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The Anglicans, the Orthodox, and the Old Catholics: Notes on the Lambeth Report on Unity

By A. C. Headlam

London: S.P.C.K, no date.

A MEMORANDUM has been issued by forty leading clerical and lay members of the Church of England, entitled The Lambeth Conference Report, and the Old Catholic and the Orthodox Eastern Churches. This memorandum criticizes the agreement which was made by the Lambeth Conference with the Orthodox and the Old Catholic Churches, and complains that the presentment of the doctrine of the Church of England in that agreement is one-sided. The agreement was accepted by the Lambeth Conference after some discussion by a very large majority, and it might be suggested to the signatories of this document that the three hundred Bishops there assembled had a very real authority in defining the teaching of the Church of England. As however there has been a good deal of misconception and criticism, not always I think well instructed, about the agreement, and as I was Chairman of the Sub-Committee which carried on the negotiations, I am glad to take the opportunity of putting forward a clear statement of what has been agreed to and of the main course of our discussions.

Let me begin by drawing attention to the composition of the Sub-Committee. It was not in any way a party body. It only contained, I think, one or two Bishops who could be called in any real sense Anglo-Catholic, and one of these took a very slight part in the discussions. These were mainly carried on, apart from my own contribution, by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Chichester, the Bishop in Egypt and the Soudan, the Bishop of Fulham, the Bishop of Gibraltar, the Bishop of Guildford, the Bishop of Montreal, the Bishop of Northern Indiana, the Bishop of Rhode Island, and the Bishop of Western Michigan. I think these might be considered a very representative body in the Anglican Communion.

There are two preliminary criticisms which I have seen made. The first is that the Committee did not deal with the general question of the relation of the two Churches, but only with certain points of order and the Sacraments. That is one of the first misconceptions [2/3] that has to be cleared away. If any one will read the resume of the discussions, he will find that it begins by the provisional acceptance on both sides of certain Terms of Intercommunion, which had been drawn up previously. [Terms of Intercommunion suggested between the Church of England and the Churches in communion with her and the Eastern Orthodox Church. London, S.P.C.K., 1921. They are published in English, Greek and Russian.] These Terms of Intercommunion deal with all the fundamental questions of the relation of the Churches, and I believe, as will become apparent, guard the Anglican position very carefully. The particular points which are referred to later in the resume were those on which the representatives of the Orthodox Church needed fuller information.

The second criticism that has been raised is that the Committee merely devoted itself to satisfying the Orthodox Church, that they took up an undignified position, and did not pay any attention to such points as were necessary to satisfy the Anglican Church with regard to the Orthodox Church. That, again, is not correct. Discussion was carried on with regard to all the important points. A categorical statement was given which is contained in the resume "that it is the practice of the whole Orthodox Church not to re-baptize after Anglican Baptism." Other points of less importance were discussed and satisfactory answers given. On one subject, certain difficulties which arose about moral questions, the Patriarch frankly took up the position that matters were not altogether satisfactory in the Orthodox Church. He considered the moral discipline of the Church of England was better than that of the Orthodox, and drew attention to the great difficulties they had owing to the fact that they were surrounded by a Mohammedan population.

I will now pass to certain points in detail.


I have already dealt with the question of the Supremacy of Scripture in a letter to The Times, but I think that it is desirable for the sake of completeness that the position should be here stated. The following is the paragraph in The Terms of Intercommunion, Of the sufficiency of Holy Scripture.

"We believe that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, as St. Athanasius says, 'The sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth.' And elsewhere, 'These are the fountains of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them. In these (books) alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to them, nor take aught from them'; and, as St. Augustine says: 'In those things which are plainly laid down in Scripture all [3/4] things are found which comprise faith and morals.' As touching Tradition, we accept it, in the words of the Longer Catechism of the Russian Church, ‘as a guide to the right understanding of Holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the Sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution'; and ‘we must follow that tradition which agrees with the divine revelation and with Holy Scripture.’"

I venture to think that this makes it clear that although the Orthodox Church undoubtedly recognises the value of tradition as does the Church of England it does not do so in any way which interferes with the supremacy of Scripture.


