Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whose Erastianism is it anyway?

Erastianism: The doctrine stating that in ecclesiastical affairs the state rules over the church.

One of the arguments that our Roman Catholic detractors like to make, every now and again, is that Anglicanism was simply an Erastian sect created because of Henry's divorce problems. Therefore, they reason, we are supposed to concede that the English Reformation was a bastard child, completely illegitimate, and that, for that reason among their many wild claims, we should all go back to Mama Rome with our tails between our legs, and beseech their indulgence to be allowed back.

Well, of course, it had to be Erastian, right? It was called, after all, the Church of England. Never mind that it had always been called that, and the kings of England had always appointed the bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Never mind that every church in Europe had been a State Church since before anyone could remember. Never mind that the pope's power to intervene was almost never used throughout the centuries leading up to the Reformation era, since wise popes had no cause to be entangled with various national affairs.

Two important considerations need to be weighed against the importance that Roman Catholic polemicists place upon the alleged expanded role of the monarch in English Church affairs. The first is the pastoral responsibility of the English bishops during the reigns of Henry and of Edward, and then during the reign of Elizabeth after the death of Bloody Mary (a title earned by the zeal and volume of persecution).

Whatever one may think about Henry's sexual troubles, or about his attempted solution to the problem of having a male heir, or about the violence he inflicted on those unfortunate enough to serve in his court, he was not the father of the English Reformation. The bishops who survived him, and found themselves serving under the young King Edward, rose to the occasion both before and after Henry's death. Whatever the king's motives, and whatever his methods, the bishops took the opportunity to establish doctrine according to their convictions, and nothing less.

True, it was under Edward's brief reign that they felt liberated to teach fully according to their convictions, and to establish Reformed doctrine without abandoning Catholic Order, striking that balance unique to the English Church. But even before that, the work of the English bishops was not based on the king's divorce problems, nor were those concerns particularly relevant to their pastoral work to teach the way of salvation to the people of England. After the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer (a man we ought be calling, at least, Blessed) and, of course, so many others, when Elizabeth restored the Catholick Reformation to England, it was the pastoral work of English bishops that restored sound doctrine, and of other English scholars and theologians such as Richard Hooker.

The other important consideration is the simple reality that the Church of England was no more Erastian than the Church of the so-called Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V beginning in 1519, also called Carlos I in his role as King of Spain, which had begun in 1516. He was heir to the Hapsburg dynasty, and in his role as Holy Roman Emperor, if only to demonstrate his absolute power, he briefly imprisoned the Pope himself. This show of power did not go unnoticed, and remained a symbol of the real status quo as a late as the reign of King Phillip (which began in 1556). The papacy was no more a free institution, governed strictly by religious rather than state concern, than the See of Canterbury may have been on Henry's worst day.

Indeed, about Henry's desire for a divorce, a historian may be hard pressed to explain any real difference between what he wanted from the pope, and what the King of France had been granted. Later, concerning the reign of Elizabeth I, the pope was simply a pawn in the power struggle between two empires and their competing commercial interests, interests that led to the pope, in effect, demanding that the people of England weaken themselves by a civil war, murder their Queen, and let themselves be conquered by Spain. Even the mere legalese of our modern insurance industry would label the storm that sank the Armada, an "Act of God." Or, as the scripture says, "Even the wind and sea obey Him." (Mark 4:41)

If we are supposed to be impressed by the logic of our Roman Catholic critics, and to see some Erastian menace as having bastardized our Anglican foundations (for the sake of argument, let us pretend to concede), then the subservience of the papacy, that is, the subjugation of the See of Rome to the Spanish Crown, could have been no less Erastian in practice. Indeed, that subservience was transparent; it was blatantly obvious to all.

So, how important is the charge of English Erastianism? Should it be a practical concern to us? Should it shake our confidence as Anglicans? What matters for us, given the harsh times in which they found themselves, in a historical context that saw no such concept as Religious freedom (not, in any genuine sense, before the Constitution of the United States over two centuries later), was the responsible approach of the English Reformers, as men of God who rose to the occasion. The teaching and pastoral guidance of the Church of England produced a way forward into true and Catholick doctrine, complete with the Gospel proclaimed from its pulpits, and the sacraments administered at its altars.


Jack Miller said...

I love the history of this period. And I especially like your take on the "fork in the road" that England took and her reformers walked... Reformed and Catholick. Amen.


welshmann said...

Fr. Hart:

The kings of ancient Israel and Judah were forever trying to manipulate the priests and the prophets to their own ends. Scripture makes clear that these efforts always came to a bad end. On the other hand, Scripture frequently denounces the kings for their failure to defend and enforce the faith. It is my understanding that the Magisterial Reformers likewise called upon Christian princes to enforce church discipline.

I have encountered some classical Protestant writers who refer to American-style freedom of religion as "Baptistic", a product of the Radical Reformation, and therefore a departure from Catholic practice. However, I suspect that it was the Reformers who erred on this point. The Lord made a covenant with ancient Israel that was both civic and religious because He was creating a crucible through which to bring about the redemption of mankind. The Incarnation changes things. The Lord Himself said that His followers would not take up the sword, because His Kingdom is not of this world, i.e., render unto Caesar, etc. The Apostle Paul said the job of the state was to enforce the peace and called for general obedience to a pagan empire. I don't think he expected Nero to punish Christian heretics.

