Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Screwtape's boast shot to hell

From Letter XVI, The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

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.


Anonymous said...

"One is able to comprehend Anglicanism only from the inside, not from the outside."

That Father Hart needs be comprehended fully, by both those inside and outside!

Excellent post!

Fr. DeHart, ACC

Canon Tallis said...

Father Hart,

As much as I would love to believe that the various varieties of churchmanship represent three expressions of a common faith, I am unable to quite make that leap of belief. I have never in my years as an active churchman known a low churchman, you know the fellow who wears a surplice at the celebration of the Holy Communion on those rare ocassions when he bothers to celebrate it, who believed all of what the prayer book attempts to teach us about the Catholic faith. The same in another way is equally true of those who ape a Romanism which no longer exists.

What I particularly enjoy about this blog is that you consistently set forth the faith of the Church as it is set forth in classical Books of Common Prayer and the Anglican fathers from Jewel through the earlier twentieth century. The problem is that we who love the prayer book faith do not seem to know how to put a recognizable public face upon it. The majority choose to ape either 17th century Rome or what those who preferred the faith of Geneva or Zurich would settle for rather than obedience to the rubrics of common prayer or the canon of the English church. Consequently we remain largely invisible to the public which needs to know what we have to offer or we appear dangerously schizophrenic to those who know us but a little.

Please, please keep up your good work which I believe will help to bring together all of us who really want to be Anglican and embrace the faith and practise of the earliest Church.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Canon Tallis:

Please recall that I did say: "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." Various theological ideas have invaded Anglicanism, and people have been taken by these things, and presented them as Anglican belief.

That is why I promote the formularies themselves. Take Eucharistic theology, the example I have used. If people would read HOMILY ON THE WORTHY RECEIVING OF THE SACRAMENT, they would not be able to escape the Real Presence of Christ, but would also avoid the older and cruder understanding of transubstantiation (the one that the pope himself now rejects).

Just because Anglicanism can be perceived only from within, does not mean everyone within has taken the time to learn, or has had the opportunity to be taught- especially not these days.


Anonymous said...

Fr Hart, you weren't brought up in a country with the Diocese of Sydney in it, or catechised according to the Black Rubric.

Anonymous said...

Canon Tallis says:
"What I particularly enjoy about this blog is that you consistently set forth the faith of the Church as it is set forth in classical Books of Common Prayer and the Anglican fathers from Jewel through the earlier twentieth century."


Fr. Robert Hart said...


The "Black Rubric" is a perfect example of words tripping up communication, for it simply does not say what people think (I have a post coming on; I feel it in my bones). But Sidney- what a perfect example of Anglicans selling out for an alien system of theology that openly defies the formularies.

BTW, I am not claiming that what has been accomplished in Alexandria, Virginia, has been easy. The point is that they defy the "experts" in flying Bumble-Bee, or better yet, Duck-Billed Platypus form.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the words can be made to mean or not, I know what I was taught and what I grew up with, and it wasn't even in Sydney. That which may be interpreted as having been intended solely for the purpose of curing the mischief of the laity never communicating in the 16th century, had by the 20th, and well before, become a mischief of another kind, which I won't describe because people 1. probably wouldn't believe me and 2. would be sorely offended, and rightly so, even if they did believe me. And in my experience, priests can get away with preaching anything they like in most pulpits, and most of the people will just say 'that's nice'. Perhaps in an ACC parish it's different, because it might actually consist of a lot of people who are there (as opposed to anywhere else) by particular conviction. But just because you got away with preaching it, don't necessarily believe that they agreed with it.

As it is, I think that's one of Lewis's less effective passages. It's clear from his life story that he had particular tastes in worship and particular views concerning what we are referring to here as churchmanship, and the bit about people for the sake of others adopting worship postures and gestures (or absence thereof) to which they are naturally disinclined for the sake of the 'weaker brethren' reeks of the Dean of Sydney's proclamation that it was wrong in the Cathedral to have all the traditional Anglican worship of the kind that people wandering into a major metropolitan cathedral might expect, because it's selfish to do worship that the regulars are comfortable with and enjoy, and because people who aren't regulars won't like it, so they have to turn the whole show upside down for the sake of those who might wander in. It's analogous, not to my not offering particular foodstuffs to those with scruples about them, but to my inviting you to dinner and deliberately filling the menu with things that I don't like, because:

1. it would be selfish to cook a dinner consisting of things that I like to eat; and
2. you are more likely to like things that I don't.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I have to comment here, because the veriword is 'protter'. Who's protter than who around here?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sydney is where they do the Lay Administration of the Eucharist, and where their archbishop teaches that there is no connection between sacraments and salvation. His presence at GAFCON is part of the gaffe and part of the con.

My point is that the real thing in all its shades can exist under one roof, but that is mainly because, unlike Sydney and loose Rev.Canons, the issue is neither theological variation nor doctrinal originality.

Anonymous said...

Lay presidency is not the beginning of Sydney's errors. It had to come out of something. Further, Sydney's errors weren't confined to Sydney, or even Australia, just concentrated there.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...Sydney's errors weren't confined to Sydney, or even Australia, just concentrated there.

Sydney is a case of deviancy, even by the standards of the worst modern liberals of the official Canterbury Anglican Communion. Lay Presidency is confined to that one diocese, but for the wrong reasons. It is one error run up against another error-Lay presidency against women's "ordination." Just when these women got an equal portion of the power (their distorted perspective on priesthood), they are asked to share it with everybody else. But, frankly, even in Rowan Williams' cesspool of a communion, it is unique. No one else has even considered it.

If you mean the problem of snake belly "Low" churchmen, the ones who think that Anglicanism is consistent with Calvinism, Baptistry, etc., all I can say is, the poorly educated are always with us. But, that is not unique. Everybody has their bunch with a custom-made theology borrowed and cannibalized from outside sources. Rome and Orthodoxy have them too.

Anonymous said...

But the poorly educated have their own theological colleges, and not just in Sydney.

My veriword is 'phonts'. It's presumably what Greeks get baptised in.