Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Anglican unity and the doctrine of the Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist

There is obvious and lamentable disunity among those who consider themselves to be faithful, orthodox, and catholic Anglicans. Part of this disunity stems from differing views on the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Where are we to find harmony on this very important issue of Christian doctrine and fellowship? As Anglicans I believe we must first go to the Scriptures, where we are told by St. Paul that the “. . .Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread;and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death until He come. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and then let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body” (1 Cor 11: 23-29). Similarly, St. Paul declares to us that “The cup of blessing which we bless: is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break: is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread” (1 Cor 10: 16-17). The writings of the Church Fathers, especially the Apostolic Fathers, declare likewise without any great philosophical speculation. The truth of Christ’s words, and the words of St. Paul, are accepted through faith.

When we turn to the formularies of classical Anglicanism (the 1549-1928 Prayer Books, the Articles, and the homilies) what are we told about the Eucharist? We are told that it is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” the outward part being bread and wine and the inward part being Christ’s Body and Blood. The Articles declare likewise that the “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.” In the homilies we read of “the due receiving of the blessed Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ under the form of bread and wine.”

Here, in the classical Anglican documents, we have a very Scriptural teaching which conforms as well to the teachings of the Church Fathers. All, I would hope and pray, could unite around these truths as plainly taught. However, some wish to press beyond these points of agreement and engage in all manner of scholastic inquiry, sowing disunity where there ought to be concord. Some will ask the manner of Christ’s Presence in the Sacrament? Is it bodily, physical, carnal, corporal, localized? Even Saint Thomas Aquinas, the elaborator of transubstantiation, denies these points. If it is “substantial and essential” (which many Anglican divines affirm) does this not require that the substance of the bread and wine cease to be, taken over wholly by the substance of the Body and Blood? Here only Aquinas answers in the affirmative, leaving only “accidents” and “appearances” of bread and wine. The words of St. Paul cannot support this (“The bread which we break: is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"), and numerous Church Fathers can be quoted against it, many of them arguing on Christological grounds. Indeed, to take this stance we must allow a Thomist interpretation of Aristotle’s logic to completely supplant the Scriptures and the Fathers.

Great Anglo-Catholics like Kebel, Pusey, and Gore deny the metaphysical annihilation of the bread and wine, as do many great theologians in the Orthodox Communion. Sadly, I have heard of priests in one Anglican jurisdiction refusing to receive the Eucharist from priests in another (or condemning them as heretics) because they have inquired into their personal doctrine of the Presence and found that they do not affirm some element of Aquinas (such as the annihilation of the bread and wine) or elements that go beyond Aquinas (such as a carnal or corporal presence).

My plea is to find unity in the teachings of the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles. Points of unity should be identified and affirmed among traditional Anglicans using our common heritage; various sacramental theories with no consensus from the undivided Church should be left to the individual’s consideration and debate, but the individual should not unbendingly assert his theory as though it were that of the Church.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Ministry of Absolution in the Anglican Church

"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."

"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."

"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."

--1662 Book of Common Prayer

With these things in mind I am posting one of the best (in my humble opinion) pieces on the ministry of Confession and Absolution available from the traditional Anglican perspective. Many texts written on this topic can have a tendency to simply mimic Roman practices and the theological justification for them. Other authors ignore what the Prayer Book and the Anglican divines have to say on the topic entirely and offer no guidelines as to its use at all.

Again, I hope this volume will be useful to priests and laity.

The Ministry of Absolution : An appeal for its more general use with due regard to the liberty of the individual

Cyril Bickersteth, M.A. of the Community of the Resurrection

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Quotes worth noting. . .

"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own."
— G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Anglicanism: Protestant or Catholic?

That Anglicanism is wholly "protestant" is an extremely simplistic assertion and hinges on the meaning of the term itself. However, so too is the contention among some that the term "protestant" doesn't apply to Anglicanism in even the slightest sense. If asked if we Anglicans are Protestant or Catholic some will say: "We are Catholic, but not Roman--we are not Protestants." This is simplistic and historically erroneous, and any layperson with an interest in reading would soon find very Catholic sounding Churchmen of the 16th and 17th centuries embracing the term Protestant. (But my rector said it wasn't so!) What to make of it then?

If we are using today's terminology perhaps "Protestant" isn't wholly accurate, but neither would be the use of the term "Catholic," for in today's use of the term this means Roman. Many Anglicans are happy to explain the historic and correct use of the term "Catholic" but do not wish to do so with the term "Protestant." This is a selective use of logic--if the historic usage of one term is explained the other term ought to be likewise explained. "You see, you misunderstand the term Catholic dear friend. . ." The follow up should be they also misunderstand the historic use of the term Protestant. However, it needs to be noted that many Anglicans today have become Latter-Day Puritans, attempting to sweep the Anglican Church of any hint of "Romanism" (which may mean choirs robed in surplices, a priest wearing a coloured stole, or keeping the 1662 Prayer Book calendar of saints days): Many from this group do indeed wish to deny any "Catholic" character or nature existing within Anglicanism. This also is to deny history. 

