article describes the terms of the proposed Covenant and identifies their provenance, in order to establish that the proposal is for the most part a restatement of classical Anglicanism. Only in serious cases of disagreement which substantially risk the unity of the Communion is the proposal innovative. The article also describes briefly reactions to and possible implementation of the proposed Covenant.

Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2005

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 I am deeply indebted to Eutgne D'Auria for her invaluable assistance, to other colleagues at the Centre, particularly Anthony Jeremy, Chancellor Mark Hill, and Dr Augur Pearce, and to Cardiff Law School for its support, during my time on the Lambeth Commission.Google Scholar

2 The paper was subsequently published: Doe, N, ‘Canon law and communion’, (2002) 6 Ecc LJ 241–263, esp 262; (2003) 3 International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 85117, esp 115.Google Scholar

3 See the report by Rees, John at (2003) 6 Ecc LJ 399.Google Scholar

4 See Doe, N, ‘The Common Law of the Anglican Communion’, (2003) 7 Ecc LJ 4.Google Scholar

5 Statement, Lambeth, 15–16 October 2003. The Network was set up, as the Primates recommended (2002), by the Anglican Consultative Council (Hong Kong, 09 2002)Google Scholar to ‘produce a statement of the principles’.

6 Lambeth Commission, Mandate, 1.Google Scholar

7 The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Winder Report (hereafter WR) (Anglican Communion Office, London, 2004)Google Scholar Appendix II, Proposal for the Anglican Covenant.

8 WR, para 118, n 61: suggested form of law: ‘The Governing Body of the Church in Wales authorises the Archbishop of Wales to enter on behalf of this church the Anglican Covenant and commits the Church in Wales to comply and act in a manner compatible with the Covenant so entered’.Google Scholar

9 WR, para 118; Proposed Covenant (hereafter PAC), Preamble: ‘We, the churches of the Anglican Communion, in order to foster greater unity and to consolidate our understandings of communion, solemnly establish this Covenant. entered on our behalf by designated signatories and to which we shall adhere as authorised by may be made more visible and committed, and agree as follows…’.Google Scholar

10 Primates' Meeting, Communiqué, 24 February 2005, para 8. See also below as to implementation.Google Scholar

11 See generally Doe, N, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (Oxford, 1998).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 That is: the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates' Meeting, Lambeth Conference and ACC.Google Scholar

13 WR, paras 22–41.Google Scholar

14 WR, para 115: ‘This may be contrasted with the juridical experience of the particular church, in which enforceable canon law, the servant of the church, seeks to facilitate and order communion amongst its faithful’.Google Scholar

15 WR, para 116: ‘This may be contrasted with the increasing bodies of ecumenical law in Anglican churches facilitating communion relations between Anglicans and non-Anglicans’.Google Scholar

16 WR, para 117.Google Scholar

17 See n 8 above.Google Scholar

18 WR, paras 117, 118.Google Scholar

19 WR, para 119.Google Scholar

20 In the ecumenical context, the crisis led to condemnation from the Russian Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, and a statement from the Roman Catholic Church that the developments had created ‘new and serious difficulties’ in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations.Google Scholar

21 Eg Church in Wales: Canon 28 September 1995 incorporates into the legal system of the church the terms of communion agreed under the Porvoo Declaration rendering these juridical commitments for the church.Google Scholar

22 WR, para 119.Google Scholar

23 The Consultation of Legal Advisers (2002) has identified potential problem areas as to the ‘Applicability of Civil Law standards to the Church’ (eg): clergy and secular employment law; recourse by church members to secular courts; marriage and polygamy; clergy and political activity.Google Scholar

24 WR, para 119.Google Scholar

25 WR, para 120: the idea is for churches to opt in rather than be excluded.Google Scholar

26 WR, para 45.Google Scholar

27 WR, paras 1–11, 49, 51 and 52.Google Scholar

28 WR, para 80.Google Scholar

29 See Doe, N, ‘Communion and autonomy in Anglicanism’: Lambeth Commission Scholar

30 PAC, Preamble.Google Scholar

31 Various formulae are used: preceptive, prohibitive, and permissive, in line with the canonical tradition: see eg Doe, N,‘The principles of canon law’, (1999) 5 Ecc LJ 221.Google Scholar

32 Typically eg Growth in Communion: Anglican-Lutheran International Working Group (2000–2002) (Geneva, 2003)Google Scholar para 45: ‘Full communion is understood as a relationship between two distinct churches or communions in which each maintains its own autonomy while recognising the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and believing the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith’.

