In one of John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey stories, the character Guthrie Featherstone, Q.C., M.P. is prosecuting a case, one that Rumpole is defending. The hero has learned that the unfortunate Featherstone is trying to "get his bottom on the bench," that is, become a judge, and so he exploits the poor fellow's ambition. Rumpole tells Featherstone that he ought not to try so hard to win, so as to come across as more judicial. As a result, when summing up what had been a rock solid case for the prosecution, Featherstone backs down, speaks passively, tries to appear "judicious" and rambles on about the burden of proof falling on his, the prosecuting barrister's, shoulders, and the need for the jury to be fair. In so doing, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to the delight of Rumpole, defending barrister.
My criticism of John Henry Newman's conclusion in Tract 90 was that he did the same thing that Guthrie Featherstone would do in that Rumpole story. He had made a rock solid case, factually correct and reasonable to a degree that it could not be dismissed as an opinion or merely one interpretation. My criticism is that after proving his point he was far too conciliatory in his "summing up" to the jury. He had proved his case; he should have said so.
In his conciliation, his yielding up of taken ground, Newman maintained the unfortunate staus quo of the nineteenth century Church of England, reinforcing its partisan division. The result was quite a waste of excellent material, for what he had accomplished in the body of the Tract might have been used for the benefit of all Anglicans everywhere, as it demonstrated a unity of purpose that transcended the partisan notions of what had come to be represented in the popular mind of his day by such words as "Catholic" and "Protestant."
Perhaps the problem was that he had become too much a creature of his own time, and too caught up in the illusions that party strife had made to seem so real. And, sadly, we are not free from the influence of that same illusion today. The Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholics had managed to give us a balance in theology by restoring the reverence we should have for the sacrament, and by reinforcing the Catholic structures that Anglicanism had always maintained, adding more theological and historical reflection. Nonetheless, they also left us a problem that adds to the general confusion we must clear up.
The Anglo-Catholics of that era added to confusion by assigning to the word "Catholic" their own brand of High Churchmanship, with the equal and opposite reaction of assigning to the word "Protestant" the opposing party's brand of Low Churchmanship. In his Featherstone style "summing up" Newman had hit onto one very useful point that could have been used as an appeal for better unity: "In giving the Articles a Catholic interpretation, we bring them in to harmony with the Book of Common Prayer, an object of the most serious moment in those who have given their assent to both formularies." The opening of the sentence is most unfortunate, for he had not given the Articles any kind of interpretation at all, but had, rather, clarified some confusing aspects that can help everyone's understanding. Would he had transcended the partisan satus quo of his own era, and written simply, "In demonstrating the intended meaning of the Articles, we have shown that they are in harmony..." He would have encountered some opposition, but his case would have been given potential to bear far better fruit.
The truth, which I have stated many times, is that the English Reformers and Anglican Divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not see the Church as divided between "Catholic" and "Protestant" parties. Their convictions led them to be Protestant Catholiks instead of Papists. In their mind, the Church of Rome was not fully catholic, and that is because it no longer taught "the Faith once delivered to the saints" in purity, but added innovations of doctrinal corruption that had developed over the centuries and that depended on common ignorance for its growth and continuation. As for moral corruptions, those they wanted to see cleansed away too, such as the selling of priestly services to say Masses for hire.
Sacramental and liturgical application
Nowhere do we see a need for addressing the confusion of partisan churchmanship more than in matters of sacraments and liturgy, particularly the Holy Communion. In this matter, for all the good that the Anglo-Catholic party did in restoring deeper reverence for the sacrament, those who would follow them today often perpetuate and increase division by looking past the theological achievements they left us, and concentrate too much on matters of outward appearance. They see too much significance in unimportant details. It has become customary for many to assume the following: If a priest wears a decorated chasuble, has the candles and flowers arranged just right, has bells rung, uses incense, celebrates from the Missal with chanted minor propers, thumps his chest, genuflects and elevates, he is truly "Catholic." But, in fact, nice as these customs are (and I fear I may be one of the last of the chest-thumpers), there is nothing particularly "catholic" about any of them. In fact, Orthodox priests live their whole lives without most of these practices.