How do the Anglican divines use the terms? It is shocking to many that the terms are used together: Protestant Catholic, Reformed Catholic, etc. Again, as I say so often quoting Bishop Cosins: "Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." What does this mean? Well, it should be clear to most. The English Reformation was built upon removing erroneous beliefs and practices (the Mass not in the vernacular, the Bible not in the vernacular, Purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation, doctrines about the excess merits of the saints, etc). All needed to be stripped away--reformation was needed, and the Church of England protested against the errors of the Roman Church.

To put it more concisely: "At the Reformation the Church of England became protestant in order to become more truly and perfectly Catholic." William Van Mildert, Bishop of Durham 1826-36.

Let me turn to the good Father Moss for a fuller explanation (from Answer Me This):

"Remember, 'Catholic' means universal. Strictly speaking, only those doctrines and practices are Catholic which have always been believed and used in all parts of the Church. More loosely, the word is applied to practices and traditions (such as the observance of Christmas Day or the use of special dress by the clergy) which have a long continuous history and are universally accepted, even though they do not go back to apostolic times. The word also implies 'orthodoxy,' holding the right faith and worshiping God in the right manner as required by the Church."

In answer to the question: Is the Anglican Church Catholic or Protestant? Moss replies

"Both; it is Catholic positively and Protestant negatively. It is Catholic in its essential nature because it maintains the Catholic and apostolic faith and order. It is Protestant, in the old sense (emphasis added), negatively because it rejects the papal claims to supremacy, infallibility, and universal jurisdiction, and the decrees of the Councils of Trent and the Vatican."

When one is confused as to the use of these terms, they ought to be clearly explained. Some will argue (as Moss actually does) that the term Protestant has changed so much that we should omit its use all together (many Lutherans argue likewise, in that the old use of the term Protestant only referred to Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians; now that it refers so loosely to almost anyone not Roman Catholic it has become meaningless). However, the same could be said of the term "Catholic," since almost everyone means Roman when they say "Catholic" in the United States: Let's just stop using the word since it is so easily misunderstood. In my opinion we should follow the language of the Anglican divines, using both terms correctly and explaining the meaning in a clear manner to avoid confusion.

Is Anglicanism Protestant or Catholic? Ideally it is both, in the best sense of both terms.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Anglican Way: A Faith that Shaped a Culture

When one holds the classic Book of Common Prayer and prays from it, when one reads the Scriptures in the version commanded by King James and guided in its translation by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one holds a culture (the cultus of the Anglo-Saxon Christian people). One prays the prayers penned by a martyred Archbishop, cribbed and molded from the older prayers of the British and English Churches, as well as from the ancient Eastern Churches and the contemporary German Church. One worships according to a rite that inspired a King and his Archbishop to succumb to the executioner’s blade, fidelity to which resulted in exile or clandestine and persecuted worship.

When one holds the Prayer Book one holds nearly half a millennium of religious and literary heritage that guided a nation and helped bring many nations to faith in Christ. When one holds a Book of Common Prayer in the classic lineage (1549-1929 editions for the Church of England) one holds a volume that united a nation in worship and inspired magnificent cathedrals and humble parish churches. We in the Anglican Church in North America and in the Continuum are now entrusted with this heritage of faith and the culture it produced in the British and English Churches; in this sense we are like the Christian peoples of Eastern Europe, whose faith and worship have been suppressed by Islam and Communism in turn and now by Islam again. Many of these people have immigrated to the West and preserve their faith and culture in the United States, sometimes outnumbering those they left behind in the "Old World." Often this is the reason one will see in this country Armenian Churches (their people slaughtered by the Turks in the first genocide of the 20th century), Coptic Churches (now a minority in Muslim Egypt and under increased threat to their existence in that land) and various other Orthodox Churches that suffered under Communism. I feel for these people and sympathize with their attempts to preserve what was in danger of being destroyed from without. Similarly, we now see "Anglican" (a word that conveys an ethnic and cultural heritage) parishes rather than simply Episcopal (a word that describes polity) parishes. Sadly, the Anglican Church and its preservation is being done because the West has largely destroyed this tradition from within, perverting the ancient faith and defacing the traditional worship of the English Church and her sister Churches.

Know the history and faith of the Christian Church, especially the Church of the British and English peoples, know the devotions of the English divines, know the music of the English Church—know what it is you are “Continuing” in and why, know why the Anglican Church in North America came into existence, so that you may faithfully preserve it for your children and your children’s children.

