The Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls, SSM
“I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
- Susan from’ The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe.
Several weeks ago, I began a series of essays with text liberally “borrowed” from The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton,1 the Anglo-Catholic bishop of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at the turn of the last century. The occasion for the essays was the then-forthcoming, now-issued Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus which, as we all know, is directed to “reconciling” Anglicans, Anglo-Catholics in particular, to the Roman catholic Church, The Encyclical has evoked a maelstrom of comment from Roman Catholic triumphalists and self-identified Anglican enthusiasts effusing over the “generosity” of the offer, raging denouncements from folks I like to call “Angricans”, curious expressions from folks involved in the transaction claiming, inter alia, that there are additional “terms” to be negotiated that will mitigate all concerns, and all manners of inquiries from people who take the Encyclical at face value. These essays have been an attempt to juxtapose the writings of a saintly bishop against the storm of comment and the exact words of what I will call in shorthand “the deal.”
It has all proven to be an occasion for surprise and no small amount of reflection. I find myself almost dumbfounded by the level of vehemence in the correspondence I have received from those who would uncritically toss away their faith of years in favor of the deal whatever the end result might be. Indeed, Roman Catholic colleagues have, for the most part, proven far more charitable toward the issues raised and more objective in their assessment of the Encyclical.
No matter. We owe ourselves, our faith and the generations to come after us a critical review of the issues posed by “the deal”. The questions involved are precisely those which have been presented in the past, and we do well to rely upon the considered thought and work of Anglican bishops and theologians who have treated with these matters. We do even better to heed the concerns of these men when they have been provoked to raise their voices to a roar.
For, bishops and theologians occasionally do roar. They do so to protect their flocks against sin, or evil, or impending disaster. Such behavior is not popular now in the land of “nice”, where all must be correct, happy and deserving of respect. It is not appropriate to raise one’s voice at a time when bumper sticker mentality exhorts us to “Choose Civility.” (Of course, one must not be at cross-purposes with the “civility set” or risk losing life and limb for starters.)
The truly good bishops of the church, from time to time, have had to lay aside parlor manners and palliative statements throughout the life of the Christ’s Church. Alexandria for almost 47 years, was driven into exile not once, but five times, by four different Roman emperors. In his First Letter to Serapion, the saint set forth orthodox teaching in plain, unvarnished language: “It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostles and guarded by the Fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian, either in fact or in name . . .” That is not only not nice, but downright “exclusivist”, to borrow from the spiritually-correct crowd., Bishop of
Similarly, in his work Against All Heresies,had less than genteel words when he called the faithful “to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them…” Or, in addressing false teachers, the saint bluntly called them, “heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory.”
St. Nicholas took a more direct approach, It is disputed whether he slapped him on the mouth, fed him a knuckle-sandwich, or boxed him on the ear, but one thing seems clear: Saint Nicholas most likely hit the heretic, Arius of Alexandria, during the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Arius attacked the ancient and Apostolic tradition that the Logos (translated "Word" in John 1:1) was eternal and naturally equal with the Father who eternally begot him; that the Word was one in being with the Father. Essentially, this was a denial of the very divinity of Christ. Saint Nicholas, the model for “Jolly Old St. Nick”, full of righteous indignation over false teaching and having spent years in a dungeon during the Diocletian persecution for his faith in Christ, was not about to tolerate blasphemy from an arrogant presbyter. He was not about to stand idly by while Arius denied the full divinity of Christ and forced his false interpretation of Scripture upon a Church newly freed from persecution. So it was that Saint Nicholas’ zeal for Christ was felt by directly by Arius, probably accompanied by a roar.
The history of the Church is filled with such stories of the “episcopate rampant” and roaring like lions of Christ, and occasionally pouncing where necessary. It is a reason why we stand today as orthodox Anglican Christians, and why those parts of the Church where the Godly roar is no longer even an echo have lapsed into error or worse. So, we do well to pay heed when our bishops roar out to warn us of impending danger, even when that roar is across the years.
So we come to a point on which Grafton, in leonine persona, roared forth in plainly and clearly. Article 5 §1 of the the Apostolic Constitution provides: “The lay faithful originally of the Anglican tradition who wish to belong to the Ordinariate, after having made their Profession of Faith and received the Sacraments of Initiation …are to be entered in the apposite register of the Ordinariate.” Any way those who would spin the language of the Encyclical care to gloss plain words, “former Anglicans” will have to receive the Sacrament of Initiation, make profession and receive “First Communion”. That is as straightforward as it gets, and, to be sure, it has been the consistent position of the Roman Catholic Church.
Bp. Grafton, in his “Letter to the Oneidas” was similarly straightforward on these points in the following section which I have simply quoted with some emphasis:
My dear Sons and Daughters in Christ, it is a very great sin for any Churchmen to leave their own Church, where they have the true Faith and Sacraments, and join the Roman Church. Let me tell you why.
If one joins the Roman Church he has to be confirmed again. He has to receive the Communion as if it were his first Communion. Now see what that means. When you were confirmed by the Bishop, you received the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
You cannot be confirmed again, any more than you can be baptized again. To be confirmed again is to deny that you have already been confirmed. It is to be a traitor to the Holy Spirit. It is to turn on the Holy Spirit and to deny Him. It is to say to Him, I have never received You in Confirmation. This is to sin against the Holy Ghost, and if we sin against the Holy Ghost, Christ warned us that such a sin, persisted in, could not be forgiven in this world nor in the next. This should make us careful not to commit such.
So, too, about the Blessed Sacrament. Christ the dear Lord has fed you with His own Body and Blood. To go over to Rome, and to receive your first Communion, is to say, in act, to our Lord, “I have never sacramentally received You.” It is like Peter's denial of our Lord. How it must pain His sacred heart! What a stab it gives Him! Those who go over to Rome thus run great risks of their final salvation. Be true to your Church, and you are safe. In it you have found Christ and been united to Him. Abiding in Him you are safe. Love your Church. Love each other. Stand together. Try and bring back the wanderers, and God will protect and bless you and yours.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, blessed Bp. Charles Grafton was not the lion, but it fell to him to give the lion’s roar. These are the warning words of a godly bishop striking at very real questions that must be answered. Let us consider them charitably, seriously and make prayerful answer.