Friday, September 29, 2006

Purgatory? Is there an Anglican position?

XXII. Of Purgatory.The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory. . .is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

Often, when in debate or discussion with other Christians, it is posited that Anglicans believe in “Purgatory.” I often reply “Why do you think that?” The answer usually is “Because you pray for the dead.” Indeed, we do pray for the dead, and we believe the dead pray for and with us—but does this mean that we follow the peculiar teaching of the Church of Rome on this matter? The answer is, based on historical and dogmatic theology, an emphatic “no,” but one that often demands explanation to both Anglicans and those outside of the Anglican tradition.
The equation of Purgatory with the Intermediate State (in the Anglican teaching, the state in which the souls of all of the faithful departed exist before the Resurrection of the dead) is an erroneous one, especially since the Roman Church elaborates upon both Purgatory and the Intermediate State (in this line of thinking, occupied when “the souls” pass out of Purgatory before the Resurrection, translating their status from that of mere “souls” into true “saints,” and thus necessitating the feast day of All Souls along with that of All Saints); to adopt the Roman terms while attempting an Anglican description usually results in linguistic confusion and theological consternation (See Bishop N.T. Wright’s For All the Saints ). Indeed, in that the Roman teaching is clearly rejected in the East, such a teaching can in no wise be held as a “Catholic” doctrine proper. When we read Eastern Orthodox texts on such issues there are often narrow variances of opinion than those found in the West and far less elaboration. This from Father Pomazansky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology:

"Concerning the state of the soul after the Particular Judgment, the Orthodox Church teaches thus: “We believe that the souls of the dead are in a state of blessedness or torment according to their deeds. After being separated from the body, they immediately pass over either to joy or into sorrow and grief, however, they do not feel either complete blessedness or complete torment. For complete blessedness or complete torment each one receives after the General Resurrection, when the soul is reunited with the body in which it lived in virtue or in vice (The Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith, paragraph 18). Thus the Orthodox Church distinguishes two different conditions after the Particular Judgment: one for the righteous, another for sinners; in other words, paradise and hell. The Church does not recognize the Roman Catholic teaching of three conditions: 1) blessedness, 2) purgatory, and 3) gehenna (hell). The very name “gehenna” the Fathers of the Church usually refer to the condition after the Last judgment, when both death and hell will be cast into the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15)."

Here it would seem difficult to apply the “Purgatory” label as many moderns wish to use it. When we look at other Anglican dogmatic texts, such as Browne’s Exposition on the Thirty-Nine Articles, or The Christian Faith by C.B. Moss we are confronted with differing views on these issues within a narrow range of opinion, seeming closer to the Orthodox teaching than to the Roman.

Few Anglican authors and even fewer Orthodox authors use the term or designation “Intermediate State” to denote a place of pain, suffering, or retribution for sin. However, the Roman Catholic tradition, and some Anglo-Catholics modeling their views after it, emphasizes the pain and satisfaction that are required of the sinner for the sins of his life. How are we to keep this line of thinking in concert with the Comfortable Words (all from the Holy Scriptures) of the Anglican Eucharist, in which we are assured from Scripture that Christ is the propitiation for our sins? Indeed, how are we to read such a view of purgation (in which a satisfaction of pain is required) in light of the Anglican Eucharist’s canon that states Christ is the “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”? N.T Wright summarizes the issue when he says in For All the Saints:

"I cannot stress sufficiently that if we raise the question of punishment for sin, this is something that has already been dealt with on the cross of Jesus. Of course, there have been crude and unbiblical versions of the doctrine of the atonement, and many have rightly reacted against the idea of a vengeful God determined to punish someone and being satisfied by taking it out on his own son. But this is to mistake caricature for biblical doctrine. Paul says, in his most central and careful statement, not that God punished Jesus, but that God 'condemned sin in the flesh' of Jesus (Romans 8.3). Here the instincts of the Reformers, if not always their exact expressions, were spot on. The idea that Christians need to suffer punishment for their sins in a post-mortem purgatory, or anywhere else, reveals a straightforward failure to grasp the very heart of what was achieved on the cross." p 30

We should view any period of “purgation” (if we are even to employ the term, perhaps “growth” or “purification” would be better terms) in the Intermediate State as the 1549 English and 1928 American Prayer Books put it; as simply a period of “continual growth” in God’s “love and service,” a view I have heard espoused by Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Baptists alike (a Baptist New Testament professor of mine from Westminster Seminary described it in this manner). This way of thinking of the Intermediate State puts to rest notions of satisfaction for sin and places the emphasis on the inexhaustible nature and love of God; it also eliminates any notion of the ahistorical and theologically incoherent idea of an “Anglican doctrine of Purgatory.”