33 Art 1.1: Lambeth Conference 1930 (hereafter LC), Res 49. The laws of most churches make this claim for themselves: eg Scottish Episcopal Church, Canon 1.1.Google Scholar

34 Art 1.2. See ARCIC, Church as Communion (1990) IV.45: see also LC 1998, Res II. 1(b)(ii).Google Scholar

35 Art 1.3: Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Art. 6; LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1998, Res III.5.Google Scholar

36 Art 1.4: LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1920, Res 9 (Lambeth Quadrilateral); LC 1998, Res 5.Google Scholar

37 Art 1.4: This is adapted from formulae used in ecumenical agreements: as eg n 32; see, however, LC 1888, Res 11 for the spirit of the formula.Google Scholar

38 World Council of Churches, Report (1983).Google Scholar

39 Art 2.1: LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1920, Res 9.Google Scholar

40 Art 2.2: LC 1998, Res III. 8(f).Google Scholar

41 Art 2.2: LC 1878, Res 1; LC 1908, Res 24, 27; LC 1998, Res II.8(c).Google Scholar

42 Art 3.1: LC 1888, Res 11.Google Scholar

43 Art 3.1: LC 1958, Res 94.Google Scholar

44 Art 3.1: Porvoo Declaration. Also Art 3.2: each church shares a common life of service in the apostolic mission entrusted by Christ, serving in the world his purposes of mission, justice and peace.Google Scholar

45 Art 4.1: Women in the Episcopate, Eames Commission (Toronto, 1998) (hereafter WAEEC) para 36;Google Scholar ARCIC, Church as Communion (1990) IV. 45.Google Scholar

46 Art 4.1: ARCIC, The Church as Communion (1990) IV. 45.Google Scholar

47 Art 4.2: Bonn Agreement (1931).Google Scholar

48 Art 4.3, 4: Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886–8).Google Scholar

49 Art 4.4: LC 1998, Res III.2(c); see also ACC-12, Res 34.3.Google Scholar

50 Art 4.4: see eg Church of England, Canon A8; LC 1998, II.6(c).Google Scholar

51 Art 5: LC 1930, Res 48. Art. 5.1: each member church is autonomous, episcopally led and synodically governed. Art 5 also contains two propositions hitherto unarticulated: Decisions in each church are to be presumed as duly authorised within that church but such decisions do not bind outside that church (Art 5.2). Every church shares the same concern for good government for the fulfilment of its mission and for the common good of the Anglican Communion and the church universal (Art 5.3).Google Scholar

52 Art 6.1. See eg Virginia Report (of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission), The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998 (Harrisburg, 1999) 24ff;Google Scholar WAEEC, 22, 23; LC 1998, Res III.8(d).

53 Art 6.2. See Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission submission (see WR, n 21).Google Scholar

54 Art 6.3. Virginia Report, 24, 26, 27; Bishops in Communion (2000) [Church of England] 6.Google Scholar

55 Art 6.3. The latter part of this sentence is an innovation (but see WR, para 29).Google Scholar

56 Art 7.1. This reflects the models of bilateral communion with Canterbury (LC 1930, Res 49), multipartite communion ‘with all churches of the Anglican Communion’ (eg Korea, Constitution Fundamental Declaration), and communion with the community of churches (eg Hong Kong, Constitution Preamble: the province is ‘in communion with the Anglican Communion’).Google Scholar

57 Art 7.2. This surfaces in the constitutions of member churches.Google Scholar

58 Art 7.2. See also Art 8.3 below. This is a common feature of the perichoretic social doctrine of the Trinity as applied to human persons (eg Boff, L, Trinity and Society (London, 1988))Google Scholar and is applied to churches: WR, paras 51, 84.

