Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Follow up to the most recent post on Richard Hooker

My recent post of last week, Hooker on the Incarnation, Salvation and the Sacraments, was posted also on Virtue Online (I find it easy to work with David Virtue). For purposes of education I will post part of a comment by our old pal Charlie, and then my reply. This gave me an opportunity to expand on one point that helps unlock the enigmatic Article XXV, and open its very Catholic content and truth. I recommend reading last week's essay first. Nonetheless, I will quote the most relevant portions here:

"So, we must pause a moment to think about a few things. To be practical, some disputes have long been running between people who count the sacraments, and these disputes have been among those who fall into the trap of Nominalism. Careless readers have taken the Anglican Formularies to mean that we have only two sacraments, and this is simply because of those who refuse to read the explanation that our Catechism provides to Article XXV: namely, that two sacraments alone were both established by Christ himself (in the flesh, on earth) and are 'generally necessary to salvation.' Of these things we have in our archives several essays. Nonetheless, it is almost as certainly a trap of Nominalism to answer briefly 'no, there are seven,' unless we take the time to ask and answer the relevant questions...

"Looking at the words of paragraph two in the Article, we must ask, what sets these two sacraments apart? The answer has been given already, and is stated ever so simply. Only these two sacraments have been established by Christ in the Gospel. Of the other five, those sacraments that are not 'generally necessary to salvation,' and some of which are not meant for everybody (e.g., marriage and orders), the New Covenant has empowered them with deeper and richer meaning; but everyone of those five are in the Old Testament...That these five are sacraments, but not sacraments of the Gospel [to use the words of Article XXV], is not difficult, therefore, to understand...

From earliest times, the Church began to see these seven specific mysteries as having in them certain shared properties. All were revealed by God. All involved human action that made use of Matter with Form and Intention. All seven had predictable results because of God's promises. All impart grace, even if only the gift of a state of sanctified married life as part of God's creation of human nature."

Charlie wrote: The 39 Articles plainly state that there are only 2 sacraments and the others are corruptions. How difficult is something so plainly stated?

[of course that is simply rubbish.]

I replied:

Frankly, any argument about the number of sacraments is absurd. The two extremes of the "Sydney Anglicans" on the left, and the Anglo-Papalists on the right, are heretical, scholastic and simplistic. To those who want to die on that hill, I ask this question: What does the Bible say about the number of sacraments? Once we realize that the answer is silence, that it is nothing, and that this word was coined not by God, but by the Church, we realize that all seven are "commonly called" sacraments. That is, the Church used Right Reason properly, and used a word to categorize the Biblical mysteries that share the properties I have already listed above. Therefore, by the 16th century, this word had a generally accepted definition.

If the purpose of Article XXV had been to number the sacraments as two, rather than pointing out the special nature of two of them ("generally necessary to salvation" being the only Anglican position-unless someone wants to say the Anglican Catechism is not Anglican; which bit of silliness would not surprise me), then the whole venture would have been ridiculous. For, all they would have done was to redefine a word differently from its accepted definition. That anyone could imagine them engaging in such a fruitless, meaningless activity, defies common sense.

The purpose of this Article was to save souls. It was to make the people of England receive Holy Communion instead of "hearing Mass." It was to have the people take and eat, and drink, rather than thinking they needed only to gaze while a priest did all the eating and drinking for them.

Hooker, definitively explaining the mind of the English Reformers, used most of his ink on this subject writing about the Incarnation, and driving home the sacramental mystery of partaking of Christ. This also restored the mystery and flew in the face of scholasticism by refusing to honor the age old need to describe and define everything in detail, even about things concerning which God had not revealed all the details.

The English Church never tried to explain how we receive Christ by taking the sacrament, except that it is by faith. Furthermore, they did not even try to teach a specific point at which the sacrament is fully consecrated; only that when a believer receives it with faith he partakes of Christ (and an unbeliever does not [in the saving sense of John chapter 6], but rather adds sin to sin). They were restoring the faith of the ancient Church.