Exception is taken in the memorandum to certain points in the Declaration of Utrecht, the principal statement of the position of the Old Catholic Churches. Let me point out exactly what the Lambeth Conference committed itself to. It did not accept the statement of doctrine as expressing the Anglican point of view, nor suggest that we should in any way adopt it, but only said that there was nothing in it inconsistent with the teaching of the Church of England. The passage in question is as follows:--

"We adhere faithfully to the Rule of Faith laid down by St. Vincent of Lerins in these terms:—‘Id teneamus, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; hoc est etenim vere proprieque catholicum.' For this reason we persevere in professing the faith of the Primitive Church, as formulated in the oecumenical symbols and specified precisely by the unanimously accepted decisions of the Oecumenical Councils held in the Undivided Church of the first thousand years."

The memorandum suggests that this means that the Old Catholic Churches appeal primarily to tradition and not as we do to Scripture. If they will turn to the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins, they will find that this is not at all his point of view. He definitely and decisively puts first the authority of Scripture. He considers that Scripture contains all things that are necessary, but he says that the authority of the Church is to be used for the correct interpretation of Scripture. What the Declaration of Utrecht does is to use the Vincentian Canon not against Scripture but against the infallibility and Universal Episcopacy of the Bishop of Rome. It considers, as the Anglican Church always has done, that one of the strongest arguments against the position of the Church of Rome is the appeal to the Primitive Church and to an undivided Christianity. We, all of us, [4/5] are acquainted with the very shallow criticism of Lord Macaulay on the celebrated maxim of St. Vincent, but Anglican Divines have generally accepted it as representing in a somewhat epigrammatic way the Anglican position. The position it takes was approved by Cranmer, Ridley, Jewel, Hammond, and in fact most Reformative Divines. Most of them definitely refer to St. Vincent, and I am somewhat surprised to find that the authors of this memorandum consider this statement not to be consistent with the teaching of the Church of England.


The signatories of the memorandum lay great stress on the Thirty-Nine Articles as the most authoritative document to be used in such discussions. I can hardly think that they can justify that position from the point of view of the Anglican Communion. Whatever may be the exact position, legal or otherwise, of the Thirty-Nine Articles in relation to the Church of England (and that is something which it is very difficult to decide) it is quite clear that they must occupy a somewhat subordinate position in relation to the Anglican Communion as a whole. The Lambeth Conference has definitely declared that it is not necessary to accept the Thirty-Nine Articles, but only a general adhesion to the doctrine contained in them, to be a member of the Anglican Communion. Some Churches have definitely discarded them, others still retain them but do not demand any signature, and they are omitted in the statement made in this conference about the principles of Anglicanism. "We hold the Catholic faith in its entirety; that is to say, the truth of Christ, contained in Holy Scripture; stated in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; expressed in the Sacraments of the Gospel and the rites of the Primitive Church, as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer with its various local adaptations; and safeguarded by the historic threefold Order of the Ministry." It goes on to state our ideals: "They are the ideals of the Church of Christ. Prominent among them are an open Bible, a pastoral Priesthood, a common worship, a standard of conduct consistent with that worship, and a fearless love of truth."

The Thirty-Nine Articles are the most important historical document in relation to the Anglican Communion, and have very great authority, but they cannot be placed on the same level as the Prayer Book, which has become the basis of our Communion.

But I should like to say something further on this point. It is stated in the memorandum: "It is indeed a sound rule that when one of two authorities appears ambiguous it must be interpreted by the clearer; herein lies largely the value of the Articles." As one who has had to spend a large part of his life in studying and interpreting the Articles, I am bound to say the statement that they are unambiguous [5/6] appears to me rather strange. They are only unambiguous to those who interpret them purely from their own point of view. I think we ought to remember further that there is no document connected with the Church of England which presents at the present day a greater stumbling block to a large section of the community. It represents in many directions a point of view which is completely out of touch with the thought of the day. I know, and many others know, what difficulties the Articles often present to those who are anxious to be Ordained in the Church of England, and that not merely to members of one school of thought, and that position has been recently emphasized by the report of a very weighty Committee of the Church Assembly.

But in the Conference itself we very carefully expounded and put forward the statements of the Articles, and all that was said was that when the Articles were ambiguous, they must be interpreted in accordance with the Prayer Book, a position which is surely intelligent. When there are two authoritative documents, surely it is their agreement that decides the question.