In fact, if he believes what he says while celebrating, the priest in surplice and stole, using the Altar Service Book (Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer), who may have no bells, smells, or minor propers, and who never thumps his chest, never genuflects or elevates, might be a far more catholic man than the fellow in fancy dress with all his motions. The Low priest may be far more catholic because he is concentrating on the sacrament as "generally necessary to salvation," and may believe that simple piety is deeper devotion. So, for us, if we are Anglicans really and truly, "Catholic" never has been, properly speaking, the opposite of "Protestant." Nor is it true that the High Churchman is "Catholic" and the Low Churchman "Protestant." Those who insist on thinking in the somewhat new (as in nineteenth century) partisan mode, are on their way toward one of two destinations, Rome or Geneva. Already, they have abandoned the Anglican Way and have no Anglican mind.
A theological foundation
Those who read my essay about Lancelot Andrewes' Eucharistic Theology, may recall the central signficance of a Greek word from the New Testament, κοινωνία, pronounced and transliterated, koinōnia. Most Biblical scholars will immediately think of the word "fellowship." We will get back to this word presently.
The Council of Trent had condemned the notion that Transubstantiation is the same as impanation, namely that the bread and wine are replaced by the local presence of Christ's physical body and blood. Those who read Tract 90 will recall, however, that the Church of Rome had teachers who encouraged people (and got away with it) to believe that transubstantiation was a miracle whereby the bread and wine were, in fact, so replaced, with rather disgusting stories about bloody fingers, or Christ appearing as a child who was cut up and bleeding, or entering people's mouths (rather horrifying stuff).
To this day, Anglicans, not very unlike our Roman Catholic brethren, have their own problem of misinformation concerning Eucharistic theology. The writings of Cranmer and Hooker are twisted into a thing called "Receptionsim," presented as Zwinglian in that it involves the "Real Absence," and reduces the sacrament to mere symbolism. This is, of course, easily refuted by the unanimous and oft repeated condemnation of the same doctrine, sometimes of Zwinglianism by name, in the homilies, in Article XXVIII ("The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper..."), and in Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.
Nonetheless, the charge of Receptionism continues to be made to this day. But, as we have shown here many times, the teaching of Cranmer, repeated almost word for word by Hooker with further elaboration, was that we cannot know exactly how the Bread and Wine are the Body of Blood of Christ, nor exactly when they become the Body and Blood of Christ (with the words of Institution, or when received? Perhaps combining the two as would later be seen in 1662?). What matters is that we believe and partake. The rest is immaterial. For those who believe, it is health to the soul to Receive, for one is receiving Christ Himself in the sacrament; for those who do not believe, the danger is great, though they cannot receive Christ in the saving manner of John 6:54: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. " (These things have been written about at length and you may find them among my essays by clicking the link provided to the right : "Fr. Hart's Essays on Classic Anglicanism.")
Communion, partaking and fellowship
Cranmer and Hooker taught that we should not be ashamed to admit our ignorance about the Sacrament. How it is the Body and Blood of Christ is beyond our understanding, and theories about it, nice as they may be, exceed what we may teach on the basis of revelation. The idea of Transubstantiation (as understood pre-Ratzinger) is no more in accord with actual revelation than Memorialism, though we can say for Transubstantiantion at least this much; maybe it allows for something that might be considered more like Real Presence. But accepting the mystery is better than even the best theories, for we cannot describe or define so high a thing, truth that transcends human understanding, as also with the Trinity and the Incarnation.