I include the Eastern Orthodox position to show that the notion of Purgatory as found in Roman teachings is not found in the East, and therefore cannot as such be labeled as “Catholic,” unless we take the Roman doctrine to be the measure of the terminology. Indeed, the classical Anglican position on prayers for the departed bears a greater resemblance to Orthodoxy than it does to the medieval concepts of the Church of Rome. As Meyendorff (1979) recounts in Byzantine Theology:

"The debate between Greeks and Latins (on the question of Purgatory). . . showed a radical difference in perspective. While the Latins took for granted their legalistic approach to divine justice—which, according to them, requires a retribution for every sinful act—the Greeks interpreted sin less in terms of the acts committed than in terms of a moral and spiritual disease which was to be healed by divine forbearance and love. The Latins also emphasized the idea of an individual judgment by God of each soul, a judgment which distributes the souls in three categories: the just, the wicked, and those in a middle category—who need to be “purified” by fire. The Greeks, meanwhile, without denying a particular judgment after death or agreeing on the existence of the three categories, maintained that neither the just nor the wicked will attain their final state of either bliss or condemnation before the last day. Both sides agreed that prayers for the departed are necessary and helpful. . .even the just need them;. . .in particular. . .the Eucharistic canon of Chrysostom’s liturgy. . .offers the “bloodless sacrifice” for “patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith,” even for the Virgin Mary herself." p 220-221

So here even the state of the most blessed is to be viewed
". . .not as a legal and static justification, but as a never-ending ascent, into which the entire communion of saints—the Church in heaven and the Church on earth—has been initiated in Christ. In the communion of the Body of Christ, all members of the Church, living or dead, are interdependent and united by ties of love and mutual concern; thus the prayers of the Church on earth and the intercession of the saints in heaven can effectively help all sinners, i.e., all men, to get closer to God." p 221

This view of growth during the Intermediate State as a “never-ending ascent” is expressed, as was mentioned above, in the Anglican Eucharists of the 1549 English and 1928 American Prayer Books. The emphasis is not on penance, nor on pain, nor satisfaction for sins (which Christ has already paid) but on growth “in the knowledge and the love of God” of those who have “died in thy faith and fear.” This emphasis is the Body of Christ as the Communion of Saints, who all continue in their walk with God before the Resurrection, is taught in the American Prayer Book—but it goes no further than this measured theology and it is accepted by and differentiated from Purgatory by Reformed minded Anglicans. Litton’s Introduction to Dogmatic Theology, a text that places Anglican theology firmly in the Reformed (Calvinist) school of thought, summarizes the difference between the Roman concept of Purgatory and the traditional doctrine of the Intermediate State shared by most Christians not in the Roman Communion (notice the similarity to Meyendorff’s logic):

"The Romish doctrine of purgatory must not be confounded with the belief of spiritual progress in the intermediate state, against which no objection from reason or Scripture can be urged. . . .But the doctrine of the Roman schools is of a different character. It is forensic in nature, and implies the payment of debt not fully discharged in this life. "

As noted above, in Orthodox theology, the prayers for the faithful departed are even offered for the Virgin Mary (assuming that she too is increasing in grace and the knowledge and presence of God and being conformed to His image—theosis). Therefore, praying for the faithful departed—as expressed in the 1928 American Prayer Book—is a truly “Catholic” doctrine and can be held by Anglicans, as is praying with them in the worship of the Church: “Therefore with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name. . .” We pray for the faithful departed in their growth in love and knowledge of God’s love as well as with them in the thanksgiving of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

On the Canterbury Trail

A few photographs from my father's trip to Canterbury and London last year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dear Readers. . .