A considerable part of our Conference was devoted to the discussion of the doctrine of the Eucharist. The position of the Orthodox and the Anglican Churches is the same, as regards Eucharistic doctrine. Neither of them have any formal or complete authoritative statement of what they believe. Both alike have a tradition which is expressed in their Service books and other formularies. The result is that it is not very easy to condemn any doctrine as necessarily inconsistent with their position. That I have always personally maintained is a great cause of strength to both Churches. The Sacraments were given for use and not for definition, and the variety of interpretation possible leads to great richness of spiritual value. But it will always lead to a certain amount of ambiguity when either Church attempts to state exactly what it believes.

In conducting the Conference on this subject, I was most anxious to state the doctrine of the Church of England correctly. I began by drawing attention to the fact that the Church of England at the time of the Reformation was concerned to reject (r) a material interpretation of the Eucharist, and (2) the doctrine of Transubstantiation as taught by Latin Divines in the Middle Ages. I then drew attention to the statement of the Catechism, to the statement in Article Twenty-Eight; and to the doctrine of the Eucharist as expressed in the Anglican Liturgy. I pointed out that the Liturgy in different Anglican Churches took a different form, and that we had two tendencies—the one a tendency to the Western use, the other a preference for the Eastern [6/7] use. The different forms of the Communion Office were then studied, and a general satisfaction was expressed with them. In certain cases they correspond exactly to the form of the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom.

One definite question was asked: The Patriarch said that he understood from the various phrases quoted that the Anglican definitely believed that in the Eucharist he received the Body and Blood of Christ. He asked whether after Communion the Consecrated elements remaining were regarded as the Body and Blood of Christ. The Anglican representatives said quite definitely that they were.

I understand that this is the statement to which exception is taken. There are two points. There is first of all the statement that the Bread and Wine are regarded as the Body and Blood of Christ. It has always been no doubt an open question in what way this is the case, but I had never thought that there was any doubt that they were so regarded. At any rate it is surely difficult for the signatories to this memorandum to find exception to the statement, if they remember that in the Directory of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland the Minister is directed to say categorically "Take ye, eat ye, this is the Body of Christ which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Him." It was thought, however, that some people might be frightened by such a statement, and therefore in the resume it was put in the form--"The Consecrated elements remaining are regarded Sacramentally as the Body and Blood of Christ."

The second part of the statement is that they are regarded as remaining the Body and Blood of Christ after the Communion. I do not see how we could have made any other statement. We are concerned with the accepted position of the Church as expressed in its representative bodies. The Church of England, its Bishops, its Clergy, and its Laity, have definitely accepted the New Prayer Book in which Reservation for the Communion of the Sick is permitted, While t here was great hesitation on the question of permanent Reservation there was little or none on the more limited proposal of Reservation from the Altar. In either case the whole meaning of the service would be taken away if it were not recognized that whatever gift our Lord Jesus Christ gives us in the Communion in Church He is able to give us at Communion from the Reserved Sacrament. Such a form of Reservation is very generally used in the Church of England. It is used in other branches of the Anglican Communion, and implies exactly what the Lambeth Conference has said.

I think, in conclusion, it would be wise if I were to dwell upon just exactly what the Orthodox Church desired to know. It was this: Whether we believe that we receive a gift through the Holy Spirit in the Communion. That is the point which they desire to emphasize, and surely on that point there can be no diversity or difference of opinion in the Church of England.

[8] As regards the doctrinal statement in the Declaration of the Church of Utrecht it runs as follows:

"Considering that the Holy Eucharist has always been the true central point of Catholic worship, we consider it our duty to declare that we maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and the Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine."

I do not think that there is any serious doctrinal implication in the word “species," which is used as a translation of the German word “gestalt" "form", which implies what we mean by the outward and visible sign. The Lambeth Conference has declared that there is nothing in these words inconsistent with the teaching of the Church of England. As I believe they express accurately exactly what a very large number of members of the Church of England hold, and therefore that statement must surely be true. I do not believe that they express more than the Church of England expresses in the Church Catechism. The use of the words "we receive" implies that they may be accepted by those who hold even a Receptionist view of the Holy Communion.


