Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Not superfluous

St. Paul found it useful, and no doubt necessary, to repeat himself at times; so, it should come as no surprise to me that I find the same. Conversations with readers of The Continuum have been very gratifying, because I see that our efforts here have not been in vain. It is good to be made aware of that (especially after what has seemed to be a bloody battle in which my charity was treated as hostility, and after repeated instances of being called evil for the Son of man's sake). Nonetheless, I see also that some of my more scholarly writings need to be more simply stated, and to some degree laid out in a theses format. Although, I have said the following things before, it appears to be quite necessary to lay out with the utmost clarity certain facts that are foundational to much of the writing I have been doing in defense of Anglicanism.

It is said by some modern rabbis that Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees because He was a Pharisee Himself. In fact, that is largely obvious from reading the Gospels and from the very nature of Christian doctrine. He taught that the Scriptures of the Prophets were equally true to the Torah, that angels and spirits live all around us, and He taught the resurrection of the dead (and, indeed, lived what He taught). To the degree that those rabbis are right, following Christ impels me to be hardest on my own kind too.

I will state a few theses, and provide most of my defense and explanation later; or, to be more precise, refer to the defense and explanation already provided on The Continuum over that last few years. 

1. Contemporary Anglo-Catholicism is a mixed blessing. 

Whereas it is good that Anglo-Catholicism restored the proper reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament, to the priesthood, to better appreciation for the communion of Saints, etc., it is not good that so many people are embarrassed by the Reformed theology that is also our inheritance; for that Reformed theology is a necessary part of the Catholic Faith.

2. Many contemporary Anglo-Catholics are historically ignorant.

I find that many of my dear brothers and sisters assume that the current practices of our churches needed to be recovered because the English Reformers had lost them. They assume that the average Christian before the Reformation was given instruction in the Catholic Faith, and was receiving the Blessed Sacrament every Sunday. They assume the Reformers created the kind of modern "Low Church" where the sacrament is celebrated only occasionally. 

In fact, and with all due respect for Duffy's unbalanced works, the average Christian before the Reformation might have received Communion once every seven years, or maybe never at all. He was not taught the Catholic Faith, but merely how to act in church; and much of what he believed was contrary to the Gospel. It was the English Reformers, led by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who restored the Catholick practice of frequent Communion; and it was a revolutionary idea. 

3. Many contemporary Anglo-Catholics misunderstand the English Reformers

Recently, in a conversation, someone mentioned to me "the Article against adoration." But, no such Article exists. Once again, the point at which ignorance and misunderstanding is most often manifested is Article XXV. Fr. Wells and I will get to that one eventually in our Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine; but, I have written about it more than once on this blog. (Ignorance is not a sin, unless it becomes willful; neither is it cause to feel humiliated. It is simply a need for education.)

Nonetheless, Let me point out that Article XXV does not teach that there are only two sacraments; it teaches that there are only two sacraments of the Gospel, ordained by Christ Himself, and with a visible sign and ceremony ordained by God (i.e., Christ commanded the Form with a prayer of thanksgiving and the Words of Institution in Holy Communion, and with the Trinitarian Name in Baptism). By the little phrase "commonly called" Article XXV affirms seven sacraments (obvious to those who know the English language and the consistent usage of both Prayer Book and Bible; unfortunately, some people think this point is debatable. Frankly, it is not debatable). 

That "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about" has nothing to do with adoration, especially with forms of adoration that developed later (i.e. a Benediction); it is about what the Article says next: "but that we should duly use them." Please stop and think about this: Why did the English Reformers add the Biblical name (I Cor. 10) "Holy Communion" to the list of names already in existence ("The Lord's Supper," "the Mass")? It is because they were liberating the people from a religion in which all they could do was gaze upon Christ's Body and Blood during the elevation, or when it was "carried about." It was the English Reformers who gave everyone (including modern Roman Catholics) the practice of coming to church each week with the idea of receiving the sacrament, instead of merely "hearing Mass," gazing, and letting the priest alone eat and drink it.

