Thursday, April 14, 2011

Soteriology in Anglican Liturgy

Soteriology is the study of salvation, coming from the Greek word σωτηρία (sōtēria). As such the very word implies the name of our Lord himself, inasmuch as Jesus 1 (Ἰησοῦς) comes from the Hebrew word for salvation, (yĕshuw`ah). The name Joshua, or Jesus, is a form of the very word itself. In fact, if you meet someone named Salvatore, his name means the same thing. In short, this matters because human salvation is only through Jesus Christ, and without him there is no hope. Salvation is not available through a process, and cannot be manufactured from below. It had to come from above. 2 Although some religious teachers may say that life on this earth is a test, the fact is that life on this earth is not a test. If this life were a test, we would all receive an F, and go to Hell. This life is a shipwreck, and we are all in need of the Rescuer, without whom we would be lost to sin and death.

A while back, I heard an Episcopal priest who is better known for talk radio in Maryland (where I used to live) than for ministry, staunchly defending his disbelief in the Virgin Birth (and using the Bible with all the deft precision of a bull- a raving bull at that- in a china shop). And yet this same man openly professes his faith in the resurrection of Christ, having no problem with miracles. Yet, on two very important doctrines concerning our salvation in Christ he is completely without understanding. He does not believe that Christ died for our sins, and he does not believe in the Virgin Birth. What these two doctrines have in common is that they require our humility as well as our faith. Man could not create or even beget his own salvation, but needed God to intervene by sending his Son through the miracle of the Incarnation, as the Seed of the woman, 3 having no earthly father, coming as God of God the only and eternally begotten Son, and also being sent into the world (two very different facts). This forever teaches our impotence in this matter; we cannot keep ourselves alive. We had no strength from within ourselves to produce our own salvation. The fact that we needed to have our sins taken away by this same Savior, himself free from the defects of sin and death in every way, by giving his life, giving up his spirit in order to die, is equally humbling to an honest mind. Both doctrines, the Virgin Birth and the Atonement, put us in our place. It is only by the gift from the Father, and not by our own power.

It is quite impossible to understand, however, how a man who was ordained in the Episcopal Church back in the 1950s, as this priest was, could have stood at God's altar, and have said the words of our Mass, the Holy Communion service in the Book of Common Prayer, defend the older version many times for its beauty (as he has done), and yet reject the Gospel that is so very clearly set forth every time it is celebrated. This blindness is a double tragedy for him and for all who fail to believe; for not only is the service of Holy Communion powerful in its proclamation of the Gospel, but quite effective for all who enter into it fully, as the means whereby the Savior pulls them out of sin and death. Not only does it give the message of salvation; it imparts salvation to those who pray, hear, confess and receive. Our Holy Communion service powerfully draws us out of the depths of sin and death, and brings us face to face with the Lord our Salvation. 4

Liturgical history of salvation

The liturgy of Anglicans comes from the Tradition common to the whole Church, even though obvious differences of expression are to found in the Divine Liturgy of the East, the Latin Mass of Rome and the Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer. The differences are less significant than the things these Eucharistic liturgies have in common. They fit the pattern I mentioned in my book review of The Spirit of the Liturgy by (then) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. In that review, summarizing points made in detail by the author of the book, I said:

The Liturgy itself, and the whole life that it envelops, is connected to the Incarnation of God in Christ, the ultimate revelation. Our words and actions should be faithful to the intention of doing everything the right way, but not as an end in itself; rather, for the sake of the truth and of the presence of God. The Liturgy is written in words larger than any printed page can hold. It is written in history, the redemption history of Israel leading to the salvation history of the New Covenant.

In the Book of Common Prayer this reaches its most important point right at the beginning of the Canon of Consecration:

"All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious the death and sacrifice, until his coming again..."

This follows a recitation of salvation history that includes readings from scripture and reciting of the Nicene/ Constantinopolitan Creed; and it is followed by the Words of Institution and more of the Eucharistic prayer. This includes these words:

"...having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same."

Because salvation history is not merely recorded, but revealed, this is the only history that includes the future, which we find in those words, "until his coming again," that speak of the resurrection to immortality that is the hope and faith of all believers.

Liturgical provisions of grace

The power to absolve is so important that it is specifically mentioned in the Ordinal (in The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests) during the laying on of the bishop's hands:

"Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."5

The Anglican Holy Communion service offers one additional aid to the worshiper, and that is the opportunity to confess sins and receive at least the General Absolution. The General Confession may not be sufficient to relieve the conscience of all known guilt; and every Anglican priest is obligated to hear confessions and give, when appropriate (as we hope and pray it may be in every case), the sacrament of Absolution. Nonetheless, it is very obvious that the General Confession and Absolution is no mere ritual, but a provision for the sacrament that is based on the revelation of scripture, 6 and that makes use of Right Reason in establishing a form in which the Church may rightly appropriate and make available the grace of God through this sacrament. Jesus gave this power to the men in Apostolic ministry without directing the details of how they may hear confessions and absolve sins. Although one form of this sacrament has been most commonly understood since the early Middle Ages, we must remember that it evolved long after the Church was established and had been administering this sacrament with other forms for centuries.

Therefore, and also inasmuch as the Absolution is spoken only by the priest, the General Confession and Absolution is sacramental, not merely ceremonial as Francis Hall had taught. Yes, we want to make the private Confessional available for many good reasons; but we do not exclude from the altar rail those who have made use of the General Confession with proper self-examination before coming to Church. The purpose of self examination is so that the believer may, with good conscience, come forward and receive the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, as St. Paul wrote: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." 7

Since the very first Book of Common Prayer (1549) this provision has been a means by which the individual may receive the sacrament, even if he has not been able to make private confession. Can it be abused? Yes; but so can the private confession. The issue is one of sincerity, and for this reason the conditions for actually receiving the grace of Absolution are stated in the Invitation and in the form for the General Absolution itself. The Invitation is the real Altar Call of Catholic Christian faith, with a real altar, unlike the "altar call" of revivalists. This Invitation clearly appeals to the heart and conscience as it commands genuine repentance in the clearest of terms:

"Ye who 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, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling."

What could be more clearly and directly stated than this call for a true conversion? After the General Confession, the words of the Absolution are conditional, so that the priest does not presume some magic power to absolve just anyone, but rather truly Absolves the sincerely penitent:

"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

The appeal is to the heart and conscience of each person who plans to come forward and receive the Holy Communion. One of the very unfortunate problems of the American revision of 1979, which Episcopalians wrongly call a Book of Common Prayer, is that all of the conditions were removed from both their Invitation and Absolution (in their Rite II), suggesting nothing more than a magical power of priestcraft. But, the genuine Book of Common Prayer tradition is entirely conditional, requiring "hearty repentance and true faith." That is, it calls the worshiper to true reconciliation with God, requiring this necessary part of experiencing and receiving salvation itself. This is not a mere ritual or ceremony, but a call for true conversion and repentance, with actual forgiveness of sin offered and given. It is a form in which the sacrament of Absolution, with the full grace of that sacrament, can be given and received.

Eating and drinking salvation

As we have seen many times, the Anglican emphasis on receiving the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood was about the need of each believer to feed on the Bread of Life. Very little needs to be added to the posts that I have already written on this very blog, drawing from the connection I have made between John 6:54 and the recently deleted clause of our Prayer of Humble Access (deleted, that is, by the Revisionists of 1979). The soteriology of Scripture establishes clearly that our catechism is right to teach that two of the sacraments, baptism and communion, are "generally necessary to salvation." These two are set apart from the other five sacraments as "sacraments of the Gospel" because Jesus established them in his Church for every believer, and because they are established in the Gospel itself, in fact in the Four Gospels; but the other five were sacraments established in the Old Testament, now modified and given new meaning in the fuller revelation of the New Testament.

However, we must add this consideration. For too long Anglicans have allowed outsiders to explain to us the contents of our doctrines, even to the point of allowing them to replace Anglican 
catechesis with their own misinformation. So it is that the very good and necessary emphasis on receiving Christ in the sacrament of his Body and Blood, which emphasis is everywhere to be found in our liturgy, has been twisted into a thing called Receptionism. Because the English Reformers knew that the people needed to come and receivethe sacrament, and because they taught frequent communion (which was first taught by Archbishop Cranmer, after centuries of abuse had caused reception to be seldom, or never, a part of normal Christian experience), modern writers and critics of Anglicanism have mistaken this, as they have mistaken the Articles and other statements about transubstantiation as understood in the 16th century, to mean that they rejected belief in an objective Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament. But this is, as I have said, misinformation.

A close examination of the prayers does not reveal any notion of eating mere bread and drinking mere wine that upon being received is, somehow, thereby transformed. Rather, a close examination of the Eucharistic prayers, whether from the Canon of Consecration or the Prayer of Humble Access, reveals (however out of fashion such knowledge may be) that Cranmer and any others who worked on the liturgy were quite sure that the bread and wine was so transformed, in some mysterious and spiritual way, that it had become the Body and Blood of Christ. However, to be received in such a manner that each communicant receives Christ in the salvatory (soteriol) manner of John 6:54, so that receiving imparts grace instead of judgment, the prayers in our liturgy speak very clearly of our need to so eat and so drink, that we are saved by taking the sacrament. To twist this into Receptionism, and create a distinction without a difference between what they believed about Christ's Real Presence in the sacrament, and what the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has always known by revelation, is an unfortunate practice on the part of both some Roman Catholics and some modern Anglican Evangelicals who seem unable to pay close attention to the actual words of the primary sources (such as the actual service itself). 8