The signatories object that certain quotations from the Articles and the Prayer Book are incomplete. They complain that the following words are omitted, “And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith." I can assure the signatories that the only reason for the omission of these words was to curtail the quotation to the points which were relevant. Neither the statement with regard to Faith nor the reference to the Faithful would represent anything about which there would be any difference of opinion between the signatories and the members of the Orthodox Church. For example, in Khomiakoff's Essay on the Church he tells us that “the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is accomplished in the Church and for the Church," and again, “This Sacrament is in the Church, and for the Church, not for the outside world." And again he says, “There are also many other Sacraments; for every work which is done in faith, love, and hope, is suggested to man by the Spirit of God, and invokes the unseen Grace of God." I have before me a treatise on Sacramental Grace in the Orthodox Church by a distinguished Greek theologian, not yet published, from which I can make the following extracts: "For we send up also our thanksgivings and, along with our God and Father give glory to the Son together with the Holy Spirit, and thus we approach the holy table, and in the faith that we are quickened and blessed both in body and spirit. For we receive in ourselves the Word of God the Father [8/9] who became incarnate for us, which is life and giver of life." And again: "The complete explanation therefore of what Sacrament is, is open only to the faith, essentially mystical, of the believer.”

I think it is a great mistake to believe that the Orthodox Church is any less spiritual than we ourselves are in their conception of the Sacrament.

"This right idea that it is the Holy Spirit and his power alone, and not the outward and tangible signs and acts, that convey the Grace, leads St. John Chrysostom to this definition of the Sacraments: ‘we call it a sacrament, because we do not believe what we see, but we see one thing and believe another.' "

I do not think the doctrine of the Orthodox Church is any less spiritual, but I think that they lay greater stress on the outward and visible sign than some in the Church of England would do.

"The above-mentioned quotations make it evident, that according to the Orthodox doctrine, although in Sacraments the power of the Holy Spirit is that which effects and communicates Christ's grace together with its consequences, and not the tangible signs and outward acts, it is through these only, after their sanctification and purification through the presence and energy of the Holy Spirit that grace is communicated and transmitted."

Speaking generally, apart from the use of the word "Transubstantiation," which it is expressly stated is not used in a material sense, and not used in the same sense as in the Church of Rome, there is nothing, as far as I know, in the Orthodox doctrine of the Holy Communion which is not only held by a very large section of the Church of England, but also is believed to be quite in accordance with our formularies; and all that they have asked from the Church of England is an assurance that there is a real gift given to us in the Holy Communion under the outward sign of the bread and wine, and that therefore these outward signs are regarded as the Body and Blood of Christ, without any statement of the way in which they are so regarded.


In speaking about the sacrifice in the Eucharist, I began by stating quite definitely that the Church of England was opposed to any doctrine which implied that the sacrifice was not once for all offered for sins, and quoted specifically the Consecration Prayer: "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." I stated that that belief was fundamental. The Patriarch stated: "That the Orthodox doctrine was that one propitiatory sacrifice was once offered for the whole world by Christ to the Father; that in the Eucharist that Sacrifice was presented to the Father. The [9/10] Eucharist might therefore be called the offering of that Sacrifice, and the uniting with that Sacrifice on Calvary of those partaking in the Eucharist. But such an offering was in no sense a repeating. No Orthodox theologian ever taught that a Priest celebrating the Holy Liturgy obtained by his action remission of sins, for that was the work of the Divine Mercy, and if the Anglican Church wished for an Orthodox formulary repudiating Roman doctrine on that point and on the Roman doctrine of Purgatory, it could be provided." The Declaration of Utrecht is as follows:

"The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered once for all upon the Cross; but it is a sacrifice because it is the perpetual commemoration of the sacrifice offered upon the Cross, and it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews IX. 11, 12, for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Heb. IX. 24). The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is, at the same time, a sacrificial feast, by means of which the faithful, in receiving the Body and Blood of our Saviour, enter into communion with one another (1 Cor. I. 17)."

I am bound to say that I do not think that any words could express better than these do the belief held by a large number of English Churchmen who would consider themselves and be considered loyal members of the Church of England, and I do not feel that there was any reason for not saying that they were consistent with the teaching of the Church of England. We cannot really condemn another Church because some of our Commentators are doubtful about the exegesis of a particular passage.

