Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bigger, wider and deeper

I would like to thank the reader who calls himself Semi-Hookerian for a thoughtful comment in response to Who's Erastianism is it Anyway?

That well-read old political philosophy tutor (among other things), C.S. Lewis, writes, of the controversy into which Hooker enters, respecting 'both' sides, "Puritan" and Settlement "Anglican" (and for that matter their "Papist" ancestors and contemporary controversial opponents), "Their picture of Christianity always includes that disastrous figure 'the Christian magistrate' or 'godly prince.'" (OHEL, p. 443). And (pp. 444-45), "Whatever they say, even whatever they wish, the puritans are driven to put the Church above the State, and the Anglicans to put the State above the Church. [...] Prince and priest in the sixteenth century both desire to ride the pale horse theocracy: and when two men ride a horse we know where one must sit."

Further (p. 458), "It will, of course, be obvious that Hooker's system does not extricate us from theocracy." He points out (p. 459) how "Hooker answers his own age: it is perhaps absurd to ask how he would answer ours. Usually, in past controversies, the premiss which neither side questioned, now seems the shakiest of all."

He does note specific exceptions, regarding Erasmus, Bellus, Acontius, Atkinson, Aglionby, and "best of all, [...] the words of Robert Browne" (pp. 40-41) - concluding, however, "Throughout the sixteenth century the great mass of those who seemed at the time to be sane, normal, practical men, ignored the few who spoke for liberty."

The United States really does seem the next step, even though, e.g., some New England states were protected in their making it difficult for Anglicans, with some such things extending well into the 19th century. Has there, indeed, ever been a further step? And now over a century of "progressives" in ever increasing numbers at a maniacally increasing rate, have been chipping away at that.

Can this be a Chestertonian "White Horse" moment? Is there anything else, in earthly terms, to hope for?

Indeed, when Hooker penned his theological defense of Church of England polity, he did so in an era of state churches. As Leslie Poles Hartley said, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

Hooker's writing on Church of England polity is valuable to us today largely because he defended the self-understanding of Anglicans as fully catholic and as reformed. He defended the ongoing practice of Apostolic Succession and episcopal order, including in Book Seven (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity) a thorough defense of the episcopate as of Divine Institution, having already defended episcopacy as the only practice known to the Church until the innovation of the Geneva Discipline. All of this is standard Anglican belief and practice.

What is not standard Anglican belief and practice is what Hooker went on to say about the Church and the State. Yes, there is still some image of that in the established State Church, the Church of England. But, in Hooker's day, every church was a state church; and this is simply all that people had known for centuries (I need not argue that again. You may simply review the original post). But, the essence of Anglicanism, while retaining every other vital feature defended by Hooker, has proved itself bigger and deeper than anything our critics can cover by their careless and reckless tossing about of the word "Erastianism."

That fact is especially important, because our very existence is constantly under attack. That we remain who we are is an affront to them, retaining an Anglican identity in the face of unrelenting efforts by polemicists of the Two One True Churches to make our people feel illegitimate, uncertain about the validity and efficacy of our sacraments, or embarrassed by a factually wrong allegation of doctrinal confusion in our foundation. We do not mean to insult them, but our Continued existence is taken as an offense. In a sense, by daring to exist at all, we are like the Jewish people, always faced with some ideological menace hell bent on removing our identity from the earth.

When they accuse Anglicanism of being Erastian, not only do they ignore the historical context of the 16th and 17th centuries with the politico-religious paradigm that pervaded all of Europe; they also ignore the subsequent facts of history and overlook what the Continuing Anglican Church proves today by its very existence.

The existence of the Anglican churches that sprang up apart from England, especially the Episcopal Church in the United States, had nothing of the State Church in their structure at all, nor could they have had. The constitutional impossibility of a National Church in the United States, and the complete absence of a crown, did not prevent the spread of our own brand of Christianity. It did not prevent the prosperity of mission efforts across the American continent, especially by such apostolic giants as Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple (1822-1901), whose heroic work among the Dakota and Chippewa, as well as other aboriginal peoples of North America, certainly had no trace of Erastianism about it.

Of course, the birth and survival of Continuing Anglicanism, which retained all of our spiritual assets when invaders took away our material assets, also has nothing of Erastianism about it. Even in England itself the Anglicanism we Continue has no need of a State establishment to support it. Faithfulness to the catholic and evangelical faith, the doctrine and practice--indeed the ongoing life-- of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, practiced with such spiritual aids as our Book of Common Prayer, does not depend on any state establishment. The reason is simple. Anglicanism, by its nature, was endowed by the English Reformers, Church of England Divines, and its numerous Doctors in succeeding ages, with something more valuable than real estate and money, and something more permanent than an earthly crown. It was endowed with that remarkably flexible, inherently endurable, and living reality of the Faith of the Apostles.