I have a feeling I may have lost some readers due to the decreasing frequency of my postings. For those of you that still tune into this blog from time to time, I hope to have a post on the issue of Purgatory ready by Saturday. If nobody else minds all that much, I'll be jumping around in my coverage of the Articles rather than going through them sequentially. Sincerely, AC+.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

St. Matthias Anglican Cathedral
Katy, Texas
From the web page:

St. Matthias is a parish of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Our charter members came from The Episcopal Church. In 1995, we joined a traditional, conservative, biblical and evangelical denomination. This branch of Christ's Church is the Reformed Episcopal Church. Bishop Grote, the Bishop of the Diocese of Mid-America, moved his offices to St. Matthias in September 2004 and has, subsequently, named St. Matthias the Cathedral Parish of the Diocese.

St. Matthias held her first services on the Feast of Pentecost 1982 in Baytown, TX. Some of the founding members moved across the city of Houston and continued this ministry in Katy.
The Original Building They held services in homes and rented storefront properties. After enduring many of the hardships that accompany a mission parish, the Lord provided a permanent location. In 1993, St. Matthias purchased a daycare facility just off Clay Rd. between Barker-Cypress and Fry Rds. With the help and service of the parishioners a daycare ministry was established. One of the rooms was also converted into the Chapel. In 1998 the Lord blessed us again and we were able to purchase the property directly adjacent to our building. We seized the opportunity with the hopes that we would someday erect a new sanctuary. That dream is now realized as we dedicated our new sanctuary in June 2006.

The Rt. Rev. Royal U. Grote, Jr. attended Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia and was ordained in 1975. He served as a local parish priest in Pennsylvania and New Jersey until coming to Houston, TX in 1991. In 1984 he was consecrated Bishop and subsequently, the Reformed Episcopal Church called him to be a Missionary Bishop and to plant parishes in the Central and Western United States. He is now the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of Mid-America and oversees more than 40 parishes. When he is not traveling, Bishop Grote attends St. Matthias.

The Very Rev. Jason R. Grote was called as our Vicar in 2000. He received his theological training at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. There he received an award in homiletics (preaching). He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Business Degree at the University of Houston Downtown. Once completed, the Reformed Episcopal Seminary will grant him his Master of Divinity degree.

Fr. Jason served as a youth pastor in New Jersey and at one of our Houston area parishes - St. Thomas of Canterbury. He was ordained to the Presbyterate on September 14, 2000 and has been with St. Matthias ever since. In addition to serving as our Priest, he is also the treasurer for the Diocese of Mid-America, the webmaster for the Reformed Episcopal Church and works as a programmer for a web/database consulting firm.

Deaconess Annette Johnson assists Father Grote in the ministry of the Church, especially with women and children, under the supervision of the Bishop. She holds a degree in Education with certifications in Reading and Learning Disabilities. Her graduate work has been in the areas of Education Diagnostics and Theology. She was set apart as a Deaconess on the Feast of St. Bridgid (Bride), January 31, 1993.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blessed Lancelot Andrewes,
Bishop of Winchester
Sept 26th--Feast Day

Highly regarded as a theologian by King James the First, Andrewes was appointed as preacher to the Royal Court and as a chief translator of the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible, and eventually became Bishop of Winchester. Andrewes also took part in the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, a meeting of divines which produced the Catechism found in all classic editions of the Book of Common Prayer (from 1662 onward).

The theology of his Sermons and Private Prayers is deeply rooted in the Incarnation, the mystery of the Word made flesh and its consequences for humanity. The language Andrewes employed in his writings and sermons was dense and deeply textured. In print, his writing needs to be carefully read (perhaps best out loud). T.S. Elliot commented that Andrewes worked on biblical texts in his preaching, "squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning. . ." Elliot's reading of Andrewes resulted in his conversion to Christianity and his joining the Church of England.

The liturgical style that Bishop Andrewes employed can be appreciated even today by turning in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer to The Form of Consecration of a Church or Chapel, this service being nearly identical to one of the same name composed by Andrewes in 1620. Bishop Andrewes was a churchman who preached and taught beyond the controversies of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation and established an emphasis on teaching the essentials of Christian doctrine as it had been known by the whole of Christendom in antiquity. Perhaps his best known statement sums up the essence of the Catholic Faith from which the bishop drew his theology: "One Canon (of Scripture) reduced to unity by God Himself, two Testaments, three Creeds, four General Councils, (over) five centuries." Lancelot Andrewes died as Bishop of Winchester in 1626.