It is quite true that the reply of the Archbishops to the Pope's Letter has no Synodical authority, but it is one of the most authoritative statements on Eucharistic doctrine which has been made in the Church of England, and I do not think that most people would be willing to consider that the Words quoted from the Anglican Prayer Book: "that by the merits and death of Thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood we and all Thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of His passion" are not to be connected with the Communion Office in which they occur.

I would appeal to the great body of English Churchmen. We commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross in the Holy Communion, and in commemorating it we offer up our most solemn prayers: "that by the merits of death of Jesus Christ and through faith in his Blood the whole Church may obtain remission of sins and all other benefits of his passion." That is what everyone is thinking of in the Prayer of Consecration, and the fact that the Communion has taken [10/11] place cannot be held to separate these words in their meaning and intention from that Prayer.


I notice that incidentally the signatories say: "We do not, for example, recognize the decisions of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), which approved the worship of images." The exact authority of the Seventh General Council may be regarded as a doubtful matter, and I have argued that as there is doubt as to whether it was subsequently received by the whole Church, at any rate before the Council of Florence, its claim to be ecumenical may be doubtful. The Old Catholic Bishops also told us that they laid special stress, as we do, on the first Four Councils. But the point I think it is important to emphasize is that the Second Council of Nicaea did not approve the worship of images but condemned it. The main points of the teaching of that Council were (I) To condemn iconoclasm, that is to say, the opinion which would allow no pictures in the Church, (a) To lay down that representations of the Second Person of the Trinity were allowable owing to the fact of the incarnation, and (3) To condemn the offering of latreia, that is worship, to images, but allow proskunesis, that is reverence. It specifically states "that worship pertain to the Divine Nature alone." The distinction between latreia and proskunesis is one of great importance and often not understood.

There are practices and customs in some of the Eastern Churches which we may rightly consider to be superstitious and which would be so considered by educated members of the Eastern Church. A Russian Bishop at his Consecration, for example, uses the following words:--

"I will take care that the homage due to God be not transferred to holy images nor false miracles be ascribed to them whereby the true worship is perverted and a handle given to adversaries to reproach the Orthodox; on the contrary, I will study that images be respected only in the sense of the Holy Orthodox Church as set forth in the Second Council of Nicaea."

The habits of mind and thought of Oriental Christians are different from our own, and they have customs different from ours, but I do not think that it is necessary to claim that every Church with which we are to be united should adopt all our Anglican customs and ways of thought, and we must be careful not to bring untrue accusations against them.


I think that I have dealt with most of the points which have been raised by the signatories to the best of my ability. I hope that I have [11/12] succeeded in making it clear that throughout we aimed at putting the teaching of the Anglican Communion as fairly as possible. We are not bound surely to put every gloss upon the teaching of the Prayer Book, which some members of the Church have done. I would like to say in conclusion that I believe nothing could be more wholesome or better for the Church of England, and for the cause of Christianity than real unity between the Church of England, the Orthodox, and the Old Catholic Church.

First, as regards ourselves. I believe that there is always considerable danger to the Church of England in being attracted too much by what I may call Latinisms. The particular characteristics of the Western Church are exactly what the Reformation condemned. I do not feel perhaps the same desire to criticize unduly the Anglo-Catholics, as they call themselves, as perhaps some of the signatories do, for I have often been impressed by their spiritual zeal and enthusiasm, and have found the points that I condemn are somewhat superficial. But all the same, I do not think that anything could help the English Church in building up its theology on the appeal to Scripture, as interpreted by the undivided Church, which was the position which we took up at the Reformation, so much as an alliance with the Eastern Church.

Secondly. I think that there is a strong feeling in the Church of England against extra-liturgical devotion to the Sacrament. It is of the greatest importance that we should emphasize the fact that such extra-liturgical devotions do not take place, and never have taken place in the Eastern Church.

Then Thirdly. I do not want to emphasize controversial matters too much, but I think that our position of protest against the undue claims of the Church of Rome will be much strengthened by our alliance with these two bodies, both of which definitely and decisively reject Papal Supremacy and Infallibility, and I cannot but notice, and many signs support it, how much the Church of Rome, on its controversial side, seems perturbed by the, prospects of this closer union. I do not believe that we shall compromise any of the traditional teaching of our Church, I do not think we shall injure our position with regard to the other National Churches of Europe, and I believe that this step towards reuniting the Christian Church will be a great strength to wholesome religion.

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