In this present hour I sorely miss the scholarship and wisdom, as well as the friendship, of the Rev. Dr. Louis Tarsitano. In addition to being a good priest, he was also an Associate Editor of Touchstone, as well as the author of An Outline of an Anglican Life. Fr. Tarsitano wrote the following letter to a friend, and it has been sent via email by his widow. -Fr. Hart
Thought I would share a letter my late husband sent to a
friend trying to make his way in the church 8/21/2004 .....Sally
A great deal of today's opposition between the Evangelical view and the Anglo-Catholic view of almost anything is very late and rather artificial. Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism both are basically 19th century movements, and much of what happened in Anglican history and practice in the preceding 18 centuries doesn't quite fit into either mode. And this observation is still not to speak of today's Neo-evangelicalism, Charismatism, Roman Reunionism, etc.
The religion that came out of the English Reformation might best be called a "reformed catholicism." Its roots are in the Scriptures and the apostolic Church, and in the undivided Church of the first five centuries in general. What changed in the Reformation was not so much the connection to these roots (although I would argue they were made stronger, not weaker) but a re-evaluation of various additions and accretions that had built up on Western Christianity in the years between the Fathers of the undivided Church and the era of the Reformation, with an eye to removing anything that was an abuse of Scripture or of the universal faith of the undivided Church.
The place to look for a mature summary of the reformed Anglican Way is a classic edition of the BCP, either the English 1662 or the American 1928. In it we will find neither sectarianism nor denominationalism (in the current American sense), but rather the expression in the English language of what is truly common to the entire biblical and apostolic Church throughout history. Local devotions and customs are permitted, under the oversight of the bishop and the rector, but no one is required to believe what is not the common inheritance of the whole Church.
This commonality is the essence of a real "catholicism," as defined by St. Vincent of Lerins, who stated that the catholic faith consists of that which has been believed "everywhere, always, and by all." In terms of worship, the Book of Common Prayer establishes certain offices and administrations as the "regular" (the rule) services of the Church. These are the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion. The Prayer Book ideal would be to offer on a Sunday morning Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Holy Communion. At the same time, circumstances (and the customs that get built on circumstances) have not been everywhere ideal or the same.
For example, ask this question: Which is better, frequent or infrequent celebration of the Holy Communion? The answer is "both," if frequency only signifies laxity in preparation to receive the sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood, or if infrequency means that due honor is offered to this holy meal. Not so simple, huh? The best case would be, of course, what the Prayer Book envisions: all of the regular services of the Church offered on the Lord's Day. But variations on this discipline are mostly not violations of good order, but rather permissible adjustments to real-life situations (many of which continue out of sanctified habit, rather than laxity or laziness).
Even in parishes with a strong Morning Prayer tradition (which I consider a good thing, and not a bad thing--but only one good thing among others), it is simple enough to have an early service of Holy Communion, especially if the addition is approached as giving honor to Christ and as making his sacrament available weekly for the nurture of those faithful who feel themselves called to the Holy Table.
Anglican Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism were responses to perceived needs in the Church. The Evangelicals believed that better preaching and personal discipline would increase the Church's effectiveness in obeying the Great Commission and spreading the Gospel. It was the Anglican Evangelicals, after all, putting faith into practice, who gained the victory for Christ in the abolition of slavery for the first time in human history. The Anglo-Catholics were responding to what they saw as the secularization of the Church, making her only a department of government, and so they stressed the immense sacramental grace and authority that Christ had given his Church, along with the Church's history, so that it would be understood that the Church had made England, rather than the other way around.
But I'll tell you a secret. Both groups began simply as loyal churchmen with a reforming emphasis. The great Evangelical Augustus Toplady writes in his famous hymn "Rock of Ages" of "the water and the blood," the outward signs of the dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion. Anglo-Catholic clergymen died in droves, bringing the Gospel to Africa, just as their Evangelical brethren did. The modern party differences, based on secular political parties and the pursuit of power, are degenerate inventions piled onto the reforms of much greater men who simply loved Christ and his Church.
If you can dig up a copy of E. Clowes Chorley's "Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church," published in 1945, take a look at the excerpts from various sermons before the development of today's silly partisanship. The sermons of the Evangelicals are catholic, and the sermons of the High Churchmen and early Anglo-Catholics are evangelical. Reformed catholicism is both evangelical and catholic, and when we remain loyal to it, as we should since it is the original faith of the historic Church, we cannot help but be both evangelical and catholic. If we find ourselves merely one or the other, we need to refine our own understanding of the great inheritance that we have been given by Christ and his Church, through the Anglican Way.
As to the Holy Communion, what does the Church Catechism in the BCP say? It says that the inward grace of the Holy Communion is "The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper." This is exactly what the Scriptures teach (see for example, St. Paul in 1 Cor.). This is exactly what Aelfric, an ancient English churchman, taught in his Anglo-Saxon homilies, written around the year 1000. This is basic Christian doctrine, not the property of any religious party or movement, and demanding that any Christian believe more or less than this is morally and doctrinally wrong. We receive our Lord's Body and Blood, according to his Word and by the power of God the Blessed Trinity. Philosophical debates about how God accomplishes this fact may be interesting to some folks, but they are not relevant to a saving faith and a loyal Christianity.
Anglican comprehensiveness isn't license or a catch-all. It is, rather, a principled belief in the truth revealed in Scripture and applied in the formularies, principally the Book of Common Prayer, that allows a certain patience with others. That patience permits what is permissible within the Faith and Practice of the Church, even if we wouldn't do things exactly that way. That patience requires the calm, charitable effort to correct those who have gone beyond what the Faith and Practice of the Church permits.
Whatever kind of Anglican parish or jurisdiction that you might serve in, as long as that parish or jurisdiction is loyal to Christ, to the Scripture, and to the Anglican formularies, you can be the same sort of loyal, decent, catholic, and evangelical Anglican Christian that you could be anywhere else, even if the ceremonial or the vestments change a bit from place to place. Except as a part of your general pastoral knowledge, you can let the various parties go, and you can concentrate your efforts on knowing Christ and bringing him to those in your care in the fullness of the Anglican Way. Then you can serve with honor wherever it pleases God to place you.
With best regards in Christ,