O LORD and Father, our King and God, by whose grace the Church Was enriched by the great learning and eloquent preaching of thy servant Lancelot Andrewes, but even more by his example of biblical and liturgical prayer: Conform our lives, like his, we beseech thee, to the image of Christ, that our hearts may love thee, our minds serve thee, and our lips proclaim the greatness of thy mercy; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A thought for the day:
Something from Lactantius (c. 304-313 A.D.)

Religion is not to be defended by putting to death, but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. Not by guilt, but by good faith. For the former belongs to evil, the latter to the good. . . .For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, tortures, and guilt, it will no longer be defended. Rather, it will be polluted and profaned. For nothing is so much a matter of free will as religion. If the mind of the worshiper is disinclined to it, religion is at once taken away and ceases to exist. . . .

We (Christians), on the contrary, do not require that anyone should be compelled to worship our God, whether he is willing or unwilling.

Nor do we become angry if anyone does not worship Him. We trust in the majesty of Him who has the power to avenge contempt shown towards Him.

We leave vengeance to God. We do not act as those persons who would have it appear that they are defenders of their gods, who rage without restraint against those who do not worship them.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A fine looking new blog from an Anglican Province of Christ the King priest, appropriately entitled:

"Anglican Parish Priest"

Rev'd Dr. Daniel James McGrath

(A comment from the Anglican Cleric: Fr. McGrath appears to be an old fashioned High Church Anglican Catholic--the type we need more of in the Continuum)

And a fine post from his blog:

The Decalogue in Holy Communion

The liturgical use of The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) as the opening act of worship is a unique and powerful feature of the Anglican Mass, commonly known to us as ‘The Order for Holy Communion’.Among the liturgical ancestors of the prayer book rite (the medieval Roman and Sarum rites) we find that the mass typically began with a 9-fold ‘Kyrie eleison’, or ‘Lord, have mercy’. This hymn of the Early Church had come to be seen in medieval times as a penitential entrance rite. Together with the offering of the ‘Gloria in excelsis’, it was both a preparation for Communion with God and offering of praise to God. This Kyrie/Gloria opening formula continued to be reflected in the 1549 prayer book rite.

In 1552, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer (no doubt motivated by the desire that his people should become better acquainted with The Decalogue) juxtaposed it upon the 9-fold ‘Kyrie’. Each ‘Kyrie, eleison’ was now read as a response to a particular commandment, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law. Of course the addition of a 10th ‘Kyrie’ was also needed, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts we beseech thee.” In the same year, Cranmer removed the ‘Gloria’ to the end of the Service, where it came to serve a new function as the hymn of praise and thanksgiving from the faithful upon having received the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. This has been the prayer book Order of Service since 1552. For the addition of a little ‘atmosphere’ to the use of The Decalogue, the priest may chant each commandment, and the congregation or choir respond using any one of the 5 musical settings of the Responses to the Decalogue in The Hymnal, 1940. A very good choice, and my personal favorite at the moment, is the setting by Sir Edward Bairstow, number 725.

The Decalogue serves a number of important functions in the Anglican mass: it keeps God’s Law at the forefront of our consciousness; it reminds us that without obedience to God’s Law there is no possibility of Communion with God; it provides us with the context in which to receive our Lord’s summary of the Law, to Love God and to Love our neighbor as ourselves; and, it prepares us to hear and receive with gladness the Holy Gospel in an effective liturgical sequence of Law/Gospel.

The liturgical use of The Decalogue is not ‘merely’ a teaching device or a means of imparting information, however. In the context of our Service, it is also a means of meditation upon, and humble worship of, the Most Holy Trinity One God. Together with the Psalmist, we may say, “Blessed art thou, O Lord; O teach me thy statutes.” (Ps. 119:10)Our use of The Decalogue is completed by the Collect on page 70 of the prayer book, “O ALMIGHTY Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that, through thy most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ… Amen.”In the American Prayer Book of 1928, the rubrics allow for the Summary of the Law (“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith…”) together with a 3-fold ‘Kyrie’, to take the place of The Decalogue, PROVIDED that The Decalogue still be read one Sunday in each month. Happy is that parish which heeds the wisdom of the fathers of our Church, and thus benefits from the use of The Decalogue. A parish which regularly hears and prays The Decalogue will no doubt be well-formed in biblical/catholic morality, and will be equipped to Love God and to Love Their Neighbor.The presence of the Decalogue as a liturgical formula, together with the positioning of the ‘Gloria in excelsis’ at the end of the Service, are features of the Anglican Service that critics of the Book of Common Prayer are wary of, and that admirers of the Book of Common Prayer cannot get enough of. The fact is, as present-day “Anglicans” in the APCK in 2006, we cannot escape the beauty and the singularity of the prayer book liturgy that has defined our Way for over 450 years. I am of the mind that “Godliness, with contentment is great gain” and that it is a great joy to simply be content with the great treasure that we have received from our spiritual heritage, to use it with integrity and to profit from it.