59 Art 7.3. For the notion of personal communion (such as between bishops), in addition to ecclesial communion, see eg Virginia Report, 29.Google Scholar

60 Art 7.4. See eg LC 1998, Res III.2(a). Remarkably, however, the Communion has not formally articulated its own strategic purposes: these ideas are, however, implicit in the commitments set out in PAC Part III, and they are commonly expressed as the purposes of individual churches: eg LC 1998, Res II.6(c), New Zealand, Constitution Preamble, Sudan, Declaration of Fundamental Principles, I; South East Asia, Constitution Preamble; North India, Constitution II.I.II.Google Scholar

61 Art 8.1. WAEEC, para 61. See also Art 8.2: Communion subsists in the mutual acknowledgement by churches of their common identity.Google Scholar

62 For interdependence, see Virginia Report. 24ff. This is also taken again from Trinitarian doctrine (the idea that the divine communion manifests itself ad extra) as applied to human persons: see eg Kasper, W, The God of Jesus Christ (1989), pp 289ff.Google Scholar

63 Art 9.1.Google Scholar

64 Art 9.2. LC 1978, Res 11: ‘The Conference advises member Churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with' a Lambeth Conference or the Primates’ Meeting.Google Scholar

65 Art 10.1. See LC 1930, Res 49; WAEEC, para 35.Google Scholar

66 Art 10.1. See ARCIC, Church as Communion, IV. 45.Google Scholar

67 Art 10.2. See LC 1998, Res III.l(b).Google Scholar

68 Art 11.1. This surfaces in the laws of churches. See also LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1998, Res III.8(d).Google Scholar

69 Art 11.2,3. See Growth in Communion, para 45.Google Scholar

70 Art 12.1. See Ordinal (1662). This is common in the laws of churches: eg Korea, Fundamental Declarations.Google Scholar

71 Art 12.2. WAEEC, para 35; also a fundamental of full communion in ecumenical relations: see eg Growth in Communion para 117. Currently, such recognition is a matter for the member church unilaterally.Google Scholar

72 Art 12.3, 4. Introduction of formal duties to welcome and permit are new. The requirement of consents to minister is a standard feature of the laws of Anglican churches.Google Scholar

73 The following duties under Art 13 are new: Art 13.2: No minister, especially a bishop, shall: (a) act without due regard to or jeopardize the unity of the Communion; (b) neglect to co-operate with ministers, especially bishops, of member churches for the good of the Communion and Church universal; (c) unreasonably be the cause or focus of division and strife in their church or elsewhere in the Communion; (d) if in episcopal office, unreasonably refuse any invitation to attend meetings of the Instruments of Unity.Google Scholar

74 This formal statement is new in Anglicanism, but common in ecumenism (eg Porvoo Declaration); Growth in Communion, 45.Google Scholar

75 WAEEC, para 35.Google Scholar

76 Art 16.1. See ARCIC, Church as Communion, para 45.Google Scholar

77 Art 16.2. This is a fundamental principle of the canonical tradition.Google Scholar

78 Art 16.3. This is a current expectation: eg LC resolutions are ‘counsels’: LC 1930, Res 48.Google Scholar

79 Art 16.4. See n 5 above.Google Scholar

80 Art 17.1. This is new, but makes an important statement about the ecumenical intent of the Communion, though it reflects in spirit the duties which member churches have in their own laws to seek or restore visible unity with non-Anglican churches: see eg Jerusalem and the Middle East, Constitution Art 5(ii).Google Scholar

81 Art 17.1. This is declaratory of current canonical practice in member churches.Google Scholar

82 Art 17.2. This is new.Google Scholar

83 Art 18.6. There are limits on the exercise of autonomy imposed by the relationships of communion, the acknowledgement of common identity, the commitments of communion, and the principles applicable to the management of communion affairs.Google Scholar

84 Art 18.1. See LC 1930, Res 48; LC 1978, Res 21.3.Google Scholar

85 Art 18.2. See eg Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn Oxford, 1989), ‘autonomy’.Google Scholar

86 Art 18.3. This is autonomy as understood by ecumenical partners:see eg Lutheran, : The Lutheran World Federation as a Communion (Geneva, 2003);Google Scholar Roman Catholic:Code of Canon Law (1983) Canon 586 (concerning religious institutes); Eastern Catholic: eg Motluk, D, ‘The code of canons of the Eastern Catholic Churches’, 36 Studia Canonica (2002) 189 at 196.Google Scholar

87 Art 18.4. See Virginia Report, Ch 4.Google Scholar

88 Art 18.5. Eg the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate on reserved matters, issues concerning the whole of the wider community of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is part: United Kingdom matters are reserved to Westminster.Google Scholar

89 Art 19.1, 2. This surfaces in the laws of churches: eg North India, Constitution I.IV4: ‘an autonomous church and free from any control … external to itself’.Google Scholar