A major Reason to come to church

We need to forget the critics and religious squabbles when we prepare to come to his altar, and simply be glad for the gift that God has given to us. We need to appreciate the words and actions of the Holy Communion service, above all our action of receiving Christ in his Body and his Blood
. We need to pay attention to its message, and believe that Jesus Christ will meet us there with his mercy and grace as we seek nothing less than him.
This is what needs to be taken seriously when we plan to attend church, and when we encourage each other to stay faithful in attendance. 9 Our liturgy is beautiful, perhaps in some ways too beautiful if it draws our attention to poetic majesty and away from what it says and means. We need to attend the Holy Communion, and each time we attend, attend as well to ourselves, first by self-examination, and then by entering in fully, so that we receive grace as He enters into us. Our liturgy contains not simply the message of salvation, but the means of grace for that salvation. It teaches and imparts, because the sacraments signify what they effect, and effect what they signifiy.

(Originally posted on Dec. 8, 2008)

1. See Matthew 1:21

2. John 8:23

3. Genesis 3: 15 "
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." this is why Jesus called his mother "woman" twice in the Gospel of John (2:4, and 19:26). He identified himself thereby, and affirmed his miraculous conception.

4. Isaiah 33:22 

5. Drawn from John 20:22,23

6. ibid

7. I Corinthians 11:28.

Now, as for the sacramental intention of the General Confession and Absolution, it is quite clear that the purpose of this form was meant to be equal to private Confession and Absolution. This is obvious from the Exhortation in the Holy Communion Service from 1549:

And yf there bee any of you, whose conscience is troubled and greved in any thing, lackyng comforte or counsaill, let him come to me, or to some other dyscrete and learned priest, taught in the law of God, and confesse and open his synne and griefe secretly, that he may receive suche ghostly counsaill, advyse, and comfort, that his conscience maye be releved, and that of us (as of the ministers of GOD and of the churche) he may receive comfort and absolucion, to the satisfaccion of his mynde, and avoyding of all scruple and doubtfulnes: requiryng suche as shalbe satisfied with a generall confession, not to be offended with them that doe use, to their further satisfiyng, the auriculer and secret confession to the Priest: nor those also whiche thinke nedefull or convenient, for the quietnes of their awne consciences, particuliarly to open their sinnes to the Priest: to bee offended with them that are satisfied, with their humble confession to GOD, and the generall confession to the churche. But in all thinges to folowe and kepe the rule of charitie, and every man to be satisfied with his owne conscience, not judgyng other mennes myndes or consciences; where as he hath no warrant of Goddes word to the same."

8. Many of the posts in the "Sacraments" of this blog section explain the teaching in detail.

"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Hebrews 10:25


charles said...

hello Fr. Hart,

There was an early point in Protestant theology that was very close to the older faith where absolution was indeed treated as a sacrament. However, one reason the lesser sacraments weren't counted as 'gospel sacraments' is because they did not have the 'promise' attached, namely, forgiveness of sins. Obviously, both baptism and communion have the nature to forgive sins, but absolution sort of sat in a gray area. Nonetheless, the earliest confessions usually included it as such though doubts laid over what constituted the outward sign of absolution, otherwise considered the laying on hands.

Fortunately, the 39 articles belong to that early phase of Protestantism, retaining a close relation to catholicism unlike some of the continental articles that hardened after 1560 or so. Anyway, what 'ceremonies' forgave sins was once a critical question for the proper reformation of the church. This was the reason for making a distinction with lesser sacraments, and that can be found in Newman's tract 90, though Newman conveniently opts to gloss over it.

sincerely, Charles

Fr. Robert Hart said...


Somewhat reluctantly, I have to disagree with a point you made. You said, "However, one reason the lesser sacraments weren't counted as 'gospel sacraments' is because they did not have the 'promise' attached, namely, forgiveness of sins." The reason I see for this being one of the five minor sacraments (and you did touch on this) is stated in Article XXV: "Those five commonly called Sacraments...are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel...but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God." That is, Christ gave us the Form for Holy Communion (the Words of Institution and giving of thanks) and for Baptism ("in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.")