Visit our parish website over the course of the next Sundays, for my Series of Homilies on The Decalogue, via

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Anglican teaching on Confession and Absolution, per the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

From Morning Prayer:
"ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness, and live; and hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins : He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel. Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him, which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure, and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"

From the Holy Communion:
"And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God's mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God's holy Word he may receive the benefit of Absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness."

From the Visitation of the Sick:
"Here shall the sick person be moved to make a special confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter. After which confession, the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it) after this sort:

OUR Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences: And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. "

From the Holy Communion:

Then shall this general Confession be made, in the name of all those that are minded to receive the holy Communion, by one of the Ministers; both he and all the people kneeling humbly upon their knees, and saying,

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Priest (or the Bishop, being present,) standing up, and turning himself to the people, pronounce this Absolution.

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that 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."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Christus Triumphans--Another entry on early Christian art

From the Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art:

An ". . .important point about the two early representations (of the crucifixion) is that the figure of Christ is standing against, rather than hanging from, the cross. He wears only a loin-cloth and is fastened by four nails, but is triumphing over death rather than dying. This emphasis on victory, not on agonizing death, is characteristic of all the earliest representations, as Christus Triumphans."

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Articles of Religion of the Church of England: Article VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church."

A Christian view of the works contained in the Old and New Testaments hinges on their acceptance as being “inspired” texts. However, this term is used often but seldom defined. To an extent, this is for good reason. To define the act of inspiration too narrowly would limit the manner in which God communicates Himself to His creatures. To define it too broadly can evacuate the term of any relevance. The Rev. Dr. C.B. Moss (1957) comments that the Church herself has never exactly defined the concept of inspiration. The Rev. Louis Tarsitano (1994), however, provides a general summary of the concept (broadly understood) that seems to be the majority view within traditional Christian teaching:

"The inspiration of the Bible begins with God’s reaching out by the power of the Holy Ghost to the human writer, followed by the writer’s response (also in grace) with all his heart, soul, and mind. The inspiration of the Bible is not the same thing as the dictation of a letter to a secretary. Inspiration is the relationship between God and those he chooses to be his messengers and spokesmen, just as salvation is the relationship between God and the redeemed. God’s messengers are not perfect as God is perfect. They have limitations based on who they are, and where and when they lived." (p 63)

The authority of Holy Scripture can be said to be fourfold (after the eminent evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce in his text The Canon of Scripture), stemming from 1) its inspired nature, 2) its acceptance by the whole people of God as inspired (also referred to as “catholicity,” the use and acceptance of texts by the whole Church), 3) its teaching (as inspired and accepted by the Catholic Church of God as inspired) as providing for right teaching of doctrine, worship, and living (“orthodoxy”), and 4) its providing for a truthful witness to the actions of God in the in the midst of His people (“historicity”). For the New Testament, this “truthful witness” or “historicity” can also be called “apostolicity,” for the New Testament is assumed by the Church to provide information on the life and teaching of Christ according to the Apostles and the faith and life of the Apostolic Church as it was observed and understood by those who lived within it. These criteria set the Bible apart from other theologically sound literature, for only the texts contained in the canon of Scripture can be said to meet them all. For instance (to use an example given by Bruce), what if another Epistle of Saint Paul were found today and could be reasonably verified as being composed by him (perhaps the letter he mentions writing to the Church at Corinth)? Who would doubt its teaching? Who would doubt that Saint Paul was inspired in his writing? Would it then be added to the canon of the New Testament? The answer, in all likelihood, would be “no.” Although this letter could very well be inspired, written by the hand of an Apostle, and completely orthodox in its teaching, it is not part of the New Testament that has been accepted for centuries as part of the Christian Bible. It would fail to meet the practical standard of “catholicity.”

