We have quite removed from men's minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials-namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the "low" churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his "high" brother should be moved to irreverence, and the "high" one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his "low" brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.
This past Sunday I saw, once again, that the know-it-all critics of Anglicanism have been wrong - as usual. I was in Alexandria, Virginia, assisting a brother priest with a very large congregation of over three hundred (with lots of young people and children- not at all strange in the ACC around here). This parish was formed by combining two parishes in one town, a very "low" church congregation and a very "high" church congregation, as one parish. To respect the legitimate needs of everybody, there are three services each Sunday, one "low," one "mid" and one "high." Nonetheless, I preached the same sermon at each service, emphasizing the Real Presence in the Holy Communion as a sacrament "generally necessary to salvation." It was the same sermon each time, because variety of usage is not variety of theology, and never has been.
How often has some half-learned writer assured us, with the confidence and smugness of arrogance, that our various practices cannot exist under one roof. By "one roof" they speak figuratively; and yet, they are wrong even when their analogy is tested by literal fact-one actual, real, tangible roof. All the more to be pitied are these smug critics, because they mistake variety of usage for conflicting schools of theology. Granted, at certain times and in certain places, small groups of Anglicans have been so taken by outside influences that they have swallowed alien theological systems that fell under the criticism of our formularies and the men who wrote them as carefully stated ancient Christian faith, with great balance; those who warded off the extremes and innovations of Rome, Anabaptists, Calvinists and Lutherans, to preserve a genuinely Patristic and Biblical Catholic faith. In swallowing these systems some have broken off altogether from Anglicanism to form new church bodies, and others have taught doctrines that contradict the Bible, the Prayer Book, the Articles, and our Catechism. But, until recent decades among the Canterbury Anglicans, vareity in theological convictions was not what anybody had in mind when they saw Anglicanism as comprehensive.
Indeed, as Brian Taylor so carefully documented in Accipe Spiritum Sanctum 1, the first Anglican Bishop, Graham-Brown, who was co-consecrated by the Old Catholic Bishop of Haarlem in 1932, was considered an Evangelical by the standards of that time. His theological convictions were acceptable, nonetheless, to the Old Catholic bishops, including his belief that the Church of England was the same Church after the Reformation as before the Reformation. In those days the Evangelical clergy were expected to have confessors no less than the "high" clergy.
This is confusing to the critics of classic Anglicanism, because they cannot perceive of a church body that allows different practices in the inessential matters, inasmuch as they assume that this must reveal or indicate all sorts of theological conflict. And, on one hand, in light of changes dating from the latter part of the 20th century among the Episcopalians and other modern Canterburians, we cannot always blame these outsiders for getting it wrong. The revisionists and heretics who have stolen away the real estate and worldly assets of such Anglican Communion bodies actually have created rival theological camps, making it easy to project this back into history where it does not belong.
It is easy to shed light on this problem by looking at one very real area of misunderstanding. That is the Eucharistic theology of classic Anglicanism.
We have seen that modern polemical writings by Roman Catholic critics are based on a false assumption, namely that Anglican rejection of "transubstantiation" is still a relevant issue of disagreement between Traditional Anglican Catholics (that should say it all) and Roman Catholics. As we have already discussed in previous posts, 2 this is simply a misunderstanding based on a definition of that one word, "transubstantiation," that has changed, as Rome uses it, from a rather "crude material" understanding to a more spiritual definition that reconciles Transubsatiantion and Real Presence into a common theological view, perfectly consistent with the Anglican Prayer Book tradition: "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us."
The charge that there was a doctrine of Receptionism that set these things apart from each other has been true outside the main flow of Anglican thought and practice, but never inside of it. Such misunderstanding is due to one simple reality: One is able to comprehend Anglicanism only from the inside, not from the outside. And, even then, it requires a willingness to learn and to live by Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: The Law of prayer is the law of belief-or, as we pray we believe.
In that church in Alexandria, Virginia, Screwtape's boast is demolished, and so are the malicious boasts of polemicists. It is all there under one real, physical, visible and tangible roof.
1. Accipe Spiritum Sanctum, Historical Essays on the agreements of Bonn and Meissen, Guildford, 1995, Great Britain.
2. Certain posts that have addressed this are: A full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice..., About Articles XXVIII and XXIX, Response to Fr. Hunwicke, Pope Benedict's Anglican Mind, and Eating and drinking salvation.