So, now we return to the word koinōnia. It was Andrewes who preserved for us a simple and very accessible key to unlock what the English Reformers and Anglican Divines were trying to say, whose words and meaning had become covered with intellectual corrosion by the time of the Oxford Movement. For, in his Christmas sermon in 1605 preached before King James, he made that one simple statement about how we begin even in this life to partake of the Divine Nature (II Pet. 1:4) in the sacrament:
"He taking our flesh, and we receiving His Spirit; by His flesh which He took of us receiving His Spirit which He imparteth to us; that, as He by ours became consors humanae naturae, so we by His might become consortes Divinae naturae, "partakers of the Divine nature."
For, in our English Bible, the Greek word koinōnia is translated into the words "fellowship"and "Communion" and, for grammer's sake, a form of the same word (κοινωνέω, koinōneō) is translated "partakers." I will use italics to signify this Greek word, in both forms as indicated here, in the passages that follow.
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Heb. 2:14
"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."
II Pet. 1:4
"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Col. 1:12
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." I John 1:1-4
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" I Cor. 10:16
Let us take a look at how a portion of the above verse from I Corinthians is translated and inserted into Article XXVIII:
"The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ."
Notice that in the Article they chose to translate the word as "partaking," and in the King James Bible as "Communion." Have no doubt about their meaning, for of this there can be no doubt; they knew full well as genuine scholars that the Greek word was koinōnia. They emphasized what it means in their most important statements, indeed, throughout the Holy Communion service itself. See too, that Hebrews 2:14 (quoted above) describes the Incarnation itself as Christ taking koinōnia with our nature, that is with flesh and blood.
Hear also Richard Hooker:
"If we doubt what those admirable words may import, let him be our teacher for the meaning of Christ to whom Christ was himself a schoolmaster, let our Lord’s Apostle be his interpreter, content we ourselves with his explication, My body, the communion of my body, My blood, the communion of my blood. Is there any thing more expedite, clear, and easy, than that as Christ is termed our life because through him we obtain life, so the parts of this sacrament are his body and blood for that they are so to us who receiving them receive that by them which they are termed? The bread and cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth. For that which produceth any certain effect is not vainly nor improperly said to be that very effect whereunto it tendeth. Every cause is in the effect which groweth from it. Our souls and bodies quickened to eternal life are effects the cause whereof is the Person of Christ, his body and his blood are the true wellspring out of which this life floweth. So that his body and blood are in that very subject whereunto they minister life not only by effect or operation, even as the influence of the heavens is in plants, beasts, men, and in every thing which they quicken, but also by a far more divine and mystical kind of union, which maketh us one with him even as he and the Father are one." Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V: 67: 5
See how Hooker, the scholar and theologian, uses the English words "communion" and "participation" in this passage. He was fully aware that they signify one and same word in the original Greek New Testament, that word koinōnia. Remember too, that he began his chapters on the Dominical Sacraments by a long dissertation on the Incarnation, drawing all sacramental theology from it (as we have seen before).
So, what was the actual message of the English Reformers?
Because they were scholars of Scripture and drew their meaning from the Bible, they wrote their works with the intention that we would understand the connection between the Incarnation, the saving sacrament of Holy Communion, and our future glorification when Christ comes on the Last Day. Also, this is essential to the fellowship of the Church and of its Apostolic lineage as we await that Day. Considering all of this, consider now that they added this name to the Mass: Holy Communion. Then consider that it was Cranmer who introduced to his generation the new and revolutionary idea of frequent Communion, including the radical notion of every Confirmed member of the Church actually receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion at least weekly on Sunday.
Holy Communion stemming from the Incarnation of the Word, making us one with Him "that he may dwell in us and we in him," leading to the glorification of the risen saints on the Last day, all of these intimately connected in fellowship, presents theology of the Sacrament that is both as deep and as high as the Church has known in all its times and places. Modern confusion about High and Low, Catholic and Protestant, needs to give way to these facts, as we translate the tongue of their day, interpreting that tongue for modern Anglicans.
Let the unconfusing begin.