It must be noted that all four of the sources of authority mentioned above assume that the Church that has recognized such characteristics has been guided by the Spirit of God to do so. The Church does not have a “Koranic” view of the Holy Scriptures (the “secretary dictation” model mentioned above by the Rev. Tarsitano), meaning that it does not assume that God produced Scripture in a manner without human mediation or somehow overcame the human being to compose a text. The life of the Holy Spirit (in worship and faith) is needed to discern the working of that same Spirit in the writings and the content of Holy Scripture. It was that Church, whose leaders were taught by the Apostles themselves, that maintained the Apostolic Succession (in life, order, and teaching), that celebrated the Sacraments of Christ’s command, and that recognized the soundness of Apostolic doctrine and the inspiration that provided the foundation for this doctrine. However, it must always be presumed that the Bible has a level of authority that surpasses the writings of latter saints, such as Clement of Rome or Augustine of Hippo, that most would not deny were, in some manner (perhaps not in the very same manner as the Apostles) inspired by God. While many of the writings of Augustine are noteworthy, orthodox, and perhaps even inspired, they have never been accepted by the whole Church as the letters of the New Testament have. Indeed, these writings are always to be measured against the Bible. As Vincent of Lerins states, “The Canon of the Scripture is perfect, and the most abundantly of itself sufficient for all things.” As one Anglican divine succinctly put it: “The Church to teach, the Scriptures to prove.”

The Church was inspired to compose, collect, and teach the Scriptures, but never to depart from the faith contained in the Scriptures. As such, we can faithfully claim that our faith is based upon sola scriptura (the scriptures as read by the Church universal), but not upon “solo scriptura” (every man alone with his Bible, ignoring the all history that preceded his opening the Book). The Bible is the Word of God among His people, proclaiming to them His deeds within history and the relation of the redeemed community of faith to the people of God in every age. We read these words and proclaim them to be His Word because we live in and believe in a Church that has faith in His actions and His revelation. Ultimately, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God because it contains the record of the ultimate expression of the nature of God in the Incarnation of Christ Jesus (as such it contains the revelation of Christ as the eternal Word of God as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity). Christ is the fulfillment of the law, the prophets, and through His life and atoning work we have the New Covenant between God and mankind. To quote Bishop Frank Wilson (1937), “Christ Himself is the Word of God—that is, the personal expression of God. The Bible tells of Him and we therefore call it God’s Word. It is the record of the progressive revelation which reaches its summit in Christ” (p. 43).

The authority of the Catholic tradition (the tradition or the practice of the Church always and everywhere) of the Church is reciprocal to the authority of the Bible in the Church. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (cited in Bourne, 1947) in dispute with both Puritans and Roman Catholics, argued that there are four possible ways of demonstrating that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God. 1) By the universal tradition of the Church Catholic—it has always proclaimed the Bible as such; 2) “By the light and the testimony which the Scripture give to itself.” 3) By the testimony of the Holy Spirit; 4) By the testimony of natural reason. However, none of these demonstrations, or “proofs,” can be divorced from the others. Hooker argues that reason is the base for all claims, for by reason we have intelligence and understanding to decipher those things presented to us verbally and in written forms. Our interpretation of Scripture is dependent upon reason. However, Laud warns that reason alone cannot guarantee infallible authority:

"Reason can give no supernatural ground into which a man may resolve his faith, That Scripture is the word of God infallibly, yet reason can go so high, as it can prove that Christian religion, which rests upon the authority of this Book, stands upon surer grounds of nature, reason, common equity, justice, than any thing the world which any infidel or mere naturalist hath done, doth, or can adhere unto, against it, in that which he makes, accounts, or assumes as religion himself” (cited in Bourne, 1947, p 86)

The third approach depends on a revelation to an individual, and the lack of any objective check on such special revelation must be suspect (the revelation should—must—conform to the Bible and the teachings of the Bible as set forth by the Church Catholic). As Hooker comments concerning the Anabaptists: “When they and their Bibles were alone together, what strange, fantastical opinions soever at any time entered into their heads, their use was to think the Spirit taught it to them.” And from such an approach we see a thousand or more different denominations claiming the unique truth of Christ based upon the Bible and the Bible alone. Each often makes new and unique practices peculiar to its founder and followers. The Anglican Reformers (and the Anglican Church until the last 100 years) always used the Holy Scripture, the universal tradition of the ancient Church, and reason to inform her doctrines.

Bourne, E.C.E. (1947). The Anglicanism of William Laud. London: S.P.C.K.
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