90 Art 19.2. This is a statement of current canonical practices across the Communion.Google Scholar

91 Art 19.3. This is an innovation, but probably an articulation of current canonical practice.Google Scholar

92 Art 20.1. See Virginia Report, 44; LC 1978, Res 21.3.Google Scholar

93 Art 20.2. See ACC-12, Res 34.2: ‘provincial authorities to have in mind the impact of their decisions within the wider Communion’.Google Scholar

94 Art 20.2.Google Scholar

95 Art 20.3. For the quod omnes tangit principle of the (conciliar) canonical tradition, see eg Congar, Y, ‘Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet’, 36 Revue historique de droit français et étranger (1958) 210:Google Scholar its origin is a law of Justinian 531. See also Ten Principles of Partnership, Towards Dynamic Mission: Renewing the Church for Mission, Mission Issues and Strategy Advisory Group II (1993)Google Scholar Principle 8: ‘What touches one member touches all’. See too Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (1983), Canon 119, 3: ‘what touches all as individuals must be approved by all’.

96 Art 21.1; WR, para 40. The fiduciary duty is derived from the canonical tradition of good faith.Google Scholar

97 Art 21.2. See ACC-12, Res 14.1: ‘dioceses and individual bishops not to take unilateral actions… which would strain our communion’.Google Scholar

98 Art 21.3; WR, paras 67–70.Google Scholar

99 Art 22.1; WR, paras 36–37, 83, 86, 89.Google Scholar

100 Art 22.3. This is a new formulation. See however the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum concilium (1963), and De ecclesia eucharistia (2003).Google Scholar

101 Art 22.3. See LC 1978, Res 1; LC 1878, Res 1; see also LC 1988, Res 72 which reaffirms ‘the historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and the authority of bishops within’ them.Google Scholar

102 This is recommended by the WR: see Appendix I.Google Scholar

103 The Article repeats the current position, namely: ‘(1) The Instruments of Unity serve in communion to discern our common mind in communion issues, and foster our interdependence and mutual accountability, but exercise no jurisdiction over autonomous member churches save to the limited extent provided in this Covenant and the laws of member churches. (2) The Archbishop of Canterbury enjoys a primacy of honour and is a personal sign of our unity and communion, and shall be assisted by a Council of Advice. (3) The Lambeth Conference, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, expressing episcopal collegiality worldwide, gathers for common counsel, consultation and encouragement and to provide direction to the whole Communion. (4) The Anglican Consultative Council has such membership and functions as are prescribed by its constitution. (5) The Primates’ Meeting, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assembles for mutual support and counsel, monitors global developments and exercises collegial responsibility in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’.Google Scholar

104 See LC 1998, Res III.6, for recommendations for an enhanced role for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates' Meeting and the ACC in cases of exceptional emergency incapable of internal resolution in a province (exercised by way of guidance and in consultation).Google Scholar

105 If the matter were adiaphora (things which do not make a difference: WR, para 87) or one amenable to a process of reception (WR, paras 68–70), the local church remains free to act.Google Scholar

106 In matters of doctrine or liturgy: see eg Central Africa, Constitution Art V; Uganda, Constitution Art II; South East Asia, Constitution Fundamental Declarations, 4ff; Southern Africa, Canon 41.Google Scholar

107 Lutheran World Federation, Constitution, Art V.Google Scholar

108 The text discussed here, as it appears in Appendix II of the Report, is ‘a preliminary draft and discussion document, and at this stage it would be premature for any church to adopt it’: WR, para 118.Google Scholar

109 WR, para 118.Google Scholar

110 WR, para 118.Google Scholar

111 WR, para 119.Google Scholar

112 Adams, M, ‘How to quench the spirit’, Church Times, 29 10 2004, 9.Google Scholar

113 A Guide to the Windsor Report, commissioned by an International Gathering from around the Anglican Communion meeting at Oxford 19–21 October 2004, para 24 (and p 10).Google Scholar

114 Church Times, 22 10 2004, 10.Google Scholar

116 Primates' Meeting, Communiqué 24 February 2005, para 8Google Scholar

117 Ibid para 9. The draft Covenant very carefully preserves provincial autonomy to the greatest possible extent, and the jurisdiction contemplated in Art 26 is severely limited: see above (and n 105).

118 Primates' Meeting, Communiqué 24 February 2005, para 8.Google Scholar

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Anglican Covenant Proposed by the Lambeth Commission
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The Anglican Covenant Proposed by the Lambeth Commission
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The Anglican Covenant Proposed by the Lambeth Commission
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *