Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lost in the Shuffle

"Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life..."

Interestingly enough, our Book of Common Prayer tradition does not restrict Communion to people who understand it perfectly, and have all their theological ducks in a row about this sacrament. Instead, it emphasizes "hearty repentance and true faith." Theories about "Transubstantiation" and "Consubstantiation" or "Real Presence" appear to take a backseat to sincerity when making the General Confession.

Indeed, the only requirement set forth publicly during the service is the invitation to the General Confession. Had the Anglican fathers no respect for theological fine points, those absolutely necessary things to help us know for sure who is saved, and who deserves to be burned at the stake for heresy? I would bet they didn't even care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

From the Holy Communion service it would appear that they considered the requirements set forth by the whole General Confession section to greatly outweigh intellectual and scholastic complications, the kind of complications necessary in knowing who to weed out of God's Holy Church, or, in the good old days, get roasted. One would think that they took First Corinthians chapter eleven more seriously than the finest points of raging debate. They must have considered the idea silly that one could commit heresy about the nature of the sacrament, when clearly, if you're just smart enough to be in the inner circle, you will understand it perfectly (along with a perfect understanding of Almighty God Himself. It's a purely intellectual thing you know).

After all, where else could they have gotten such priorities as true and earnest repentance, and being in love and charity with your neighbors, etc.? They must have taken seriously St. Paul's reference to the betrayal of our Lord by Judas, and how it applied to the manner in which the Corinthian Christians treated each other. They must have grasped the meaning of the "New Covenant" in Christ's blood, and how it applies to the way believers ought to treat each other, especially when approaching the sacrament of that Covenant and of the sacred Blood He shed.

It sure takes the fun out of pointless and idiotic theological arguments. 


Anonymous said...

Bravo, sir. Well said.

I am only an occasional reader of this blog. I have not posted before and probably will not again, but I hope that I may be indulged briefly for a true story.

When I was in school, my best friend was a softshell Baptist minister who was coming for a second degree so that he could get active in the "religion in politics" movement of the Reagan era. He was a good man, though we disagreed, then, on nearly all of the great questions of the day. We did, however, agree firmly on the undiscussed questions of respect, honor, and how to treat someone who was well-behaved but seriously deluded on certain transient issues.

I once asked him: "Imagine a Christian man who is unlettered, not especially intelligent, and perhaps even barely literate. He has no idea what predestination is, and thinks John Calvin may be one of his wife's distant cousins from Asheville. Nevertheless, he loves God and does his best to love his neighbor. He does not necessarily believe everything he hears in his church, but he honestly repents of his sins, forgives others theirs. He prays sincerely to God for help and guidance in the right way, and has faith in Christ as his Savior. Can this man be saved?"

My friend replied, "Of course!"

I asked him, "Then tell me, please, what is the purpose of theology?"

He was dumbfounded. He said he'd get back to me about it, but never did and I didn't press him. I suspect no one had ever asked him that, and he had never thought about it. Or perhaps one of us was an ignoramus. Certainly a fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer.

I would not want to press this point very far. At the very least, we are commanded to love God with all our mind as well as in other ways [Mt 22:37]. Nevertheless, it is also written that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and our knowlege will vanish away. [1 Cor 1:19; 13:8-9]

Neither Wise Nor Prudent

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, your point was about Soteriology, a topic in Theology. So, you can't get away from it. But, some people cannot distinguish between academic theology and knowing God (John 17:3).

Fr Richard Sutter SSM said...

I posted on the Anglicani blog about the topic of what Anglicanism really requires in order to receive Communion. I invite your attention to that article there.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

Which "Anglican fathers", when, were you thinking of, in particular?

In Anglicanism (1958), Stephen Neill notes, "In England twenty-four Anabaptists were tried in one single day in 1535 (and fourteen were sentenced to be burned alive)" (p. 34) and in the following reign, Cranmer and Ridley were as specifically responsible as any for sending Joan of Kent to the stake.

Under Elizabeth, if none were compelled "truly and earnestly [to] repent" and Communicate, "continuous pressure was maintained, and the process of persuasion was no doubt helped by the fine of 12d. a Sunday which could be imposed for non-attendance at church" (Ibid., p. 107: in the King James Version, a penny represented a day's wages for many).

For wanting truly and earnestly to repent and Communcate under other circumstances, the penalty was considerably higher, as Margaret Clitherow found when she was crushed to death in York on the Annunciation and Good Friday falling on one day, 1586.

With the coming into force of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, Neill notes, "about 1,760 incumbents were deprived for refusal to conform to the requirements of the Prayer Book and ordinal and went out into poverty and hardship" (p. 165).

If these matters are distinct from "the invitation", they are also distinctly intertwined in (English Church) history and practice up to and including 1662 (and indeed longer).