As the Anglican Church in North America develops a new Book of Common Prayer let us pray that it keeps in mind the great heritage with which it has been entrusted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Christus Rex: The ancient Cross

One of the most striking and meaningful images to me in Christian art has been the Christus Rex, Christ the King "reigning from the Tree." This is the image that most frequently greets me when I've visited Lutheran parishes.

Collin Morris in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity in comments as to the development of the traditional (corpus in repose) crucifix we usually think of as being a mark of "Catholicism." Morris observes:

"The crucifix was becoming a prominent feature of church decoration, replacing the Christ in majesty which dominated early buildings, and it was a crucifix in a new style. The Lord was no longer shown upright and majestic, clothed in purple and reigning from the tree: now, a dying man was offered for the loyalty and compassion of the beholders. . . "

I commented once to a priest who had a Christus Rex upon the altar how much I liked that particular cross. To my surprise he told me how much he disliked it: To him it was an image of the living Christ re-crucified, brought back to the cross following the resurrection and sacrificed again. This comment resulted in my spending some time researching the theology and history of the Christus Rex. My findings were those that Morris expresses above: The Christus Rex is the more ancient emphasis, and the dead Christ is a more recent development. Indeed, is it--the image of the dead Christ--the most proper image to have on the altar when celebrating the Holy Thanksgiving of not only Christ's sacrifice, but of His resurrection, glorious ascension, and His coming again? Here are some comments on the image and its place in Western iconography from various sources:

Percy Dearmer, Anglican liturgical scholar, notes in his 1899 edition of The Parson's Handbook (p 88):

"A CROSS was sometimes set on the Holy Table before the Reformation; but it was by no means the rule, though nowadays many seem to consider it a necessity. In cases where a painting forms the altarpiece it is often better dispensed with (even where there is room for a small cross below the picture), especially in the case of minor altars; and the appropriateness of using a cross where the Crucifixion forms part of the altarpiece is more than questionable. Under no circumstances should a cross be placed on the altar when it would stand in front of a picture or of the figures of a sculptured reredos, The idea that an altar is incomplete (or ‘Protestant’) without a cross needs to be strenuously combated. Indeed, although altar crosses and crucifixes are certainly included under the rubric, there is much to be said both from the ceremonial and from the theological point of view against their use on the altar. The proper place for a representation of the crucified Redeemer is the Roodscreen. In any case the primitive crucifix, in which our Lord is represented in an attitude of benediction and majesty, is more seemly than the twisted and distorted figure one often sees."

Similarly, Canon Vernon Staley, the Anglo-Catholic scholar, wrote in his 1904 Ceremonial of the English Church (p 113-115):

"It is not well to regard the Eucharist as commemorative solely of the death and passion of our Lord, and to forget that it is also the memorial of His mightly resurrection and glorious ascension. In thus emphasizing His humiliation at the expense of His exhaltation some have been led to associate the crucifix with the altar rather than the cross of glory. In connection with this, it may be pointed out that our Lord in glory is a much more suitable subject. . .over the altar, than our Lord crucified."

The question remains, why were Christus Rex images (or variations of this image) prevalent in the ancient Church? Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries addresses this question in his book The Passion in Art. He comments first on the first depiction of the crucifixion (about 400 A.D.):

". . .This is no defeated Christ: his eyes are open and head upright, and his arms stretch firmly outwards. He looks boldly to the front, not so much constrained by the cross, as superimposed upon it. The contrast is deliberately made with Judas hanging on the tree, the thirty pieces of silver spilled onto the ground at his feet. . .Judas is dead and defeated, but Christ is alive with the life of triumphant love. . . .Over. . .anger and sadness and death the love of God wins through. Christ reigns from the tree" (p 13).

"In the earliest depictions of the Passion that have surivived, Christ is shown alive on the Cross. This was true both in the West and in the East. . . .The major theological issue that concerned the Church from the fourth to the eighth centuries. . .was the person of Christ. The Church came to assert that he is truly God and truly human, yet remains one undivided person. If this is the case then how should Christ be depicted on the Cross? If he was simply shown dead, or in the tomb, people might wonder what happened to his divinity. So it would seem that from the fourth to the end of the seventh centuries artists chose to avoid the controversial questions by not showing him dead on the Cross at all. Christ is shown, as we have seen, with arms outstretched, head upright and eyes open, very much alive. This had the doctrinal adavantage of making it clear that Jesus had indeed been crucified as a human being, for there he was on the Cross. But his open eyes could be interpreted as the logos, the eternal word of God. . .being very much alive" (p 29).

Back to blogging?

I had begun to believe that blogging had gone by the wayside--what with Facebook and other forms of social media--so I had made a mental excuse for not posting all that frequently. However, the system that I'm using gives me some useful statistical information that tells me that people still stop by fairly frequently to read, most of the readers being from the United States and the United Kingdom. For those who are going back through the archives of this blog I hope that you've found some useful and inspiring content. I hope to add to that content more frequently in the future.