Among the five minor sacraments is Confirmation. I am sure that the Church of England believed that a promise was attached, namely the giving of the Holy Spirit.

charles said...

hello Fr. Hart,

The key word is "nature". Here's Jewel as read in tract 90 (Newman's quotes Jewel from the Homily on sacraments):

" And though the ordering of ministers hath this visible sign and promise; yet it lacks the promise of remission of sin, as all other sacraments besides the two above named do. Therefore neither it, nor any other sacrament else, be such sacraments as Baptism and the Communion are. But in a general acception, the name of a sacrament may be attributed to any thing, whereby an holy thing is signified."

when you go back and read the Henrician as well as Elizabethan, all the way through the Carolinian, whenever the discussion of the two sacraments comes up apart from the lesser ones, this quality of 'nature' is brought up and is then associated with unique 'remission of sins'. Recall, the major disagreement with Rome was this very "nature", i.e., how sin is remitted. Jewel and the homily are not alone on this. It's repeated throughout classical Anglican theology, and I promise to gather all the quotes, especially the Henrician ones before 1543, thus implicating ACC's C&C.

Interestingly, I think this where Newman demonstrates his terrible dishonesty with the 39 in Tract 90. Newman would indeed say the greater sacraments are only unique in their necessity and universality. He would not distinguish them by "nature" as Jewel did in the Homily on Public Worship.

If a high grace view of the lesser sacraments is needed, as clarified by the Affirmation, imo, it needs to be balanced by also reaffirming the two greater. As is, the Affirmation basically repeats the same excuse as Tract 90, and this is a great weakness, making it a document compatible with RCC as much as 39.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

If a high grace view of the lesser sacraments is needed, as clarified by the Affirmation...

You are referring to a specific place in the Affirmation, or so I assume.

charles said...

Hi Fr. Hart,

Yes. At the link above, I experimented with two ideas regarding that "specific place" in the Affirmation's treatment of seven sacraments. The least intrusive would be a simple sentence (or asterisk) added at the very end of the part on 7 that ends, "and the Eucharist as the sacrifice which unites us to the all-sufficient Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the Sacrament in which He feeds us with His Body and Blood"(*)

At the bottom could be added the related footnote: "Amongst these seven sacraments only Baptism and the Eucharist have the nature to remit sin.“ The idea of a footnote is not disruptive to the Affirmation, imo, since this was done in Section V w/ canterbury. A footnote on sacraments dealing with this later point would then give the 'high grace' view of seven without raising doubts on the 25th article.

The current problem with the Affirmation is by strengthening the seven sacraments with the language of "objective" and "effective", plus other terms, (language normally reserved to discuss the supper and baptism in Anglican Settlement theology), this creates more questions than answers. The footnote reigns those questions without restoring to a Tract 90 (which is unconvincing) while still affirming the other five beyond what the 39 articles immediately provide, adding the Henrician exposition that is within Article norms per 1536-1543.

That's important since the Henrician is fully Settlement while simultaneously being an early and critical link to Protestanism as well as Catholicism. Unfortunately, Henry has been so beat up by Puritans and RC, that his personal reputation makes tarnishes the brilliance of his brilliant patronage of the Church. But that's something I hope we can reclaim in time.

PS. I did not think of the asterisk idea until know. Need to go back and update the link to include that. I probably explained it better here.

charles said...

Hello Fr. Hart,

Just altered my page substantially to take account of the high grace view with minimal intrusion. I know it's not going to happen. Changing concords are never wise. Separate clarifications are always better. But I think the asterisk approach is more feasible, given the precedent of section v. However, who wants asterisks dotted all over any document?

charles said...

Fr. Hart,

One last comment. The "second asterisk" idea is not a bad one, and I shouldn't have ridiculed the idea. However, opening any standard up to synodal revision is very dangerous as men normally want to add their pet causes. In the end, you muddy what was otherwise a fairly manageable standard. However, the 'first asterisk'in Section V --found in some copies of the affirmation-- detailing problems with Canterbury, indeed, interponed very little. Therefore, I don't think a second astrisk, if deemed worthy, is an intruding enormity.

I finally updated proposal #2. Sorry it took numerous re-editings. I hope readers can appreciate the modesty of it:

I have to ask, what was the origin of the "first asterisk", and who inserted it? It wasn't done by synod, was it?

sincerely, Charles

Conciliar Anglican said...

A fine reflection. I appreciate especially the way you explain the relationship between General Confession and private Confession. My only quibble would be with your read of Cranmer as holding a Catholic view of the Eucharist. Perhaps this is true towards the beginning of his ministry, but as Ashley Null has pointed out, he moved from a Lutheran to a quasi-Calvinist position on real presence by the end of his life. Still, the liturgy itself, even with Cranmer's translation and revision, communicates the Catholic position, even if it leaves room for some variation in the way that position is articulated.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

If you let Cranmer speak for himself, it all makes more sense.

Canon Tallis said...

Very well done, Father, in all aspects, but especially in regard to the comments.

Actually, it is all the old stuff as well it should be, but elegantly and delightly restated for the aide of the saints.