I know the issues are more complicated that my passing comments suggest; Luther's two-sword theory was not identical to Calvin's Geneva Discipline, and England went her own way. Still, all the Reformers (and Rome) had some concept of the tension between church and the larger society, even when the overlap between the two was almost 100%.

I don't mean to sweep away 1500 years of Christian government with the back of my hand; certainly, I have much to learn. But it seems to me that American-style religious freedom meshes with Paul's theory of government much more easily than European-style state churches, many of which are openly apostate--though of course, America is no paragon of Christian virtues.

I am sure Henry VIII would disagree. Blessed Thomas Cranmer would probably disagree as well. But I don't think any sensible Christian would trust any modern "prince" to enforce Christian discipline.


Atychi said...

"Well, of course, it had to be Erastian, right? It was called, after all, the Church of England. Never mind that it had always been called that, and the kings of England had always appointed the bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury."

***This doesn't include Anglo-Saxon England I assume (from the context of your post, it doesn't seem like you intend to include the earliest arrival of Christianity in England). If you mean to include Anglo-Saxon England, say from 578-1066, then I'd love to know which history books you're reading. Again, I assume you're speaking of post-Norman Conquest England.

charles said...

Nice post Fr. Hart.

The rehabilitation of the Henrician is essential for any return to Settlement Anglicanism. Henry, so to speak, laid the foundation for Elizabeth and later monarchs. I think it also worth recalling the 'erastian' system which governed Europe was also shared by Byzantine and is truly a catholic polity vis-a-vis the rise of papal enormities and claims in the secular.

A particularly good book that settles the criticisms of Tractarians against the English state is Walter Frere's The Relation of Church and Parliament in Regard to Ecclesiastical Discipline. Frere outlines the history and boundaries of Erastianism, and evidently the problem was not the Supremacy of Crown (who high churchmen defended) but the unprecedent encroachments by Parliament upon both church and king, escalating from the time of Elizabeth until the Oxford Movement and 1928 proposed.

Also, many forget Erastianism historically understood is really a theology of sacred monarchy-- not the secular governments we know today. The Jacobean and Carolinian defense of the episcopacy's divine institution accompanied a similar apologetic for the sacredness of their Crown. None of these were innovations. So, it seems high churchmen should have certain sympathy.

BTW. King Charles I's martyrdom is around the corner, and Anglicans might consider his memory dear w/ few collects if not votive mass for this day. He died for the same Settlement forged by his family predecessors (James, Elizabeth, and Henry), knowing well the Crown's ancient rights in matters of religion. It was Papacy that intruded.

Finally, I feel the only way out of the liberal catholic quagmire Anglicans have dug for themselves is by way of a liturgical ethos of kingship. If we had a higher value for Sacred Kings, especially the memory of the 'British Augusta, we'd value those same standards appointed by Royal Seal. Then we'd at least have a truly Anglican way to rank documents rather than this 'pick and choose'approach that happens today.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I would associate the two sword idea with Pope Gelasius, and later Pope Boniface.


Absolutely not. You have it quite wrong. The Church of England was formed as such when the Saxon Angles and the British Celts became one Church, and therefore began to be one people. The major event, with all due respect to the Council of Whitby in 644, was the Council of Hertford in 673. That is when the two churches, that of the British Celts and that of the Saxon Angles became the Church of England (Ecclsia Anglicana). The Normans came much, much later.

Atychi said...

Thanks for the response. I think we're actually going to be in agreement on most things here. I just want you to tease a few things out for me.

I'll go back to your original point:
"It was called, after all, the Church of England. Never mind that it had always been called that, and the kings of England had always appointed the bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury."

I'll make it simple. I'm balking at your word "always."

You've located the Church of England beginning in 673--fair enough. But then, I wonder, who appointed Augustine archbishop of Canterbury in 598/601? (I won't quibble with the dating.) Perhaps it's not really the Church of England at this point? Hey, I like 673 since it's Bishop Theodore at the helm (a Greek in England)--but I think he was the 8th Archbishop of Canterbury at this point and was consecrated by Pope Vitalian. And I'd still need for you to tease out for me your original contention: "the kings of England had always appointed the bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury." There's always a fine line between appointing and approving.

I can go through the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and show you places where clearly the king demands someone be consecrated, and the person is consecrated. But I can show you other places where early on (late 500s-mid 600s) the bishop is simply sent to England, and his status as bishop is assumed.

Here's an interesting entry from the Chronicle for you. From 690: "Here Archbishop Theodore passed away, and Berhtwold succeeded to the bishropic. Earlier the bishops were Roman; afterwards they were English."

If I'm being too nit-picky with your use of "always" and am asking for more precision than what you intended with your use of "appointed," then I grant your general point, though I am still interested in how you come to date the Church of England at a specific point (say 673). What is the name of the Church in 598 when it gets its first archbishop?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, of course the pope with two other bishops (at least) did consecrations. Every ABC, as well as every other bishop, was consecrated by at least three bishops. The relevant point is that by the 16th century the practice, of kings appointing the men who were to be bishops in the respective countries of Europe, was centuries old. From the perspective of people living in that time, it had been that way since long before anyone in living memory had been born.

Of course, by "always" I really mean that it was that way when God cerated the heavens and the earth, that is, back when the only Bible was the King James Version.

Anonymous said...

That well-read old political philosophy tutor (among other things), C.S. Lewis, writes, of the controvery 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?