The charge of Erastianism simply fades away against reality. We depend on the Holy Ghost, and the grace He imparts through the word of God, and the sacraments. We do not depend on earthly governments to be of that Church we confess in the Creeds. What we possess as our inheritance, and the mission with which are charged by our Lord, have proved to be bigger, wider, and deeper.


Anonymous said...

Nice! After all, the creed does not say, "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church under one see," and it does not say, "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church under one prince."

"Remarkably flexible" answer to pre-Christian tribal mentality, able to spread to any culture at any time, survive with or without state sanction, and true to the Church's true Head, not to a single patriarch.


lexflyingfish said...

"...retaining an Anglican identity in the face of unrelenting efforts by polemicists of the Two One True Churches to make our people feel illegitimate, uncertain about the validity and efficacy of our sacraments, or embarrassed by a factually wrong allegation of doctrinal confusion in our foundation."

I have certainly gone through that big time, though reading actual Anglican history (I'm reading the Tracts right now) has helped.

Is part of the problem that we're too "nice" and always on the defensive? I think it may be time for an official pronouncement that the framers of Vatican II and their present-day successors (with their hippie guitar masses, iconoclasm, deliberate banalization of the Mass, engineered priest shortage, etc.) had defects in sacramental intent, and therefore there is some doubt as to the validity of Roman post-Vatican II Holy Orders. And further, that while we may stop short of declaring post-Vatican II Roman Holy Orders to be absolutely null and utterly void, we nevertheless will require former Roman clergy converts to Anglicanism to be conditionally ordained, just to be sure.

The Anglican Bishops' response to Apostolicae Curae may have been prophetic in this sense (just look how far down the modernist-feminist road the Roman Church has gone). Maybe it's time to remind people. While I don't think we should stoop to the level of un-Churching people lightly, or declaring ourselves the "One True Church," maybe if we were a bit more polemical at times, we'd be less apt to suffer from an identity crisis.

charles said...

Dear Fr. Hart,

I think a few points worth mentioning were mistakenly passed over:

1. The post makes no effort to differentiate the modern, secular state from the old Christian monarchies. These two institutions are based on fundamentally different principles. I see no reason to conflate the two, and perhaps this is one problem with the more generic term 'erastian'.

2. I don't think royalists like Hooker would risk any argument by treating the monarchy as an essential mark of the church. Rather, they would note the benefit. The restoration of divine right of kings followed that of the episcopate. It seems somewhat biased to argue one and not the other since they developed in tandem, often by the same writers.

3. There is advantage specific to Anglicanism with a rekindling of 'royal' ethos. Not only does it advance or preserve prelacy in general (as Anglicans I assume we believe in prelates?), but it solves a problem quite unique to the doctrine and order of the Church of England. Between all sermons, catechisms, expositions, devotional works, tracts, et al., how do we identify the most authoritative?

Royal seal in appointed texts of the period, 1536-1716, helps resolve this critical problem, allowing scholars to rank documents, and, while not exhaustive, it at least roughly identifies upper and lower bounds in worship and doctrine. I think it's somewhat a strawman to say church-royalists wish to revive Erastianism.

Nonetheless, restoring the Crown's place of honor is, to say the least, a convenient and historic answer to the confusion that prevails today. We ought to ask, "Do we esteem the Godparents of the church in England as we do divines like Hooker?" If we dismiss the contribution of Christian monarchs in England's history, then we also risk ignoring the same faith and order they settled. Does that matter?

At this point, it's about reviving a respectful memory for kings. You can have that, certainly, without being an 'erastian'. Moreover, such commemorations not only conveniently point to ranked documents, but also constructs bridges with other liturgical, catholic traditions. Please check out the Monarchist League's (LA) collaboration with SKCM at St. Mary's Jan. 29th, 2011 as a constructive example. It is a solemn Vespers organized by REC, WRO, ACA, and others more or less connected to the Anglican patrimony. But, note "monarchism" was the common intersection. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater! "Remember"

Joseph said...

Sadly the conventional wisdom about Anglicanism is we exist only because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. I saw a National Geographic show about Elizabeth I and the whole English Reformation was just about the King wanting divorce/annulment and the Pope would not grant it.

As we know there is much more to the founding of the C of E

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Hart,

My lamentably belated thanks, in turn, for so posting my comment and for your fine response with its complementary development of the matter!

I will hope to add something before too long (for any who - like myself - am glad to revisit posts).


[Word verification: 'rumleg' - not a description of the cause of my delayed thanks!]