I suspect that if you were to use the word Ecclesiology in any gathering of clergy or laity, eyes might glaze over. Yet in Ecclesiology is the major internal crisis afflicting the Christian world.
Perhaps the Anglicans started it ... with their notion of Provincial Autonomy; their belief that Scripture, the Law of God, the Sacraments, Holy Order, Gender are all interminably mutable at the say-so of a Parliament or a quasi-Parliamentary "Synod" in each local ecclesial community. Of the once proud Anglican Patrimony, the only authentic fragments surviving its inevitable and total collapse are the Ordinariates.
But things ecclesiological are not too well in the Catholic Church. After Vatican II, the idea arose that a pope could do anything; that he is an absolute monarch. The Vatican I linkage of the Papacy with Tradition was found to be an obstacle to the urgent need felt by powerful influences to utilise the Papacy in order to make a completely new start, and to do so within months rather than within decades.
That dangerous culture of rupture is now reaping its harvest during this calamitously dysfunctional pontificate, in which (not to stray beyond the immediately topical) the Roman Pontiff can apparently declare one day that the great majority of sacramental marriages is invalid, and a day later order the record of his words to be changed. I, as a married man with married children, have found this episode both cruel and unFatherly and deeply offensive. More importantly, it is but another example of Bergoglio's disturbing disregard of the Magisterium of his predecessors. Compare, if you will, his views with the considered and nuanced words of Pope S John Paul II on the same subject, expressed in his Address to the Roman Rota of Friday 21 January 2000.
Might some minds turn Eastwards? They would be ill-advised to do so. Whatever the official theoretical ecclesiology of the Separated Byzantine Churches is, whatever their practical ecclesiology, it seems to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Conciliarism promoted by some Orthodox apologists has often appeared to us Latins to be a convenient ad hoc paper polemic against Papism rather than something which vitally sustains Orthodoxy itself. And as the 'Holy and Great Council' of the Orthodox Churches meets this morning, we are told that it lacks the largest of those Churches; as of yesterday, the oldest of its Patriarchates, and a couple of other national churches, were not intending to be present and the Greek Church had needed to revise its list of representatives after (according to the Greek media) a dozen or so hierarchs declined to participate. So the Council is unable to provide, as was previously promised, unanimity of consensus even among the 'officially recognised' Orthodox Churches. How will it not instead merely precipitate a distinction within Orthodoxy between 'Conciliar Orthodox' and 'Anti-Conciliar Orthodox', to add to the existing division between 'Recognised Churches' and 'Unrecognised Churches'?
An able Orthodox writer, Protopresbyter Dr Peter Heers, in a persuasive book (The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II), has argued in effect that Pope S Stephen was wrong and S Cyprian was right; that outside Orthodoxy there is no authentic ecclesial life. I am unconvinced that such 'back to the third century' radicalism can even be found consistent with large portions of Orthodox history. Did S Markos Eugenikos and his brethren really arrive at Florence loudly proclaiming that the Latins were all unbaptised pagans? But this is a book [my grateful thanks to the friend who sent me a copy] which intelligently and eruditely interrogates our assumptions and is impossible to ignore.
Perhaps out of the wreckage of our different crises we might be able to start to work our faltering way laboriously across the ruins to a new and vivifying integration of Ecclesiology. The writings of Joseph Ratzinger might provide some hand-rails through the trickier places. And we of the Anglican Patrimony could do worse than to blow the dust off the writings of Dix and Mascall and Jalland.