5. Sixteenth century Transubstantiation was not Catholic doctrine

What we mean today by the phrase "Real Presence," and, indeed, what modern Roman Catholic theologians mean by the word "transubstantiation" was not the target of Cranmer's criticism in his Defence of the True and Catholick Doctrine of the Sacrament. In fact, as they understood transubstantiation, it was every bit as much of an innovation and heresy as the Real Absence we attribute to Zwingli. There was nothing Catholic about it.

6. The English Reformers restored our Catholic Faith and Practice.

When you go to church this Sunday, and while you participate in the service and hear the reading of Scripture in a language you understand; and, when you go forward and receive the Blessed Sacrament into your own mouth, know that the English Reformers, those Protestants, labored, fought and in some cases gave their lives to restore the Catholic Practice of the Church for you.

There is more to say- a lot more. Much of it I have written already, and much more will come, especially as Fr. Wells and I finish our work on the Articles. Much confusion needs to be cleared away. 

Yes, a kind of "Low Church" Protestantism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries needed to be corrected by the Anglo-Catholic movement. But, that brand of Protestantism was not the religion of the English Reformers, nor of the Book of Common Prayer; it was unknown to men of their time except as the errors of the Puritans and Anabaptists. 

With all that has been written here before, and with all that we plan over the coming months, this little bit is all I want to say right now as I write this tonight in the privacy of my home. But, many Anglicans in a certain Continuing Church jurisdiction came close to selling their birthright for a bowl of pottage, thinking that their patrimony was nothing more than Elizabethan English, and treating their wealth as a pile of embarrassing rubbish. Others did make that exchange, and mostly they made it because they were tragically ignorant and misinformed.


St. Mary the Virgin Church said...

Fr. Hart,
Beautifully succinct. Have lurked on The Continuum for several years now and have enjoyed your exposition of our Anglican Way of Christianity. Blessings to you and keep up the good work.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

St. Mary the Virgin reads the Continuum? I don't know what to say. Wait till our critics get a load of this.

(Actually, I appreciate the comment. Thank you.)

Jack Miller said...

for that Reformed theology is a necessary part of the Catholic Faith.
Well said, Fr. Hart. You do what too few do, and that is to not only teach Biblical/Church doctrine and theology, but to do so in the context of unfolding Church history... which is critical to proper understanding.


Anonymous said...

I would like to echo the sentiments of St. Mary the Virgin and Jack. During my catecumenate I've been blessed to discover historical theologians such as Dickens and Nichols, who respectively represent the Reformed and Catholic "takes" on the English Reformation. What I find here at the Continuum is not only an articulate and accurate summary of their scholarship, but also the fresh scholarly insights of Frs. Hart, Wells and others who participate here. This blog is the first place I would send anyone who is interested in becoming an Anglican (or a Continuing Anglican, if they already are one).

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

You are right that transubstantiation was not a Catholic doctrine... that is, until it was defined at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. During the controversy it was referred to as the "real body and real blood of Christ." The debate over the body and blood of Christ was highlighted by a French theologian, Berengar of Tours, in the eleventh century, who refuted a material change of the elements at consecration.

The first reference to the term "Real Presence" appeared in the writings of John Paris in the fourteenth century. E. B. Pusey promoted the phrase in the nineteenth century, arguing for a "mystical, sacramental and spiritual presence of the body of our Lord" in the sacrament, rather than a corporal presence.

1 Cor 15:44-50 states that "there is a natural body and a spiritual body... the first man is of the earth, the second man is the Lord from heaven... as we have born the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." Therefore, consuming the corporal body is useless (transubstantiation); consuming the spiritual body (for spiritual flesh and blood are real!) promises the hope of everlasting life. As we learn from John chapter 6, it is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.

Such is my musing from my present seat... a 3-legged stool.


Colin Chattan said...

And here's something else you might want to add to your list, Fr. - certainly not as a thesis but, perhaps, as a marginal note:

Most Anglo-Catholics suffer bouts of "Roman Fever" - which tends to afflict them for life, rather like recurrent malaria, usually accompanied by severe delirium, raving, disorientation and loss of memory, spasmodic and irrational behaviour and other symptoms of overheated blood.

(I can vouch for this from personal experience!)

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I would not say "most" because I don't know how to count that. I would say "many." How else could Abp. Hepworth be so delusional as to imagine that the St. Louis Congress in 1977 was about "the dream of ARCIC"?