To drag Article XXV through the mud of any kind of scholastic non-sense, including the simplistic and wrong interpretation that it is about the number of sacraments (as if such a thing were revealed rather than "commonly called" by an exercise of Right Reason), is to destroy the truth they were trying to teach. As such, it is a distraction, not a help.


RC Cola said...

To be honest, when I first read Article XXV, I thought it meant what Charlie said it meant. That was quite a hurdle for me to get over. In the end, it was an explanation similar to Fr. Hart's that made me realize that Article XXV was not really a hurdle at all. The hurdle was the faulty interpretation of XXV.

poetreader said...

2 sacraments "of the Gospel"

5 sacraments "commonly so called" by ancient and continuing usage in the Church.

??? unlimited number of other practices that could easily (though not "officially") be said to meet some or all of the conditions to be sacraments.

What could be easier to understand?

My tendency has long been to expand, rather than limit the range of the concept "sacrament".

If the more "Protestant-minded" wish to insist upon there being ONLY two sacraments, I would ask them to show me where the Bible makes such a definition, or even mentions the term.


Canon Tallis said...

It seems that before we discuss Anglican theology we must first teach folks to read English, especially 16th century English. It also helps to have some Latin since the Articles are only definitive in their Latin text.

But the major problem is that we must deal with those who want to read our documents through the eyes of those to whom they were unacceptable because they did not embrace the full teaching and inventions of the continental 'Reformers.' When you step away from that view then you can see and understand what is so plainly stated.

When you have read the medieval theologians you should know that the number of 'sacraments' as enumerated by various writers varied widely. The things which we so called were finally reduced to those we now think of while many of the others were reduced to the status of 'sacramentals' or simply dropped. It is good to have someone who can explain this so clearly.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It seems that before we discuss Anglican theology we must first teach folks to read English, especially 16th century English.

How very true. Here is a perfect example: Examining the words of Article XXV a little more: "...have not like nature..." The 16th century writers employed economy of words, so they did not throw in the word "like" because they liked it. Not like ...what? Not like Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Not like in what way? The answer is in the rest of the sentence itself: "For that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God." This too I expounded on in the original essay (see the link at the top).

Fr. Steve said...

Going off of what Ed said, I rather like the Eastern Orthodox view that life itself is a Sacrament, and should be lived as such.

Canon Tallis said...

Every time we go through one of these events I have further reason to be glad that Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare was shelved so close to my assigned seat in the Second Grade. It lured me into the stories and the stories into the actual plays and then the poems. With that background the Authorized Version and Book of Common Prayer were naturals as were all of the other writers of that period.

Charles, unfortunately, has never got past the question of the language and the view point of those who so easily took positions of trust in the Elizabethan Church, but were determined to undermine it for what they were so fond of in Zurich and Geneva.

The reason any army makes you wear the uniform and attend and participate in formations is to give you a sense of your part in the whole. Elizabeth understood that even if many of those she had to take for bishops when her sisters refused her did not - and would not. Charles need to read Malcolm MacColl, Canon Dart, and 'Elizabeth and the English Reformation' and re-think his position.

Millo Shaw said...

Good points, Ed and Fr. Steve. Indeed, is there any aspect of the Church in its essence, as a divine, not a human organism, in which godhead is not converted into flesh, but manhood taken up into God, in which the sacraments are properly seen as an extension of the Incarnation, that is not sacramental (with a small "s")? Would it even be possible for the Great Sacraments to be offered in a non-sacramental context? T.S. Eliot, when asked with amused contempt by Virginia Woolf why he went to church, said, "To get closer to God." What could be more sacramental than that? Hence, too, throughout our liturgies, from start to finish, indeed throughout the life of the Church, there really are no "second-class citizens," just different organs in the same divine body, all enlivened, knit together, and sustaining and enriching each other through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux would heartily concur with the Orthodox belief, Fr. Steve.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr. Steve, The Eastern Orthodox view does see the sacred in all of life by virtue of the original blessing of creation. However, what you seem to be saying applies more to Quakers than to the Orthodox. The difference involves metaphysical understandings which underpin Orthodox theology. Without these fine distinctions,there would be little difference between the Orthodox and Quaker view of sacraments.